‘If you are in Mumbai and can’t find a story,
Anna Cunningham got her first glimpse of India in 2007, when she flew to Mumbai on six hour
then you are in the wrong job’
notice, to report for the BBC’s Asian
Network about India’s reaction to the
racist bullying Bollywood actor Shilpa
Shetty encountered on the British
reality show Big Brother.
“I really liked what I saw, even
though I spent most of my time broad-
casting from the roof of a five-star
hotel in blazing heat,” she says.
She was back almost two years later,
with her suitcases this time, to join her
husband, also a journalist, who was
transferred to Mumbai in 2008.
“It is good to be in Mumbai. This is
where you find real vibrancy. The real
stories,” she says.
But her work now is no longer con-
fined to “viewing India through the
double glazed windows of air condi-
tioned hotel rooms.”
Her assignments have taken her
across the city, into its many slums,
and she is still coming to terms with
the abject poverty.
“I was asked once to find a family to
talk about the reality of poverty for a
radio program looking at whether
people still live on a dollar a day. I found a family of 12 in
(Asia’s largest shanty town) Dharavi’s potter colony living
on just 10 pence (Rs 7) each a day. Their story was heart-
breaking. I tell friends back home they have not seen pover-
ty until they experience India. In London you see some
beggars, but not entire families, living, eating and sleeping
on the streets,” she says.
In the midst of all the talk about industrial growth, the
booming economy and India becoming a global power,
Anna fears that the ‘other side’ is conveniently forgotten.
That affluent Indians don’t want to hear about the plight of
millions of their countrymen, who continue to live in
hunger and squalor. It is an issue she feels very strongly
“You can go on and on about the growing economy and
the power that India now has in the world. But as a jour-
nalist, it is your duty to convey the whole reality. You are
Anna Cunningham, center, near Purushwadi, Maharashtra
not here to report PR spin-offs and do puff pieces. You can’t
get used to the poverty, the inequality. If it doesn’t bother
you anymore, then it is not right. You have to tell their sto-
ries. Otherwise, they will just be part of the forgotten,
ignored, voiceless millions,” she says.
Anna is not interested in talking about Mumbai’s night-
life, its so-called social or cultural scene or the lure of
Instead, she is trying to ‘understand India, know India’, to
capture the essence of the country through her work.
She has traveled to places like Salaya, a trading village in
a remote part of coastal Gujarat, where the men build and
sail dhows. Many men risk their lives every year sailing
treacherous waters, risking being kidnapped by Somali
Anna got a taste of the male-dominated Indian rural soci-
ety when the men in the village refused to let her interview
a kidnapped sailor’s wife.
isn’t that kind
of aggression in
In October 2009, London Lite, a free newspaper owned by Associated Papers, folded up.
Nick Cunard, a regular freelancer
with the paper, found himself without a
job. When Rex Features, a photographic
press agency, offered Nick an assignment in
India, he was more than game.
“Rex Features were interested in having
somebody who could supply them with
material from India,” says Nick, seated on a
beanbag at his studio apartment in
Mumbai’s suburban Bandra.
“I wanted a change too. I wanted to do
something different,” says Nick, who has
just recovered from a bout of jaundice. “I
might have got infected from the lime juice
I drank at the roadside stalls in Mumbai,”
says he, blinking his yellow eyes.
What upsets him more is the amount he
spent at a posh Bandra hospital to get him-
self in good health. The hospital charged
him Rs 100,000 ($2,000) for seven days.
Things weren’t so bad in January when
Nick landed in India for the eleventh time.
He chose Mumbai over Delhi.
— Prasanna D Zore