Monday, July 23, 2012

In Photos: celebration of monsoon by women in India

In India, monsoon is the most important of all the seasons. It is the lifeline of the country's agrarian economy and, also the giver of its year-long supply of drinking water. No wonder then that every Indian waits for the the monsoon with an eager heart. But when it comes to women of India, monsoon means much more than economic gain. For millions of Indian women, monsoon is the season of freedom. In an otherwise orthodox society, where a woman lives with a number of taboos, Monsoon brings in her life a day  when she can break free and have fun, without being judged. Here are a few glimpses of that freedom.

Celebrating Monsoon in South India

In Indian calendar, the rainy season consists of two months - Ashadh and Shravan. During Ashad, in southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (Hyderabad is the capital city), women celebrate BONALU festival. They carry 'Bonam' - an earthen pot full of rice, fruits and decorated with flowers and neem leaves. The pot is offered to mother goddess as a token of thanksgiving.  On their way to the temple, the women - wearing silk saris and jasmine flowers on hair,  dance and make merry
Celebrating Monsoon in North India
After Ashadh, comes Shravan. Married women all across northern India celebrate TEEJ, the most well publicized of all the monsoon festivals in India. Dressed in their bridal finery, the women sing, dance and swing. Though they observe a day-long fast, this is a celebration of womanhood and life.  

 Celebrating monsoon in East India
In the eastern Indian state of Odisha, women - both young and old, married and unmarried, celebrate Rajjo  - the fertility festival. For three days, they wear new clothes, adorn themselves with flowers and make designs of henna paste on their palms. The most joyous part of it is the  swing which  otherwise is a complete no no for grown up women. In fact it is almost scandalous of a woman to be riding on a swing in times outside this festival. But the festival is her freedom phase when she doesn't have to feel shy or apologize for enjoying what she loves!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Climate change in Kilimanjaro threatens to end an Indian dream

Unearth is a newly launched environmental news journal published from the United Nations, New York City. Shared here is my first story published in the journal. You can read the original story here.

This might spell bad news for the Indian film industry: Mount Kilimanjaro, considered by filmmakers as a picturesque location for song and dance sequences, is literally losing its cool status. The climate has been fast changing on the mountain, sending the mercury higher with every passing month and robbing the mountain of its fabled velvety green cover.

Song and dance sequences are a signature feature in Indian movies, and, often a film’s success at the box office is decided by its beautifully choreographed songs, shot at scenic locales. For decades, Switzerland topped the list of Indian filmmakers’ favorite locations. But now Kilimanjaro also features high on the list, with several chart buster songs being shot around the mountain.

According to Alok Bishnoi, a Mumbai-based actor and director, an Indian filmmaker looks at three factors before zeroing in on a spot for shooting a song: beautiful landscape, pollution-free air which provides good lighting, and a suitable climate. “It is common for a pair of lead actors to change costumes multiple times during a single song sequence
,” says Bishnoi. “
A mild climate helps a lot as the actors can wear anything fashionable and pretty. Kilimanjaro has those features

Friday, July 13, 2012

Landmine: its also about food insecurity

I was browsing through the press reports about the historic visit of Laos by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of state, this week. This is the first visit by a US secretary of state to Laos in 57 years, so obviously there has been a lot of buzz. But among the dozens of reports I found, a particular one in a local (Laos) newspaper caught my eyes. The report, among other things, say that Laos should utilize Clinton's visit as an opportunity to clear its vast stretch of cultivable land currently filled with killer landmines.

Quoting Channapha Khamvongsa - an eminent social activist and the head of  the NGO Legacies of War, the report says that an estimated one-third of Laos is still littered with unexploded bombs from over 40 years ago, making land unavailable for food production or development.

It made me sit up. I was well aware of the danger that landmines pose to human lives. But I had never really seen the issue of landmines as something so closely connected with food production and food security.

The article really made me think of that now. And then I did a little more reading. I found that worldwide, there were millions of acres lying uncultivated just because some war mongers had planted landmines all over them. And what's more, most of these countries are those that are fighting poverty and hunger everyday.

Take Albania for example. Or Angola. Or Somalia. Or Libya . Or Palestine.Or Cambodia. Or Afghanistan. Everywhere, there are hundreds of thousands of acres land that are made dead by mine planters. If there were no landmines, and if those hundreds of acres were under cultivation, wouldn't it change the state of food production in the world today?

And this is the question that applies a 100% to India.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Harvesting rainwater: can we move from tokenism to pragmatism?

It's been a painful week in Hyderabad. First, chunks of black clouds hovered around in the sky all day long, while the ground below remained parched. And then, on two evenings that it actually rained, every single drop went down the drain, literally. The very next day after a heavily rainy night, every house in my lane was calling a private water tanker, coughing up hundreds of rupees and buying their daily use of water.

You know the reason: not a single house here has a system to harvest the gallons of water that just poured from the sky and could have saved them the cost of at least 2 tankers (each costing a minimum Rs 300). In fact nobody even has any visible inclination to build that system. 
Now, amidst this painful scenario, I heard the news that Madhya Pradesh government is about to make rainwater harvesting mandatory for citizens in the capital city of Bhopal. The reason isn't hard to imagine: Bhopal has an alarmingly low level of groundwater and the administration is finding it almost impossible to meet the daily demand of water. So, now it's thought of making it a legal obligation for every new house builder to harvest the rainwater.
When I first heard the news, my reaction was "wow!" However, seconds later I realized that there was hardly anything wow factor to this. And here is why:

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Drought drives rural Indian women into city sex trade

The following  is my story that was published today in Thomson Reuters Alertnet. You can read the original article here  
(The photos are, however, not part of  the original article.)

HYDERABAD, India (AlertNet) - Sex worker Aruna Raju, 45, moved to Hyderabad 11 years ago after drought and repeated crop failures led to the deaths of four of her family members. “I have seen people shedding tears of blood,” she says.
Aruna’s family had five acres of land in Nizamabad district, 172 km away, on which they grew cotton, maize and chili. But from the mid-1990s, the rains became irregular and crops wilted in the fields. “The land became so dry, we could feel smoke coming out of it,” she says.

Her father became deeply depressed, and some four years later, he died after suffering chest pains. A little later, her mother, younger brother and her own daughter died from malnutrition. Her husband had already left due to the shame of being unable to feed his family.

“That is when I came to Hyderabad, so I could find a way to survive,” she recalls. But with no schooling and no one to help her find a job, Aruna’s only option was prostitution.