Tandoor: Stories of Heat (Let’s Chaat, episode 3 transcript)

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Anjali: Hey, you’re listening to ‘Let’s Chaat: Stories of Fellowship,’ the podcast of the 2019-2020 cohort of the American India Foundation Clinton Fellows. We are a group of about 20 young professionals in various parts of the social or development sector in India. I’m Anjali Balakrishna, one of the fellows in this year’s cohort, and I’m your host.

Here we are chatting (or “chaating,” if you don’t mind a good food pun) about our memories and stories from the fellowship, living and working in various parts of India. The fellowship is a unique opportunity to learn and grow through unexpected challenges, which has made for some interesting stories. Every episode basically stands alone, with a theme that provides some loose unity – but every fellow interprets the theme in a slightly different way, giving us a delicious masala of storytelling. So let’s dig in! 

Today our episode is titled ‘Tandoor: Stories of Heat.’ Spices, passion, the desert sun. India is hot – and so are our stories today! Even if you’re just listening, have some water or refreshing sharbat close by! 

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Anjali: I love the summer heat.

You see, I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee—and in Memphis, when you step onto your front porch in the summer, it’s like stepping into a steam room. You’re covered in moisture, sweat instantly mingling with the thick humid air. I grew up loving the feeling of the sun on my body, soaking it in and feeling stronger. After all, my brown, melanin-filled skin was built for it.

I was living in New York—where I’d roll my eyes at my friends who complained about the city’s summer heat—when I decided I needed a change. I felt stuck—in a job that I loved, but needed to move on from; in a city that  I didn’t love, and couldn’t wait to move on from. My partner was preparing to make a change of her own and go back to school for her doctorate. It was time for me to be big, brave, and strong, and to do something that would challenge me. And so I decided to move to India for a year.

For me, in terms of transformation potential, India was a goldmine. Apart from me and my sisters, every single person in my family for as far back as 23andMe can tell, was born and lived in India. Yet I had been only twice, once at age 2 and again at age 12, and knew very little about life as an Indian in India. I imagined a newer, more grounded version of myself emerging from the year that was connected to my roots, spoke Hindi, could cook all my mother and grandmother’s specialties. In terms of work, ironically my passion for the heat was at odds with my passion for tackling climate change—and the blistering heat of India was the place to confront, and experience, the challenge head-on.

So I told myself a cheesy, exaggerated, poetic story of heat—my time in India would be a trial by the fiery Rajasthani sun. I was terrified to leave my partner, friends, and family, move 8,000 miles away, but I knew that if I made it through the year—made it to the summer—I’d come out a changed person. Throughout the year, whenever I felt homesick or got food poisoning or felt scared to dodge cars, rickshaws, and cows and cross the street (side note: each of these happened at least once a week), I would imagine May—the start of the summer in Jaipur (where I lived)—where the temperature would push 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 degrees Celsius. It would be the part of the Indian challenge that I knew I could handle, that I was built for, and it would mean I was two months away from completing my trial by fire and coming home.

But I never saw May in Jaipur. I didn’t sweat in the Rajasthani summer sun, and my trial by fire ended not with a triumphant return, tanned and probably sunburned, but with a hurried, scared evacuation, when I got a seat on a flight out of Delhi in temperate March before coronavirus shut down all international travel.

I was grateful to be safe, to becoming home to my partner and family—but as I flew across the world I felt a sense of disappointment, failure, that the year just didn’t turn out the way I had imagined. Had I put so much pressure on getting to the summer that I let the rest of the experience pass me by?

As soon as I landed in Tennessee, I saw the first signs that fears were misplaced. Sure, it was chilly outside—maybe 50 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10  degrees Celsius—but when I turned on my phone, WhatsApp messages started popping up—from my grandmothers, aunts, friends in India, making sure I got home safe. My parents had sent me messages in Hindi—I was learning, and we could do this now.

For the next three months, as I finished up my fellowship in Nashville, where my partner and I live now, I noticed more ways I had changed. In little ways —like appreciating why my parents were married in February (the peak of the wedding season!) to big ways—like viscerally understanding how the emissions and environmental problems we create here at home can create cyclones, locust swarms, and more 8,000 miles away.

Today, on one of the last days of my fellowship, I sat in my backyard, soaking in the sun, and it’s almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit—coincidentally, the same temperature as it is today in Jaipur. It wasn’t the ending I had imagined; but then again, how could it have been? It was a trial by fire, after all—unpredictable, searing at times, but ultimately, transformational.

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Anjali: Next we’re traveling to Mahabalipuram, a town in Tamil Nadu, where my co-fellow Naomi Tsai spent her fellowship months working for the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, managing communications and developing educational content. Here she shares a poem about the resilience born from the heat and humidity of the region. 

Naomi: Seven months, nine days, and a couple of hours or so ago

I wrote that I was drowning

Not the type of drowning where you’re overpowered by water, though that did happen to me once, in the second grade at my friend’s pool. I waded too far into the deep end and the water rushed over my head and into my lungs.

I wake sometimes from nightmares of suffocating. Only when I go to sleep on beds that are too soft, that envelop me too deeply, how I imagine a fly must feel when trapped in sweet sugar honey.

I guess you could say this was a little bit like that.

When I left the airport it hit me all at once. Heavy heat, humidity saturating my lungs with every breath in and out.

There was no refuge, waking up, my skin was sticky from the air, my body restless.

Monsoon season was next, the rain a welcome reminder of my hometown. Water to wash away and start anew. The heat was still there, but more subtle, masked by walls of water falling from the sky.

The birds came and filled every tree. The heat didn’t bother them, but rather provided a home for hatching. I ran out to the beach after work. The evening breeze off the ocean was salty and pure.

When I moved to my own apartment, I gave up air-conditioning. I also gave up hot water, though I hadn’t used it since I arrived, only quick cold showers in the heat.

I rode the bus in the morning and the shared auto in the evening. It was a welcome work commute, the wind in my face, and the villages rushing by.

If I didn’t wake to the 5 AM call to prayer or the shouts of workers outside my window, I always woke to the quiet light flooding my room. With it came the heat, that was bearable in the morning and early afternoon but forced you to leave by evening.

I learned to cook Indian dishes, overflowing with spice and heat. My kitchen would trap the warmth, but this time it was welcome. I guess you could say I stopped drowning.

I often think of the people that live and work in this heat through the seasons, years, maybe even entire lifetimes… they are filled with resilience.

This last decade was the warmest on record… I can only imagine what this summer and the summers to come will be like. No mercy to me or the cows and dogs sleeping out on the street.

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Anjali: Our next story is from Dominique DuTremble. You heard from her in our first episode, but this time Dominique is going to do something a little different – she’ll lead us through the next few stories as she speaks to her love of roti and walks us through the process of making it.

Dominique: I had heard of paratha. Maybe dosa too. But generally speaking, before coming to India I was unaware of life beyond garlic naan. Discovering India’s vast array of breads has been one of the greatest pleasures of my fellowship. From parathas, in their flaky buttery goodness, hopefully stuffed with crispy papad or bits of cauliflower, to Chilla, a pancake-like delight topped with onions and drowned in chutney, I remember meeting these dishes in perfect detail. The place, the plate, the texture, the joy, all emblazoned in my memory. If it sounds like the story people tell about when they met their future spouse, you understand me: I am pleased to report I am now in a live-in relationship with my favorite brand of atta, and at least one of us is head over heels.

Today I’ll tell you about roti, a seemingly simple flatbread made of whole wheat flour. To me, paratha dazzles, but roti is the perfect food. In its soft brown goodness, it has an understated sophistication and versatility. A friend once told me that no matter how much they eat, peaceful sleep only follows roti.  Apparently there is a famous Hindi quote that speaks to its significance: roti, kapda, makaan- roti, cloth, and shelter. It is a national symbol for food and domestic life. So I am trying to learn to make roti, not only for consumptive purposes but to see if it teaches me something about Indian culture. Today I am going to walk you through the process. It is not my first time, but practically. And I only have a semi-functional induction hotplate on which to cook. But it’s going to be great.

I have already prepared the dough, but I will walk you through it very quickly. Set aside 2 cups of atta (whole wheat flour), 1 cup boiling water, and a little salt (if it suits you). If using salt, add it to the atta as the first step. Now, add the water to the flour in limited quantities, mixing until you achieve a mixture that looks potentially pliable. Once the mixture has cooled to the point that it is comfortable to handle, knead until it becomes soft, adding water 1-2 teaspoons at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. Using hot water facilitates kneading and contributes to the roti’s softness. Knead for perhaps 10 minutes, dusting with atta as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Cover and set it aside for 10 minutes.

While you wait, listen to this story from my dear friend and co-fellow, Mantasha Khaleel, who worked at SAFA in Hyderabad communicating impact and increasing stakeholder engagement.

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Mantasha: If I start to talk about India, I surely can’t stop myself from talking for hours. From the white crown of Himalayas to the ravishing temples of the south, to the dazzling tea gardens of the east, to the white sand beaches of the west. Amidst, you will see a myriad of colors, narrow lanes, unordinary traffic, peppery and sweet food, thousands of cuisines, 7-star hotels with slums next to them, religious processions, mind-blowing history, and over 500 languages.

Underneath all the colors and noises, India conceals a fusion of thousands of mini-cultures. India discreetly and unassumingly uses its languages as a mega-unifier of its people!

It’s hard enough to try and figure out which Indian language to learn, but once you try to learn an Indian language, you will discover layers under layers.

The same thing happened to me. During the fellowship, I settled down in Hyderabad, the city of pearls and Nizams. Out of my overconfidence, I was expecting zero language puzzlement, probably because of the Muslim majority in the city who speak Urdu.

On the very first day, I headed out to hunt for a good hostel. I found a promising one, and asked the hosteler, “Hi, do you know where I can meet the warden of this hostel?”

“Paina!” she answered.

I was a bit perplexed and wondering why she was saying paina? Oh, wait she might be in doubt that I have a knife or something sharp and I can be threatening to the hostel. But why would I possess anything sharp? Anyway, I thought, I’ll clarify her doubt.

I told her, “No. no. I don’t have anything paina or sharp? Though I am a Khan, I am not a terrorist. I am here only for a room to live in.”

She again gave the same reply, “Paina!”

I really didn’t have any idea of what she was saying, and I was trying hard to make her understand that I could not get her. Then, she grabbed my hand and led me upstairs, where I could see the warden. The girl explained everything about our conversation in Telugu which I could hardly understand. Then the warden laughed and explained to me that in Telugu, ‘paina’ means ‘up’ or ‘upstairs’ and in Hindi, it means ‘sharp’.

Living with people who could barely understand you and your language can be extremely difficult and funny at the same time. When I shifted to the hostel, I realized that I was the only Hindi-speaking girl there. I roomed with three other Telugu speaking girls who knew neither Hindi nor English.

From that time, we started to communicate using bodily actions, facial expressions, and a few English words which we all had in common.

I delighted in learning all of the puzzling, funny, insightful, and quick-witted similarities among words of different Indian languages. I was relieved that people in my office spoke Hindi or Urdu instead of Telugu.

However, this chain of language and culture confusion continued during my fellowship journey. In the month of February, I received a wedding invitation from my colleague. I was full of excitement and vigor, planning everything from the dress I would wear to the dishes I wanted to try at the wedding. I dolled myself up, keeping in mind the culture and tradition of that community. I was seated at a big round table along with other people. Waiters served multiple mouth-watering dishes, rumali roti, salad, and double-ka-meetha.

I filled my plate with a creamy orange delicacy that looked just like butter chicken, one of my favorite dishes. I thought, ‘Finally, after so long in South India, I can fill my stomach with rotis!’ I had missed those classic North Indian dishes from my home. I took a big morsel full of that mouth-watering gravy. But in a moment I could feel my mouth burning and sweat on my face. I had been deceived by a dish called ‘Mirchi ka Salan’ which looks similar to butter chicken, but is actually a famous Hyderabadi dish made from curried chili peppers.

Indeed, India is a complex web of languages, foods, attires, religions, thoughts, beliefs, cultures and traditions. I think it’s extremely hard to understand India as a whole. The moment that you seek the familiar comfort of butter chicken is the moment that the heat of mirchi ka salan will sneak up and surprise you! The more you know about India, the more you have to discover – that’s the beauty in it.

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Anjali: Support for this podcast comes from the American India Foundation Clinton Fellowship. A fellowship where American and Indian young professionals are placed all over India to work at and support organizations in the fields of public health, livelihoods and education.

I’m Anjali Balakrishna, your host, and you’re listening to Let’s Chaat: Stories of Fellowship. 

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Thanks for sharing, Mantasha! That’s certainly been true for my discovery of India, especially of Indian breads!

Speaking of beauty, our ball of dough has been resting for 10 minutes. Now, we’re going to section the dough into small pieces, each approximately the size of a large pearl onion. Roll each piece into a perfect sphere with no cracks. Flatten the ball a little, and place a few pinches of atta on top, piled in the middle. Then fold the dough in over itself to encapsulate the flour. Now reform the piece into a perfect ball, again with no cracks or broken edges. You should have a small, consistent cavity of flour inside the ball, which will help the roti turn out light and fluffy because the bread will consist of two distinct sides, rather than one consolidated mass. Repeat until all are formed as such and cover to prevent from drying out. I’m placing them in a pot with a lid and a damp paper towel.

So next, take a rolling pin to the first roti until the dough is a few millimeters thick. As you roll out the dough, turn it regularly so it maintains its circular shape. Strive for roundness but do embrace other shapes as necessary. Ok see, this one looks rather like India! And subconsciously that is surely what I was going for. So… great! Speaking of perfect, I should mention that Indian summers are an ideal time for kneading and rolling out bread. If you like sweaty bread.  If that’s the case, leave out the salt in the beginning and just lean in.

Now, we cook. Find a flat pan and set it to preheat to medium-high heat. Just, like, as a life tip, medium-high seems to work for almost everything: brownies, beach days, romance novels…. Just don’t forget to grease the pan, especially if your pan is not non-stick.

So by now, the unit should be preheated. Let’s place one roti on the pan. Now we wait for the color to change slightly as the moisture evaporates from the dough. Soon, small bubbles will start to form, and that is when we will flip it… Just waiting for the moisture to evaporate… Ok, great, it’s already starting to change color now- it’s a little lighter in some spots. Great. Now we’re just waiting on the bubbles…

Ok so it’s been 2 minutes and still no bubbles, and this should be a fairly fast process overall. I’m going to turn the heat up a little to see if that helps. [pause] Alright, here we go- small bubbles are starting to form- let’s flip it. Oh perfect- the first cooked side should have small golden spots, and that’s what we have. So, now we cook it until significant bubbles begin to form. I think turning up the heat will help. Here we go… While this continues cooking, I’m going to transfer you to another friend of mine, Sahana Afreen, who has a somewhat ~steamy~ story to share with you all!!

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Anjali: Ooh! I cannot wait to hear this one! Sahana worked at VIEWS, or Voluntary Integration for Education and Welfare of Society in Gopalpur, Odisha working with women Self Help Groups in tribal areas to build opportunities for livelihoods. Here she is now.

Sahana: I reached Berhampur Railway Station around 5:30 pm. It was already dark, but I could see the beautiful paintings of Odisha heritage on the walls of the station. I was very excited to finally see what my host site actually looked like. I met my immediate supervisor for my fellowship, Mr. Sunil and John, another colleague from the office. They had come to pick me up from the station. We went together on an auto rickshaw and throug hout our 15 km journey from Berhampur station to Gopalpur we talked about a lot of things from language to politics.

After reaching Gopalpur, we went directly to our office which was also my temporary living accommodation until the time I could find something for myself. The office is surrounded by greenery all around.The building is a newly built two-room Kerala-style home which fascinated me so much and the minimum new furniture looked very clean and comfortable as they shifted in this office very recently. I also got a mattress to sleep in one of the rooms which used to be a main office room in the daytime.

After putting all my stuff inside, Mr. Sunil offered to take us to dinner, since it was getting late and all the shops would be closing soon. We went to this restaurant called Blue Wave, which is one of the best in Gopalpur.

The menu had a lot of choices, from North to South Indian food, Chinese, and its specialty was seafood. But I was very hungry and didn’t feel like taking any risks, so I ordered Hyderabadi Biryani – my favorite food.  After having such a heavy dinner, Mr. Sunil dropped me back to the office and helped me to make a room for my sleeping space and left. I felt so happy to see the greenery all around, so I opened all the windows of the office and went back to my mattress to sleep.

But all my happiness disappeared after a few minutes when I heard the very clear sound of a hammer beating from far away. The same sound started coming, again and again, every few minutes. So I thought it might be some construction work going on, but after two-three rounds, I thought, ‘Why does the sound come in such a rhythmic way, stopping and starting?’ It was now clear that it wasn’t a hammering or any construction work.

The whole night, I went in and out of sleep, guessing what the noise in the distance was!. The next day, my morning started when my colleagues started to come to the office and I got to meet them all. I was trying to be active and engaged and curious about everything, but I struggled because of the lack of sleep the previous night. These sleepless nights, where I was kept awake by the mystery sound, continued for 5 nights until I was able to find my own place with the help of my colleagues.

I finally got my answer after 3 long months, when on a Sunday afternoon, I was sitting at my neighbors’ place.

And then, I hear it again.

I heard the old, now familiar sound after such a long time, as my new place was a building apartment and surrounded by other buildings, so no greenery nearby. I asked Pooja di, “What sound is this?”

Then she told me that it’s the mating call of a lizard and they make this sound here only as this place is silent and peaceful. I was so happy to finally get the mystery solved and make this new discovery! I also reflected how even animals shape their habits and processes as per the living space. We can see lizards in Delhi also, but hardly know that they make this sort of sound, as they don’t make it very frequently because of unfavorable conditions and less population density of their species in these areas.

So basically, for the first week at my host organization, when I was trying to make a good first impression, I had been tortured with sleep deprivation simply due to lizards being heated!

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Dominique: There’s a lot of green space on my work campus too, so I see a ton of those lizards, but I’ve never heard them though! Thanks Sahana for sharing!

Okay, so we’re back and the bubbles on this roti have become medium-sized air pockets. What you do is take a cloth and push gently on the roti in select areas, moving the air around gently to help the two sides of the roti separate. Using the cloth also helps the roti cook consistently, as it starts to raise up in areas as the air bubbles increase. Just push those parts down so they touch the pan and cook too. If everything works out, eventually, the air pockets will merge and the roti will puff up like a balloon (and settle down again after removing from heat). So we push a little here, and push a little there… Hmmm… Ok well the pockets aren’t merging, exactly.

I have turned the heat up all the way, and that could help. We may be forced to make a tough choice, though. The roti is losing its moisture fast. So the question is: underpuffed or overcooked? Should we risk blackening those golden spots and losing softness in pursuit of something perfect? This same question of ‘How far to go?’ persisted throughout my fellowship. In simple matters and in big things, too. From ‘How close to the bed should I put the heater, given that I don’t know the content of the linens?’ To ‘Should I leave the country now, since things are getting bad with COVID?’ and ‘How close should I get to the people I meet here if my leaving is inevitable?’

For me, the answer to these questions is best found not in roti, but in daal fry, the first dish I learned to make here. So, the initial step in daal fry is the preparation of a chawk- a mix of aromatics like haldi and jeera and sarso. You sauté the mixture just until you begin to fear setting off the smoke alarm. The real depth of the spices is only released when you feel like they might be at risk of burning. This has worked out really well for me in my dishes so far, and throughout my fellowship. Although my sheets did melt once.

But back to the task at hand… This little beauty is done!!! Wow, it’s really hot!  Great. So let’s put a little ghee on it and call it dinner. I admit, it’s a little crispy. But it is roti, and therefore perfect. And after a few more rounds I will have a beautiful sleep.

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Anjali: You’re listening to Let’s Chaat: Stories of Fellowship and I’m back with two guests, Chenam Barshee and Tenzin Tsagong, who both had a unique experience working in Dharamshala. They both are joining me today…  Hi guys! 

Tenzin: Hey Anjali!

Chenam: Hi Anjali, it’s great to be here!

Anjali: Great to have you! So, India gets this reputation, rightly so, for being HOT. There’s heat in the weather, heat in the food — but you two spend your fellowship in India in a place that’s not defined by heat. can you tell us a little bit about what the climate where you were was like? Chenam, go ahead and share first.

Chenam: Sure. Yeah Anjali, you’re absolutely right. India definitely gets a reputation for being hot, though there were times when our experience in India was the exact opposite of hot. We started in September when we first got to Dharamshala, which was the tail end of the monsoon season. Shortly after that was the winter, which got quite cold. And not only cold in terms of the actual temperature outside, but also in terms of the buildings that we were in – whether it was our apartment or our office space. The insulation and just the lack of central heating made for quite a cold fellowship experience.

Anjali: Yeah, it sounds like it! So you were cold outside, cold inside. Tenzin, what did you do to get heat in those moments?

Tenzin: Ha! So I mean, the thing that everyone does is they get those space heaters, but sometimes they don’t always work the best, and they eat up a lot of electricity. I remember in Chenam’s case, he hadn’t – it had been like quite a while since winter has started – but he never bothered getting a heater, or his didn’t work or something. So, we lived right next to each other, so he would always come by my place whenever it got too cold in his. So that was just kind of like a funny experience having a fellow fellow to complain with, without sounding too annoying and bitter, you know? So that was nice to have that fellowship within that gray and cold winter in Dharamshala.

Anjali: So in January, the two of you joined the rest of your cohort in New Delhi – did that feel like a little bit like a respite for you from the cold? Were you all feeling nice and toasty during that week in Delhi?

Tenzin: Yeah! I remember finding it really funny that everyone was freezing, especially those who came from the south. It was funny for me especially because I’m always the really cold person in the room. Like I’m always complaining that I’m really cold. So it was fun being on the other end of it, like, “Okay, guys, it’s not that bad. It’s 40-50 degrees [Fahrenheit],” which seemed kind of warm to us considering we were coming from Dharamshala. So that was a funny experience to kind of observe with the co-fellows.

Anjali: Well, glad that when the rest of us were shivering, you two were feeling nice and warm!

So in an episode all about heat, and how it defines our Indian experience, I’d love to hear from you all, how did the lack of heat, or the cold, define yours? Tenzin, could you share a little about that?

Tenzin: I just remember, you’d definitely get more depressed during the winter times. I definitely remember getting a big wave of homesickness around that time, right after Midpoint. And the season definitely plays a toll on that. And not only that, but you definitely get lazier at work. You go to work, and all you can focus on is how cold it is! And it’s funny because a lot of our space heaters, obviously you have to plug them in. But what ends up happening in Dharamshala, especially during the wintertime, the electricity is not super stable. So like, you’d get the space heater to heat up your space, and then the lights are out, and all you wanna do is like be in your bed! So it definitely brought out some of my lazy energy! I just remember even the office space, and Chenam can speak on this as well, the lights would be out, our computers would be out. So a lot of times there would be hours of not being able to do any work!

Anjali: Just a lot of cold misery! And Chenam, maybe you can give us, paint us a little brighter picture of how the cold shaped your experience, if possible!

Chenam: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely! I think in general, I have the privilege of coming from the west and in a sense, I didn’t realize this until I started living and working in India – climate is something that we take for granted to a much higher extent than is possible than when we were living in India. I think to a pretty significant degree you can almost weather-proof your life in the west, where during the winter, sure it’s maybe even colder outside than the winters in Dharamshala, but you know, buildings are really well insulated, there’s central heating. If you’re communicating to work, you’re really only exposed to the climate from your doorstep to the subway or the Uber. So in that sense, living and working in India, climate was much more of like an overarching presence in a way that I don’t really experience in the west. On the one hand, say you’re thinking of working in development, and maybe you’re not someone who is able to work through that kind of discomfort. It’s certainly something to be mindful of and be prepared for. On the other hand, Tenzin and I were talking about how during those times when it’s really cold and we don’t have heaters, we’re commiserating and it creates this bond to place and you develop sort of a love-hate relationship. As cold and as angrily cold as it was at times, I think all of it was a part of living and working in a place like Dharamshala. So I look back at some of those times fondly now.

Tenzin: Sort of adding on a lighter note as well – winters in Dharmshala are really beautiful. The snow falls, and like you’re surrounded by mountains, right? And it’s the most beautiful one, you’re surrounded by inches of snow. And I think it’s a time that a lot of people take off to come up to the mountains and walk around, and just take in the beauty. So it definitely wasn’t all bad and yeah, so there was definitely beauty in looking back at it, but also just in the moment itself, there was a lot of beauty around you.

Anjali:  Wonderful. Well, thank you both so much for sharing that. I mean, I think, just hearing you all talk about what your experience was like in Dharmashala, reflecting and comparing that with my experience in Rajasthan where it got to 120 degrees [Fahrenheit] at a time – there’s something beautiful about the extremes that India represents.

As painful and challenging as it could be at times, looking back we’re able to see a lot of beauty in it. I think that’s really nice.

Well, thank you both Chenam and Tenzin for joining today on Let’s Chaat.

Tenzin: Thanks, Anjali for having us on.

Chenam: Thanks Anjali!

Anjali: Thank you all for tuning in today on Let’s Chaat: Stories of Fellowship. Today, we’ve listened to a myriad of stories: some quirky, some poetic and some risque.

This week we explored the dichotomy of hot and cold. Next week we’ll explore another dichotomy.

Join us then as we lose and find ourselves in stories by 5 more fellows in our next episode, Naksha: Stories Lost and Found. I’m Anjali Balakrishna, and I’ll see you next time. 

McKenna is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Medha in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. For her Fellowship project, she is expanding partnerships with educational institutions to scale up an existing 21st-century career skills training center designed to improve employment outcomes for youth. McKenna graduated with a degree in nutritional sciences. During her undergraduate years, she participated in research on the iron fortificants and protein quality of different fortified blended food products used by the U.S. Agency for International Development to address malnutrition and iron-deficient anemia in developing countries. After several years of nutrition research, she began questioning the underlying causes of malnutrition and poverty in the developing world. She diversified her work to investigate the social and economic factors that impact health outcomes, such as a community advocacy group for affordable housing in Manhattan, Kansas, and eventually to Split, Croatia, in 2017 to learn more about socialized healthcare systems. A childhood exposure to Indian culture left McKenna with a lifelong passion for the country, which led her to spend four months studying abroad in Bangalore at Christ University. She is excited to return to India in a professional capacity as an AIF Clinton Fellow. During her year of service, McKenna is looking forward to evolving professionally, engaging with the cohort, and gaining new perspectives on the development sector.

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