Also Basar: Life in monochrome

From the fag end of October, five artists from various fields and I spent four weeks in the small town of Basar in Lepa Rada district in India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of the Artists Residency of the Basar Confluence.

While we all worked on different projects (mine will be uploaded shortly), this was a small side project that I wanted to work on due to my interest in photography despite a complete lack of skills.

Home to the indigenous Galo tribe, Basar and its adjoining areas isn’t exactly a thriving metropolis. However, as in elsewhere in this state, much (if not the entirety) of its commercial life is operated and dependent on a large number of migrants from different parts of the country.

Businesses aside, there is also a high proportion of migrants who are also employed in several organisations, government offices, and/or working with religious organisations.

As it often happens with those of us who identify as being ‘indigenous’ to the land, many of the people I met held a singular identity for me, although in reality each of them has a story to tell.

Some of the subjects were born and lived their entire lives in Basar alone, while many have even married into Galo families. The images I captured don’t do justice to their lives and is perhaps a reflection of my myopic view: That the migrant among us lives his life in monochrome.

(Camera: OnePlus 6)

Disclosure: Basic editing done in Google Snapseed.




PoV: Hornbill, Nagaland


Held for ten days beginning on December 1 that marks Nagaland’s Statehood Day, the annual Hornbill Festival is an extravaganza that showcases the culture of the 16 tribes that call the state home. While the festival has put the state on the global map, attracting tourists from near and far, the realities of the state marred with crumbling infrastructure and rampant corruption has left many local residents giving the festival a miss. (Photo locations: Kisama, Kohima and Dimapur.)


Image 1

A view of Kohima town.


Image 2

Monpa Yak Dance performers from Arunachal Pradesh alongside the Zeliang of Nagaland perform in sync at the Hornbill Festival.


Image 3

Young Naga men watch cultural performances at the amphitheatre in Kisama Heritage Village, the site of the annual extravaganza.


Image 4

A man from the Konyak tribe stands guard outside the representational Morung- dormitories traditionally meant for bachelors- at Kisama.


Image 5

Konyak Naga warriors.


Image 6

A traditional rice milling apparatus of the Kuki tribe made from wood.


Image 7

Women of the Pochury Naga tribe from Meluri Village weaving clothes at the Craftscape section of the Hornbill Festival. The cotton processing system is called Akükhie Ngunü Küto.


Image 8

A photo exhibition providing a glimpse of the contents of ‘The Konyaks- Last of the Tattooed Headhunters’, a book by Phejin Konyak and Peter Bos chronicling the last batch of Konyak Headhunters and women from the community who would tattoo their bodies in the days of yore. A practice that was abandoned after the introduction of Christianity.


Image 9

The Kohima War Cemetery honours the memory of over 2000 men who laid their lives in the Battle of Kohima, fending off Japanese forces during the Second World War. The Battle of Kohima is often termed as Stalingrad of the East and lasted from 4 April to 22 June 1944 and saw heavy casualties from both sides as Naga tribesmen fought alongside British-Indian forces. Had the battle fallen favourably for the Japanese forces, the global map as we know it, may have looked very different. This, along with the Battle of Imphal fought in Manipur, has been recognised as ‘Britain’s Greatest Battle’ by the British National Army Museum.


Image 10

Some graves at the Cemetery are unmarked and unnamed but not forgotten. Most died when they were barely into their twenties.


Image 11

A woman selling hens and roosters beside a street in Nagaland’s capital Kohima. As with most tribal and indigenous societies across India’s Northeast, it is the women who keep the local economy running through their hard work.


Image 12

While the Hornbill Festival dazzles tourists with colourful cultural displays, signs that not all is glorious with the state of affairs of Nagaland are also visible. Student bodies have been at loggerheads with the state government since last year over delays in disbursement of students’ scholarships. The state government has cited lack of funds as causing the delay and has begun rolling out stipends in instalments.


Image 13

A poster on a monolith in Kohima reads (written in the lingua franca- Nagamese): Directorate of Higher Education, Students are suffering. Where is our stipend? – Eastern Nagaland College Students’ Union.


Image 14

Road conditions in the state leave much to be desired and the annual layering work done before Hornbill Festival hasn’t impressed citizens. Many young people call it ‘applying lipstick on the road’.


Image 15

Apart from the condition of the road, traffic is a perennial problem in Kohima and traffic jams can sometimes last for hours and stretch for more than three kilometres.


Image 16

Rains had left large stretches of the Dimapur-Kohima road muddy leading to many taxi drivers hiking up rates for passengers or simply refusing to go at all. While the road was reportedly ‘repaired’ just days before the festival began, construction work meant that it was bound to be prone to slush.


Image 17

Along the Dimapur-Kohima highway are several basic restaurants that serve some of the best food one can find. The menus of some places even list ‘rural meat’- code for game meat that can include anything from wild boar to venison.


Image 18

As in other states of the Northeast, the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants (whether real or perceived) is seen as a major threat to indigenous communities in Nagaland too. Referred to as Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants (IBIs), calls for deportation of the alleged illegal immigrants have been gaining momentum of late. However, proving the nationality of those perceived to be illegals is easier said than done and is made more complex by the large population of Bengali-speaking Muslims who work in Nagaland’s commercial hub of Dimapur where citizens from outside the state do not require inner line permits.


Faked, edited HDR-ised pics of bugs and things

The following pictures were taken with my Nokia Lumia 920 camera phone and were later edited with the Fantasia Painter app in HDR mode. I am NOT a photographer and know little about the art. Just wanted to showcase how apps can be extremely helpful for some pretty trippy pics.

Doing the Turtle.

Doing the Turtle.

Was it a hopper?

Was it a hopper?



Plastic almost, no.

Plastic almost, no?

He was jealous.

He was jealous.

Holy Hopper.

Holy Hopper.

Lost your marble yet?

Lost your marble yet?

The big 'O'.

The big ‘O’.

Trippy fungus.

Trippy fungus.

What am I looking for?

What am I looking for?

Workshop giving Tawang kids creative platform, hope

Children listen to Art For Cause founder Irshal Ishu during one of the sessions

Children listen to Art For Cause founder Irshal Ishu during one of the sessions

A year after a camp in Tawang at India’s remote north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, organised by the New Delhi-based NGO Art for Cause, led to the discovery of 14-year-old shutterbug Lobsang Nima, fourteen volunteers, including from Australia, New Zealand and the United States, have returned in search of another prodigy.
    The NGO is back in Tawang for the Tawang Autumn Camp which began on September 5 and will end on September 18. However, this time around it’s focusing on finding talented writers amongst its participants, who range from the ages of nine to 14 years.
    Speaking from Tawang, Irshal Ishu, the founder of Art for Cause, informed that aside from staff from the NGO, six volunteers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States are part of the camp as mentors.
    Ishu said that last year’s find, Lobsang, is also acting as a mentor for the children this time around.
    “He is home and assisting in most of the practical sessions,” he said. Lobsang is a shy kid and doesn’t say much besides that he “feels good” to be involved with the workshop.
    Aside from photography, the camp is also conducting workshops on performance art, arts and crafts, creative writing, art therapy, health care and filmmaking, which was introduced this year.
Volunteers at the camp

Volunteers at the camp

The workshops are being held across three schools in Tawang and the Mahabodhi Centre in Teli village, around 10 km from Tawang town. The centre provides shelter, food and clothing to senior citizens and children who are either orphans or come from poor financial background.
    Ishu also informed that this year’s camp’s focus will be on creative writing, and he hopes to publish an anthology of the children’s writings soon.
    One of the biggest obstacles children in the area face is the lack of creative outlets.
    “The kids do not have access to extracurricular activities,” Ishu said. “All that the children do is watch the sun rise and set over the horizon.”
    Most of the children attending the camp come from financially poor backgrounds. Ishu said many of them have to work as labourers during their vacations to help with the household expenses. Despite the lack of avenues, the children are talented and have managed to impress the mentors conducting the classes.
    Sudhir Mishra from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, who is teaching the arts and craft lessons, said the children are “very creative” and that their awareness about their culture helps their creativity.
    Emma Ryan from New Zealand, who is researching the NGO’s work in Tawang and is part of the volunteering team, feels that the camp will “make a huge difference in the lives of the children”.
    The camp, she said, “not only teaches children skills but also teaches them to hold their heads high”.
    Her New Zealand compatriot Katie Reardon, who volunteered for the camp after moving to India in April this year, said she wanted to do something “more meaningful with life”.
Katie Reardon from New Zealand with students at the camp

Katie Reardon from New Zealand with students at the camp

Tourism minister Pema Khandu, who is from the district, has been supportive of the initiative this year and reportedly told Ishu that he wants “ten more Lobsangs to be discovered this year”.
Khandu is also optimistic about the opportunities that the workshops could provide to the children.
    “All of us have our own abilities and this workshop will help children acquire knowledge to hone their skills,” he later said, adding that the workshop “provides a necessary platform” for the children.
    Apart from being taken in by the scenic beauty of the place, the volunteers all appear to be taking back something from this experience.
    While Ryan said that “people appear a lot happier than where she will be heading” after the camp concludes, Mishra said he is learning from the children as well as teaching them.
    For Reardon the constant smile on the faces of the children at the workshops “put things in perspective”. She hopes to return next year.
Children at the art and craft workshop

Children at the art and craft workshop

All pictures are by Shubham Singh and Vaibhav Chawla. A version of this story was published in The Telegraph on 15 September 2015. Link to the original story:
For more info about Art For Cause and their work, head over to 

Chasing dreams- The story of Lobsang Nima and how photography discovered him

The pains of life pass Lobsang Nima by as he picks moments and freezes them through his lens and observant eye, capturing life frame by frame.

Now, the teenager, who works with a borrowed camera, hopes to turn his passion into a profession.

His mother Tenzing Chotten works at the local PWD office and as a result of his father’s ill health, the young photographer often has to do odd jobs before taking to the camera.

Lobsang now has his own camera :)

Lobsang now has his own camera 🙂

However, once the bug bit him a year ago, it took less than a year for the 14-year-old lad to become an accomplished shutterbug, and his captures were recently showcased at an exhibition on the sidelines of the recently concluded Tawang Festival in Arunachal Pradesh in India’s Northeast.

Along with various cultural performances, the festival had featured several exhibitions, of which one was Lobsang’s.

The New Delhi-based Art for Cause had set up the exhibition stall.

The society had also conducted a photography workshop in Tawang in September last year, where Lobsang discovered his passion for the camera.

Lobsang’s works feature an eclectic mix of portraits and landscapes.

The teenager said he does not have a camera of his own and that he uses his “sir’s camera”.

The sir referred to is Irshal Ishu, a photographer and the founder of Art for Cause, who organised a 10-day photography camp in September last year.

Ishu said he saw great potential in Lobsang, which prompted him to take him under his wing.

Lobsang now trains under Ishu directly and has recently travelled to New Delhi and Ladakh as well.

“It was not easy to pick one student among the 700 who attended the workshop last year,” said Ishu, adding, “Lobsang was eager to learn advanced techniques just two days into the workshop.”

A practising Buddhist, Ishu said it was his “dream to come to Tawang because it’s so close to Tibet”.

He said because of his work in the Indian Himalayan region that primarily deals with the Tibetan cause, he isn’t permitted to visit China.

Ishu’s photographs, which are also on display, show Tibetan Buddhist influences.

At the opening day of the Tawang Festival on May 1, Arunachal Pradesh governor Nirbhay Sharma had said security of the state should be of utmost priority in order to promote tourism.

For young Lobsang, however, these things do not matter.

“I want to become a better photographer,” he said.

I am happy that this story played a small part in inspiring my friend Kobyum Zirdo to raise funds and buy Lobsang his own camera. First published in May 2015. Link: