India’s Love Commandos – The Vigilantes Protecting Young Couples Against Prejudice

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Marrying for love is still taboo in many parts of India, especially outside the boundaries of caste or religion. But there are people who do sympathize with young couples, like the Love Commandos, a four-man activist organisation based in the nation’s capital, New Delhi. Their mission is to help couples elope and start a new life together, safely away from the wrath of their families.

“The main function of the Love Commandos is to allow people to do this in safety and in accordance with the laws of India, and to prevent honor killings happening to young couples,” Belgian author Hans Theys wrote in the introduction to photographer Max Pinckers book Will They Sing Like Raindrops or Leave Me Thirsty on India’s Love Commandos, a project that won him first prize in the Photographic Museum of Humanity competition in 2014.

And that’s exactly what the Love Commandos are all about. They encourage lovers to reach out to them via a telephone helpline, or their website, for any kind of assistance – including accommodation in safe rooms and shelters across India. They’ve even sent out rescue teams to protect newly-weds running away from enraged relatives. The group boasts of having helped over 40,000 couples in nearly six years of existence. Of course, they couldn’t have done it without the help of hundreds of volunteers and priests who agreed to organize and perform the clandestine marriage ceremonies and getaways.

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Meet India’s Moonwalking Traffic Cop

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Kunwar Ranjeet Singh, a self-confessed Michael Jackson fan, is also India’s most fascinating traffic cop. Drawing inspiration from his idol, he ‘moonwalks’ his way through his daily duties in one of the busiest intersections of the city of Indore, in central India.

The ‘dancing cop of Indore’ has actually come up with several routines to help manage traffic on the often chaotic streets, and the moonwalk is one of them. “Instead of walking back I do the moonwalk which sometimes amuses commuters,” he said. “That, in a way, encourages people to follow traffic rules.”

Singh apparently wanted to be a dancer, but chose to become a traffic cop after he lost two close friends to road accidents. He’s been controlling Indore’s traffic for the past six years now, and he’s found a way to incorporate his love of dancing into the job. He believes it’s is a great way to remain stress-free in the midst of chaos, and to really make a difference. “One should leave an impact in whatever he or she does and I bring the same while I am signalling people on the roads,” he said.

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Hiware Bazar – India’s Miracle Village

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The residents of Hiware Bazar, a remote village in the Ahmednagar district of the state of Maharashtra, India have managed to turn their fortune around in the span of just a few years – they’ve gone from being a drought-stricken populace in the mid-1990s to the richest village in the nation today. Their story is a truly inspiring one.

Hiware Bazar currently boasts of having the highest GDP among all the villages in India. Its 1,250-strong population enjoys an average income of INR 30,000 ($450) per month, also highest in the nation, up from a paltry INR 830 in 1995. 60 of the 235 families in the village are millionaires. Every year, their fields yield bountiful crops of millets, onions, and potatoes that make it hard to imagine that only a few years ago they were barren stretches of land that no one cared about.

Yet, up until the mid 90’s, Hiware Bazar was indeed a poverty-stricken village reeling in the aftermath of a severe drought in 1972. “The peace was shattered,” recalls Raosaheb Rauji Panwar, an 82-year-old villager. “People became irritable and restless as the struggle to stay alive became severe. Petty reasons were enough to trigger-off bitter quarrels, as there was so much despair and frustration. Villagers started consuming liquor and it added to our ruin.”

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The Indian Village That Took Up Chess as an Alternative to Drinking

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The people of Marottichal, a sleepy little village in the state of Kerala in southern India, have a rather unusual passion for chess. Believe it or not, they’re all chess enthusiasts. Their love for the game is such that even when they’re not playing, they’re talking strategy all the time.

But villagers weren’t always interested in the checkered board game. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, their passions lay elsewhere – mainly in the local liquor that they made for a living. Many of the residents were addicted to the cheap brew, with disastrous consequences for the whole community. Things got so bad at one point that a few villagers actually requested government authorities to raid the village and get rid of some of their liquor stock.

But things began to change when one villager – a 10th grade student named C. Unnikrishnan – decided that he wanted to learn chess. Inspired by a news report about American legend Bobby Fischer, a grandmaster at age 16, Unnikrishnan traveled to a nearby village to attend classes and learn the game himself. And once he got the hang of it, he made it his mission to get everyone in the village hooked.

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The Artistic Water Tanks of Punjab

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The state of Punjab, in northern India, is well known for its rich, vibrant culture, including great food, music, and dance. But what most people don’t know is that the Indian state is also home to some of the most extravagant water tanks in the world.

The concrete structures that the people of Punjab use to store water on the roofs of their houses are hardly ever ordinary-looking or boring. Instead, these ‘designer’ tanks come in a variety of unlikely shapes and sizes inspired by people’s interests and experiences. It’s not uncommon to see water tanks modeled after airplanes, army tanks, ships, birds, animals, and even humans!

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The Childless Indian Woman Who Mothered Hundreds of Trees

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Meet ‘Saalumarada’ Thimmakka, an uneducated environmentalist who, along with her late husband, planted and cared for 384 banyan trees in her hometown of Hulikal village, in Karnataka, India. Now 103 years old, she lives on to tell the tale.

When Thimmakka was a young girl, she married a farmer named Chikkaiah and together they made a living out of tilling land and cutting stones. The couple remained childless for many years, enduring crude remarks from their fellow villagers. But instead of wallowing in self-pity, they decided to make the best of their situation. “One day, we thought why not plant trees and tend to them like we would our children,” Thimmakka said.  

They started by grafting 10 saplings from the banyan trees that grew abundantly in their village. Using their meager resources, they planted those saplings on an empty stretch of land about four kilometers from the village. There wasn’t any water available in the area, so they filled four pails at their home and carried them all the way to the trees every single day. They protected the saplings from the elements, from animals and disease, until they took root. The next year, they planted 15 more saplings, 20 the year after that, and kept going until they planted a total of 384 trees, worth about 1.5 million rupees.

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Indian Cook Can Dip Hands in Boiling Oil without Pain or Injury

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Prem Kumar, from New Delhi, India, regularly shocks people with his high tolerance to heat – the man can fry fish with his bare hands, dipping them into and out of a wok of boiling oil. The 65-year-old runs a street food stall in Karol Bagh, where he serves fried fish to thousands of customers each day. Most of them come just to watch him perform the rare feat of nonchalantly plunging his fingers into hot oil.

Kumar sells about 150 kilograms of deep-fried fish every day, along with other north-Indian delicacies like seekh kabab, mutton tikka, paneer tikka, and tandoori aloo. But a trip to his eatery is incomplete without witnessing Kumar prepare fish with his now-famous heat proof fingers. “I do not fry fish with hands all the time, it’s only when customers ask me for it,” he said. “I normally use kitchen utensils like tongs, but with people coming from all across India and requesting me to do hand frying, I cannot say no.”

Kumar claims to have inherited his special skill from his father, who opened the roadside eatery in 1960. Miraculously, the father-son duo have never suffered a single burn or blister during all these years of business. But Kumar says there’s no magic involved and attributes it to years of practice. “This is no miracle or gift of God,” he insisted. “As a child, I saw my father doing it and got curious how he could pull off that feat. I started with dipping my one finger in the boiling oil, then two, and so on. I realised that it did not cause any burns or injury whatsoever. Over the years, I built up confidence and now it as is easy for me as breathing.”

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India’s Lake of Toxic Foam Is So Polluted It Sometimes Catches Fire

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Despite its tropical climate, parts of Bangalore city in southern India have been experiencing what looks like snow. Except, it’s not actually snow, but a toxic foam from a severely polluted lake!

The 9,000-acre Bellandur lake is the largest one in the city, and also the most polluted. Decades’ worth of untreated chemical waste and sewage in the lake get churned into a white froth that’s as thick as shaving foam, every time it rains. This froth contains effluents like grease, oil, and detergents that sometimes catch fire, leading to one of the rarest sights in the world – a flaming lake.  

Many local residents are unnerved by the unnatural phenomenon. “Every time it rains and the water flows, the froth raises and navigating this stretch becomes risky,” said Visruth, who lives 30 meters away from the lake. “Due to the froth, visibility is reduced and the area also smells bad. Cars and bikes that pass this area get covered with froth.”

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Guy Quits Job to Train for Breaking World Record for Most Selfies in an Hour

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When 24-year-old Bhanu Prakash, from Hyderabad, India, realised that his job was eating into his precious selfie-time, he decided to quit working altogether. He now spends all his time taking pictures of himself, and training to break the world record for most selfies in an hour. The record currently belongs to American football player Patrick Peterson, who managed to click himself 1,449 times!

Bhanu, who studied pharmacy in college, was working as a research assistant at a hospital in Hyderabad. He was already into the selfie trend big time, ever since his brother got him a smartphone with a front-facing camera, three years ago. “Almost the first thing I did when I got the phone in my hands was click a picture,” he recalled.

But his obsession reached new heights in May this year, when he overheard a conversation between a few kids on a bus – they were talking about Dwayne Johnson’s feat of clicking 105 selfies in three minutes. “It immediately struck me that it was a guy who did this,” Bhanu said. “I mean, people keep saying selfie is a very girly thing, but here Dwayne Johnson was doing it. And I knew I was up for it now.”

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Indian Artists Turn Mumbai Taxis into Artworks on Wheels

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‘Taxi Fabric’ is an innovative art project in Mumbai, India, that allows upcoming designers to transform the interiors of taxicabs in the city. Ten cabs have been given vibrant makeovers so far, and a Kickstarter campaign is underway to raise funds for more.

“The Taxi Fabric project is all about providing Indian designers with a unique platform to show off their work – using taxi seats as their canvas,” the campaign page reads.  The designers who founded the project also hope to “show Indians the impact good design can have.”

The team added that Indian taxi drivers do pimp their cars to stand out from the competition, but the upholstery usually doesn’t get much attention. The designs are just something drivers pick up from local markets, mostly “dull and forgettable”. The Taxi Fabric project wants to change that by creating bespoke fabrics with designs that reflect Mumbai’s life and culture.

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Manipur, the Indian State Ruled by Korean Pop-Culture

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Despite being a part of India, the northern state of Manipur can culturally be described as Korean. Ever since local authorities banned Bollywood movies and Hindi TV channels in a bid to “stamp out Indianisation”, a vast majority of the local population have turned to Korean pop-culture. They are now big fans of Korean films and music, and have adopted various elements of Korean culture. 

It all started with Airarang TV, a 24-hour network from Seoul, being broadcast in Manipur. As the channel grew in popularity, so did the demand for more programming from Korea. It wasn’t long before Korean cinema caught on as well, with pirated DVDs flooding Manipur’s markets.

To understand the Manipuri fascination with Korean pop culture, it make sense to first look at why the ban on Indian cinema was imposed in the first place. “Since the late ’90s, the people of Manipur are facing a cultural forbiddance imposed by a radical, fringe institution in the name of preserving the local culture,” writes Mahitha Kasireddi, in an opinion piece in the Indian online publication, Youth Ki Awaaz.

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Indian “Road Doctor” Has Been Using His Own Pension Money to Fix Potholes

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Meet Gangadhara Tilak Katnam, the man who single-handedly fixed over 1,000 potholes in his hometown of Hyderabad, India. The 66-year-old pensioner has made it his mission to fix the city’s roads, earning himself the nickname ‘road doctor’.

Since 2011, the former railway engineer has been driving around the city every single day, looking for abandoned tar and gravel on roadsides. He collects the unclaimed material and uses it to fill potholes, at times spending his own pension money to do it. Tilak, who calls his work ‘Shramadaan’ (offering physical help), doesn’t confine himself to his neighborhood – he patches up every pothole he can find in the city.

“After working for the South Central Railway for 35 years, I retired in October 2008 and spent some time off in 2009, also traveling to the US to meet my son,” Tilak told the local media. “In January 2010, I came back and settled down in Hydershakote, in Hyderabad and took up a job as a consultant in a software agency.” It was during the course of commuting to this job that Tilak found his calling.

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India’s Medicine Baba Takes Prescription Medicine from the Rich, Gives It to the Poor

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Omkarnath, a retired blood-bank technician from New Delhi, is a modern-day medical Robin Hood. For the past three years, the 79-year-old has been collecting unused prescription drugs from the wealthy and distributing them among the less fortunate. His efforts have earned him the nickname ‘Medicine Baba’.

‘Baba’ is a term used in India to describe a wise, elderly man. New Delhi’s very own Medicine Baba walks over seven kilometers each day, combing the city and stopping at almost every door, asking for unused medicines. He’s also set up dozens of collection boxes in private clinics around the city, where people can make donations. According to Omkarnath, “Every bungalow in Delhi has extra medicines, but they are throwing them in their dustbins.” But the best neighborhoods, he insists, are the middle-class and lower middle-class ones. “One morning, I got a strip of anti-cancer medication worth 35,000 rupees ($545),” he recalled.

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How the “Waterman of India” Revived Five Rivers and Brought Back Water to Over 1,000 Villages

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Rajendra Singh is considered a hero in the state of Rajasthan, in India, for single handedly reviving five rivers that had been dried up for decades. His exceptional work and dedication have earned him the nickname ‘Waterman of India’.

Singh, who studied Ayurvedic medicine at college, had always dreamed of becoming a farmer. So when he moved to Rajasthan’s Alwar district after graduating in 1985, he was interested in healing not just his people, but also the semi-arid region’s ailing ecosystem.

Singh noticed that the district’s population was dwindling – most villagers had left their homes after the local Arvari River had dried up in the ’40s, and the only people who remained were either too old or too poor to move elsewhere. Singh, driven by a strong desire to help the villagers, took on the task of bringing water back to those lands.

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Indian Millionaire Gives Up His Fortune to Become a Humble Monk

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Indian businessman Bhanwarlal Raghunath Doshi made headlines last weekend for publicly renouncing his wealth to become a monk. The ‘plastics king’ of Delhi gave up his 600-crore ($100 million) business empire during a ceremony on Sunday, becoming the 108th disciple of Jain guru Shri Gunratna Surishwarji Maharaj.

Doshi’s decision wasn’t an impulsive one: Jain lectures have been drawing him to spirituality since 1982. But his family – his wife, two sons, and a daughter – were always reluctant to let him go. They finally relented last year, allowing Doshi to fulfil his long-time dream of becoming a monk. His initiation into monkhood took place in an extravagant ceremony at Ahmedabad Education Society, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

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