February 16, 2010 Surviving and painting in India - by Pipaluk Knudsen-Ostermann

After a nine hour flight I arrived at Mumbai airport, where Jan and Subrato (local producer) picked me up. The next morning we met up with the rest of the crew and first went shopping for my tropical travel outfit. Cameraman Viraj understood exactly what I needed, and his friend directed us to the right shops through her mobile. Traffic in Mumbai (25 million inhabitants) is pretty busy and intense so we spent much time in the car. But we survived and succeeded and the we went immediately to the first film location, a high building from where I would be filmed walking on the street. In the building people were sleeping in the hallway, where they homeless? 

The city was full of life: animals and people were mixed in one perfect mess. But I only saw one accident in the chaos and luckily nobody but the cars got hurt. One normal lane was transformed into 3-4 lanes. I could never have driven here. The most scary shot was of me crossing one of the busiest streets of Mumbai. I barely made it!

One would think being inside a car would make you feel safe? No, I thought several times that I would end my life in the Indian traffic chaos. But it actually seems that they know what they are doing.

The next morning, very early, we left to Chennai, here I met Shweta. She’s fighting against injustice and doing a great job! Her motivation came from her first job: working with the women of Bophal. There an industrial catastrophe took place in 1984 that caused the death of between three and four thousand people. Some indicate that even eight thousand died the first week and another eight thousand died from gas related diseases. There are still civil and criminal cases ongoing with an India arrest warrant pending against Warran Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster, but on one has ever been prosecuted.

We picked up a very good friend of her, Shrini, and drove southwards to his biological farm. Shrini used to own a hotel, but sold it to become a biological farmer. One the way we had traditional Indian food, including fish and shrimps. On this trip to Indian we ate a lot and I thought I couldn’t eat lunch again that day, but I could. Shweta and Shrini showed me how to eat Indian style, from a banana leaf as a plate and eating with my fingers (no cutlery). We had a great talk about their work and motivation, how fascinating to meet so dedicated people!

After the great lunch we continued to the farm. We arrived at beautiful rice fields – my first time to see - of the greenest green! In the nearby village Shrini told us in the shade under a tree about his farm and his fight against pollution. The villagers were very curious and gathered around us to enjoy the ‘show’. Later one of the villagers showed me how to draw a kolam, a traditional symbol in front on their house. Each house has it’s own symbol to protect against evil. They perform this ritual every morning, starting with cleaning the doorway in front of the house. Then a unique symbol is made with rice powder, the woman fills her hand with it and let it slip out between her fingers to ‘paint’. It was amazing to see how fast and accurate she was working. I was invited to finish the drawing. I was nervous since I am not very creative. I think the villagers thought it was very amusing. But I hope I did an OK job!

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