Girls Uninterrupted

Sunday, 6 October 2013 - 9:23am IST | Agency: dna

As the UN's International Day of the Girl Child completes a year on 11 October 2013, and adopts a new theme 'Innovate to Educate', Averil Nunes just had to catch up with the girls of Kranti, who are growing up on a diet of diverse opportunities and idealism.

Nine girls, three women, two guests, three cats... of course Kranti house runs itself. Two dozen eggs, two big bread packets, three tubs of butter, plus porridge (with honey), lets not forget huge mugs of tea and coffee do the trick, daily.

Everybody has individualistic and collective schedules, which are up on whiteboards. They take turns cooking and cleaning; you can bet if someone’s not pulling her weight it’ll be up for discussion at the Sunday meeting.

They are learning through life and loving it under the guardianship of Robin Chaurasiya (co-founder of Kranti); Shabnam Shaikh (a social justice activist) and Bani Das (a social worker). Of course, life is tempestuous, and it isn’t always sunshine and smiles for these girls from Mumbai’s much-maligned Kamathipura district. However, abandonment and sexual abuse, being sidelined for having mothers in the “wrong” profession, being born into lower-class families, having skin a few shades darker than what is considered beautiful in India, and being girls in a country that values boys more, has not thrown a spanner into the workings of their hopes and dreams.

It’s about two months since Shweta Katti (18) started studying Psychology at Bard, NY and Pinky Sheikh (16) who “wants to work with HIV-infected kids in Africa” returned from the Songs of Hope performing arts summer camp in Minnesota. Sheetal (19), who’s had her share of learning difficulties and is known to cause seemingly immoveable audiences to tear up, is scheduled to speak about education and innovation at The Barking Deer this week. 

Laxmi Hosmani (19) is studying for her 12th board exams and intends to run Kranti someday, but not before she starts an in-house band. “She’s always painting,” tells us Scottish Addison Malloy, of the flaxen and blue hair, who’s sharing her jewellery-making skills with the girls.

Gentle Taniya (17; maybe), who just dashed out the door, and owns funky blue fish-shaped slippers, is learning drumming and dancing. On her return, she tells us she’s sabse zyada shanth (the most peaceful) in her socialisation class. 

Rani walks in grumbling about how easy school is. Two years ago, she was unable to reconcile the emotions connected with her home life with the committment required of the activity-loaded schedule at Kranti. At 13, she’s returned because, “Here, I know my dreams will come true”. Rani wants to be an actress; with her expressive kohl-lined eyes, delicate features and flair for the dramatic, she’ll have no trouble holding an audience.

Saira Sheikh (15), who loves to dance and dreams of travelling the world; has studied for five years in five different languages (Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Telugu and English) through circumstance, not choice. Ever ready to fight for what’s right, she’s been voted the most likely to become an activist. Her 12-year-old sister, Sumaiya, whose favourite subjects are English and Geography, is learning to play the piano and is always up to arty stuff like building a cardboard home for the cats or dreaming of going to China (before Shweta). Sumaiya and Ashi (Ashita, Shweta’s younger sister), reportedly give each other stiff comic competition.  

The girls are all at different levels of learning; while some attend regular school/college, for others it’s open school. They have an IIT-grad coming in to give them a sound foundation in Maths and they visit the Canadian Ambassador’s wife for language (English) lessons. At present, the girls are practising their English on young social entrepreneur, Harriet Kamashanyu, a participant in the Kanthari course in Kerala. Harriet is visiting Kranti as she thinks its “solutions–education, therapy and sustainable development—are the same” for Kabalagala, the red-light area in Kampala, Uganda, where she grew up.

Sapna (17), who has a phenomenal memory and “wants to be a famous painter one day” was learning kick-boxing before she was admitted to a mental health facility in Pune, after a third attempt at inflicting harm on herself. From the constant mention of her, it’s clear that she’s sorely missed at Kranti house.

Robin tells us they always thought education was the answer before they realised that, “No matter how educated you are, you cannnot succeed if you are not in an emotionally sound space.” Counselling, dance therapy, rapid eye movement therapy... the girls at Kranti do whatever it takes to come to terms with their conflicts and now they are trying to get their mothers to do the same. “We have great expectations for these girls,” says Robin who believes that if you set high standards, people live up to them. “We believe that because of their background, they have inherent compassion, entrepreneurial spirit and resilience, which make them far better leaders than others”.

With the daily news discussions at Kranti house, the girls are as abreast of the situation in Syria as in the slums of Mumbai; we dare you to ace their Sunday Quiz, which features everything from country capitals to current affairs. With regular trips to the theatre, poetry workshops, music classes, documentary viewings, travel and more, these girls have an extensive repertoire of cultural knowledge. In fact, they are in the process of scripting, directing and performing a play. Despite their diverse schedules, no day is complete without a  20-min meditation. The girls, who have already trekked through the Himalayas, will soon be heading to the tiger’s lair, Bhutan. Hopefully, the mandatory yoga sessions will help them limber up.

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