"ALTHO MY LIFE SUX," writes 19-year-old Avijit Halder in text-messaging style on bebo.com, a social networking site similar to facebook or myspace.com, "I consider myself 2 b lucky...anyways I m indian n dats all," he continues, "just an ordinary person...who loves eatin, laughing..sometimes painting n photography n hate scools a lot."
Text messages tapped out on cellphones conserve characters with abbreviations just as telegrams said "soonest" for "as soon as possible" or "update" instead of "bringing up to date" to save words and thus dollars.
"All my friends r cool," Avijit continues, and indeed, his bebo page is full of friends, many from Rowland Hall St Marks, a preparatory school that he attended in Salt Lake City. When he was 17, he took the "Reel Stories" filmmaking course in Salt Lake City at SpyHop, given in collaboration with the Sundance Institute. That same summer, Avijit talked with interviewer Julie Rose at Salt Lake's KCPW about studying and living in the U.S.
"My greatest challenge is not to change myself, not totally, not to be Americanized," he said. His American friends became independent as they grew up; they eagerly moved away from home. "But in India," Avijit said of people the same age, "they stay in their family. You cannot just do whatever you want. You must have everyone's permission."
A Film of His Own. His short film, Culture ,explores this contrast. His documentary looks at American teenagers and young adults in the breakaway stage, where they gain independence from their parents and extended families, and shows them juxtaposed with the lives of Asian Americans who stay within the family fold.
Halder has come a long way from being the little boy who loved to draw and paint, one of the children of the Sonagachi red-light district of Calcutta (literally "born into brothels") where only his grandmother believed in his future and, though aware of his talent, he hardly dared trust his ambitions. Zana Briski and Ross Kaufmann's work on behalf of the "kids with cameras" in her photography workshops, especially through KWC, the nonprofit Briski founded, has opened many doors.
Today, with opportunities to go to school in the U.S. and study filmmaking, to enter his work in competitions and win (Culturewon the Cultural Diversity Award in the 2006 Pura Inspiracion Film Contest at the Tucson Film Festival), and to build an international network of friends and mentors, Avijit usually is perceived as the biggest success story of the Kids With Cameras workshop in Calcutta.
Yet his personal story, like those he documented in Culture, has poignant aspects. Still living in the U.S., attending New York University, on Avijit's bebo page he gives his hometown as "Kolkata...dee best."
And at times, as he says in the podcast "BeyondBrothels" about his old life in Calcutta, "I wish I still had that life. With my friends."
"The Accidental Teacher,"the original story about the making of the Zana Briski and Ross Kaufmann documentary, appeared in the Spring, 2005 issue of NRTALive & Learn.
Watch for new stories every Thursday inLive & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community: Celebrating learning as a creative lifestyle.