Lalita in Peru

(Canscene) — Lalita Krishna and I have worked together on three documentaries under the OMN TV Inependent Producers’ Initiative funding program, I’m proud to say. This talented lady of documentary films has a career which has embraced a large canon of memorable work, information on which you’ll find at

Recently Lalita and her husband Ram were in Peru where she was directing a new documentary. Here’s her e-mail to me which casts an interesting light on a country of which I know little.:

Dear Ben

We got back yesterday. One week of work and one week of holiday, Ram joined me for the second week and we went to Machu Pichu and spent some time in Lima.

The official purpose of my trip to Peru was following the Canadian photographer Rodrigo who had been invited to teach photography to young kids in a Centre (URUKU) run by an environmental activist- Carlos Daniel.


Peru is an unbelievably scenic country. Like India, it’s full of contradictions. The people are filled with pride in their history and heritage, which was completely demolished by the Spanish conquistedors. The landscape is completely different in the east and west. The short strip of the Amazon which is part of Peru is very lush, green and rich- so even poor people have enough food. But the north is desert land (we didn’t go there) and some of the poorest people live there- population is concentrated in the cities.

Our base was Tarapoto, a small town which was the centre of drug trafficking during the 80s and 90s. It has been cleaned up now but people bear the scars.

We could see the effect of deforestation everywhere we went. And our contact, Carlos Daniel, is fighting to preserve the land. He is a highly educated young man, who runs a centre called URUKU. His knowledge is gained through both experiential and academic means. The centre keeps scientific records of all the plants and animals of the neighbouring areas. joel-and-lalita.jpg
The animals were rescued from the wild and sent to them because they were either abused or needing a home. They have several spider monkeys: some are loose and some are in cages. They had an iguana who was to be released. There is a “cow of the mountain” so rare now that you cannot even see them in zoos. They have records of very rare species of butterflies and have a special ‘aviary’ where they are ‘bred’ (if both those are the right terms).

ronaldo-with-friend.jpgWe came across a young man, Ronald, 19 who works there as an assistant- his job is feed the butterflies and clean cages of the monkeys. From the very first day, he struck all of us as being extremely smart and unselfconscious and he even tried a few sentences in English. Zoe (our camerawoman) immediately recruited him as her assistant. And he was soon setting up her tripod and checking the spirit level. The sound guy too was fighting to use him on different days!

You will see him and his story in the documentary. Rodrigo, the Canadian photographer who had been invited to teach photography to the kids of the area, told me that Ronald’s mom was very ill. She didn’t quite understand his work and couldn’t come to URUKU. He used to draw pictures to describe to her the work he does. So Rodrigo decided to take his laptop and show her the pictures he had taken of URUKU and show her some of Ronald’s work. The visit to Ronald’s home will forever be etched in my mind. The family lives in a shack; there was no food in the kitchen and no supplies to make food. The father, clearly drunk was lying on a cot outside the house. The mother, stunningly beautiful and proud, apologized for being unable to serve us anything. She went on to tell us her story. She was born in Holland! She was sent to Peru by her mom who couldn’t take care of her and moved from one foster home to another.

She had a rough time during the drug years in Tarapoto and was now trying to earn a living as a hairdresser. But clearly the ‘no good’ husband was drinking away all of her income. She couldn’t afford to send Ronald to school anymore as he had to help with the household income. There was a visible shift in her expression as the ‘Dad’ returned from his slumber. I made sure that the payment made to Ronald for his work as assistant was not in front of the father.

We had the opportunity to travel to an amazing community of the Chazutha a three-hour drive and then a boat ride down the Amazon. The Chazutha people live in total harmony with the environment. The youngest of kids can identify all the animals and plant species and they eat off the trees and live off the land. I am not sure which I was more impressed by, the simple but satisfied look on the faces of the people or the sheer magnitude of the Amazon river!

The one week of vacation took us to the newest addition to the wonder of the world list: Machu Pichu. As many people have told us, they are soon going to restrict the numbers who can go visit the place. I think enough has been written about these places more eloquently than I can ever attempt to do justice. The sheer magic and mystery and myths that surround the whole Kechwa community and the lands of the Incas were only surpassed by the personalized narration of two tour guides, who took pride in describing the ‘advanced culture’ of their ancestors.

We saw structures built with boulders and stones which were 20 feet in height and width. There were trapezoids, tongue and groove constructions with no mortar or cement. All have withstood several earthquakes. Many of the more modern constructions which the Spaniards added have fallen down leaving the base which the Incas had built. There are temples, storage rooms, living quarters. There are holes where there may have been stone inlay or gold embossing. The churches are resplendent with plundered gold.

I can only imagine what it must have been like when the Spaniards landed in Peru and discovered a sophisticated people living in total harmony with the land. The Spaniards decided to destroy the country in the name of their king and church. In many ways, Peru is still a rich country rich with its lush rain forest and rare species of animals and birds. They are in peril of destruction through the mass reforestation program that the government plans in the name of ‘development’. We are as guilty as the Spaniards if we all sit by and allow it to happen.


2 Responses to “Lalita in Peru”

  1. Renato Zane Says:

    Thanks, Lalita, for your very interesting story and wonderful photographs. I felt I was there, along with your documentary team. I have never been to south america, but if I go, Peru will definitely be on my list.

  2. Brenda Lohman Says:

    What a beautiful letter and now I can’t wait to see the documentary! Let’s hope something can be done to avoid destroying the last little bit of rainforest in the name of ‘development’.

    Thank you,
    Brenda Lohman