Descent, downhill can be fun!

This was one adventurous lady. If I had a telephoto I would’ve liked to capture her thrill. From my point of view it takes courage to do something like that in an alien country, not to mention the weird landscape of Cappadocia.

 There she is again. On a private tour driving along and stopping by every now and then, it became hard for me to know who this was. She turned up on these two distinctly different clicks of the landscape. This is cropped in just a bit.

On a private tour driving along and stopping by now and then, it became hard for me to know who this was.

From my archives on one of the most memorable holidays of all in Cappadocia in December 2009; shot on my sweet Nikon D60 and now defunct Sigma 18-125mm I loved most. Hope you like it. For more awesome pictures do look at the Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent

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Pondicherry: some street side portraits

A man enjoys the company of his best friend who is a tea stall owner. He's the regular here.

A man who looked like a daily wager at a street side tea stall. He seemed like a regular here.

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Pondy is a shoppers paradise. You can spend a great deal of time in the charming little shops  dotting the cobbled streets, except those with strict siesta timings.

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Government healthcare is not for everybody. Or at least that’s what I was thinking looking at this bent man.

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The owner of the house sits at the doorway facing the street, reading the news of the day, That way he knows what’s going on outside his house as well.

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Pondy is about cycling. It’s really the best way to go around town. Time takes another meaning here.

This is the land of the Mother Mirra Alfassa, the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo. Though she arrived here in 1914 and died in 1973, she is very much alive through the ashram she founded in the city.

This is the land of the Mother Mirra Alfassa, the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo. Though she arrived here in 1914 and died in 1973, she is very much alive through the ashram she founded in the city.

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The evangelical missionaries make one of the oldest connections between Pondy and France, dating back to the 1700’s.

Its been sixty years since the de facto transfer of French territories to India. Today, November 1st 2014 is the first time the city will celebrate its Liberation Day on the lines of Republic day and Independence day as directed by the Government of India. These were shot in June though.

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Pondicherry, a certain sense of Gallic glory gone by.

On a whirlwind trip to Pondicherry, I visited a quaint little museum in its old parts to better understand some of the charm the city exudes for the hordes of tourists it attracts. From the tiniest bits of Greek and Spanish clay pottery dating back to the Roman Empire to French chariots and carriages from the 19th century donated by old Tamilian families who inherited this past, I was at once unhappy that I had no time to visit the deserted archaeological site of Arikaedu where most of the ancient collections come from. After all, it was just 7 km away from the museum. Ah well.

That notwithstanding, I was happy to shoot some of these pictures of the surrounding area near the museum. Shooting inside the museum was prohibited though I have seen some pictures on the net taken by those who don’t take rules seriously. Good for them!

Pondicherry or Puducherry is a town that loves it's past. As seen in this picture of an old Fiat much celebrated in the 1950's. Being lovingly brought back to its old glory at a mechanics or maybe a DIY project of the owners.

Pondicherry or Pondy is a town that loves its past. As seen in this picture of an old Fiat being lovingly restored. The Fiat was a symbol of style back in the 50’s and 60’s all over India.

Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz. The dream car of the 60's is here being restored on the streets. Love is in the air here, even if for the material. It's a sign of the good times a family had.

Another dream car of the 60’s being given a facelift. It must’ve been great when the going was good. For now it ain’t going anywhere, not until the tyres are found!

Street Graffiti is subtle and detailed. The French street sign has an Indian twist. Any guesses why Ganesha is so loved the world over?

A French street sign with an Indian twist. To me this detailed and subtle graffiti seemed to suggest a contemporary European sensibility.

Here's the detail. I haven't seen anything so artistic by way of stencil graffiti in Mumbai.

I haven’t seen stencilled graffiti of this nature in Mumbai, hometown of the Lord Ganesha. Interesting typography.

The graffiti in Pondicherry adopts Banky's style and attitude. This was on a wall next to a garbage dump. It's a me too but adds to Pondi city's connect with Europe in modern times. I'm glad I captured this art.

Graffiti in this case adopts Banksy’s style and attitude, further illustrating Pondy’s connect with Europe in modern times.

The old city is full of little details such as this decorative sculpture which is as Indian as its European in its appeal.

The old city is full of little details such as this decorative sculpture which is as Indian as its European. Bohemian chic or new age cum old world charm? It’s hard to decide.

Pondicherry became a part of the as recently as 1954 when On July 16, 1954, the administration from the French administrators marked the end of 224 years of French rule.

Pondicherry became a part of India as recently as 1954. The transfer marked the end of 224 years of French rule in this tiny part of Tamil Nadu.

Another view of a colonial home which will probably become a hotel given its colonial appeal.

Another view of a colonial home lovingly preserved. The French quarter of this city is quiet, clean and shady. The cobbled streets are lined with charming townhouses like this one.

That is one big door, it opens completely only when you are a known visitor to this mansion. The portion open is for the security to pop up to check your creditionals and intention.

That is one big door; it opens completely only when you are a known visitor to this mansion driving up your vintage car. The partial opening is for the security to pop-up to check your credentials and intention i.e if you come walking.

Most of the old mansions facing the sea are now budget hotels run by locals. Surprisingly, they're the  least expensive

Most of the old mansions facing the sea are now budget hotels run by locals. Surprisingly, they’re the
least expensive. Their interior design aesthetic is a bit like a Tollywood movie set. Very kitsch and i don’t mean bohemian.

There's a certain romance in walking around the streets in Pondicherry. Plenty of nice places to eat some fusion food.

There’s a certain romance in walking around the streets of Old Pondicherry. Plenty of nice places to eat some fusion food. The beer here is dirt cheap as it’s a Union territory. I didn’t realise until we drove back to Auroville, else I would’ve carried a carton for the night.

The horse carriages I saw in the museum were larger, grander version of this cycle rickshaw.

The horse carriages I saw in the museum were larger, grander versions of this humble cycle rickshaw.

Graffiti everywhere. Especially on abandoned Tempos or should I say Goods carriers.

Graffiti everywhere. Especially on abandoned tempos or should I say ‘goods carriers’

Beautiful architecture everywhere. Though a weekend here is enough to imbibe the atmosphere. Unless of course you are spending time at the Aurobindo Ashram.

Beautiful architecture. Though a weekend in the city should be just about enough to imbibe the atmosphere. Unless of course you are spending time at the Aurobindo ashram learning yoga, meditation or even incense making.

This is the beach front that was badly affected by the Tsunami. Its pretty windy on a normal day, swimming is not in the culture around here.

This is the beach front that was badly affected by the Tsunami in 2004. Its pretty windy here on a normal day, swimming is not in the culture, so don’t pack that 2 piece bikini yet. Instead enjoy a stroll in your yoga pyjamas, breathing in the sea air.

The streets have seen some agitations since India gained independence. The French didn’t leave here with the British. This lane where this facade is located is so peaceful, it was hard for me to imagine any anguish, leave alone feeling it.

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Faces of Orissa: street photography, part 2

As I write this, a month or two after my visit to this village market in Orissa, there has been a flood that has claimed 39 lives leaving more than 3.3 million of the population marooned in knee-deep water in their houses and outside. I can only imagine this. As per news articles: Across the state, more than 5,300 villages have been affected with 460 of them stranded by heavy flood waters. The downpour has affected agricultural land as well. Though the floods tend to hit the coastal areas, pretty far from where I shot these simple folk, I hope they’re ok. This was in the weekly market deeper down the hinterland.

It was the prime of summer, in pelting heat, under makeshift tarpaulin (mostly large sheaths of  plastic) in saturated, primary colours: yellow, blue and orange, in an area known for its tribal culture.

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Tribals with children stand a chance of receiving aid from Government. Most are torn between living in isolation in the forests or being a part of the new economy they’re ill prepared for.

Noserings are a symbol of financial well being in this region. The more prosperous a family, the bigger the nose ring

Nose rings are a symbol of financial well-being in this region. The more prosperous a family, the bigger or more the nose rings.

Lots and lots of Baigan s(Aubergines) and Karelas (Bitter squash or is it bitter gourd in English).

Lots and lots of baigans (Aubergines) and karelas (Bitter squash or is it bitter gourd in English?). The green leaves were like arugula, very soft and tasty raw. I got 3 large bunches for just Rs.5!

Cheap product in even cheaper plastic seems to have an attraction in our village markets. No one cares nor bothers with the toxic effects of such packaging.

Cheap product in even cheaper plastic seems to have an attraction in our village markets. No one cares nor bothers with the toxic effects of such packaging. It’s a sign of progress and connects the masses to the classes.

The bindi on her forehead is a permanent tattoo, a symbol that helps identify her tribe.

The bindi on her forehead is a permanent tattoo, a symbol that helps identify her tribe.

I knew he was fascinated by the camera more than anything else.

I knew he was fascinated by my camera more than anything else. As for me, I was taken up by his rock style hair do.

 Faux silver jewellery and printed polyester sarees from Gujarat have found their way into this region. They're cheaper to buy than weave at home, the old fashioned way.

Faux silver jewellery and printed polyester sarees from Gujarat have found their way into this region. They’re cheaper to buy than weave at home, the old-fashioned way.

Odisha may top India’s poverty list though for all the right reasons. The percentage of abjectly poor people in this state has declined faster than in any other. Despite this, however, in a measure of how poorly off they were earlier, the proportion of the poor in this state remains well above the national average.

Orissa may top India’s poverty list though for all the right reasons. The percentage of abjectly poor people in this state has declined faster than in any other. Despite this, in a measure of how poorly off they were earlier, the proportion of the poor in this state remains well above the national average.

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In Orissa, the proportion of people below the poverty line has fallen by half according to a survey done by one world international, which possibly explains why this woman wanted the camera pointed at her. She seemed better off than most with an imposing personality and an assistant to carry her shopping bags.

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Tribals freely practice shifting cultivation in their respective habitats assuming that land, forest, water and other natural resources belong to them, though recently the mining industry has wooed some of them to into the new economy promising them inclusion and a better life.

Dissent is what I saw in this man's face. Activists engage with the people to put up a fight against mining companies in this region.

Dissent is what I saw in this man’s face. Activists engage with the people to put up a fight against mining companies in this region. Despite increasing levels of income from India’s abundant mineral reserves, there has been little in the way of improved human rights protection and social development for its communities.

It's the Indian chilly that lends all the color to the culture of a place. In Odisha its no different. I love this photo dearly.

It’s the chilly that lends all the color to the culture of a place anywhere in India. In Odisha its no different. I love this photo dearly. Nothing comes close to the redness of the Indian chilly you will agree.

Thanks for taking a look, do rate, comment or like in that order!  For those interested, these were shot mostly on the Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC or Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AF-S.  Though in my estimation classic street photography is at its impactful best black and white, shot a bit wider, the colours in this market and its equally colourful people  is what attracted me.

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The zigzag dance of rat snakes: Part 2

Auroville or at least where I stayed there, is full of snakes. One evening, after a long tiring day of cycling along the periphery of the township, I returned to my room to plunge my aching body into bed in my rustic room. I had barely closed my eyes when I heard a knock my door. A young, excited boy was asking me to please come back outside, “There are two snakes fighting, bring your camera, its amazing.” I darted out of bed even though this meant assembling my aching body parts into one moving unit all over again. In a daze, I grabbed my camera in whatever mode it was in and ran along with him to the spot. Alas the lens was my 50mm portrait lens. To get up close to the slithery creatures meant courage which I did not have. It was dusk in a shady spot under a large banyan tree, the light was fading, I was sleepy and feeling a bit creepy as well. I took a few shots and then decided this act would last more than a couple of minutes. The room was a five-minute sprint, so I dashed back to and fro with my zoom. That way I could be at a safe distance from the creatures and go about my job with a little more peace of mind. I just wish I’d kept my calm and done a better job.

This was the sharpest in my lot of 20 images. The snakes were in a reverie with fading light to add to my worries.

This was the sharpest in my lot of 20 images. The snakes were in a reverie, moving ever so fast. Then there was the limitation of the 50mm lens plus my fear of getting too close. I had fading light, high ISO and slow shutter speeds adding to my woes.

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This is a rare spectacle to watch. Though there was plenty of aggression in the act, I was sure this was how snakes feel love.  A video recording would’ve been apt but flash light might have caused disturbance to them.

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This is towards the middle of the act. For a second they’re intertwined standing upright face to face and the next they’re flat on the ground in high-speed action happening mostly around their heads.

This is synchronised dancing at its best better tahn any olympics gold medalist team at work.

This is synchronised dancing at its best; better than any olympics gold medalist team at work.

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The greatest zigzag show; these snakes seemed to be in a love-hate relationship!

Love and rats is all we need.

Love and rats is all we need. A 12-year-old French boy from the neighbourhood took the foremost place next to the snakes announcing that they were mating and not fighting. He lives on the property and seemed to be knowledgeable on the subject!

In response to the zigzag challenge on dailypost

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The Zigzag love dance of rat snakes

This was on a trip to Auroville, Pondicherry. The place where I stayed was in the middle of a thick forest. One evening on my way back I witnessed this amazing mating of rat snakes. They were at least 4 meters long.

This was on a trip to Auroville, Pondicherry. The place where I stayed was in the middle of a thick forest. One evening on my way back I saw this amazing mating act of rat snakes. They were at least 4 meters long.

In response to the weekly photo challenge zigzags.

Posted in Landscape, Travel, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Street photography in a sea of faceless Indians

On a visit to Orissa in search of the elusive Dongria Kondh tribe, I chanced upon a weekly market in a remote village called Kakriguma. I was curious about what a flea market in a village populated with mainly tribals would have on display. I knew it would be a difficult experience, what with the summer heat beating down in a place I had no previous experience or limited knowledge of. I was at once captivated by the ladies in their brightly colored sarees and bovine nose rings. The men were nowhere near the charm the ladies exude in these parts.

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Perhaps it was her unintended sense of fashion or maybe the sheer ‘Africanness’ in the mood of the frame that drew me to this lady. It’s hard to judge a tribal from a non tribal especially in a terrain known for its political unrest.

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The weekly market has a large chunk of tribals engaged in agriculture and fishing. There was a sense of contentment on this old lady’s face. Her personality apart, I loved the cheerful contrast offered by her magenta saree.

I was captivated by the tattoos on this lady's feet. Women are decorated and have a great sense of color in these parts.

I was captivated by the tattoos on this lady’s feet. Women decorate themselves with a great sense of colour and style.

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I’m not sure if this pretty woman represents the Dongria Kondh tribe. The nose rings and hand-woven saree seemed to suggest so. Much to my disappointment, there wasn’t a single vendor selling woven fabric or clothing.

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This second generation of tribals prefers to wear blouses with their sarees most of which come in from Surat in Gujarat. Sadly, they seem to have given up the traditional blouseless drape so unique to this part of India. It classifies them as a backward class you see.

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I was hoping to see some authentic tribal jewellery here. The beads seemed commonplace with hardly any copper, brass, or white metal jewellery I so strongly associated with this region. Locals prefer plastic unfortunately.

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Turkish evil eye necklaces on display in this market! It seems to have replaced the original tribal symbols that I had come in search of. The bead necklaces are synonymous with the local culture here.

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This picture proves my theory that ladies with blouses are economically better off than the ones without! Frankly I saw a higher sense of aesthetic in the poor woman in the foreground. So much more fashionable and sensible in the hot summer sun.

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Dry fish is indigenous to Orissa. It’s salted and dried over 4 days ending up with a strong, cheesy odour. To the less hardy, the odour can be obnoxious in a market like this. The curry made from it with mustard is a delicacy is what I learnt.

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Kakriguma has a famous pottery village nearby where tribals make every kind of earthenware for home use.  Sadly, there were no takers for this lack lustre vendor. Most buyers these days prefer Aluminium pots to terracotta.

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This was the seconds stall where a poor man was selling old worn sarees to even poorer folk. The lady was happy with her find.

The fast, cheap, easy and fake has found its takers even in what was until recently a remote part of India. No matter where we live the cultural symbols of progress seem to be consumerism.

The fast, the cheap, the easy and the fake have found their takers even in what was until recently a remote part of India. No matter where we live the cultural symbols of progress seem to be consumerism. Tobacco and soaps are best sellers here.

I was under the impression that barter was the way the weekly market functioned in this village. It was all about the money, honey.

I was under the impression that barter was the way the weekly market functioned in this village. Nope, it was all about the money, honey! The new economy does not appreciate the idea of exchanging goods.

On the spot tailoring is one of the features of this market. Stitching blouses, shirts and bags at breakneck speed made for this picture.

In case you thought this happened only in Thailand, on the spot tailoring is one of the features of this market too. Stitching blouses, shirts and bags at breakneck speed in the hot sun, that’s different.

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The weekly market affords timeout with friends from neighbouring villages. The land has a history of Maoist attacks and dissent among tribals.

Posted in Photo essay, Portrait, Street Photography, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 41 Comments

Love. Laughter. Care. And a life turns around.

This is Icha Foundation. A young charitable trust my sister started less than 4 years ago with a lifetime commitment to raising abandoned children, particularly ones with disabilities from abjectly poor backgrounds. At the core of her calling lies the belief that every human born on this earth has the right to live in dignity besides being given an equal opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. A life can turn around with something as little as love, care and genuine affection is what I thought, on my visit to the foundation last month.

It’s a tough project that runs mainly on her passion and compassion for the destitute. Tough because there is nothing normal or predictable with the kind of challenges these children present on a day-to-day basis. There are no benchmarks to refer to. Doctors are at least 50 km away and so are the supplies they need for sustenance. On my visit here, I was full of admiration for all the hard work that goes into making such a pleasant and wholesome life possible for these kids.

Over the 4 years Madhu Tugnait has founded a beautiful ashram (orphanage) facing one of  the largest fresh water lakes in Andhra Pradesh, mostly on her own life savings. 7 abandoned/rescued children with various disabilities such as mental retardation receive care, education and therapy at no cost to either them or the government. If she had the resources she says she would handle more. “As many as there are to be found” she says emphatically. “But it’s hard to do it by oneself, without donors and volunteers” she adds.

She has been blessed with supportive friends and family who have been instrumental in making this project possible right from the time she decided to build on what was dismissed by most as marsh land. Her circle of contacts have also helped her garner support from overseas in the form of donations that just about pay for the running expenses such as salaries for caretakers, therapists and food supplies for the 7 kids. As an extension the foundation also takes care of 3 normal kids; those of the caretakers.

Ramakrishna is the resident physiotherapist at Icha Foundation. He is much loved by the children even though he makes them do some tough exercises.

Ramakrishna is the resident physiotherapist at Icha Foundation. He is much-loved by the children even though he makes them do some tough exercises. The peaceful surroundings and the love he receives from them are a big bonus. The practice is helping him prepare for higher studies he says.

Caretakers main job involves feeding the children. Fussy eaters with disabilities makes this seemingly mundane task an everyday challenge.

A caretaker’s main job involves feeding and maintaining the children like they were their mothers. Fussy eaters with disabilities makes this seemingly mundane task an everyday challenge.

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This boy is not only paralysed in his legs, he also has pain if he closes his jaw. Simple tasks like drinking water become a trial for those who feed. Half the water goes trickling down the sides of the mouth.

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These children may evoke your sympathy in a photograph, but in reality their zest for life evokes a very special kind of happiness. This child with all her problems manages to crawl as fast as a battery operated toy car. Full of energy and an infectious love for life, like any normal kid.

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With medication and physiotherapy the staff is hoping this child’s epilepsy will be controlled and she may walk someday. At the moment she cannot stand and rolls on the floor to go from place to place.

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Nursery rhymes help a mentally handicapped child to behave. One does not expect them to remember or respond to instruction in a linear way. There is no reward other than the pandemonium a child with limited mental functions brings to a class.

In severe cases of mental retardation as I was told by the teacher handing this child, many cannot learn any subjects but may be capable of learning basic self care habits.

In severe cases of mental retardation as I was told by the teacher (handing this child), many cannot learn any subjects but may be capable of learning basic self-care habits. This child’s mental condition includes severe ADHD.

This boy cannot speak but has the ability to express himself besides the will to learn and overcome his disability. He loves Johnny Johnny yes papa!

This boy cannot speak but manages to express himself with an eagerness to overcome his disability. He loves Johnny, Johnny, yes papa.

Though she is 12 years old this child behaves like she was five years. She lives in a state of extreme excitement and disappointment speaking her own language which is gibberish.

Though she’s 12 years old, this child behaves like she was five. She lives in a state of extreme excitement and disappointment speaking her own language to herself which is gibberish. She likes being in class but not the teacher.

A mentally retarded person is slow to learn and may be slow or limited in the development of physical skills. Additionally, physical handicaps may be present, such as speech impairments, visual impairments, hearing defects, or epilepsy. In this case the child sleeps most of the time.

A mentally retarded person is slow to learn and may have physical handicaps such as speech impairment, visual impairment, hearing defects, or epilepsy. In this case the child sleeps most of the time and is incapable of moving her body much. She responds positively to whispers in her ear and eats very little. Care taking requires patience and hope more than anything else.

The girl in the middle is an intelligent one except that she has multiple deformities. In the company of normal kids she has learnt how to use her one arm and leg to accomplish many a task.

The girl in the middle is very clever except that she has multiple deformities. From a cleft lip and palate to a single arm and deformity in her legs; in the company of normal kids she has learnt how to use her disabilities to her advantage and thus enjoys the status of being everybody’s pet.

Not all the causes of mental retardation are known; however, more than 200 have been identified, and many others are suspected.  It has been a challenge for the founder of Icha to access medical health for each of the children in her shelter.

Not all the causes of mental retardation are known; however, more than 200 have been identified, and many others are suspected. It has been a challenge for the founder of Icha to get access to medical health for the 7 children in her shelter. The boy in the middle is mentally alert, he is not dumb, he just has a speech impairment.

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The cook who provides nourishment for these children maybe an illiterate but she shares the same compassion as the founder and does her job with zeal, keeping track of what each of the children likes or dislikes. Most of the food is organic and the kids are getting used to this acquired taste as is the staff which is used to eating spicy Indian curries.

The man who wears many hats left his high paying job in city to live amidst nature and clean up every kind of mess the kids leave behind. He ensures the garden is nourished with all the organic waste from the kitchen and that the children have fresh clean clothes to wear everyday.

The man who wears many hats, left his well-paying job in city as gardener to live amidst nature and clean up every kind of mess the kids leave behind. He ensures the garden is nourished with all the organic waste from the kitchen and that the children have fresh, clean clothes to wear.

spend time with these children who have only love and curiosity to give. They love visitors.

Volunteers will have a crucial role to play in the forthcoming years of Icha Foundation. From teaching, painting, cooking, building, gardening, cleaning, healthcare, marketing and fundraising besides care taking, a volunteer can make his/her own itinerary of help based on his/her skill and interest area. As for the kids, they love visitors.

This child is one of the caretakers kids who helps her friends to learn from her. She enjoys learning nursery rymes and hopes to be well versed in English while living with the disabled at Icha.

This child is one of the caretakers kids who helps her friends to learn from her. She enjoys learning nursery rhymes and hopes to be well versed in English while living with the disabled at Icha.

Caretakers are mostly salaried staff (women with kids) who have chosen to do this job rather than migrate to the city. Though the foundation does not have a school (for want of funds) the caretakers children are learning in the classes currently being run in a room in the premises for the children with disabilities.

Caretakers are mostly salaried staff (some with kids) who have chosen to do this job and not migrate to the city to work as domestic help. Though the foundation does not have a school for want of funds, the caretakers children are learning in the classes being run in a room in the premises for the children with disabilities.

With support and visits from well wishers all over the planet, perhaps the vision to see a proper school will come to fruition. That way not only will the kids from Icha benefit as would the villagers from the nearby Kondakarla as well.

With support and visits from well wishers all over the planet, perhaps the vision to see a proper school will come to fruition. That way not only will the kids from Icha benefit as would the villagers from the nearby Kondakarla as well.

A view from the patio where volunteers and senior staff stay. The rescued dogs are also permanent residents here who keep a watch on the property.

A view of the fresh water lake from the patio where volunteers and senior staff of Icha foundation stay. The rescued dogs are also permanent residents here who keep a watch on the property and the kids besides entertaining them.

A donation of as little as Rs.500 ($8.25) a month pays for doctor’s visits or vitamins required for a child with disabilities. If you wish to help please do get in touch with Madhu herself. You can find her contact details here or you can email her at madhutug@yahoo.com

This is my gift to her for doing an amazing job. Respect, that’s all.

Icha foundation is a charitable trust registered under the registrars office Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India, on 4th april 2010. The registration number is: 166/10/bkg. All donations to Icha are tax exempt since it is also registered with 80g of Income Tax. The home ministry of India has recently granted Icha Foundation with the FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act 2010 ) registration, allowing it to receive direct foreign funding from an individual or company.
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Bird watching in a place called Kondakarla

I’m not much of a bird watcher, but when there’s nothing else to do, I tend to lift my camera to find something interesting. On a visit to see my sister’s charitable foundation on the outskirts of the city of Vizag in South India, I was at once struck by the lay of the land. This was last month, when it was a blistering 42 degrees celsius (107.6 fahrenheit), far from the season to be in these parts. Though fascinated, it was way too hot and humid to do anything meaningful other than find oneself the closest fan to air all that streaming sweat. An air conditioner in a remote village where its hard to find electricity? No chance. We had two nights and days to spend and I was almost done with the book I’d been reading on my other hand before I reached into my camera bag. Why kill time when you can shoot it!

Icha Foundation (more about that in my later posts) is built on elevated land overlooking one of the largest fresh water lakes in Andhra Pradesh. Suffice it to say that the lake surrounded by green mountains and coconut groves attracts many a migratory bird. Frankly I had no idea until I was back in Mumbai with these shots and informed by Google about this amazing fact. The place is also being promoted as an eco tourist spot.

A friend who is a professional bird watcher came across this site and very kindly sent me a list of birds in these photos. Have added them into the captions for bird lovers who want to know the species in this series.

Kondakarla Bird

A male purple rumped Sunbird enjoys the view: The best time to visit this lake is anywhere between November and February when rare migratory birds flock in large numbers from all over the world.

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A green bee-eater prepares for take off: I’m not too familiar with bird types but my online research suggests this may be the blue tailed bee eater! Maybe this one flew in from Penang or Singapore, maybe it just lives here.

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A black Drongo looks to pick up a fight: I had just opened my new Tamron 75-300mm out of the box and it’s amazing how the lens made me aware of the birds around me. Perfectly compatible subject for this lens I thought.

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A Pied Starling calls its partner back to the nest: What concerned me most was how these beautiful birds were perched on electricity wires running pole to pole through various plots on the land around the lake. They were oblivious of the danger to their lives. Sadly so were the villagers and the government that installed them.

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The black Drongo surveys its habitat: I have not post processed these images, other than crop them for interesting compositions. The rural mud house and the bird provided me with plenty of inspiration to forget the heat. I know I have travelling in common with birds. I love visiting places, though its far more convenient if one has those wings.

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A juvenile bee-eater takes a brief respite from the heat: This capture makes me want to return to the village in November when I may be granted even more colorful sightings. Strange what a lens can do to alter your life choices!

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The red whiskered Bulbul prepares to sing playfully: I shot most of these from the comfort of my room facing a paddy field behind the lakefront. You need plenty of time and patience to capture these speedy wingers. A speedy camera and lens can help though, if kept on silent mode.

This bird had an exotic look about it. It took me a whole day and a night to figure out its path. It was very fast and not very still anywhere on the landscape for too long. Quite a beauty I thought.

The red whiskered Bulbul is not very camera friendly: This bird had an exotic look about it. It took me a whole day and a night to figure out its path. It was very fast and not very still anywhere on the landscape for too long. Quite a beauty I thought.

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A red vented Bulbul: I suspect this is the grey winged blackbird commonly called Bulbul. The one that sings when the Mayflower trees bloom, just before the monsoons.

Could this sparrow have flown in from Africa. I wanted to see if it had a red eye but given the hectic activity this family was involved in this very tall tree with foliage I was lucky to even capture this. Maybe its the common Indian sparrow.

A baby Baya weaver: Could this sparrow have flown in from Africa? I wanted to see if it had a red-eye but given the hectic activity this family was involved in, in this very tall tree surrounded with foliage I was lucky to have captured this. Maybe its the common Indian sparrow after all. It’s rare for me to see a sparrow with a yellow crown.

The lake is full of lilies and storks. I will have to make another trip when its not this hot when a boatman is willing to take me down on the water in his palm tree trunk boat.

An egret basks in the sunshine: The lake is full of lilies and storks. I will have to make another trip when it’s not this hot and when a boatman is willing to take me down into the water in his hand-made palm tree trunk boat. That way I hope to get up close and personal with this new-found subject, with hopefully more dramatic and exotic fare.

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An Egret walks like an Egyptian: This one was completely one with the human element in the paddy field where it was strutting away quite comfortably and confidently. It didn’t look like it had lost its way from the lake on the other side.

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Another green bee eater flies into frame: The lens gave me pretty good sharpness on the eye of this beautiful feathery friend.

The view from my room that provided me with the opportunity of  capturing the birds without having the sun beat down on my head at 42 degrees celcius.

The view from my room that provided me with all the opportunities to capture the birds without having to bear the sun beating down on my head at 42 degrees celsius.

For more pictures of the lake I was unable to shoot due to a flat dull summer sky, do see some interesting ones in peak season on https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.240379072723476.56515.225418204219563&type=3 

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Dark, dingy but full of hope

Ride a local train in Mumbai and you can see the best and worst of living conditions in the city at one go. The spanking glass and concrete high rises contrast with the old crumbly Mumbai in a haphazard tapestry of modern shapes and makeshift rooftops. At least that’s what I was thinking on my way to the Yusuf Meherally Vidyalaya, a school run by a charitable trust by the same name. The much touted skyline of our city may show the face of a new India being rebuilt, but also has within its innards, the hunger, greed, lust and ambition of its slum dwellers, eager to cash in on its continuously rising real estate prices.

I was on a volunteering job for Yusuf Meherally Centre when I reached this sprawling school compound in the prime locality of Tardeo in South Mumbai. As I gathered from the secretary of the NGO, builders have eyed this property besides lobbying for its demolition. The school provides much-needed space for children from nearby slums to get away from their oppressive home life. Here, they receive free education besides a space to play and dream about a better life. The trustees of the school have successfully opposed moves made by builders with political connections. The school provisions such as computers, furniture etc are supported by donations made by corporates so far, but its far from enough.

I wouldn’t dare send my children here but it’s there for the very same reason: to nourish and engage the minds of kids. The worn out spaces in these images seem to hold the aspirations of many generations of underprivileged children in a timeless warp. They’re a reflection of what I understand as the parallel reality of Mumbai. I was drawn by the interiors and the silence of an otherwise noisy space on a day off for the school.

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The school has a ghetto like feel, though it was founded on the principles of friendship, freedom and equality as envisioned by its founder Yusuf Meherally.

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It’s understandable why the soft board is devoid of life. Either the kids are irreverent or it’s too worn out to be useful.

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The school appears to be in dire need for funds that don’t seem very forthcoming in an economy grappling with tedious issues of inflation and slow growth.

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The lessons are discharged by a bunch of teachers who are familiar with the politics of teaching slum kids.

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The art teacher who had his arm in a sling was a proud man telling me of the many talents of his pupils.

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A picture of hope in the form of an info graphic about the tasty and abundant Indian coconut. Hand crafted!

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The office at the entrance of the school is full of memorabilia from another age.

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The hand painted portraits of Indian freedom fighters lend a old-worldly charm lost to most private schools. It’s rare to see portraits of pioneering Indian mathematicians and not Mahatma Gandhi.

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The kids and school admin seemed quite indifferent to the waste that surrounds their back yard.

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The administrator who maintains the records of children is happy to be employed. She said I should be careful as there is an element of rowdiness and drug abuse after school hours.

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The watchman was visibly happy to be photographed, “My job here gives me self-respect” he said to me. I asked if he liked kids more than his uniform. “I love being in school” was his response.

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Shadab Ansari lives nearby, loves life but doesn’t like it when adults and teachers shout. His mind is full of brilliant ideas he claimed, and wants to go to America to study further someday.

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I want to learn to fly.

If you’re interested in extending support in any form please do visit this website to find out about the various ways in which you can. Thanks for taking a look anyway.

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