Year after year, for an endless eight months, thousands of families move to a desert in India to extract salt from the burning earth. Every monsoon their salt fields are washed away, as the desert turns into sea. And still they return, striving to produce the whitest salt in the world.
The desert extends endlessly – flat, grey, relentless. There is not a tree or blade of grass or rock. But there is one thing in abundance: salt. Salt is everywhere, lying just beneath the cracked, baked surface of the earth. This is the Little Rann of Kutch, 5000 sq kms of saline desert. And for eight months of the year, the salt people live here – laboriously extracting salt from this desolate landscape. They have been doing this for generations.
Year after year, they migrate from their villages, 40,000 of them, to live on this bleak land without water, electricity or provisions. Arriving just after the monsoon, Sanabhai and his family will live here from September until April. Their nearest neighbour is a kilometre away. They communicate by flashing mirrors in the sunlight. Sanabhai’s wife Devuben walks across the bare, trackless desert to chop firewood. They buy the family’s water supply from a private tanker that comes once a week.
Sanabhai has taken a large loan from the salt merchant in town as an advance on his salt harvest. He needs money to dig a well to reach the saline water 70 feet below ground, and to buy the diesel for the pump which draws the brine into the salt pans. Over the next few months, the only sound to break the silence of the desert is the mechanical drone of the pump’s engine. It takes eight months for the brine to crystallise into salt. Knee-deep in the brine pond, under the blinding glare of the sun, Sanabhai and his family trample the ground to prevent the salt from congealing. Once the brine has evaporated enough to allow the salt to be handled, they gather it with heavy wooden rakes until large crystals have formed. Their labor is rhythmic, a dance that mirrors the dance of the mirages on the burning horizon. The white crystals are as sharp as glass. Only two of them have rubber boots. Several times in a day Sanabhai inspects the quality of the salt crystals and keeps a close watch on the level of water in the salt pans.
Two of Sanabhai’s children – a boy and a girl aged eleven and eight– go to a school recently opened by an NGO. Everyday at 11, after their morning’s work at the salt pans, they cycle off to school – just another hut in the vast emptiness of the desert, but with one difference: the children have planted paper flowers around it.
In April, the salt merchant sends his man to inspect the salt. No good, he says: the crystals are small, not white enough. He cuts the price agreed with Sanabhai at the beginning of the season. Sanabhai is downcast, but he shrugs his shoulders: what can you do? The next salt season will certainly be better.
Meanwhile, somewhere at the edge of the desert, mountains of salt lie next to the railway tracks waiting for transport to the city. The season is over and the monsoon is on its way: the heavy rains will soon wash the family’s salt fields away. The desert itself will not remain a desert anymore, but will turn into a sea. And the only way one can cross it is by boat.
Written and directed by Farida Pacha
Cinematography Lutz Konermann
Editing Katharina Fiedler
Sound Sanjeev Gupta, Ramesh Birajdar
Sound editing and mix Florian Eidenbenz
Music Marcel Vaid
Producers Lutz Konermann, Farida Pacha
for Leafbird Films GmbH (CH)
Developed at the Binger Doc Lab
Supported by the IDFA Bertha Fund
and the Bundesamt für Kultur BAK
92 min., HD, Gujarati (with subtitles)
The film has been generously supported by
BTS Investment Advisors Ltd.
Goethe Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan Mumbai
René Da Rold
and crowd-funded through wemakeit.ch with the precious contribution of
Joost de Jong
Simonka de Jong
Radiya and Sourendu Gupta
Diego Gutierrez Coppe
Barbara Rüegger Kunz
Ariel Ruiz i Altaba
Franz Josef Welty
Straordinaria testimonianza dei silenzi, delle stagioni della vita, della fatica e della dignità di un popolo, di luoghi imaginifici, invece reali come la quotidianità multimediale, suggestioni e abitudini per inentare ed estrarre il sale, sicuramente il più bianco esistente, metafora della sapienza e della saggezza della terra.
Fruit of the earth and work of our hands… the unending cycle of toil, hope, livelihood and return. Loved the Teaser! Beautiful poetic narrative, I want to watch the film whenever you screen it here in Mumbai. Please do let me know. Had loved your previous film, ‘The Seedkeepers’ too…had watched it while studying in SCM. 🙂
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A group of documentary filmmakers in Bangalore plan to restart documentary film screening in Bangalore under VIKALP from next year. We are looking at holding monthly screenings and plan to show good, engaging films, both Indian and others. I would like to screen your film “My name is salt”. Please let me know if you would be interested in doing so. Also let me know if you need any other info. If you need to talk my no is 09845373280.
Please could you inform me about getting the DVD of this Film?
I have seen it during IDFA 2013 yesterday and am so very much impressed. Would like to seen it again!
Thank you, kind regards.