Tag Archives: Delan Devakumar

2012-02 Game Set and…. Devdas? The Study concludes

Well, that’s it! Today, officially, we have finished the calibration study. Pending review from Jonathan we will have completed this section of the study. It’s been an absolutely massive effort – working flat-out for the last month with no days off including the last 14 days where we have been continually searching out children to measure. Today we completed the matching, reaching our 109th child. We lost two data points – one child who was unable to complete the study and one who was the wrong age… but we overshot enough to be able to super-select the best quality data from the remainder and chase after our elusive equation.

Saliva Samples: Deuterium Calibration test
What we came for – tiny bottles of saliva. A lot of effort for something so small! It will be worth it in the end…

It has been an incredibly interesting journey trying to get this data together but it is also has taken a great toll on both Delan and me… and staff also – key players have put in more than their fair share of hours to return these children. Following the first two days in which we got 40% of the sample we struggled along in dribs and drabs for the remainder of the 12 days, with children coming most days in ones and twos and occasionally larger batches. We visited a sheaf of local schools, called in favours from staff’s families and visited city “villages” setting up scales and batch processing local children who all seemed thoroughly interested to find out their weight number… We have measured literally hundreds of children to get the ones we needed.

On the Bike with Chaube
I have spent a good portion of the last two weeks riding on the back on bikes to and from various schools and Tole (villages) Here’s a shot I snapped traveling through the main thoroughfare during “golden hour”.

All’s not quite finished however – we do need to get the saliva samples home – whist still frozen. If you know anything about living in Nepal – you’ll know about the power problems. At the moment the office generator is on 24 hours a day to power our freezer. But as usual things are not as easy as they seem on the surface. The general electricity supply in the office is haphazard to say the least. I’ve felt on more than one occasion that I’m risking my life by messing around with extension cables and whilst trying to rig up power to my portable editing suite. In the store room a faulty fuse connection has meant that the switches panel sparks dangerously at you beneath the plastic. These sparks have successfully burned through the tape that I placed over the freezer switch (a “don’t touch this switch” kind of arrangement)… besides being deeply concerning that it is possible for electricity to burn through a plastic switch in this fashion… this has ultimately led to us having to constantly checking the confounded machine day and night as it now keeps turning itself off and on. Luckily today an electrician visited the building to repair this problem. Funnily enough I recognised him as one of the construction workers who I have spied working on the roofs of one of the buildings opposite these last weeks as I sat out on the veranda working. Once the samples are safely away from Janakpur we have an arguably higher chance of success for regular electricity in Kathmandu. As soon as they reached London they’ll be sent away for analysis – In the mean time I will be keeping a beady eye on things as best I can.

So… having planned almost a year and a half ago now to go abroad to do something like this it brings a great sense of satisfaction that this actually happened in a relatively ordered fashion and ultimately and that we have successfully managed to complete study with really excellent data. The staff here at MIRA have given so much – in particular Chaube and Ragab who have been tirelessly working alongside Delan and me. It’s not an empty statement to say that without these people we would not have been able to do the study. Not speaking either the national or the local language essentially precludes one from doing anything more than simple sign language and thus makes impossible the explaination of our intents. Thinking from their perspective I dont think I would have trusted some large stranger who didnt speak my language asking me to produce saliva and drink some “special” water drink… So whilst the calibration film has helped a lot in explaining the process of the actual testing but fundamentally it is the MIRA staff who on the ground have fix things with the participants, the families and the schools and villages we have invaded to try and get the children that were needed for the study. Finally it’s worth noting that the children here in Janakpur have been absolutely incredible. They are superbly well-behaved and have been incredibly good doing the saliva sample testing. You might say “saliva samples?… that’s no biggie…” But really it is far harder than you would think to produce these samples correctly. I thank the children and their families for being so generous with their time and for being such a pleasure to work with!

Indeed an essential part of my job throughout these last few weeks has been to supervise the children in the waiting period. As a means of control over a range of different children (and often their many different family members) I’ve used fizzy drinks, biscuits to placate and have been able to rig up my computer with a second screen so that they can watch a film whilst they wait (and I can get on with other work as well!). This is the most consistently simple way of controlling children with whom you cannot communicate directly in terms of language. The one tripping stone has been that I only have one film which really was suitable to be watched by these children. But just as Europeans enviably speak many languages, people living on the subcontinent do the same… Indeed there are such a plethora of different languages that it’s hard to keep track – So whilst Maitili is the local language most Janakpurians speak both Nepali and Hindi.

This being the case I’ve been playing the only Hindi film that I have: Devdas (2002 version). Based on a story by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) the film is a famous tale based in Bengal in the early 1900… An epic tale of woe and of lost and longing love – that re-echoes the mythology of Krishna, Radha, and Meera of the Hindu tradition. Devdas and Paro who despite being childhood sweethearts are rent asunder as adults when Devdas returns as an adult from his 13 year training in Law in London by their respective families arguing over family honour, caste and status inspite of the clear love that stands between the two. The songs from the film are sublime – if you’re at all interested in listening to some great relatively contemporary Bollywood music that doesn’t trip into Western influence then I thoroughly recommend you stick it on on Devdas (link to Spotify)… Or at the very least watch this YouTube clip of the famous “Dola Re Dola” or my personal favorite “Silsila Ye Chahat Ka” the opening gambit of poor old Paro.

Barhabiga at Dusk
With the end in sight – I look forward to really exploring Janakpur in the coming week…

My focus in the coming days before I return to Kathmandu (…now there’s a scary thought!) will be to film extensively in the district…having been so focuses on the calibration study I’ve had little energy to go out and shoot…little energy to get under the skin of the place as I usually try to when I’m travelling… I’m up to date with the photos I’ve take so far and am managing a smattering of medicine by the by. But… with the dates confirmed for finals exams it’s quite a prospect to be looking down the barrel of finishing medicine once and for all. A real thick slice of self-discipline needs to be laid on in this next stage so that I can hit the ground running and finish all of these projects before going back home. Wish me luck!

2012-01 Saraswati: The Goddess Of Letters, Strings (And More) & New arrivals?

Following a week of strikes we have shipped upon a festival period with a holidays on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (today). I’m not sure about the celebration on Sunday but today’s celebration reveres Martrys who died during the establishment of democracy in Nepal in the recent past…. But really the main focus of this weekend is to celebrate the Goddess of education which happened on Saturday… Huge investment has been made by the citizens of Janakpur in creating multiple small shrines across the city many of which had been blaring out ridiculously large amounts of Bollywood music at maximum decibel level throughout the day and night. Only now are people beginning to recover from this holiday hangover.

I’ve got a few recordings which I will upload in time which really articulate the hideous nature of some of this noise. Coupled with the almost nightly inter-street-dog savagery – listening from my window it literally sounds as if they are tearing each other apart – this is made for a series of disturbing nights for me these past few days. The merciless regimen of hourly outbreaks has really disturbed me and I’d imagine everyone else in the city. Nonetheless I have been getting more sleep than London so I cannot complain (although it may be argued that I am working harder? – Not sure – either way despite the chaos it is 1/5 is stressful as being back in the Big Smoke). I dont have to put up with Sawmill snoring or supermax TV volume back in the UK however.

Delan and I were discussing cultural aspects of noise pollution. As far as we can determine there doesn’t seem to be the same level of concern for others when it comes to music. Suzanne chipped in as a warden in student halls she always had trouble with loud music complaints from students from the subcontinent. Culturally It is entirely acceptable to play loud music in the company of other people who have not expressed any desire to share in your experience. Herkening back – A classic example of this was in from Pachmari, India where my friend Adam Byrne and I had taken a hike to escape the chaos of the town which for two days of the year (the two days we were staying) becomes a Festival (which mean Landrover) Hub and the local population doubles in size. We reached the top of Pachmari hill and began gazing on the incredible panorama before us… and suddenly out of nowhere a young boy turned up with his phone and started playing loud music to his phone – completely spoiling the atmosphere and the magic of the view we were experiencing.

Noisy Boy - Pachmari
You can’t escape the noise – even if you try in Indai
Pachmari HIll Viewpoint
When the boy left Adam and I were able to enjoy the Epic view we’d climbed for!

START RANT Festival side I don’t see the value in such indiscriminate use of volume upper on your oversized Sound system when really the only person you are seemingly entertaining is yourself stop when it’s also 4 AM and I’m having to visit the bathroom once every 5 min because I’ve got gastroenteritis from violent and malicious local bacteria or viruses which I have only come into possession of a result of poor hygiene of everyone (effectively including myself as well as frequently there is no running water when it comes time to do it have a wash of les mains END RANT. I think it’s just a bit much sometimes to be constantly assaulted by noise. On the flip side Jonathan’s very much enthused by the music… I guess having a short duration’s fine to sample but living here…

Mob of children in Janakpur
Walking into the bedecked schools I was mobbed each time. Thankfully my companion Sophiya kept the best of them at bay.

Anyway back the the matter in hand: On the day itself (Saturday) everyone rolled out their finest garb – as it was celebration of education children were everywhere abound on the streets, dressed to the nines. Each school had something of an open day, revolving around its shrine of the Goddess Saraswati. It turns out that nearly office there are something like 10 to 15 local schools so I went with Sophiya – a new recruit here, posted from Kathmandu who explained the local customs and helped stave off the insane mobbings that would occur anytime we entered a school. Together we transited all these different schools. Was quite interesting to see how some of them are put together for example the Einstein Public School, an impressively fronted establishment which really on the backside is just one single classroom and a large space in which to accommodate children outside within a retaining wall. Apparently the classes rotate from early in the morning sessions to mid morning to late morning sessions, meaning that the school is run in two batches. We paid our respects to the Goddess and each of the schools and were offered by attendees a small gift of sweet things to take away. I got daubed with red on my forehead which mustered bemused Jonathan when he met me off of his flight from Kathmandu.

Saraswati: Goddess of Education

The positivity of the day extended into the night with many people partying onwards. Sunday was deadly quiet in comparison – with no music overnight and a sense of “bank holiday” in the morning as we were rolling out to prepare for the study day.

Suzanne recently discovered that the shrine which I have been observing being steadily built on “Barhabigha”, the vast open public ground which serves many functions including religious prayer site, back gardens of the hospital, cricket ground, volleyball pitch and local bus parking stand, is due to culminate in attendance of approximately 1,000,000 people in the city on 7 February….this seems rather insane and I must admit that I’m somewhat acceptable about this number… But even a 10% representation of this group means a hell of a lot of new arrivals in the city. I better clean off my memory cards and make sure that I spent some time down on the ground that this is indeed the case … the thing is that I would I genuinely not be surprised if it did happen . I guess I will be reporting soon on this!

1 million expected for Festival in Janakpur
There are supposed to be around 1.000.000 people coming to Janakpur to celebrate a large festival on Barhabigha