Sai Sethu travels with his camera looking for stories

Sai Sethu's YouTube channel OnTheGround documents life as he sees it

Sai Sethu is in Kodinhi, ‘the village of twins’ in Malappuram, Kerala. “I have filmed some of the twins. I have to get permission from the Panchayat before I visit other parts of the town,” he says. Sai Sethu’s YouTube channel ontheground on Facebook and Instagram will soon have a video on Kodinhi, a village that has over 400 pairs of twins! “I create videos of stories that inspire me. It could be people, places and innovative ideas too. Every story is packed into 99 seconds,” he says. At the end of every episode that he himself presents, he signs off with “Stay On The Ground with me, until we make it”.

Kerala’s bird man Sreeman Narayan

Kerala’s bird man Sreeman Narayan   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sai has so far uploaded 35 extraordinary stories of people. For example, Kerala’s bird man, Sreeman Narayan, who used his savings to buy 10,000 mud pots to hold water for birds and distributed them free to people in Muppathdam in Ernakulam. “This 75-year-old man, who is also an award-winning author and poet, has extraordinary energy. He is my friend now. He follows a Gandhian way of life. He has planted over 50,000 saplings in his village. He runs a restaurant where he also stocks up dailies encouraging people to read,” says Sethu.

A mechanical engineer from Vellore Institute of Technology, Sethu pursued journalism at the Asian College of Journalism. Later, he worked in television channels and the online media in various capacities like anchor, producer and reporter. “I wanted to do something that leaves an impact on people. The inspiration came from Nas Daily’s one minute videos on Facebook which is hugely popular. There are so many stories of award-winning people who are often left out in the mainstream media. I decided to bring them to light.”

Ramaiah, from Khamam, Telangana, who has spent the last 25 years growing 10 million trees

Ramaiah, from Khamam, Telangana, who has spent the last 25 years growing 10 million trees   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

He mentions Ramaiah, from Khamam, Telangana, who has spent the last 25 years growing 10 million trees! Or the iron lady of Madurai who won the Padma Bushan for empowering women with the micro-credit programme. “The award sits pretty in her home. There is still poverty but that doesn’t stop her from doing her work,” says Sethu. There are videos on two youngsters from Kochi who innovated a cost-effective water filter; the banana cart of Dr. Surya Prakash in Hyderabad who takes his cart to the streets of Hyderabad to feed the hungry. “He follows the principle of ‘Each one, eat one, share one’. When people buy from his cart, he requests them to also donate to a free basket kept on his cart,”explains Sethu. There is another similar story about the wall of kindness in Tirunelveli where people can donate used clothes for the needy.

Before starting out, Sethu learnt about the camera (I learnt to fly a drone!). His experience in news sense and production came in handy as he pored over newspapers, vernacular dailies, websites, and also platforms like The Better India and Your Story to get story leads.

“Sometimes, I stumble upon stories from random conversations with people I meet in villages. I get in touch with social organisations, NGOs and look up websites before uploading my video to ensure credibility. First, I make a rough cut with the visuals I have in my head. Then, I make changes, add my voiceover and then edit using Premier Pro software before uploading,” he explains. Sethu’ sister Nethra Praveen helps him with social media posts. “ I make no revenue. But, I want to build a base. My parents Sethu Ramalingam and S. Rajalakshmi have been very supportive.”

Padmashri award-winner Chintakinda Mallesham for his Lazmi Asu Machine

Padmashri award-winner Chintakinda Mallesham for his Lazmi Asu Machine   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

He narrates the story of Padmashri award-winning inventor of the Lazmi Asu Machine, Chintakinda Mallesham.The invention allows the weavers to spin yarn in just an hour and a half. Earlier, it would take them six hours! There are stories on sustainable living too. For example, a zero-waste grocery store in Chennai ; farmer Krishna Mckenzie in Auroville who grows more than 140 varieties of plants and encourages people in his community to eat local food; The self-sufficient Sholai CLOAAT school in Kodaikanal where students grow their own food....

Info you can use
  • Visit On the Ground on Facebook and on.the.ground.99 on Insta to see the videos

Hi stories are also about communities that work together. Like the one in Kanjikuzhi at Idukki district in Kerala where over 8000 families grow their own vegetables, or in Marottichal in Thrissur where people who were once addicted to alcohol are now addicted to chess. “The passion to play chess cuts across gender and age. Everyone plays with much fervour.”

Sai’s dream is to work for the channels Vox, and Nat Geo. “ It is the passion for story-telling that keeps me going. It’s been an exciting journey.”

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 7:49:24 PM |

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