Poorna, with inputs from Nishita & Srishti, Chennai, 12 August 2011
“I want to be an astronaut like Kalpana Chawla,” said Rajesh, his eyes lighting up. The grin on his face reflects the sincerity of the claim. Sounds like a classic case of reaching for the stars. But in Rajesh’s case, the story has a twist. His father is a coolie at Chennai Central Station. The fact that his parents haven’t yet forced him to drop out of school and start supporting the family is something of a surprise. The fact that he knows what ‘astronaut’ means, a small miracle.
In India, there are millions of children, all dreaming big. The question is, how many of them can actually come close to realising their dream? Are we living in a world where the right to have your dreams come true is restricted to a privileged few?
I have asked myself the same questions many a time. And the answer to the question (a resounding NO) came to me in my second semester at IIT Madras. It started with the day I noticed a mail in my inbox. I responded to the mail with the idea that I would be saving the world, but not really knowing much more than that. A few days later I found myself being interviewed by a couple of my seniors, who grilled me on why I wanted to become an Avanti mentor. While frantically making up answers to the questions ( I vaguely remember saying that I wanted to ‘explore the dynamics of a mentor – mentee relationship’- I hope my interviewers have forgotten that little detail), I realized that I genuinely cared about Avanti’s cause and that I wanted to be a mentor.
A month later, a gruelling test was conducted for 10th graders across Chennai who entered the examination hall armed with a pen and a few dreams. The Fifteen toppers from the test were called to an Orientation and inducted into Avanti. Today, my Avanti fellow calls me ‘akka’ (something that even my younger sister at home refuses to call me). I have known her for three months. She is smart, sweet, sincere and focused. I can say with some surety that Avanti has not only given her the right to dream, but the confidence and capability to realize her dreams.