The Life Preserver
Updated: Feb 21, 2020
My team and I were surprised to receive an invitation to the home of our primary contact at Hasiru Dala, Indha, whom we work with on a near daily basis. She asked if we’d like to come over and brainstorm ideas for our GCIL project with her friend / co-worker / new room mate, Pradeep, whom we also were familiar with through Hasiru Dala. The invitation felt like a life preserver thrown in the direction of our team as we drowned in our half-baked ideas and over-analyses, so naturally we grabbed on.
As we bounced along pothole ridden dirt roads in our Uber, I noticed more and more public dumping sites and informal waste workers as we got closer to our destination. I would’ve figured Indha and Pradeep would want to get away from these sights when they come home since they are often in these settings at work, but then I felt naive for thinking they would have the choice in Bangalore, where roughly 1/3 of all waste collection is informal (1).
Stepping out of the Uber, suddenly modern 5 story apartment buildings towered above us on each side. We walked down the street until we saw Indha waving at us from one of the top floor balconies. Entering her and Pradeep's new apartment, I realized I had not been in a home since leaving my own in Seattle over 2 months ago now. We were welcomed with grapes, watermelons, basil seed drinks, and casual conversation as we sat cross-legged against the walls of the room. I think it was the most comfortable I’ve been in India. For a second, I was removed from my high strung GCIL mindset and forgot why we came over in the first place.
We learned of Indha's future aspirations and her love for cooking, Pradeep’s experience growing up in Bangalore and passion for living sustainably, and their struggles in finding an apartment that would accept them as unmarried and non-romantic room mates. Also, it turns out they are well aware of the waste picking going on just 5 floors down and 10 feet away from their apartment, and they hope to eventually build relationships with these informal workers. Pradeep explained to us it would take a long time to build trust with them because they are accustomed to exploitation or some other form of ill will when being approached by strangers. He told us they would eventually offer them advice and resources for their livelihood but it would take months or even years to develop enough trust for their advice to be heeded. I admired how the line of work Indha and Pradeep had chosen clearly is not just a means to pay their bills. He mentioned this side project with their neighbors casually as if it were the obvious course of action to take on a voluntary and lengthy endeavor outside their normal 6-day work weeks.
We did eventually get down to business tearing apart all our previous ideas and brainstorming a few new ones. Six and a half hours later we left the apartment holding high a single idea that was a bit less torn up than all the others. I think we were all relieved to at least have something to move forward on with our first report deadline less than a week away. Our hosts escorted us down the stairs and out to the road where we snuck in a few last laughs while waiting for our Uber.
My feelings on our trek homeward were a mixed bag of gratitude for the hospitality we received, apprehension for the coming week, excitement for our new-found direction, and admiration mixed with jealousy for the passionate work we witnessed. I realized it’s a powerful force when work and passions align. It enables more effort to be given professionally when it is personal too. I hope to one day find myself in this position, and in the meantime be able to throw out life preservers to struggling interns too.