When I tell people that I am going to India, they often ask me, “For work or pleasure?” This seems like a simple question but actually I have a problem answering it. It is true that I get a lot of work done on these visits. My days start at 8.30 in the morning and I go nonstop until 6 pm, visiting the groups, participating in meetings with the artisans, reviewing designs that have been completed in the design workshop, talking to the staff about challenges, budgets, new programs, etc. And then I spend a couple hours checking my emails and dealing with them.
But all of this is pleasure for me. I have two sisters in Mumbai but I feel like I have way more sisters and brothers there. The artisans make up my extended family. When we meet, we exchange news about our respective kids, I bring chocolates from the US and we share lunches. We talk about a lot of things, and we share jokes – and sometimes we have tense moments when we talk about finances, quality and deadlines.
During my last trip, on my second-to-last day all the business leaders brought lunch and after we had a meeting we all sat down to eat together. Mumbai is a bit of a melting pot, attracting people from all over India. Many of the artisans come from other parts, and they have brought with them the customs – and the food – of their home regions. So our meal that day was a feast of diversity, with dishes representing all parts of India.
They say you can’t mix business with pleasure, but my experience is that they combine extremely well. All my meetings with individuals or groups seem to include some personal contact, some moments of pleasure, whether it’s a song, news about family and community, sharing food – and, always, sharing laughter. I just cannot bring myself to call this work.