The Darkness

On a ferry in the Sunderbans — an largely unelectrified archipelago in Southern West Bengal and home to the world’s largest mangrove forest

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.

A treasure in a Kolkata residential neighborhood, discovered on a Sunday walk

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.


Elizabeth's interests in South Asia began while studying in Kathmandu, Nepal with the School for International Training. Following this experience, she worked on business development strategies with Promethean Power Systems, a Boston-based start-up focusing on cold-chain infrastructure in India, and conducted independent research on market expansion of the Indian dairy industry. Elizabeth is passionate about the need for renewable energy sources at both the household and industrial level and is excited to explore new options and applications with SwitchOn/ONergy in Kolkata.

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2 thoughts on “The Darkness

  1. It’s wonderful to know that you’re getting a firsthand look at the issues your org is working with

  2. Just imagine what that darkness is doing to the development of the young people there. The United Negro College Fund used to run a very powerful ad in the 70/80s around the tag line ‘ A mind is a terrible thing to waste” and while they were focusing on getting kids to college here we have even more fundamental issues in developing a young mind.
    10/12 years ago I had the good fortune and privilege of being part of a small group addressed by my hero Nelson Mandela( just mentioning his name chokes me) . He talked about the young child who lived in the same hut with the entire family and had to share the one light to do his homework. He said faced with the need to solve that problem he chose to react with his mind and not his heart when he was released from prison by the white apartheid regime. There was not a dry eye in the room filled mainly with hard nosed conservative financial people. We have to eliminate darkness of our minds.

    As for Kolkata my home town wait for the upcoming Pujos. The city sparkles and is at its best.


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