June 3 2014
The daredevil participants of the Well of Death in New Delhi risk their lives each time they enter the cylinder wall (refresh your memory here). This century old discipline has existed in the US and the UK for entertainment purposes during fairs and carnivals, and these days, it’s still popular in India. The daredevils were earning up to 200 USD a month, which was considered good money in 2007, that is if you were poor.It’s as decent job as any, but whether the daredevils do it because of their passion, or because it pays well, and their options are limited to start with – is a far reaching question Let’s just say that some people’s box of chocolates don’t come in all flavours.
What is the deal with extreme sports? Adrenaline enthusiasts pursue passion, and these dangerous activities are a proof of status, a realisation of their skill and fearlessness, while exhibitionism and the mere thrill of it comes as a sweet surplus. Bull riding, mountain climbing, sumo wrestling, and even cave diving is dangerous, but it is somehow different from the way the train surfers risk their lives. The extreme sports, including the Well of Death are disciplines, and there are ways to learn and train them in a more or less institutionalised way.
When it comes to the train surfers of Katlehong township, this is not entirely the case. There is no way to learn the discipline, there is no trial level, a slow and safe advancement, a build-up of skills – they just hop on the train and do it. Nike had these people in mind when they thought of their winning motto. The ones who ride or die, but do it.
With train surfing, noone charges tickets, there’s no pay to gain, there’s no audience to watch them (except us on video). I doubt there’d be much peer admiration, and their mums are pretty much upset about this extracurricular activity. The death rate is high and everyone knows someone who’s been seriously injured or died doing it. And they still do it. But why? That’s the questions everyone ponders. At least, at a glance. The only reward they get is the fact that they are being seen. And seemingly, that’s the goal. After all, who doesn’t want to be seen? We do really strange things only to be seen. Our politics and economy is all about being seen, everything is. The bigger the noise and pollution, the more we have to do to be seen.
While it surely is heartfelt to watch these young men perish away to their risky sport hobby, we are still watching them. They are the winners here. They are making a point and living it, while we’re just looking at them. We’re the couch potatoes with (un)recognised privilege, they’re the brave young beings. And even if for a moment we’d think about judging them for disrespecting life, we don’t know what kind of life they’re having, we haven’t walked a mile in their shoes.
Self-realisation is a powerful motivator, but so is anger. If you’re living in post apartheid South Africa, chances are high you have a bit of both. The anger at the wrongs and the pain that comes with it can be so extreme, that instead of blasting it all over their surroundings, these people somehow implode and put themselves in direct extreme risk. This act communicates something important – such need to prove a point is not to be ignored. At some point, the feelings they are expressing are not only their own, but a collective responsibility. What do you think they are they telling us?
You can’t tell the world to stop being fucked up and expect it to change. But you can show that you’ve had it with it.
All images courtesy Marco Casino
Editing: Andrea Bertolotti
Sounds design: Salvo Delle Femmine
Equipment: Leica Camera Italia
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