Nishank ‘Raja’ Bhati reflectively pulls at the hair on the back of his head while answering a sim- ple question about his interests.
He has had little sleep the night before and
he peers blearily at the inquisitor before he
works himself up to a creditable response.
Bhati and the alert girl in the next seat,
Aditi ‘Tara’ Rathore, have finished three
weeks of summer school in the United
States and are preparing to go home.
While here, they went to the Hotchkiss
School in Lakeville, Connecticut, staying
at the school hostel.
Though many Indian students have
made trips to the US, Nishank and Aditi
are the first from the Fabindia school,
which was started primarily to promote
the education of girls in Pali, rural
Rajasthan. This is just the first of a series
of planned trips, with grade 11 students
expected to come over in the fall, to the
Loomis Chaffee School, also in
Nishank and Aditi are grade 10
students and the children of
teachers. But the similarities end
Nishank prefers the sciences to
Aditi’s arts, cricket to the latter’s
badminton and basketball to his
. Coming to
books, Nishank likes Stephen
Hawkins while Aditi prefers
Since they opted for environ-
mental studies, the pair had to
learn classification of trees and
invertebrates such as the caddisfly
and the mayfly, record keeping,
water testing and conservation. In
all, there were 130 students from
11 countries in the program.
“We measured their barks, the
distance between the trees —
whether they are shade-tolerant or not,”
Aditi interjects excitedly, “The trees are
very different in the US,” she says. “There
we have neem and babul.”
“They believe in experiments and proj-
ects,” Aditi says of the US program. “In
India, we focus mostly on theory.”
Besides schoolwork, the two got to do a
lot of hiking and canoeing — while
Nishank loved swimming Aditi was quite
indifferent to it.
The duo was lucky since they were
picked from 10 Fabindia students who
applied to the Hotchkiss program, called
But Nishank had his doubts when he
found he was the only one on the hostel
floor, the night he arrived at the school. In
contrast, Aditi was up past midnight put-
ting henna on all the students.
“I was a little nervous about making
friends. But on the first day itself I made
10 friends,” she says, with a characteristic
shake of the head.
“She was very popular with everybody,”
says Katherine Allen, a Fabindia official
accompanying the students.
The self-deprecating Aditi quickly says,
“Because of henna.”
Besides schoolwork, Nishank Bhati, above, and Aditi Rathore, below, got to do a lot of hiking and
From Rajasthan to
Canoeing, conservation and bonding over henna —
the first Fabindia School students in the US share
the experience of a lifetime with
Fabindia founder John Bissell and his
son William started the school in 1992
with 12 students. Originally intended to
support the education of girls, it now has
985 students from pre-kindergarten
through class 12.
“There’s tons of great schools in Delhi,
) to get a really high-quality
school in rural India,” says Allen, adding
that the “attitude to girls’ education in the
area has changed in the last 20 years.”
The school has grown with help from
volunteers, including high school students
from the US.
“They try to wear clothes that are mod-
est — they are told to cover up — and they
are baking in the sun. So, these privileged
American kids get a flavor of (
how it is
working hard,” Allen says, laughing.
“The area was a dry, arid, flat piece of
land. Today, there is a forest area, a hostel,
Though the school started out
with a 50 percent subsidy to edu-
cate girls, there is an effort now to
phase out blanket subsidies and
move towards needs-based schol-
“I think it will really hit them
when they get back home — the
powerful impact of this experi-
ence,” says Allen.
Also preparing for his trip to
India is Bill Dean, a lawyer. Dean
will teach at the Fabindia School
and plans to make up his own
curriculum in his three-month
sojourn, starting October. He is
to teach literature, public speak-
ing and train the basketball team.
“Once a week, I will have students teach-
ing me about the country I’m in. I
approach this in terms of teaching
but also, you know, being taught,” says
He says he has traveled around the
world, but his first trip to India (where his
mother was teaching American foreign
policy) was 50 years ago. He still remem-
bers their address: The Ford Foundation
bungalow at 5 Tughlak Lane, New Delhi.
“I wanted to teach. It had to be in an
English-speaking country and it had to be
a country that I really felt close to. India
was all three,” he says.
Meanwhile, Nishank and Aditi are try-
ing to meet the insatiable demands of
their friends, back in Rajasthan, who want
designer clothes, watches and sunglasses.
“And no, they won’t pay for them”, Nishank
says, enjoying the moment.
Aditi adds, she’s getting some light-
hearted ribbing. “They were teasing me.
They were saying (
),” she says.
But they agree they are better for the
experience — one they would never have
had if they did not have the Fabindia
school in their area. ;
in this issue
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