For the past year, the hardest part for many long-form writers and journalists has been the curbs on travel. It’s face-to-face meetings that often help writers gain the trust of subjects and observe details that bring stories to life. Hundreds of journalists are still in the field, at hospitals, crematoriums, government offices and more, trying to gather information at a time when it’s hard to come by. But for most feature writers, the video call has had to take the place of the field visit.
In the window between the first and second surges of covid-19, one of our writers travelled to Ladakh’s Changthang, the world’s highest permanently inhabited plateau. It’s home to the changra goats that produce the world’s finest pashmina, which the Union Territory administration plans to make the centrepiece of its efforts to create a new global identity for Ladakh. But the nomadic Changpa herders who raise the goats want out of a profession that’s a lot of hard work for very little returns. The quality of wool is declining as climate change has made fodder and water scarce, and the weather on the cold plateau more unpredictable. The political pressure of the border conflict has closed pasture lands to the Changpas. Yet, young Ladakhi entrepreneurs and designers are setting up brands and cooperatives to make pashmina—and its producers—shine. Our cover story documents the efforts to reclaim pashmina and prove that it is distinct from cashmere, at a time when herders just want an easier life.
A life in the hills is what Ruskin Bond opted for years ago, and at 86, he’s not anywhere near retiring. One of India’s most beloved and prolific writers is out with a new book, based on his lockdown diary. He talks to Lounge about ageing yet staying active, writing and living with purpose, and the sense of sadness that the pandemic has engendered. Some of our columnists have also written about the pervading sense of grief many of us are feeling as covid-19 cases continue to surge. But Bond says it has taught him the importance of looking upon every “new day as a birthday”. Advice for the times.
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