Shanti Bhavan - Full of Heart

It was a Friday night, and my mind was yet to slow down from the hectic schedule the day had to offer. I was not in a mood for anything except to resort to Netflix under the disguise of book research. I have been losing interest in the fictional web series off late, especially the Indian ones.

It seems to me that the production houses have found an elixir combination of sex, cursing & obscenity to be the trump card of success. The protagonist is typically a known face in the industry and yes there always remains a transgender character or a somebody similar to make the series or supposed to make the series enjoyable. I am not stereotyping the Indian series, but I am almost there.

I have resorted to documentaries off late, and interestingly I have found that they get made with the same dedication as that of any leading series, especially in Netflix. One such example which I wanted to quote and talk about is the documentary called “Daughters of destiny”.

I stumbled across " Daughters of Destiny" when I was browsing across documentaries on women’s life for my next book. Initially, I thought “Daughters of Destiny to be a documentary on the life of an underprivileged girl child; however, it turned out to be more than that. This four-part limited documentary despite being not my subject of interest, succeeded in making me watch it till the end.

Daughters of Destiny

The documentary details the life of five girls, namely ThenMozhi, Kartika, Preetha, Manjula and Shilpa. All these kids are underprivileged and belong to the so-called deprived caste of society.

The writer and director, Vanessa Roth, had shot this over seven years. However, the old clippings and pictures make you feel that it had been shot way beyond seven years. The video introduces Thenmozhi as the four-year English-speaking underprivileged girl. In contrast, the other girls are on their verge of completing their education and are beginning to embark on a new journey.

All these girls get an opportunity to learn, live and love at Shanti Bhavan. Shanti Bhavan takes care of their 17 years of school education expenses and even most of their college education as well. They take upon themselves the onus of getting the kids employed.

Shanti Bhavan is supporting the parents of the kids as well not by just sponsoring their child but also them through the child’s stipend. This was apparent when Kartika, one of the five girls in the documentary and incidentally my favourite one, offers her mother the two thousand rupees which were left out of her stipend money.

Her mother, who makes ends meet by breaking stones in a quarry refuses it with a smile. This conveys the emotional turmoil; these people undergo living in a house which hardly lets them spread their arms.

Shanti Bhavan

The Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project was founded in 1997 in Bangalore by the Indian-American businessman Abraham George. It is a boarding school that accepts 24 preschool students a year and provides free education (and food and housing) through 12th grade.

Shanti Bhavan is an educational institution and a social experiment: a demonstration that Dalits can thrive academically, a proposition that still needs proving in India, and an attempt to pull Dalits out of poverty by preparing children for jobs that can support their extended families.

Mr Abraham George decided to sell the successful business he had established in the USA to create Shanti Bhavan, the dream of his life. He started this institution at the beginning of his 50th age and presently is more than 70. His son Ajit George currently is assisting him in his service.

Shanti Bhavan – A Dream

Shanti Bhavan is a dream. Witnessing these underprivileged speaking out their mind in perfect English is a delight to watch. I don’t want to get into an argument if someone questions English as a substitute for knowledge. My understanding, at least with the Shanti Bhavan children is their lucidity of expression and their ability to dream, which speaks volume about the knowledge that got imparted into them.

Volunteers across the borders take delight in teaching the children. I feel this must be one of the significant advantages this organisation has compared to any other international boarding schools in the country. The founder Mr George along with his team of teachers and staff are more of a family than an enterprise.

Sponsoring seventeen years of education, five times food a day and comfortable accommodation is more than a mission but a stubborn intent to create a change. At one point, George thought he could create hundreds of Shanti Bhavan but later on realised the harsh reality, especially after the recession of 2008. His son Ajith had been the saving grace by pulling in funds through charities. The father-son duo together forms a great pair in this mission par excellence.

Children’s Life at Shanti Bhavan

A child’s life at Shanti Bhavan starts like an average kid joining a boarding school – Crying. The elder kids become the guardians of little ones joining the family. The priorities change as the kids grow up.

Good food, great ambience and delightful education make a lot of change in the little minds. To them, these are luxury way beyond their wildest imagination in what could be their otherwise original lives.

The reality check occurs to these kids’ life twice every year when they are sent back to their homes on vacation. These kids are looked upon differently by their own people as they speak differently and think differently. The kids own siblings feel jealous and, in some cases, proud too.

Once at home, these children feel their responsibility towards their loved ones and in some cases, their society. As the kids grow, their eagerness to visit their homes reduces as they feel happy at Shanti Bhavan than their suffocating homes.

This double life of home and Shanti Bhavan is something the kid had to come to terms with. This double life is perhaps something which gets them confused if they are really privileged or not. The education makes them feel elevated to high life’s standards, but their vacation gets them back to their knees. The school’s ideals and aspirations hardly sync with the harsh reality of their original life.

Seventeen years of education and what next?

The education system adopted in Shanti Bhavan is ICSE standards which means they have to take additional entrance exams for the getting into colleges.

The one thing which I felt while watching the documentary was that these kids look too gullible with their noble thoughts, English thinking and more importantly, their safe upbringing. The killer instinct in them must have died a natural death, thanks to a happy and safe upbringing in Shanti Bhavan. I am sure this will get rekindled when they leave Shanti Bhavan to face their graduation and eventually a job later on.

The real-life challenges

Mr George must have achieved what he envisioned. His Shanti Bhavan is a reality now. He has succeeded in educating the kids who were deprived of all the comforts in life. In the course of succeeding, I somehow felt that the system had created more Individuals from the kids who started thinking independently and not what Shanti Bhavan had expected them to.

Their dreams began taking new shape as and when they gain their newfound freedom away from Shanti Bhavan and their homes. This freedom, however, I feel will be a short-term recluse, and their original priorities will get back as and when they grow more with life.

I somehow feel Shanti Bhavan emphasises more on education and expects kids to excel in that alone by all means. An Institution like Shanti Bhavan, which stands as a solitary example of a change maker must try to impart more change in its education perspective too. More skill training and perhaps some entrepreneur hub at the site can get it all straight.

The education system all across the world is changing; Shanti Bhavan must set its foot fast to embrace the change. I am sure you will never be short of volunteers in this noble mission.

I pray for Shanti Bhavan to succeed in all its endeavours. I pray for its kids to succeed for themselves and their loved ones. I wrote this blog as I felt responsible to express my thanks and happiness. I am sure there are many other ways you can express your love for Shanti Bhavan.