(Note: First published here.)
The Kanha-Pench Corridor
The Kanha-Pench corridor in Central India offers crucial connectivity between the two important tiger source populations in Kanha and Pench through extensive tracts of forests. Such forest corridors offer much needed contiguity between different tiger populations, thereby preventing their isolation as well as subsequent loss of genetic vigour, and help in long term tiger conservation.
These corridor forests have water holes that are used by wild animals dispersing through the corridor during the summer months. These spots are vulnerable to poaching as poachers can easily target wild animals, including tigers, coming to drink water through use of traps and poisons. For the past two years, WWF-India’s Satpura Maikal Landscape (SML) Programme staff members have been engaged in extensive monitoring of such waterholes in the Kanha-Pench corridor during summer to prevent waterhole poisoning. The monitoring is done in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh state Forest Department.
One such crucial water hole is located in the Atarwani beat of the South Seoni Forest Division in the corridor near the Pench Tiger Reserve. During tiger monitoring exercises it was found that tigers and other animals such as gaur, barking deer and several species of birds frequently visited this waterhole during summer.
The Poaching Attempt
On the evening of 29th March, Girish Patel, WWF-India Field Officer, while on his scheduled waterhole monitoring came across a group of villagers at the water hole. As he recounts, “I saw a group of villagers from different villages namely Atarwani, Sakhadehi, Dhobisara and Darasi. Curious, I asked why they were sitting there. They replied that they were just passing by. So I started moving towards the waterhole and to my surprise they followed me and I suddenly saw nets set up with bamboo near the waterhole. In a flash, I understood from my experience working in this area what they were up to. But instead of reacting in shock, I behaved normally and asked them about the nets. They admitted that they setup the traps for small mammals and birds. I casually took photographs and shot some video for documentary evidence. I soon left and immediately informed the Range Officer of that place as well as the Divisional Forest Officer and my seniors”.
Unfortunately, by the time Forest Department personnel reached the spot the suspected poachers had decamped but the traps setup around the water hole were confiscated. Due to the documentary evidence collected by Mr. Patel an arrest warrant was later issued against the suspects and the case is currently under investigation.
Prompt and decisive actions such these will create a deterrent among potential poachers and hence reduce the frequency of such incidents. Increased vigilance in this area will lead to better protection of tigers and other wildlife which in turn will improve the functionality of the critical Kanha Pench Corridor.
I’m pretty sure you must be a woman created by women because no sensible man would ever conceive you unless they were drunk, brain dead or bewitched by some woman. Let me ask you straight up. What, in all that is good in this beautiful world’s name, is the life threatening, earth shattering necessity to marry? More than that, why on earth are Indians, in particular, so bent on getting married as soon as the number 2 enters in front of their age? Is it some national cultural genetic switch that gets turned on as soon as we enter our twenties? And then every woman and man transforms into this partner seeking missile that will not rest until it has homed in on its equally clueless but activated target.
I understand marriage is an important legal institution that is perhaps the backbone of modern civilization. But please, my dear relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, family friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, uncles and aunties, and random well wishers, let me choose the time when I want to marry. Do not hound me at every random marriage of the second cousin of my mother’s first cousin with questions about how I’ve not settled down yet! Please stop pestering my parents too. And please, pretty please with nice Belgian black chocolate wafers on top, do not offer to look for women for me or upload my profile on some random matrimonial website. I’m all of 31 years old and therefore an adult by every possible legal, biological, social and cultural definition. Let me find my own woman, dammit!
It is another point entirely that sensible women who do not melt at the very thought of marriage and do not go weak kneed at the very sight of a child are so rare to find in India. I mean, for god’s sake, maine pure Hindustan mein chaan bheen kar liya, but so far only have inflated travel bills and a carbon footprint that will scare the bejesus out of the climate change advocates to show for my efforts.
Let me ask you dear goddess, since you being of the other sex, why are almost all Indian women so enamored to commit themselves to the slavery of man and become factories of reproduction? I’ve seen women give up their careers, their individuality nay their very freedom to satisfy their man and keep some archaic institution called marriage going. Have they really been brain washed by all the brainless bollywood Shah Rukh/Karan Johar combo romances into blind submission?
And men, my poor dear comrades-in-gender. Alas! What is wrong with you? On one hand you sing paeans to the joys of bachelorhood and beer drinking and then in an instant you bind yourself to the boring, mundane anonymity of marriage. And your stock answer is, “Mummy ne bola tho shadhi kar liya, aur kya karoon?” Aur kya karoon? Don’t you have a brain crazy person?
You see dear goddess, there is no hope left in this world. One ofter the other, I’ve seen my friends take the plunge and disappear into some strange alternate universe that is peopled with only other married people who all speak the same weird language of “nahi yaar, aaj nahi, ghar mein wife wait kar rahi hai”, “no dude, I’m no longer lucky like you, she will have my balls if I go home late” and the saddest of all “arrey, woh din tho gaye ab, home minister wait kar rahi hai ghar par, jaana padega dost”.
Is this what I also have to look forward to? A life of rigid discipline, unending nagging and constant arguments? Whatever happened to companionship, mutual space, trust, and those two most abused four letter words in the world – true love? Call me old fashioned, foolishly romantic or if you are being very uncharitable a ch***ya or a f**king stupid idiot but I firmly believe that if you cannot find the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with then you have no right to get married, leave alone let your parents find you your life partner!
You must be wondering, dear goddess, after reading about 700 words so far, what is the blooming point of this letter? Worry not madam…point pe aa raha hoon main. Please spare me dear goddess from this torture until I want it! Since even the gods need a lit bit of give and take, let’s make a simple deal…I’ll find all the bakras you need from both sides of the gender divide to keep your business going. In return you spare me from the stupidity of never ending questions from all and sundry. Isn’t this a win-win deal?
Thanking you for your earliest attention.
Since the previous iteration that used to run on flash had become too unwieldy to maintain and update I decided to redesign my portfolio site. And it is done now! Head on over to check it out here.
So just like that a month has flashed past. Only about 36 hours left before I catch my flight back to Delhi. The last couple of weeks have been relatively quiet but interesting.
They began with the meeting at Ostkreuz, the photo agency, where I got to know its working and organization through Anne and met its head. Anne also looked through my personal photography projects and offered some valuable inputs which will help me greatly in my work.
The next day Anne took me to the photography school run by the head of Ostkreuz. The school offers a two years advanced diploma in photography and has become quite popular of late. I interacted with some of the students, observed a couple of classes and also did a small presentation on Aksgar to them. In the discussion that followed I got some good feedback on the work we have shown on Aksgar so far.
The next few days were spent in winding up work at Loupe on the background research for their documentary and the tutorial with Christof, the editor. Christof offered some basic tips on editing and he also went through the films I’ve done so far and offered some advice on some things that I could improve upon while editing. Again, valuable advice which should help me a lot with my work for WWF.
For the weekend in between I visited Prague with a friend. It was perfect timing! The weather was splendid, warm with blue skies and it was just great to just wander around the breathtakingly beautiful old town part of Prague. The city luckily escaped damage during both the World Wars and the result is one of the best preserved European capitals. Only dampener was that the city was overrun with other tourists like me!
In the remaining week a series of meetings were arranged. One was with one of the main partners of the startup media company I had mentioned previously who are doing great work with multimedia. We had a long and fruitful discussion and this might lead to some good collaboration between them and Aksgar.
I also met with Katia, the one whose flat I had sublet, at her office. Her office in fact organizes the Berlin Biennale and is located in a well known art gallery called KW. We discussed the organization of the festival and I also got to check out the latest art exhibition currently on display at KW.
The other meeting was with Andreas of European Photography. This was one of the most important meetings for me personally as what Andreas has been doing and what we want to do with Aksgar are quite similar. The meeting turned out to be very fruitful. I learnt many things about how European Photography is published and the work that goes on behind the scenes. Andreas also come up with a fantastic suggestion for an offline event in collaboration with Aksgar. I do hope that works out!
In between, I met with Ashwath and photographed him as he clowned around in the center of Berlin. It was a fantastic experience to see him in action in full clown costume especially as I’ll never be able to do in a thousand years what he did in a single evening! The kind of interactions he had with the people on the street and their reactions to him were amazing to observe and photograph. Later that week, last Sunday to be exact, over lunch, we had a great discussion and the beginnings of a collaborative project are shaping up, which I’m really looking forward to! Here is a sneak preview of a photo from the clowning. A proper photo essay will follow.
And finally, through Imke of the Goethe Institut, I got invited to the reception of the cultural management program they run for the Middle East. So got a chance to meet more ‘cultural managers’, this time from places such as Morocco, Egypt, Palestine, Yemen and Jordan. Was a nice evening even though most of the fellows were not from the photography side but instead were from the theatre and music side of the arts. One particular conversation with the Egyptian fellow was very memorable as he recounted his participation in the recent Egyptian revolution!
I also got to meet my co-ATSA fellow Reza from Bangladesh there and later at his place over some nice Bangla tea he offered some good inputs on the offline event for Aksgar I mentioned above.
All in all, it has been an interesting month. As always one wishes so much more could have been done like squeezing in the last week in another institution perhaps. But then wishes always want to be horses! The fact that this secondment has given me an opportunity to meet a diverse array of people doing some very interesting and good work is the biggest plus I should be taking with me. The challenge ahead would be to apply all this learning to the development of Aksgar, my work with WWF and also give concrete shape to the potential collaborations on offer.
Now, it is time to pack, do some last minute shopping and look forward to checking out Helsinki a bit if possible during the long layover there. Thank you for reading these rambling posts, regular programming should resume on the blog with some big changes being planned! More on that later.
As always here are some photographic moments from the past couple of weeks.
How quickly time flies especially when you are not looking! The last two weeks have been quite interesting. While life on the secondment front has been a little quiet, with most of the work being the initial background research work for a new documentary film, it has been an instructive process nonetheless into how a documentary film takes shape.
First, I had a long discussion with Antonia, the founder of Loupe where I’m doing my secondment, on how documentary film production works in Germany, the commissioning system, the TV channels that buy or fund the documentaries and the budgets involved. Based on this and other discussions there are possibilities of collaboration with Loupe shaping up with two potential film projects on the anvil!
In between I got to go with Anne Schönharting, a German photographer, on two of her portrait assignments. While I didn’t have to do much it was interesting to see another photographer in action, especially on assignment shooting strangers and the methods she used to get a good portrait. This is something I’m not so good at so it was a good way to pick up some tricks and tips. No wonder then that Anne has shot some great portraits!
One evening I went for what I thought would be a very good discussion on ‘Art & Social Media: a long distance relationship?’ which was being organized as part of the Social Media Week and featured at least on paper some very interesting people from the art world in Berlin. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite tepid and boring as there was nothing new in the discussion. Yes, we all know the art world needs to engage more with and make better use of social media. But at least I got a free t-shirt for my trouble!
Through Antonia, I managed to reach Joern, Head-Press Relations, WWF-Germany and through him got an offer to travel up to the Baltic sea to see seals, the largest carnivores in Germany! Needless to say, I jumped at the offer. So early morning on Wednesday I found myself on a train with Thomas, the cameraman for the shoot, to Stralsund, the coastal city that lies on the Baltic Sea. At Stralsund, we met up with Britta, Press Officer of WWF-Germany based in Hamburg and Catherine, the WWF-Germany researcher based in Stralsund who is in charge of a conservation project for the seals.
From Stralsund we drove to the island of Rugen. From there we went on a boat out into the sea. It is a beautiful coast, quite well known for the beaches on the nearby sea resort town of Binz as well as for the mysterious white chalk cliffs on the other side of the island. The boat ride was a little rough as the sea was choppy with a keen wind trying its best to throw us off course. But we made it to the spot where the seals had been sighted previously. Unfortunately, as expected because of the rough sea, the rocks on which they are usually seen were under water. But the seals did not disappoint us too much.
Before we knew it their heads kept popping up all around the boat. It was as if they were playing a game of hide and seek! We sighted about 10-12 seals in total. But since they were quite shy and the sea was rough they never came close to the boat, only giving us brief glimpses of their smooth heads before disappearing underwater. But it was a fantastic experience nonetheless!
On Thursday, I met Kay Meseberg, one of the people behind a media collective that is doing some amazing work at the interface of video and photography. It was a fruitful discussion opening up new avenues for collaboration with Aksgar. I might also meet the other partners of the collective sometime this week or next for a more detailed discussion.
I went to the WWF-Germany office on Friday with Antonia and met with Joern in person and also Thomas again. And when we all went out for lunch to a local restaurant I finally got a chance to taste my favorite Koelsch beer from Cologne. Mission accomplished!
Tomorrow is quite exciting as at last I’ll get to visit Ostkreuz, the photography agency, with Anne and it will be a day spent learning how the agency works, reviewing Aksgar and also some critical feedback on my personal photography projects!
Sometime this week I might also get the wonderful opportunity to accompany a filmmaker from Loupe for a video interview with Taryn Simon, one of the most exciting names in contemporary photography, and whose current show ‘A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters’ just opened at the New National Gallery, Berlin.
On Thursday will be a Final Cut tutorial on film titling and effects with the video editor Christof of Konterfei.
In between all this, because of the beautiful weather currently on offer in Berlin, I have had long walks through some parts of the city, discovering new places and saying hello to some old ones too. A walk along the East Side Gallery (where a long stretch of the Berlin Wall still remains and on which 121 artists from around the world were allowed to paint on) was particularly wonderful.
On Sunday, I also got a chance to spend some time walking around with my co-ATSA fellow, Ashwath Bhatt, he of the red noses. Sometime next week, I plan to photograph him as he goes around clowning on the streets of Berlin!
And now for some moments from the last couple of weeks in photographic form…