It was with great delight that I entered into the studios of WNYC on Varick Street to sit down and talk with Arun Venugopal, who was guest hosting the Leonard Lopate Show. We talked about the costs of the Green Revolution, of Hindu priests who asked, “What is your duty?” to a farming family considering going organic, of holy waters. Our conversation ended too quickly, and I didn’t quite get to elaborate on my answer to his last question, about the direction PM Modi is taking the country. I said Modi has a choice. What I felt like I didn’t make clear enough is that he can develop India at the expense of the environment, the direction he seems to be heading now, or choose to tap into the exploding number of opportunities to develop in a more sustainable way, providing a model for the world. I’m rooting for the latter, and met the people in India who hope so too.
It was a pleasure to join Camille Buat and the locals and travelers and students of Landour for a double-talk evening. Camille spoke about the complicated forces at work within the labor movement of the jute industry in 1930s’ Calcutta (sometimes labor won!), and I shared some photos and thoughts on the work-in-progress of Elemental India.
Days before I got on a plane to head to India to continue researching and reporting my book, it was sold in the USA. (HarperCollins India will be publishing it in South Asia.) Here’s the official announcement:
Meera Subramanian’s ELEMENTAL INDIA, a bittersweet tapestry of five stories dealing with life, loss, and survival set against the lush backdrop of India’s natural world that renders the storm of opinions around natural resources into an intimate drama, to Clive Priddle at Public Affairs, by Elise Capron at Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency (NA).
Now, to work…
The death of 23 schoolchildren last month in Bihar after they ate a free school lunch that was tainted with an abundantly used pesticide is just a reminder of the extensive presence of these chemicals in all facets of life in India. Last week, I spoke with radio host Carol Hills of PRI’s The World about the issue. Thanks to Peter Thomson for producing it.
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…]