the morning sgub class
in my 11:00 am ukulele class there are ten survivor girls. i don’t know all their individual stories, but it’s not uncommon for these girls to believe are that they are stupid, that they can’t learn, and that they are worthless. those beliefs are reinforced by the fact that they have had very little education and they don’t really know how to learn.
shortly after i arrived at sanlaap, a shelter home in kolkata for rescued girls, i performed an impromptu outdoor concert for about forty girls. they were a generous audience, and my “kuch kuch hota hai / baby” mashup was a hit, so most of the girls came to their first ukulele class with some excitement and enthusiasm.
not so with latika*. she sat there on the mat as though she were on a train to siberia. disengaged and gloomy, her eyes were downcast. but as the class progressed, all that changed. everyone had a lot of fun; we laughed a lot and sang a lot. all the girls were successful. and latika left with a big smile on her face. “hurrah!!” i thought to myself. “a breakthrough for latika.”
latika won’t play
the next week however, latika missed a class that included a lot of practice on “twinkle twinkle little star.” then the very next day — as all the other girls were sailing smoothly through the song — she wasn’t playing as well as the the other girls. she couldn’t keep up, she missed some notes, she got lost, and she stopped playing.
very discouraged, she put her ukulele on the floor.
“latika,” i said. “ok. you and me.” we played a few lines together, singing out the names of the notes. she made a few more mistakes and put her ukulele back on the floor. she made a hand motion by her head as if to say “everything is gone” and she said something in bengali. her face was like a storm cloud and her voice was like thunder.
“kya bol?” (what did she say?)
“she said she can’t do. it’s all gone out. she can’t learn. she’s finished,” said preeti*, the girl who speaks english.
latika picked up her ukulele and hid her face behind the head of the ukulele.
i took her hand and said, “oh, latika, ap hogaya nahin (you are not finished). absolutely not. hogaya nahin.”
we went through the song again, taking special care on the parts she was having trouble with. she was getting it. i could see hope and confidence building. another student pulled her aside and helped her, too.
soon latika turned back toward me and touched my arm. she was ready to play. everyone got quiet and we all watched her play. her fingers trembled as she fought every line against making a mistake. could she do it?
yes!! she made it through! everyone cheered! and latika laughed and laughed like she just heard the best joke ever.
and when we moved on to another song and started to learn the g chord, she was among the first to catch it, and with a smile that lit up the room, she began teaching others.
why does she love me?
a few days later one of the older students of the morning class led an evening practice session. i stopped by and looked in the window. “is latika here?” i said. “yes, she’s here,” said preeti.
latika said something in bengali.
“latika says you must really love her,” said preeti.
“i do,” i said. “i love all the girls.”
“she said, ‘why does she love me?'”
i wasn’t ready for that question. there were so many reasons. so many things i could say. i thought of a friend who called me shortly before i left. he asked me how the benefit concerts had gone and what my plans were. i told him how much money had been donated so far and what my budget is. and i told him that this year i really hoped to buy a scooter. and not just any scooter. an orange scooter. the orange scooter of my dreams. before we said good-bye he said, “well, i’ve got some money here, and i want to give you some. you go buy that orange scooter. and bring my love to those girls.”
and i thought of all the love — from my sister and brothers and dad and cousins and nieces and nephews and music family and bethany family and other dear friends in my life — that i carry to these girls here in india.
how could i tell her about all that love that i carry? i didn’t think i could explain all that.
so i said, “tell her i love her because when she smiles, she lights up the room.”
thank you to indrani, the founder of sanlaap, and the wonderful sanlaap staff for the warm welcome and collaboration on this project!!! here’s a card that one of my students made with toilet paper roses to give to indrani to thank her for allowing sgub project to come to sanlaap.
thank you, to kala brand music for the beautiful makala dolphin ukuleles — the best beginner ukuleles on the planet!
and thank you to worth premium ukulele strings — the strings that make these ukuleles sing!!
this photo from the 2014 bethany benefit concert represents just a small portion of the lovely people who have joined the band. thank you thank you thank you dear friends and family and all who love me and support this project. what a blessing to carry your love with me and give it to these girls. i could not do this project without you.