Menu Close

Category: Prem Panicker (page 1 of 3)

21 students. 30 days. 1 story.

“How does Mr Paul Salopek do it?”

The question was among the first to be asked, in the very first hour of a 12-hour workshop on slow journalism spread over September 28-29.

Who knows? The scope and scale of Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk, and its over-arching ambition, is way beyond our ability to explain. We did tell the students, though, that the workshop — the first in a series of fortnightly interactions with students of the digital media stream at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai — was Paul’s idea, and the outcome of his advice to us.

The workshop was divided into two distinct segments. In the first, spanning the whole of Monday afternoon and evening, the students were prompted to arrive at their own understanding of narrative journalism and its younger sibling, slow/deep journalism.  Read more

Temple elephants… and what lies beneath

At the entrance to the temple is Devi. She has been chained to this spot for 35 years. As a female, she is never taken to festivals, so has never, ever moved. Not one inch. Prof Nameer has asked the temple leaders (politicians, businessmen) to allow the animals to be walked for one hour a day; they refused.

This is just so sad.

No, it is beyond sad – it is horrific. It is inhuman. And the fact that this scene plays out at the entrance to Guruvayur, one of India’s richest, most famous temples, multiplies the horror manifold.

Or it would if the passage from an article by Liz Jones for the Daily Mail were true. It is not.


Read more

Yeah! THAT’ll do it.

India, says this news report, lost more 41 tigers this year till date, thus continuing a process of attrition. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is deeply interested in the environment in general, and tigers in particular. So of course the concerned department is concerned, and hell bent on doing something constructive about it. Like, so:

Vikas Kharge, secretary Revenue and Forest Department (Forests), told TOI that choosing actor Amitabh Bachchan as the ambassador for its tiger conservation projects is likely to have a positive outcome for conservation measures.

“We are yet to finalise the modalities and a meeting with the actor will soon take place. He is a tiger lover and his involvement in the project will have a unique appeal for the masses,” he said.

Because, having already gutted the funds for Project Tiger, what we now need to do is spend most of the little that remains on signing up a costly “ambassador”.

Irony wept bitter tears.

PS: More on our tigers



The sound of a hundred elephants

A trumpet shatters the sun-baked stillness of the plain. Moments later, the elephants emerge out of the forest and race onto the grasslands that stretch in front of me. There are about twenty of them in that first rush and then more, and more, emerging in twos and fours and in bigger groups of eights and tens. Big elephants and small, male and female, some brown, some black, a few flecked pink — score upon score of elephants, crossing the plain at full tilt.

What is the sound of a hundred elephants running?


A silence that magnifies the thudding of my heart and the clicking of my camera.

How can a few hundred elephants, collectively weighing thousands of tons, move at top speed across baked earth without a sound?

Because it is World Elephants Day today, one of the coolest elephant stories you’ll read, from Arati Kumar-Rao’s pre-Peepli days. And to go with that, this magnificent collection of images from her gallery, sampled below:

Photo by Arati Kumar-Rao

Photo by Arati Kumar-Rao

More love for the most lovable of beasts, via this Storify featuring Arati Kumar-Rao and Radha Rangarajan, sampled below:

Elephants inset 2

More elephant posts from earlier, here — including Arati’s encounter with a patriarch and the lessons learnt therefrom.

It’s not all joy and celebration, though. In his Nature without Borders project, Kalyan Varma has been narrating the story of man-elephant conflict in Hassan, and its heart-wrenching consequences. (NB: The next part of this narrative is due out on Peepli shortly; watch this space)

Salil Tripathi joins Peepli

In introducing Salil Tripathi, the problem is knowing where to begin, and how much to put in. Salil has written for the top Indian and international newspapers, magazines and websites and authored three books and counting; his work has won awards around the world; he works with global boards and think tanks in the fields of human rights and freedom of expression; his online CV is several hundred words long and yet does not cover all the bases…

…Oh, and he hates coriander, though this last has nothing to do with why we are delighted to welcome him to Peepli. The wealth of experience that Salil brings as a writer, allied to the breadth of his experience in the world of governance and policy, make him an asset beyond price for a fledgling outfit such as ours.

Please join us in welcoming Salil Tripathi, friend and long-time mentor, to the Peepli Board of Advisory Directors alongside Paul Salopek, Nilanjana Roy and Don Belt.

NB: More news, links etc in our August 12 edition of The Peepli Papers.

Is India selling out its tigers?

In the New York Times, journalist and co-author of Tigers Forever Sharon Guynup asks the question — and lists the reasons why the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’.

But the Modi government’s aggressive focus on development threatens both the cats’ future and the nation’s environment. India is razing forests and flooding them with dams, giving the go-ahead for new mines and pushing rapid industrialization. The 2015 budget cut funding for the environment ministry by 25 percent and support for tiger protection by 15 percent.

Toward that end, the government is moving swiftly and systematically to alter environmental regulations. Last August, a high level government committee was given the impossible task of reviewing the country’s major environmental laws and suggesting overhauls, all within a few months. Most of the committee members lacked environmental expertise, recommendations were not reviewed by independent authorities and most outside input was “invited.”

It is, argues Guynup, a perfect storm. Laws are being changed to permit large-scale deforestation; dams are coming up in job lots that will wipe out large sections of forest land, including reserves; sane voices from the outside, that could warn of the dangers, are being deliberately shut out of the process…

“Maybe I’m exaggerating,” said Ashok Khosla, the first director of India’s Office of Environmental Planning and Coordination, “but it sounds to me as if we have a cliff ahead of us and we have our foot on the accelerator.”

More on these lines here.

Lots in a name

Following on from the story of Arati Kumar-Rao’s meeting with Junius — here, the story of Ben.

A Nat Geo piece talks of the need, for expert and lay enthusiast alike, to learn how to identify an elephant.

To think like an elephant scientist, it’s important to look at key characteristics, said elephant biologist and National Geographic Explorer Joyce Poole. These traits include sex, body size and shape, tusk configuration, and ear patterns. By knowing the animals as individuals, you can get a better understanding of their behavior, relationships, and sophisticated family dynamics.

The piece has a handy guide to identifying elephants by key characteristics (and tons of useful internal links). A beautifully devised interactive companion site identifies the elephants of the Mara region, and provides current locations.

Tangentially related, an Economic Times piece suggests that it may be time to start identifying and naming Indian lions, in order to get people to care. FWIW.

Four rivers

Rivers are forces of nature, but over time, humans have learned to harness their power and change their course — often for the worse

The intro to a Longreads collection on four mighty rivers and what we are doing to kill them resonates. After all, Peepli as a concept began with this Arati Kumar-Rao exploration of the many ways in which another of the world’s storied rivers, the Brahmaputra, is at increasing risk. Here, the four stories from the Longreads collection:

The Ganges: Holy, Deadly River

Move still further downstream and you reach Varanasi. I assume that this — the cultural heart of India and of Hinduism and, it is said, the world’s oldest living city — must be the place to understand what is being done to the Ganges and why Indians so abuse the river they worship. At dawn near the ghats (the riverside steps) and funeral pyres, holy men meditate and pilgrims bathe. A pair of dogs fight over charred human remains on the muddy shore (one scientist has calculated that 32,000 human corpses are cremated here each year, with 200 tonnes of half-burnt human flesh discharged into the Ganges). The rotting remains of a monkey, its face distorted in a watery rictus, is caught on a boat’s mooring line. A rotund man snorts like a hippo­potamus as he swims across to the far bank and a yoga lesson broadcast by loudspeaker punctuates the subdued roar of awakened humanity.

Killing the Colorado — a fantastic, and fantastically well conceptualised, Pro Publica project on the myriad ways in which a river that sustains 40 million Americans is being choked to death

River of Death: Pegged to the death of a young boy, Steve Fisher investigates how American companies dump toxic waste into Mexico’s storied Santiago River

The San Jacinto, and the toxins that flow through it — this story, via the Houston Press, is notable for the many themes it shares with the Ganges, the Colorado, the Santiago. And the Brahmaputra. Different rivers, same old story.

Bonus link: Chasing the Sacred, Peter McBride’s exploration of the Ganges from source to sea, underlines many of the themes and points Victor Mallet makes in the FT piece linked to above.

(Lead image courtesy Der Spiegel)


Story, at 3 mph

At Peepli, we struggle to explain why we do what we do. The questions we get asked most often relate to pace:

‘Why are stories so few and far between?’ ‘What if you guys had more people and faster turnaround?’

Paul Salopek (who is one of our advisors) provides the answer, with an eloquence that is uniquely his:

By slowing down my storytelling, I’m hoping to slow readers down as well, and hopefully cultivate a vanishing resource called attention spans.

The world is growing complicated. To understand it, we don’t need more information, we need more meaning. A walked journey spanning four continents and seven years is just one way to try and tackle this challenge.

Here’s more on Paul and on walking through stories at three miles per hour.

(H/T for the link: Arati Kumar-Rao)



“The minister did not respond”

The Hindu reports on a sham “consultation” by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The part that should come as no surprise?:

Koraga tribe member Susheela Koraganad of Udipi is quoted in the citizen’s report as saying that the government refused to provide copies of both the Committee reports in Kannada, which might have helped them understand its recommendations better. Tania Devaiah, Jhatkaa’s online campaigner, said that both Mr. Javadekar and Environment Secretary Ashok Lavasa have not responded to the citizen’s report and the concerns raised by it. The lack of transparency in the consultation process is further exposed by the fact that the MoEF did not respond to a Right to Information query filed by Ms. Devaiah on June 17, seeking details of the ongoing consultation proceedings, despite public authorities being required to respond to RTI queries within one month from the date of receipt of the query.

Par for the course, for probably the most disastrous Minister we’ve ever had in charge of the environment.