Started four years ago, the small team uncovers real-life heart-warming stories told from the individual’s perspective.

A woman in a saree and blue shirt making jowar rotis on a firewood stove Image: Instagram/Humans of Hyderabad
Features Human Interest Thursday, July 02, 2020 - 20:46

Ever wondered what the true essence of a city is? What makes any city what it is? For some it’s the city’s culture, for some it’s the food, but if you ask the team behind Humans of Hyderabad (HOH), they say it’s the people themselves.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"I thought I would find a good number of buyers for clay pots this year, but COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on my business. Earlier, people would come out on to the streets and buy our pots, bearing the scorching heat. I would sell 100 -120 pots each day at the same time last year, but now, I hardly manage to sell 8 -10 of them. We wait for the summer season all year, and now it is almost coming to an end, but I could not sell even half of the stock. Even though people are slowly drifting towards earthenware again, it's extremely difficult for people like us to sustain further. I have three people to feed at home, and my only source of income is this clay pot business. I ended up spending all my savings to survive this pandemic and now I have no money to pay for my children’s college fees for the next academic year. I could not study and always wanted my children to but now I feel helpless. We do not know whether the business will survive, and my children’s future depends on it. Even if the government lifts the lockdown completely, I don’t think people would confidently come out and buy pots. I know that nothing is going to be like earlier, but I will continue to work hard for my children's future!" #COVID19 #Business #Impact #CoronaVirusPandemic #Street #Indiaeveryday #Claypots #Pottery #Lifeisstreet #Family #Struggle #daily #Employment #Loss #Streetvendors #Hardwork #Hope #Future #Education #Hyderabad #HumansofHyderabad

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HOH, a non-profit group, brings to readers through its website and social media platforms the ‘extraordinary stories of ordinary people’ – the people that we see every day – a tea-seller, a girl going to school, a homemaker, an accident survivor, an LGBTQ person, and several others who are part of our city. The underlying concept behind HOH is that everybody has a story and the same should be heard.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"Many years ago, my school offered to take us to watch Chota Chetan if we paid 2 Rupees. My father didn't want to send me because he was worried about my safety. However, I used the money I had stolen from my mother's savings and went for the show anyway, only to be beaten up later- anything to watch a good film in the theatre! Growing up, I watched the likes of Chiranjeevi and Kamal Hassan in films that were telecast every sunday, along with my parents. I watched many Indian films, but was introduced to world cinema only when I joined the University of Hyderabad for my Masters. A few classmates and I formed a gang that would do anything to watch a film - our true love. I also met Richa, the love of my life, my wife, at college. We never spoke then, but years later, in 2012, one comment turned into friendship, that slowly blossomed into marriage. Her presence in my life instilled a sense of hope in me. Hence, despite the poor paying stint with short films after college and other jobs like wedding shoots and product marketing, I continued to write to people for work. I even learnt Tamil so I could get a project in that industry. Finally, in 2016, I spent about 30 days shooting for Pelli Choopulu - and it changed my life. Tharun Bhasckar and I were in a car, on our way for promotions, when he got a call from Adivi Sesh saying Pelli Choopulu is a brilliant film and that he loved Kaushik's character. Once the screening began, almost everybody asked who played Kaushik's character, because they enjoyed it so much. I had an old phone back then and every time I came home, the wifi would connect and I would receive tons of messages - my phone wouldn't stop buzzing. I just couldn't believe it! My life changed into 'before Pelli Choopulu' and 'after Pelli Choopulu'. The appreciation I received was overwhelming. It was a dream come true - the dream of a 7-year-old boy who watched Sagara Sangamam and fell in love with cinema. It's cliché, but that's my love for cinema. Along with the appreciation came good offers, but they were mostly comic roles. I wasn't sad, but I was hungry to explore life-altering characters. [ ... FULL STORY CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS SECTION ]

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“It’s not about writing sad stories, there’s nothing to feel sorry for them. It’s more about how to learn something from them and grow. That’s what we try to do,” says Rachana Choudary, founder of HOH, speaking to TNM.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"When I told my mother that I’m a lesbian, she gave me all the strength in the world. It was surprising because she wasn’t the first person I came out to, in my family. I told my sister first, and they didn’t take it well. That’s when I opened up to my mother because I was going through quite a bit. She told me some of the best lessons I’ve learnt: “Living as a queer in the country is not easy. You have chosen to come out and that’s great! But remember to be strong because the world might try to put you down.” Every word that she said was true. I needed that kind of advice because, for a very long time, I wasn’t sure of my identity. I was 29 when I came out to myself! When I was younger, I was confused with my feelings and also considered surgery. But I was too young to decide. Fortunately, I waited. Back then, I never dated a man. When I told one of my friends that maybe I was a lesbian, her response put me off. She was the first person I ever spoke to and she said maybe it’s because women are usually attracted to women in the sense that they’re always talking about each other. I should’ve corrected her, but I was too naive. When I was volunteering with Sangini, I met the LGBTQIA+ community. But honestly, I didn’t know much about others in the same community. There is so much misunderstanding with each others’ orientations, and that’s a reason why our movement isn’t going too far. It took me a while to understand transgender women. When I went to Bangladesh for a conference, I heard a trans woman share her story and that’s when I realised the struggles others go through. For long, I thought it was just me. Her story of pain and violence made me cry! It was the turning point in my life - I realised that everybody has their issues and we need to be kinder and more supportive as a community. Today, there’s so much more awareness than there was a few years ago. But there’s also a lot of pressure to come out. I don’t support that. Understanding your sexuality, feelings, emotions and wants is not easy - it was a bumpy ride for me. [ ...Full Story Continued in the Comments Section ]

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A native of Hyderabad, Rachana initially worked in various states across the country as a psephologist (one who analyses elections), for which she spoke to several people during focus group discussions. That is when it occurred to her that she could focus on the stories that people have to tell. And it’s been four years of telling stories through HOH.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

"With the sudden rise of COVID-19 and the fear that lockdown brought with it, working from home had become the new normal. I went to the vegetable market the next day to stock up on groceries and what I experienced took me slightly by surprise. The prices of all the vegetables and other essentials shot up exponentially! I spoke to a few of my friends and realized that everyone was facing the same trouble. This got me thinking on how I can help my friends when I realized that the daily wage earners and the people who depended on hand to mouth for their living, are definitely suffering more than all of us. Because, my friends and I at least had the money to buy these essentials. This reminded me about teachings of Muhammad (PUBH), "what ever belief your neighbour follows, is upto him, but if your neighbour sleeps without food, you will be asked on the day of judgement". That was when I decided to do whatever is in my capacity to help my fellow human beings. I contacted a friend of mine and we both started formulating a plan. The first step we took was to identify distressed families within 2km radius of where both of us were living. We collected funds, mostly from our savings and some from fellow friends and family members and made grocery kits. Each kit contained around 15 kgs of Rice, 5 kgs of wheat flour, 1-2 kgs of pulses, Cooking oil, salt, sugar, tea, red chilli powder and turmeric powder. Our initial target was 50 families. The target was accomplished easily and more requests started flooding in from the local people who were helping us in finding the families. We gathered more funds for the second round and made it happen! Balancing our work on one side, we’d distribute the food either early mornings or after work hours. We didn’t miss a day to help! We continued till we ran out of funds, but the requirements kept pouring in even after. We then figured out another way to help the people in need where we created a whatsapp group and added local volunteers, who in turn added their families and friends. The group soon reached its maximum capacity! We were the happiest we could be. [ ... FULL STORY CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS SECTION ]

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Humans of Hyderabad has a presence in other cities as well – Humans of Andhra and Humans of Madras, showcasing the lives of people there.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Trigger Warning: "When I was in grade 7, a boy kissed me. I was shocked. 'I was a boy too, so why is this other boy kissing me?'. During my childhood, I hated being around boys. It didn't feel right. Instead, around girls was where I was most secure. I had dolls and I would bathe in the bathroom unlike other men in the family who would bathe in the open. I did all tasks which were considered a woman's work. My classmates always bullied me and called me names. Back in 1990s, even the doctors didn't understand what sexuality meant. They would give electric shocks! The doctor my mother took me to suggested that I should stop talking to girls and that would eventually make me more manly. I tried. I tried really hard to walk like a boy, talk like a boy and hang out with boys. But I just couldn't. I was still continuosly bullied. Why me? Why was I the one always attacked? Fortunately, my degree college was a better place because the principal knew my family. But that didn't stop people from talking behind my back about me. In 2011, I finally told my mother that I wanted to get a surgery and become a woman. They asked me to leave the home. I struggled a lot. I would sleep on the roads and bus stops. I had no food for days. Luckily, one day, another transwoman, Suma, helped me. She introduced me to the community and I found a space. My mother put me in a Bharatanatyam class when I was a child, so I knew how to dance and that helped me make a career. I later joined NGO Alliance India Pehchaan as the representative and program coordinator of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. I understood everything about the trans community. The media wrote about me and my story. That was when my family eventually accepted me. They realised that I was smart and independent and being trans didn't make me any different from others. As a proud trans activist, I wanted to make the world and my state a better place for other kids who are struggling to understand their bodies. For years, we struggle within, trying to understand why we're different and why we are, the way we are. [ ... FULL STORY CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS SECTION ]

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With a small team of three to four people in each city, HOH attempts to discover people and stories that are rarely part of the mainstream. A look at the HOH website shows several real-life heart-warming stories written from the individual’s perspective.

Rachana says there is no monetisation of HOH’s work anywhere, with the team spending from their own pocket. The group has also released a book with some of their best stories recently.

Rachana Choudary with Governor of Telangana Tamilisai Soundararajan 
 
Purnima Iyer, a former journalist who now heads the HOH team, says, “It’s more like lifting spirits, letting people know that they’re not alone. That’s the whole purpose behind what we do. At times we choose areas and go around and do stories. We stop, talk to people, explain to them what we do and how it helps.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Trigger Warning: "When I was in grade 7, a boy kissed me. I was shocked. 'I was a boy too, so why is this other boy kissing me?'. During my childhood, I hated being around boys. It didn't feel right. Instead, around girls was where I was most secure. I had dolls and I would bathe in the bathroom unlike other men in the family who would bathe in the open. I did all tasks which were considered a woman's work. My classmates always bullied me and called me names. Back in 1990s, even the doctors didn't understand what sexuality meant. They would give electric shocks! The doctor my mother took me to suggested that I should stop talking to girls and that would eventually make me more manly. I tried. I tried really hard to walk like a boy, talk like a boy and hang out with boys. But I just couldn't. I was still continuosly bullied. Why me? Why was I the one always attacked? Fortunately, my degree college was a better place because the principal knew my family. But that didn't stop people from talking behind my back about me. In 2011, I finally told my mother that I wanted to get a surgery and become a woman. They asked me to leave the home. I struggled a lot. I would sleep on the roads and bus stops. I had no food for days. Luckily, one day, another transwoman, Suma, helped me. She introduced me to the community and I found a space. My mother put me in a Bharatanatyam class when I was a child, so I knew how to dance and that helped me make a career. I later joined NGO Alliance India Pehchaan as the representative and program coordinator of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. I understood everything about the trans community. The media wrote about me and my story. That was when my family eventually accepted me. They realised that I was smart and independent and being trans didn't make me any different from others. As a proud trans activist, I wanted to make the world and my state a better place for other kids who are struggling to understand their bodies. For years, we struggle within, trying to understand why we're different and why we are, the way we are. [ ... FULL STORY CONTINUED IN THE COMMENTS SECTION ]

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The HOH team comprises Srinath, Shreya, Janani and Harini Prasad. A special mention needs to be made about their photographs, which are right now being clicked by Mahesh. The colleagues say it’s the teamwork that drives them to find the stories that matter.

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