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.

DEOBAND, India — Hundreds of young men in crisp white tunics and skullcaps sit cross-legged in classrooms ringed with porticoes, poring over Islamic texts. From a marble minaret above them, a dozen voices wail Quranic verse in unison.

They start and stop in rounds, echoing like a canon across an otherwise scruffy landscape of rickshaws, tea stalls and open sewers.

Updated August 27, 2021 at 2:23 PM ET

MUMBAI — One of the most prominent symbols of Afghanistan's democracy — the national parliament building, with its giant bronze dome and marble fountains — was a gift from the world's largest democracy.

Alongside the United States, India has spent the past 20 years trying to foster a democratic system in Afghanistan. It invested $3 billion into building Afghan roads, bridges, schools and clinics.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, authorities began distributing coronavirus vaccines to more than a million Rohingya refugees who spent years crowded in camps in southern Bangladesh after fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

MUMBAI, India – As his teammates cried with joy, India's goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh scrambled atop his goalposts, his padded legs dangling, and stretched his arms wide, pumping two fists in the air.

The curse was broken.

When India defeated Germany to win a bronze medal Thursday in Olympic men's field hockey, it was the country's first medal in that sport since 1980 – a decade before any of the current players were even born.

MUMBAI, India — The mysterious death of a 9-year-old girl from India's most oppressed caste has horrified her country.

How many people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began?

The official global total as of this week: 4.1 million.

But everyone agrees the true toll is far greater. A study released on Tuesday looks at how much of a disparity there may be in India, one of the epicenters of the pandemic.

The coronavirus has silenced even Dhaka's cacophony.

The notoriously traffic-clogged streets of Bangladesh's capital were eerily empty Thursday, save for soldiers on patrol on the first day of a national lockdown imposed after daily tallies of new coronavirus infections nearly quintupled over the past month.

MUMBAI – When Mumbai began lifting its coronavirus lockdown this month, Rekha Gala could finally reopen her late father's photocopy and stationary store, which she runs with her siblings in a jumble of low-slung businesses north of the city center.

They'd been closed for nearly three months. They needed to recoup business. But she was terrified. Gala had lost both her parents to other illnesses in the past year and several neighbors to COVID-19. She'd only been able to get her first vaccine dose, which she knew wouldn't fully protect her from getting ill.

MUMBAI AND SAN FRANCISCO — One night last month, police crowded into the lobby of Twitter's offices in India's capital New Delhi. They were from an elite squad that normally investigates terrorism and organized crime, and said they were trying to deliver a notice alerting Twitter to misinformation allegedly tweeted by opposition politicians.

Editor's note: One of the photographs in this story, of a crematorium, could be disturbing to some readers.

When health workers finally arrived last month in the remote village of Namanta, up in the forested foothills of Nepal's Himalayas, residents hid in their homes.

They'd been advised not to welcome strangers, who might spread the coronavirus. But it was already too late. Out of 64 households in the village, 30 of them had someone who was ill.

MUMBAI — Three years ago, when Shiv Joshi was studying to become a doctor at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in central India, he had to choose a specialty. He'd been reading about the Black Death and the Spanish flu, and he wanted to learn how to track infectious diseases through triage, testing and contact tracing. So he decided to specialize in community medicine.

This was in 2018 — a century after the 1918 flu pandemic he was reading about, and two years before the coronavirus would become a full-blown pandemic in India.

MUMBAI, India — Watching horrifying scenes in India's big cities, where COVID-19 patients have been unable to get ambulances, and even the best-equipped hospitals have run out of oxygen, Saurav Kumar shuddered to think what this wave of the pandemic would do to his hometown.

MUMBAI — Watching his young children gleefully celebrate Holi, the Indian festival of colors, with his father in March, Shalabh Pradhan thought: "This is exactly why we moved back to India."

MUMBAI — India can't catch a break.

On the same day the country confirmed its highest-ever daily death toll from COVID-19, it was also hit by a deadly storm. Cyclone Tauktae barreled into India's west coast overnight packing wind gusts of up to 130 miles per hour — some of the strongest on record — before weakening over land later Tuesday.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MUMBAI, India — Outside an upscale Indian hospital last week, Baljeet Asthana put her phone on selfie mode, propped her eyeglasses on her head so she could stare directly into the camera, and hit record.

MUMBAI, India — Sanchi Gupta was running around, trying to get her hands on an oxygen cylinder — even an empty one.

Her mother was one of 140 COVID-19 patients in Saroj Hospital, one of the best-equipped hospitals in India's capital, New Delhi. She was on a ventilator in intensive care. Then the hospital told Gupta and other families that its oxygen supply had run out. So they had to go out and find oxygen cylinders to bring to the hospital to keep their loved ones alive.

MUMBAI, India — India's top diplomat and his entourage have been forced to self-isolate, participating in a G-7 foreign ministers meeting only virtually — from hotel rooms near the venue in London — after at least two members of the Indian delegation tested positive for the coronavirus.

India has now reported more than 20 million coronavirus infections, including nearly 3.5 million people who are actively being treated for COVID-19. The country's health system is in a state of collapse as hospitals and clinics face dire shortages of beds and lifesaving supplies.

MUMBAI — Santosh Pandey's wife is the head of their village, population about 1,600, near the holy city of Varanasi in northern India. He sometimes answers her phone. So he's up to date on what's happening in town.

And what's happening these days, he said, is horrific.

Fifty people from his village, Ashapur, and a neighboring one, Tilamapur, have died in the past two weeks. Most died at home, gasping for breath, with fevers. But only five or six of them were officially counted as COVID-19 deaths, Pandey said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

MUMBAI — Sagar Kishore Naharshetivar has been driving a van around southern India with his father lying in the back, hooked up to an oxygen tank. His father has COVID-19 and needs treatment. This past week, they've tried hospitals in three different towns, even crossing state lines from Maharashtra to Telangana.

All the hospitals are full.

MUMBAI — About 100 vaccination centers abruptly shut down Friday in India's financial capital, Mumbai, amid a shortage of doses and as the country confirmed its highest daily jump in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

MUMBAI — India confirmed another record jump in COVID-19 cases Wednesday, as the world's biggest vaccine maker said it was "very stressed" and needs help from the Indian government to boost production.

India is struggling to speed up vaccinations amid its sharpest spike in coronavirus infections since the pandemic began. Authorities are also trying to balance stricter curbs on movement while also ensuring fair voting in five regions holding state elections throughout the month.

MUMBAI — India on Monday recorded its biggest daily jump in coronavirus infections, joining only a handful of countries, including the United States, to cross the threshold of 100,000 new cases in a single day.

A surge is happening across South Asia. Pakistan's prime minister and president are among those to test positive in recent weeks. A one-week lockdown began in Bangladesh on Monday.

MUMBAI — India on Wednesday recorded its biggest jump in COVID-19 deaths so far this year, as authorities in worst-hit Mumbai commandeered private hospitals and nursing homes amid an unprecedented wave of coronavirus infections.

PUNE, India – Last spring, a father and son in India had a 5-minute chat over dinner that had the potential to change the course of the pandemic.

Cyrus and Adar Poonawalla are the founder and CEO, respectively, of the Serum Institute of India. It's the world's largest vaccine-producing company in the world's largest vaccine-producing nation.

It turns out a COVID-19 vaccine that stirred controversy in India may be effective after all.

NASHIK, India – In a dusty lot outside a wholesale market in western India, farmer Ambadas Sanap leans on the lip of his flatbed truck, surrounded by crates of green peppers and tomatoes. If he could get away from all this for just one day, he says, he'd travel to the capital to protest.

He wants his voice to be heard.

But Sanap, 44, cannot afford to take time off from laboring in his fields or hawking his produce at this sprawling government-run wholesale yard. He's got nine family members to feed.

On Feb. 1, the editor of an award-winning Indian magazine got a call from his social media manager: The magazine's Twitter account was down.

"I said, 'Are you sure? Can you just refresh, and check again?' " recalled Vinod K. Jose, executive editor of The Caravan, which covers politics and culture. "But she said, 'No, no, it's real.' "

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