The stories we hold back

Once in a while FB surprises me with old posts. And this photo from 2012 was on my feed today,


Sankarama getting a wireless lav

Sankarama is one of a kind. Never met anyone like her. I ran into her by accident while trying to find a story on menstruation and women in India.


My short Mijo won a £1500 grant. I was asked to make a short film. Their initial instructions was to use the funds to make a developmental story in my country. So I did find a story in Virginia - that of citizens who finished jail time but could not vote until the governor pardonned them. I found three people and decided to follow them going through the arduous process of getting their right to vote or not leading up to the second Obama election. After all the pre-production that story was struck down by the funder. Their response: 'This is not a story about your country.' My response - yes this is a story of my country. One in five black men cannot vote in Virginia. They were like no from “your country”. I’m like - I’m American. Then they were like America does not have developmental issues. I told them I disagreed. Eventually, I was told the funding supported stories in the developing world. I told that should have been their initial instructions then. Back then, still in graduate school with no end in sight and battling a long distance marriage full of cracks, I had no energy to fight for my rights to a local story in my backyard. I was too brown to tell anything but the story of women in my country. I told them that the funding barely covered my air ticket. I could have made the entire film in Virgina for that money. I was angry. I told myself whatever story I find should be short. Real short and in your face.


In my search for characters I met Sankarama. Till 2011, when she got periods she sat on a pile of hay for three days. In 2012, she used a rag cloth. That was an upgrade. The day I met her, she was removing weeds from her Ragi plot and singing. She sang, shared her story, shared her lunch and allowed me to follow her home. I felt bad eating up so much of her cooked red rice. She felt bad that she could only give me plain red rice. I wanted to thank her. Only store near by sold chewing tobacco, soda pop - coke and Pepsi, packaged chips. She chewed a lot of tobacco. I bought her what she was most likely to enjoy - tobacco. She was happy.


It was well past 3 p.m. I was starving. Sankaramma, shared her meal with us. She told me that human greed is immense. We want unlimited wealth, unlimited resources. The only thing we say enough is when our stomach is full.

I thought she was my story then. I asked if I could film her at her home. A two mile trek up the hill. She protested initially. She told you cannot walk two miles uphill with your gear. I told I can. It will be dark on your way back. I showed my flash light. My fixer was also on her side. I just thought the fixer was being difficult as her day was going to be three hours longer with a two mile hike. My fixer wanted to chat but I was so busy filming up the trek that I just asked her to stay quiet for a bit. Word got around that a crazy woman was following Sankarama with a camera and her husband met us half way. When we were talking permission with him my fixer got a moment. She briefed me that the dude Sankarama was with was not her husband. Her husband died. And in her tribe another dude shacks up with a widow. The situation was complicated. Apparently, I should have filmed her at the field and left. No one would have known. Now that everyone knows. She was in trouble. She was going to get her ass whipped that night no matter what I did now. Filled with guilt, I pulled Sankarama aside. Apologized. I asked her if there was anything I could do. She laughed. She sang. She said come home, film and go do your thing. We exchanged phone numbers. Her story is still with me. The footage is here. I made Rags to Pads with a dude instead. Sankarama was too refined and I too raw a filmmaker in 2012 to be worthy of her story then.


Our access to stories are hindered and provided in ways that are profoundly one of kind. Thank you Sankarama for being so kind to me that day despite all the trouble I caused you.