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“Let’s walk,” two-time Pulitzer-winner Paul Salopek said on January 22, 2013.
With those words, he pulled us into the 21,000 mile, seven-year odyssey that is Out of Eden Walk – an outrageously ambitious project that started in Ethiopia and, following in the footsteps of early man, will end at the extreme tip of South America.
Over two and a half years since, Paul has zigzagged through the geographies he set out to explore; he has walked, and paused, and veered off on tangents, and found the main trail again. He has scribbled with his feet.
As part of a global community that huddled around the virtual campfire that Paul stokes, we have followed his journey, admired the courage it took to conceive of a project so humongous, and marvelled at the consistent clarity of the prose he has produced, literally on his feet.
A year ago, during a pause in his wanderings, Paul took time out to read some of Arati Kumar-Rao’s work on rivers, and reached out with a spontaneous generosity that has grown with time.
We are honoured and humbled to announce that the legendary storyteller joins The Peepli Project as Director, in an advisory capacity.
Why Paul? Because we have heard Paul talk of the need to slow down in order to find the missing linkages between stories, and we have tried to learn from that. We’ve heard him speak of what can be discovered when you “move through stories at three miles an hour”, and in those words we have found our template.
So, Paul – who has already been so extraordinarily generous with his time, and on whose continued generosity we will rely on as we take our next steps.
You can spend a lifetime wondering if you are ready,” Nilanjana Roy told us on May 20, 2015, “or take the leap of faith, and learn to fly.”
On that day, she and Gautam John, another friend of Peepli, gave us the timely push that launched Peepli into the world.
Without the intervention of those friends, we would likely still be poised on the vertiginous cliff of possibility, asking ourselves “Do we dare?” Because of them, we learnt to fly.
In the two months since, Nilanjana has been a constant presence in our mailbox, with ideas both horizontal and lateral to what we do, with precisely weighted suggestions on how we could expand our self-assigned briefs and venture into new pathways, with encouragement timed exactly for when we fell prey to doubt… All of this while in the midst of writing one book, editing another, and meeting weekly deadlines for her various columns.
Today, we are so proud to announce that Nilanjana Roy joins us as Director, in an advisory capacity.
Why Nilanjana? Because she is that rarity in the world of words — a hugely gifted writer who is also an extraordinarily talented editor. To have someone we implicitly trust looking over our shoulder as we work and providing nuanced feedback about structure and narrative and the layering of individual stories into a cohesive whole, while simultaneously nudging us towards new ideas and new possibilities is a gift beyond price.
So today, we make it official – and rely on Paul and on Nilanjana to guide a fledgling outfit as we take baby steps into the world of immersive, long-wave storytelling.
Coming up next:
In the Noble Mansion project, Rahul Bhatia steps into the Catch-22 world of officialdom, where it is possible to precisely follow the rules, to seek and obtain every permission that is mandated, to fill out every single form in triplicate, to cover every single base — and to find that you are still in the wrong and that the penalty is that you lose everything you’ve got.
In the Nature Without Borders narrative, Kalyan Varma goes deep behind the scenes of an elephant capture and discovers a facet of animal behaviour that is heart-warming, uplifting and, in context, heart-wrenchingly sad.
Arati Kumar-Rao pauses her four-part narrative on the Thar desert and, in The Freshwater Trail project, opens up a new storyline that has to do with every drop of water that we drink, and waste. In her own words:
“NASA released a map that should be a wakeup call for each one of us. “You are,” it screamed across patches of warning-red spanning all of India, “consuming way more than the natural recharge rate of aquifers. Beware, your water reserves are running out.”
“India extracts more groundwater than any other country in the world. Runner-up China uses just half the amount India does. Further, our water is grossly contaminated in many places — and that toxic brew is what a large percentage of our population consumes every day.
“The trend can spell death for a country that depends heavily on agriculture, and has grand plans for its cities. Bangalore is both test case and cautionary tale. It is listed in AT Kearney’s Global Cities Index 2015 as one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It is also the one facing the biggest hurdles: It has no major river running through it; the majority of its 800 lakes have become bus stands, industrial complexes and soccer stadiums, and those that remain are holding pens of industrial sewage.
“Half the water Bangalore consumes is mined from underground. 400,000 borewells — more than any other Indian city — belch up our daily water supply and with each opening of our taps, the water table sinks further. The other half of Bangalore’s water is pumped, at great expense, across a distance of 100 km from the nearest major river, the Cauvery.
“Bangalore has the most expensive — and most heavily subsidised — water in India. And yet, demand constantly outstrips supply as the city shoots concrete blocks ever higher, across an ever-increasing sprawl, while the government plans more satellite towns and industrial hubs.
“This dangerous game is symptomatic of India’s boneheaded commitment to mindless growth. So what are the implications for the Cauvery basin, and for the city of Bangalore itself? How will our insatiable thirst impact the riverine ecosystem? How long will our water support us?
“Over the next few weeks and months, I will crawl all over the Cauvery basin, and creep under the skin of Bangalore, to document this tenuous relationship between water and urban man — and through this prism, examine the implications across all of our burgeoning towns and cities.”
What we have been reading:
Among the more topical, timely, compelling of podcasts is Generation Anthropocene, from Smithsonian magazine. The latest episode dives deep into some of the Earth’s most mysterious sources of water
What if you were a spendthrift? What if you routinely drew money for splurge shopping from your bank account — but didn’t know how much you had in the first place? This, says Sandra Postel of National Geographic, is the problem with our water. Groundwater supplies two billion people with water to drink, and puts food on the table — but we don’t know how much is left
Plants have their own internet, their own complex information superhighway — and the links that hold it all together are fungi. A Nic Fleming exploration for BBC Earth of an incredibly complex, totally fascinating ecosystem
The Colorado River spans 2,330 km and runs through parts of seven US and two Mexican states. In a series as notable for structure as for content, Pro Publica examines the many ways in which man is killing the storied river
Poverty — like much else that we wish not to see — is often reduced to a line, a number, a statistic. It is convenient, because who in hell can identify with, empathise with, a number, a cold statistic? So this, via MSNBC — a gritty exploration of what poverty really looks like on the ground
What sort of world is this, where we are reduced to thinking tht the only way to save the rhino is to reduce it to the status of a domesticated pet?
Animals think. And feel. And emote. empathise, even across species. A new book by Carl Safina takes you deep into the emotional lives of animals. Simon Worrall for NatGeo interviews the author