Of the Places You’ll Go, and the Faces You’ll Never Forget

Yet again India has been my teacher.

We have finally finished our documentaries (well at least the rough cut), and the experience was something I will never forget. I met so many wonderful people who touched my heart with their generosity, kindness, curiosity, and happiness. When I look back on my time here in India I will always remember the expression that each child seemed to share. It is the kind of expression that exudes innocence, and radiates hope eminating a gentle soul, which hides behind sleepy eyes and an incandescent smile. These are the characteristics I will remember when I think back to the children of Abhyudaya. Yet each child, though familiar with their heartwarming expressions, had his or her own story to tell. One child whom I will never forget played a leading role in our documentary. Her name is Swati and she is 15. She has big brown eyes, and an even bigger attitude. She reminds me of my younger sister because although she is young she commands attention. Every minute I spent with her I was so intrigued, and even a little intimidated. She has so much passion for life, and she doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do. I know that she is going to grow up, and do something amazing because she is so strong and independent. I wish I could be as brave as she is. It is often very hard to stand up for yourself or say what you really mean, but Swati does it fearlessly. As much as she might have learned from me, I know that I have learned twice as much from her. The next time I come back to India (because I am definitely coming back) I will look Swati up and I am sure I will find her running her own interior design company, telling her husband what to do, and throwing an elaborate wedding for her sister just like she had told me she dreams of doing. Swati’s courage and strength are traits I hope to learn, and plan to work on emulating starting right now.

The expressions that I see in India, which are so beautiful they can only belong to the magnificent people of this colorful country, are not the only thing that every Indian has in common. There are so many unique and wonderful things about the people here, that I unfortunately was not blessed with. My dirty blonde hair, small blue eyes, and ghost like complexion make blending in a far away dream in some alternate universe. However, even though I do get stares now and again, I do not feel like an outsider. I almost feel like I fit in better with everyone in India than I do in America. People here are so simple. They just live their lives, day to day, and go along with whatever a particular day has in store for them. This easy going attitude also fosters an unimaginable curiosity, and I am lucky enough to intrigue that curiosity. I have been so welcomed here that it is going to be extremely difficult to say goodbye. I know that when I get back to America I will not be welcomed the way that I have been here. I will miss all the little moments of joy each day brought me when I go home in three days because even though I am a foreigner – I feel as if I have known India, and it’s people, my entire life.

I love you India, and I will never forget the beautiful faces who made my three weeks here so extraordinarily magnificent.

 

ImageImageImage

Advertisements

Invest in the Human Soul

“It’s nice to see your smiling face,” says Manisha as I walk into the office of the Abhyudaya School. Prior to Manisha, I had never been told how nice it is to see my smiling face – sure I’ve had the usual “It’s nice to see you” or “I’m so happy you’re here,” but interactions like these always seem to lack a certain kind of sincerity. Manisha’s genuine happiness about seeing me smile was as refreshing as the air conditioning just starting to cool my overheated body, and only reinforced what I had been feeling all day: I was in the right place.

 

On Tuesday, we started the documentaries we will be working on during our final weeks in India. My group was paired with the Abhyudaya School, which provides underprivileged children with an education, and a chance at a better life. With education as their platform, the Abhyudaya School guides young boys and girls in a holistic journey of self-discovery and growth. Beginning in 7th standard, ages 11-15, Abhyudaya supports these boys and girls until the completion of their education, which means until the children decide they want to stop, even if that means supporting them through graduate school. The children that attend Abhyudaya are referred to as “sitaras,” which means star in hindi. These little stars are selected from the schools around the area, and then begin taking classes at Abhyudaya on the weekends, and are paired with a mentor. Abhyudaya is unique in that it is not a full time school. The sitars attend their regular government funded schools where they learn all the necessary subjects, and then on Saturday (after their regular school day is over), and Sunday they study supplemental subjects like english or drawing. Each sitara is paired with a mentor, who is a graduate student at S P Jain College of Management and Research. The mentors visit their mentees at least 24 times an academic school year where they work on building the sitara’s confidence, and helping him or her find their full potential.

 

I am amazed every day that I visit the school at the beauty, grace, and intellect of every sitara. I ma thankful to Abhyudaya for opening it’s doors to me, and allowing me to learn along with the sitaras.

मौका याद मत करो

The bus rides are my favorite part about my time here in India. That might seem a little odd to some people because well it’s a bus ride, but every morning and every night I get to see the city of Mumbai, and it’s people, in a way that is completely my own.

I don’t have people shouting around me, the sun beating down on my back, horns swirling every which way (well that still happens, but I can’t hear them with my headphones in my ears) – it’s just me, my seat, and the view from my window. I reflect on the day I just had, and look forward to the day ahead of me. I know that I will be welcomed back to my air conditioned room with a comfortable bed, and a bottle of water – but what about all of the people I see sleeping on the streets as I stare out my window? With each passing slum I wonder what are the people who live there thinking? All I have ever known is luxury. I am fortunate enough to have parents who love and support me, and who provide me with everything that I need. Do the people living in the dirt and heat in Mumbai know any better? It seems that they must because there are so many billboards, malls, cars, and buildings surrounding them – built as if the people below don’t exist – it seems to me that it must be impossible for them to ignore the wealth around them, yet somehow I feel as if they do. The simplicity of the lives of the people I see as I look out the bus window, and the sobering effect it has on me is why I love these rides so much. As sad as it is to look out my window, and see such poverty I am overcome with humility, which is a rare feeling back in America. So, in my little corner on the bus I have found something so much greater than I could have ever expected to. I have a found a new source of inspiration in these nameless faces. Everything inspires me about these people. The families and children I see inspire me to respect everyone on a truly deeper level than I have ever before, they inspire me to cherish the people in my life, and to never take for granted the things I have been blessed with, they inspire to me share what I have seen, so that one day the next girl looking out the window might see a different Mumbai. Despite all of the heartache I have seen while in India, what inspires me most is how much joy can still be felt in the very heartbeat of the city.

The people of India are the warmest, and most infectious people I have ever met. Each day my spirit is renewed by their kind heartedness, and passion for life. As a film student studying Bollywood film, I have learned that song, and the passion of the Indian people are one and the same. Without exception every moment of an Indian’s life is celebrated with song – from birth to death, and everything in between. On Friday night, I was lucky enough to share in this part of Indian culture, and dance in a Bollywood item number. One of the lyrics from the song we were dancing to, “Lungi Dance,” says “Don’t miss your chance,” which I decided to use as the heading for my blog post because my time in India has taught me that you have to push yourself, and take every single adventure that comes your way. The only way to grow holistically as an individual is to never stop fighting. When I first got to India I was really afraid because of how outside of my comfort zone I was. Now, I can’t imagine my life without having had this experience.

The other night my classmates and I were walking the tiny lanes of Veronica Road (a predominantly Christian part of India) where we suddenly found ourselves being beckoned to sing, dance, and celebrate in the streets. Without knowing why this celebration was happening we all joined in. All of these strangers from opposite sides of the planet were sharing a moment of complete and total joy, and it was magical. We later discovered that we had stumbled upon a Marati wedding, and true to Indian fashion we were welcomed with open arms. Had I not pushed through my fear of being somewhere so new I would have never had this memory to stay with me for the rest of my life.

Earlier, that day we ate lunch at Juhu Beach where, you guessed it, we were once again welcomed with open arms. This was a truly surreal experience for me because I have never experienced so much attention from anyone (let alone strangers) before in my life! As we stood there ordering our popsicles, I was approached by one onlooker who wanted to take a picture with me. Before I knew it, everyone around me wanted my picture! It was overwhelming and exhilarating all at the same time. Later that day we went to visit Salman Khan’s house, an extremely revered Bollywood actor, so loved that people stand out his house day in and day out hoping for a picture. Yet, you would think I was the celebrity there because again everyone wanted a picture with me! What intrigued me even more was that people also wanted me to take their picture. To see how excited they were to have me point my big, bulky black camera at them, and feel the flash go off in their face was so interesting to me. The whole day made me happy. It was a cool feeling knowing that just by being in a picture, or by taking a picture (both great souvenirs for me) I made someone smile.

 

Each day I spend here I realize so much about myself, and learn so much about the world. I can’t wait to see what makes me smile next.

 

 

 

I’m Not a Celebrity, but You Can Have My Autograph

There has been so much to adjust to in India that I really haven’t been able to put it into words…until today. I woke up this morning still not fully over the culture shock of coming to India from a life in America. As I sat in lecture I felt lost – I wanted to learn about this new and beautiful culture, but I hated feeling so out of my element.

In my last post I talked about the heat and the smell here – both are so bad and thick it’s almost like you can touch them, and what makes the heat even worse is how humid it is. On top of the humidity and smell, there is so much poverty and dirt every where. After walking around for a day my ankles were a different color from my feet because of all the dirt. Seeing people upon people upon people living on the street right next to a fancy hotel or an unbelievable mansion is so sad, and so unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It has been an extremely sobering experience for me, and when I get back to the states I will appreciate things in a way I haven’t before.
We have been taking a bus everywhere so far, but tomorrow we start taking what they call rickshaws or “autos” here, and it’s basically a motorcycle with a roof and a seat in the back that fits three people (the taxis of Mumbai). I only pray I am ready for that experience. There are no street signs, street lights, road names,  or lanes here! It’s a literal free for all. And people are crazy!! They drive 5 people to one motorcycle with no helmets, and children hanging off the front and back!! People are walking on the roads next to the cars basically almost getting hit with every step, and if you do get hit or hit someone else you just keep going!! Our bus bumped a motorcycle because it didn’t stop in time, and life just went on…this is such a foreign concept in the states.
But today I feel like things have began to change for me.

We started rehearsals this afternoon for the Bollywood item number we are going to be starring in, and I had the most fun dancing I have ever had. The way the heat used to effect me seemed to melt away with each new dance move, and when we took breaks outside I was no longer upset by the smell – just excited to keep dancing. What’s even more exciting is that we are going to wear beautiful outfits made by the fashion design students here, and the film students will be producing the number. We have a 12 hour night shoot on Friday(it’s too hot to dance outside during the day), and I cannot wait for it!!
Then as we sat in traffic on our bus ride home I made a friend in the most unexpected place – traffic. The cars here are so close to one another that you can see the color of the person’s eye in the vehicle next to you, which makes it really easy for people to stare at us. No matter where we go we are stared at. It’s as if we aren’t human beings to the Indian people. It’s like we are aliens that landed on their planet, and they don’t know how to react, so they just stare. For the first couple of days this really bothered me. When we were on the bus I would close the shade so that the unwanted paparazzi wouldn’t be able to stare at me, and on the street I wore oversized sunglasses (it’s actually not that sunny here – I wear my sunglasses mostly to block dirt from getting into my eyes, and to avoid making eye contact with my fellow onlookers). Then today as I looked out the window I made eye contact with a boy on the bus next to ours. As he waved and smiled at me to get my attention I couldn’t help but to wave and smile back at him. From that point on every time our buses crossed paths we would give each a thumbs up, or a wave. Even though I’ll never see him again, I will always remember the boy on the bus. By being so happy and excited just to wave at me, and have me smile back at him he brightened my entire night. I felt like we had both given each other an experience we would never forget, and I knew that something so simple yet so powerful, like the exchange I just described, could only happen here in India. That’s why I labeled this post I’m not a celebrity, but you can have my autograph. In India just being from a different country makes you a celebrity to the people you come in contact with day to day, and now thanks to my interaction with the boy on the bus the stares have some other meaning for me. And who knows maybe one of these days someone will even ask me for my autograph!
Now, as I sit here in Mark’s hotel room watching Dev. D (an Indian drama film released in 2006) surrounded by peers who have become my friends,  and my Mumbai family I feel as if I am finally starting to feel at home in this city of dreams.
IMG_3482 (The most beautiful tapas I have ever seen!)
 IMG_3491 (the most beautiful lunch view!)
IMG_3514 (a somewhat failed attempt at capturing the traffic)

You Can’t Think It, You Have to Dream It

My first 48 hours in India have been a mix of emotions to say the least.

As soon as the plane was out of the clouds, and we were minutes from landing in India you could already smell the heat and the smog, and we weren’t even on the ground yet! I think the hardest things for me to adjust to here have been the temperature, and the smell. Of course, everything has been a bit of a culture shock, but it seems these two aspects of my trip will take me the longest to adjust to. Despite, the heat and the smell India is more than I ever could have imagined.

What has stuck out the most to me is that everyone is so nice. When I say nice I don’t mean they smile and wave. I mean everyone here goes out of their way to make us feel welcomed as foreigners – from the hotel staff to the faculty at Whistling Woods University I have never felt more welcomed than I do here in India.

On top of being so well received I am learning more than I could have ever wished to, and it’s only the third day!! I labeled my post “You can’t think it, you have to dream it” because yesterday after braving the heat for an exciting day of shopping at Lokhandwala Market where I found the most beautiful gifts to bring back for my family, we headed over to Aram Nagar in Versova where we met line producer Harish Amin (His most recognizable film in the states is probably Life of Pi). Mark (as in Mark  Bennington the amazing photographer we are lucky enough to have as our chaperon while in India)  asked him to give us piece of advice that he thought was the most important thing to know as budding television and film professionals, and he told us that we can’t think our ideas, we have to dream them. This really stuck out to me, and I will remember it forever. I guess I have always had this philosophy about my own projects, but I have never really been able to put this feeling into words. In just one sentence Harish Amin verbalized something I have felt my entire life, and even if the next three weeks in India are horrible (I know they won’t be) I am thankful to have this memory to keep on inspiring me for the rest of my life.

 

Unknown     IMG_2457  (Harish Amin and Mark)  IMG_3492  (Lokhandwala Market)

IMG_2482 (Our shoes outside of Tribal Route – a shop in Aram Nagar in Versova)

 

I Made It! To India, and to this blog!!

We have been in India now for three days, and every minute presents a new adventure and story…beginning with my flight here. I woke up at 7:30 on Friday morning anxious, but excited about my impending journey to Mumbai, India – the City of Dreams. I thought to myself “It’s okay to be a little nervous, it’s a big trip but everything will be fine and run smoothly.” However, it seemed the universe had a different plan.

The day before my departure packing went surprisingly well – seeing as I was leaving for three weeks to study in India, and had only begun packing at 10 o’clock the night before. Unfortunately, the ease that came with packing for my trip lured me into a cruel false sense of security about my upcoming travels.

The morning started off as well as one could hope. My younger sister and my mom drove me to the airport in Buffalo, where I was scheduled to catch a 10:30 am flight to Newark to meet up with the rest of my group for our 8:30 pm flight to India. My sister walked me as far as she could to security, and we shared one final laugh as she sent snapchat videos to her friends, while I walked timidly to the security checkpoint. I made it through security, and to my gate with plenty of time to spare. Then the one thing I dreaded most became my reality; my flight to Newark was delayed. I had a momentary freak out, but was assured by the ticket clerks that I would make my connection in Newark. Just as quickly as I was told my flight to Newark might even take off earlier than intended I was informed my flight had been cancelled!! I couldn’t believe it. I called my mom crying, and was once again totally freaking out. After about thirty minutes of trying to get on another flight with no avail my mom picked me up, and we started to make the six hour drive from Buffalo to Newark in hopes that we might get there in time for me to make my flight to India.

About an hour into the drive we discovered there was a flight leaving from Syracuse, and flying into Newark. We decided that trying to make this flight was my best option. I got to the airport with plenty of time to make my new flight…only to learn that it had been delayed until 5 o’clock. Needless to say, I had basically lost all hope at this point. I have to thank my wonderful mother here because she encouraged me the entire time If it weren’t for her I don’t know if I would have actually gone to India. With all of the delays and cancellations I was convinced it was an omen or some sort of sign telling me not to go.

As my mom and I waited three hours for my new delayed flight my nerves began to calm. She was so positive, and uplifting I was beginning to feel at ease again. Then…my flight was delayed again!! This time I was told it would take off at 6 o’clock. Luckily for my mom who had spent the day trying to calm me down I was used to the news, and I kinda just left it up to fate.

Finally, at 5:30 they began boarding my flight to Newark! I kissed my mom goodbye, and began my trip to India…only to make it to Newark to find that my flight to India had been delayed.

All obstacles aside, I am here and I loving everything that India has to offer!

 

10264852_10203169426689345_2723345608651292410_n