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Still image from video: BBC Hindi
This is Jyoti Kumari, a 15-year-old who cycled more than 700 miles from New Delhi to her village, transporting her injured father, a migrant laborer, on her bike.

Some kids take on a lot of responsibility really fast. That was the case of a girl from a poor family in India who told her mother she would bring her injured father home even if she had to bike halfway across India. There are many such children who never get a media spotlight, but for those that do, good things may follow.

As Jeffrey Gettleman and Suhasini Raj reported at the New York Times, “She was a 15-year-old with a simple mission: bring papa home. Jyoti Kumari and her dad had nearly no money, no transport, and their village was halfway across India. And her dad, an out-of-work migrant laborer, was injured and could barely walk.

“So Jyoti told her dad: Let me take you home. He thought the idea was crazy but went along with it. She then jumped on a $20 purple bike bought with the last of their savings. With her dad perched on the rear, she pedaled from the outskirts of New Delhi to their home village, 700 miles away.

‘Don’t worry, mummy,’ she reassured her mother along the way, using borrowed cellphones. ‘I will get Papa home good.’

“During the past two months under India’s coronavirus lockdown, millions of migrant laborers and their families have poured out of India’s cities, desperate and penniless, as they try to get back to their native villages where they can rely on family networks to survive. Many haven’t made it. …

“But amid all this pain and sadness now emerges a tale of devotion and straight-up grit. The Indian press has seized upon this feel-good story. … And a few days ago, the story got even better.

“While resting up in her village, Jyoti received a call from the Cycling Federation of India. Convinced she had the right stuff, Onkar Singh, the federation’s chairman, invited her to New Delhi for a tryout with the national team. …

“Reached by phone on Friday in her village of Sirhulli, in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, Jyoti said in a scratchy voice barely above a whisper, because she still sounded exhausted: ‘I’m elated, I really want to go.’ …

“Her father, Mohan Paswan, a rickshaw driver from a lower rung of India’s caste system, was injured in a traffic accident in January and was running out of money even before the lockdown. … Jyoti came out from their village in Bihar to care for Mr. Paswan. She had dropped out of school a year ago because the family didn’t have enough money. Things got even worse after the lockdown, with their landlord threatening to kick them out and then cutting off their electricity.

“When Jyoti came up with the escape plan, her father shook his head.

“ ‘I said, “Look, daughter, it’s not four or five kilometers that you will drag me from here. It’s 12-, 13-hundred kilometers. How will we go?’’ ‘ he said in a video broadcast by the BBC’s Hindi service.

“The two bought a simple girl’s bike for the equivalent of about $20. On May 8, they set off, Jyoti at the handlebars, dad sitting pillion on back. Jyoti was pretty confident on a bike, having ridden a lot in her village.

“Many days they had little food. They slept at gas stations. They lived off the generosity of strangers. Jyoti said that except for one short lift on a truck, she pedaled nearly 100 miles a day. It wasn’t easy. Her father is big, and he was carrying a bag. …

“After they arrived in their village last weekend, her father went into a quarantine center. … Jyoti’s mother convinced village elders to let her quarantine at home. .. Then, a few days later, on Thursday morning, she got The Call.”

Read more at the New York Timeshere.

 

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Photo: Manjunath Kiran / AFP / Getty
A nationwide lockdown has had positive effects on India’s air quality. Says the
New Yorker magazine, “The sky is clearer, rivers are less contaminated, and people have awakened to possible change.”

Will less air travel, commuting, and industrial smoke mean long-term improvement in global warming and pollution? One expert I heard on the radio said no because there has also been a slowdown in work on alternate energy.

But I do think if people see a difference in their skies, they may be more motivated to keep carbon reduction going. When they can see that clear skies are not a hopeless dream, it makes an impression.

In the New Yorker, Raghu Karnad has written about what people in India are seeing.

“On the morning of April 3rd, residents of Jalandhar, an industrial town in the Indian state of Punjab, woke to a startling sight: a panorama of snowcapped mountains across the eastern sky. The peaks and slopes of the Dhauladhars—a range in the lesser Himalayas—were not new, but the visibility was. … On March 24th, as a national lockdown was imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, nearly all of Jalandhar’s road traffic came to a halt, along with its manufacture of auto parts, hand tools, and sports equipment.

“Ten days later, suspended particulates had dispersed from the air, and the Himalayas were unveiled. Residents gathered on their rooftops, posting photos of far, icy elevations towering behind water tanks and clotheslines.

‘Never seen Dhauladhar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar,’ the international cricketer Harbhajan Singh, who was born there forty years ago, tweeted. ‘Never could imagine that’s possible.’

“The view from my own rooftop, fifteen hundred miles to the south, in Bangalore, has not revealed any equivalent surprises. Instead, there is the birdsong. … I could never have imagined it possible, in an Indian city, to wake up not to the sounds of traffic but to the sovereignty of bulbuls and mynahs over the morning air. …

“The silence on the street may be therapeutic, but it can also feel grim, suspenseful. It suggests the held breath of a country bracing for disaster — not only for the brunt of a pandemic but for empty savings accounts, purses, and pantries. Millions of Indians eat only if they are paid wages each day, which means that when the lockdown was announced, a second epidemic, of hunger, began to unfold. …

“Of the thirty cities with the worst air pollution in the world, twenty-one are in northern India. … The World Health Organization has linked exposure to PM2.5—particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less—to a hundred thousand deaths in India each year, and that’s just among children below the age of five.

“The coronavirus will only compound these morbidities. Studies of viral pandemics such as the 1918 flu, or the 2003 SARS outbreak, found that residents of areas with more polluted air were far more likely to die. … The worst of the smog is seasonal, drifting over the city when the farmers of the Indo-Gangetic plain burn crop stubble after the harvest, in October. …

“The lockdown, whatever its effect on the virus, has given Indian cities the kiss of life. In a week, Delhi’s PM2.5 count dropped by seventy-one per cent. The sky is bluer now, the Yamuna River less black, and my friends say that the stars are out at night. ..

“The lockdown is also improving our understanding of the complex phenomena that contribute to pollution. ‘From a research viewpoint, this is a fantastic experiment,’ Sarath Guttikunda, a founder and director of UrbanEmissions.info, told me over the phone. …

‘What we’re seeing now is unprecedented: drops in commercial activity, industrial activity, and transport, all at the same time — not just in a city but, significantly, across a region,’ he said. The past few weeks have allowed his team to assess, for example, how responsible a given city is for its air quality. …

” ‘Now we don’t have to blindly say, ‘Look, you are responsible for seventy per cent of your pollution. Please do something about it,” Guttikunda said. ‘We have that proof.’ …

“To truly revitalize our air, we need to change how we cook, build, farm, travel, consume, and produce—bearing in mind, through it all, how we breathe.

“Such comprehensive action can seem impossible. Guttikunda’s hopeful analogy is to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, a turning point for Beijing. …

” ‘For two months, people got to see the change possible in the city. … As soon as the Games were over, the restrictions were lifted and the PM2.5 levels shot back up,’ Guttikunda said. ‘But now there was a public outcry saying, “Look, we could have those blue skies for longer. We don’t mind the restrictions.” ‘ ”

More here.

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Photo: Dheeraj Mittal
A lionness with her adopted leopard and her biological son in Gir National Park in Gujarat, India. Although the leopard cub didn’t survive, his story lives on.

Here’s a cute story about interspecies adoption in India.

Writing at the New York Times, Cara Giaimo observes that although it’s rare, one lioness thought her leopard cub fit right in.

“The lions and leopards of Gir National Park, in Gujarat, India, normally do not get along.

“ ‘They compete with each other’ for space and food, said Stotra Chakrabarti, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota who studies animal behavior. ‘They are at perpetual odds.’

“But about a year ago, a young lioness in the park put this enmity aside. She adopted a baby leopard.

“The 2-month-old cub — all fuzzy ears and blue eyes — was adorable, and the lioness spent weeks nursing, feeding and caring for him until he died. She treated him as if one of her own two sons, who were about the same age. This was a rare case of cross-species adoption in the wild, and the only documented example involving animals that are normally strong competitors, Dr. Chakrabarti said. He and others detailed the case [in February] in the ecology journal Ecosphere.

“The paper’s authors, who also included a conservation officer and a park ranger, first spotted the motley crew in late December 2018, hanging out near a freshly killed nilgai antelope.

“Initially, they thought the association would be brief; a lioness in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Conservation Area had once been observed nursing a leopard cub, but only for a day before the two separated.

“[But] for a month and a half, the team watched the mother lion, her two cubs and the leopard roam Gir National Park. ‘The lioness took care of him like one of her own,’ nursing him and sharing meat that she hunted, Dr. Chakrabarti said.

“His new siblings, too, were welcoming, playing with their spotty new pal and occasionally following him up trees. In one photo, the leopard pounces on the head of one of his adoptive brothers, who is almost twice his size and clearly a good sport. …

“Unlike their counterparts in Africa, Asiatic lions live in small, sex-segregated groups. After they give birth, lionesses often separate from the rest of the pride for a few months to raise their offspring on their own. If the makeshift family had interacted more with other adult lions, the leopard may have been identified as an impostor, Dr. Chakrabarti said.

“But they were never tested in this way. After about 45 days, the research team found the leopard cub’s body near a watering hole. A field necropsy revealed that he had most likely died because of a femoral hernia he had since birth. …

“In 2004, a group of capuchin monkeys took in an infant marmoset. And in 2014, a family of bottlenose dolphins fostered a baby melon-headed whale, who learned to surf and jump like his new peers.

“In all three cases, a lactating mother brought the new baby into the fold, said Patrícia Izar, an associate professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and a member of the team that studied the capuchin-marmoset adoption. It’s possible that the hormonal changes associated with motherhood ‘might facilitate bonding with an extraneous infant,’ said Dr. Izar, who was not involved in the new research.

“As puzzling as this adoption was, it also underscores the similarities between cubs of different feline species, Dr. Chakrabarti said. Until they reach young adulthood, when social differences emerge, lions and leopards play, meow and beg for milk in similar ways.

“For this mother lioness, these commonalities may have overridden the cub’s more leopardlike features — his smell, size and speckled appearance.

“ ‘He just blended in,’ Dr. Chakrabarti said.” More here.

Babies are babies. Who doesn’t want to protect them, even those that aren’t our own?

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Photo: Jen Siska
Shreya Ramachandran holds workshops on how to install graywater systems.

I know we shouldn’t be leaving up to kids the solutions to our intractable problems, but sometimes it seems that they’re the only ones showing leadership. At least, they’re the ones who focus their leadership on a single issue. Thanks to their focus, energy, and not knowing what’s impossible, they them seem more likely to succeed than political leaders who must address a million issues at once. I think of David Hogg on the issue of gun violence and Greta Thunberg on climate change.

Here is a Sierra Club story on Shreya Ramachandran, who started very young with big, practical ideas on water conservation.

Wendy Becktold writes at Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, “When Shreya Ramachandran was in sixth grade, she became obsessed with water scarcity. It was an unusual preoccupation for an 11-year-old, but when visiting California’s Central Valley for an archery competition, she had learned about the historic drought then underway that was devastating the area’s farmers. Not long afterward, she visited her grandparents in India and encountered taxi drivers who’d been forced to abandon their farms when the annual monsoon had failed to arrive.

“Ramachandran began researching water conservation online. She grew fascinated with graywater systems–plumbing designed to reuse household water by redirecting water from washing machines into lawns and yards, for example. ‘It’s water conservation on a whole different level,’ she says.

“But Ramachandran also learned that toxic chemicals in some laundry detergents can render water unsuitable for reuse. She started to experiment with soap nuts – the berry shells of Sapindus mukorossi (a tree in the lychee family), which release a natural cleaning agent and are traditionally used for shampoo in India – and determined that they were safe to use in graywater systems. She presented her findings at various science fairs, and people were intrigued.

“By the time she was in eighth grade, Ramachandran had built her own graywater system; her parents let her drill a hole in the side of their house to install the PVC piping that channels water to the plants and trees in their yard. Shortly after, she started the Grey Water Project (thegreywaterproject.org) to teach others how to install their own systems.” More at Sierra, here.

And in case you want to learn more about soap nuts, the Australia-based environmental group 1 Million Women has a post about them, here.

“They’re really simple to use, you just pop them in a small fabric bag, chuck them in with your load of washing, the berries contain saponin which is a surfactant that can be used like soap. …

“[But] here is one little point that planet friendly women have pointed out and that is that they only work in hot water.

“Most of us self-proclaimed eco-warriors have never washed a load of clothing in hot water in our life, or for at least a very long time. The amount of energy that is takes to heat up a load of washing seems pretty wasteful and pointless, but for without hot water soap nuts don’t turn soapy.

“Some have figured out that by adding the soap nuts to a cup of boiling water and then pouring the water into the wash eliminated the need to waste … However a few have expressed that this step was inconsistent and made switching to soap nuts from their current homemade, planet-friendly laundry detergent not worthwhile.

“While the warm water and make-your-soap-nuts-into-tea step may be a deterrent for some, others have made another valid point, soap nuts are better for your skin. They’re all natural and non-toxic, which makes them especially good for sensitive skin and those prone to allergies. Also, due to the very gentle, mild detergent they produce they’re safe for your delicates. (Excluding dry-clean only items.) Read next: 9 Ways to lower the carbon impact of laundry day.

No perfect answers, I guess.

 

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Photo: Akhil DT
“Censorship is anti-creation” … A quote from a lecture by Salman Rushdie, as seen on a StickLit poster on a Bangalore cement pillar. StickLit brings literature to the people using stickers.

In the New York metro and the T in Boston, I’ve enjoyed the poetry posters that give riders something more meaningful to read and ponder than ads. Now I’m learning about a new poetry-for-the-people effort in India. It uses poetry stickers in both English and a local language in site-specific venues.

Priyanka Sacheti reports at the Guardian, “There are thousands of street food carts in New Delhi. But only one has the opening lines of Riyazat Ullah Khan’s poem ‘Wazoodiyat’ on the side:

Where can the pauper keep his pain of existence?
He has no container but a heart.

“The sticker bearing the couplet is from a campaign called StickLit, which seeks to make literature more accessible by placing quotes in public spaces.

“Nidhin Kundathil and Manoj Pandey had the idea for the project while contemplating the advertisements, posters and billboards that are consumed almost subliminally on Indian streets.

“ ‘We thought of turning this [visual] experience on its head to create a completely new and refreshing alternative for passersby – [one] which was not just selling something, for a change,’ says Pandey, 32, a freelance writer in Darjeeling.

“The idea subsequently evolved: they would make what they call the world’s largest library – ‘the largest repository of good literature in public spaces: a library that’s free for all.’ So they hit the streets, putting up free-format stickers, posters and wall murals. …

“After starting in Bengaluru and Delhi in 2017, the project has spread all over India, with volunteers in various cities taking it up. The stickers are available from the StickLit website and the founders encourage people to download them and use them freely. …

“The founders encourage placement based on context: poems in railway stations, for example, when people have longer to contemplate them; shorter quotes and excerpts for busy streets. They also use place-specific languages – Hindi in Delhi, or Kannada in Bengaluru – alongside English. There are plans to share prison poetry in prisons as well.

“Kundathil, 33, a Bengaluru-based graphic artist, handles the design. He says he deliberately chooses bold, brightly-coloured fonts and minimal design elements in order not just to attract attention but to ensure that attention remains focused on the text.

“The list of authors chosen is inclusive and diverse, from Rushdie and former government minister Shashi Tharoor to newer voices such as Nishita Gill and Nikhil Mhaisne. They have also shared works of Kannada literary greats across Bengaluru. ‘A lot of our material consists of work by aspiring writers as well,’ Pandey says, adding that the project is open to submissions.

“ ‘We like to believe that people, especially the young, are drawn towards StickLit as they are not cynical,’ Pandey says. ‘They still believe that a pen can change the world. And we’d like to foster that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Furkan Latif Khan/NPR
In wartorn Kashmir, there are Muslims and Hindus who who would rather play soccer than spend their lives fighting. Above, loyal Snow Leopards fans watch a game.

In every part of the world, no matter how troubled, there are always people who would rather play ball.

I have to blame the British colonial empire for leaving behind the seeds of war everywhere it went, chopping up countries without attention to the needs of the people living there. But thank goodness that human nature and the love of peace is strong! There are always some folks who have no interest in fighting.

Kashmir, created by Partition as the British left India, is an example of what I mean. Today, because of the way the country was divided, Kashmir knows constant war between Hindus and Muslims. Despite that, two friends, one Hindu and one Muslim, started something beautiful.

Lauren Frayer writes at National Public Radio (NPR), “They play soccer in a disputed Himalayan valley prone to car bombs, strikes and heavy snow. Soldiers with machine guns patrol their home stadium. Players sometimes have to arrive at practice three hours early to avoid police curfews. Their team is less than three years old, with a budget that’s one-tenth that of some of their competitors.

“[As of February 2019], Real Kashmir Football Club, from Indian-controlled Kashmir, [was] tantalizingly close to winning India’s top professional soccer title. They’ve been flitting back and forth between first, second and third place, and the season ends in early March.

” ‘We’re the only club in India that has sold-out stadiums at almost every game,’ says the team’s co-founder Shamim Mehraj. ‘What we have done is give people some hope in a place that has actually been taken down by conflict and violence for the past 60 years. It’s helping this place heal.’ …

“A natural disaster helped give birth to this soccer team. In 2014, the Kashmir Valley suffered devastating floods. Hundreds of people were killed. Schools were closed, and young people spilled out onto the streets of Mehraj’s hometown Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and one of the largest cities in the valley.

“One evening, Mehraj and a friend had an idea.

” ‘We used to go for evening walks. We would see a lot of kids hanging around doing nothing, and I had been a footballer myself. That’s when I thought, “Why don’t I get some balls and at least give these kids something to do?” ‘ recalls Mehraj, 38. He had played for his college team in New Delhi, and for his state in amateur soccer tournaments.

“Mehraj, who is Muslim, and his Hindu friend Sandeep Chattoo, 52, got friends and neighbors to pitch in and buy 1,000 soccer balls, which they handed out to flood victims. But why stop there? In March 2016, they started a team.

“They applied for the team to compete in India’s I-League 2nd Division — the pro soccer equivalent of baseball’s minor leagues. Mehraj and Chattoo invested their own money to pay players’ salaries. They also hired a Scottish former player, David Robertson, who had been coaching a professional soccer team in Phoenix, Arizona, to coach Real Kashmir, a.k.a. the ‘Snow Leopards.’

“Robertson had never been to India, and admits he probably couldn’t have placed Kashmir on a map.

” ‘All I ever saw was TV shows that showed it’s 90 degrees — it’s hot in India! But I arrived here and the next day, it was snowing,’ says Robertson, 50, now in his third season as Real Kashmir’s coach. ‘There was no Internet, the electricity was out, and I just thought, “I want to go home.” ‘

“Mehraj invited Robertson over to his family’s house, gave him a hot water bottle and some home-cooked Kashmiri food — and convinced him to stay. Since then, Robertson has recruited his own son, Mason Robertson, 24, to play for Real Kashmir. By the end of the 2017-2018 season, several Robertson relatives were in the stands at the team’s home stadium in Srinagar, to watch Real Kashmir win the 2nd Division title. …

“[By February, the team was] neck-and-neck with Chennai City FC and East Bengal FC for the top title in Indian professional soccer. …

” ‘I never did think we would go this far,’ Mehraj tells NPR, as he looks out over the turf at Real Kashmir’s home stadium. …

“Kashmir’s 21 percent unemployment rate triple that of the rest of India and militant groups recruit from the ranks of young, idle Kashmiri men. Soccer ‘keeps him away from that,’ says Ishfaq Hussain, 52, a former professional cricket player whose son Muhammad Hammad plays center-back for Real Kashmir. ‘He thinks always about when to play, when to practice. He’s got no time to join politics or go shouting or pelleting stones.’ …

“His teammates include fellow Kashmiris and recruits from Africa, Europe and across India — including Muslims, Hindus, Christians and atheists. Mehraj says he can’t manufacture T-shirts, stickers and banners fast enough to keep up with fans’ demand.”

More of the NPR story here. Follow the rankings here.

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Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP/Getty Images
Man Kaur of India celebrates after competing in the 100-meter sprint in the 100+ age category at the World Masters Games in Auckland, New Zealand, in April 2017.

It was Erik who sent the story about a 101-year-old champion runner. He sent it to his mother and my husband, too, in case we want to take up athletic competition at our advanced ages. The woman in the story got a late start on running, and although I am not interested in running, I always like stories about late starts. Especially stories about starting something big after age 90.

As Chhavi Sachdev reported at National Public Radio (NPR) in 2018, “Man Kaur is 101, but her routine could tire most 20-somethings.

“Every day she wakes up at 4 a.m., bathes, washes clothes, makes tea, recites prayers until about 7 a.m. Sometimes she goes to the Gurdwara, the place of worship for Sikhs, other times she prays at home.

“And then she goes to the track for an hour of sprinting practice. And she’s not just doing it for fun. A competitive runner, Kaur is a world record holder in her age group for several categories and is now training for the Asia Pacific Masters Games in Malaysia. …

“She was declared the brand ambassador for a nonprofit organization called Pinkathon, which raises awareness of women’s health issues — and encourages running as a way to improve physical fitness. At the Pinkathon announcement event, Kaur was literally mobbed by gushing women, many of whom started running in their 30s and 40s. …

“The diminutive Kaur hasn’t been a lifetime runner. Far from it. She started running in 2009, when her son, Gurdev Singh, 79, urged her to take up track and field. …

“What made him take his then 93-year-old mother to the track? It was mainly a whim, he explains — but also a desire to keep her fit. ‘She was very well, with no health problems, and she moved fast. So I took her to the university track with me and asked her to run 400 meters. She did it, slowly, and I thought “Yes, She can do it.” ‘

“Kaur enjoyed it enough to want to return. She liked running, she said. And quickly she started to improve. Two years later, given how well she was doing, her son registered her for international events he was participating in. Kaur agreed with no hesitation. And she hasn’t stopped. …

“Since starting her competitive career, Kaur has run in meets in Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan. And she’s nailed 17 gold medals.

“In Auckland, New Zealand [in April, 2017] she won gold for the 100-meter and 200-meter runs as well as two new sports: javelin and shot put. In those two events, she’s sometimes the only contestant in her age bracket, so winning gold is a sure thing. But she doesn’t just show up. In Auckland, Kaur broke the master category world record in javelin with her 16-foot throw. …

“To improve her speed, Kaur tries to go to the track every day. Three days a week, she does shot put and javelin practice; the rest of the week, Singh puts her through her paces on the track. On sprint days she does runs of 30 meters, 40 meters and 50 meters. These are alternated with days when she does 100-meter and 200-meter runs.

” ‘And if the weather is inclement, I go to the gym and lift weights,’ she says.”

Read about her early life and future plans at NPR, here.

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