We live in the information age. Better than that, we live in the age of FREE information.
The world – specifically the digital world – is awash with free information, meant to evoke, inspire, educate, inform, enlighten and entertain. It really is a fine time to be a human being, especially if you are on an eternal quest to learn.
As an MA student in Multi-Media Journalism in London – and an Indian – I was particularly thrilled when the Associated Press, the 169-year-old American news agency decided to make hundreds of archival news videos from across the world available for people to view on YouTube.
The word “treasure” gets bandied about quite a lot these days, but this truly is a treasure trove: from momentous historical events to human interest stories, the AP video archive is a fascinating collection.
Here are some of my personal favourites from the archive.
1. Baby Tossing
The video shows the horrific spectacle of infants being thrown from a 15-meter window onto a flimsy bed sheet below. The ritual is performed at Baba Umer Durga, a Muslim shrine in rural Maharashtra in the belief that the fall will ensure “good health” and “prosperity”.
2. Dancing Frogs
This video from 2014 certainly brought a smile to my face. Indian scientists have discovered a near-extinct species of frog…that likes to shake a leg. The males of the species stretch, extend and whip their legs to attract the attention of female frogs. Appropriately enough, the frogs were discovered in the state of Maharashtra, home to the Bollywood film industry where men have long been known to shake a leg to attract the ladies.
3. Crazy Yogis
This is probably the most bizarre video in the archive. A yoga teacher tours around Mumbai encouraging people to take up yoga and improve their health. His party trick(s)? Sucking liquids INTO his bladder through his penis and, even more bizarrely, inflating a balloon attached to his…erm…member. How that’s supposed to improve your health is arguable. Going by his shaky constitution, it probably doesn’t do much for HIS health!
DISCLAIMER: The following video content is highly inappropriate for children. If you are someone who is easily offended, this video is NOT for you!
4. Booming Population
Crazy yogis aren’t the only problem facing India. A far more pressing concern is population growth. India will overtake China has the planet’s most populous nation by 2020 – far quicker than previously estimated. In order to control the number the government is running contraceptive awareness classes. Social workers and government officials here talk about how the government is trying to tackle runaway population growth.
5. Cheap as Chips
The bigger challenge with a booming population is how to keep everyone connected in this digital age. In 2011 India introduced the world’s cheapest tablet computer which was a great source of pride for all Indians – much as the cheap-as-chips Mars Orbiter Mission did three years later. The tablet is named ‘Akaash’ and costs a mere $35. The aim is to help the rural people make use of digital technology in a cost-effective manner.
6. Hanging in the Family
Capital punishment in India has been a major topic of conversation recently – particularly following the hangings of the perpetrators of the Delhi gang rape in 2012 and the execution of the convicted terrorist Yakub Memon. Given that hanging is the only form of capital punishment practiced in India, those charged with the grisly duty come from generations of hangmen. As an executioner, Nata Mullick takes great pride in the family tradition. He takes his profession extremely seriously and explains the challenges that come with it.
7. Transgender Victory
15th April 2015 was another landmark and proud day for me, as it was for many liberal-minded men and women of my generation and generations past. In a landmark ruling the Indian Supreme Court recognized transgender as the third gender. The recognition comes as a huge relief to hundreds of thousands of transgenders who have long battled discrimination.
8. Little Goddess
Here’s another bizarre but tragic story. A baby with two faces was born in north east India in 2008. The baby is reported to be suffering from a rare condition known as craniofacial duplication. It is a condition where a single head has two faces. The baby girl, named Lali opens all her four eyes together. Her chances of survival are extremely slim, doctors warn. Her father, however, believes that Lali is the reincarnation of a Hindu goddess and says she is doing well.
9. Going Ballistic
The Indian government, under the aegis of the late, great A P J Abdul Kalam, successfully test-fired a nuclear-armed missile in the late 1990’s. After successfully clearing five underground tests, India officially joined the world nuclear club. Watch Dr Kalam tell reporters how India is constantly working to increase the range of its ‘Agni’ missile.
10. Climate Impact
Overpopulation and, of course, climate change are the great twin challenges facing not just India but the developing world as a whole. Global warming forces millions of impoverished Indian and Bangladeshi villagers to find shelter on the river deltas that spill into the Bay of Bengal. With the fast rise in sea tide and water eating away the islands many remain homeless. The ecologically sensitive and overpopulated Sundarbans is ground zero for climate change. “In the last twenty – thirty years, because of big time environmental degradation their situation has become worse. And now with the climate change impacts looming large, and in fact in some places of Sundarban it can be argued that climate change impacts have already occurred”, says Tapas Paul, a Delhi-based World Bank environmental specialist.