Amidst the sounds of the rain lashing against Amma’s tin roof, her battery-powered radio played romantic Malayalam songs and the smell of freshly-cooked sambhar wafted into the big room with small windows that held a fire place. This big room has no doors; it is a room made of mud with a thatched roof where Amma sleeps and roasts yams on the woodfire. On most nights, the only sounds she will hear are of the crickets or the frogs in the rains. On other nights, the soft thuds from banging drums and dull fireworks to scare off wild boars and elephants in the distance will disturb her silence.

Amma has spent her entire life here, in the dense forests around Ponmudi Hills, home to the Kani tribe to which Amma belongs. For the last many years, Amma has lived alone after her husband died of a heart attack and one of her sons was killed by a wild elephant. Her days are spent working around the house and attending to the ocassional patient who will appear very surprised at a glimpse of her life and at where they are as they trudge along the dirt path towards Amma’s home. They look even more curious when she opens her lone wooden closet and scours through a hundred bottles to make a concoction of oils and ointments.

The trees are very tall and the jungle is dense in these forests. A small patch of medicinal plants grows wild behind her kitchen, a small enclosure made of tin holds her religious idols and offerings next to her house and half the house remains unfinished because Amma ran out of money while building her home. She speaks fondly of the days when the Kingdom of Travancore ruled these parts, of when the King himself would show up to enquire about her tribe. She’s unhappy that the government today won’t come to ask her how she’s doing. Her poems began to reflect the society that trasnformed around her; the road that was never built, the man that drank too much alcohol and the changing history of Kerala. It surprised everyone around her that Amma had managed to stretch her few childhood years of education into a blossoming love for poetry and writing. Everyone here knows Lakshmi Kutty, they also know her as the herbal doctor and poison healer, as a poet and as the seventy four year old woman who lives alone. Forty four years of treating patients using natural medicine and several decades of writing poetry has made Amma a diligent list-maker, 514 patients treated for everything from cholestrol to cancer and over 300 people treated for poisonous snake, scorpion and spider bites to be precise. Every patient she has treated finds mention in her diaries.

On days when we walked through the forest, past shiny, clear streams; Amma warned us about the perils of bathing too late or eating too early, about the waste we produced or the things we consumed. There was a lesson in everything Amma did and said; metaphors, humour and rhyme found a way into her everyday humdrum of life. When she switches on the radio again at night and settles in to write poetry on her wobbly desk, Kunjan and Kunji keep warm near the fire. Amma sings aloud her old poems, her voice competing with the sounds of the friendly frogs and the static of the daily news as another lonely night falls in the Ponmudi Hills.

Play Like A Girl

The small state of Haryana in northern India has the worst sex ratio in India at 879 females per 1000 males. It is also one of the lowest in the world. Haryana is also known for caste and sexual violence against women and female infanticide, rape, trafficking and domestic violence are common. But, a small and scattered community of girls are breaking stereotypes and winning international laurels in sports ranging from hockey to boxing, wrestling to football and rifle shooting. In a place where women are rarely allowed outside the house unaccompanied and wearing ‘western clothes’ and playing physical sports are a complete no-no, Haryana’s young girls are qualifying and winning in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, National Games among various other national and international championships. However, the path to pursuing a sport of their choice comes with great struggle. Most of the girls belong to poor families and cannot afford the equipment, diet and upkeep required to play professionally. Most girls can’t even dream of having access to psychologists or medical facilities that their western counterparts have access to. Even though, there is a great push from the Haryana government to develop sports in the state, sporting facilities have a long way to go and bureaucracy makes it harder for some players to get access to meal schemes, prize money, etc. Some girls even mention how the prize money for girls is less than the boys for the same sports. A lot of the players don’t even have access to toilets or changing rooms.

Besides obstacles on the playing field, the girls battle patriarchy and gender-based discrimination on a regular basis. Many families object to their daughters’ wearing shorts or playing with boys or even playing a sports which is what men do. Most girls realize that they may have to give up their sports careers when their parents decide that they have to get married. But, success as a professional player brings with it financial freedom, success and fame which allows the girls to negotiate marriage at a later stage and helps them support their families. In lieu of alleviating a families societal status and reputation, many girls are allowed to pursue their sport of choice for much longer. The success stories of Olympian Sakshi Malik and the Phogat sisters have inspired more girls to take up sports and fitness in Haryana and more families now encourage their daughters to play. Things have a long way to go for these young sportswomen in Haryana but they are leading the way and proving how sport can play a big role in empowering young women and bring about much-needed gender equality in this state.

(This project was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation)

Kadal – The Sea

Kadal (translates to The Sea in Tamil language) is a series of photographs imagining the dreams and realities of children living by the ocean. Children of a fishing community who have lived by the sea in Kasimedu, north Chennai for more generations than most can remember were the original people of Chennai. The men who went out to sea everyday bringing back thousands of fish while the village women sold the catch at the fish market are now seeing an end to their livelihood as the sea is emptied out by commercial trawlers and the coast begins to eat itself. The tsunami that took place over ten years ago is fresh in the minds eye but even fresher in the dreams of the children. The children, most of whom weren’t born during the unforgettable tsunami have vivid dreams and imaginations about the sea and the havoc it can cause. Nightmares of waves washing away their homes and drowning are common yet an inherent love and respect for the sea is undeniable. A job and a fixed income far from the sea is what most of them dream of besides deadly, underwater creatures among others. There is a lot to learn from this generation, to question what role the ocean plays in our future, why they dream the way they do and what it is that will keep them safe from the changing tides.

On The Edge

Descending from the plateaus of Tibet and flowing through China, India and Bangladesh, The Brahmaputra is one of India’s mightiest rivers with widths running up to 10 kilometers at some places. On its 3000-kilometer journey, the Brahmaputra provides a livelihood to thousands of communities living on its banks and depending on it for food, water and farming. In 1950 however, the great earthquake in Assam altered the topography of the river valley and the people of Assam have since, seen the worst droughts an d floods in India.

Since the great earthquake, Assam has witnessed some of the worst cases of river erosion where according to official records, 36 villages, 10 schools, 6 tea gardens and hundreds of human and animal lives have been washed away by the river due to heavy erosion. Farming and fishing communities living by the river have struggled for decades trying to protect their land from being eaten away by the river which has only worsened due to increased deforestation and erratic changes in the climate.

In 2012, the floods in Assam displaced over a million people and erosion has affected close to 4500 villages in the state. Today, being witness to both extremes of climate change, from droughts to floods, villagers from Tinsukia district in Upper Assam are struggling to protect their land and livelihood from the eroding banks and the rising waters of the mighty Brahmaputra.

Single Portfolio

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