Fistful of Dreams

The 2011 population census of India reveals a terrible story. The national child sex ratio shows that for every 1000 boys there are only 914 girls compared to 927, a decade ago. This means a fewer girls have been born in India over the last decade, suggesting that female foeticide continues despite laws prohibiting Pre-Natel Sex Determination tests and Sex selective abortions.

The crimes committed against the girl child isn’t new in India, a society where there is a strong preference for a male child. India has a history of gender discrimination ranging from the killings to abuse of girl child. Subsequent campaigns against these crimes led to abandoning of female infants leading to an overflow of girls in adoption centers.

Also, it is not only the gender which forms the basis for discrimination in India. Even the colour of skin can lead to a bias. In a country whose population is predominantly brown skinned, the fair skin is considered as the symbol of beauty. It is quite common to hear people say this, “You are dark, but good looking?” In other words, dark complexion is considered to be ugly.

Now, one can only imagine what it means to be born as a girl and that too with a dark skin.

Fistful of Dreams is an ongoing project to foreground the issues of gender and racial discrimination in India. In the first year of the project, I follow the life of a 5 year old, dark skinned girl named Palguni, from the first day she was adopted by a single woman with another adopted daughter. Palguni’s story tries to let the families who have participated in the elimination of a generation of girls know on what they have missed out. The story hopes to build an opinion against gender discrimination at birth.

(UPDATE: Fistful of Dreams is now available as an e-book for iPad/iPhone/iPod. Also, the print version of Fistful of Dreams is continues to be available as a book in a hard bound and soft-cover edition. Please click here to preview the book or buy it.)

Edit : Originally, the project was produced as as Soundslides multimedia project. The project has been now converted to a video format to make it available for viewing on all devices. Soundslides, at the moment, is not responsive website design friendly, and hence doesn’t display well on mobile devices. If you want to view the original Soundslides version of this  project from a desktop computer browser, then please click this link – Fistful of Dreams (Soundslides version)

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Nishant Ratnakar

Photographer | Visual Storyteller at
Nishant is a Bangalore, India based Contemporary Wedding, Portrait & Editorial Photographer, and a Photo Educator. He is available for assignments across India. He also conducts group photography workshops and individual photography mentorship programs across the country
Nishant Ratnakar
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  • Sathya

    simply superb!! 

  • Mahesh Shantaram

    Very good effort, Nishant. I enjoyed the video and the images show that you really got close to this family. But you could have taken more critique before going final with it…

    • Anonymous

      Dear Mahesh,

      Thanks for the feedback. I am glad you recognise the intimacy in my work.

      Well, I wouldn’t call this ‘final’. This is an ongoing work which will go on for years to come. But yes, any amount of critique is less, as every story in this world will always have some room for improvement.

      This one went through months of critique through project advisers, experts, photographers, visual story-tellers of all kinds, and even the people connected to the story. I am glad this has struck chords with people who have seen the story. That was the whole intention and purpose, and it seems to have been accomplished.

      Feel free to share it with people you know.


  • nickmatulhuda

    Nishant, congrats. You know exactly what you want to say through this medium. Funny as it is, when I enjoy this, its like am reading a beautifully written story about life. From a first person, not a story from you as a messenger. 

    • Anonymous

      Dear Eka,
      Thanks for the feedback.
      Yes, they are heroes as much as they are marginalised. And this is the representations that I strive to bring about in my subjects. As visual story-tellers we need to look beyond stereotype representations which does no good to morale of the subjects than just make them look like victims. I want them to feel proud of their identities as I have felt proud to have met them in my life.
      I am so glad that you don’t see me in this story and everything seems first person account. Mission accomplished I must say. :)


  • Kavitha

    This is so moving and endearing. Wonderful work. I am so glad you are doing stuff like this! Congrats on the choices you have made! With respect and admiration, Kavitha

    • Anonymous

      Kavita, It is people like you who are my inspirations. It is life like yours and Veena’s that I tell stories about in my work. God bless.

  • KP

    Your transition from being a one-among-many software engineer to a journalist has been amazing! Very happy with the way you have directed your career towards what you love doing – and you are doing it very well! keep up the momentum and rock on, Nishant!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks KP,
      It isn’t an easy life, but I love it. It is a choice I made and I’ll still stand by it. There are many more transitions in pipeline and I’ll update you on it. These transition may make things bit more difficult for me:), but that’s what I aspire for.

      • nickmatulhuda

        so nishant is a once software engineer? uhmmm… interrrresting… what else?

  • Aparna Kudva

    I cant describe it any other way…you’ve captured emotion and life in your photographs so wonderfully and the story line is quite amazing.
    Congratulations Nishant!
    Cant wait for the book!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Aparna and Kudu,
      I will keep you people updated on the book.

  • Sudipac

    I know most of the people in the story- except for Balu whom I never had a chance to meet. It’s so touching Nishant…it strikes a chord with me. I know I am emotional and as quite expected, there is a small drop of tear at the corner of my right eye and a very faint and joyous smile on my face too. It has moved me to tears because I know there are thousands and thousands of orphan girls in India who never get a chance to be loved, cuddled or even taught- English is a far fetched thing. But, again, there are people like Veena who make such a huge difference. Knowing Venna, spending a lot of time with her in the past…I know, she is different, she is not the usual woman who would be content with what life would offer to her…she would go the extra mile to break the norm and do what feels right for her. I have always loved Veena for that- have immense amount of fondness for her. Thank you Veena for making such a difference.

    Nishant– very touching. Thanks for documenting the emotions, thoughts and feelings so well. All the very best.


    • Anonymous

      Dear Sudipa,
      I am glad this struck a chord with you. And thanks a lot for the feedback.

      Yes, there are thousands who will probably not get a family that Palu finally got. And there are thousands more who are even prevented from being born! This story is to bring focus to those silent crimes, and even an ambitious effort to change minds of people who otherwise take part in the silent crimes against girl child.

      Feel free to pass the message around.


  • Piers Michael

    This is good, a great effort to bring out what happens so very close to us.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Michael. It does happen everywhere around us. I appreciate that you recognise this fact. Thanks again.

  • illusions india

    Wish Akeela, Palu there Mom & Grand Parents my best wishes. Appreciate you efforts and challenges you’ve taken… the shift from IT to a Photo Jouralist :-)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks. I will surely pass on your message to them. In fact in constantly touch with Veena and letting her know how the world is reacting to this story and the issue it highlights. Thanks again.

  • Prakasharts

    nice work bro , hope to see more, God bless you.

  • Sanjay kudva


  • Ravi Shankar Bc

    what we are witnessing here is two sides of the same society we share one is committing the crime and the other reporting it !its strange to understand the
    human mind though we know its a crime we convince our self’s that’s it OK but what is shown is a great effort since you are concentrating on the ground reality’s and not on global warming :) feels proud to have known you

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Ravi. I am glad that you recognise the ground realities.

  • Nishitha Suvarna

    Bro…. PROUD OF U!!!! this is absolutely fantastic.. loved it.. wish to see more of ur awesome work…. god bless u and wish u all the very best in life… :-)

    • nishant

      Thanks Nishi. Feel free to share the story. God bless.

  • Sony

    Beautifully written. Waiting to read the book. Cheers

    • nishant

      Thanks sony. I will keep you and others updated on the book. I will post the announcement on my website when it is ready. Thanks for the support.

  • Abantwal

    Loved it. Way to go Nishant.

  • Induantony

    This is beautiful!!!! I am in tears and thinking of adopting one for myself!!! 

    • nishant

      Hey Indu. Glad the story struck chords with you and others. That was the intention. Feel free to share the story with others.

  • Rashmi

    This a great documentary, I just wish more of us could gather the courage to do what Phalu’s mother did. 

    • nishant

      I wish that her story helps others gather courage. thanks.

  • Vikram Rai

    This is brilliant stuff Nishant.! Luck and power to convey many more such stories of hope and courage..!

  • Anneecorrea

    Wow:)…Really neat Sir.

    • nishant

      Thanks Ann. Feel free to share the story and the message around.

  • Mitesh Shah

    Hey Nishant… a sensitive and poignant topic well depicted through
    this film! Loved the images and the overall treatment! My regards and best
    wishes to Veena and the kids; and best of luck to you for all your projects :) PS:
    Loved the photograph with Palu waving at the plane!

  • Disha

    Your work is beautiful. I am at a loss of words! Thank you for sharing it!

  • Jalaja

    Amazing work Nishant… It’s really inspiring! And you’ve presented it beautifully…

  • Jalaja

    Amazing work Nishant… It’s really inspiring! And you’ve presented it beautifully…

  • big.bald.&.bearded

    brilliant .. loved the shots .. intense .. great contrast .. absolutely captivating .. love the work .. 

  • Reena

    Hi Nishant

    Congrats, Great documentary… Adoption is explained in a very nice way… Hope most of us think of it in a positive way… But in my knowledge I feel there s long waiting list of girls now than boys.. People are slowly getting influenced..
    Also please let me know when the book is released.. Need a copy of it.. 

  • Pingback: APWS Spotlight: Nishant Ratnakar, Fistful of Dreams | Invisible Ph t grapher Asia()

  • Ashwin Krishna

    Machaa, This is a master piece. Will try my best to make this reach as many people as I can. Respect. :)

  • Saira Nadaf

    This is really great..Hats off to her mother…God bless you all :)

  • Sneha

    A very well made documentary, Nishant. My best wishes to Veena and family. She is truly a hero. Though most of us are aware of issues like this, we can’t muster courage to do what she has done. Kudos to you for having presented their story so well. The pictures are brilliant.

  • Lakshme

    A beautiful video that gave me multiple emotions in a single moment..anger,smile and tears. Also a new will and dream.Kudos to the makers of this!

  • Ashwin N

    Very touching. the presentation is great. and the message comes out very strong.

  • Karthik Muthuvali

    Wonderful work friend, its a story which had to be told and the way you are doing it does justice to it. Hats off to that wonderful mother.

  • Ashchoa

    thank u so much for sharing…god bless u :)

  • Yamini

    This is beautiful work, Nishant. Hats off to you.

    • nishant

      Thanks Yamini

  • Anonymous

    Recently, I had a Q&A with photojournalism students from my Alma mater, ACFJ at Ateneo de Manila Univeristy. The Q&A was on how i work on my documentary photography projects. And the discussion was built around Fistful of Dreams as an example. To read the discussion visit the following link.

  • Manojputtur

    One of the best i have seen and heard. The girls and their mother and their grand parents look so human… Nishanth I have heard that somebody told u it is not sensitive or violates a few things.. Man they are the words worth not listening… U have captured something which the Juvenile Justice Act, Adoption Agencies, Child Right Protection Commission’s, Child Welfare Committees have been trying to tell for long – Give these children a chance to lead a life full of dignity, love and promise…. Kudos to you… Keep the good work going man

    • Anonymous

      Dear Manoj,
      Thanks for your reactions, understanding of the project, and support.
      Do share the link to this story with others.

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