I recently had the opportunity to select a few photos (out of hundreds!) from my research in India and put together a collection to display at the Left Bank Dance Studio in Alton, IL. It’s wonderful how these opportunities just keep knocking at my door and I am so grateful for the tangible support of the Arts in the community of Elsah/Alton, IL.
On Saturday, January 26, I hosted a screening of the film “Bitter Seeds,” the final film in Micha X. Peled’s Globalization Trilogy. Here is the synopsis from their website:
Bitter Seeds follows a season in a village at the epicenter of the crisis, from sowing to harvest. Like most of his neighbors, cotton-farmer Ram Krishna must borrow heavily in order to afford the mounting costs of modern farming. Required by a money-lender to put up his land as collateral, he gambles on everything he has.
When his crop is attacked by pests, Ram Krishna must do whatever he can to avoid losing the family land. Adding to his burden is another duty – his daughter has reached marrying age, and he must find the money for an expensive dowry. Ram Krishna has just become a candidate for joining the ranks of the farmers who commit suicide in despair.
Weaving in and out of Ram Krishna’s story is that of his neighbor’s daughter. Manjusha, a college student, is determined to become a journalist and tell the world about the farmers’ predicament. Her family opposes her plans, which go against village traditions. Manjusha’s ambition is also fueled by her personal history – her father was one of the suicide victims. When a newspaper reporter agrees to look at her writing, Manjusha takes on Ram Krishna’s plight as her first reporting project. Armed with a small camera from the production team, her video becomes part of the film.
The film follows the seeds salesmen from the remote village in the state of Maharashtra to their company’s headquarters. Interviews with seed industry executives (including Monsanto’s) and their critic, Vandana Shiva, flesh out the debate.
Bitter Seeds features compelling characters to tell a deeply moving story from the heart of the worldwide controversy about the future of farming.
“Films like this can change the world.” – Alice Waters
“A tragedy for our times, beautifully told, deeply disturbing.” – Michael Pollan
The film is available on Netflix. If you are interested in purchasing the film, visit the Teddy Bear Films website. I highly recommend seeing it!
I can’t even begin to explain how neat it was to have that film as a resource for my audience. It was filmed in the region where I did my research about a year before I arrived. Some of the folks interviewed in the film were people that I also met and spoke with while I was in India. It was a great window into the world that I had immersed myself in last year; there were scenes on buses and around towns that felt very familiar to me. As I watched the film with all of the friendly folks that came out to support me and learn more about cotton farming in India, I thought about my friends in India and wondered how their harvest had turned out.
Being able to display my photos, screen this film, and talk with people about my research and my experiences was so gratifying. There were so many good questions about the film and my research. I was thrilled to see a discussion about agriculture in India taking place in the backyard of Monsanto’s headquarters. Here in southern Illinois we are surrounded by farming. Monsanto’s headquarters are just a short drive away in St. Louis, MO. How encouraging, to see people drawing connections from the clothing that they wear to the farmers who grew the cotton a half a world away.
All photos are for sale and if you are interested in purchasing one, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Not pictured: “Bollgard Toy Car.” 4×6 and 6×8 on 11×14 white mat. $60
Not pictured: “Making Papad.” 5×7, 4×6, 4×4, & 5×7 photos on 16×20 white mat. $70
Not pictured: “Pola dye.” 11×14 photo on 16×20 white mat.
A big THANK YOU to my family for helping me pull this off! My little sister #1 is really the photographer in the family. Her opinion was crucial in narrowing down my pictures to this final selection. She gave me feedback every step of the way and I couldn’t have done this without her. And thanks to her, I have photos of the event! A HUGE thank you to my mom and dad, the crafter and the Mathematician in the family, who helped me to custom cut all of the mats with multiple photos in them. It actually took 3 pairs of hands sometimes. And a big thanks to little brother #1, the techie in the family. He picked up the projector for the film, set it up, connected the sound, and then returned it after the event. And little brother #2, the athlete in the family, did lots of heavy lifting, helping me to transport all of the frames to the Studio. And little sister #2, thanks for helping all of my guests find the popcorn! ;)
I’m so lucky to have such a talented family on which I can depend!
And of course, thanks again to the Left Bank Dance Studio for offering me its walls and giving me the opportunity to share this work in another small but extraordinarily gratifying way.
Above all, I want to thank the villagers of Mulgavan for opening their homes to a stranger from a foreign land and for humoring me as I stumbled through learning Marathi and kicked off my flip flops to traipse along with them through muddy fields. धन्यवाद!
I don’t have any really specific New Year’s resolutions, but I did tell myself that I want to try to live more honestly and openly. And I promised a blog updating you on my research project’s progress. What could be more honest and open than fulfilling my promise and opening up and sharing about my life?
I had a month long break from my Marathi and finally had a chance to travel a bit. I’ve been seeing posts on Facebook from lots of other Fulbrighters about traveling for research and pleasure and who knows what. When December came around and I had a break, I decided to take full advantage of it. I hit the road for a month.
I had two goals:
1. Set up some of my fieldwork in Nagpur with Ajay and Yogini Dolke
2. See some amazing amigas!
I scheduled a 3 day visit to Nagpur en route to friends in Delhi. Ajay and Yogini Dolke run a non-profit called Society for Rural and Urban Joint Activities in Nagpur (SRUJAN). SRUJAN has numerous health and community development projects in several villages around Nagpur. I met Ajay and Yogini while studying abroad in India in 2007. I stayed in touch with them while researching the Indian cotton economy for a class paper at Sarah Lawrence. As soon as I heard that I got a Fulbright to come back to India I emailed them. They promised to help me with my fieldwork when the time came. So in mid-December I boarded an overnight train to Nagpur. The next morning I said goodbye to my new friend “Boosh” (who invited me to his wedding in Nagpur in early February…I’ll still be here in Pune unfortunately) (ALSO he had a lisp and spoke rapid Marathi so I may be getting his name wrong…).
After some confusion about where to meet, I finally found Yogini at the Nagpur train station. While we drove to the SRUJAN office in Nagpur we caught up a bit. I let her know that I had set aside the next three days to be available to talk with her and Ajay whenever they were available; I didn’t want to impinge on any of their very important ongoing projects.
Of course Ajay and Yogini had already given a lot of thought to my needs. I sat with Yogini and confirmed my ideas about what type of village I wanted to be placed in (a small one with several small to medium sized farmers) and what my ideal schedule would be (3 weeks in the field, 1 week at the SRUJAN headquarters—a beautiful farm near Pandharkawada, Maharashtra). Within a few hours Yogini had made several calls. The first was to Sangita, a village health-worker who has worked with SRUJAN for over 15 years. Sangita agreed to meet me and discuss hosting me while I do my fieldwork. Yogini also spoke with a Geography professor at LAD College, Nagpur. They had discussed finding a student who might be willing to work with me to translate interviews and conduct research. We made plans to visit the SRUJAN farm and meet the full-time SRUJAN staff and to meet Sangita in her village, Mulghavan (मुळघवाण), about a forty minute drive from the farm. I now refer to my journal.
December 14. Wednesday.
This morning Ajay and I ate breakfast and then went with Sachin, Ajay’s driver, to SRUJAN’s farm. We first stopped in Pandharkawada to order some pillows and mattresses for अजयचे बाबा (Ajay’s father). As Sachin steered us through the crowded streets I looked around, trying to make out signs in Marathi. After Ajay’s business was taken care of we headed to SRUJAN. As we were leaving Pandharkawada I saw several farmers (शेतकरी) driving into town, their bullock carts loaded with cotton. Ajay told me that the government hasn’t yet declared the minimum support price (MSP) for cotton and that these farmers were probably selling to private buyers. Farmers who have to repay their debts often can’t wait until the government declares the MSP. In order to earn money to repay their loans they will sell their cotton to private buyers, often earning much less per quintal than the MSP. As we continued on our drive to SRUJAN we passed 5 or 6 ginning factories. Flecks of white gold that had strayed from bullock carts lined the road.
We ate paratha, potatoes, fried daal. While Ajay spoke with Ganesh about some business I made friends with the resident little one, Gaulib (?). At first he seemed hesitant to come near me, but Durgha proved to be a satisfactory buffer. By the time Ajay declared “चला” the three of us were swinging on the porch and munching on tart little fruits that Gaulib had retrieved from a tree near the kitchen garden.
I said goodbye, promising to see them all again in February. We headed to Sangita’s house in the small village मुळघवाण. As we drove the 40 minutes of narrow and pot-hole ridden road, Ajay and I spoke about my project. He told me about the area. Yavatmal is one of the 100 poorest districts in India. There is very limited infrastructure and government services are few and far between, especially in this block, Zari-Jamni.
We got to Sangita’s house and she jumped with excitement at the sight of us, scurrying away and saying she would be right back. She quickly returned with her husband, Motiram. We went inside their home.
Ajay and Sachin sat on a bed across from Sangita and I sat in a chair in the middle, perpendicular to their gaze. My head whipped back and forth from Sangita to Ajay as they discussed my potential stay there. The conversation moved from me to Sangita’s scooter needing an oil change to her work for SRUJAN. I was able to follow some of the conversation, but not much. As I sat there lost between the two tongues spitting Marathi back and forth, I imagined what it would be like in a few months when I didn’t have Ajay there to explain in English what was just said. Doubt clouded my mind. Would I be able to do it? It was definitely going to be hard.
But as we drove away my doubt was lost in the shadows of an overwhelming sense of gratitude and excitement. I turned to Ajay and told him about how I was imagining what experiencing the first rain of the monsoon season would be like after a few months of living in Mulghavan. Language barriers and lifestyle differences suddenly seemed like walls I could scale if that was the experience on the other side. Ajay smiled and agreed. It’s worth it. And now is the time to do it. It was a truly fruitful and fulfilling day!
The next day I met with Radhika, a student from LAD College, Nagpur. She had expressed an interest in doing some fieldwork during her summer break (April to July). We met to see if she’d be up for living in a village with me and helping me conduct interviews and translate recordings. She was very enthusiastic and I’m looking forward to being able to work with her in the upcoming months. Ajay and I came up with a plan for a fellowship for her. It feels weird to suddenly be in a position where, on my fellowship, I am creating a fellowship for someone just a few years younger than myself. Fake it till you make it? I feel like I’m playing “grown-up” a lot these days.
That evening I hopped on another overnight train, this time to for goal #2: visit friends in Delhi. I left Nagpur feeling immensely satisfied with how much I had accomplished with the generous help of Ajay and Yogini and company. I hadn’t expected to have a place to stay and a semi-outlined plan this early on. I left feeling excited to return and keep working.
I spent the next few weeks in Delhi and Nepal, visiting friends, playing tourist, and randomly meeting with a few folks who are working on cotton farming-related issues. With each passing day here in India my list of resources and contacts gets longer and longer. I met a Dam activist who practices Gandhian lifestyle and spins his own cotton. I attended a Christmas party and got a business card from a friend of a friend. I happened upon another friend of a friend who just completed his thesis on Bt cotton and risk in Vidarbha. I discovered that my former professor’s wife is the vice-president of an organization that works with micro-finance institutions all over India. One contact leads to another. Somehow it seems I have met all of the right people. And I continue to do so! Just today I made a connection with Chaitanya, an organization based in Pune that has a group conducting a cash-flow analysis in the Vidarbha region.
I have one more month in Pune—a month already packed full with hours of Marathi study, interviews, meetings, and reading articles before I leave for the village, the गाव (gow). I’ll try to keep up with the blogging during this whirlwind of a month. Time is flying by! Until next time…
It’s Tuesday afternoon. I am producing a record amount of blogs! Go me! But the pace will slow down a lot and very soon. Things are about to get busy for me. Tomorrow morning I set out for Pune, a short 3-4 hour bus ride from Mumbai. I’ll be staying with a friend of a friend there for a few nights and then, hopefully, moving into an apartment (or flat, as they say here) with another Fulbright student researcher, Robin. All this on top of beginning language school at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS). Needless to say, things will be very busy over the next few days.
So, while I have the time, I will let you all have a glimpse at the life that is unfolding for me here in India.
I was supposed to meet with my advisor, Dr. Ritambhara Hebbar, today. Unfortunately her mother has been very ill the past few days and it was not possible for her to come see me at TISS. Lucky for you, that means I can tell you about my adventure yesterday!
Yesterday, Monday August 22, 2011, was Janmashtami, or the celebration of the birth of the Hindu god, Krishna. I don’t know much about Krishna, except that he is often depicted with a flute (like in the picture above), and he is often portrayed as “a god-child, a prankster, a model lover, a divine hero and the Supreme Being” (thank you wikipedia). Sounds like a god worth celebrating!
I grabbed my camera and a few other things and headed out to explore the area surrounding TISS. I didn’t have to walk far before I heard loud joyful music and saw a crowd gathering. I stuck out like a sore thumb, being basically the only woman and the only white person. But I couldn’t help lingering. Garlands of gold and orange marigolds were strung on rope that suspended a decorative clay pot. One of the Fulbright coordinators had told me that it’s tradition for boys and men to climb up and try to break the pot. The pot is filled with a sweet sugary curd that is often died orange. Krishna liked his sweets! I really wanted to see a group of guys successfully break the pot!
There were crowds and clay pots everywhere! I walked about a 3 mile loop. I think that each neighborhood was having their own celebration. Some were very big, with stages and news cameras. I kept walking and soon it was pouring rain! Hello MONSOON! I was prepared with my purple umbrella. I finally stumbled upon a smaller more secluded celebration. And I spied a group of women and girls observing from across the street. One of the girls spoke English and explained to me that they didn’t know when the guys would successfully break the pot. Part of the celebration was waiting with anticipation.
I was amazed! The pot was at least four stories high. When I had heard about this tradition, I thought that it was a scramble up something to get to the pot. Not at all! This festival combined the ultimate human pyramid with the ultimate team challenge. I later found out that these guys had been practicing and strategizing for weeks! The team that finally breaks the pot wins a prize. Every attempt that each team of guys made had me standing on my tippy-toes. How dangerous and exciting!
Success! I was so lucky to see them break the pot! I thanked the little girl (whose name I’ve forgotten) for explaining everything to me. “No, no,” she bobbled her head. “It was my pleasure.”
As I continued to walk the three mile loop back to campus, truckloads of teenage guys in orange and white shirts passed by on the street. As soon as one of the guys saw me, they’d start to shout and cheer and all the other guys in the truck would follow suit. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of being the center of attention like that, but the joy of the festivities was infectious. I smiled and waved at every shouting, waving orange truckload of boys that passed.
I got back to campus, hungry and soaked. And I was just in time for lunch. I finally made a friend in the dining hall. Sajid sat down next to me and started a conversation. He’s from Pune and when I told him I am going there tomorrow to start learning Marathi he beamed a smile back in my direction. “I will start to teach you,” he said. I smiled and thanked him. I can’t wait to walk into Marathi class on Thursday morning and ask my teacher, “Kashi Ahes?” (kah-shee ah-hace, How are you?).
I’ve been hunkering down in the library, starting to think more about the direction of my research. The more I think about it, the more excited I get. And now, every time I feel like this living adjustment has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever had so far and I start to get down and miss my loved ones back at home, I think about how important my project is. It’s worth it!
Well friends, next time I write I will be in Pune. Hopefully settled into my own apartment. Until then!
Hello! It’s hard to believe it’s been almost exactly a week since I set sail on this adventure. And so far it is living up to the name adventure! Orientation in Delhi was busy and between lectures and feeling the jet lag, there wasn’t much time to go out and explore. But adventure was waiting for me in Mumbai!
On Wednesday I flew to the coastal city of roughly 18 million people with 6 other Fulbright students. Five of them are going to be living here in Mumbai and one of them, like me, is affiliated here, but will be living and working in Pune. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive, 3-4 hour train, and 5-6 hour bus from Mumbai to Pune. Housing in Mumbai is so hard to come by that many people commute from Pune to Mumbai everyday for work!
All of the Fulbright student researchers in the Mumbai area are being put up at the YMCA in Bombay Central. I had already made arrangements to stay at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), the institute that I am affiliated with for my research. So, I’ve been on my own!
Well, mostly. On Thursday morning Arunima (uh-ROO-ni-muh), a facilitator hired by the United States India Education Foundation, Mumbai (USIEF), met me at the TISS campus. Her roommate, Sharon, had accompanied her. I felt bad. I was very out of the way for the girls. Chembur is in the “suburbs” of Mumbai and they had to come quite far to get me. They smiled and said it was no problem. We all got in an auto rickshaw and headed to the train station. Our mission for the day: meet up with the other Fulbright students at the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and register. Since we will be in India for over 180 days straight, we need to register and show proof of residency and explain why we’ll be here for so long. At the Delhi orientation we heard all sorts of horror stories about the registration process; for some in the past it had taken days…4-5 visits to the FRRO. Yikes!
We got to the train station and Sharon took my hand. It was rush hour and this was going to be quite an experience! Sharon smiled and asked if I was going to be ok. I said yes; I felt relieved that Sharon and Arunima were watching out for me.
In Mumbai, the first car of every train is a “Ladies Only” car. It was very crowded on the platform and even more crowded on the train; we had to push and shove our way onto the train. Arunima and Sharon went in front and behind me so that they could help me make my way through the crowd. Once on the train we crammed into the middle of the car and held onto the overhead handholds. There is room for about 4 women in each row of seats. Two rows face each other. There are four of those in each compartment of the car. Women crowd their way into the car, standing between the rows of seats facing each other and in the aisle between compartments. You have to keep an eye out for any one who is getting ready to exit the train so that you can push your way to their empty seat. After about 30 minutes of standing, the three of us managed to get seats. In another 15 minutes we made it to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST, previously called Victoria Terminus).
As we emerged from the pedestrian subway, my hostesses took turns telling me about the history of CST. It was designed and built by the British. It was completed in 1887 but the first trains started running from it in 1853. It and the other buildings in the Fort area were some of the most beautiful in Mumbai, leftovers from the British rule. According to my guidebook CST is “a meringue of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles whipped into an imposing, Daliesque structure of buttresses, domes, turrets, spires and stained glass windows….adorned with peacocks, gargoyles, cheeky monkeys and lions” (Lonely Planet India, 2009). It certainly was an impressive piece of architecture!
We walked around, located the FRRO and then called the other students to see where they were. They were delayed at the USIEF office getting all the various papers that everyone needed in order. So the three of us headed back to CST to find a place to kill time. McDonalds. Yes folks, I got coffee with Sharon and Arunima at McDonalds. It was the first time I had been in a McDonalds in about five years. The menu was small and it had been “Indian-ized.” The coffee was small too, and milky and sweet–almost more like a mocha. A couple other girls from their hostel stumbled upon us there. We all sat and chatted about various things–where I was from, what each of us was studying, what our names meant, what sights I should see while in Mumbai. Finally, about 2 hours later we got a call from the group. They were on their way. So we went back to the FRRO and waited for them.
Waiting. That was the theme of the afternoon. I should have had some food at McDonalds. I was at the FRRO from 11:30 am to 4:30 pm. Fortunately there was a decent waiting room. I think it was even air-conditioned. I was prepared for the wait and had brought a book. The artwork on the walls was very interesting. It wasn’t like the cheap, tasteless art that graces most official offices in the US. I think that the art was actually for sale and the waiting room doubled as an art gallery. What a great use of space and a clever way to sell your work since so many people are trapped and end up staring at the walls while they wait.
Fortunately the most difficult part of the registration process was sitting for five hours and not eating anything. All of us got our FRRO booklets and hopped in a cab. We went to Chowpatty, a neighborhood on the coast, famous for it’s beach and marine drive that looks beautiful when lit at night. After eating we all felt invigorated and decided to try to get cell phones. We walked around Mumbai for a few hours. A friendly guy on the street stopped and asked us if we were on couchsurfers. It’s big here in India! A few of us are members, so he walked with us for a bit and directed us to a big mall where we’d be able to get cell phones. We successfully got our mobiles and wandered around the maze of stores, picking up SIM cards, plug converters, and other miscellaneous things. This mall had pretty much everything. After we left the mall I said farewell to my fellow Fulbrighters; it was getting late so I hopped in a cab and headed back to CST to catch a train home.
Stay tuned for another update soon! I set out exploring on Saturday and had yet another adventure. Check back in a few days to read about it :)