10x10 producer Martha Adams reports from her second pre-production trip to India.
1 Mississippi…2 Mississippi…I started to count the seconds between my driver’s honks. In the 50 minutes it took to get from the airport to my hotel, the greatest span between his honks was three seconds. THREE SECONDS! That’s about 1,000 honks from one car. Now multiply that by the other gazillion cars out there…Welcome to Kolkata, India.
I’m traveling around town today with the staff of 10x10 partner World Vision prepping for the arrival of screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala. We begin by visiting Ruksana’s “home,” a tarp-covered, 15 by 7 foot section of sidewalk. I feel a bit like Mary Poppins carrying a bag full of magic markers, colored pencils, crayons, sketchpads, erasers, pencil sharpeners, 10x10 pencils, stacks of photos (taken on our previous trip) and a photo book on great women of the world. What was she going to make of all this?
Pause here to consider the basics: Ruksana is 11; her mother is 28 (married at 13, first baby at 14). Her father is 40 and sells sugar cane juice at the market. She has 4 other siblings. They are squatters on a footpath and if evicted, they would have to go back to their family’s village. The problem is, while there are schools in their village, there is no learning there. A common and important theme that we are encountering every step of the way on 10x10 is that just because there’s a school building, it doesn’t mean it’s filled with supplies, has bathrooms, enough space, or paid teachers who actually know how to teach. So Ruksana’s parents opt to sleep on the streets of Kolkata, amidst the sewage and grime, in the company of traffickers and gangs, all so that their kids can receive an education. Why make such a sacrifice? Because neither of Ruksana’s parents can read or write and they want a better life for their kids.
Arriving at Ruksana’s tarp, we slip off our shoes and step in. It’s a steam bath inside and my eyes have to adjust to the dark. Sam, our World Vision representative, our translator Natasha, Ruksana, her siblings, mother and I all sat down, knees overlapping. Although we’ve met before, I explain 10x10 to the family in detail now. How we are traveling around the world in search of girls who, against all odds, are succeeding in school. That Ruksana will be the representative for India.
Her mother says she’s proud that her daughter was chosen and happy to participate. “But…” What was her “but?” OH NO, I think, here it comes. She continues, “but only if the film will help all the children in her community.” I am speechless at the selflessness and forward thinking of this humble woman. And that is exactly our goal with 10x10: to tell the story that educating girls will have a multiplying effect on entire communities. On the world.
Have you ever been to Kolkata? What was your impression?