“My eyes tear up as I hug Ashish. ‘I’ll try to come back and do art with you next summer,’ I promise him, taking a step back out of our embrace, ‘I will miss you a lot’. His dark eyes meet mine as he remarks, ‘But that’s life.’ I pause for a second, taken aback. But I shouldn’t be surprised. Ashish is wise beyond his fourteen years. I say goodbye to the other Akanksha kids, trying to keep hold of my emotions. We do the last of our special handshakes and share our last hugs. Kajal gives me a kiss on the cheek. We wave furious goodbyes, blowing kisses. They start walking outside, around the corner. After Ashwini, Suraj, and Needa reappear a few times for sneaky goodbyes, the kids are gone. With the other Andover students, I make my way upstairs. My emotions are lead bricks weighing my steps down. I stare at the ground, thinking. ‘But that’s life...’” -- An Excerpt from my 2012 Final Niswarth Paper One year later I am in Vaibhav’s house watching 3 Idiots. I love that movie.
Except I don’t understand what the characters are saying because it is all in Hindi and there are no English subtitles. Which makes sense because we happened to flip to it while watching TV. But it doesn’t matter. I laugh at what would be the jokes anyway. I saw the movie for the first time last summer. I was with the Niswarth Program in an air conditioned conference room in the MCA, a little different from Vaibhav’s living room. It is a Bollywood movie that was based on a book (a fact I learned from Ashish) that explores the Indian education system.
I am so happy to be here, in Vaibhav’s living room with him, Mansi, Ashish, Salli didi, Vaibhav’s mother and sister, Jordan and Soha. This moment, so different from last year, feels incredibly right. We are supposed to be here, in this purple and blue room gathered on a hodge podge collection of chairs, together.
There are no coincidences.
The road here was a long one. One that started even before I returned home from Mumbai last summer. It began the day I said goodbye to the Akanksha students, to Ashish and Mansi, and knew that I didn’t want it to be goodbye. It began that day when I promised them I would return the next summer. And it turns out I kept my promise.
I came back with Jordan and Soha.
To work on a documentary film project.
To get to know some of the students we worked with better.
To experience the wonders of Niswarth. Again.
All of those reasons.
We have spent around six days with the students, asking them questions, visiting their communities, meeting their families, telling them a bit about our lives, and filming. A lot of filming. The process itself was full of twists and turns, of moments of doubt and uncertainty but also of pure joy and intense optimism. I have so much to reflect on now and when I return home (in addition to helping sort through the mounds of footage that needs to be edited). But for now, I am full of gratitude. And hope. But mostly gratitude. I owe the fact that I am crouched on the floor of the Cricket Club composing this blog post (I’m on the floor because my computer is dying and I need access to an outlet) to so many people that it would be impossible to list everyone in a single post.
But I will try. I am thankful for my mom, for Ms. Tous, Mr. Mundra and the Niswarth Program, for Jordan and Soha (!!!), for Ashish, Mansi, and Vaibhav, for Salli didi, for Dr. Moore, for all the Andover students on the trip this year, for all of our partners in India, for all of the students on the trip last year and on and on.
The feeling is bittersweet. Knowing that in a matter of hours I will be on my way back to the United States. But also knowing I might return. That I might see Mansi, Ashish, and Vaibhav again. That now I recognize the definite force, relentlessly pulling me back to to the students and India.
This year, I am bringing gratitude back with me from India. (Sorry to my friends and family back home- there aren’t any souvenirs). I have learned and am learning so much about gratitude from everyone I have come into contact with these past weeks.
The tears that flooded my eyes after I said goodbye to the Akanksha students today are different. Partially because I am a different person from last year. But mostly because I know how interconnected the world is. I know it is likely our paths will cross again. Maybe in Mumbai, but maybe elsewhere.
There are no coincidences.