Bharti seems to have it all. She has the striking expressions of an actor, the grace of a dancer, and the potential to develop her girlish presence into one of a great performer. Yet something is lacking, holding her back from the places her talent may take her.
On the surface, Bharti’s home life shines compared to her neighbors in Ramapir no Tekro, the largest slum area in Ahmedabad. The moment you cross the threshold of her home in the tekro, the background changes from dusty, barren slum-land, to glossy, tiled-floor. Bharti’s family owns a computer, bought by her grandparents as an investment in the education of Bharti and her siblings, and a refrigerator, a sign of wealth in the crowded, poverty-laden chalis, or alleyways.
Though Bharti is happy, enjoying the masti and mischief of youth in the tekro, her story reveals difficulties – some she understands, and others she does not.
She explains that her mother fell very ill when her youngest brother, Mehul, was born three years ago. For months, she was in and out of the hospital, experiencing seizure and faintness. Bharti’s eldest sister, Payal, studying in the 8th standard at the time, dropped out of school to take care of their mother and manage the household work.
When Payal later decided that she wanted to continue her studies, her father did not support her wish. As he explains, the circumstances in the household, including Bharti’s sickly mother and her 3-year old brother, have not allowed Payal to return to school.
“Who would stay home and take care of the housework?” he asks.
The contrast between Bharti’s colorful childhood, highlighted by experiences in Manav Sadhna and EKATVA, and Payal’s seemingly lost childhood, are stark, but underrated.
Though Bharti doesn’t dwell on her sister’s circumstances, she worries that her parents fight often, creating tension in their home.
“I try to make them stop,” Bharti says, with genuine adolescent angst. “I tell them they should act like adults, rather than small children.” But her parents do not see, or choose not to acknowledge, that their quarrelling has an effect on their children.
“Family members will always fight,” Bharti’s father says. “That’s just the way it is. When Bharti tells us to stop, I say, ‘Fine, we’ll put off today’s fighting for tomorrow.’” He laughs, making light of the issue.
The conflict and relative wealth in her home have added elements ego and friction to Bharti’s otherwise charming personality. At EKATVA dance rehearsal, she sometimes lacks focus. She shows less ambition than her peers to perfect her performance.
In an environment like the tekro, prosperity is an abstract term. To one family, wealth refers to their herd to goats; to their neighbors, wealth is the ability to afford electricity. In such a resource-poor setting, the perception of wealth depends on the priorities of the beholder, and the attitude with which one discloses his possessions and lifestyle.
Within Bharti’s family, seemingly prosperous with their modern possessions, symptoms of poverty exist in Payal’s interrupted education, and the household tensions caused by the often-fighting mother and father.
Bharti describes EKATVA as an experience that has changed her completely.
“I’ve learned about ekta [unity],” she says. “I’ve learned that when we show love to all people, regardless of age, religion, or caste, everyone benefits.”
Only time will tell if the values Bharti is learning in her journey with EKATVA, will add prosperity to the features of her home life that bear qualities of poverty, and help her realize the wealth of talent she has been gifted.