Author Archives: Devyani Nighoskar

On a winter morning in Saharanpur, a town in Northern India, painter Shahid Hussain is at work, hoping to change the mood of the cold, grey day. His canvas is a massive pillar that supports the town’s busiest flyover. Remaining seemingly unaffected by the curious stares of the passers-by, Hussain meticulously draws a web-like pattern that gives away the character that will soon beckon under the bridge.

It was a hot May afternoon when Manju Velkar walked into a house filled with her husband’s relatives. The 6-month anniversary of their marriage was being celebrated with a grand ceremonial feast. Typical fanfare for the Pathare Prabhu household, that Manju had married into–a community that takes their (sea)food extremely seriously.

On a windy October afternoon in 2013, then-25-year-old Krishna Murari Yadav stood nervously beside the tea stall that he had set-up at a prime location in the small village of Tatiyaganj, just outside Kanpur City in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The odds of success seemed to be assured; India is a chai loving country after all. Still, he was anxious.

April 21, 2021 was an ordinary night at Sushila’s* house in Nagpur in western India’s Maharashtra state. In the bathroom, a bucket filled up with hot water in preparation for the 93-year-old’s sponge bath;

Sarvesh Kumar, a shopkeeper from Tatiyaganj, a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, found himself anxious after receiving his daughter’s high school results in early 2019. She had been marked absent despite having attended the exams. Kumar knew that getting an explanation would mean navigating the notoriously corrupt bureaucracy of the state, and that it wouldn’t be easy. Hoping for a solution, Kumar headed to Tatiyaganj’s ‘RTI Tea Stall’, where chai is served with awareness of peoples’ right to answers from the public authorities.

“They cannot make history, who forget history.” B.R. Ambedkar’s words resonate well with the work of Vijay Surwade. A 63-year-old retired bank manager, he has dedicated almost his entire life to collecting old photographs, letters, books and memorabilia of, for, and by Ambedkar. A humorous, witty and well-read man, I catch up with him one afternoon at his cosy Kalyan residence.

On a warm summer day, as I meticulously plucked the wheat harvest; the malik (boss) yelled out my name from the outskirts of the field—asking me to see him immediately. Nervous, I wiped the sweat off my forehead and rushed to him. I knew that he was angry at me because I had forgotten to tie back the goats after feeding them. They had wandered into the field and destroyed some of the crops. As the malik rambled through his wrath, I zoned out the casteist slurs he threw at me and glimpsed at his children who were coming back from school. They hardly paid attention to me—a 13-year-old girl who worked as a daily wage labourer at their father’s farm. Their father, surprisingly, had been kind enough to not cut my wage over my carelessness. I did not bother much about him or his scolding. The goats, however, deserved to wander…

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Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, India – On a cool October evening in 1970, Bidawadi, then 21, was heading home after a day of planting trees in the forest when she received some bad news: a leopard had killed her buffalo. For her family, this would mean the loss of a secondary but crucial source of income —

Shortly after then-president of the Indian Olympic Association, Suresh Kalmadi, was arrested in 2012 for money laundering in the Commonwealth Games, tae kwon do coach Umesh Rohit broke away from the sport’s governing federations. The reason was one that had long plagued India’s sports bodies: scams and corrupt politics.

It’s 9 AM on a Monday morning and Amrita Mala (name changed) is going about her daily chores. She has prepared breakfast for her husband and just about managed to get her daughter ready for school on time. Once they leave, she quickly gets ready for her own job. As she brushes out her long, dense black hair, the reflection staring back at her takes shape. ‘Voluptuous contours’ is how those who know her body best might describe it.