Maharashtra Drought

Documentary, Photo Feature, Photojournalism, Travelogue

 

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High Walls (Ongoing series)

Documentary, Photo Feature, Photojournalism, Travelogue

Beaches are celebrated to be a neighborhood for recreation, a place to let go of the day-to-day life and have a quiet time. It is, in most metropolitan cities, also known for its beach side properties and sea-facing villas for the affluent communities. But Mumbai, India’s economy capital differs from most cities. In this city, the beach becomes a liaison for the prosperous and the underprivileged. Residencies of both the prosperous businessmen and the deprived slum dwellers within kilometers of one another are hard to miss. The rich build high white-washed walls and fences around their villas and the underprivileged hang and dry clothes on them. The closed sea facing windows of the air conditioned rooms compliment the window-less shanties. The high walls meant to keep privacy inside the bungalows are used by couples who sit on the other side of the wall for a quick afternoon romance, seeking a piece of the privacy for themselves. In these beaches people’s resilience in co-existing and conquering the hardships of the social order become prevalent. A symbiotic relationship prevails, working and living through social discrepancy, and an act of triumph of human spirit, ignored perhaps because of their own cultural baggage.

Chennai – A City With A Spirit

Photo Feature, Photojournalism

Amidst relief work and chaos following a flood that rocked the capital city of Tamil Nadu, we decided that coverage of Chennai was well overdue. I packed my bags and headed to Chennai, also known as Madras to see how the city was coping with the unexpected disaster. I reached Chennai on Friday, 11th December. The rains had stopped a couple of days back, but the relief work was still on. I headed to a place called Navalur, where I would be staying. A 45-minute journey took me through the heart of the city, as I got accustomed to the people, the streets and the overall surroundings.  Some parts of the city were doing fine, but other parts looked like a graveyard at times. It was astonishing to see this – as if some were not even aware of what was going on in the other parts of the city. However, looks can be deceiving, and that was apparent, when I later came to know about the amazing relief work that is being done by the people who were unaffected by the floods.

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Navalur was a little further away from the heart of the city and was not affected by the floods. I reached the spot, freshened up and decided to read up about the city, as it was afternoon and leaving for a shoot without a bit of research would be futile. I opened my travel guide book and checked out the key areas of focus, the city map and the geography of the area. In the evening, I decided to go to the beach to get accustomed to the city and its food and culture. It is always important to give yourself time and feel at home; Especially if you are to cover a city that you have never been to,  in a short period of time, as if you have lived there all your life.

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I met one of my old friends there who had agreed to guide me and show me around his city. We moved from place to place – Ramapuram, Vellacherry, Nungambakkam, Adyar – some of which still had a little bit of water, some areas had a few broken houses and almost everywhere there were loads of household material lying on the side of the roads.

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Sofa sets, CD/DVDs, Wi-Fi routers, shoes and everything that the water could carry. It was disheartening to see the slums and how much they had suffered from this flood. They lost their furniture, were without food or drinking water for almost a week, and now that the water has receded they had to deal with the loss and try to get back to normalcy again.

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But the immense spirit shown by the people is astonishing. Relief work has been carried out by residents of the city with the help of social media – Facebook groups have connected the relief workers and made the workflow easier, Twitter updated them about people who had been stuck in their houses. Even private cab companies, which had halted cab services, had made boats available for rescue so that the boats could taxi people to safety. Chennai will remain an example of how technology can assist in helping people in need. The sun was shining and it was typical winter weather in Chennai as relief work continued. My friend and I stopped for lunch as we had local fish delicacies and a non-vegetarian meal that was served on a banana leaf. Being a coastal city, the seafood here is delicious.

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Chennai has few tourist spots inside the city, but one of the attractions is the Marina beach. Marina is the second largest urban beach in the world spanning a total of 6 kms along the city. The beach also has a lighthouse that one can go up to, to get an amazing vista of the city from above. The lighthouse tickets can be bought separately, or clubbed with tickets to a museum on the ground floor of the lighthouse itself. The city also houses major IT company offices, which were closed or their operations were temporarily shifted to Bangalore during the floods. One can also spot fishing boats, food stalls and take horse rides on Marina beach. The best time to visit Chennai is during the winter, as the climate is generally tropical. The city is filled with beautifully carved temples and their colourful architecture is amazing to look at and admire. It is also a city rich in culture as it has a rich history of theatre and is also one of the most important centres of Bharatnatyam, a style of dance and Carnatic music as well. Most people in the city know both English and Tamil. Taxi drivers can communicate in English but autorickshaw drivers mostly speak Tamil and occasionally broken English. The bus service is excellent as well, as government buses are quite frequent and cost effective.

 

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Chennai has left a mark on me, seeing amazingly coordinated relief work carried out by ordinary members of the public, and witnessing how a city moves on and gets back to normal life from a disastrous flood. A city with unimaginable courage, persistence and love for each other. It has showed us instances of resilience and determination. Chennai is not just a city but a spirit of unstoppable forces and beautiful landscapes, of warm people and even warmer hearts. I left Chennai hoping to come back again, hungry for more.

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How to help :

You can help individuals from a facebook group called ‘Tamilnadu Flood – Support’ or donate to any of the following NGOs to help.

  • Caritas India
  • Sewa International
  • IAHV- Art Of Living
  • HelpAge India
  • Oxfam India
  • Bhoomika Trust
  • truegiftsindia.org
  • AID India
  • Action Aid India
  • India Cares Foundation
  • Goonj India
  • AISC Chennai Flood Relief 2015
  • Zomato Chennai Relief Fund

 

Daily News Stories

Photojournalism

 

A school in Dharavi

Documentary

About one million people live in Asia’s largest slum – Dharavi.  Located in central Mumbai, the economic capital of India, this slum houses people migrating from all over India to follow their dreams . The people live in dire conditions and hope for a better tomorrow every day. This photo story explores hope, through the eyes of the next generation, the children in Dharavi.

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There are a handful of schools in this vastly populated area. Madrasa Gausia Gulshane Bhagdar is one such school. Funded by Baba Lalmia Kakri trust, a small one room ‘kothi’, with a signboard above the gate is what comprises of the school. Approximately thirty five students study in this school, ranging from five year olds to sixteen -seventeen year olds. This school was started seventeen years ago . Sayyiad Lalmia is one of the only two teachers of this institution.

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The school or madrasa has a strict curriculum. It provides religious teachings in Hifz – the memorization of The Holy Quran.  Many of these children are pulled out from schools to work for their parents, to support the family, a handful only remain in schools every year.  “Because kids get distracted easily and commit to the world of crime, we are trying to set the right goal for them, make them better human beings and give them hope through our teachings. We show them the way of Allah. By the time they leave the madrasa they will be ready for an honest life. “, says Sayyiad.

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Life in Dharavi is arduous, and these children have to face the hardships from the very first days of their lives. But the next generation of slum dwellers still search for hope.

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God’s Graveyard

Photo Feature

Ganesh Chaturthi is a Hindu festival in India celebrated in honor of the elephant god Ganesha.  It is usually a ten day festival and on the eleventh day the idol is immersed into a local water body such as a pond, lake, river or sea. It is notably one of the biggest celebrations in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

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In Maharashtra the idols are immersed in the Arabian sea and this practice has garnered a lot of controversy. According to a study conducted by Central Pollution Control Board in Bangalore, these idols cause massive changes in the water body and harm the environment. The idols are made of a chemical called PoP (Plaster of Paris) which is not a naturally occurring substance. During immersion these harmful substances like PoP and chemical paints dissolve into the water and can take from a few months to years to dissolve.

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They increase the acid content in the water bodies. The TDS (Total dissolved solid) is increased by a staggering 100% . According to the study, the heavy metal content has shown an increase in metals such as iron which increased nearly 10 times and the content of copper in the sediments increased by 200 to 300 %. The government is trying to change this practice by promoting immersions in artificial tanks built specifically for this purpose.

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Many schools and colleges organize cleaning drives, day after the immersion but not all idols wash back ashore in that time. It does keep the beaches clean but by that time, most of the PoP and paint has washed back into the water.

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These photographs are a representation of what the sea had returned back. All shot a day after the clean up drive (i.e. two days after the actual immersion). This just proves that the clean up drive is not a permanent solution and people need to change their practice to save the environment. The beach turns into a graveyard for the God’s mortal remains and it is quite haunting to see parts of the idol – a hand, an elephant trunk, half a body laying there, neglected in the sand.

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