She chose to take a leap of faith

Ritika Chawla

In our world, there are three types of people – those who blame the system for how things are functioning around them, those who are indifferent to it and finally those who do something to bring about a change, no matter how small or big. In my life, I was lucky to meet most who belonged to the third category. These were people who jumped at every opportunity to help others; these were selfless people. One such friend of mine is Shalini Datta, part of the corporate world for 10 years, living a comfortable life and in the company of all those who dearly loved her. Yet, Shalini took the leap of faith, quit her job, and gave up her comfortable life to become a fellow at Teach for India. For two years of her life she taught grade two at a municipal school in Mumbai. Two years later, when the fellowship ended, unlike a lot of us who either returned to the corporate world or started studying, Shalini took another leap of faith; she started AfterTaste to provide livelihood opportunities to the mothers of her former students by training them to make aesthetic products through art and craft.The current product line includes designer gift bags, handmade paper lamps, hand crafted folders, handmade paper diaries, sketchbooks, gift envelopes, photo frames, place mats, pen holders, and blank cards.

What intrigued me was the name AfterTaste. Shalini explains, “Aftertaste was born from a desire to use art to serve. So, while you take a hand crafted product home and experience it over a period of time, we know you’ll smile to yourself and be happy with the piece of beauty that you own. Each product that you own has been specially hand-crafted by women who could not fulfill their dreams due to circumstances but now dream for a better life for their families. These women now earn their livelihood in a dignified way through the proceeds of the sales at AfterTaste. That’s how you enjoy the lingering aftertaste.”

On talking to the women who work with AfterTaste, I heard stories of empowerment, of self-reliance and more than anything else, of hope. Fatima, mother of three, lives in the slum area of Malvani, Malad, Mumbai. When asked what has earning a living done for her, she talks about how she needs money to run her house, pay for her children’s tuition classes, Koran classes, etc. AfterTaste helps her earn through her capabilities and she need not borrow money or depend on anyone. Kamarunnisa who has sought to educate her three daughters against all odds shares her feelings on educating the girl child. She believes her daughters as well as other girls in the community need to be educated to be independent and build their own future. Fatima and Kamarunnisa’s stories resonate with a lot of women living in the low socio-economic areas of India. They belong to a part of the world which most of us either choose not to pay attention to, or ignore or only feel sorry for. This is what Shalini altered. She passed on faith to the women she works with and for her friends, she changed mindsets. I joined Shalini at one of the exhibitions at corporate houses in Mumbai last year. Watching her talk to people and explaining to them the ‘what, why and how’ of AfterTaste made me feel proud of her.

Brigham Young rightly said, “You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation.” It’s the trickle-down effect; if the mothers are educated so will their children be. Every time I talk to Shalini, I hear little stories of change such as when one of the women complained to the police when she faced domestic violence. Before this, the woman probably never had the courage to take such a step. Shalini also shares information with them whether it is about opening a bank account and saving for their children or about Indo-Pak division.

I wish there were more people like Shalini who truly understood the meaning of education and continued to bring about change in the lives of those whom the rest of the world seems to have forgotten. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohtIVUiorlY

The author is currently pursuing MA (Education) from Azim Premji University and is an ex-fellow of Teach for India. She can be reached at ritika.chawla@apu.edu.in.