Thursday, July 31, 2008

Yeh dosti hum nahi thodenge...PART II

Shout out to Freedom of Expression!

Naandi's initiative to train and empower people with picture taking skills is now paying off :-D

For, participants have started taking up photography seriously. 16-year-old Purna Chander Rao, is a case in point.

In July, 2008, exactly a month after undergoing the 6-day F.O.E training workshop, the super quick and super enthu boy from this remote village called Manjaguda, in Araku Valley, pooled in all his savings (Rs 6,000) to buy a new Nikon Digital Camera!!! Yup. He did. He persuaded Dharma Rao, program officer, Araku Organic Coffeee project, Naandi Foundation, to accompany him all the way to Visakhapatnam - five hours away from Araku - and assist him buy the best camera. In fact, Charitha Reddy, who traveled to Araku from Hyderabad as part of the training workshop, received calls from Purna, enquiring details if a digital camera can be purchased for Rs 5,000, names and models of cameras and companies and their whereabouts!

And lo and behold, Purna is now the official photographer for Naandi in Araku. His first major assignment was to shoot pictures of the first Annual General Body meeting of SAMTFMACS, the country's only tribal coffee cooperative set up under the aegis of Naandi, on o5 August, 2008.

What more. Purna is all prepared to set up a full-fledged photo studio in Araku and continue with his passion for photography as a source for livelihood.

And when we called him up to congratulate on his new possession (Nikon) and on his first assignment, he only had one question for us. "What is the cost of the camera on which we were trained?"

Surprised, Charitha, who was attending the call questioned: "But why? You just bought one!! Is it for someone else?"

Purna: "Nooo. It's for me. I want to buy another one for the studio."

Now, it's our turn to shout out to Purna. For his interest and passion. And for utilizing the traning programme so well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Look who's singing....

We all heard of traits that a corporate CEO has - hands-on, down to earth, no attitude on his sleeve and blah, blah, blah... But how many of them will sit in the boardroom and actually sing to cheer up the team? Ok. While you start guessing, we have something to share with you (a sort of owner's pride - neighours envy :-D). Last week, we got our CEO and project heads singing to the beats of the sensational Kabhi Kabhi Aditi zindagi mein...

As the training workshops under the Freedom of Expression project came to an end, it was time to apprise teams and share with them experiences from the F.O.E's 45-day sojourn, give them a glimpse of what was achieved so far and get overall feedback on the project . Breath taking pictures shot by participants from 5 locations were shown using a power point presentation which ended with interesting behind-the-scenes pictures of participants experimenting with the camera, master photographer Rajendra Shaw and his team assisting participants, filmmaker Mita Bose and her crew following them everywhere.

And when the song Kabhi Kabhi...was played at the end of the presentation, it had everyone singing along cheerfully. And that has truly set the tone for us to continue with the next step of F.O.E to prepare the coffee table book.

Yeh dosti hum nahi thodenge.....

As someone said, there are no permanent friends and permanent enemies, but permanent interests. While we'll not get into a debate if there are no permanent friends and foes, what we certainly believe is that there are permanent interests. Always.

We are reminded of this each time when participants of the just-concluded Freedom of Expression project find a way to stay in touch with the team. Affectionate SMSs to Charita, who travelled to Nagaland, or phone calls to Sudha, who travelled to Sheopur, asking when they'll visit them again or to express their willingness to come all the way to Hyderabad and if there would be a phase II to F.O.E.

And Araku takes the cake, where two pariticpants have taken to photography seriously. So much so that, they are right now there in the field shooting pictures of coffee farmers. These are the pictures that will be used for the farmers ID cards, which Naandi will issue to coffee farmers shortly.

This is just the begining. With time, we hope, participants will get more such opportunities to take up photography more seriously and with a purpose. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Hyderabad se gayi Sheopur. Sheopur se gayi Punjab. Punjab se gayi Araku. Araku se gayi Nagaland....

Well...this is not actress Juhi Chawla crooning a Bollywood song :-) These are locations, which the Freedom of Expression project travelled over the past 45 days training men and women, children and youth to take pictures.

Though we finished training - which is the crux of the project - we ain't stopping here and heaving a sigh of relief.

The teams - both photography and video crew - are going the whole hog - with the photography team sorting out pictures and preparing for the coffee table book, the filmmaker is busy editing the video footage.

In the following posts, you'll find interesting snippets from all the five locations, participants views and more. Do come back to read a new label - Behind the scenes - which will up on the blog shortly.

ISB hails F.O.E..

Photographer: Gopinath
Location: ISB, Hyderabad Date: 23 May, 2008

If it was fun and frolic for participants when they visited the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad as part of the Freedom of Expression project, it was a learning of sorts and a stress-buster for the management students in ISB. The team at ISB not only recieved the F.O.E team well, but also provided participants with high-end cameras and gave necessary instructions to use them. Children, who were until then using Nikon D CoolPix [8 mega pix] cameras, were mystified with what ISB had - 300 and 700 meters zoom lens - and competed among themselves to get hold of the lens.

Follow the link to read on what students at the ISB had to say about F.O.E and the participants:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Looking back...

Photographer: Anole
Location: Nagaland, Date: 04 July, 2008

2 July 2008: FoE team lands in Dimapur. A team of 8 people with a baggage of 220 kgs. Rain was hammering down and the first thing that came to my mind was “what made us visit Nagaland is the weather". But we knew that our heart was in the right place and we were all on a journey full of ambition. And a journey once begun has no end.

It was a 2 hour drive to Kohima. One could see several species of ferns bushy on the roadside, filled with raindrops. Hundreds of invisible spiderwebs in the bushes lined in silver were now visible. Between rains a grub of white sun appeared and there would be a smile on all our faces. And suddenly an unending rain would break out.

We started the workshop in Viswema village, which is just an hours drive from Kohima. Here we trained women from the Angami tribe. I must admit that women from the hills are really fashionable. It was really nice to see the participants in their traditional outfits on the second day.

From day two onwards participants were in full swing. It just took them a day to get used to the digital camera. It was pouring, but none of us gave up.

Rainy season beetles flew by in many colours. Participants would run behind insects and butterflies to shoot the unmistakable silhouette bold against the wall. They would fight to get a picture of it before it vanished into the crack between the bottom of the wall and the floor.

Ramesh, assisting one of the participants

And last but not the least, Mr Shaw's team rocked. No amount of downpour stopped them. They would run behind the participants and hold umbrellas for them, cover cameras with shower caps and do everything possible to make their students experts in photography. And right behind them one would find the video team running, trying to capture every possible thing on the video camera.

Author: Charitha Reddy

Thursday, July 10, 2008

From Nagaland, with love...

Known to be fairly pragmatic, I’ve never been accused of having my head in the clouds. Until I visited Nagaland. Enveloped in swirling clouds, I found myself at what seemed the top of the world looking down at quaint villages, bright green paddy fields and steep slopes cloaked in dense vegetation. This was the last location for the Freedom of Expression photography workshop.

Our participants were a group of Naga girls from different tribes with unusual (to us!) names like Sevi, Elzole (pronounced Azhore!), Asa and Enole, among others. A bright, giggly lot with exquisite complexions, they were lithe as mountain goats as they sped up and down the slippery slopes with their cameras while we struggled not to go sliding downhill unceremoniously.

In spite of torrential rain and the tortuous terrain, the cameras continued to click. The most commonplace sights took on a new dimension for these girls as they stopped passersby carrying firewood, women carrying rosy-cheeked babies on their backs, school children returning home (soaked to the skin) and even half a dozen ducks vainly trying to cross the road. The girls made all of them (except the ducks) pose for their cameras. The ducks still haven’t recovered from the trauma of being chased downhill, wings flapping wildly!

Sevi and Elzole (from the village of Viswema (pronounced Visema) welcomed us into their homes and recruited their family members to pose for photographs. Every home in Kohima, big and small, is surrounded by a profusion of flowers. For us urban animals, used to the sight of elaborate (and usually ugly) bouquets designed by florists, the riot of colours created by geraniums, begonias, sweet peas, exotic orchids, you name it, was an overwhelming sight just begging to be captured visually.

After Sevi played the perfect hostess, making tea for all of us, she let us loose into her familys’ bakery to capture the trays of bread being baked and the oven being emptied out. Having sated our creative urge, she then went up onto the terrace and simply reached out to pluck a whole lot of juicy plums off the tree in their garden for us to take back.

The girls from Viswema also went out of their way to give us a glimpse of their culture by dressing in traditional costumes and singing some lilting folk songs. By the end of the trip we realized that all Naga’s sing beautifully (well, the majority do).

After three days of dreary clouds and constant showers, the fourth day dawned bright and sunny. Then, one of the most awesome locations we covered was Khonoma village, which has been declared a ‘Green’ village. It is said to be the cleanest village in Nagaland. It also involved climbing (at the risk of precipitating a cardiac arrest) what felt like at least a hundred steps (I’m convinced it was more!), but when we finally reached the top, the breathtaking view made it all worthwhile. The slopes below us seemed to be covered with a series of green cascading rooftops. Beyond lay the bright green paddy fields and then the slopes opposite rose up again covered in vegetation so thick that it looked like giant broccoli.

We were fortunate to be guided by Mago who was home for the holidays from college in Nainital. Having lived there all his life, he had no qualms about marching us into people’s homes to shoot them weaving baskets, weaving shawls on hand looms, making rice beer (oh, the odour) and even took us to his house where he demonstrated spear-making. Our participants went into a frenzy, trying to shoot everything, every which way. There was often a tug-of-war to get possession of a still camera. Our video team tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, but it wasn’t easy while lugging a video camera, Dutch head and tripod with a combined weight of 38 kgs!

Another interesting location was Tophema village. The village was surrounded by trees laden with passion fruit, peaches, and oranges, to name a few. And had a museum and a model village that provided insights into the Naga lifestyle. It also had what looked like a long narrow boat with carved wooden (very heavy) instruments which were used to thump and bang a compelling rhythm on the surface of the boat. One could only hazard a guess as to the decibel levels created as the beat reverberated in the valley.

Finally, we got to cover the pineapple plantations. Rows of spiky lives stretched in front of us, some topped with the lovely red flowers and some with fully formed pineapples rearing their heads proudly. Once again our participants became over excited and slid up and down the slippery slopes (yes, the skies were opening up again) clicking away frantically.

The workshop culminated with all the girls getting together to sing a variety of songs, ranging from the state anthem to folk and gospel. Once again, we were convinced that all Nagas are good singers. And we all parted company, tired but satisfied with the results of the workshop. And the creation of another group of prospective photographers.

Last but not the least, one must mention the role played by Charitha Reddy. She ran from pillar to post to ensure things ran smoothly all through the course of the project . She nagged endlessly to ensure people adhered to schedules (very difficult in that region). She haggled ceaselessly to consolidate rates. She even danced the occasional jig (if one can call it that) to motivate the participants.
Thank you, Charitha, you did us proud.