Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ek Din

I wake up in the morning, if all goes well, by 6:30.

I'm starting to look forward to this half an hour before anyone else wakes up. I do ten surya namaskars and use the straw jadoo to sweep the ants out of the living room.

Soon the water is running and we take cold bucket baths and make milky, ginger chai. By eight thirty Megha, Archana and I are ready, standing outside in the balcony over our peaceful street.

The auto rickshaw pulls in downstairs. Neelam,the sewing teacher at our organization picks us up in the morning since her brother drives a rickshaw. He likes to tell us about Chandigarh like we're taking a tour.

When I arrive to Bapu Dham colony, the area that houses a 50,000 person slum community and transport hub, Neelam and I walk down a small alley to the Yuvsatta building. For an hour the staff -- about eight regular people and teachers that float in and out -- sit around a table and inspect each other's lunches and talk about life and friends and work.

By 10 the girls of the Sakhi project arrive, saying "Namaste, didi" as they pass. The project is comprised of female teenagers who have dropped out of school, usually not by choice. Yuvsatta offers vocational classes in sewing, English, yoga, dancing, and how to open bank accounts and start self help groups.

Five girls from the class are in the education-themed drama Archana and I have prepared for an upcoming event, but one of them hasn't arrived. "She's not coming, didi," the girls tell me, "she has to stay home and wash clothes."

We only have one day until the performance, and the girls only get a few free hours away from home. I'm instantly stressed out, even though no one seems to worry about last-minute delivery here. The responsibility of the program has been handed, quickly, to me.

"Take me to her house," I tell her friend.

I'm led through the slum, stepping over running water, avoiding groups of smoking men. The city's tastiest food stalls originate here and there are women frying puris and samosas to fill their husbands carts before they head to the main markets throughout Chandigarh.

The air quality has turned suddenly thick and smoky and the houses have turned from ramshackled buildings to small huts. We're slowed down by a crowd standing outside someone's home.

I hear a woman wailing inside, but the crowd is unreadable.

"Someone died there," a girl tells me, completely unfazed. I find out later it is a fourteen year old girl who suffered from anemia. Apparently this has become increasingly common as girls reach their adolescence.

We find our missing actress washing her family's clothes. She promises to come on time, and our mission is complete.

Back at the community center there is much to be done. A minute-to-minute schedule has been made for the esteemed guest's arrival, but gets changed every five seconds.
I try an explain in my pathetic Hindi what needs to happen, but words like advocacy and women's rights don't come naturally from my childhood vocabulary.

The next four hours seem like a minute. The girls read their lines, giggling and forgetting, and worry about what they will wear.

And then the kids arrive at the library, kicking their shoes in the balcony and turning on the radio to Bollywood music. Their after school lives are my main project, so the television is now off limits, and their shoes have to be realigned.

Today also marks the last day of the Read Bapu Dham campaign, which honors the two best readers with new bicycles. The librarian, sweet and quiet against the chaos, tells me that we have to test them for their comprehension.

We set up a room for the examination and I'm instantly against this idea. The girls are literally trembling with fear of being tested, and hold on to their books as long as they can.

"Relax, this isn't school," I tell them. But the tears have already started to fill some eyes. Only two kids are completely confident, and they don't end up with the bikes.

Back in the library it's time to clean up. The kids are enthusiastic about helping, and we spend two hours taking down 5000 books, making sure they're in order, and wiping down the shelves. The kids balance from all kinds of wobbling surfaces to reach the top of the shelves.

Archana and I have a meeting to attend so we walk to the bus stop at 4. The bus doesn't show up, so 30 rupees later we are at the meeting place, my legs aching as they've been doing a lot here.

Three hours of discussion later, we are ate home, scrounging to make some daal and rice and scrub at least one kurta for tomorrow.


My Voices said...

Hey Ankita, since I was there for 8-10 days, i can visualize all that you have written and ofcourse the house :)would wait for more posts!!

Sarah J. said...

Wow, this sounds exhausting. But I am so proud of you and I'm sure you are feeling fulfilled, even if you can barely stand. Keep up the great work--I love hearing about your day-to-day life so far away!


befor sunset,before sunrise said...

Overwhelming to say the least!! you are so complete!! so proud of you my lil sis!

Anonymous said...

Three things:
*your determination to have your lost actress at rehearsal reminded me of my sister, asha, and her spirit. it also reminded me of jayeshbhai's saying about rice: not one grain left on his plate b/c he knows how deep the farmer had to reach to ensure that that one grain land on his plate.
*invest in an awesome pair of chappals. your feet and legs will only grew achier. the first two months i was in india, my feet were swollen.
*i'm going to start getting up 1/2 hour early to do surya namaskar too :)


Lynsey S. said...

Ankita! As much as I miss you, I feel like I am right there in the mix with you. I know you are taking it all in and changing the world all while doing so! Sounds so cheesy but you're just so good at that.

Love u!