Tilting at windmills along a lonely desert road. I passed boulders stacked onto the red earth, and the crooked gates of an abandoned gold mine sealed by a rusty chain. Hawks circle in the morning sky. Not another soul in sight. Am I in India or have I walked into the American Southwest? #India #desertscapes #latergram
“From the freshly elected MPs in the general elections, one third of the total BJP MPs have serious criminal cases against them. With the available Parliamentary privileges and the rising number of defamation cases, ensuring justice against accused Parliamentarians is a growing worry. Vrinda Grover, human rights lawyer, provides perspective: “BJP definitely has a track record of brutal suppression of dissent but what is even more worrying is a weak opposition in the Parliament. There is hope only if the opposition manages to combat the rigorous clamping down of the BJP government on the dissenters and creates a debate.””
Hyderabad’s culture of haleem mimics the city itself – steeped in myth and multiple histories, nostalgic for the past as it strives to modernize, constantly tweaked, a source of pride, a subject of heated debate. According to the Haleem Maker’s Association, it is a Rs 500 crore business this year – one that has, like Hyderabad, grown exponentially over the last two decades. And in that strange, sentimental way that food and place connect, Hyderabadi haleem evokes in its enthusiasts long memories of the city, and, sometimes, harbingers of its future.
“In our time, science and technology cannot play an integrating role, precisely because of the infinite richness of knowledge and the speed of its evolution, which have led to specialization and its obscurities. But literature has been, and will continue to be, as long as it exists, one of the common denominators of human experience through which human beings may recognize themselves and converse with each other, no matter how different their professions, their life plans, their geographical and cultural locations, their personal circumstances.”
To report “The Great Escape,” I traveled around coastal Orissa for nearly a month, trying to understand the scale of both Cyclone Phailin’s destruction and the massive evacuation that affected so many people’s lives. Often, I simply showed up at a town, relying on the kindness of strangers to guide me and share their stories. It rained continuously in Ganjam district – the worst-affected part of Orissa – in the weeks after the cyclone; trees stripped of leaves and houses stripped of roofs were keeled over as far as one could see, and perpetually gray skies cast certain Kodachrome overtones. There was no electricity because the cyclone destroyed the power grid, so at night the rain poured in utter darkness.
Amid this destruction people were quick to help each other – and me, even though I was doing nothing to assist in the critical relief efforts. Some people I knew I would meet again. Like Swarupa auntie, a distant relative of mine who gave me a comfortable place to sleep and work, and helped translate so many interviews in Oriya.
Other relationships were ephemeral. I met Gopi in Gopalpur, a fading town home to a Telugu-speaking fishing community, where Cyclone Phailin first hit land. A thin kid several years younger than me, with curly hair and straight white teeth and a moustache that was just beginning to grow thick, Gopi came from a fishing family and was training to join the army. The cyclone blew away the roof of his family hut, just like every other thatched roof in Gopalpur, and in its place a blue vinyl tarp was all that kept the rain out. And though there was much work to be done, like fixing leaks and procuring rice, Gopi still spent the day walking me through his hometown. We became friends. He introduced me to local fishermen and spiritedly explained that I wasn’t there to distribute money, but to tell stories, and that maybe by telling these stories I could make a difference in the lives of people in Gopalpur. (I could only hope for the same.) I never ended up writing about him in the article, but without Gopi – and so many others like him – I wouldn’t have had a story at all.
Night fell over Gopalpur and Gopi insisted I stay with his family, instead of paying the extortionate auto fare to get back to my place in Berhampur. “You should see how we live in the night,” he said. “It’ll be good for your research.” I declined his offer, anxious to transcribe my notes and to rest for an early interview the next day.
“But in most of Rio, the only signs of unrest were the black “FUCK FIFA” stencils spray-painted on the pillars under bank marquees. Already it seemed clear the protesters had lost. Once the games started, the world’s vast fascination with soccer simply swallowed up everything else.”