Rhea Gupte – Shifting Perspective

by  | Feb 20, 2018 | Guest Post 

One ordinary evening, I chat with Nitisha over hummus, pita and a couple of mojitos. She is in Goa for a few weeks to work on a new project. She is explaining to me her transition from the corporate sector to pursue her dreams away from the territory she is used to. As our glasses empty and another round of freshly baked pita is called for, she tells me about another project she is helping with, where they are trying to make smokeless chulhas (stoves) popular across the Himalayan belt. She is soon leaving for Dharwad, to put in place a workshop for the same cause. I am keen to go with her. My apprehension towards volunteering is put to rest by a myriad of thoughts and causes I have always wanted to help with, but haven’t seen through, saving dolphins, taking care of strays, being more involved with ethical fashion than I am… It’s a long list. I tell myself that this is the year of change and with the words ‘Start somewhere’ beckoning me, I make my decision to go on a three hour road trip away from Goa, for three days without knowing what to expect. Armed purely with the intention of giving it my best skills and frame of mind.

Nitisha and I are accompanied by Tanzin, who has been working closely with Smokeless Cookstove since it’s inception. He is the one to instruct and educate the participants at the workshop step by step on the intricacies and details of building a rocket stove. A few minutes with Tanzin had me listening to stories of lost bears and tiny bear cubs mistaken for puppies, sinister goat breeding practises and homes buried under fifteen feet of snow. He is filled with tales from his hometown and a yearning in his eyes to do more for his people, the environment and his loveable forests.

As training begins, two objectives become clear. One, to make sure each one of the twenty five participants understood the method of making a rocket stove and two to educate every single mind about the physical danger and environmental damage caused by the stoves they have been using so far. Since most participants were either farmers or artisans, they were quick to pick up the former but the latter became important to make sure that an invention or change in the original design of the stove doesn’t defeat the purpose of the product.

It is inspiring to have eager minds ask questions, translated from Kannada to Hindi and vice versa until both parties were certain about being understood and correctly directed. Every day, apart from the activity of building the stoves, a couple of hours were spent discussing the environment and climate change, hunched backs and footsteps carrying loads heavier than they should, respiratory diseases caused by the smoke usually inhaled by women and children. Every discussion is a learning curve and I am glad to be the silent observer and a proverbial sponge looking to soak as much as possible.

By the third day, I have learnt the full process of making a smokeless stove, wandered through organic fields of many a farmers, finished reading a life changing book called ‘Beautiful Women’ by an NGO named Arz and attentively listened and reflected every single day. I step into the cab for the drive back to Goa and a sentence from the conversation of the past day lingers. A matter-of-factly stated truth about how an average woman who collects firewood regularly would have walked a distance equivalent to that between Delhi and Kanyakumari by the time she turns forty. Just to put things into perspective.

About Rhea Gupte

Rhea enjoys creating with subjects which are unpredictable in their form and movement, making clouds, waves and ink some of her favourites to photograph and then digitally manipulate. Her recent experiments have a minimalistic and surreal visual style with soothing and almost edible colour palettes. The aspect of day dreaming is important to her work as is being a storyteller. Rhea Gupte is a visual artist, photographer, creative director, writer and consultant based in Goa, India. This space serves as her portfolio showcasing her body of commissioned projects, self-initiated endeavors and reflective essays and poetry.

The Smokeless Cookstove Foundation is a Non-profit organisation working towards curbing the problem of Household Air Pollution.

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