internet culture

A photographer is turning his childhood love for window seats into a series on the Indian Railways

The Window Seat project shows glimpses of a stunning country and its diverse people.

Shanu Babar’s first memory of a train journey is from when he was five, travelling with his extended family to Vaishno Devi and creating a ruckus in the compartment. To get him to stop running up and down the corridor, his uncle made him sit by the window.

“I was awestruck when I saw the world speed past me,” Babar said. “I remember I was so tiny that my head could fit through the window grills. I stuck it out a couple of times and my mother screamed saying that I would die if I kept doing that!”

Two decades later in June 2015, Babar started The Window Seat, a crowd-sourced photography project that documents the people and places seen from the window seat of a train.

Babar has a strategy when it comes to sharing his images on Instagram: “It should primarily be a good story. The aesthetics are secondary. I look for a lot of variety because often, it can get very repetitive with the same kind of pictures and scenery. So I look for purpose. If a picture has that, it’s on the page. What I share is what I feel. I may not exactly like a certain picture but I know when it belongs on the page.”

Raised in Osmanabad in Maharashtra, 26-year-old Babar’s love for looking at the world through the viewfinder took him to the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication in Pune, where he wrote his dissertation on the Indian Railways.

“I was studying the Audio/Visual course, learning the technicalities of aesthetics, experimenting with documentaries, short films, music videos, everything,” he said. “When I had to choose my dissertation, I was sure I wanted to do something travel-related. I pitched my project as a sort of travel documentary. We took a train to the southern-most part of India and asked people sitting at the window seat about the India they saw. As the train travels, it shows you those images – of a country you have never been to, never experienced, never interpreted.”

Once he graduated, Babar found a job at a firm that did post-production work for films, but he found that he missed travelling. “The only way I could feel better was by reminiscing about my old trips,” he said. “So I started sharing those photographs on Instagram and soon I was being followed by people who shared the same love for train journeys. This was my only escape, the only way I could stay afloat. Eventually, people wanted to share their own pictures and stories, and it became a full-blown community.”

#viewfromthewindowseat KempuHole river is a main tributary of mighty Netravthi river which supports life in DakshinaKannada and Mangalore. This river was about 10ft wide a month ago, but now it is raging and flooding after catching heavy downpours in the areas of kagenari forests, bisle and sakleshpur. _ Picture by @nature_nikon_nutso Keep hashtaging #windowseatproject on your pictures to get featured. _ #indiapictures #indiaclicks #indiatourism #indiatravelgram #official_photography_hub #igramming_india #photographers_of_india #indianphotography #streetphotography #streetphotographyindia #_soi #indianshutterbugs #incredibleindia #mypixeldiary #traveldiaries #yourshot_india #indianrailways #bbctravel #wanderlust #traveldiaries #indianrailways #everydayindia #railways #passionpassport . #trainjourneys #windowseat

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Babar has not found a way to make money off the project, but hopes he will eventually find sponsors and collaborators. “When I was not travelling, I shot for a lot of reality television shows – India Banega Manch, The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance and Masterchef,” he said. “I also did a food and travel show in Australia. All these projects helped me hone my skills and apply professional standards to my personal project. They also helped me make money.”

Soon, he will embark on what he describes as the “Great Indian Rail Trip” – he will take a month to explore the entire country, while sitting on the window seat of different trains. “It is the solo trip that my page deserves,” he said. “I had already embarked upon the ride once before in March 2017 but after 13 days, I developed a food-borne infection that needed to be treated clinically.”

He also wants to take his photographs beyond India. “I’m excited to know what lies beyond – it could be Sri Lanka or Australia...Wherever there are railways and people, I want to be there and know their stories.”

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.