Life after the Fellowship: Kshiti Gala
“Every experience is not an achievement!” says Kshiti Gala, Young India Fellow, Batch of 2013.
I would like to state that writing pieces such as these always puts me in a dilemma, because I have grown to be critical of how, as a generation, we love celebrating every bit of our lives as ‘an achievement.’ Here is an attempt to share my story through some experiences.
I would describe myself as an ‘all-rounder’ from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai. Someone who dabbled in a bit of everything: academics, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. I have always considered myself to be the teacher’s pet, and I don’t think that that part of me has weaned off. The YIF, like for many of us, was one of the best academic years of my life. I was inspired by the course on the ‘Political Economy of India’s Development’ and took off to work at Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS) as Documentation and Communications Officer. I enjoyed working towards securing sustainable alternate livelihoods (with the livestock and Kumbaya teams) and learnt a lot on the job. When I visited Mumbai/Delhi, I realized that most of what my contemporaries spoke about (upcoming movies, music, restaurants, etc.) had no relevance to the lives of people in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. My time at SPS had sensitised me to the stark rural-urban divide and how I had been living my life in oblivion.
After my stint at SPS, I worked as a United Nations Volunteer for a UNDP project on mainstreaming coastal and marine biodiversity conservation in the Sindhudurg District, Maharashtra. I worked with the Mangrove Cell on aligning biodiversity conservation with sustainable livelihood generation. The work involved coordinating with the UNDP India Office, the Forest Department of Maharashtra and various civil society organisations working in the field. I realized that the on-ground ‘impact’ (of the kind that I had seen at SPS) was varied here, largely depending on the integrity of the organisation implementing the initiative. On the bright side, even if one out of the 10 things materialized, the ‘scale’ of the initiatives multiplied manifold and therein lay the reward of the painstaking, consistent work with the government.
I wanted to pursue my education further because it had been my dream since my time at St. Xavier’s. I have been deeply influenced by teachers at school, college, YIF and home. I found the process of introducing people to different ideas in a classroom environment to be powerful. I got through the M.Phil. in Development Studies program at Oxford, the M.A. in International and Development Economics program at Yale and the M.Sc. in Development Economics program at SOAS. The expenses were 80,000£, 65,000$ and 40,000£ respectively. In a fit of emotions, my mother considered selling a house in our native place, and other financial assets, to send me to Yale. I am writing this bit to tell everyone who is applying/considering going abroad, please decide to study abroad only if you are partially/fully funded/your parents can support you entirely/you have somehow saved up over the years. The entire studying abroad bit is a sign of privilege, and I would like to explicitly acknowledge it. My introspection on the entire experience is that it is definitely not worth taking huge loans/putting yourself/your family through financial stress. The Chevening Scholarship worked out, and I learnt a lot about Heterodox Economics while studying at SOAS, which I am grateful for.
I was a part of the founding Alumni Council, and I think the experience has helped me become stronger, emotionally, and has taught me that team work, across time zones, needs a lot of effort and motivation. Being on the Council has also taught me that you cannot please everyone and that it is absolutely okay.
My roots lie in Nani Tumbdi, a village in Kutch, Gujarat, where, along with my grandmother and mother, I started a healthcare centre (to provide primary healthcare in remote villages in Mundra taluka) and a stitching centre (with the aim of equipping rural women from Nani Tumbdi and neighbouring villages with the skill of stitching). The medical and stitching centres have been longstanding endeavours that I hope to strengthen in the years to come.
(The stitching and healthcare centre started by my grandmother, mother and myself in our village Nani Tumbdi in Kutch, Gujarat)
Currently, I am working as a Research Associate at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai. My main area of interest is the problem of unemployment in India and I contemplate on the ethics of fieldwork, about conscientious research and how the entire exercise in itself is a privilege. I do think about concepts like reflexivity and intersectionality in my work. Recently, I had the opportunity to be a short-term visiting faculty at St. Xavier’s which has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, restoring my faith in academia. I was irritated with millennials twiddling with their phones during class, but could not contain my excitement on seeing the spark in their eyes when they understood something. I do think that ivory tower educational institutions can be problematic, and so I keep myself grounded in the experiences I had at SPS and UNDP.
Lastly, I would like to say that I find it increasingly important to build on oneself as a person (physically, mentally and professionally) because every aspect of the mind, body and soul is crucial Also, taking oneself too seriously is a bad idea.