“Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time.”
“Touch up your make-up…and be fresh looking.”
“At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum.”
“Your problems are minor compared to what he may have gone through in his day…let him talk first.”
“Try to understand his world of strain and pressure.”
There were gasps, giggles and no shortage of expressions of utter confusion as I read from the list of “Tips to look after your husband,” taken from a 1950 Home Economics Book from Britain to a group of late teens in a classroom in India.
One girl, who had been sitting quietly at the back throughout our time together, jolted upright. Unable to contain her astoundment she asked, “Didi, how has such a drastic change happened for women in the UK in less than 70 years?!” An excellent question.
For the past 45 minutes, I had been engaged in a conversation with students who are a part of The Youth Project by Apni Shala Foundation, an 8-month initiative aimed at supporting youth to delve deeper into their own life experiences and develop skills for life.
I was there to participate in a Clap Talk, a 75-minute inter-cultural conversation session spearheaded by Clap Global. Their Travellers in Classrooms initiative enables individuals from different countries to visit classrooms in India and engage in enriching conversations with local children, adding different, and sometimes new perspectives to a child’s views of the world.
So far I had shared with the students my experience of attending university in the UK, how it wasn’t free and how I had had to take out a loan which had left me in considerable debt. I shared information about the class system of the UK, and we discussed the ways in which it is different to India’s caste system. When I said that it was possible to ‘change class’ or ‘climb up the social class ladder,’ they were quick to ask how. This sparked an interesting debate as to the meaning of ‘hard work.’
I touched on my work in the social sector, with young offenders and homeless youth, and I shared why I am in India – mainly because I want to showcase a side of India that isn’t just poverty, pollution and the mistreatment of women, the dominant portrayals of India in western countries.
I was asked about the current challenges facing the youth of the UK and I responded with tales of Brexit, the housing crisis, mental health, poverty (yes, we have poverty in the UK too!) and the unstable nature of a changing job market.
The students listened intently throughout, probing further whenever something came up that either resonated with them or shocked them completely. I could see them actively engaging in the things I had to say, churning the information over in their minds and making sense of it against the background of their own lived experiences.
I don’t know why I was surprised by the fact that we had so much to talk about, so much to ask each other, so many thoughts and opinions that found common ground. When we had to end the Clap Talk, we felt a collective disappointment. It was clear that this engagement had impacted us all!
I went into the talk a little apprehensive, would we be able to connect? Would they be able to relate to me, and I to them? I came out realising that our differences are largely superficial, and given the chance, they can easily melt away.
After the Clap Talk, we exchanged handwritten postcards. Here are a few!
“I liked the way you represented your view. Your judgement towards your country and for India was very correct. I can connect with you and I agree with your view. You are very humble and kind. I like your honesty about your county. You are very loveable.”
“1. Did your family have any struggle with poverty? 2. Why do you focus on social justice? 3. Why did you choose India and not another country? 4. What inspiration have you got from India? 5. In these 3 years (you’ve been in India) did you have any struggle?”
“Thanks a lot for giving and sharing your precious time with us. We got to learn a lot of interesting things about you as well as your country. Because of you we got to know about the similarities of India and Western countries. Again thanks a lot.”
“I love your thinking of being a global citizen connected not only with the country but connected with the world. I also like that you say that you don’t like the thinking of nations being superior/inferior.”
“Hi, I loved your session and I liked your reason why you are doing whatever you are doing. You made me think more constructively and positively about my country. Thank you.”
“1. What is hard work? 2. How do you define hard work? 3. How does (the UK) fill the gender discrimination gap? 4. How does (the UK) run their education system? 5. What are the benefits of the lower and upper class?”