In fall 2013, I showed up in Delhi with a suitcase and an address for my new job, knowing zero people and zero places in India’s biggest metropolis. One year later, I am joining AIF and my new placement with SightLife for a second stint in Delhi. On a day to day level, the contrast couldn’t be greater. I now come equipped with mental maps, networks of friends, regular haunts and hangouts, a trusted tailor, and a whole list of favorite Old Delhi eateries – the small details that turn daily needs into a lifestyle. This existing familiarity has made my first month on the Fellowship relatively easy, allowing me to bypass much of the adjustment that occurs with any big move.
I hadn’t intended to return to the same city when I applied for the Clinton Fellowship – it would be, I thought, a great chance to see a different side of India, perhaps somewhere rural or a lower-tier city. An interesting conversation with my potential mentors made me reconsider staying in Delhi for the sake of a good organization, and I’m now enjoying the chance to take a second look at this city.
It’s a unique opportunity, in a way. No matter how many times I examine my surroundings here, there is always more to see, to puzzle over, to learn. In a city that is as huge, as historical, as paradoxical, and as complicated as Delhi, I appreciate the chance to be a step ahead. If I learned what a Delhi Development Authority (DDA) flat was last year, I’m now hearing about the pros and cons of the DDA housing scheme. If someone talks about the skyrocketing onion prices last Diwali, I can nod knowledgeably. And it helps with humor, too — that most difficult thing to grasp when learning a new language — since I can better pick up references to top Bollywood songs or Arvind Kejriwal’s short-lived tenure as Chief Minister. Of course, even if I were to live here for twenty years, I doubt that my familiarity would ever turn into complete understanding, but it’s a good feeling to add layers to what I learned last time, to dig a little deeper rather than rebuild a new base of knowledge.
And of course, having a new work environment lends new eyes to my experience – quite literally, in my case. Have you ever heard of corneal donation or thought about eye banks before? I have, but only because I am conducting research with SightLife, a U.S.-based nonprofit that works to eliminate corneal blindness globally. Here in India, SightLife partners with existing eye banks to provide second chances for sight to patients around the country.
I have a lot of respect for the organization and my coworkers, and I love their model of applying a goal-driven, data-driven, self-driven mentality to a social cause. In fact, the whole atmosphere reminds me much more of a tech start-up than a stereotypical nonprofit. As expected, there has been a steep learning curve, but I’m enjoying my efforts to integrate what I know about research study design with the field of eye donation, social marketing frameworks, and a very particular Indian cultural context.
Updates to come!