Wives left with little but grief


I flew into Hyderabad, a thriving, modern city in southern India, amid the buzz of President Bush's arrival.

My mission was not to write about the metamorphosis of India's high-tech cities. That was a story that has been told, is being told, in countless forums across the world.

My stories were found in villages untouched by the benefits of globalization, in the vacant eyes of widows whose wails wouldn't subside. They were women, young and old, left alone by the desperate actions of their husbands, farmers who had taken their own lives - swallowed in debt traps as they struggled futilely to keep up with a modernizing world leaving them behind.

I came to them as if an alien, emerging from a car in villages that had none, equipped with my notebook and pen, and a point-and-shoot digital camera.

I wanted to record their images to remember them for my own reporting purposes - but, more importantly, to more vividly highlight the plight of these women and farmers.

I have no skill in photography. I could only hope that I would snap enough photos that some would stand out and convey the weight of these women's stories.

These were women who were not used to being photographed, to being the center of attention. But surprisingly, when I began shooting spontaneously, there was a remarkable lack of self-consciousness, as if the barrier between us quickly melted away.

I was able to stumble onto several poignant scenes. The most moving was the 10-day ceremony following the suicide of the husband of a woman named Gourakka in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. We arrived in the middle of the ceremony, silent observers walking over the sand dunes and onto the searing sand surrounding the glistening waters of the Godavari River.

A day later I visited a widow in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh.

Premalatha Reddy was a timid woman of 26 who began quietly weeping the moment I approached her in the field where she was milking a buffalo (Reddy is a very common surname in Andhra Pradesh). She had a look in her eyes of utter despair - a vacant, empty look that startled me. It was a look of such hopelessness.

She later invited me to her house to meet her 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

Premalatha and her mother-in-law, Susheelamma Reddy, 65, insisted on sitting on the ground, giving my interpreter and me chairs. Premalatha told me she had no strength left. "I stopped trusting in God," she said.

The despair remained etched on her face as her mother-in-law began loudly sobbing. She cast her eyes down, gazing at the floor.


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