Monday, March 31, 2008

The end of the world

It is like a jet plane that after a mission lands and parks on the tarmac.
It is like the jaguar resting in the shadow after the chase, the kill and the meal.
It is like Coney Island switching off the lights after the crowds are gone.
It is like the bed that has the sheets after many nights and many activities changed.
It is like the body tired and dirty from hard work getting a long and refreshing shower.
It is like the train that arrives in the station after a long and tiring journey to release the passengers.
It is like the morning after the wild party that all the cups and plates end up in a garbage bag.
It is like a book that is finished and put aside not to be touched maybe ever.
It is like a city waking up and starting its usual daily routine not revealing what secrets happened during the night.
It is like the lovers who look for their sides of the bed after intense and passionate union.

It is like the end of the world, when a new one will start.

This moment is so special because it ends a period that started in March 2004.
At the time there was involvement with Jacqueline Duncan, an English woman living in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
During a stay in her beautiful apartment in the posh neighbourhood of Higienópolis the news was received that the project “World of little heroes” about two physically challenged 9-year old girls, one in Canada and one in Bangladesh, was selected to be presented at the most important photo festival “Visa pour l’Image” in Perpignan, France.
Although a major development in the career, the issue at stake was what new project to start.
“World of little heroes” was finished and successfully published and exhibited worldwide.
But how to proceed?
In her apartment Jacqueline Duncan had the book “The first twenty years” in which a selection of all the different kinds of photography this busy buzzer man had been doing.
Two pages in that book are devoted to a project performed in Holland in the 80’s about people who believed they were beautiful.
Jacqueline Duncan suggested using that idea and performing it worldwide.
Immediately it was understood that this was a very good suggestion.
And actually within a week the project “The most beautiful people in the world” had started.
Announcements were published in the Sao Paolo press.
Not an easy thing to do as the announcement was rejected by several publications but Jacqueline Duncan knew high placed persons.
A mailbox was rented in a post office and after some time a lot of responses were found.

This is how the project “The most beautiful people in the world” started and after exactly 4 years it has come to an end.
Since March 2004, 10 countries have been visited, over 50 people getting involved as team members, over 170 most beautiful people documented.

Now it is over.
It is finished.

As of now activities for the project “The most beautiful people in the world” are to organize the publication of the book, to manage magazine and newspaper publications and create exhibitions.

Not one fervent and loyal blog reader will think that now a big black hole has opened up on the creative road.
Not at all.
For some time a new project has been developed.
Worldwide as well but a different subject and a different photographic approach.
Of course no details about the new project are revealed.
Let’s celebrate first the completion of the project “The most beautiful people in the world”.
Like it was the end of the world.
But a new one will start.


To learn more about the book "The first twenty years", click on:


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hotel Garbage.

There is this dilemma.
The city of Mumbai in India has its extremes of human presence.
Performing the project “The most beautiful people in the world” brought the team to the edges of those extremes.

To see and witness and share for a short time ultimate miserable circumstances in which people live is a most shocking experience.
The dilemma comes when it is considered to describe in a posting the visit to such a situation.

This will have several consequences one of them being that writing about it will mean reliving the experience.
To see and feel again like a most realistic film what was experienced.

Yesterday the team visited a lady that was living in a 150 years old hotel that had been abandoned for decades.
The situation in there was most shocking.
Inside it was completely deteriorated.
One big garbage heap of enormous dimensions populated by numerous skinny cats.
And it was the suffocating and nauseating smell that was the hardest.
Here people were having their home.
A very tough experience for all the team members.

It was so bad that the early morning after, comfortably in the room of the Hare Krishna Guesthouse, who (praise the Lord), had stopped their 5 o’clock chanting, the posting to be written, heavy doubts arose about the sense of giving the loyal and fervent blog readers a detailed report.
To re-live the horrible experience and offer the fervent and loyal readers a share of the trauma as well.

Does that make sense?
Will that change anything?

Eventually, profiting of the clarity of mind manifesting early in the morning, it was decided not to traumatise everybody.
To store the memories somewhere in the caves of the brain and to leave the fervent and loyal blog readers in peace and harmony.

In any case, the lady that lived in these horrific circumstances has been documented for the project “The most beautiful people in the world” and can be seen in a few weeks on the website of the project.
Who she is, how she lives and why she feels the most beautiful.

There are two days now to finish the project.
A lot of administration needs to be done.
This morning there is even some additional shooting.
And the last group of films need to be developed and contact sheets made.

After, it will be the return to Europe where dilemmas as described in this posting are not too likely.
Because over there abandoned hotels are not used to house people and store rotting garbage.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Taking cow urine.

Three team members went to the meeting with the famous film star Nandita Das.
Senior team member Marjolein, the Indian journalist Latha Sunadh and the confident photographer.

During the long taxi ride he got the idea to look for a shop to buy some nice flowers to present to the actress.
In the end, she is very famous: she even was recently a member of the jury of the Film festival in Cannes, France.
On top of that she had made herself available to participate in the project “The most beautiful people in the world” by offering 1 hour of her precious time.
Precious because right now Nandita Das is finishing her own film and running against deadly deadlines.
Do not fervent and loyal blog readers share the opinion it is simply a nice gesture in that case to bring some flowers?

There was trouble with the cab driver about getting to the apartment building where Nandita Das temporarily lives.
It all became a little tense and still no flowers.
Eventually the team had to abandon the taxi, hire a rickshaw, have it a race to a flower shop, where quickly a simple bouquet was made to speed to the apartment to ring Nandita Das’ doorbell exactly in time.

Dressed simply and totally unpretentious, Nandita Das made a human impression.
Although she is a star, she definitely lives on earth.

It produced a thankful smile when the bouquet was offered and the flowers disappeared into the kitchen.

Sitting down the conversation soon was about the project “The most beautiful people in the world”.
The by now excited photographer explained that the candidates in the project were there because they were feeling they were the most beautiful and had a convincing explanation to give.
And that this rule even applied to film stars.
If she were not thinking she was the most beautiful and had no good explanation, the team would finish the glass of water that had been offered and would go without making pictures.
Obviously that impressed the famous film star who has hundreds of people from the media asking her to photograph and film her for this and that and here and there.
Now she was meeting people who would feel OK if it all didn’t happen.
Nandita Das has a Masters Degree in Social Work and with her career she has one, two things to say about beauty.
It was fascinating to listen to her opinion that came as a flow of words impossible to write down.
Eventually, out of her long, complex but fascinating and learnful monologue a very strong statement could be distilled:

"I would not say that I am the most beautiful.
I have met so many people who were the most beautiful,
that it made me humble."

This is such an interesting statement because it demonstrates the strong inner beauty of the speaker.
One must have achieved high levels of inner beauty to be able to be famous and humble at the same time.

Outside the apartment building her portraits were made and this was a privileged job for the photographer.

© Marjolein van Veen, 2008.

© Marjolein van Veen, 2008.

Nandita Das is of course highly professional in posing and she knows to look into the lens in a way that she looks pretty, attractive, beautiful, tempting and intriguing.
The photographer, seeing her through the lens doing this, has to use all his powers not to take it personal.

© Michel Szulc Krzyzanowski, 2008.

Later that day a heated discussion took place between the photographer and his two senior team members.
The ladies doubted the rightfulness of taking flowers to a film star.
They said: “We would be much more impressed if you take flowers when you go and see a woman in the slums”.

Actually, the truth is that after documenting a woman in the slums, she was offered 5 kilos of white rice, 2 kilos of dal and 2 liters of cooking oil.

But this issue of offering flowers to a film star continued to bother the ladies of the project “The most beautiful people in the world”.
And no common ground could be found on this issue.

Hence, the photographer believed it was the old song of jealousy.
The senior team members seeing their photographer charming a famous film star with flowers while they had to eat in cheap Indian restaurants every day, work hard in difficult circumstances for little money and occasionaly get bullied and critized by their fellow team member only because it is him who takes the pictures.

In the late evening the photographer went out, found a shop where he could buy two red roses.
These were offered to the two senior team members who were highly surprised and most pleased and everything is now forgotten and forgiven.
The power of love and roses...

But the two senior team members had a surprise as well.
For the last 3 weeks the photographer has this really bad and pathetic cough due to his recent illness in the Netherlands.
As a present, the two senior team members had bought him a medicine called Ghanvati.
That helps to relief mental stress, skin disease and bronchitis.
What is Ghanvati?
It is dried cow urine.
In the bottle are small irregular grey balls in a grey dust.
Every day 4 balls must be swallowed.

It is not known if this medicine is made of the urine of cows that are grazing peacefully in a beautiful meadow.
Or that it is from Holy Cows eating the garbage in Indian city streets.

Nevertheless, the brave photographer takes this medication but this is mostly to keep his high reputation inside the team.


Friday, March 28, 2008

A shave in the slum

The total result of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” in India is going to be impressive.
Over 20 most beautiful people.

Especially impressive because of the circumstances the team is working in.
Besides that it is hot and very humid, people in India often are complex and impossible to follow in their logic because there is one unrecognisable for a foreigner.

Yesterday we were supposed to go with two reliable young fellows to the slums.
These guys are employees of the Hare Krishna Guest House.
They were living in the slums themselves and explained they had made contacts there and had found persons who believed they were beautiful and willing to be documented.
The team organised a Hindi-English translator and in two rickshaws the party went to the area where the hotel employees were living.
Once there, soon the team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” found themselves alone.
The two guys and all their promises had vanished.

Now, fervent and loyal blog readers, a definite characteristic of the Indian team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” is that they take every new development in a positive way.
There is never complaining, whining, crying or balking.
The things that happen are experienced as the things best to happen.
Every new situation is seen as a challenge and most of all as a fantastic opportunity.

The team without their two guides decided to do an instant integration in the visually spectacular neighbourhood they found themselves in.
Hence, the photographer had a shave.

This attracted the attention of many Indians, as foreigners never appear in their area to begin with.

It must also be remarked that the treatment of the barber is not without risks and dangers.
Travel guides and sensible people warn not to have shaves in slums.
This has to do with hygiene, bacteria’s and diseases.
The shaving knife might be infected.
The towels used have dried other customers before.
In India people do not use toilet paper and the question is how well the barber has washed his hands.
Therefore, to have a shave in the slum was an act of ultimate bravery.
Or recklessness.

Integrated in the neighbourhood, the team found a hard working tailor who was remarkable because of the peace and harmony he was radiating.
He agreed to participate in the project “The most beautiful people in the world” and was documented.

“There are good people and there are bad people. I am one of the good people. And I try to change the bad people into good people”.

Loyal and fervent blog readers will be totally excited to learn that the team, in particular senior team member Marjolein, has managed to book the famous Indian film star Nandita Das.

This morning the team is invited to her Mumbai house to ask her if she feels the most beautiful woman in the world and to photograph her.
For this occasion the nervous photographer, always feeling a beginner, has washed his hair this morning twice.


Colour pictures on this posting by © Marjolein van Veen 2008


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Teaming in Mumbai.

There are 5 more days to work in Mumbai, India.
And it is getting nicer and nicer in this city that is one of the biggest in the world.
Reason is that the team of “The most beautiful people in the world” are getting more and more integrated.
This is the result of a deliberate strategy.
Nothing was pre-arranged for executing the project “The most beautiful people in the world” in India.
Not even a hotel.
This was because based on experiences it was known that in India it is not easily possible to make appointments, agreements and count on loyalty and punctuality.

Hence, the strategy was applied of being in the flow of the river letting it known the team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” was floating in the Indian waters.

This requires a special attitude and mentality of the team members.
They must be not afraid nor feel insecure.
They must be open and flexible.
They must be very creative, innovative and adaptive.
They must be warm and human.

The two senior team members of the Indian expedition are two beautiful women from the Netherlands.
Ms. Marjolein van Veen (l) and Ms. Karine Versluis (r).

Both have been travelling in India before.
Both are photographers themselves and have experience in organising and managing.
Both are very positive of mentality, optimistic and always in a good mood.

Besides being excellent team members for the project “The most beautiful people in the world” and crucial in obtaining the excellent results, they are also interesting personalities and fun to be with.
Each lunch and dinner topics of a wide variety are discussed and this is enriching and entertaining.

What else can the poor photographer do than get on his knees and be thankful?
Thankful to the two senior team members.
Thankful to all the junior Indian team members.
Thankful to all the Indian participants in the project claiming to be the most beautiful and allowing to be documented.

Last night the team of “The most beautiful people in the world” was invited to go to the theatre.
Chipra Singh, the managing director of an airline and actress, was playing in a play of the French writer Molière.
Chipra had invited the team and they took along the journalist Latha Sunadh from the Indian magazine Marie Claire and her husband Bobin who is a journalist for the Indian version of the magazine “Rolling Stone”.

The theatre play was in the Hindi language but that didn’t matter at all.
Because most of the time Shipra Singh was on stage and what an actress she is.
Absolute dynamite and full of expression and vitality.
She is definitely a star.

Something peculiar took place walking to the theatre.
Latha Sunadh spotted in the street a famous Indian actress.
Nandita Das !!!!!

Eating some food from a stall.
Immediately senior team member Marjolein van Veen decided to approach the international celebrity.
To propose her to participate in the project “The most beautiful people in the world”.
A long conversation followed and today the team will get a reply.
If it fits in her schedule, she will participate.

Every day in India something exciting is happening.
Result of flowing in the river.


To learn more about the famous actress Nandita Das, click on


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A roofless family

In India many people in the big cities are what is called roofless.
They live on the pavement without many possessions.
It is a dramatic situation created by poverty.

The team of “The most beautiful people in the world” had decided to see if roofless people could also be incorporated in the project.
The objective was to meet roofless people, talk to them and possibly document them.

This turned out to be a very difficult thing to do.
It is simply impossible to just go to them and ask them questions.
That is a very dangerous and hopeless thing to do.
Hence, it became a matter of finding the right contacts.
Persons having connections and expertise with the roofless people.
This was a process of almost two weeks.
And eventually some friendly Indians introduced the team to a family that lived on the pavement of a busy street corner.
Meeting this family was a deep shock.
On former trips to India and Bangladesh families had been seen bivouacking on the sides of the street.
Seen from a rickshaw or a taxi.
But now it was a personal meeting with a woman who lived with her 4 children and her husband under a rudimentary tarpaulin as a roof simply sleeping on a mat on the pavement.
This is their home.
Where heavy traffic passes by day and night including big city buses.
That crashed to death one of the children one year ago.

But the family continues to live there unable to escape out of their desperate situation.

The photo session had to be short.
If a white man makes pictures in a Mumbai street, immediately hundreds of curious people gather around him.
Attracting the corrupt police that will see an opportunity to make legal trouble and money.

Another issue was if and how to honour the family for their participation.
The accompanying Indian staff suggested buying a bag with biscuits and sweets that they were donating to the family.
To avoid the white man having to give it that would result in hundreds of beggars going after him.
And only biscuits and sweets to avoid fighting among the roofless people in case valuables were given like food and milk.

Was this meeting the roofless family and documenting them a pleasant experience?
It is so fundamentally wrong and unjustifiable for people to have to live in their way, that one can only become very sad.

Fervent and loyal blog readers may be interested why the woman of this roofless family claimed to be beautiful.
This is what Vaishali Mangulal Singh had to say:

“I am illiterate and I am from a poor family but then I work hard to make my children go to school.”


Pictures on this posting by © Marjolein van Veen 2008.



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tibet, poor Tibet...

Paramilitary Chinese police march in a street in Zhongdian, in a Tibetan area known as Shangri-La.

BEIJING (AP) - China issued a "Most Wanted" list of 21 rioters Friday - shown in grainy photos waving knives and fighting during last week's violence over Chinese rule in Tibet. Thousands of troops continued to push into western China to contain unrest.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave support to the Tibetan cause on a visit to the Dalai Lama, calling China's crackdown "a challenge to the conscience of the world." U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, speaking to reporters in France, said China was hurting its international image and urged the country to seek peaceful solution.

Their criticism added to a chorus of international concern over Beijing's harsh response to the anti-government protests, as China sought to blame supporters of the Tibetan spiritual leader for unrest that is posing the biggest challenge in two decades to Beijing's control of Tibet.

"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China's oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world," Pelosi told a cheering crowd in Dharmsala, India, seat of the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile.

China's response to last week's riots in Lhasa drew world attention to its human rights record and threatens to overshadow its attempts to project an image of unity and prosperity ahead of the Aug. 8-24 Olympics in Beijing.

China's official news agency issued an updated casualty toll late Friday for the unrest in Lhasa. Xinhua said 18 civilians and one police officer died and 623 people were injured.

Tibetan exile groups have said 99 people were killed - 80 in Lhasa and 19 in Gansu province. Casualty estimates are hard to confirm because China keeps tight control over information.

On Friday, Chinese authorities intensified a manhunt for the wanted suspects, posting their photos - taken from video cameras and security footage - on major Internet portals.

The protests in Lhasa - a stunning show of defiance against 57 years of Chinese rule - sparked sympathy demonstrations in neighboring provinces, prompting Beijing to deploy thousands of troops across a wide swath of western China where more than half of China's 5.4 million Tibetans live.

Moving from town to town, police set up blockades and checkpoints to keep Tibetans in and journalists out. The mobilization helped authorities reassert control after protests flared in Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces.

In Lhasa on Friday, residents said police were patrolling the streets and people were free to go where they wanted as long as they had identity cards.

An employee of the local Coca-Cola distributor said the business was closed. "Nobody dares to go out," said the man, who didn't give his name for fear of retribution.

Residents in Ganzi county in Sichuan province said Friday that they saw troops, trucks and helicopters on patrol in an area where hundreds of protesters took to the streets earlier this week.

In the largely Tibetan town of Zhongdian, in the far north of Yunnan province, some 30 armed police with clubs marched in the main square. Two dozen trucks carrying riot police had arrived overnight, reinforcing some 400 troops already in the area bordering Tibet.

Armed encampments were set up in nearby towns, including the tourist attraction of Tiger Leaping Gorge.
In Xiahe, a city in Gansu province that saw two days of protests, the 50-room Xilin Hotel was "completely occupied by police with guns and batons," said a hotel worker.

"There may be hundreds in our county right now. No tourists are allowed here and we do not feel safe going outside," said the man, who also refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.

He said things had calmed down but vehicles were patrolling the streets and authorities were asking Tibetans who took part in demonstrations to surrender.

A resident of Qinghai province, meanwhile, said about 300 troops were in the town of Zeku a day after monks protested outside the county government office. The woman, who did not want to give her name in fear of harassment by authorities, said she did not dare leave home: "Many ethnic Chinese dare not to go out. Only Tibetans do."

Demonstrations in Lhasa began peacefully March 10, the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising by Tibetans, but erupted into violence March 14, drawing a harsh response from Chinese authorities.

Xinhua said Thursday that police shot and wounded four rioters "in self-defense" during violent protests Sunday in Aba county in Sichuan. It was the first time the government acknowledged shooting any protesters.

State television, in its first footage of the confrontation between protesters and police in Aba, showed dozens of crimson-robed monks charging at a line of police behind riot shields. Crowds of people hurled rocks, and one threw a molotov cocktail as cars burned in the town ringed by snow-peaked mountains.


Monday, March 24, 2008

With the rich, with the poor.

Working on a project like “The most beautiful people in the world”, where the candidates themselves make the decision who participates, makes the team get into all kinds of different situations.
Especially in India.

Yesterday a comfortable and air conditioned Toyota with an impeccable driver appeared in front of the Hare Krishna Guesthouse to pick up two of the team members.
To bring them to a gated community where in a beautiful house Shipra Singh is living together with her partner Sanu and his sister.

Shipra is one of the most extraordinary women met in the last 9 months.
She is 27 years old and Managing Director of an Indian airlines company, Director of a steel company, an actress in art-theatre and very, but very beautiful.
With a warm and loving personality, highly spiritual, an open heart and tough in business like Alfred Krupp.
To witness her order food in a restaurant: it makes a man shiver.
To see her looking lovingly at her partner Sanu: it makes a man melt.
To feel her goodbye hug and kisses: it makes a man die.

Hence, hardly alive after this shocking experience, it can only sweetly be remembered the lunch on the sunny terrace.
The fascinating conversations with her and her super sympathetic partner Sanu.
The wonderful photo session: in filtered light with palms and blue spotlights.

Later that day, almost at midnight, the Indian writer Rajendar Menen showed another part of Mumbai.
He introduced the team to one of the many transvestites in India.
These men have a most miserable existence.
Coming out of their slum dwellings at night and roaming the streets begging for money or prostituting themselves.
Dressed in cheap female clothes, dirty saris and headscarves, smelling bad and looking skinny and unhealthy probably infected by the HIV-virus.

This is life in its most extreme ways.
And it is a privilege to be allowed to witness these different situations people live in.

But in the Fiat 1100 taxi back to the Hare Krishna Guesthouse a philosophical discussion developed between the team members and the Indian writer Rajendar Menen about how to explain these extremities in the world.
Why, for example, are hundreds of millions of children born worldwide in extreme poverty?
How to explain this?
How to understand this?
How to live peacefully and harmoniously knowing this?



Photos on this posting by © Marjolein van Veen 2008.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lost in Mumbai, India.

A spectacular day.
Appointment was with a 24 year old man who is a fashion merchandiser.
The rendezvous was in a fancy open-air coffee shop and there the interview took place.
Srijon Bhattacharya is one of the few participants of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” who did not want to reveal his monthly income.
His reply was: “I can survive”.
The team of the project accepted that answer because it is the participants who have all the rights to say what they want.
The team humbly writes down what the people say and that’s it.

Next it was decided that Srijon and his friend would get into one rickshaw and the team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” in a second rickshaw.
Rickshaws are scooters with three wheels and a roof that can transport up to three passengers.
They are cheaper and often faster than the taxis described yesterday.
The plan was that the rickshaw of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” would follow the rickshaw of Srijon Bhattacharya.
But one must know that the traffic in Mumbai is rather crazy.
It is a rodeo on wheels with frantic drivers fanatically trying to get in front of anyone else no matter how.
Add to that the vast distances one must travel in the huge city of Mumbai to get somewhere and not one fervent and loyal blog reader will be surprised to learn that eventually the rickshaw of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” stopped somewhere in a totally unknown area of Mumbai having lost the leading rickshaw of candidate Srijon Bhattacharya.

Wish a person in such a situation all the luck in the world.
The rickshaw driver not speaking one word of English.
The team not knowing at all the address of the candidate nor his phone number.
This in a hot temperature and high humidity.
Engulfed by heavy pollution and strong noise.
Once out of the rickshaw surrounded by 40 to 50 curious Indian people who wanted to know what was going on.
Who were only complicating the situation but not prepared to let go of their curiosity.
It became clear that the rickshaw driver had been overtaking the other rickshaw and simply had been driving as a madman to a destination he didn’t know nor the team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world”.
Eventually he had run out of his lunatic steam and was surprised himself as well to find all of us somewhere in Mumbai.
What to do?
Communication with the driver was impossible as he spoke no English and we no Hindi.
One of the by now 60 to 70 Indian people surrounding offered to translate but that was not really helpful either.
Eventually it was decided to make the return journey of one hour to the starting point expecting Srijon Bhattacharya to go there as well.

One thing anybody who knows them will say of the team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” that they are very optimistic people.
They take every experience as an event to cherish and celebrate.
So, this situation was considered as strange, funny and interesting.
Such things happen so why get upset?

While driving back suddenly the rickshaw driver screamed.
He had spotted at the side of the road the rickshaw of Srijon Bhattacharya.
Except for the driver it was empty.
Information was obtained where the candidate had been dropped off and it was in that direction the rickshaw was driving.
Until one attentive member of the team spotted standing in a most relaxed way in front of a shop chewing on medicinal leaves Srijon Bhattacharya.
A happy reunion and not long after the flat was entered where he is living with 5 other guys.

Although Srijon Bhattacharaya didn’t want to reveal his income, he had something impressing to say why he feels he is the most beautiful person in the world:
“I think this world is a very beautiful place.
And the human race in particular with a lot of beauty build inside.
Beauty of heart, expression, communication and emotion.
And I can experience all this beauty in me.”

His portrait was made on the roof of the apartment building he was living in.
With a vast view of the outskirts of Mumbai where many new apartment buildings are constructed.

When one reads carefully this chain of events, it will be understood how miraculously everything somehow fitted today.
How from starting point A destination B was reached.
But in a way that cannot be predicted nor foreseen.
It is the river flowing as the water wants.
Whispering: “Don’t worry, be happy”.


Pictures on this posting by © Marjolein van Veen 2008.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Mistress Mavish

Taxis in Mumbai are small cars from the 50’s.
They are Indian-made versions of the Italian 1953 Fiat 1100

Progress is coming only slowly to this country where cars are used over 55 years old as nowadays taxis.

To visit the most beautiful person of today, the team had to go by such an old fashioned taxi.
A ride of over 1 hour costing 250 Rupees. (5 Euros / 7.70 USD)
With the taxi windows closed because of “Holi”.
The chance that some Hindus would throw the brightly coloured but aggressive and poisonous powder into the car was too high.
And indeed, plenty of young people were in the streets.
Looking wild from their eyes and covered in red and yellow and orange colours.
These Mumbai taxis have no air-conditioning hence inside it became like a sauna.
But better this than showered by water and powder.

In the morning team member Karine had been making a walk in the neighbourhood of the Hare Krishna temple and had been the target of a colour powder attack.
We could see how this powder had penetrated her smooth skin and could not be washed off.
Nasty stuff.
Better to keep the taxi windows closed and suffer of heat inside but remain clean and healthy.

The person to visit was a stunning Mumbai beauty of 21 years old that had been discovered at an extraordinary wedding party in a fancy hotel.
Mahvish Usman Lakdawala turned out to live in the Muslim part of town where “Holi” was not celebrated.
A safe area for foreigners and a most fascinating neighbourhood.
Of course the usual detoriated and broken houses, streets and sewage systems.
But so colourful and exotic.

In a broken down apartment building Mahvish was living with her mother and brother and his wife and child.
The brother greeting the photographer with a warm handshake and ignoring the two female team members, as a good Muslim should.
Remarkable to find a lady who looked like a beauty princess at a luxurious wedding party in a run down area and flat.

The whole afternoon was spent with Mahvish and what an afternoon that was.
She is an extremely strong woman.
To put it mildly.
Others would claim she is the worst bitch of Bombay.
Excessively authoritave and dominant punishing every wrong move or word with a tyrannical flow of devastating critical words.
Very amusing as the team were only passers by.
But Mahvish’ boyfriend might have another story to tell.
Although she loves him, she doesn’t find him very attractive.
But her most serious complain about her boyfriend is that he is not making enough money to make him the candidate to marry.
The guy works his ass off to keep her but it is never enough in her opinion.
She wants a nice house near the beach with cleaning ladies and that is an expensive proposition in Mumbai.

The interview went very well with Mahvish and she said this as an explanation for being the most beautiful in the world:

“I am not responsible for my beauty.
It was given to me by God.
The one who created the world: Allah”

Now only ladies of extreme beauty and allure will say that they are not responsible for being beautiful.
Presenting it as rather a coincidence and even a light burden, shows the readiness to parade on the Boulevard of Monte Carlo as the wife of a millionaire.
But Mavish might be buried too deep already in her Muslim context to ever live this dream.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Holi shoot.

Today in India is the celebration of “Holi”.
It commemorates the death of the demoness Holika.
It is the day that foreign visitors hide away.

Reason being that the Hindu people buy on “Holi” coloured powder that they throw at each other.
They also have water pistols and plastic bags with water they launch at each other.
This under the influence of alcohol or “Bhaang”, a kind of marijuana people buy at the Hindu temples.
If foreigners appear in the streets they are the most beloved targets.
They get the full load to the amusement of the Indians.

The coloured powder is known to cause skin diseases and when a plastic bag with water hits the head, it can knock out a grown man.

“Holi” is maybe lots of fun for Indian people, but foreigners tend to stay away from it.

The team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” wants to be productive anyway.
There is the target to document at least one person a day.
Therefore an appointment is made with a young girl of a wealthy family this afternoon.
A taxi will pick up the team on the compound of the Hare Krishna temple and deliver in front of the house of the girl.
Of course all windows of the taxi will be closed.

Yesterday two most beautiful persons were documented.

One was a 9-year-old girl who had an extraordinary aura.
A vitality and happiness rarely seen.
She was from a Christian family of impressing decency.
A family that would also hide in their house during the Hindu “Holi” colour smashing.
The girl was called Steffi and in a most serious conversation she explained why she was feeling she was the most beautiful:

“I asked God so many times to become a nun.
Therefore, I don’t want to marry and have children because I will need all my time to take care of the poor and the sick.”

It makes one think when a 9-year-old girl makes such a statement.

The second person was a 42-year-old widow.
The team was invited to her home where she lived with her obese 18-year-old daughter.
Immediately the team was pampered with Indian sweets and tea.
And stories how the family of her deceased husband had taken away everything from her.
Even her house.
Now she was trying to make a living as a journalist and actress.
A very strong and beautiful woman who said:

“I believe in myself and in the God inside me.
This helps to achieve all the goals in my life”.

In the evening at headquarters was a meeting with the well-known writer and journalist Rajendar Menen.
Headquarters for the team is a table in a simple beach restaurant.
It is there that evaluations are made and people met.
Rajendar Menen is full of enthusiasm for the project “The most beautiful people in the world” and one day next week he will join the team for s search in the Mumbai slums.
To find a person believing to be the most beautiful person.
Presuming that somebody living in deep poverty might feel beautiful nevertheless.


To learn more about Rajendar Menen, click on:


Pictures on this posting by © Marjolein van Veen, 2008.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Becoming a devoted monk

Several fervent and loyal blog readers have been sending messages of worry and concern.
This is because they know that the Hare Krishna is a sect that attracts people who eventually shave their heads, wear bed sheets, paint their face, refrain from sex, drugs and alcohol and walk chanting in the streets “Hare Krishna Hare Rama”.

Why would a photographer with a rather decent reputation and never convicted for any felony move into a spiritual commune of a dubious sect when going to India?
Is there maybe an agenda behind performing the photo project “The most beautiful people in the world” to try to achieve superb beauty himself by associating with the Hare Krishna movement?
Isn’t it a sign that frequently now, maybe even too many times, this subject has been dominating the recent postings of this blog?
Is the man so popular with most fervent and loyal blog readers slipping away and disappearing in Indian spiritual obscurity?

It is an undeniable fact that staying with the Hare Krishna is not similar to staying in a decent hotel.
This place is what is called “an Ashram”.
A spiritual commune where people concentrate to worship the Hindu God Krishna.
This is all orchestrated and regulated and focused on only this very thing.
Anything that distracts from this purpose is banned and forbidden.

For example, it is absolutely forbidden neither to smoke in the room nor to drink alcohol.
The restaurant of the Ashram serves food but only according to the Krishna faith.
Hence no eggs, coffee, tea, meat nor fish.
A guest also needs to behave: attentive bullies correct any act outside the required decent behaviour immediately.

Very dominating of the place is the huge temple.
At 5 o’clock in the morning is the first service waking up all guests still sleeping.
Loudly one can hear the chanting, singing and sound of bells, flutes and shells.
This repeats a few times a day.
Part of the method is repetition.
Endlessly the name of Krishna is repeated until it starts to circle even in the most obnoxious and resisting minds.
Without knowing or any awareness the Krishna tune starts to occupy the brain cells.
It is like the President of the United States who simply explains over and over again that the war in Iraq is justified.
If this is repeated on a mass scale frequently enough, a majority starts to believe it is true although it is a lie.
One thinks of this taking the elevator in the Hare Krishna Ashram.
There is an elevator operator who welcomes the customer with a “Hare Krishna”-salute.
During the trip with the elevator the operator chants “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Rama”.
Every trip made with the elevator.
An experiment was performed to counter this indoctrination offensive even applied while on an elevator ride.
Each time the elevator was used the brave photographer was singing the theme of the film “Starwars”.
Believing that the elevator operator would eventually start singing along to ask who really was Dr. Spock.
This effort to change God Krishna for Commander Kirk was not successful.
The guy remains stubbornly stuck in his “Hare Krishna”-song.
Now it is considered to try another tune.
Like “Swinging Safari” or even the national American hymn.
If any progress is made, fervent and loyal blog readers may expect a detailed report.

The effort of indoctrination is so sophisticated that each room in the guesthouse is equipped with a “Music Divine”.
Instead of a TV or a radio, a box on the wall with an “on-off” switch and a volume control lets the guest listen to: “Songs From The Spiritual World”.
It is a direct line to the Temple with more “Hare Krishna”-brainwashing.

So, once more, why is this photographer, who until now always made an impression of being in balance, chooses to stay with a dangerous sect?
The answer is that it is not his choice.
The two female team members, Marjolein and Karine, made the decision to stay in this centre of indoctrination.
Today they revealed they are expecting shortly the innocent photographer to shave his head, paint his face and put on Ghandi’s clothes.
As an unavoidable consequence of the influence experienced staying with the Hare Krishna.

Well, why not?
Maybe the two women are right.
To follow Krishna as the ultimate experience of inner beauty.
To become a monk free of ambition, money, sex, drugs, rock and roll and George Bush.

But one thing is still puzzling the seeker and stopping him from jumping into heaven.
The two caring and concerned women would love to see the photographer become a Hare Krishna monk.
But they themselves prefer boyfriends in their hearts and bodies instead of the Divine Lord Krishna.
Now why is that?


To learn more about Hare Krishna, click on:



Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hare Krishna Hare Rama

Members of the Hare Krishna believe they are the most beautiful also.
But to get a devotee in front of the camera is another story.
Because there is a hierarchy within the Hare Krishna and members respect higher authority.

It took therefore several meetings before a Hare Krishna actually could be photographed.
Expert members of the “Most beautiful people in the world”-team Karine and Alex had meetings with the President and the Vice-President of the Hare Krishna organisation in Mumbai.
They managed to convince these high placed authorities of the sincerity of the “Most beautiful people in the world”-project and its good intentions.
That it was simply a platform of good and positive news without any condemnation, post-judgement or irony.
As an example the Hare Krishna authorities were shown a copy of the French magazine Le Monde2 that has published a long feature on “Most beautiful people in the world”.

Yesterday in the late afternoon the moment had come that a Hare Krishna person could be photographed.
It was the Vice-President himself.
Dr. Mukunda Madhava Das.
A most sympathetic person with a great laugh and a charming personality.
A most beautiful person indeed.

Looking for a perfect location a gated corridor was discovered with filtered light because of a nearby tree.
Dr. Mukunda Madhava Das was seated on a chair and the blue background cloth put at the end of the corridor.
Visually a spectacular situation of which everything was right.
This always makes the excitement inside a photographer go up sky high.
Through the camera a great image is seen but also it is strongly felt that a memorable photograph is being made.

Of course variations were made.
Dr. Mukunda Madhava Das holding his hands in front of him like praying.
Dr. Mukunda Madhava Das having his prayer chain in his hands.
And then he suggested himself to spread his arms like opening up and giving and receiving all the beauty in the world.
That was the perfect gesture and pose fitting harmoniously in the composition like one of yesterday’s Chinese poems.
Everything right: the light, the location, the person, the background, and the pose.

Afterwards the team was going through very opposite emotions.
On the one hand there was exaltation because of the very successful session with Dr. Mukunda Madhava Das.
On the other hand deep sadness because team member Alex had to go to Bangkok, Thailand because of the expiration of his India visa.

Two bottles of red wine were bought and a special celebration of the “Most beautiful in the world”-team and some of their friends was organised in an open-air restaurant on the Mumbai beach.

There was no sentimentality.
Only gratitude for being friends and for the amazing experiences we had in Mumbai performing “The most beautiful in the world”.

Hare Krishna.


Mumbai photographs by © Marjolein van Veen.




Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chinese poetry in India

Another warm and exciting day in Mumbai, India.
Trying to find people who believe they are the most beautiful in the world.

Today the inexhaustible team met a 50 year old man who had been a King in his former life.
Not a very good King hence in this life he had to pay for it.
By being not successful in business.
By being single while in love with a married woman.
But he did feel the most beautiful and this because of his spirituality.
He claimed:

I am beautiful, therefore you are beautiful.
You are beautiful therefore I am beautiful.

The team of the project “The most beautiful people in the world” were most impressed with this statement.
Not only because it is very true and a demonstration of deep wisdom.
Also because it is like a beautiful traditional Chinese poem.

In classical Chinese language poets make verses that not only rhyme, but make sense and sound beautiful.

Pond fish nestle shadows, shadows nestle fish.


Leisurely men watch actors, actors watch men.

Or the beautiful:

Throwing stone, break up sky under water.

It is the palindromic nature of the poem that makes it so strong.
While opening doors to unimaginable vistas.

I am beautiful, therefore you are beautiful.
You are beautiful therefore I am beautiful.

To say: “ I am beautiful “ is an impressive statement.
To connect it to the existence of the fellow human being, makes it not only philosophic but humanistic as well.
The real power though is in the fact that the poem dares to make the circle.
The own beauty depends and is tightly connected to the beauty of the other.

It is advised to look for people in the own world who live this poem.
They will see the beauty in the fervent and loyal blog reader and have that come to the surface.
To offer it the opportunity to link it to the universal beauty.

Throwing stone, break up sky under water.

One can see a hand with a stone and a lake with a smooth surface of still water.
The stone is launched and with an elegant curve lands on the water.
Creating a circle and another one.
A whole series of circles that slowly expand to the outer reaches of the lake.
But something else is happening at the same time.
The lake was reflecting the sky.
Not knowing whether the sky was carried by the surface of the water or rising from the bottom of the lake.

The stone and its launching and landing so innocent.
Because eventually the lake will find its calmness and peace to be reborn with the harmony of reflecting the sky.

These poems that make one think for a long time are like good photographs.
Images that make one look and see for a longer period.
Images that cannot be understood immediately.
Images that go inside the person watching them to make a journey of discovery to bring out emotions and insights never realised they were there.


Monday, March 17, 2008


The team is almost in a state of shock.
Due to two experiences.

The first one was the meeting today with a real Indian Guru.
Srinivasan Kalyanaraman.
Who lives in a temple called the Srimuktesh Var Devalaya devoted to the God Navagraghamandir.
A 72-year-old man so peaceful and harmonious that it gave a home coming feeling.
This is what he had to say about beauty:

“Everything is beautiful: the little ant on the land and the bird in the sky.
When you are part of this, you are also beautiful”.

This is a deep understanding of life.
It sounds simple and maybe even naive.
But a person with some spirituality understands how fundamental Guru Srinivasan Kalyanaraman’s statement is.
One can sit down in a quiet place, remember his words and reflect upon them for hours, years and a lifetime.

Guru Srinivasan Kalyanaraman had no problem to be photographed.
It was while the sun was setting and 3 rolls were shot.
Team member Alex was holding the reflection screen and sharing the special energy of the moment.
Team member Marjolein was documenting this special event.

© Marjolein van Veen, 2008

It was an unforgettable experience.
Very strong and powerful.
When it was over one could only sit still and be thankful that life made this incredible event happen.
Caught on film for many to share.

© Marjolein van Veen, 2008

There is a second reason why the team is in a state of shock.
They have learned about the recent events in Tibet.
How the Tibetan monks have started to protest the Chinese occupation and exploitation of their country.
To halt the Chinese of destroying one of the most precious cultures and traditions we have on this Earth.

The team understands a vital moment has arrived.
With the Olympic Games approaching the world attention understands what is happening in Tibet.
It is a matter now of the Governments of the USA, Europe, Japan and Australia and as many other countries as possible to save the Tibetan religion, tradition and culture.
Now it can be stopped.
Threatening to refuse to participate in the Olympic Games if Tibet will not obtain some form of independency, the possibility of the Daila Lama to return and the current Chinese colonizers to leave.
We say:




Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.

These are spectacular days.
In the morning there is awareness that many things might happen.
In the evening it is realized it was all beyond the wildest imaginations.

This is all the result of a simple situation.
Four peaceful people respectfully ask persons if they are the most beautiful in the world.
In many cases, this starts a ball rolling that results in incredible meetings, unions and conversations.

There is no beginning to describe those incredible meetings in detail.
They are intense.
People telling the most intimate things about their lives.
Happy to share.

Of course the famous question was also asked to one of the Hare Krishna’s devotees we see here around the Guesthouse and the Temple.
He brought us immediately to a small air-conditioned room in the vast Temple complex and disappeared.
Some time later a Hare Krishna appeared accompanied by a young man in civilian clothes.
Most friendly were the greetings and the project was explained.
Of course he had as a reason for being the most beautiful person in the world:

“..because I am the servant of the most beautiful, supreme personality of Godhead Lord Shree Krishna”.

The next step in the process was the Hare Krishna to be photographed.
This was not that simple.
He had to ask permission of his authorities.
An answer will come in a few days.

Next, he asked if it was possible that he asked the team of the project some questions.
Why not?
This resulted in a discussion of over one hour about religion and spirituality.
The Hare Krishna found himself opposed by Italian team member Alex and the photographer.
This was easy because a Hare Krishna has been indoctrinated in a very rudimentary way.
The world and its people are bad and going in the wrong direction.
Only solution is to become a Hare Krishna.
This song can be heard also among Muslims, fundamental Christians and in Wal*Mart.
Believe in my conviction because it is the only right one.
Hare Krishna, a 26-year-old devotee, asked:
“Who are you?”
The beginning of a standard procedure to bring a person to accept his Krishna-religion.
In the 60’s was a band called “Country Joe and the Fish” who had a song called “Who am I?”.
That was the time to be in search and drown in questions of existentialism.
But nowadays this question, “Who am I?” is not relevant because there is an adequate answer.
This doesn’t fit in the plans of a Hare Krishna.
He wants the interviewee to reply that he is not sure.
That he doesn’t really know.
So, looking straight into the eyes of the Hare Krishna, without any hesitation or shyness the reply was given:
“I am who I am”.
What kind of arrogant motherfucker is that to begin with to ask questions like “Who are you?” while dressed in bed sheets, painted with mural paint and a head shaved?
“I am who I am” is not an answer that fits in the Hare Krishna strategy.
Hence, a second question was asked quickly.
“Are you happy?”
Again looking for insecurity, dissatisfaction and hopelessness in order to find a place to anchor the Hare Krishna religion.
To start the process of indoctrination.
“Are you happy?: yes, my friend, I am happy”.

The discussion turned therefore by hearing the Hare Krishna speculate that most people didn’t know who they were and that they were unhappy.
And how his religion was the answer.
But soon he was cornered as he was presented with our concept of “going beyond”.
Being a Hare Krishna is being stuck in a system of dogma’s and of being in indoctrination.
Next step is to move up and out of it to become really enlightened.
By “not being something”, like a Hare Krishna, but by simply “being who you are”.
Living from the centre of your existence.
And finding there peace, harmony and fulfilment.
After which the person can really mean something for the others.
Without imposing or provoking anything.

Of course the Hare Krishna couldn’t say we were right.
And that was not even the objective nor ambition.
But he wants to see us again to talk more.
This we refused.
We only want an answer from him if he can be photographed.
His spiritual detoxication is not our business.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mumbai-India 2

Mumbai is one of the biggest cities in the world with over 16 million inhabitants.
It covers a vast area of land on the west coast of India.
As growth and infrastructure are not matching, many things are out of control in this city.
Traffic, roads, pollution, sewage, garbage collection, public transportation, electricity, water.
It is all chaotic, lacking, missing and failing.

Today we travelled from Junu to the south where is the Gateway of India and the famous Taj Mahal Hotel.

A taxi ride of over one hour in completely crazy traffic costing 5 Euros.
In a small car using as fuel nitrogen.

In the morning we had been going to the area where the famous Bollywood films are made.
A vast country area under heavy security where we did get in but were not allowed to meet and speak to any actor or actress.
Near the Taj Mahal it was a different story.
Many tourists come from all over the world to see the monument of the Gateway of India, this symbol of English colonialism.

Eventually the team of “The most beautiful people in the world” consisting of the wonderful Dutch women Karine and Marjolein, the exotic and fantastic Italian Alex and yours truly, managed to find a 16 year old Indian gypsy girl that claimed to be the most beautiful in the world.
Hard work.
Many people are interested in the project but prefer not to participate.
And this makes sense because when a picture is made of somebody in a public place, immediately hundreds of people gather to stare at the event.
Even talking to someone results in curious Indian people coming close to listen what is said.

Every day lessons are learned.
These long and exhausting trips in the crazy Mumbai traffic was a first and a last.
Tomorrow the focus will be on people living in the area around the Hare Krishna temple.
Keeping everything at walking distance.
And trying to find a translator to widen the target group from only English speaking to include Hindi-speaking candidates as well.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Mumbai-India 1

The first night in the guesthouse of the spiritual movement Hare Krishna was not exactly in Nirvana and definitely far away from Shangri-La.

Reason the mosquitoes in the spacious guestroom desperate for blood from the long distance traveller.
It was so bad that sleeping was out of the question.
At midnight the efforts were stopped, clothes put on and in the neighbourhood a small shop was visited to buy mosquito coils.

However, even this was not effective.
The buzzing creatures kept on coming with a preference to get stuck in the ear of the sleeper creating there a tremendous noise like in a dentist office.

Eventually, a tent was built of an extra sheet above the head.
And the large wind fan of the ceiling put on its highest speed.
Lying on the bed like an Egyptian mummy at 50 miles an hour.

This more or less guaranteed a couple of hours of sleep.
Until at 4.30 AM the spiritual chanting of the Hare Krishna Temple was waking up any unaware sleeper.

Today the first day of approaching people asking if they think they are the most beautiful.
It is a slow process and not easy at all.
But one candidate has been found and documented.