Day 131 – Ladli Vocational Training Centre

A short distance from the I-India head office is the Ladli Vocational Training Centre. When school is finished children have the option to come here and train in stitchwork, jewellery-making, block-printing and tailoring. There are also English, drawing and dance classes available. When I enter, everyone is busy at their stations on the floor though the atmosphere is extremely relaxed. I sit down at the card-making section next to a girl named Tulsi. She looks up at me with a beautiful smile and starts chatting in perfect English. Though she dismisses the compliment, we begin talking about studying and she tells me that she will soon begin college and study Hindi literature. Her favourite authors are Swami Vivekananda and Tulsi Das. She is surprised that I have heard of Swami Vivekananda though I shyly admit that I haven’t read his books. The other girls point at my tattoos so I show them my dolphin, bird and unicorn. I have learned he Hindi words for fish, bird and horse and they seem satisfied with the explanation. I start to draw my dolphin and bird tattoo on a blank card and ask Tulsi if she knows the story. I start to tell her about the bird and the fish that fell in love when suddenly she exclaims, “Yes! I know this story. There is a story like this one in Hindi! They can’t be together because the fish cannot live in the air and the bird cannot live in the water.” I am a little surprised that she knows the story since most westerners don’t, but then it is likely that this is originally a Hindi story. It makes sense when you consider the issues of caste and arranged marriages that are common to Indian couples.

After lunch, the girls rest for an hour. I join another group and receive another lesson in Hindi. Today I am learning fruits and colours and how to ask where someone is from. The part of my brain that is storing all the Indonesian for that exam in the near future is probably going to suffer for this later but at the moment I am just relishing the flavours of this new language. When they tell me the word for grape is anggur, I get a little excited because it is the same in Bahasa Indonesia! That is where the similarities end for now. Kusum and Binki ask if I am married. I try to explain that I was engaged but that I am not anymore, but they don’t care about that, they just want to know if it was a love match or arranged. I say love match and try not to think of the horrors that would ensue from a marriage arranged by my mother, or even worse, my father. One of the girls is only 17 and bears the red strip of glittery paste going up from the centre hairline that is only worn by married girls. She has only been married a couple of weeks and still does not live with her husband until next year. She seems incredibly unfazed by this small detail of her life. For her, it is what it is.

Leaving Ladli, I ask how much it costs to send one of these girls to college for a degree. I am told it is 12,000Rs per year. That is about $250 USD per year, to give a girl a chance at a meaningful career and an independent life.

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