In A message home I wrote that my year in India has indulged childhood fantasies. I’ve been a jack-of-all trades; I’ve had the chance to try my hand at every job I wanted as a kid, except the astronaut part. And I’ve performed tasks that I’d rather not have done; but that’s part of the adventure.
This year I’ve been a teacher, for most of the year actually. I spent an hour lecturing a class of diploma students on personal responsibility. I spent two weeks training teachers to be better leaders. I spent a morning facilitating a session on organizational values for over one-hundred colleagues.
As a nurse, I’ve gone through over one-hundred Boots plasters and applied far too much Tiger Balm to bruised children. As a doctor, I’ve diagnosed fevers, infections, applied bandages and prescribed lots of Pepto Bismol. As a physiotherapist I’ve helped Rajveer learn to walk in his first zimmer-frame. I, briefly, played some sort of dentist when I told Manish he wouldn’t grow back his chipped tooth.
For several years I wanted to be an architect, and this year I helped landscape the courtyard of the hostel and redesigned the rear entrance to make it wheelchair accessible, right up to the sinks where plates are washed. When I couldn’t be an architect, I played engineer, sculpting out the precise measurements and materials needed for my smokeless Chula which, as a labourer, I spent a weekend building. As a scientist, I spent every winter morning experimenting with our fires to make sure they were most efficient and fume-free, does that make me an environmentalist?
I’ve even spent a short while farming. Nothing too strenuous, but enough to say I’ve done it. I’ve herded goats and cows in my short career practicing animal husbandry. I even milked a buffalo; and a buffalo stood on my foot. I’ve done a year of gardening, culminating in one small project to plant a hundred saplings around the play area. My career as a botanist was short-lived, though; they all died soon thereafter. But my small aloe vera plant, a gift from Indicorps, is still going strong.
I’ve played electrician when we’ve had power outages, or when the generator power has been needed elsewhere. I’ve had enough electric shocks to match the output of a small thunderstorm. I was a plumber twice, once when I finally fixed my leaking shower and tap, and another time when we installed a sink area outside to wash dishes. Nothing too dirty, though, and I haven’t got myself a toolkit yet.
For the last six months I’ve been a businessman, submitting a business plan for a new enterprise which won first place at the national E3 business awards. I spent a month as a surveyor, market researcher, accountant and marketing executive. Now, I’m handing over the reins to a new team who will manage the emerging venture.
I’ve played tour guide to friends and family, and I’ve played translator a few too many times; probably not very effectively and most definitely not worth paying for.
I’ve been a little extra-curricular at school too. I tried my hand at speech therapy, but I can’t pronounce Hindi characters so I’m little help to others. I invented new teaching aids to help in classrooms. I’ve coached cricket, football, badminton and bocce. And during the annual function I played actor, stage director, make-up artist, special effects wizard and scriptwriter. This is not my calling. Choreography, however, might be.
I am a decorator on most weekends. I’ve painted rooms, railings, window frames and wooden toys. I’m also an artist. I painted a world map on one wall of the hostel, in an epic work that took over forty hours and is still not finished. I’ve been a designer of new products for the Daksh business we launched, and I’ve been a cartographer, recording the first map of the local village of Chachiyawas for use in the school curriculum.
When I conducted a study of the families we work with I was a budding researcher, visiting fifty-two homes over six weeks. I’ve been a writer, helping prepare several reports; and a grant-writer in particular, submitting appeals for funding from overseas agencies. And of course, I’ve been an author, writing this blog and public columns elsewhere.
I wish I could say I’ve been a driver, but I haven’t. I’ve been a traveler. I’ve been passenger on the back of a motorbike, with one, two, and three other people. I’ve ridden alongside Nadan in his jeep; I’ve travelled on the tops of buses; and of course, I’ve slept in every possible berth on India’s trains. I’ve gone from Gujarat to Delhi, Rajasthan to Maharashtra, and Karnataka to Madhya Pradesh. I’ve hitched on the back of an ox-cart. An elephant is more comfortable than a camel.
I’ve done my share of labour. I’ve been a cleaner every day; whether in my room, the classroom, picking up trash or cleaning dishes. I tried my hand at cooking, and I can make a fairly round roti. I’ve been a waiter, if you can call it that, serving lines and lines of children and guests, and I’ve carried pots of water, bags of rice, and canisters of gas from storage to storage.
I’m a librarian on rare occasion that someone is looking for an English book in our library. I’ve been a salesman when I’m doing my best to make our women’s cooperative and vocational workshops a success. I’ve been a hairdresser when using my beard trimmer was the craze with the kids, only for them to complain that they didn’t like it afterwards.
And, unfortunately, I’ve been a minor celebrity. My attempts to play an inconspicuous Indian never went well until I could speak Hindi. But when I’m desperate, that very naïve and very useless English play-acting comes out; most commonly when I’m lost on my way to a rural village.
I’ve been a campaigner and an activist. What I’m trying to achieve doesn’t stop or start at the school gates. I’ve been to homes to speak with families, I’ve run campaigns in the local village to encourage community participation in our activities, and I’ve been a video producer, making an awareness video to highlight our work; to show as part of a mobile exhibition. I’ve attended meetings and conferences and spoken on behalf of something I care about, trying my hardest to inspire; my language becoming more and more rhetorical.
And I’ve been part of a family. I’ve been a son to kind mentors and managers who have helped to guide me. I am a brother, the cautioning, wise, older bhai to so many young men and teenage boys. And I’m most definitely a father, the fun kind, to the hostel children I live with. They don’t respect me in the same way they do their papa, but they come to me when they need help, and that’s more important to me.
In a selfish way, this year has been about me and what I’ve done; much more than it’s been about my community. And that’s a debt I’ll hold for a long, long time.