A visitor takes a close look at “Missing Route 4,” a hand-stitched embroidery by Bapi Das.Credit Atul Loke for The New York Times
The history of our work in Kerala, and specifically in Kochi, has long been intertwined with Art, and how the surrounding community interacts with it. Biennales, by nature, often blur the line between street art and gallery space, as multi-dimensional and multi-media installations begin to appear on walls, pop-up spaces, cavernous warehouse buildings, and classic museum halls.
Now in it’s 4th edition, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, has grown continually in both the breadth of the artists involved, and the depth of its work toward community outreach. This sense of inclusivity extends to gender equality, a longstanding issue that India as a country has battled with; the curator and more than half of the artists are female.
As with the previous editions, the installations are thought provoking and moving, at times asking viewers to acknowledge and honor the difficult history of a colonial past.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, South Asia’s biggest art show, uses interactive exhibits and live performances to help Indians connect with contemporary art.
KOCHI, India — Clad in a simple striped shirt and the white mundu of the city’s fishmongers, Bashir stood out from the well-heeled throng at the warehouse galleries and tree-filled courtyards on the first day of India’s biggest contemporary art show, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Bashir, a fishwrapper who works nearby, visited the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on opening day because entry was free. He lingered over the photographs, including these photo essays by Chandan Gomes, a Delhi photographer. Credit: Atul Loke for The New York Times
Keeping to himself, he moved from room to room, stopping to study moody landscapes by the Delhi photographer Chandan Gomes that were paired with imaginary scenes drawn by a girl who died at age 12.
“I don’t understand the inner meaning of the art,” said Bashir, who uses one name and makes a living wrapping and delivering fish. “I just like to see beautiful things.”
Bashir’s willingness to engage with the artwork, no matter how challenging, was a victory for the show’s organizers. The southern state of Kerala, and India as a whole, have very few public venues to see art. So the organizers of the biennale, which runs until March 29, strove to create an event that would appeal to everyone — from untutored day laborers to veteran museum curators.
“We are making a cultural festival,” said Bose Krishnamachari, a painter from Kerala who co-founded the show eight years ago. “We have tried to penetrate to the people’s minds so that they feel that it is their biennale.”…
Women demonstrators protest a plan to to cut down more than 14,000 trees for a redevelopment project in New Delhi in June 2018. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Thanks to Yale e360’s Mumbai-based Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar:
In India’s burgeoning urban areas, residents are rallying against the widespread destruction of trees to make way for development. The recent protests highlight a global issue: densely populated megacities in the developing world, which are most in need of tree cover, often have the least.
Thousands of trees have been cut down in Mumbai in recent years to make way for new housing, wider roads, and a $3.3 billion subway line. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA
The funeral cortege was small. Six people shouldered the bier and others followed, clad in the traditional Indian white. As the group filed past the state assembly building, the armed guards did not give it a second glance. In a few minutes, however, the security forces caught on. The procession winding its way through Mumbai’s government district was not a real funeral: It was a protest. The shrouded body held aloft was not a human — it was the trunk of a tree, one of many, including grand old banyans, cut down for the construction of a $3.3 billion subway line.
A protester hugs an old tree in Mumbai to prevent it from being cut down for a subway project. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA
Mumbai’s old trees have borne the brunt of new development in the booming city, including road widening, transport projects, and housing construction. The new subway alone is destroying or damaging 5,000 trees, from hundreds of old street trees in the dense parts of the historic island city to more than 2,000 trees in a mini-forest in suburban Aarey Colony, where a rail car shed is to be built. A less visible loss lies in defunct industrial areas, where large plots with old trees and ponds are being redeveloped into residential and commercial towers. “Developers are supposed to replace the trees but no one really checks,” says Stalin D., head of local environmental group, Vanashakti. Continue reading
Jerdons Leaf Bird
It’s a relatively small world among the birding /photography community in India, and once I saw Gururaj Moorching’s photographs I reached out for an introduction to ask him to contribute to our Bird of the Day series. He started his own birding journey in 2012 after a trip to Kaziranga and another trip to the Rann of Kutch where he came across the two books “Birding on Borrowed Time” and “Lifelist” by the late Phoebe Snetsinger. We’ve been publishing his gorgeous photos for over 3 years, and I was thrilled when he shared his plan for a Photographic Birding Big Year.
In our own way we’ve documented his birding travels within our series, and we applaud this amazing achievement of photo-documenting 951 of India’s 1,317 species of birds in just one year (2018).
Gururaj is currently working on a book expected to be published this spring, but he recently spoke with Deepthi Sanjiv from the Bangalore Mirror about his experience.
“When I had a chance meeting in April 2015 with naturalist Marmot Snetsinger in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, I was elated. Her mother, the late Phoebe Snetsinger, was a legend in birdwatching circles. She was the first person to have crossed 8,000 birds on her Life List in 1995 and watched 8,398 species of birds across the world.”
When Phoebe took up bird watching, she had a rare type of melanoma and the doctors had given her a year to live. She defied death for another 17 years since her diagnosis. I was inspired and I could especially relate to her as I faced a similar health predicament. Phoebe’s book “Birding on Borrowed Time” inspired me to take up birdwatching and photographing birds with intensity and a sense of urgency…
…Ornithologist Shashank Dalvi, India’s first birder to complete one ‘Big Year’ and record 1,128 species of birds in 2015, mentored Gururaj. He helped Gururaj list out travel plans to get maximum results and devised a calendar plan, based on the seasons and locations across India.
“It is not a mean task to chase 1,317 species of bird found in India, including Adaman and Nicobar Islands. My love to travel, food and meeting new people made the journey interesting in this amazing country of huge diversity. Birding community in India is a well-knit family. I received great support from birders, guides and naturalists who were eager to share any information on bird movement and even opened their homes, kitchen and hearts to me. Rofikul Islam, a gifted naturalist from Kaziranga, stood by me throughout the year, and was the inspiration behind my decision to pursue a Photographic Big Year, which was the first of its kind,” said Gururaj.
“A deep sense of contentment comes over me at the end of this sojourn,” he said.
The entire article can be found here.
Brian Phillips has not featured once in our pages until now, nor has The Ringer. If you read his essay below, featured also in the book to the right, the fit with our platform here is clear. Strange, though; I would not have expected to see it featured on a website that looks to be mostly focused on sports.
But it is a welcome surprise. It serves as another welcome reminder of some of the highlights of our years in India. And it provides a reason to track the author. The blurb the publisher chose to accompany the book (click the image to the right) is telling: “…Dogged, self-aware, and radiating a contagious enthusiasm for his subjects, Phillips is an exhilarating guide to the confusion and wonder of the world today. If John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead was the last great collection of New Journalism from the print era, Impossible Owls is the first of the digital age.”
Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Of the twelve tigers I saw in India, one might have been a ghost; two were in water, eight were on land, and one was sleeping in a tree. One stepped out of high grass, crossed the road in front of me, and disappeared into grass on the other side. One walked along a low ridge on the edge of a different road, oblivious or indifferent to the tourists taking her photograph. One looked out from a cover of branches and red leaves, so perfectly concealed that from thirty feet away he kept stereoscoping in and out of sight. Three were cubs, just four or five months old. Three were juveniles, aged around one year. The rest were fully grown. All were tired, because the days were hot, and because the days were dry they moved and breathed and slept in a film of clay-colored dust. Continue reading
Partially submerged houses in Kerala, India last August. REUTERS / SIVARAM V
Any picture of a houseboat reminds me of our good fortune to live among the people of Kerala’s backwaters from 2010-2017. The photo below is no exception and I thank Fred Pearce, writing for Yale e360, for bringing to my attention the scale of misfortune facing our old neighbors from the most recent flooding. I knew about the disaster, but had not read in any detail until now what this implies for the future. Maybe this fortune could be applied to address those challenges:
The picturesque Kerala backwaters in southern India, increasingly popular with tourists, form a network of engineered canals, lagoons, lakes, and rice paddies. But a fatal monsoon deluge has highlighted the global problem of how developed wetlands often lose their capacity to absorb major floods.
Floodwaters inundated much of Kerala’s low-lying coastal plain, including the village of Pandanad, pictured here. MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
In India, they call the state of Kerala in the country’s far south “God’s own country.” That wasn’t how it felt last August, when monsoon floods devastated its densely populated low-lying coastal plain. Around 500 people drowned, in an area best known to outsiders for its placid backwaters, a network of brackish lakes, lagoons, and canals where growing numbers of Western tourists cruise the picturesque waterways aboard luxury houseboats.
A luxury houseboat moored along Lake Vembanad near the tourist town of Kumarakom in Kerala. FRED PEARCE / YALE E360
Now that the floodwaters have abated, questions are being raised about whether the disaster was made worse by water engineering projects in the backwaters designed to feed the state’s population and attract tourists. Increasingly, Kerala residents are wondering if “God’s own country” is damned as well as dammed.
The floods came out of the Western Ghats. This chain of mountains down the west side of India is one of the country’s wettest places, drenched from June to September in monsoon. In early August, the rains there were exceptionally intense and unremitting. The rivers flowing from the mountains west toward the Arabian Sea dumped their water into the backwaters on a coastal plain that is largely below sea level.
Sixty-mile-long Lake Vembanad, at the heart of the backwaters, rose up and flooded surrounding wetlands and rice paddies, cities, and farming villages. A quarter-million people took refuge in 1,500 relief camps; 6,200 miles of roads and 115 square miles of farmland were damaged. Cochin International Airport was awash. Continue reading
Ryan Donnell for The New York Times
Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:
Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading
A rare ‘pale tiger’ discovered in the wilds of Tamil Nadu state in India. Photograph: Nilanjan Ray
We have heard and read plenty about pale ale, which is often associated with India, but this is the first we are hearing of a pale tiger, in India or elsewhere:
If you happen to be anywhere near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you have a few more days to visit this extraordinary exhibit of Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab.
Thanks to Architectural Digest contributor Medhavi Gandhi for this informative and culturally sensitive article.
Phulkaris, which literally translates into ‘flower work’, is a unique style or technique of embroidery peculiar to Punjab, and today constitute the lavishly embroidered head scarves and shawls crafted in the region. ‘Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab’ presents phulkaris from the collection of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz alongside the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s permanent collection, focusing mostly on embroideries from a pre-partitioned Punjab.
The threads of phulkari have since endured much: partition, industrial reforms, changing economic and fashion trends, and the exhibition aptly helps you develop a perspective around all these.
Curators Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi and Dr. Darielle Mason position the craft as art, presenting phulkaris through the historical and cultural lens, thus offering a renewed contact with the old way of life; ceasing to be a commodity of high commercial value but more as a window into the lives of people.
In a brief issued by the Museum, Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “This exhibition, which examines the artistic, cultural, and political significance of phulkari, is long overdue and will certainly delight visitors who may be unfamiliar with this remarkable art form”. I couldn’t agree more, and here’s why: Continue reading
I am not even a novice birder, which is strange considering that my work is primarily dedicated to birders. But birds are well placed in the pantheon of natural wonders that I worship, and a photo that I just received from a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge (a photo similar to the one above, which I have commented on before) helps explain why. During seven years in India, where the peacock is the national bird and so is in its natural habitat, I got accustomed to their ostentatious display.
Peacocks are often awkward animals, noisy and bumbly in places and at times (as when in the habitat of tigers) I have wished for silence. Those otherwise annoying behaviors are compensated for by their plumes. The colors in the image above, belonging to the ocellated turkey, are rich but only during mating would these birds ever be described as ostentatious. The more time I spend in Belize, and specifically at Chan Chich Lodge, the more I see the beauty in humble display of rich color.
Much of our efforts on this site go to honoring the efforts of conservationists, in the form of scientists, activists, and writers. A special appreciation go to the photographers, filmmakers and artists whose work brings nature into the lives of many who may not normally be exposed to the incredible biodiversity of our world.
Longtime contributor Sudhir Shivaram is one such photographer, and we appreciate his introduction to this lovely film Daroji by Sugandhi Gadadhar currently in final deliberation at the 2017 Wild & Green Shorts Film Festival, Montana.
Daroji is a short film for children, introducing them to wildlife, specifically those from in and around Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary in Karnataka, India. Bindu, a female Indian Sloth Bear, tells the story of different families, including her own, and shares a friendly note with her audience, suggesting that man and animal can co-exist in harmony.
We wish Ms. Gadadhar the best of luck!
Elephants, many of whom have suffered serious abuse in the past, photographed wearing the knitted multi-coloured, pyjama-like garments knitted by local villagers Roger Allen
While the concept of yarn bombing (also called guerrilla knitting) is usually a playful way to bring color to an urban setting, this isn’t our first story about altruist knitting in the realm of animal protection.
This story seems particularly poignant considering it weaves together the matriarchal nature of elephants and the communal work of the village women…
Elephants in India are sporting colourful woollen jumpers after villagers knitted the super-size garments to protect the animals from near-freezing temperatures.
Women in a village near the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in the northern city of Mathura reportedly began producing the colourful, pyjama-like garments after staff at the centre warned temperatures were approaching sub-zero at night. Continue reading
Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.
I often struggle to formulate the words to describe transformative experiences. But now, looking at the film I developed from my month in India, waves of nostalgia and inspiration flutter to me. This post is the India I felt, saw, and loved for 30 days.
I have been fascinated by India since I was four years old, when my preschool teacher brought Sri Lankan rice and curry to class. The sensation of spicy food and description of spice plantations soaked deeply into my curious brain. Throughout my childhood I researched India, and fell even deeper in love, imagining my own body amidst the color and chaos. It was not until I arrived in college (this year), that I would have sufficient time for my first trip to India.
Though I studied Indian culture before arriving, no amount of reading or advice could have prepare me for what I would experience. Continue reading
In our seventh year based in Kerala, India we have experienced progress each year in the quality of connectivity, but another state to the north may become India’s superstar of connectivity, faster than we can imagine:
By Hui Wu
THE TRENCH RUNNING along the road linking Kodicherla and Penjarla in southern India is just 5 feet deep and about half as wide. Yet it carries the promise of a better life for the people of those villages, and all of Telangana.
Within the ditch lie two pipes, a large black one carrying fresh water and smaller blue one containing a fiber optic broadband cable. The government of Telangana, a state born of the 2014 secession from Andhra Pradesh after its residents accused the government of systematic neglect, is doing something unprecedented in India: bringing broadband internet to every rural home in the region, some 23 million people in all.
Of the 4 billion people around the globe without access to the internet, one-quarter of them live in India. Continue reading
Tuticorin thermal power station near the port of Thoothukudi on the Bay of Bengal, southern India. The plant is said to be the first industrial-scale example of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU). Photograph: Roger Harrabin
Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment section for this news:
One of the excellent benefits of living in south India is meeting people who know alot about south India. Sounds circular, but occasionally the people are specialists on topics we have come to care deeply about. We met a group of Sanskrit scholars yesterday quite by chance, one of whom is a leading authority on the texts that are the earliest documentation of what we now call yoga.
When we mentioned our interest in yoga from the lay perspective, because we offer yoga experiences in various properties we manage in Asia and Latin America, it led to a simple question: where can we learn the most, most accessibly, about the real origins of yoga? The answer was this book and this author (incidentally a friend and colleague of the one to whom we were asking the question. So over at Oxford University Press this is what we found.
With a bit more searching we found this excellent BBC Radio 4 segment from just a few months ago that features the same scholar, Mark Singleton, and is worth a listen if you are interested in the origins of modern yoga. Continue reading
The endangered Asiatic Lion. Photo via paradisejungletrip.com
The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary covers about 1,400 square kilometers in the southwestern region of Gujurat, India’s westernmost state that borders Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. Unlike many of the national parks profiled so far, Gir Forest National Park is not open to hiking on trails, mostly to protect travelers and the wildlife that the Park was founded to preserve, particularly the Asiatic lion, an endangered species found only in this protected area.
Photo via lion-gir-forest.blogspot.com
The main attraction of the Park is this large cat population, which numbers in the hundreds. But leopards, deer, the four-horned antelope, and many interesting bird species can be found here, along with the vulnerable marsh crocodile and the endangered pangolin. Since walking within the Park on foot is not allowed, jeep safaris are the only way to get around and spot wildlife with the help of a guide. With such a high number of threatened species – whether avian, mammalian, or reptilian – Gir Forest seems a place worth visiting before it is too late to spot some of these majestic and beautiful creatures in the wild. Despite only 83 checklists on eBird, the number of species recorded in the Park is 231, with many of the species only just being reported for the hotspot this year!
The endangered Indian Vulture. Photo via thepetitionsite.com
The Park closes from mid-June to September for the monsoon season, and the most comfortable temperatures for visiting are during December-March. For the purposes of wildlife sightings, however, April and May are great despite the extreme heat, since this hot and dry period makes many of the animals more predictable in their search for water. While in the region, consider visiting the Somnath Temple to the southwest or Mount Girnar to the northwest.
The Veerni Institute now makes it possible for 75 girls to continue their education. But the group has to turn away nearly 300 applicants each year for lack of funding.
Poulomi Basu for NPR
“It all began with a shawl…” seems like the stuff of fairy tales, but the combined attraction to a handmade textile and the desire to help the woman weaving it proved a pathway to Jacqueline de Chollet’s life work. Over 20 years ago while traveling in a dusty village of India she saw a woman weaving the shawl in her home.
“She had three or four children including a baby she was nursing in her arms,” de Chollet recalls. “And she looked way older than her age.”
Hoping to provide a little help, de Chollet offered to buy the shawl. “And as soon as I gave her the money a man walked in and took the money away from her.”
De Chollet was outraged. “I felt, this woman — nobody cares about her. She’s off the map. She has no rights.”
Although de Chollet came from far different circumstances as this woman, growing up in the 1950s she felt that society dictated her position as a wife and mother. She wanted to make a difference in the world, and felt that addressing the issue of the rights of women and girls in India was an important first step. Continue reading