Today we are so excited to feature the work of Katherine Hofer, a photographer currently living in Kesinga, India. She has a true knack for capturing the essence of people and place in her photos – enjoy!
Kesinga is a town in the Kalahandi district in the state of Odisha, India. Odisha’s name used to be Orissa not long ago, and that is what people still tend to call it, at least the ones I have spoken to. Kesinga is best described as a town because it lacks the infrastructure of a city, but it is certainly established enough to not be called a village. People in trucks, cars and motorcycles travel along its main road or highway constantly, passing from the rice paddies to the marketplace where customers buy produce in outdoor venues or examine expensive jewelry in independently owned stores.
There are certain geographic features of Kesinga which you will certainly notice after spending any length of time there. These are mainly the River Tel, where people fish with large nets, and the mountain called Budhadangar, rising out of the horizon. The mountain is unmistakable, on one side of the highway, and the Tel is not too far away on the other side. Cows meander on the road and cars consistently honk at them and the other cars coming the opposite direction along the narrow paved road. There is an unusual balance between the bucolic scenery and the general frenetic energy of the people inhabiting it. One hears about the relative chaos of urban life and also of the rustic quaintness of the countryside, but seeing these merge defies expectation.
Besides the market, mountain and river, Kesinga is made up of an abundance of green fields, many of which are rice paddies. Now that it is the monsoon, or rainy season, theses paddies glisten with the abundance of water that has filled them. Raised walkways made of grassy earth let farmers traverse the fields without becoming soaked, and divide the fields into a patchwork of rough squares. Those who do not work in the fields or in the market often labor in factories, one of which is a denim pant factory. The windowless dank room is lined with sewing machines where the workers manipulate the fabrics. A cesspool of smelly blue chemicals is a byproduct of the denim production, and congeals in a walled-off man-made pond. It’s just another sign that life here in Kesinga is a sort of collision of man, machine, and nature.
Another major feature of Kesinga is the train station. Trains carrying people arrive daily at the station, so much so that Kesinga is a sort of gateway to the rest of the Kalahandi district. There are many trains bearing sleeper cars, where people can rest during longer journeys. Train stations are full of more people, many sitting on the ground, or lying down, trying to get a bit of shut-eye before their next stretch of travel. It would be a great place to people-watch if you weren’t trying to catch your train.
Also off of the main highway is an area of cleared ground where a gypsy camp has taken residence. They are in town for at least two months for a wedding. The hair of some of them, specifically the children, is different from other Indian children in that it often has streaks of light brown or blond. Their skin is slightly lighter in color, too, which illustrates how set apart the gypsies are from the rest of society in India. They are friendly people when approached with genuine respect, especially if you have a knack for playing with the children.
At New Life Ministries’ home and school for children, the school bell rings, signally a change of classes as teachers make their way from one class to the next, educating children from standard one through eight. Children shout and squeal at lunchtime, the little ones spilling their rice in the narrow hallways where they eat because there is no dining hall. After school, boys play a rough-and-tumble form of volleyball while the girls play little games drawn in the dirt under their feet.
Life here is considerably peaceful and joyous, given that it was just in 2008 that persecution of Christians rocked Odisha. Churches and Christian-owned schools were burned and many Christians were killed by Hindu extremists determined to preserve the influence of the major religion in India by ridding it of a lesser. Today, it is still clear Hinduism dominates the landscape, if the many Hindu shrines and temples are any sign. Yet places like New Life Ministries still exist, contributing to the community and adding still more diversity to the already diverse country that is India.