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Photo: Anupan Nath/AP.
Actors in Awahan mobile theater group perform in a village near Guwahati, India, after a two-year hiatus because of Covid.

So many activities got suspended during Covid, and many workers wondered if they would still have a job when the world reopened. That was true for everyone from servers in struggling US restaurants to actors in rural India.

In April, Al-Jazeera posted about a traveling theater in India that, to everyone’s relief, is reemerging after two years.

“Traveling theater groups in India’s northeastern state of Assam are reviving the local art and culture scene after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in their performances for nearly two years.

“Seven roving theater companies are back on stage playing before crowds in villages, towns and cities across the state. These mobile theaters are among the most popular forms of local entertainment.

“ ‘The public response has been very good. They love live performances. We have no competition from television and the digital boom,’ said Prastuti Parashar, a top Assamese actress who owns the Awahan Theatre group.

“Before the coronavirus hit the region, about 50 theater groups, each involving 120 to 150 people, performed throughout the state. They would start in September, coinciding with major Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja and Diwali, and continue until April. …

“Drama is an integral part of Indian culture and the mobile theater groups do not restrict themselves to mythological and social themes. They have in the past covered classic Greek tragedies, Shakespearean tales and historical subjects like the sinking of the Titanic, Lady Diana and the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“The groups travel with directors, actors, dancers, singers, technicians, drivers and cooks, in addition to all the stage infrastructure to perform three shows in one place before moving on to the next makeshift venue.”

For a bit more background, let’s turn to the Encyclopedia Britannica, which states that “Indian theater is often considered the oldest in Asia, having developed its dance and drama by the 8th century BCE [Before Common Era]. According to Hindu holy books, the gods fought the demons before the world was created, and the god Brahmā asked the gods to reenact the battle among themselves for their own entertainment. Once again the demons were defeated, this time by being beaten with a flagstaff by one of the gods. To protect theater from demons in the future, a pavilion was built, and in many places in India today a flagstaff next to the stage marks the location of performances.

“According to myth, Brahmā ordered that dance and drama be combined; certainly the words for ‘dance’ and ‘drama’ are the same in all Indian dialects. Early in Indian drama, however, dance began to dominate the theater. By the beginning of the 20th century there were few performances of plays, though there were myriad dance recitals. It was not until political independence in 1947 that India started to redevelop the dramatic theater. …

“Classical Indian drama had as its elements poetry, music, and dance, with the sound of the words assuming more importance than the action or the narrative; therefore, staging was basically the enactment of poetry.

“The reason that the productions, in which scenes apparently follow an arbitrary order, seem formless to Westerners is that playwrights use much simile and metaphor. Because of the importance of the poetic line, a significant character is the storyteller or narrator, who is still found in most Asian drama. In Sanskrit drama the narrator was the sūtra-dhāra, ‘the string holder,’ who set the scene and interpreted the actors’ moods. Another function was performed by the narrator in regions in which the aristocratic vocabulary and syntax used by the main characters, the gods and the nobles, was not understood by the majority of the audience. The narrator operated first through the use of pantomime and later through comedy.

“A new Indian theater that began about 1800 was a direct result of British colonization. With the addition of dance interludes and other Indian aesthetic features, modern India has developed a national drama.

“Two examples of ‘new’ theater staging are the Prithvi Theatre and the Indian National Theatre. The Prithvi Theatre, a Hindi touring company founded in 1943, utilizes dance sequences, incidental music, frequent set changes, and extravagant movement and color. The Indian National Theatre, founded in Bombay in the 1950s, performs for audiences throughout India, in factories and on farms. Its themes usually involve a national problem, such as the lack of food, and the troupe’s style is a mixture of pantomime and simple dialogue. It uses a truck to haul properties, costumes, and actors; there is no scenery.”

Great traveling-theater pictures at Al-Jazeera, here. More detailed information at Britannica, here. No firewalls.

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Photo: Bihar Museum.
Tens of thousands of schoolchildren have visited the Bihar Museum in Patna, India, thanks to a government initiative.

I like being exposed to parts of the world I know nothing about. That’s why most of the mystery books I read are set in froreign countries.

Today I’m learning about a region just south of Nepal in India’s northeast, Bihar. In the town of Patna, the government-owned Bihar Museum is working to expand the horizons of its large population of children.

Kabir Jhala writes at the Art Newspaper, “At India’s last census, Bihar was the nation’s youngest state, with 58% of its more than 104 million citizens under 25 years old. The museum hopes, through a unique scheme, [to] create a generation of future art lovers.

“Since 2019 Bihar’s Ministry of Education has pledged to provide 20,000 rupees ($260) to every primary school in the state for museum visits, with the money going towards transport, entry tickets and lunches. While the sum might not seem great, multiplied by the state’s 67,000 eligible schools, it amounts to more than $17.4 million, a considerable sum in a country where most public museums have virtually no engagement programs.

“At the museum, children can explore dedicated sections for young visitors, including works that can be touched, labels at child-friendly heights and workstations in which they can mint their own coins and simulate parts of an archaeological excavation.

“So far the scheme has only been rolled out in the nearest districts to Patna, the state’s capital, and Covid-19 has limited its reach. But from April 2019 to March 2020, the only full year in which the scheme was untouched by the pandemic, 33,000 students from 1,000 schools visited the museum. …

“ ‘I want the children to go back to their communities and rave about their time at the museum,’ says the institution’s director, Anjani Kumar Singh. ‘Through word of mouth, I think we can transform not just this generation into museum-goers, but the whole state, too.’ …

“ ‘Many of these children live in rural areas with parents who can’t read or write [Bihar’s literacy rate is one of the lowest in India] and the concept of museums and art are totally alien,’ Singh says. ‘But despite Bihar being one of the country’s poorest states, I am proud that we have pioneered a scheme that is totally unprecedented in terms of scale in India — no other museum comes close to this level of youth engagement.’ …

“Singh says his next plan is to fill a vehicle with photographs, films and replicas from the collection to create a traveling museum to tour the state.”

More at the Art Newspaper, here.

I went to Wikipedia to learn more. Of the Children’s Gallery, it says, “Its collection of artifacts and exhibit items is divided into six domains: the Orientation Room, the Wildlife Sanctuary, the history sections on Chandragupta Maurya and Sher Shah Suri, the Arts and Culture section and the Discovery Room. Among the exhibits are a simulated the Asian paradise flycatcher, the Indian giant flying squirrel, animals, birds, trees and plants native to the state of Bihar. The gallery’s focus is family learning; most exhibits are designed to be interactive, allowing children and families to actively participate.’

A history gallery boasts “artifacts from the Harappan Civilization, also known as Indus Valley Civilization, the second urbanization and Haryanka. The whole collection of this gallery represents the advanced technology and sophisticated lifestyle of the Harappan people. The gallery has objects from the fourth century BCE to the first century BCE. It has objects spanning three major dynasties of India: the Mauryas, the Nandas and the Shishunagas. The gallery also houses fragments of railings from various ancient Stupas that are carved on with episodes from Buddha‘s and Mahavira’s life.”

And I’ll just add a bit about the Diaspora Gallery, which “provides the historic context of how Biharis were relocated to countries like Mauritius, Bangladesh and beyond. Some were recruited as laborers in the early days of the East India Company, and others explored foreign lands on their own initiative. Activate an interactive map to learn about the origins of Bihari culture, trade routes and how the population has relocated in foreign lands. Aside of the past movements, also discover recent stories of the people of Bihar, their accomplishments and their involvements, to understand the influence Bihar has had around the world.”

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Photo: Pebbles.
India’s entry for the Oscars,
Pebbles, focuses on the inequalities that life inflicts on women in Tamil Nadu.

This year’s Oscars are scheduled March 27, and although I haven’t stayed up to watch the whole awards ceremony for years, I like reading about the winners later. I especially like getting ideas for foreign films my husband and I might eventually be able to order from our retro Netflix DVD service.

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, South Asia correspondent for the Guardian, describes one film that looks promising. The story of grinding poverty might be too painful for some potential viewers if they didn’t know that the director himself had lived that life and risen to be a filmmaker.

“As a child laborer working in the flower markets of Madurai, there was nothing more exciting for PS Vinothraj than when the film crews would descend. He would put down his sacks of petals and look up in awe at the camera operators who sat atop cranes to get dramatic sweeping shots. It was, to his nine-year-old mind, intoxicating. ‘I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life,’ he said. …

“The odds were stacked heavily against him. Vinothraj was born into a poverty-stricken family of daily wage laborers in Tamil Nadu. He left school, aged nine, to support his family after his father died and by 14 was working in the sweatshops of Tiruppur.

“This month, his debut film Pebbles [Koozhangal] a Tamil-language movie made on a shoestring budget and set in the arid landscape where he grew up, was unanimously selected as India’s entry to the Oscars. In February this year, it had won the Tiger award for best film at the 50th International Film Festival Rotterdam. In a New Yorker review, Vinothraj was described as an ‘extraordinary observational filmmaker’ whose film presents ‘a gendered vision of rage.’

Pebbles is, as Vinothraj describes it, a ‘snapshot of a life.’ It depicts the journey of an abusive, alcoholic father and his son as they walk back home through the barren, overwhelmingly hot landscape of rural Tamil Nadu, after the father has dragged the boy out of school and taken him to a village where he wants to force his estranged wife to return home.

“It was inspired by true events; as Vinothraj says, ‘the story chose me.’ When his sister married a man from a neighboring village, the family were unable to provide a dowry. In a humiliating march, his sister was sent back to the family home by her new husband through the parched landscape. It was this walk of shame, that so many women are still forced to endure, that Vinothraj wanted to capture.

“ ‘But I wanted to make it so it was the husband who had to make the walk, not the woman,’ he said. ‘It was my small way of taking revenge for this humiliation of my sister.’

He also chose to portray the journey through the eye of a child, the son, to inject ‘hope and humanity’ into their journey.

“The film focuses on the small but devastating tragedies and inequalities that life in rural Tamil Nadu inflicts on women. … Women forced to get off buses in blazing heat when their babies, awoken by men aggressively coming to blows, need to be breast fed. Women forced to patiently scoop water from the ground and into jars as the merciless sun beats down.

“Tamil Nadu’s oppressive environment is omnipresent in Pebbles. ‘The landscape is the third main character in the film,’ Vinothraj said. ‘I wanted to explore it in detail, the role it plays in the plight of the people.’ For authenticity, he filmed during the hottest days of the year in May. Temperatures got so high during the 27-day shoot that cameras began to malfunction.

“Vinothraj’s determination to make films never wavered. While working in garment factories at 14, he enrolled into college between 6am and 10am before back-to-back shifts, realizing he would need education to go into cinema.

“Small things would bring glimmers of joy. In Pebbles a girl, whose family are depicted in such abject poverty that they hunt for rats to eat, is pictured momentarily euphoric as she collects helicopter seeds in her dress and then scatters them into the air. ‘This was how I used to feel when I was a child,’ said Vinothraj. ‘The conditions of my life were bad, but I could still find moments to be happy. I did not feel like I was suffering because I did not know anything else.’

“At 19, after his bosses tried to marry him off – a tactic used to keep child laborers working in factories once they grow up – he decided it was time to leave. He had heard that Chennai, the bustling main metropolis of Tamil Nadu, was where films were made and movie people mingled.

“ ‘I had no idea how I would survive; my only thought was that I had to pursue my passion for cinema,’ he said. On arriving in Chennai he slept in the streets until he convinced a DVD shop to hire him.

“ ‘In the DVD shop, I used to watch three films a day,’ he said. “English films, Korean films, Japanese films, Latin American films.’ … The DVD shop also gave Vinothraj access to film directors, who would borrow or buy films, often on his recommendation. After almost three years, he was hired as an assistant on a short film and began to work his way up. …

“The success of the film has left Vinothraj in a state of disbelief. He thought its only audience would be the villagers whose lives inspired the story.” More at the Guardian, here.

Click here to see 10 other foreign films submitted for this year. Several look like my cup of tea, maybe yours, too.

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Photo: Ozy.
Thirty-year-old Abhinav Agrawal is helping India’s rural folk musicians survive and thrive. He uses a backpack studio developed by Latin Grammy winner Gael Hedding to go where the musicians are.

If there’s a moral to today’s story, it might be, “Stay close to your interests, to things you love.” Young Abhinav Agrawal loved India’s rural folk music.

As Tania Bhattacharya reported at Ozy in fall 2020, “In 2016, Abhinav Agrawal set off to Rajasthan to record folk musicians on the go and set them up with CDs, a website, videos and business cards free of cost so they can market themselves.

“His first find was Dapu Khan of the Merasi heritage community in Jaisalmer. But after Agrawal returned home to New Delhi, he couldn’t contact Khan. ‘We suddenly saw an article in the paper that claimed he had died as a result of communal violence,’ says Agrawal. Heartbroken, the musician-entrepreneur headed to Jaisalmer to look for Khan’s son, who began to cry the moment they met.

“As Agrawal consoled him, Khan’s son was surprised to hear his father had died. ‘But he’s in Germany, performing!’ The tears were of joy and gratitude, and Agrawal’s experiment of empowerment had succeeded.

“India’s countless folk communities are in dire need of funding and technical and creative upskilling to revitalize themselves in an increasingly globalized world. Live and festival-centric performances, which is all these musicians have known through generations, barely bring in money, and an online presence has become mandatory for creative mileage. Many music traditions are dying out, with practitioners taking up menial labor to make ends meet. And the pandemic has dealt a fatal blow, with performances off the table for the foreseeable future.

“Cue 28-year-old Agrawal, whose passion for folk music birthed the nonprofit Anahad Foundation in 2012, and the creation of the BackPack Studio that remains one of a kind in India. Developed by Latin Grammy winner Gael Hedding for Anahad, the portable recording studio is a high-quality wireless recorder with 12 mics that can run on battery for three days and shoot 4K videos. It’s designed to meet rural Indian challenges such as lack of electricity and the unwillingness on the part of musicians to leave their hometowns (and daily livelihoods) to travel to studios in cities.

“Anahad, meaning ‘limitless,’ is also aimed at preserving India’s oral folk traditions, and has extensively covered artists from Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Punjab and Rajasthan — helping 6,000 artists in all.

“Born and raised outside New Delhi in the historic city of Bulandshahr, Agrawal is a trained classical vocalist and tabla player, and was heavily influenced by folk songs. Much of the region’s traditional music revolves around nature and seasons, and Agrawal ‘felt closer to nature through music.’ Growing up, his town was very green, but rapid urbanization adversely impacted its scenic beauty.

‘When components of nature like the trees and birds began to disappear, the tradition of singing songs about them also began to die,’ Agrawal adds.

“With architects for parents, Agrawal also studied architecture but combined his love for nature and heritage by exploring the connection between music and urban spaces, because ‘architecture is frozen music.’ He formed an open music society, experimented with folk songs and set off on lengthy train journeys recording traveling artists and burning CDs for them. ‘All I had was a laptop, mic and sound card,’ says Agrawal. ‘But an interesting pattern emerged — these artists began to sell out their CDs.’

“He formed Anahad soon after, but the reality of running a nonprofit in India proved daunting. ‘I realized I needed business knowledge,’ says Agrawal. He headed to Berklee College of Music for an advanced degree, writing a thesis on how to design a music-based nonprofit in India.

“His organization now attacks all elements of a musician’s life, from approaching event promoters to legal tutorials. The idea has always been to empower these musicians toward dignified livelihoods as opposed to giving them handouts, which is unsustainable. Many singers have broken down in tears listening to their playbacks because they couldn’t believe how beautiful they sound. …

“Having raised some $400,000 over the years from the likes of Google as well as author and philanthropist Sudha Murthy, Anahad is now developing its own music distribution system via an app that will allow artists to earn through streaming. …

“ ‘His compassion for artists is beautiful, with no sense of envy despite being a musician himself,’ says partner and Anahad managing director Shuchi Roy. ‘At the same time, he is very tactical in thought.’ Roy, who is a lawyer and has practiced in India’s Supreme Court, handles all copyright and intellectual property issues for the nonprofit.

“Like a musical score, Agrawal’s journey has had its highs and lows — his music society’s first-ever recording that is yet to be released because the lead singer died a week after recording; dealing with depression after returning to India from Berklee in 2016; and making it to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list last year. ‘Whenever I’m frustrated with work, I play my music and instantly feel better,’ he says. ‘Now I carry my guitar everywhere.’ ”

More at Ozy, here. There’s music on Spotify, here.

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Photo: Anamni Gupta/Indian Express.
One aspect of the 2019 Shaheen Bagh protest organized by Muslim women against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act was the emergence of free libraries.

Most Americans don’t keep track of politics in India, but it was hard to miss the news back in 2019 when the Modi government decided to change the rules about who could be counted as a citizen. Muslim women organized a protest that spread across the country from the original site in Shaheen Bagh. One aspect has remained.

As Harshvardhan reported at India’s National Herald in January, “The Shaheen Bagh protest site is gone, but its legacy continues to inspire those who dream of a more egalitarian and democratic India. Led mostly by Muslim women, the Shaheen Bagh protest site inspired one of the most aesthetically-pleasing and thought-provoking experiments with protest art in recent times. Walls and streets of Jamia Millia Islamia and Shaheen Bagh protest site exploded with creativity as students and artists camped there and experimented with ideas. …

“One of the most distinctive contributions of the Shaheen Bagh movement was the introduction of a ‘protest site library.’ The idea of a ‘protest library’ came up during the Occupy Wall Street protest, one of the largest popular demonstrations in the United States. Occupy protesters erected a tent and established a ‘People’s Library’ in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park in November 2011. This one of its kind library held over 5000 volumes of books along with magazines and newspapers, and was finally razed down by the police.

“Since then, the concept of a ‘People’s Library’ captured the imagination of protesters all across the world. It travelled to Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013 when people resisted the commercialisation of public spaces. Make-shift libraries cropped up in different parts of Spain during the anti-austerity 15-M movement (2011-15) and then it travelled to Hong Kong during the pro-democracy movement there.

“At Shaheen Bagh, a group of students decided to convert a bus stand into a makeshift library in the heydays of the anti-CAA protests [CAA stands for the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019]. The ‘Fatima Sheikh Savitribai Phule Library’ captured the imagination of people and soon the make-shift library started to attract a lot of donors and also inspired similar libraries at different anti-CAA protest sites.

“The year 2020, an otherwise gloomy year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic … ended on a high note with the farmers’ uprising against the three farm bills, passed by the BJP-controlled Parliament in haste. … By blocking the entry points of nation’s capital, farmers are actually attempting to block the privatization and corporatization of Indian economy. Along with that, the protests are also a powerful assertion of the right to dissent. …

“It is but natural that such a huge protest in terms of both mobilization and concerns will also develop into a rich site for cultural production enriching the protest repertoire of the country. In one of the most innovative moves, protesting farmers launched their own bi-weekly newspaper. … They also set up libraries at the protest sites. [It] clearly carried on the legacy of the Shaheen Bagh protests. Now, we can be sure that protest site libraries are going to feature every time there is a sustained peoples’ movement.

“The first library came up at Tikri Border, Pillar no 783. On December 22 [2020], a group of students began the ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh Library’ with a single book stand with almost 200 books standing against a yellow tent. Farmers at Tikri border welcomed the idea and people could be seen browsing through the limited books available there. Soon the idea picked up and similar libraries came up at Singhu border as well as Ghazipur border while attempts were being made to establish one at Shahjahanpur border. …

“From the anti-CAA movement to the anti-farm law movement, the protesters have been accused of being ‘uneducated’ and … of ‘not having ‘read the law’ or ‘not knowing what they are protesting against or for.’ …

“The protest-site libraries stand as proof that these people are not ‘uneducated folks’ [but] are mature enough to develop a concrete socio-economic-political understanding and act upon it.”

More at the National Herald, here. Search Suzanne’s Mom’s blog on the word “library” for examples of other unusual libraries around the world.

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Illustration: Shivani Javeri.
Many artists in India donated their work to fundraisers such as the Fearless Immunity art sale to help others during the height of the pandemic.

You can trust artists to come through when there’s a need for empathy. They are often sensitive enough — perhaps wounded enough — to feel someone else’s pain and want to do something about it.

For example, as Rohini Kejriwal reports at Hyperallergic, India’s creative community became a beacon of hope during Covid-19, using their talents to raise money for vulnerable populations.

“In April and May, amidst a devastating second wave of COVID-19, India faced an overwhelming shortage of hospital beds and vaccines, choked crematoriums, and a rising death count. …

“From their homes, artists took to social media and used visuals, words, and even cake to raise funds for frontline workers and organizations helping affected communities get basic supplies like oximeters, thermometers, basic medicines, and masks. From every part of the country, illustrators, photographers, poets, and bakers came together to do their bit. 

“Hundreds of illustrators across the country have sold their prints, calendars, and other merchandise in exchange for donations to individuals and organizations most affected by coronavirus. … Keeping transparency in mind, the artists and their supporters shared donation receipts publicly, and Instagram was suddenly flooded with posts by good Samaritans doing whatever they could. 

“Several artists also took on commissions, like Shivani Javeri and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, who made digital portraits for COVID-19 relief, and Divya, who did pet portraits on commission. Ria Mohta of Artisan’s Arbor created Feel Good postcards, through which people could buy postcards and write a customized message for loved ones. Creative Dignity, a volunteer-run movement, has been working to help traditional artisans and craftspeople from India who face the double threat of a health crisis and livelihood uncertainty. 

“Several print sales have been hosted by the photography community as well, like Art for India, Ode to India, and Prints for Hope by Eight Thirty; Chennai Photo Biennale’s PhotoSolidarity, as well as the Print for Srishti sale, with 45 participating photographers, initiated by photojournalist Smita Sharma.

“A series of art sales, in which multiple artists pooled and sold their work to raise funds as a collective, also arose. Author-illustrator Devangana Dāsh brought together 26 talented women artists to sell digital artworks; Kulture Shop ran two Art Fights Covid campaigns with 50 artists selling their art for oxygen relief; the Fearless Collective created an art sale Fearless Immunity; and LOCOPOPO and a group of artists and illustrators sold their original works and art prints.

A Friendly Fundraiser was started by a group of friends who decided to donate their time in exchange for donations, offering a variety of services and experiences from home coffee brewing, writing better college essays, personalized digital portraits, and even guidance on raising a puppy in lockdown. More recently, community fundraisers with various workshops and panels have grown in popularity, like student-run initiative Moonflower COVID Relief and Sensory Expansion by Unlocked

“India’s poetry and music communities have also had a part to play. In May, a group of writers hosted an evening of poetry, In the Dark Times, There Will Be Singing. Poet Nakuul Mehta is currently running #PoemsForHumanity, where he writes and performs an original poem for those who donate. 

“Even the independent music community has been doing their bit. Producer Arjun Vagale mobilized his friends in the Indian electronic music community, and together, they created a charity compilation album titled SOS. Producers Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Javeri collaborated with the coffee estate Kerehaklu to create Kerelief, natural soundscapes intended to bring calm. Sanaya, along with 11 other producers, also helped create CRSP (Covid Relief Sample Pack),  a bespoke sample pack of sounds produced from across the globe.

“Offering workshops as a way to share practical knowledge also became a way to incentivize donations. Shub (also known as the Hungry Palette) hosted a visual journaling workshop, and natural color maker Manya Cherabuddi started a fundraiser called Find Your Calm and donated all the proceeds from her classes on natural dyes and pigments. In June, NPI Collective hosted a 3-day workshop on children’s books as maps to help navigate the pandemic.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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The Journey Junkies blog doesn’t seem to have a Reblog button, but I have their permission to share this post about an unusual garden in India.

They write: “The Nek Chand Rock Gardens had been on our radar for a long time before we finally made it there. Located in the city of Chandigarh, at the foot of the Himalayas, the gardens are one of India’s hidden gems. In fact, they largely undiscovered by foreign tourists. Indeed, on our visit, we were the only foreigners enjoying the gardens. Interestingly, although they are largely overlooked by visitors from overseas, the gardens are the second most visited tourist attraction in the country after the Taj Mahal. Around 5000 visitors a day enter the gates of the gardens to experience Nek Chand’s captivating wonderland.

“Although the gardens themselves are incredible, the story of the Nek Chand Rock Gardens is even more so. Nek Chand was born in 1924 in Pakistan and moved to India during partition in 1947. Two years later he joined the Highway Department in Chandigarh as part of the Refugee Employment Programme. In 1951, he secured a position as a road inspector at Chandigarh Public Works Department. His job was to supervise the construction of a re-vitalisation of the road system in the city. …

“It was Nek Chand’s job to supervise the re-vitalisation of the road system in the 1950’s. However, Nek Chand was a man with a vision. It was during this period, that he started to collect unwanted materials that had been discarded throughout the area. These were items that had been abandoned when the city was being re-built, as well as objects that had been thrown away by residents. He searched for rocks, broken crockery, coloured glass, along with tiles and whatever else he could find. With these materials, he secretly built a sculpture garden hidden on government land. It started small, just a patch of land, with stones bordering the area, together with a few sculptures. However, before long, the garden had expanded significantly and various courtyards were added.”

More here.

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Saving the Stork

stork-festival-vyn

Photo: Gerrit Vyn at Living Bird.
A conservation army of women has worked hard to revive the population of an odd endangered stork, the Greater Adjutant. The work is tied to Aaranyak, a nonprofit focused on biodiversity in northeast India.

As I was trying to decide if you’d be interested in another initiative that might be on hold because of Covid-19, I read the article more carefully and saw something that confirmed it is merely experiencing a pause. “When the entire nation of India was placed into lockdown in spring 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, public festivals were canceled, but the hargila army still celebrated the storks by making Greater Adjutant face masks.” 

Hargila? Greater Adjutant? The story of an inspiring Indian conservationist comes from Arundhati Nath at All About Birds.

“Dr. Purnima Devi Barman carefully balances her feet as she clambers down from an 80-foot-tall bamboo platform. She’s been scanning the treetops above the village of Dadara in northeastern India, looking for the giant stick nests of Greater Adjutants — huge storks named for their stiff-legged, almost military gait.

“These tall, majestic birds were once widely distributed in wetlands across India and Southeast Asia. … The Greater Adjutant is now confined to the northeastern state of Assam, their last stronghold. Elsewhere, small populations persist in Cambodia’s northern plains. The species is endan­gered, one of the rarest storks in the world. …

“In study­ing this species, Barman has noticed a change in the storks’ behavior. Greater Adjutants are now increasingly leaving the rural wetlands where they have historically nested and becoming village dwellers.

“Through her tireless work with Aaranyak, Barman has empowered an army of local women to make another big change happen. Once scorned, the storks are now wel­comed and celebrated in the villages — and people who once destroyed Greater Adjutant nests now care for the birds like their own children. …

“Greater Adjutants can be smelly neighbors. They bring rotting flesh to their nests to feed hatchling storks, and they rain smelly droppings down on villagers’ gardens. People in the Assamese villages of Dadara and Pacharia, where the storks are most common, tended to see the huge birds as a bad omen, a plague. They were even willing to chop down magnificent old trees in their backyards to get rid of stork nests.

“One day in 2007, Barman watched in horror as nine baby storks fell to the ground when a villager chopped down a nest tree. When she tried to stop the vil­lager, she was taken aback by his anger. …

“As other villagers gathered around her at the fallen nest tree, she asked for their help in taking the baby storks to a rescue center at a nearby zoo. … They laughed at Barman, ridiculing her and asking if she wanted to eat the baby birds on her way home. It was an inci­dent that could have discouraged her from enlisting locals in an effort to save the storks. But instead, Barman marks it as a turning point that led to a lot of good and necessary change.

‘I realized that it wasn’t the people’s fault,’ she says now. ‘They were com­pletely unaware about the ecological significance of the endangered stork.’ …

“She made a huge personal sacrifice, stepping away from her PhD studies to dedicate herself to shifting people’s attitudes. Barman started by reaching out to several women in the villages, speaking to them about the importance of these birds and their dwindling population.

“She chose women as a first point of contact for her conservation outreach effort, because she felt the women in these villages don’t often get a chance to weigh in on social issues. And within their families, women can serve as the gatekeepers.

“A big part of Barman’s conservation challenge was access to nests, with Greater Adjutants nesting atop trees on private land, in people’s yards. By striking up friendships with the local women, who were mostly homemakers, Barman figured she could gain permis­sion to enter their premises and work to save the storks. She organized activities such as cooking competitions to attract women to her meetings.

“The meetings were a hit, and they gained a big following. Today Barman has organized a group of more than 400 local volunteers in what she calls the ‘hargila army.’ (In Assamese, Greater Adjutants are called ‘hargila,’ which literally translates as ‘bone swallower’ because the storks sometimes swallow whole bones.)” More at All About Birds, here.

adds a bit more on Barnum at the Better India. “Fondly referred to as the ‘Hargila Baideu’ (Stork Sister) by the local community for the work she has been doing for the birds, Purnima has dedicated her life to protect the Greater Adjutant. …

” ‘My grandmother instilled my love and passion for nature. But it was during my Master’s studying ecology and wildlife biology, when my professors spoke of the endangered Greater Adjutant Stork, which were then nowhere to be seen in my grandmother’s paddy fields. I volunteered at Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based non-profit wildlife conservation organisation, but saw that people’s interest was restricted to glamourous species like the rhino or tigers. So, why shouldn’t I work towards protecting the Greater Adjutant Stork,’ says Purnim.” More here.

By the way, this week I’m drinking a vey nice loose-leaf tea from Assam, home of the Greater Adjutant. Upton Teas has a huge selection, and they ship fast.

Map: Jillian Ditner. Greater Adjutant image: Amol Marathe/Macaulay Library.

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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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