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India 2021



A perfect confluence is formed for Hindu pilgrims and Siberian gulls at Allahabad—officially known as Prayagraj. To wash away their sins, pilgrims bathe at the sangam, the spot where the Yamuna and mythic Sarasvati Rivers flow into the Ganges. On astrological cycles of six or twelve years, more than 100 million pilgrims gather there for a special fair, the Prayag Kumbh Mela. The gulls on their winter migration also flock to this spot, but for a different reason: boatmen rowing bathers to the sangam sell bags of dried shredded vegetables to feed the gulls. All seem to benefit.
Charles Eilers © 2019
PCV Nigeria and Ethiopia 1966–1969
Teacher Training

Southern Asia

Area 1.3M mi2; 3.3M km2

Arable 53%

Population 1.3B (1000/mi²; 394/km²)

Gov’t Federal parliamentary republic

Capital New Delhi (30.3M)

GCP/capita $7,200

Unemployment 9%

In poverty 22%


Life expectancy 70 yrs

Infant Mortality 35/1K live births

Literacy 75%

Languages Hindi, English, and Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, among 22 official languages

Religions Hindu 80%, Muslim 14%, Christian 2%, Sikh 2%, other 2%

Health 4% of GDP

Education 4% of GDP (112th)

Military 2% of GDP (48th)

Labor Force Agriculture 47%, industry 22%, services 31%

PCVs 1961–1976 CURRENT: 0, TTD: 4,325

Adult Books

An Elephant Kissed My Window: and Other Stories from the Tea Plantations of South India
By M Ravindran and Saaz Aggarwal

Genre: Blog-derived fiction and nonfiction
Paperback: 270 pages
Publisher: black-and-white fountain (August 19, 2019)
Language: English
Setting: India
ISBN-10: 938346514X
ISBN-13: 978-9383465149

Far away, high up on top of gentle blue hills, tea is grown. It is a beautiful, surreal world and the people who live here lead isolated lives under brilliant skies, immersed in pure air and surrounded by jungles in which animals roam. Some of their stories will make you laugh, some will fascinate you. By the time you finish enjoying them, you will find that you have become knowledgeable not just about how tea is made, but also the history of how tea became the most popular drink in the world!

Amazon Reader Reviews
Short stories, seamlessly stitched together, transporting us to a bygone era
Even as the world moves forward and changes at an ever quickening pace, there are some pockets in the world, in which the past simultaneously and stubbornly endures.

The Nilgiri Hills in South India—where I went to a boarding school in the 1970s—is one such pocket. Nestled in these divinely beautiful “Blue Hills” are tea plantations and boarding schools where some of the best traditions and practices of the British era endured.

A compilation of (1) short stories by one of the authors, M Ravindran—bulk of the book, (2) articles from people associated with this world, some from the late 19th century, and (3) explanatory articles by the other author Saaz Aggarwal, who has seamlessly stitched all of the material together into a delightful reading experience.

… for anyone who enjoys well-crafted stories, and enjoys learning about others, about other cultures, and other times … a captivating set of stories of bygone cultures and bygone times.

Good book
Stories set in tea plantations in a different era. Knowing the author and the characters written in the book made it more interesting. Priceless photographs. I thought the narration lacked continuity and seemed a tad disjointed. Later towards the end of the book learnt that the articles were originally written for a blog. That probably explains it. Definitely entertaining.

Nostalgia for the good times
The book takes you back to an era that is now almost forgotten. It has captured the lifestyle in the plantations of the 1960s and 1970s. The anecdotes related are funny and good natured taking you back to a time when one could sit down and talk to neighbours and friends without getting angry and annoyed. A wonderful, feel good book I would recommend to one and all.

Especially for those who once lived in Estates
Ravindran and Saaz have put together a fascinating firsthand account of life in the Nilgiri tea estates of the 60's and 70's. For me it was like a trip back into my childhood. My parents traversed this area between 1955–1970, and my dad served as the estate doctor in these places.

The writing is fluid and easy, the descriptions vivid and sans the flowery language used by British planters of yore. Truly enjoyable and recommended for anybody who wants to know how tea estates functioned and how life went in those days, with some electricity, a herald or landmaster car or a bike to take you from point A to point B, a kerosene burning refrigerator, if you are lucky and wild animals in your backyard...

Kids' Books

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship—Stories from India
By Chitra Soundar; illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy

Format: Hardcover, 192 pp.; ill.
ISBN: 978-1-53620-067-6
Age Range: 6-10 years
Publisher: Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018

These are tales inspired by traditional Indian folktales. Prince Veera and his best friend Suku are given the opportunity to preside over the court of his father, King Bheema. Some of the subjects’ complaints are easy to address, but others are much more challenging. The messages are of kindness and compassion, and for speaking up when things are unfair.

Editorial Reviews
Soundar’s energetic prose and wisecracking dialogue sparkle and Krishnaswamy’s acrylic folk-based illustrations of characters and nature dance across almost every page. Like any folktale, this book is best when shared. Read aloud, the adventures of Prince Veera and Suku will surely captivate first- through fifth-grade classrooms, the dilemmas providing excellent opportunities for critical thinking. Independent readers ages 8–12 are likely to delight in the boys’ clever solutions, not to mention their ability to confound and outwit adults.

—Shelf Awareness for Readers (starred review)

These original tales are folkloric in style and content, but refreshingly contemporary in tone and form. The messages are of kindness and compassion, and for speaking up when things are unfair...the illustrations balance traditional Indian art forms with cartoonlike gestures that will make readers smile.


Krishnaswamy’s energetic black-and-white spot art offers authentic glimpses of Indian life, with illustrations of people, birds and animals, the marketplace, the countryside, and more. Readers who are familiar with traditional Indian folktales will recognize these well-known stories; readers new to them may enjoy their quiet simplicity and the wisdom of the two young protagonists.

—Kirkus Reviews Online

It’s a little risky—even benevolent kings do not like being proved wrong—but in these stories for 6- to 10-year-olds, ingenuity and good sense help the boys prevail. Veera and Suku are a great team: In between gorging themselves on buttery sweets such as laddus and jalebis, and wolfing down mango pickles with fried fish and rice, the two boys solve mysteries, expose swindlers and humble the arrogant... These lively tales benefit from Uma Krishnaswamy’s playful monochrome illustrations

—The Wall Street Journal

Reader Comments
This is the most wonderful little book. Under two hundred pages, it is loaded with wisdom, common sense, and the notion of fair play. What makes this all the more charming is that it is all being dispensed by a ten-year-old Prince and his best friend.

I would recommend these stories to everyone of all ages as there is so much to be learned and reinforced. Buy a copy for a young person, read it to children, and take the time to enjoy all its messages.

Delightful! Nothing is more helpful to learn about other cultures than fables meant to teach children. You get a simple understanding of complex ideas, plus there are beautiful illustrations and fun characters. The themes addressed in this book are great lessons for readers of all ages and would make a great read aloud for any classroom or bedtime. I look forward to adding this book to my personal collection.

A fun book with a global perspective. I know several of the tales from other folkloric traditions, but the retellings here are definitely Indian. A fun global offering; recommended for 7-10-year-olds.


Film: Soni
Genre: Drama
Director: Ivan Ayr
Date of Release: 2019
Language: Hindi
Run Time: 97 minutes

Summary: Soni, a young policewoman in Delhi, and her superintendent, Kalpana, have collectively taken on a growing crisis of violent crimes against women. However, their alliance suffers a major setback when Soni is transferred out for alleged misconduct on duty.


Ivan Ayar’s film is one of the best Indian movies of the decade. Unlike the hyper-exaggerated fantasy about other police dramas, Ivan Ayr roots the police drama Soni in realism and keenly observes the patriarchal society’s omnipresence without dramatising the events. Soni pushes the boundaries of cinema until it spills out enriching cinematic pleasure on its path to explore the fragments of Indian society that have hardly been captured on film before. He avoids the genre tropes, which he could easily have fallen victim to, subverts the theatrics and sensationalism, and patiently deconstructs the power of hierarchy that widens the gender gap.

This is a micro-budget film about two women police officers. They are torn between the ethical and moral dilemma of their duty as an officer and their wish to uproot crimes centred around women, like gender prejudice and sexual harassment. The movie is further solidified by the two moving and nuanced performances which have already gone unnoticed this year.—Nafees Ahmed, “High on Films”


Honest and brutal masterpiece Soni is an excellent work of art. Its to the point representation of the reality makes it a definite watch. Its beauty lies in the two leading ladies. Each has her own persona ,which is quite different from the other—hence they somehow balance each other. The conflicted characters and their performances are brilliant. In addition the cinematography is good. The calm yet dark Delhi is shot very well.

Behold the truth of our country, India! The protagonist 'Soni' and her boss play their parts to the hilt with equal aplomb. Everyone seems like a non-actor yet they do full justice to their roles, (and) there is no over -the-top cinematography or sad songs … The screenplay, direction, dialogue delivery, and expressions of all the actors are spot on. The camera is totally oblivious. We get to see things … from a female cop's viewpoint. The beautiful Delhi winters, warm clothes, and the change of conduct of cops while on duty and registering a complaint to being in plainclothes and buying groceries … are the small things to notice... There is no overacting.

The movie is all about the lower and upper middle class and their daily lives as cops in the capital. The story and plot could have been worked on a little to add a little more masala, but each script and director have their own take on things and they have done full justice to the same. It’s a must-watch and highly recommended film; one takes home something after watching it.

Subtle, honest, hardhitting portrayal of women in police: I am in awe and love with this movie. Each and every moment of the movie was like delving deep in the unconscious realms of the minds of the women. The subtleness which Ivan Ayer showed in directing the frames is exceptional. The way Saloni Batra portrayed the mid aged IAS officer, Kalpana is fabulous. she captured the crux of the character. She BECAME Kalpana. Geetika was so gripping as the hothead Soni, who is dealing with emotional voids in her life and in society. The portrayal deserves applause. She seemed so real, maybe she knew what it felt to be a girl who is frustrated with what society has to offer. Its an extension into the awakening conscious of the filmmakers, actors and our society as a whole.

I hope that people like Ivan Ayer, Anand Gandhi, Sohum Shah will keep walking on this path and showing us the darkest, corrupt, and unjust practises in our society—behind the veils of our obscure traditions, practices and egos.


Artist: Arijit Singh

An Indian playback singer, who sings predominantly in Hindi and Bengali but has also performed in various other Indian languages.

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