My mother has been volunteering at a local Home for the Aged regularly (anywhere between 2-4 times a week if we’re not travelling) since 2003 – in July she completes 10 years!! I too have been visiting & volunteering since then, but I’m definitely not as regular.
She grew quite close to one of the old nuns she worked under, Sister Rosaline & when Sr. Rosaline got  transferred to Mangalore she invited my mother to come visit. Fast forward to present day and mom & me have been visited Mangalore five times in the last eight years. Since we go on a lot of vacations, many people assume that our trips to Mangalore fall in that category but they are anything but holidays. I will be honest, I was never very enthused to visit but I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my mom going alone so I always accompany her. Plus she’s always carrying a ton of medicines to be donated so someone needs to mind the bags. Besides, she’s given me some nice treats for going with so I can’t play the martyr card, you know?
When we visited in March this year it was already getting really hot & the frequent power cuts (almost 1/3rd of the time!) made it even more unbearable. But there’s always something nice to see & different to do, & I always return feeling a bit more positive & optimistic.
Sr. Estella, the second in command in the Mumbai home had just transferred to the Mangalore home a few months before our visit. So she asked us if we would like to go ‘marketing’ (by that I mean buying food & other necessities at the market) & of course we gladly agreed. And I lugged my cameras everywhere, & got some really nice photos that I’m eager to show off. But these aren’t those photos.
The order was founded in 19th century France, the foundress Jeanne Jugan took to begging to support all the destitute aged she was looking after. We know all the stories, how some people gave generously even though they didn’t own much, while one man slapped her just for asking. She was ashamed, but it was for the poor so she kept at it.
In the 21st century the order owns vehicles but they still do beg to sustain the Homes (considering they take in people from all religious backgrounds & don’t charge them a penny). In Mumbai they don’t have to look far, it’s a prosperous city & people give generously on a daily basis. In Mangalore it’s not the same, people there aren’t as rich neither do they give much.
Every Wednesday the sisters make a round of the markets begging for food. Many small businesses have a standing amount that they give weekly, while some may give when the mood strikes. The Wednesday that we were there Sr. Estella asked if I would click some photos of them making the rounds to be published in their magazine. I agreed, not really knowing what I was up for.

I wouldn’t call myself a street photographer by any length, but when I do take street photos, they’re much more candid. Yes I may be the girl dressed in western clothes with two or three cameras round her neck, yet nobody notices when I take pictures – I’m quiet, quick & don’t use flash.
This stems from me being an introvert – I’ve missed photos over the years because I haven’t been able to muster the courage to ask permission, but I’ve made my peace with it. I liked clicking incognito, moving it & moving out.
This was so, so different. The sisters insisted on telling everyone their photo was being taken, which resulted in some very awkward posing & grinning on the shop owner’s parts.
Do you see the second photo from above? That was taken in the wholesale vegetable market. Those boys are responsible for helping to load sacks of vegetables into trucks once people buy them. Usually, since the nuns are given vegetables for free, not one single boys bothers to help but now when they see photographs being taken, suddenly there’s five of them jostling to help at the same time. There was so much excitement to see someone with a camera that everyone started to get louder, a couple of them came up to me to ask for photos (in Kannada, which I do not understand / speak) & I won’t lie, I felt overwhelmed, uncomfortable & even a little frightened. But thankfully we moved out & went to the flower market & it was much more sane there.
You can read the stories about begging in as many books as you like but actually seeing it is a very unique & humbling experience. There was still some distance between me & the nuns, I know it would be much harder if I was with them. The owner of the egg shop in the first photo always gives a box of eggs so it’s not hard, they just have to go there & pick it up. The man in the white shirt in the third photo always gives very generously too, he gave the sisters sacks of various vegetables & made sure his men loaded it in the van. Many gave more than usual just because they knew they were being photographed. Many refuse (either politely or rudely). Other than the owners of the bigger, wholesale vegetable shops, the sisters humbly hold out their sacks in front of the smaller vegetable vendors & ask for whatever they can spare, even if it’s just one gourd or three lemons. One twenty something lemon vendor, who when approached pretended that he just couldn’t see Sr. & then just threw two or three spoilt lemons in her sack in disgust. As my mom always says, “There are all kinds of people.