“A good experience should show you windows and mirrors“, said my mentor Parul Sheth, one day. “Windows to leap through, pushing your boundaries with your skill and dedication at work, and mirrors to reflect your experiences by and decide how to proceed further”. Shaishav and the AIF Clinton Fellowship gave me an opportunity to experience both.
The AIF Clinton Fellowship intentionally designs within its structure the space to fail and to reflect on your failures. The lows are not a great place to be, of course. The numerous bouts of sadness and isolation hit you when you least expect them to, and the counselor-on-call Ann Philipose and the Clinton Fellowship Program (CFP) team were very supportive to help me forge through. Having said that, the conviction that I could make it happen despite those lows is a lesson I cherish for life. Watching myself bounce back makes me believe that the risks can be worthwhile. J.K. Rowling, speaking at the commencement speech at Harvard University, put it beautifully when she said:
“The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.” 
And yet, we never allow children the space to fail. The famous singer, Leonard Cohen, did not get his big break until he was 33. Imagine if his parents had asked him to quit in his 20s, saying “Beta, this is not working. What will people say?” At yet, I can see this playing out in many of the lives that surround me. In a digital age, where peer pressure and social comparisons stand strong, the need to inculcate a healthy relationship is of utmost importance.
My work with the children in the slums of Kumbharwada taught me to recognize the benefits of failure, and the need to translate thought into action. Their resilience and swift decision making made me question how many restrictions and undue pressures we impose on ourselves.
Growing up in my little bubble, I was unaware of the struggles, worries, dreams, and aspirations of the people who lived just outside of it. Being the girl who can rattle off the best restaurants in Delhi by cuisine, I find it strange to think that I know nothing about the restaurants in Bhavnagar. But I do know my way in and around the myriad gullies of the slums of Kumbharwada. I know what each child here aspires to be when they grow up (FYI – most want to be in the police!) and have observed children flinch when I move towards them suddenly, expecting to be slapped. I know how to cook pao bhaji on coal and the joy of breaking bread with everyone. This past year, I’ve laughed like I’ve never laughed before, and cried like I’ve never cried in my life.
My colleague’s daughter recently drew this picture above, and I don’t think there is a better way to say this. It reads: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So let go of your (urban) biases, drop the entitlement and take that leap of faith! I think my Fellowship cohort would agree with me that as scary as it has been, you’ll land on your feet, surer of yourself and the ground below.
- Rowling, J.K. “Text of J.K. Rowling’s Speech.” Harvard Gazette, 5 June 2008. Accessed on 13 July 2018 at: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/06/text-of-j-k-rowling-speech