Mehdiganj Water Conference

There was a conference in Mehndigani about water rights from 28th to 30th March, 2008. I was invited by Nandlal to attend the conference. I was so excited when I heard that Sandeep Pandey and Medha Patekar were also going to give speech. Then Nandlal told me that there was a girl from the U.S. who also wanted to attend the conference and interview local villagers about their problems caused by Coke. She wanted a translator which made my excitement double because I was going to get a job. :)

I called her and scheduled an appointment at Assi Ghat. I met her near Assi Ghat and we had a big conversation about Coke in Mehndiganj. Finally I took her to my home where I showed her all the documents regarding Coke issue in Mehndiganj, Plachimada and Kaladera. Finally she offered me a job as her translator. She was a PhD student of history at very big university in the States. She asked me not to mention the name of the university. She seemed like such a nice girl to me. She was so educated and friendly. She was interested in history of Coca-Cola in India.

She was staying in BHU hostel which was arranged by her university but she didn’t like it because there was no Internet access in her room. She had to walk for 10-15 minutes every time to use Internet. There was another tenant in my home that time who was a biologist whose company could be very helpful for her because one part of her research was about decrease of ground water. She saw rooms of my guest house where there was Internet in all the rooms and and a biologist in next room which made her decided to switch to my place.

I attended the Mehdiganj conference with her doing translation work. We interviewed a lot of people, including social workers from Kaladera also. I have not written her name in this post because she was sexually harassed during her work and she wanted her name to not be written here. If you want to know the story then read this post.

Biologist takes Hindi class

A 61 years old scientist named Dave from Fresno, USA came to my guest house for a month. He wanted to learn Hindi with Bhasha Bharti. He was in love with Hindi. He had spent about 3 years in Madhya Pradesh, India working for US Peace Corps in 1960s. He knew very good Hindi, a lot better than the people who go to Hindi classes for months. He had scheduled his classes from the US so he was sure that there will be someone to teach in Varanasi.

He got a message from Bhasha Bharti, after he had arrived in Varanasi, saying that his classes had been canceled. He wrote them asking the reason but they never replied. We went together to Bhasha Bharti to request them to let Dave learn with them but they were not interested at all. Dave was so sad, he didn’t know what he would do for the next one month in India. Finally he decided to visit the village again where he used to live working for US peace corps.

I asked few people about other Hindi classes in Varanasi and came to know about a professor named Virendra Singh who is a professor of Hindi at Wisconsin University, Madison, USA. We went there to see if he could teach Dave. He was really a nice person, he became agree to teach Dave for one hour everyday. Dave was hoping for at least 4 or 5 hours of classes everyday but Mr. Singh had already lots of students from Wisconsin University so he could not give more than 1 hour. But it was better than nothing.

I was so happy that Dave got a professor. I asked Dave about Virendra Singh’s ability to teach and he said that Virendra Singh is best Hindi professor he had ever met. I also like him a lot.

Financial Times article on Untouchables

I worked with Mr. Joseph Johnson who is South Asia Bureau Chief of Financial Times as local assistant and translator. He came with a photographer named Tom Pietrasik. They were looking for 24 years old character, specially Mushahars. The age 24 is because the average age of Indian people when they enter in professional life is 24 and Mushahars because Mushars are still considered as untouchables in rural part of India. They survive by picking up the long pepper’s (Pipal) leaves, make bowl of it and sell it to market. Since the Mushahar community we wanted to interview was near Coke plant, they were effected by problems caused by Coke also, which made them idle people to interview.

Mr. Joseph and Tom were supposed to reach Taj Hotel, Varanasi at 11’o clock but their flight was late so I had to wait there for more than 2 hours. Finally I met Joseph and Tom at 1’o clock and we decided to go to Mehndiganj since we were already late. Mr. Nandlal Master, who runs movement against Coca-Cola in Varanasi was supposed to meet us but he had to go to Ballia for some urgent work, So, we couldn’t meet him. We called him and said to send someone local with us at the Mushahar’s village. And he send Urmila Didi with us to show us around and help interviewing people.

First of all we went to a village near Mehndiganj and interviewed a 24 years old male character. We met him at his farm but decided to go to his home so that we could get better idea about his livelihood. After interview was done Tom wanted to take his pics. He took few pictures of interviewee at his home but later he wanted to take pics at the place where he works. So we went to his farm again and took few pics. Tom would make him sit, look at his face for a while, change the angle, see the background………. He was a perfect photographer. But interviewee was not happy with all this kind of work. He told me that these foreigners are treating him like a cartoon. But somehow I was able to make him do what Tom and Joseph wanted.

Then we went to a Mushahar community. We were asking for the people who are 24 years old but nobody knew their date of birth. Finally a family said that they have a 24 years old girl so we interviewed her. After interview was done Tom wanted to take pics and did the same thing as he did with last interviewee and again it made her and the community a little bit angry because Tom was looking at her face and telling her to change the pose. Finally first day was over and we came back to home.

Next day I met Tom at Assi Ghat and did a boat ride from Assi ghat to Manikarnika and back. He took a lot of pics and asked me about funeral. After boat ride Tom went to hotel and I came back to home. I met them again at Taj Hotel but they didn’t want to interview anyone today because they were so happy with the last day’s work and decided to stop interviewing people in Varanasi. So they just decided to hang up around the city. Tom still wanted to stay in Varanasi for one more day and do some photography at the Ghats. Mr. Joseph wanted to see the Ghats so I came with him to the Ghats but he wanted to go alone so I left him at Assi ghat and came back to home and started looking for a hotel for Tom. Since it was touristic season all the hotels were packed so I couldn’t get a hotel near the Ghats. After going to more than 15 hotels I found a hotel near Shivala where they had a AC room so finally I booked one room for Tom there.

Next day I went to Dashashwamedh ghat with Tom early morning. I met him at his hotel at 4’o clock. We spent about more than 7 hours there and Tom took a lot of pics along the Dashashwamedh ghat. Today Tom also left to Delhi and my work with Financial Times was over.