Our guest blogger, Isabel, has been working closely with Shilpa Raj, a Shanti Bhavan alum who graduated last year and decided to stay on to teach the 4th Grade at Shanti Bhavan while finishing up her memoir. Isabel has been working closely with Shilpa and Dr. Abraham George (the founder of Shanti Bhavan) to edit the book, which they hope will be published in the next year. Check out this excerpt of an interview that Isabel did with Shilpa:
One of my greatest joys at Shanti Bhavan has been getting to know eighteen-years-old Shilpa Raj who is setting out to write a book that captures her experience as a young girl leaving a life of poverty behind to study at Shanti Bhavan. Letting Shilpa explain herself in her own words, I asked her the following questions:
Isabel Rutherfurd: What would you say your book is really about?
Shilpa Raj: My book is the story of my life. The book has been divided into three major parts: The first part describes the lives of my father and generations before him. I come from a community in which people made their livelihood from brewing liquor illicitly. I tell the story of the day to day lifestyle of these people, what motivates them, what drove their actions and their understanding of live. It is my understanding of my family.
The second part of the book talks about my life between school and home. My life is divided between school and home which I get to visit during vacation. As I get older I begin to get confused as to where do I actually belong, what are the principles that I want to guide my life by or the individual I want to grow to be. As a teenager living between these two contrasting worlds, I always do not make the smartest decisions. Along the way I begin to learn from my mistakes. I am on a quest to find my identity and find my purpose of being.
The third part of the book deals with me choosing the world I want to lead the rest of my life in and the person I want to grow up to be.
IR: What is your book called and why did you decide to title it that?
SR: My book is called, ‘The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter.’ We grow sugarcane in my village. The elephants come and feast on these plantations, causing a lot of destruction to the livelihoods of the farmers. At night men like my father go out to chase the elephants away. That is why I call myself the daughter of the elephant chaser.
This title in a subtle way brings out the theme of living between two worlds. Even though I am the daughter of the elephant chaser, my life is completely different from the way his is. I think and believe differently. As father and daughter, we are very different.
IR: What unique perspective do you think your book offers the world and what are some of the main points that you hope to communicate through your book?
SR: Coming from the voice of a girl who came from poor circumstances but studied in a school that offered her a good future, this book talks about the need of an education for every child and the empowerment it can bring about.
IR: What have been some of the challenges in writing this book?
SR: There were times when some of my family members did not want to tell me their story, either because they were shy or because they didn’t see any point in what I was doing.
IR: How do your family and friends feel about your undertaking to write a book?
SR: It is a very strange idea for my family. Everybody at school supports me and believes in me. Initially it was very hard to explain to my family as to why I was taking the year off to work on a book instead of going to college. No one in my village has ever done something like this before and I can understand why my family was uncertain of my decision. Some of them are disappointed that I do not want to become a lawyer or something more conventional.
IR: Is there anything you want to challenge your readers with in your book?
SR: The message that I want to convey to the readers is about change. Dr. George brought about change in my life by giving me the opportunity to study at his school. This opportunity has broadened my chances to a better future. If one man could do so much, then surely a whole group of people can do more.
What do you think of Shilpa’s journey and decision to write a book? I find her absolutely inspiring given everything she has had to overcome to live her dream. I can’t wait to read her memoir!