It’s 2 PM. We’re waiting for our luggage to emerge out of a curtained-off area onto a carrousel at Calicut International Airport, and we’re not alone.
My Producer Camilla Banks and I are in the middle of a crush of hundreds of people. It’s a scene reminiscent of the stock exchange in the middle of a particularly panicked Wall Street frenzy. The only difference is that rather than trying to prevent stocks and shares tumbling down to “hit the floor,” it’s the heavily wrapped parcels and LCD TVs arriving from flights out of Dubai, Saudi and Doha that these guys are fighting over. The screaming, clambering crowds of men aren’t smartly turned out “whiz-kids” from the city, they’re Indian nationals back from stints working in the Gulf, bringing home the luxuries that years away from their families has enabled them to buy. It’s utter chaos. The temperature is nudging 90 degrees, there’s no air conditioning and there’s a distinct whiff of unwashed bodies mingled with spices. We’ve definitely arrived in India.
Camilla and I are here to film a documentary about a small community approximately 100 kilometers [62 miles] west of us. The village of Kodinhi recently hit the international wires service as a place almost entirely populated by pairs of twins. Research has discovered that though that isn’t exactly the case, the village, dubbed Twin Town by locals, does indeed have a disproportionately high number twins, and we’re travelled here from the UK to document why. The film will be an intimate portrayal of what life is like for the twins in this curious community and follow the efforts of a local doctor trying to unravel the mystery of why so many of them are being born in such a small place.
It’s a two-hour journey to the village from the airport in Calicut — and it’s one we settle into relatively quickly. The wonderful tropical landscape and the endless views of shanty towns, Mosques and Hindu temples more than make up for the bone-jarring taxi ride over badly pot-holed, rutted roads.
We’re on our way to meet a group of influential local businessmen — our contacts and ‘fixers’ on the ground in the Village. They’re going to be key to the project. Without their support we will not have access to any of the twins or their families. Nor will we have the crucial permission to film in the municipal areas of the village. They have already agreed to allow National Geographic to make the documentary, but our arrival has triggered the need for a public meeting to discuss how best to move forward.
For those of you who haven’t worked in India, everything is done by committee. Often, a decision reached by one committee will need to be ratified by another and, unless you’re extremely lucky, a referendum will be called to decide whether or not to accept the decision of the first or even second committee. India loves its democracy, but it loves procedure and finding jobs for people more.
Our meeting is a big deal. In fact, it’s far bigger than we were expecting. A locally important politician is attending and so too are the village elders, the executive board of the Twins and Kin Association (a body set up to look after the interests of the community’s twins) and about a dozen or so newspaper and TV journalists. National Geographic is a very popular channel in India and our arrival has put Kodinhi at the top of the news agenda for the week, at least in Kerala State.
It’s our first view of the village we’ve been sent to film and we’re immediately under the spotlight. Both Camilla and I are bombarded with questions about our first impressions of the town, our predictions on what’s causing the phenomenon and, crucially, who’s going to be staring in the documentary. Needless to say our replies are polite. We’re thrilled to be here, looking forward to the experience of spending time in Kodinhi and are looking forward to the discoveries that the investigation will uncover. As to why we think there are so many twins here? We’ll have to wait and see…
As part of the process the journalists discovered that I am an identical twin and that was it! The villagers cheered, the politician even managed to look impressed and amid lots of hand shaking I was warmly accepted into the community as one of their own.
Our project was off to a flying start.
Video Preview: “Twin Health Camp” — All of Kodinhi’s twins are sent to a health camp in order to discover the source of the city’s unusual twin explosion.
Don’t miss the new Nat Geo special, Twin Town, this Tuesday July 13 at 9P et/pt.