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Attitude among the Poor towards a Good Education

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This year I was brought into the Shanti Bhavan team that selects children for the new pre-school class. My training in psychology and a graduate of the school were considered helpful to the process. Being no stranger to the typical rural life and its cultural disposition, I was confident on providing useful insight into the behavioural and social dynamics that are integral to marginalized communities. By the end of our two months of search, we came to a few realizations.
The face of rural communities had undeniably changed over the last decade as job opportunities created by urban industrialization had significantly impacted their life-style. Many commuted daily to cities to work as security guards, housemaids, drivers, construction workers, and in other low level jobs, contributing largely to the labour requirement of businesses.
Very often we came upon locked houses and deserted streets, with children away at the local government school and both parents at work. Women like my mother w…

My Day at Inventure Academy

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It’s very special for a writer who has recently published her debut book to meet her readers first hand. In the early hours of the morning on the 18th of May, I dodged the heavy traffic in Bangalore to reach Inventure Academy, a world class school on the outskirts of Sarjapura.
I had been informed beforehand that all the high-schoolers had watched parts of the Netflix film ‘Daughters of Destiny’ together as a class and had even been assigned to read my book as homework. This level of preparation for my visit undeniably made me nervous because I would be interacting with an audience who knew me quite well from the revealing pages of my book and the raw images of my life in the docu-series.
After quickly scanning the large auditorium filled with young students, a few parents and several teachers, I briefly introduced myself and dived into the session by opening up the forum for questions. The first question came from a young boy wearing black rimmed glasses in the front row, speaking cle…

NEVER TOO EARLY TO START THE CONVERSATION

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Awareness is the first step to preventing and responding proactively to sexual abuse.
The last week of school at Shanti Bhavan before Christmas break is always abuzz with activity -- from wrapping up with semester exams to preparing for Santa’s arrival. While the children excitedly discuss how they plan to spend time with their families, the grown-ups have more serious thoughts on their minds.
Their concern is translated into long chats with the children, first individually and then as a group in the school assembly on matters concerning personal safety, staying hygienic and how best to handle difficult family situations like alcoholism, death of a relative, and violence.
“We feel nervous to have the children away from us but they need to be with their parents and siblings. They cannot lose touch with their families,” says Ms. Raji who juggles dual roles as head matron and class teacher for the pre-school. While there is plenty of anxiety in letting the children out of their sight and…

Reflections on 'Daughters of Destiny'

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The outpour of love and support my friends and I have received from many viewers around the world since the release of the Netflix docu-series, Daughters of Destiny, has been indeed humbling. Many seem to be interested in learning more about our lives, and in interacting with them I often find myself reflecting on all that shaped us to be daughters of destiny.
In 2011, I was in the midst of preparing for my final national exams which were to determine the kind of college I could join when I first met the film director, Vanessa Roth. Little did I know then that she was going to be an integral part of my life for the next seven years, silently observing all the happenings in the school through the lens of her camera and with her story-teller’s instinct. I was then seventeen years old and full of questions starting with my own immediate life.
In the beginning, I interacted with Vanessa as one would treat a guest, friendly but careful to give her a good impression. But it didn’t take long…

How I Came to Find My Father

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Others often ask me about my father. Those who have read my book seem puzzled by the amalgam of his contrasting personality traits: kind and cunning; loving and hurtful; aggressive and submissive; hopeful and fatalistic; selfless and selfish. He is all of these and more. He changes his ‘colour’ with the situation, just like a chameleon.
I still remember how his observant eyes closely scanned the foliage around us as we spoke during those afternoons we spent in the woods just by ourselves. I was sixteen then and deeply troubled by how little I knew about the man I called ‘father”. Acts of violence, deceit, emotional abuse and unfaithfulness to his wife that defined him were told to me by my grandmother and mother when I was growing up. Those tales ensured that I kept a distance from him and relegated him to the role of the oppressor, not considering the fact he too was at the receiving end of oppression from his short-tempered father, money-lenders and the police.

In the woods, while hi…

New Beginnings; Old Memories

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Anyone who visits the new pre-schoolers is met with the same question, “When will my parents come to take me home?” followed by the earnest plea, “Please ask my mother and father to take me back.” With comforting words, residential caretakers calm down the bawling four year olds when they burst into a loud chorus of cries. They work with clever answers, false promises, and ultimately, tempting chocolates.

This afternoon, as I moved from cot to cot trying to cajole the newcomers into taking a nap, I couldn’t help reminiscing on my own early days at the school back in 1997.  My first night was quite an event. Instead of the cold dung-coated floor of my hut, I slept on a warm cot; my mother’s presence by my side was replaced by a soft stuffed doll. But the elevated height of the cot scared me and the pretty stuffed doll was an empty comfort. I cried myself to sleep that night.

But over time, like the other children in my class, thoughts of home grew less painful as my mind was taken over b…

Grandmother's Red Can

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It’s an ordinary day in my village.
I’m waiting out the scorching afternoon heat, trying to take a nap on the cool cement floor of my grandmother’s house. The stillness all around has lulled my two-year old cousin sister to sleep in the sari cradle that hangs from the wooden rafter in the centre of the room.
But suddenly, the little girl lets out a wail as her peaceful slumber is broken by the loud, urgent cry of the scrap dealer passing by. “Old steel vessels. Paper. Broken parts,” he repeatedly calls out in a sing song manner that is strangely pleasing to the ear.
“Tell him to wait,” my grandmother instructs my brother and hurries to the rear of the house where a pile of discarded materials is heaped.
I eagerly follow her and help rummage through the dusty collection of odd items -- a deflated cycle tyre, a dented coffee pot, a broken ladle, my uncle’s rusty shaving kit, several of my used notebooks from college, and a pair of torn rubber slippers. “He weighs the paper in kilos. Some…