|Karen and me at Stanford Summer School 1987|
The Aasha Foundation does amazing work and has basically saved the lives of the girls in their care. Thirty girls live in a group home (known as the Sharanam Centre) with a set of house parents in the area of Mumbai called Dharavi. Most people know Dharavi as the biggest slum in the city, and the setting of "Slum Dog Millionaire." I'm learning that it's also is an incredibly productive area, due to the industry of the people who live there. (National Geographic has an interesting article on Dharavi. If you teach, this article is included in the slick Nat Geo reader that recently came out.)
For the last few years, I've been corresponding with Karen and following the facebook page of the Aasha Foundation. The girls look genuinely happy in photos. The foundation provides them not only with the basics but also private school in English, extracurriculars such as dance, computers, basketball and yoga, and opportunities to learn about different careers. They are also provided with opportunities for outings - like regular kids - to see movies (they saw two blockbuster hits last year in the theater), to buy holiday dresses, or new jeans. This Christmas they all received brand-new sneakers from a generous donor.
|Sharanam girls with their new trainers Dec 2012|
Five girls have actually gone on to college and are living in dorms with other girls from all across India who have come to Mumbai to study. From my point of view, it is an incredible success story. How many people's lives have you saved today? (Right. Me too.)
So, when Karen invited me to come stay with her, I was thrilled. And terrified. Me, travel to India? Do people do that? They just get on a plane and end up in India? Whoa. I never imagined I would be one of those people.
Which leads me to the second reason I am on my way to India in a few days. I needed a sabbatical project. The chance to apply for a sabbatical came up this year, since I finally met the requirements at my college. Mulling over all the possibilities with Luis, he suggested I take the opportunity to travel to India for an ethnographic project. Brilliant! Not only did this give me a project, but if Luis complained, I could say he started it.
I considered a study on food (my favorite topic) and dance (the thing I'd almost always rather be doing) but neither one sounded like a good fit for a short visit. When I thought about my Cultural Anthropology course, the answer became clear: arranged marriage. In class, we spend an entire unit on arranged marriage in India. Of course, I use Serena Nanda's seminal essay "Arranging a Marriage in India" and we pore over marriage advertisements from an Indian newspaper. The highlight of the unit is when I show pictures from my brother and his wife (then fiancee)'s trip to Kerala, South India, when he attended a good friend's wedding. We talk about how their marriage was arranged by their parents - his in New York and hers in Kerala - and discuss the reasons why it works for so many people. We also talk about the very real possibility of a poor match, dowry issues, and potentially tragic consequences. A trip to India would give me more authentic data and analysis to work with. I would be able to update Nanda's article and talk about fieldwork experiences. That sounded really exciting.
Out of 9 sabbatical applications, I was one of the lucky three. I bought my plane tickets as soon as I could.