In what sometimes seems to be a different life, a friend in Boston once bemoaned how few stars she could see from her house in Cambridge. I replied by bemoaning how few times I looked up to see the stars in the first place. As I think about the stars I’ve seen so far in India, I question whether my situations has changed.
In my first month at Onergy, I have done many field visits to places that perhaps, if it’s possible, see too many stars. Simple as it may seem, one of the earliest realizations I had was just how dark villages get because access to the electricity grid hasn’t reached them. People have to stop working and children must stop studying when the sun goes down – how can one expect to continue making clothes, reading a book, or spending time with family when she can’t see her own hands in front of her face? As a self-proclaimed city creature, not being able to see where I am walking (hello, muddy feet) is quite disconcerting, but also enlightening. Solving a problem is first seeing it (or not seeing it, in this case) through someone else’s eyes. As I am working for a solar company I am of course enthusiastic about the adoption of solar products in rural areas, but understanding the need has been an integral first step for me.
When I return back to Kolkata, I think about my tendency to not look up at the stars – a habit which, to tell you the truth, still lives on. Kolkata is full of alleyways or antiquated architectural gems that I have yet to decipher in the landscape to which I give a cursory glance in my rush to the office. It’s valuable for me to remember that while this fellowship is about working hard, it’s also about living in a new place and getting out of the darkness of routine to learn new things. I try to do this by visiting different chaiwallahs and stopping for snacks at different locations on my way to the Metro, or picking a location on the map and trying to walk there through a neighborhood I haven’t seen. The size of this city is completely overwhelming sometimes, but it also presents an opportunity to make friends, see some beautiful historic places and of course, drink a lot of chai. I’m learning many things from my job and hope that both within my work and within my new city, I’ll find a balance between seeing the stars in the darkness, and learning in the light.