Sunday, February 1, 2009

Some of India's Real Slumdwellers

Slumdog Millionaire gets the DGA award. For a movie about the tenacity of hope, it's poetic justice. So what if Boyle and Beaufoy are British. Art knows no borders, right? Anyway, Boyle's family is Irish I think, so he gets a pass on the whole empire thing.

SM seems to be accomplishing what all great art should, inducing us to look at ourselves and those around us in a fresh way. Hope is palpable in rising India. Vikas Swarup, who wrote Q and A, the book the movie is based on, discerned and expressed that with humanity, and it was vividly brought to life by Boyle and his cast and crew.

Swarup got it exactly right: The Indian slums teem with geniuses.

Inspired by Millionaire, Rediff, an Indian news service, profiled some slum kids:

The Car Washer Who Wants to Play for India.

The guy makes 1000 rupees a month (about 25 US dollars) and puts half of it towards cricket training.

Does it sound ludicrous?

Ten Paise per shoe.

It is now the kind of India where these dreams can come true in multitudes. Millionaire captures that India perfectly. My ex-boyfriend, a handsome Rajput man who funds and runs schools for poor kids, can speak volumes on this subject.

The girls below, Kajol and Pooja (L-R), live with their mother in a lean-to outside Newmarket in Kolkata. They go to a free school, and after school they change from their crisp uniforms into beggar clothes. Their father is dead. Kajol, the older sister speaks Bengali and Hindi, and understands English but is too shy to speak it. Pooja speaks English superbly, in addition to Bengali and Hindi. She's very animated, clever, and cute, could easily be an actress, but plans to grow up to be the prime minister of India so she can help the poor. (This earnestness and sincerity runs like a river through India.) I hired them to show me around Newmarket and got a tour that blew all the guidebooks away.

Kajol and Pooja

And finally, this is Father Paul, the coolest priest in India. He, Brother Charles, a dozen teachers and a half dozen German volunteers, run the Gandhi Ashram school in Kalimpong.

Father Paul

The school uses violins to help kids embrace education, It was started by a Canadian, Thomas Edward "Ed" McGuire, who passed away in 2005. He was a very funny guy, a philosopher, and a student of other religions. He never preached his own. Watch this and weep when Kushmita plays. She is now at a prestigious German conservatory on scholarship.

If you want to give to the Gandhi Ashram school, there is a donation link here.

A very good NGO that works with poor kids in Mumbai is Atma Mumbai

In Jaipur, The Alternative Development Centre.

(Click on photos for larger versions.)