It is a hot May afternoon. Inside a 10x12ft one-room flat in New Delhi’s Tagore Garden, the floor is lined with thin mattresses, and clothes and musical instruments hang from pegs on the walls. This is home to 15 people, all of whom play for a wedding band, the Chawla Band.
Mohammed Wasim is cleaning his duggi (a small drum), which he learnt to play in his village in Moradabad district of Uttar Pradesh. Some band members are chopping vegetables, while some are relaxing. Outside the room, food is being cooked on a kerosene stove.
Come evening and these men, aged between 18 and 60, will get dressed in their colourful uniforms and head out to various parts of the city with their musical instruments. They set the tone at weddings by leading the baraat to the marriage venue with their trumpets, clarinets, drums, euphoniums and other musical instruments.
New Delhi has various markets where such bands can be hired. Tagore Garden, Karol Bagh, Kotla Mubarakpur and Rohini each have around 25-30 wedding bands— some are part of a larger outfit, and others are stand-alone units. Every market has an association, which ensures that band members are paid and taken care of.
A band can have up to 10 types of instruments. The number of musicians in a band can vary from five to 20 or more, depending on the specifications of the client.
These men usually hail from Moradabad, Agra and Rampur in Uttar Pradesh, and some are from Jaipur, Rajasthan. “My father and grandfather were also musicians in bands, and my brothers are also musicians,” says Mohammed Nafees, who hails from a village in Moradabad district and plays the trumpet for Chawla Band.
“There are around 30 bands in Tagore Garden,” says Anil Thadani, who runs Jea Band, which has five booking offices across New Delhi. “Earlier all instrument players were available across the country but now it has become state-specific. For instance a good clarinet or jhanj (small hand-cymbals) player is only found in Rajasthan, a trumpet player in Uttar Pradesh and a tasha (drums) player in Madhya Pradesh,” he adds.
“These are the closest markets from New Delhi to procure artistes,” says Virendra Chawla, 44, who runs the Tagore Garden outlet of Chawla Band. Most bands are family-run businesses. For example, Chawla Band was established in 1973 by Virendra’s father H.S. Chawla, and Jea Band in 1936 by Jea Lal Thadani, Anil’s grandfather.
Nafees is part of the temporary team that is hired every year. “We keep a bunch of artistes who stay with us through the year on a salary and we hire some during the peak season to fulfil additional demand,” says Virendra.
While the temporary band members are paid Rs.300 a day—part of this is given as advance and the rest at the end of the season—the permanent band members earn a monthly salary. Chawla Band pays around Rs.8,000-12,000 per month to its 15 permanent members.
The lump-sum money attracts the temporary members to come to the city. “The money that we get here in one go helps in, say, painting the house,” says Ikrar, who uses only one name. Back home, they do farming and other sundry jobs.
The band members are usually provided accommodation by the band owners, with permanent staff and temporary members staying in separate flats. During peak season, November- February, the bands are booked at least 25 days in a month.
Many of the bands have a presence on social media. They have websites where customers can make bookings, view videos and make suggestions. “We have a Facebook page too,” says Virendra, whose son Prateek, 21, manages the social media profile of Chawla Band.
The bands mostly play popular Hindi film songs. “We can play 50 songs that we rehearse when we get time. The hirer can choose from these and we play what we are told to,” says Mohammed Jaffar of Chawla Band, who plays the clarinet.
Akil Ahmed and his five brothers play in various bands. His father was also a band musician but none of the brothers want their children to work in bands. “People get drunk and say improper things. The hours are long and then we hear unkind words. It is not worth the while. I tolerate all this but I do not think I want my children to,” he says.
There’s something they say about words and pictures, so we won’t belabor this too much. Below you’ll find some of the most eye-catching photographs we ran on the site in the last year. Set aside some time to scroll through each one: They’re an amazing window onto everything that’s happening in the world–from Detroit’s collapse and the economic rise of China and the Middle East, to environmental disasters at home and abroad.
And then, less seriously, some great photos of those ridiculous fake tree cell phone towers, hilarious examples of what happens when strangers draw your Facebook photos, and a series of the true residents of Portland, who are crazier than anything you’ve seen on Portlandia. You’ll enjoy them all. And if that’s not enough, you can see our favorites from last year here.
1: Beautifully Mashed-Up Photos Show The Glory And Wreckage Of Detroit
The “Detroit Now and Then” project artfully combines vintage photos of the city with images of what’s there now, providing a poignant reminder of what the city was, what it is now and–maybe–what it could be again.
2: “Portraitlandia”: Photos Of Portland’s Most Portland-y Residents
If Portlandia were a photo series, it would probably look something like Kirk Crippens’s “Portraitlandia,” which features iconic Rose City residents in their natural habitats.
3: Look At These Chinese Workers Carrying Mind-Blowing Amounts Of Stuff
11: These Horrifying Photos Show A Destroyed American Landscape That Agriculture Giants Don’t Want You To See
These aerial images of industrial beef farming operations look less like shots of land and more like a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
12: These Photos Of Tiny, Futuristic Japanese Apartments Show How Micro Micro-Apartments Can Be
Micro-apartments are in vogue today. But in Japan, people have been living in the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s 100-square-foot housing for decades.
Read more of our best stories of the year in these categories: Top stories, infographics, photography, maps, buildings, design, cities, food, transportation, innovative workplaces, bikes, collaborative consumption, energy, crowdfunding, robots, environment, health, education