artisans, caste system, dalits, handicrafts, India, multimedia, Odisha, orissa, village life
A couple of years ago, with the help of my friend Finnish photographer and expert on all-things-multimedia Kari Kuukka I published Outcastes – a Village in Odisha, India, an experimental multimedia documentary about a Dalit community – or rather Kari did, on his innovative multimedia site DocImages.fi. The village in question is the target of work, especially for organising women artisans, carried out by Tikau Share, a Finnish NGO of which I am a member. I’m still really proud of the documentary, even if it is a bit rough round the edges. So every now and then I bring it back to life. You can download and view it here – please do!
Pictures below are some of the stills in the package which also includes video, some less-than-slick time-lapses, some amazing 360 panoramas showing the village and house interiors, and narrative text.
Where the world ends on the horizon
The distant low rumble of a train drifts across the flat rice fields, its horn scaring away the occasional cow and dispersing the women using the railway line as a short cut back from market. The sun has risen to a punishing height and most of the villagers are huddled in the shaded porches of their mud and straw houses, breathing life into their fires or stirring rice.
The boys take a break from their cricket game and a group of girls are giggling by the water pump. At the back of the village, just-washed saris flap in the breeze, vivid flags of mauve and orange. A cow saunters into view, flicking its tail at a spiral of flies, oblivious to the stacks of its own dung left drying in the sun for fuel. A chicken pecks fussily at the ground and a baby starts to cry inside one of the windowless houses.
Out on the flat plains of northern Odisha, the world ends on the horizon. The soaring tower blocks of Delhi, the call centres and high-tech offices of Bangalore and the glitter and honking taxis of Mumbai might as well be on another planet.
The village architecture of mud walls on mud platforms, crowned with tussled roofs of straw that gets washed away with each torrential monsoon, has not changed for decades, perhaps even centuries. Nor have the daily concerns, of earning enough to buy rice for the next meal, of weaving baskets for the market, of heading out to the fields to defecate.
Isolated economically and socially, this Dalit village is not unique. Odisha, like other Indian states, remains home to the impoverished and the underprivileged. The Dalits, at the bottom of the caste system, still suffer discrimination and a social stigma from other sectors of India’s vast and complex society.
I can call these people my friends. Tim Sir is the man with the camera, which no longer makes them scared or nervous. I observe their lives, they laugh at the photos I produce of them. I sit on their mud floors and listen to their stories. During my visits I am briefly humbled by their lifestyle. And I return to the comforts of my western existence, the petty stresses of which are unknown to them.
If you like what you have seen, do come back and browse my back pages, and look out for future posts. Feedback and comments also welcome!
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Stuart Forster said:
Lovely, evocative images, Tim. To me it is people that really help make India a great place.
Tim Bird said:
Thanks Stuart. It’s the people, and the endless culture shock and surprise round every corner. It all keeps you on your toes, and sometimes knocks you off them.