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The Blog of Photographer Steven Gray

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The Village Mad Boy

India, Day 9

Today's India images are a little hard to look at.

Tim Johnson was not much more than a speck in the distance, but he was closer to us.  He walked erratically, as if his right legs were shorter than his left lefts.  He reminded me of a car stuck in a sand-bed.

I thought mad dogs foamed at the mouth, galloped, leaped and lunged at throats, and I thought they did it in August.  Had Tim Johnson behaved thus, I would have been less frightened.

Nothing is more deadly than a deserted, waiting street.  The trees were still, the mockingbirds were silent, the carpenters at Miss Maudie's house had vanished.

- To Kill a Mockingbird

This chapter from Harper Lee's opus came back to haunt me halfway through my eighth day in India.  Much like Tim Johnson, the mad dog whose appearance portended the coming maelstrom in Maycomb, the arrival of this boy eclipsed every other immediate sight and sound.  It was my first such encounter.

My host and I stood in the center of a village street, fresh from one of our many outreaches.  The grey-brown slurry of mud had hardened in the middle but was still soft around the edges.  Then, he appeared.  A malnourished, heartbreaking personage.  Completely naked, he half-staggered, half-shuffled down the center of the street.

"What is wrong with him?" I asked, keeping my voice low; my organic Western tendency to minimize the unpleasant suddenly reemerging in India's boldfaced culture.

My host had seen this boy before.  "He is mad," was his simple reply.

I watched him come down the street.  I would have been mesmerized, but I still wasn't sure if I should give the boy a wide berth.  My discomfort and perverse fascination grew as the boy drew closer, then stopped, dead still in front of me.  He looked at me hard.  In this respect, he was like everyone else in this remote area of India: I was white and therefore a novelty.

This boy would have been memorable for his condition if his condition had been the only thing to set him apart.  If that had been the case, I would have marked him down as another sad case of mental illness.  The lower half of his face was filmed in the mucus from his unwiped nose, and his bony body  was peppered with grains from the reapings currently drying in front of every house.  But for all this, it his look held me spellbound.  Because it wasn't just a look, it was a glare.  There was hatred in that look; an overarching, resentful disgust for the world at large.  His unblinking eyes bored into me with merciless loathing.

I do no ascribe every minor inconvenience or disagreeing circumstance to be a direct act of Satan, but I believe strongly in spiritual forces.  And when I looked at this child, and he looked back with such unabashed spite, a single word came to my mind: possession.  This feeling felt validated when I raised my camera to take a few closeups of the boy after he stopped in front of me.  I edged closer to capture his visage, and he immediately turned away and stalked off between some huts.  Even through the grey haze of his "madness," something in him did not want to be photographed.

There could be a dozen different explanations for this boy's unpleasant intensity.  Perhaps he was a simple case of mental disadvantage.  Perhaps there was abuse.  Perhaps an occult village ceremony, performed in an attempt to correct his mental handicap, opened the unknowing child up for outright demonic possession.  I'll probably never know.  In the meantime, this boy stands out in my mind as one of the most remarkable encounters I had on my non-stop, episodic eighth day of my journey through India.

The first image in this series contains nudity.  [nsfw]

india / village mad boy / nsfw[/nsfw]

india / village mad boy

india / village mad boy

india / village mad boy

india / village mad boy