Join award-winning environmental journalist, Fulbright scholar and West Barnstable resident Meera Subramanian for an evening in Punjab, the breadbasket of India, exploring pressing questions about the future of food in South Asia and the world. Can India and other countries move away from the agribusiness model of farming that has been shown to deplete and contaminate water supplies, cause human health problems, and decimate wildlife habitat, yet still feed the growing number of people on the planet? Meet Gora Singh and other organic farmers in this northwestern corner of India, who insist the answer is yes. Punjab is where the Green Revolution began in India, and where a hint of what might come next is emerging. Also: bonus photographs from all over India! This talk is free, but registration is requested. [Read more…]
India is still reeling from the deaths of 23 schoolchildren in the village of Dharmasati Gandawa in Bihar on July 17 after they ate a free school lunch that was made with cooking oil tainted with the pesticide monocrotophos. The police say that the cooking oil might have been kept in a container that once held the pesticide.
The devastating event in Bihar reveals a larger problem in India that stems from the wide use of biocides in myriad forms, in cities and villages, in homes and fields.
It begins something like this…
I was expecting more dead bodies in Varanasi – really, burning bodies everywhere – for this is the place Hindus come to die, hoping for instant liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth. But instead I discover that only two of the dozens of ghats are “burning ghats,” stacked with wood and smoldering funeral pyres. Most everywhere else, people are just very busy living. Some do cremate their loved ones here, but most engage in more quotidian tasks.
They wash dishes, wash clothes, wash their bodies. Mothers cook, feeding twigs into compact wood cook stoves and food into hungry mouths. People sell things; they buy things. They pray and dunk themselves in the water vigorously, jumping up and down as they fulfill a lifelong Hindu requirement to bathe in the waters of the Ganges. Others light candles and incense and circumambulate the grand broad-leafed pipul trees where I’m sure all these deliciously pagan-disguised-as-Hindu rituals originated, the idea of God and greater things tumbling from the branches like dappled sunlight.
And, even better, find a bookseller near you next month when The Best Women’s Travel Writing, volume 9 comes out and you can find Mucking About and a profusion of other great tales from travelers of the female persuasion. Or don’t delay and pre-order now.
On June 1, 2013, Mott Green — old friend, compatriot, co-founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company — died from an electrocution accident in Grenada.
Yesterday, my sweetheart Stephen and I headed down to New York City from the Cape to go to Mott’s memorial service at the Riverside Memorial Chapel at 76th and Amsterdam on the Upper West Side. The day was gorgeous and traffic light, if my heart was heavy. I was worried I would know no one – my association with Mott through Oregon and Grenada, only connecting with him a few times over my time in NYC, meeting his mother at her home, and joining him and Pastrami that day we hunted down Jacques Torres and later slept on the roof of the 6th Street squat in the summer heat.
But the heaviness I carried for the last week lifted as soon as I walked in and saw Edmund Brown. Edmund! The third chocolatier! The last chocolatier from the theobroma trinity of Mott, Edmund and Doug Browne. Together they created a solar-powered, organic, radically egalitarian chocolate company that made damn fine dark chocolate. [Read more…]
J. William Fulbright was an American senator from the south who fought McCarthyism and the Vietnam War, and in the time in between, set up the Fulbright program in hopes of infusing “a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs.” Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister, a man who — in the words of scholar Ananya Vajpeyi — “is himself caught up in the subtle alchemy that transforms him into the leader of all Indians and all Indians into the People of India.”
Their legacies live on in both their countries, and I’m elated to announce I’ll be tapping into that heritage as a Fulbright-Nehru Research Scholar in 2013-14. The funding will allow me to spend five months in India, reporting, researching and writing my first book, Elemental India. To say I’m not quite sure how I would have done it without this support is no small understatement. On behalf of struggling journalists everywhere, I bellow, “Thank you!”
The Indian woman whose name we don’t yet know is dead. She was twenty-three years old, a medical student who’d gone with her male friend to see a movie at a Delhi mall on the evening of December 16. They stood at the Munirka bus stand, and when a bus pulled up, they stepped onto it. They didn’t realize until it was too late that it was not public transport but a private bus full of joy-riding men. Men who had been drinking. Men who had an iron bar. They used it to beat the man and – along with the weapons they were born with that make them the coveted sex in South Asia – rape the woman so violently that doctors had to remove her intestines. Two weeks after the attack, she died.
This in the land where goddesses’ lyrical names linger in the legends and lore: Lakshmi and Parvati, Durga and Kali, Saraswati and Shakti. They are celebrated and worshipped with holidays, festivals and shrines in their honor across the subcontinent. But little of their divine power seems to translate to ordinary women, who hang lower than their male counterparts on every social tier that is measurable.
I’ve written about the Grenada Chocolate Company before, This latest piece, about their trans-Atlantic wind-powered delivery of chocolate to Europe, was published last month in the print edition of the sailing magazine Cruising World:
Imagine Willy Wonka with a life-long love of sailing, green radical roots, and an anarchist bent and you will begin to get an inkling of what drives Mott Green, one of the founders of the Grenada Chocolate Company. He and two friends started their small ambitious company in 1998 and have since determinedly stuck to their utopian ideals while creating award-winning organic dark chocolate that has received multiple Academy of Chocolate awards.
First the trio perfected their recipe, carefully crafted from bean-to-bar all on the small West Indian island of Grenada. They refurbished a house into a pastel-hued factory and installed solar panels to power it. To ensure a steady supply of organic cacao, they helped create a cooperative for local farmers, bringing them into the company’s egalitarian folds.
This spring, they realized one more dream that Green had been harboring for years: wind-powered delivery of this “food of the gods.” [Read more…]
About a year ago this time, I was in the UAE covering a story about falconry receiving a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation. The story, “A Heritage Takes Wing,” was published by Saudi Aramco World magazine, and I recently found out it received an award. My editor sent along this dispatch:
The March/April 2012 Saudi Aramco World cover story on falconry, “A Heritage Takes Wing,” was named Best Feature Article in the Association/Custom/B-to-B magazine division at this year’s annual national magazine contest sponsored by Folio in New York.
Here’s their announcement. While Saudi Aramco World is officially a trade magazine, it reads more like the Smithsonian of the Middle East, with smart, well-reported stories about culture, food, travel, history and the like. And it’s free. Yup. You should most certainly check it out.
I am overly pragmatic. Each day seems so finite, and there is so much work to do. Big work, made out of endless little work. Schools to construct. Minds to make literate. Wells to dig and water to purify. Inoculations to give and hair to braid and food to feed growing bodies. So many streets to sweep and toilets to build.
Instead, it is time for aarti, the Hindu puja taking place this night, and every night, in hundreds of little temples like this one in Varanasi, India. Someone led me here to this place, tucked into the labyrinth of alleyways behind the Manakarnika Ghat, where bodies are burning. On the way, along the other ghats on the water’s edge, we passed a series of Ganga Aartis – floodlights! amplification! – that attract Indian and foreign tourists alike for the full pilgrimage experience. The masses were stacked on the steps that link city to water and packed into handmade wooden boats just offshore, cameras flashing.But the power went out moments after we passed and we found our way by flashlight to the temple building dimly lit with the inverter’s stored energy.
The Hindu priest is kind, allowing my camera and my curious eyes as I witness the rituals I have watched since I was young. Shiva is the focus here, the stone lingam – more breast than phallus – the centerpiece set in a square of silver embedded into the floor like a pious pit. The priest spends more time in careful preparation for the ritual than it will take to enact it, when three other priests join him and, together their hand bells thunder in unison in rhythm to their chants. As a child, the smell of flowers and fire and the hypnotic sound of the chants would transfix me. Now I can appreciate that this ritual incorporates the five elements into one seamless act. Always I have viscerally loved the moment when, at the end, I can place my cupped hands over the heat of the flame and bring them to my face, my eyes closed.
But I have grown old and I think too much….
It was here where the Buddha sat under his tree and let it all go. Or somewhere around here. More photos from Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India here.