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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.

And we welcome Don Belt

Don Belt — carpenter, poet, soccer player, ambulance driver, writer, editor, speaker, teacher — has lived the life we dream of living.

His travels have taken him to over 68 countries; his CV ticks every box there is and then some, and his stories span the biggest issues of our time, most of them done during his four-plus decades at the National Geographic.

A shared characteristic of the truly great is generosity, their willingness to share what they have learned by doing. Don is a teacher by inclination — at Poynter, at George Washington University and most recently, at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he is Professor of Journalism.

Back when we were trying to find our feet, voice and direction, Don was kind enough to notice and to reach out with advice. Since then, he has made time to mentor us from the sidelines, and so now we are making it official:

Peepli is so proud to announce that Don Belt has joined us as Director in an advisory capacity.

He will, like our other directors Paul Salopek and Nilanjana Roy (see announcement), use his experience and his wisdom to guide us in telling the stories we want to tell.

A Don Belt reading list:

Fast Lane to the Future, on India’s superhighways

Struggle for the soul of Pakistan, on that nation’s tussle between the moderate and extreme forms of Islam

Wet Boots, Dry Notebook — a collection of Don’s deep, nuanced reporting on water and related issues

Parting the Waters, on the Jordan River that both divides and unites Israel and its neighbors

The Coming Storm, on Bangladesh’s struggles to cope with rapidly rising sea levels

Extensive archives of Don’s four-plus decades of work

A little recognition, a small fillip

In a sense, it all began here — with Arati Kumar-Rao pointing out one day that water is the most under-reported — and paradoxically, most pressing — of the issues confronting us.

We thought there was something to the idea, but didn’t quite know what. And so, in the spirit of figuring things out by doing, she started with River Diaries — an exploration of water and related issues, with the Brahmaputra as the spine of the narrative.

Early on in the project, Arati decided to take a boat trip up the Sunderbans. And in the midst of what should have been a routine ride, she experienced something disturbing:

Suddenly the GolPata abandoned the center of the river and veered sharp left. “Look!” Caesar called out. A ship, the size of a three-storey building, bore down on us. Some distance behind it, hanging a right on the horizon, loomed another. And another. And another. They kept coming: massive oil tankers and noisy cargo ships, all churning heavily through the Sundarbans.

“The usual channels have silted up,” offered Alom, referring to Ghasiakhali — a river channel so overrun with shrimp farms and embankments that the silt carried by these rivers, having nowhere to go, sits heavily in the main channel.


Watching a cargo ship power through the channel, I was not so sure. These monsters were noisy and fast and dirty. They were an unwelcome incongruous presence in the quiet of the mangrove forest. Several oil tankers followed these cargo ships. I shut my mind to the dread of what might happen here, should fate be tempted once too often, running one of these run dirty guys aground.

The experience proved prophetic — not long after, an oil tanker crashed, flooding the delicate Sunderbans ecosystem with thousands of litres of oil. That day, we learnt that in slow journalism, you don’t chase the headlines. You don’t have to — if the field-work is strong, if the reporting is detailed, the stories anticipate the headlines.

That was the proof point we were looking for; the validation of an idea. From that experience, the concept of Peepli took shape; Rahul Bhatia joined in with his immersive reporting on development, and Kalyan Varma followed soon after with compelling tales from the fault-lines at the intersection of man and nature.

Last week, the Society of Environmental Journalists announced its awards, the 14th in an annual series. And to our delight, picked that early story of Arati’s on the oil spill, for an Honourable Mention in the Outstanding Environmental Photojournalism category, where the winners include the likes of Robb Kendrick, Matt Black and Jim Richardson.

Of Arati’s work, the judges said (emphasis ours):

“Arati Kumar-Rao’s entry, “Oil Spill in the Sundarbans”, was also awarded an Honorable Mention for a very well done, one-day shoot of an oil spill in Bangladesh. Rich details, with a good scene setter, Kumar-Rao’s camera takes us on an immersive, first-hand visit to a community reeling from a devastating oil spill. It’s hard to imagine how the photographer could have gotten any closer.”

Bingo. That is the validation we had been seeking — the belief that to tell it right, you have to get as close to the story as you possibly can.

The full list of awards is here, and it incorporates links to some amazing — and vitally important –storytelling. And here, Arati’s story, Oil Spill in the Sunderbans, plus much more in the related stories segment.