One afternoon in Mumbai

Quest reflections

Lisa Smith

13 January 2016

My first official day at LQ was the 2014 Pow-Wow in Mumbai – a fascinating entrance into this unique community, and a chance for me to start living and breathing the Quest Fellowship Programme. Since then, we’ve boosted our number of fellows (180 this year, up from 130 in 2015), launched a new website, and received the largest donation in our history (from the Tata Trust). Most recently, we’ve added 33 fellows in Rajasthan – new territory that will take us deep into a fresh set of challenges as we spread our work to rural areas of India.

I returned to the Pow-Wow in October and this time the scene was different. Our Leadership Festival saw thousands converge on Chembur to meet, hear stories, and learn from experiences. I had changed too. I realised ­how many of the faces I recognised, and how much contact I’d had with our Fellows, despite the geographical distance. (And another thing: I was no longer wearing western clothes – I’m the proud owner of a rackful of Fab India outfits!) Waiting in the queue to join the throng inside, I felt the excitement amongst the crowd. Inside the tent, there was a sea of colour and the audience (half men, half women) listened, laughed and sang along.

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The following day, I led a visit to the home of Vinaya Ghevde, a Fellow who works on issues affecting single women – especially widowers and divorcées. A silent minority, they suffer isolation, shame, lack of income, lack of residence... the list goes on. Vinaya, who left her violent husband after years of abuse, had found solace in a new area of Mumbai. It was there that our Pow-Wow group gathered to hear her story, in a tiny, spotless room, where we drank tea surrounded by neighbours and children. Sitting with us was Vishal Pawar, Vinaya’s mentor, and he talked of similar discrimination (early childhood marriage and a lack of schooling) affecting his own Northern Maharashtra fishing community. As we listened, I found myself working with our translator to draw out the layers of these stories, the richness of the context, and I realised how much I’d learned during my first 12 months. The Fellowship’s potential really came alive as I thought about the people I’d met, their achievements, and how they form a foundation for others to come.

For me, it will always be days like this, in Mumbai, on a hot October afternoon, that remind me why the Fellowship matters, and what we can achieve. Telling the stories of Vinaya, Vishal (and others to come) is a significant step as we embark on another transformational year.