Archive for the ‘Reportage’ Category


Picture credit: The Hindu

[First published in The Hindu dated May 31, 2015]

Jitu Banbasi is a happy man today. A member of the Scheduled Tribe Musahar community, from Jayapura village in the Varanasi district of Uttar Pradeshhe lived in a makeshift brick house earlier but is now entitled to a pucca house painted in bright yellow and cobalt blue in Modiji ka Atal Nagar.

Treated as outcasts earlier, often denied even drinking water by upper caste village residents, the Musahars cannot but thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi enough. For it was after he adopted the village, about 30 km from his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi, on November 7, 2014, that the seeds of transformation were sowed. Now Jitu is eagerly awaiting the formal inauguration of the colony so that he can occupy his new house. Thanks to the new houses, villagers too are treating the Musahars with more respect, he claims.

Journalists from Delhi are visiting Jayapura in droves to study “development” — Mr. Modi’s model of development — which the village epitomises. Villagers admit that the flurry of developmental activities in the last seven months has been unprecedented. Most homes in the village have got new toilets, and houses for the poor have been constructed, undertaken mostly by Corporate Social Responsibility wings of major companies.

Jayapura was little heard of until the Prime Minister adopted it.


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Picture credit: The Hindu Archives

[First published in The Hindu dated July 30, 2014]

Though it is five years since the civil war ended in Sri Lanka, 69,000 Tamils continue to live as refugees.

The date was 25 July 1983.

Antony* reached Luckyland biscuit factory at Kundasale, a suburb in Kandy, his place of work for 10 years, in the morning as usual. On that fateful day, his manager warned him. “They can come to get you any moment. You must leave now.”

Only two days earlier, an ambush by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had claimed the lives of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in Jaffna. The incident sparked riots across Sri Lanka, in which mobs of Sinhala goons targeted the Tamil minority community with government support. For the first time, Tamils started leaving the island nation in large numbers. Those who could afford it took the flight to India, while others braved the seas.



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Picture credit: Vidya Venkat

[First published in The Hindu thREAD on Jan. 22, 2016]

Here’s the tragic part about being born as an elephant. Sure, you may get to eat a whole lot of food and grow into a 3,000-kilo giant, but if your fate is to be ordered about by a puny human, how are you supposed to feel about that? Happy?

Taking a joyride atop an elephant (that costs a hundred rupees per head) at Dubare Elephant Camp in Coorg, I observe the scrawny animal course the walkway as its mahout periodically pokes it with a sharp metal rod. Halfway through the ride, the mahout rewards it with a roll of dried grass for its obedience. After we get off the elephant’s back, my mother buys a dozen bananas and gives it to the mahout in the hope that it would land up in the creature’s belly. Whether it truly does, we never know.

A short drive away from the Dubare elephant camp lives Karnataka’s state-appointed honorary wildlife warden Nirad Muthanna. Muthanna is strictly against the taming of wild elephants in such camps. “Their place is in the jungle, not in these circus grounds,” he says. Situated in the midst of coffee plantations, Muthanna’s house overlooks the Cauvery river, beyond which stretches the Dubare Forest where sightings of wild elephants and tigers are fairly common.

Sitting by the riverside, we discussed the dilemmas foisted on these animals by us humans. He recounts an anecdote from 2014 to make me understand why peaceful animals like elephants have learnt to be suspicious of — or even hate — human beings over the years.


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Trapped lives

trafficking 1

Picture sourced from flickr.com for representational purposes only.

(This is an account of a meeting I had back in 2009 with women trafficked from Bangladesh)

Bina* is not sure if she should be happy about the birth of her son. She sits staring at the 15-day-old child wriggling in her arms, leaning against a wall in a dimly lit room of the Government Vigilance Home in Mylapore, where she has been kept for the last eight months.

The woman, trafficked from a poverty stricken village in Bangladesh, was caught in a raid conducted by the Anti-vice squad of the police in a lodge in suburban Chennai. She says she had been brought to India by a broker in her village who promised to get her a job as a maid.

There are several others like her at this Home, who crossed the porous border between India and Bangladesh, mostly unwittingly, in the hope of finding a job that would help them survive and landed up instead in brothels and shady lodges in Indian metros.

Sheela*, the mother of two children, says an agent had convinced her family to send her to Dhaka to work as a maid. But this woman was first taken to Kolkata, then to Bangalore and finally to Chennai, where this broker, on whom she was completely dependent for everything, including food, would make her attend as many as 20 clients in a day.


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In deep water

(This piece was written in 2006 for a narrative writing class at the Asian College of Journalism.)

Located about four km from Pondicherry town, Thengaithittu could well be Keats’ unravished bride of quietness. Even the sea here, for all its proverbial chaos, is a prophet in meditation. The tall coconut trees lining the coast, their heads nodding gently in the wind, embodied the very meaning of the name of the island – ‘island of coconuts’. Looking at the bright green vegetable farms, thick mangrove swamps edging the estuary and the villagers who welcomed me with happy smiles it was difficult to believe that this island could soon be lost to the hungry tide…

When I left for Pondicherry, I felt that it was too touristy for the adventure story assigned by Robin Reisig, my narrative journalism tutor. Its rocky beaches, French cuisine and the Aurobindo Ashram are popular already. The plan, therefore, was to visit Arikkamedu near Pondicherry, where the relics of the Roman sea trade were excavated in the 1940’s. Much had been written about this place as well. But thankfully like Columbus, who was determined to explore one place, I too ended up elsewhere. Upon reaching Pondicherry, my friend Probir Banerjee, an environmental activist with PondyCAN! (Pondy Citizens’ Action Network), informed me about a recent government proposal to expand the existing port in Pondicherry. Thengaithittu, the island abutting the port, would be worst-hit if this were to happen as it would become more vulnerable to strong tidal action, he said. Led by curiosity and quest I visited the endangered island.


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