Photography Opening at Left Bank Dance Studio

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.

Here are 13 of the 18 photos that are hanging in the beautiful Left Bank Dance Studio. The brick wall is the perfect backdrop for the vibrant colors that I captured with my camera while living in Maharashtra last year. The photos will remain at the studio for several more weeks. Dance on over and take a peek!

Here are 13 of the 18 photos that are hanging in the beautiful Left Bank Dance Studio. The brick wall is the perfect backdrop for the vibrant colors that I captured with my camera while living in Maharashtra last year. The photos will remain at the studio for several more weeks. Dance on over and take a peek!

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!

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Here I am introducing the film “Bitter Seeds” and briefly explaining what my experience in India was like.

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Watching “Bitter Seeds” at the Left Bank Dance Studio in Alton, IL.

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.

Answering questions about cotton farming in India after the film.

Answering questions about cotton farming in India after the film.

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.

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Mingling and looking at photos before the film.

All photos are for sale and if you are interested in purchasing one, please contact me: amcmullin@gm.slc.edu

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"Afternoon Tea." 5x7 photo with 9x12 mat. $50

“Afternoon Tea.” 5×7 photo with 9×12 white mat. $50

"Waiting for Loan." 5x7 photo with 8x10 mat. $40

“Waiting for Loan.” 5×7 photo with 8×10 white mat. $40

"Distributing the Loan." 4x6 & 8x10 photos with 12x16 mat. $60

“Distributing the Loan.” 4×6 & 8×10 photos with 12×16 white mat. $60

"Playing Cards at the Farm." 4x6 & 8x10 photo with 12x16 mat. $60

“Playing Cards at the Farm.” 4×6 & 8×10 photo with 12×16 white mat. $60

"Buying Cotton Seeds." 8x10 & 5x7 photos with 16x20 mat. $75

“Buying Cotton Seeds.” 8×10 & 5×7 photos with 16×20 white mat. $75

"Blessing the Land for the New Season." 4x4, 5x7, 5x7 & 8x10 photos with 16x20 mat. $75

“Blessing the Land for the New Season.” 4×4, 5×7, 5×7 & 8×10 photos with 16×20 white mat. $75

"Planting 5 Acres of Cotton." 11x14 photo with 16x20 mat. $65

“Planting 5 Acres of Cotton.” 11×14 photo with 16×20 white mat. $65

"Planting Cotton." 5x7 photo with 8x10 mat. $35

“Planting Cotton.” 5×7 photo with 8×10 white mat. $35

"Praying for Rain." 6x8 and 4x6 photos with 12x16 mat. $60

“Praying for Rain.” 6×8 and 4×6 photos with 12×16 white mat. $60

"Lunch Break." 5x7 photo with 8x10 mat. $40

“Lunch Break.” 5×7 photo with 8×10 white mat. $40

"Chemical Fertilizer." 4x4, 5x7, 5x7, & 5x7 photos with 16x20 mat. $75

“Chemical Fertilizer.” 4×4, 5×7, 5×7, & 5×7 photos with 16×20 white mat. $75

"Grinding Jowar." 4x6 & 6x8 photos with 11x14 mat. $60

“Grinding Jowar.” 4×6 & 6×8 photos with 11×14 white mat. $60

"Preparing for Pola - The Festival of the Bulls." 5x5 & 6x8 photos with 12x16 mat. $65

“Preparing for Pola – The Festival of the Bulls.” 5×5 & 6×8 photos with 12×16 white mat. $65

Top: "Dressing up for Pola - Festival of the Bulls." 4 5x7 photos with 16x20 mat. $70Bottom: "Festival of the Bulls - Village Square." 11x14 photo with 16x20 mat. $65

Top: “Dressing up for Pola – Festival of the Bulls.” 4 5×7 photos with 16×20 white mat. $70
Bottom: “Festival of the Bulls – Village Square.” 11×14 photo with 16×20 white mat. $65

Not pictured: “Bollgard Toy Car.” 4×6 and 6×8 on 11×14 white mat. $60

6x8 in "Bollgard Toy Car"

6×8 in “Bollgard Toy Car”

4x6 in "Bollgard Toy Car"

4×6 in “Bollgard Toy Car”

Not pictured: “Making Papad.” 5×7, 4×6, 4×4, & 5×7 photos on 16×20 white mat. $70

5x7, "Making Papad"

5×7, “Making Papad”

4x6, "Making Papad"

4×6, “Making Papad”

4x4, "Making Papad"

4×4, “Making Papad”

5x7, "Making Papad"

5×7, “Making Papad”

Not pictured: “Pola dye.” 11×14 photo on 16×20 white mat.

Ropes were dyed, houses re-painted. This little boy decided he wanted his hands to match the color of his shirt.

“Pola dye.” 11×14 photo on 16×20 white mat. $90

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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Farewell Pune

On Monday evening I’m moving to Nagpur/Mangurda/Mulghavan. It’s hard to believe that I am done with my formal Marathi instruction and that I am about to begin my full time research. Friday was my last day at AIIS. It was sad to say goodbye to my teachers and friends at AIIS, but I left with a feeling of accomplishment. Obviously I’m nervous about shifting to a village where I will be the only person who speaks English. I will be relying on my limited Marathi. But as I said my goodbyes on Friday I received word after word of encouragement and promised to keep everyone up to date on how my experience unfolds.

Yesterday I spent the day hopping around Pune doing some last minute errands (like sending home some things that I won’t need while living in a village in the Yavatmal District). As I rode from place to place and passed familiar and favorite places, I realized how comfortable I’ve grown here. I know where I’m going (most of the time). I have favorite places. Looking out of my rickshaw, I felt a fondness for Pune. The weather here has been beautiful the last few days. For some reason when it’s 70 degrees Fahrenheit, sunny, and a bit breezy, the city seems less crowded and a little friendlier. I sat outside eating Pav Bhaji (Pow Bah-gee) and sipping a strawberry milkshake (it’s strawberry season here…YUM!). As I enjoyed the gentle breeze I felt grateful for all of the great times I’ve enjoyed in Pune. It’s been a pleasant farewell weekend. I’ll miss Pune…the lovely weather, the friends I’ve made here,  the variety of delicious food…

So. What lies ahead of me?
Great question. I have a vague idea.
I’ll be here (the little red dot):

On Monday I will take an overnight train to Nagpur. For the next two weeks I’ll focus on coming up with a presentation to give at the Fulbright Conference in Cochin, Kerala at the beginning of March. I’ll probably take a short trip to Sangita’s place (the red dot in both maps) to introduce myself and begin the process of getting to know Mulghavan and it’s citizens. But the research really won’t begin until I get back from the conference.

What exactly will I be doing?

Another good question. The plan is to spend 75% of my time living with Sangita in Mulghavan (the other 25% of the time I’ll spend at Ajay and Yogini’s farm sorting through interviews and evaluating my process). The issue of agricultural development and the adverse effect it has had on many farmers in Eastern Maharashtra is complex. Over the last 4 years I’ve read about genetically modified crops, irrigation schemes, and the lack of access to credit and the troubles that farmers face when it comes to borrowing money from private moneylenders (among many other issues). Amidst all of these articles I was unable to find any substantial information about why farmers continue to grow cotton, even as these negative patterns of crop failure, loss, and debt have persisted over the last 20 years. Why do farmers who don’t benefit from planting cotton (usually an expensive genetically modified variety of cotton), and fall even further into debt because of this—why do they continue to plant cotton year after year? These are the contradictions that have pulled me deep into this issue. This is why I am in India. I figured that since no one has really written about farmers’ driving decision factors and the sociological complexities that play a part in this issue, I will.

So over the next few months I’ll live in Mulghavan, a small village in the Yavatmal District of Maharashtra, and get to know a few different cotton farmers and their families. The cotton season is from June to November or December, depending on the Monsoon season. During this time I’ll try my best to learn about their daily lives and the business of cotton farming. And hopefully, at the end of my time in Yavatmal, I’ll have a collection of stories that will shed some light on this question.

Of course, I’ll be updating the blog with photos and some of these stories.

Keep an eye out for a post related to my presentation for the Kerala Conference in the next couple of weeks.

Until next time friends!

research update!

Namaskar friends!

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. 

This processed cotton sits neglected outside of a shop in Pandharkawada. Many farmers in the Yavatmal District come here to sell their cotton and process it at one of many ginning factories.

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. 

Gaulib (?). Fast friends.

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…