Speaking the language

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Hyderabad, and I guess that says it all about my relationship with India. My parents both grew up in this city, but I’m a born and bred New Jersey-an. Picking up on my accented Telugu, the Uber driver who drove us from Hussain Sagar, the manmade lake in the middle of the city, back to where we were staying this evening, asked where I had come from. When I told him that I was from the US, he asked why I spoke Telugu. When I told him my parents were from Hyderabad and spoke Telugu with me, he asked how come I wasn’t better at it.


The Buddha statue on Hussain Sagar

At Penn, I’m a biology major on the pre-med track, and a rising senior. I wanted to do something this summer that would let me work with people, and this opportunity drew me to India. I’m interning this summer at the Naandi Foundation, which is based in Hyderabad but works with many different locations across the country. As the work we’ll be doing at this internship is fieldwork-based, language is a huge factor. My hesitant Telugu, which I find myself more often than not embarrassed of, can provide me a great advantage in this part of India, if only I go through the exercise of practicing it.

Naandi’s work spans several ventures across India, including a few that we will get the opportunity to work with: the Araku coffee project, and the Nanhi Kali and N Star projects for the education and development of the girl child. The foundation began almost 20 years ago with a focus on maternal and infant health, and has expanded to serve many other needs of communities across the country and to otherwise help improve the livelihoods of members of tribal communities.


Samples in our office of the Araku coffee sold in their first store in Paris

Tomorrow, Judy and I are leaving for the Araku Valley to get a hands-on understanding on Naandi’s work here that has connected the Adivasi community to Kyoto, Seoul, and Paris, where Araku coffee has opened its first store. We’ll learn about sustainable farming and biodynamic agriculture. We’ll meet members of the community and explore their relationship with the foundation. We’ll be eating mangoes and hiking hills and valleys. We’ll talk to the coffee farmers in Araku to learn how things have changed over the past decade, and where they see their work going in the future. We’ll be learning the language of the earth in Araku Valley. And we’ll share its stories with you.

4 thoughts on “Speaking the language

  1. Excited to visit various sites that Naandi’s program has established with you for the next 9~10 weeks!

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About Veena Bhagavathi

Class of 2019, majoring in biology and minoring in French and chemistry. Interning at the Naandi Foundation in Hyderabad, Telangana and Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh for the summer of 2018.