I met Elisa and Selvi on a Thursday night in late March at the International Delhi Airport. By then I had been in India for a month volunteering as part of my semester abroad and was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces. Needless to say I was excited to see them both! They had come to town for the Habitat International Film Festival and they were kind enough to let me tag along. The three of us would only be together for just over 24 hours but Elisa sure knows how to get a lot done in a short period of time!
Elisa and Selvi are like family to one another, mother and daughter (the role switching all the time) and even sisters. Selvi sometimes calls Elisa “mom”. They had not seen each other since November when Selvi was last in Canada for the theatrical launch of the film and I could just feel the excitement these two had for finally being back together. The three of us stayed up very late talking about our busy plans for the next day, and laughing as Selvi tried to teach Elisa Bharatantyam, a South Indian classical dance
In the morning we had our first screening at the Azad Foundation, an organization founded in Delhi which aims to teach women to become commercial drivers, self sufficient and most importantly empowered. In fact our driver, Geeta, was one of their graduates and is now employed by Sakha Cabs a social enterprise run by Azad. Those enrolled in the foundation’s training programs have lives that mirror Selvi’s own journey so the screening was particularly resonant. It was amazing to watch Selvi speak to the women for over an hour following the film. She transformed from a stranger to someone these women looked up to, felt connected to, and with whom they could share their stories with.
Selvi and Elisa hope to show the film to women and girls across India. From this one screening it is obvious what kind of impact it will have.
After the Azad event we rushed back to the India Habitat Centre for the next screening. Elisa is so busy she even had a phone interview in the car! We had 10 minutes to change and then we were off. It was interesting to see two different events side by side. Where the earlier one at the Azad Foundation was dedicated to sharing the film with women who could personally identify with the story, the Habitat event was full of people from organizations that wanted to partner and share the film with their own communities. Although wildly different each audience was inspired and enthusiastic!
In the little time I spent with Selvi I feel like we are great friends. She is so kind, generous and funny. When walking back from dinner Selvi said to me: "Your mom and my mom are best friends, so we should be best friends too.” It was just a perfect moment; although we will be far apart I can tell we will be friends for a long time. Both Elisa and Selvi are catalysts for change, and I hope one day I can help make even a fraction of the change they are creating.
feel so lucky I was able to be even a small part of their journey
towards equality not just in India but also around the world.
Devon, Selvi and Elisa in Delhi
Devon Labrie is a third year International Development Student at Queens University. She wrote about Driving with Selvi previously on March 9th 2016.