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Lauren Frayer

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.

Before moving to India, Lauren was a regular freelance contributor to NPR for seven years, based in Madrid. During that time, she substituted for NPR bureau chiefs in Seoul, London, Istanbul, Islamabad, and Jerusalem. She also served as a guest host of Weekend Edition Sunday.

In Europe, Lauren chronicled the economic crisis in Spain & Portugal, where youth unemployment spiked above 50%. She profiled a Portuguese opera singer-turned protest leader, and a 90-year-old survivor of the Spanish Civil War, exhuming her father's remains from a 1930s-era mass grave. From Paris, Lauren reported live on NPR's Morning Edition, as French police moved in on the Charlie Hebdo terror suspects. In the fall of 2015, Lauren spent nearly two months covering the flow of migrants & refugees across Hungary & the Balkans – and profiled a Syrian rapper among them. She interviewed a Holocaust survivor who owed his life to one kind stranger, and managed to get a rare interview with the Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders – by sticking her microphone between his bodyguards in the Hague.

Farther afield, she introduced NPR listeners to a Pakistani TV evangelist, a Palestinian surfer girl in Gaza, and K-pop performers campaigning in South Korea's presidential election.

Lauren has also contributed to The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the BBC.

Her international career began in the Middle East, where she was an editor on the Associated Press' Middle East regional desk in Cairo, and covered the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Syria and southern Lebanon. In 2007, she spent a year embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq, an assignment for which the AP nominated her and her colleagues for a Pulitzer Prize.

On a break from journalism, Lauren drove a Land Rover across Africa for a year, from Cairo to Cape Town, sleeping in a tent on the car's roof. She once made the front page of a Pakistani newspaper, simply for being a woman commuting to work in Islamabad on a bicycle.

Born and raised in a suburb of New York City, Lauren holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy from The College of William & Mary in Virginia. She speaks Spanish, Portuguese, rusty French and Arabic, and is now learning Hindi.

They play soccer in a disputed Himalayan valley prone to car bombs, strikes and heavy snow. Soldiers with machine guns patrol their home stadium. Players sometimes have to arrive at practice three hours early to avoid police curfews. Their team is less than three years old, with a budget that's one-tenth that of some of their competitors.

Updated at 5 a.m. ET Sunday

After long days picking leaves on tea plantations in India's remote northeast, some laborers like to relax with a glass of cheap, strong, locally-brewed liquor. Most can't afford the brand-name stuff.

But Indian authorities reportedly say at least 150 people have died and some 200 others are hospitalized after drinking tainted alcohol there in recent days. Some are in critical condition.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke with protocol to greet the Saudi crown prince on the airport tarmac this week in New Delhi – with a big bear hug and a bouquet of flowers – it stirred a range of emotions across India.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a "befitting reply" for perpetrators and their supporters in the wake of a bombing in Kashmir described as the deadliest in three decades that killed at least 40 Indian police troops and wounded nearly 20 more.

In the attack on Thursday on the outskirts of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, a suicide bomber rammed a vehicle with explosives into caravan carrying paramilitary troopers.

Onion farmer Sanjay Sathe was so disappointed with how little he made from his recent harvest that he decided to pull a stunt: He sent a money order for his entire profit — a paltry $15 — to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who's running for re-election this spring. Sathe wanted to show him the meager earnings that Indian farmers must live on.

Shivering and blue-lipped but smiling, Niraj Shukla emerged from the Ganges River this week, flanked by his parents and millions of other people, feeling renewed.

"The water is very cold, but once you have a bath – it's sort of a miracle, you know?" said Shukla, a 32-year-old engineer who lives in India's capital New Delhi.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Protests erupted in southern India this week...

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in foreign language).

A few years ago, Veena had a problem: She couldn't find anyone willing to pick her coconuts.

Veena is a 37-year-old housewife who, like many people in South India, goes by one name. She lives on a small family farm in Kerala, dotted with coconut palms.

Kerala — "land of coconuts" in the local language, Malayalam — used to have plenty of coconut pickers for hire. They were usually lower caste men who'd shimmy up the trees and pick the nuts for a fee.

Hindu men swathed in black sarongs, their faces painted and chests strewn with beads, trek through the jungles of southwest India, carrying provisions in bundles on top of their heads. They come from all over India, and the world, to visit an ancient temple inside a tiger reserve in the state of Kerala. They travel the final 3 miles on foot, and some walk for the entire 50-mile approach.

The narrow lane that leads to what may be India's most infamous convent winds past spindly coconut palms and fat banana leaves flapping in the breeze. Tropical bird calls break through the muffled drone of female voices praying inside a house with pink stucco columns.

The bucolic setting, in the jungle of India's southwestern Kerala state, is home to about a dozen Roman Catholic nuns who belong to the Missionaries of Jesus order. But their peace has been shattered by what allegedly happened here between 2014 and 2016.

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It was three years ago, working at an electronics store in his hometown, that Saumil Shah first laid eyes on the woman who would become his wife.

Saumil, now 31, was back in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad after getting an MBA in Manchester, England. Zarina had just earned a computer science degree at a local university.

They flirted at work. And soon, "We started meeting each other outside of work," Saumil recalls, smiling. "Then we fell in love."

Zarina, now 26, says she knew right away.

Updated at 7:33 p.m. ET

They are hunter-gatherers who live on a remote, forested island in the Indian Ocean. They do not use money. They resist contact with the outside world — and have been known to sling arrows at outsiders who approach their shores.

They are the Sentinelese, one of the last remaining groups to reject contact with the outside world.

Each autumn, farmer Amandeep Singh has just a few days to prepare his fields for the next crop. He must clear stubble left over from the rice harvest, before planting wheat, which grows over winter.

Amandeep, 42, is from a long line of farmers in India's breadbasket, in the northern state of Punjab. Like his father and grandfather before him, he'd always burned the residue known as rice straw – the dry stalks of the plant after the grain and chaff have been removed. It's the fastest, cheapest way to prepare his fields for the next planting.

It was the new Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's first day in parliament, alongside the lawmakers he was appointed to lead. But he got a less-than-welcoming reception.

Instead, parliament on Wednesday spared no time in passing a no-confidence motion against him, less than three weeks after he was sworn into the job.

Poor and illiterate, Bhanwari Devi doesn't have a cellphone. She doesn't use hashtags.

She hadn't heard of India's burgeoning #MeToo movement until a human rights worker visited her rural farming village in Rajasthan, northwest India, and explained it to her. But she can certainly relate to it.

India has 1.3 billion people, and no equivalent of the Social Security number. About 4 in 10 births go unregistered. Less than 2 percent of the population pays income tax.

Many more are eligible for welfare benefits but may never have collected them, either because they can't figure out how or a middleman stole their share.

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

It took British artist Jason deCaires Taylor nine months to develop his latest work: a 20-foot-tall stainless steel cube decorated with life-size human statues and semi-submerged in a coral lagoon in crystal blue waters off the Maldives islands.

But it took the Maldivian police just a few hours to wreck it.

On India's west coast, revelers hoist up statues of an elephant-headed god, and parade them toward the Arabian Sea. They sing and chant, and hand out food to bystanders.

For 10 days, they perform pooja — Hindu prayers — at the statues' feet and then submerge them in bodies of water.

This is a tradition in Mumbai, India's biggest city, near the end of each year's monsoon rains: a festival honoring Ganesh, or Lord Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom and good luck. He has a human body and an elephant head.

For 35 years, O.S. Arun has been a professional singer of Carnatic music, a classical genre popular in South India. It's an embellished form of singing frequently backed by the tanpura, a long-necked, stringed instrument that emits a constant drone. He's recorded several dozen albums.

India and the United States are the world's biggest democracies. They're both capitalist countries, nuclear powers and former British colonies. They should be natural allies.

But over the past year, the Trump administration twice postponed high-level talks with India, citing scheduling conflicts. That left some in New Delhi feeling like the U.S. was taking India for granted.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who presided over clandestine nuclear tests that confirmed India as a nuclear power but soured relations with rival Pakistan, died Thursday at the age of 93.

Editor's note: This story includes descriptions of sexual activity.

For 30 years, health counselor Arif Jafar has been handing out condoms at the sprawling Charbagh train station in his hometown of Lucknow, a midsize city in northern India.

Updated on Friday at 10:40 a.m.

Iram Sabah, mother of two, is terrified by messages her family has been receiving on their smartphones.

Her husband recently was forwarded a video that shows a child's mutilated body. It's unclear where or when the video is from, or whether it has been doctored. A voice implores people to forward it to others, and to stay vigilant — that kidnappers are on the loose.

Sabah, 27, doesn't know if the video is fake or real. But she's not taking any chances.

From June to September, monsoon rains fall on Mumbai, India's largest city, delivering relief from stifling heat and vital nourishment to surrounding farmland. But they also bring an unwelcome visitor: Tons of garbage wash up on the city's shores.

When Mumbai floods, the water flushes waste out of city streets, storm drains and slums and sends it to the Arabian Sea. Then the tides ebb and blanket the beaches in that trash — most of it, plastic.

And now the government is taking action with a ban on plastics.

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Editor's note: This story includes frank descriptions of sexual matters depicted in the movie.

A statue of a merchant from the 17th century towers over the main square in Bristol, in southwest England. It's a tribute to Edward Colston, described on a small plaque as "one of the most virtuous and wise sons" of this city.

Around town, there are numerous reminders of Colston, Bristol's most famous philanthropist: Streets, schools, a concert hall and an office tower are all named after him. A big stained glass window in Bristol Cathedral is dedicated to him. Even a local delicacy bears his name — the Colston bun, a sort of fruit strudel.

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