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The greatest thing about India is it’s secular, inclusive: Photojournalist Steve McCurry

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New Delhi: His boots and cameras have traversed nearly all of the globe, but hold a very special place for one of his favourite places on the earth – India. Steve McCurry, whose camera captured the haunting and iconic “Afghan Girl” for an NG cover, said “secularism and inclusiveness are one of the greatest things about India” although there could be contradictions about the country.

McCurry, one of the most renowned photojournalists in the world, was speaking to IANS from New York, before the launch of his book ‘Steve McCurry: India’ (Phaidon, £39.95, 208 pp), which presents a vibrant India with “contradictions and excitements”, as he terms them.

“The greatest thing about India is it is inclusive and secular. It is a home to people of many religions, castes, and communities. India has always been a place of extreme drama – things constantly fascinating yet equally disturbing. It’s a place of extremes,” McCurry told IANS in a telephonic interview.

He has travelled to innumerable countries, but the “openness and ability to speak freely” in India makes him feel “comfortable and safe”, he said.

As much love as he has for the country, Kashmir posed him with a life-endangering moment while he photographed the conflict-prone state, McCurry said.

“In Kashmir, I felt there was always tension. The time I felt my life was in danger was one time in a taxi from Srinagar to Kargil. There was a convoy at 7 or 8 in the night on very precarious mountain road in Himalayas and we were told to switch off our lights, because there was shelling from the Pakistani side. It was a a very alarming experience,” McCurry explained.

He stepped into India first in 1978, from where he went to Peshawar to photograph the “Afghan Girl” in 1985. Since then, he’s been in India 75 times, spending a total of five years spread over different periods. He holds a “deeper appreciation for the country than a casual traveler,” McCurry said.

McCurry’s picture of the “Afghan Girl” in a red scarf, her green eyes staring intently at the camera, became one of the most famous pictures in the world. He had again located the girl nearly two decades later, but “that isn’t possible at all times, as the interactions happen on a remote level with the subjects”, he said.

There is mystery, contradiction and diversity in a “vibrant and colourful” India, that McCurry displays. In his new book, McCurry captures India through an inverted Taj Mahal in the water, the colours of Rajasthan, the stark contrasts and inequalities India’s cities come with and other striking elements of India.

“India has been very dear, through the conversations I’ve had with people on trains, or being a part of the festivals and many regional characteristics each state holds. Although the whole world is getting globalised, India has a very strong and diverse character, which I don’t see anywhere else,” he said, overwhelmed by his love for this country.

As a photojournalist, McCurry had worked in many conflict situations, like the Afghan Civil War, the Gulf War, Iraq-Iran War and others, capturing on film the “essential soul peeking out and experiences etched on a person’s face” during conflicts.

Asked if he was ever caught in a situation like Kevin Carter (a South African Pulitzer-winning photojournalist who killed himself after his photograph of a starving child waiting to be killed by a vulture was published), deciding whether to press the camera’s trigger or save a life in a conflict zone, McCurry said: “There is no picture worth a human life.”

“There was a time in Afghanistan when a colleague and I shifted this wounded man to hospital and probably saved his life because he wouldn’t have made it through the night. One must work with compassion and there is no picture worth a human life,” he said.

Inspiration for all his impactful photographs comes from his travelling and meeting people, he said, adding that it’s “overwhelming to see the past I have captured through my shots.”

Rubin Museum in New York would be displaying McCurry’s photographs on India from November 18.

McCurry said his next project would be around people reading, where he photographs people reading all around the world in some of the most unusual circumstances.

(Bhavana Akella, IANS)

 

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Veerappan: India’s most wanted

Veerappan was hunted by the police for over four decades, making it the longest man-hunt in India

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Veerappan was a smuggler, poacher, murderer and extortionist who was killed in Operation Cocoon
Veerappan in his heyday, He was killed via Operation Cocoon
  • Veerappan was a smuggler of ivory and sandalwood in the southern states of India.
  • He killed government officials and civilians alike when they tried to stop his illegal activities.
  • He died in October 2004 during ‘Operation Cocoon’, which was carried out by a Special Task Force.

Poaching, smuggling, extortion, smuggling, brigandry, murder — these are some of the few charges against Koose Munisamy Veerappan Gounder, popularly known as Veerappan, for whom was constituted India’s largest manhunt, on which the government spent around 1.5 million Rupees. From his childhood, narratives about the elusive dacoit were laced with fiction, as he became an object of myth when he was only ten years old, and had infamously shot his first tusker elephant for ivory. His notoriety became a national concern when the government banned ivory trade in India, and he began felling trees for precious sandalwood, thus beginning a period marred by Veerappan killing government officials and locals alike when they became an obstacle.

Veerappan unleashed a reign of terror on the southern states of India from the early 1980s till his death in 2004; during which Veerappan killing police officers and civilians alike caused a nationwide uproar. In 1990, the notorious smuggler had beheaded a forest officer K. Srinivas, which wasn’t recovered until three years later. In 2000, he had kidnapped the Kannada actor K. Rajkumar, whose release was negotiated through Nakkeeran editor Gopal, to whom the infamous poacher admitted to murdering as many as 120 people. Matters came to a head when   abducted the former Karnataka minister H. Nagappa in 2002, and killed him when his demands were not met.

Operation Cocoon:

Veerappan leading his gang in moily forest,
Veerappan leading his gang in Moily forest. Wikimedia

A Special Task Force or STF was constituted for the capture of Veerappan in 1991, which, headed by K. Vijay Kumar, launched Operation Cocoon in 2004, which finally resulted in Veerappan’s death. Kumar, aided by his previous experience with Veerappan, based Operation Cocoon on human intelligence and interaction, during which multiple STF personnel blended in with the locals in areas frequented by Veerappan. The initial stages of Operation Cocoon consisted of gaining the trust of Veerappan’s associates, till they started divulging details about his failing health. In the years before his death, the elusive outlaw seemed to have lost much of his vigour and vitality, as he suffered from diabetes, and a cataract had almost blinded him in one eye.
On 18th October, 2004, the police lured Veerappan out of familiar terrains in an ambulance, and apprehended him at a roadblock, where he was killed in the crossfire between his team and the STF, via three bullets. The photographs after Veerappan’s demise show him in a pathetic light, bereft of his signature handlebar moustache, and the agility which had facilitated his escape for over four decades.

There have been a lot of controversies regarding his death, as many media houses and activists have claimed that Operation Cocoon has derived Veerappan of a fair trial by law. Some have even claimed that he was tortured to death in police custody. The facts regarding the elusive sandalwood smuggler remain inconclusive even after a decade of his death, due to the lack of concrete evidence.

 

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Bhai Boolchand-the Indian who launched trade with Ghana

The first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast (Ghana's colonial name) in 1890 , Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana

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Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana.
Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana. pixelbay
  • Bhai Boolchand, the anonymous Indian, is credited with starting trade between Ghana and India
  • The year was 1890.

Not much is known about him, but it has now emerged that trade relations between Ghana and Indiawere started by Bhai Boolchand, the first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast — Ghana’s colonial name — in 1890. That’s some 67 years before the British colonial government granted the country independence, research by the Indian Association of Ghana has found.

“As far as our records show, Bhai Boolchand (of the Bhaiband Sindhworki trading community), landed on the shores of the Gold Coast in western Africa in 1890. Nearly twenty years later, in 1919, the first Sindhi company was established by two brothers — Tarachand Jasoomal Daswani and Metharam Jasoomal Daswani,” the Indian Association said.

The duo opened a store — Metharam Jassomal Brothers — in the then capital city of Cape Coast in 1919.

“Their business flourished and branches were opened in Accra and Kumasi. A few years later, the two brothers separated and whilst Bhai Metharam Jasoomal continued the business as Metharam Brothers, Tarachand Jasoomal operated his business as Bombay Bazaar. These were the first two Indian companies that were established in the Gold Coast,” the Association said.

Boolchand’s arrival, therefore, pre-dates the historical links between the two countries that were always thought to have started between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkruman, and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Boolchand can thus be described as the one who paved the way for the arrival of other members of the Sindhi community, initially as traders and shopkeepers.

The Indian Association said more of this group arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, with a few venturing into manufacturing industries such as garments, plastics, textiles, insecticides, electronics, pharmaceuticals and optical goods.

The Association said two more Indian firms were established under the names of Lilaram Thanwardas and Mahtani Brothers in the 1920s. This trend continued in the 1930s and 1940s with the creation of several more Indian companies like T. Chandirams, Punjabi Brothers, Wassiamal Brothers, Hariram Brothers, K. Chellaram & Sons, G. Motiram, D.P. Motwani, G. Dayaram, V. Lokumal, and Glamour Stores.

Glamour Stores, which was stared by Ramchand Khubchandani who arrived in Ghana in 1929, has grown — after changing its name to Melcom Group — to become the largest retailing business in the country. The Melcom Group, headed by Ramchand’s son Bhagwan Khubchandani, is now in its 60th year and about 40 stores all over the country.

Ramchand and his brother later went into garment manufacturing in 1955 and once employed over 1,200 Ghanaians. They later opened the first Indian restaurant, Maharaja, in Ghana. Bhagwan followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1989 established the Melcom Group with his sons-in-law, Mahesh Melwani and Ramesh Sadhwani.

Another Indian-owned company that has survived through the years is the Mohanani Group, which is currently in its 51st year. At the first-ever Ghana Expatriate Business Awards, the Ministry of Trade and Industries recognised the work of one of the thriving Indian-owned B5 Plus Steel Company and awarded it the Best Expatriate Company in the metal and steel category.

As these companies brought in new expatriate staff, some left their employers to venture out on their own — resulting in more companies opening up.

“After 1947, the Gold Coast attracted the attention of some Indian multinational companies, and big names like Chanrai, Bhojsons, K.A.J. Chotirmal, Dalamals and A.D. Gulab opened branches in Ghana,” the Association said.

“The employment of Ghanaians by these founding companies also helped to lessen the burden of unemployment in the country. This amply demonstrates the level of commitment India has in the developmental agenda of Ghana,” it said.

Indians are not only investing in the manufacturing and commercial sectors of the country; they are also investing in the financial sector. Bank of Baroda, one of India’s biggest and most reputable banks, recently established a branch in Ghana and hopefully it will expand its operations in other parts of the country very soon. (IANS)

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Beatles, Apple, Facebook knew India more than Indians

Famous non-Indian celebrities know more about India and its past

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The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture.
The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture. Wikipedia

-By Salil Gewali

Facebook’s Chairman Mark Zuckerberg had dropped a bombshell on the “secularists” in India during PM Modi’s visit to his campus in California. It’s all about the Facebook connection with India. Initially, it was never a bed of roses for what is now a household name “FACEBOOK” across the world. This world-famous ‘social networking service company’ had its own share of bad times. Revealing for the first time in the meeting at the Facebook office upbeat Zuckerberg told PM Narendra Modi that Steve Jobs, the founder Chairman of Apple, had advised him to visit a certain temple in India for blessings. The revelation may have caused heartburn to many. More so in India where so-called secular and snooty folks have long acquired a proclivity to look down upon their own culture, religion, and values while being appreciative of any bizarre customs and styles of the West. Yes, heeding the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs the depressed Mark had visited the temple and toured around India for nearly a month.

Facebook's CEO tells about India.
Facebook’s CEO tells about India. wikipedia

Well, the American techno-wizard Steve Jobs had himself spent over six months in India in 1974. He was here in quest of the higher meaning of life and spiritual solace. As understood, from early age Steve was quite haunted by a good deal of unanswered questions. Of course, his encounter with a book “Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert, a Harvard Professor, had opened up a gateway to the spiritualism of the East. This book had also introduced him to a mystic Yogi ‘Neem Karoli Baba’. That later inspired Steve to set out the journey for the East. As soon as Steve and his friend Daniel Kottke arrived India they directly went to meet the Guru in Kainchi Dham Ashram in Nainital. But to their disappointment, they found the Baba had already passed away some months earlier. Nevertheless, the urge to dive deeper into the spiritualism did not die away. They shaved their heads and put on Indian clothes and undertook an extensive meditation and yogic practices.

The most significant impact that had made upon Steve’s life was a book “Autobiography of a Yogi”by Paramhansa Yogananda. It is on record that he would read this book too frequently, at least once every year until his death, 2011. This book had given him the practical insight into what exactly this world is about and how a layman can prepare himself to realize the Supreme knowledge. The first-hand account of a Yogi with empirical approaches to know oneself this book by Yogananda is a smash hit manual now among the seekers of the Eastern spiritualism.

Yes, by dint of hard work, intuition and innovation Steve stood out as one of the most successful techno-tycoons of the modern times. As much known, Jobs was hardly possessed by the luxury of riches and materialistic vanity. He just regarded his entrepreneurship as a tool to awaken his dormant potentialities. The chairman of Salesforce.com and famous philanthropist Marc Benioff says with conviction — “If you want to understand Steve, it’s a good idea to dig into ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.” It is this book which Steve’s family had given to all the guests as a last gift at his memorial service.

Here we can’t afford to ignore the Beatle’s fascination for INDIA as well. The band members that were basking in the opulence of materialistic riches and glory visited India (Rishikesh) in search of inner peace. They met with Sri Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and learnt from him Transcendental meditation (TM) who laid bare methods to feel true bliss within. Sri Maharshi is a big name in the West having a huge following that includes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Modern physicist Dr. John Hagelin, to name a few. The Beatle’s Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr often assist a Hollywood Director/actor David Lynch to organize the Transcendental meditation under ‘David Lynch Foundation’ across USA and the European countries. George Harrison later took refuge in Bhakti Yoga. The founder of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada showed him the pathway to the Supreme Consciousness.

What basically pulls the rational westerners to India is less known to Indians themselves. It’s shamefully paradoxical. From early 19th Century, the philosophical literary treasure troves and Yoga of India found more admirers in the foreign lands than at home. Indeed, the philosophy of the “laws of karma” and the presence of all-power-divinity within every being and everywhere — which any human being can realize irrespective of one’s caste, creed, nationality, and color, has intensely stirred the greatest of the great minds of the West. The ancient texts hold out a whole bunch of keys to unlock oneself and know his/her relationship with the Supreme Being which in fact seems very reasonable to the West. Further, the complex studies of world-view by Modern scientists are gradually arriving at the same conclusion what the ancient sages of India expounded over five thousands year back that ‘creation and creator are ONE’. Interconnection, inter-relation and interdependence among every individual particle/object, living or non-living, in the infinite universe — which is the fundamental tenets of the Eastern philosophy, provided a new light of wisdom to the the modern physicists like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Julius Oppenheimer, Brain David Josephson, David Bohm, John Stewart Bell et al.

Well, Indian’s contribution to the western academia is immeasurable — though deliberately undermined or less discussed in India itself. It’s very worthwhile to recall a famous proclamation by our western master whom we hold in the highest esteem. TS Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, asserts: “Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys”.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter @SGewali.