Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Internship Encounters - Memories from Before Covid Times!

Internship work is fun... most of the time!

 Dear All, 

Sharing an incident by Architect Tejaswini Datar while she was interning with us. She along with other fellow interns conducted a socio economic survey for our Sustainably Smart Pune project. She narrates one of her experiences during the survey. 

Here it goes...

This is the story of a day of my internship I would never forget.

I was doing an internship under the guidance of Dr. Priyadarshini Karve ma'am as a part of my post-graduation in environmental architecture. We learned so much from Dr. Karve ma'am for which we are forever grateful. Our mentor taught us not just about the carbon auditing, self-sustaining lifestyle and practical application of such environmental concepts, but also how to see the big picture. We were part of a study that sought to define Sustainably smart city. To make such a proposal, we needed to understand 'people'. We were tasked to conduct surveys to understand the choices people make based on their perception, necessities, priorities, convenience and routine. For example: Someone driving a petrol fuelled four-wheeler for an hour and half to drive their young kid to primary school, taking a big detour on the way to their office, seems very bad at the outset. But their choice may be based on - 1. Desirable schools are just that far away. 2. Travelling by bus in rush hour is tedious. 3. Not comfortable about safety and hygiene a school bus offers. 4. Convenience of leaving at your own time. 5. Four-wheeler is just more comfortable for driving that far. 6. Comforts of air conditioned, non-polluted air. 7. Extra time with family. 8. We don't want to get tired before even reaching our destination. 9. We do a lot of other stuff to protect the environment, so let this one vice slide.... These are some of the reasons which are absolutely valid or at least understandable. Many of the choices we make have a negative impact on the environment. We exist, we consume, we hurt mother nature. We have to take steps to reduce that impact and make more positive outcomes. To study and understand such issues, to figure out what civic systems will encourage more eco-friendly behaviour, we conducted a survey of around 500 families, from different parts of Pune.

So, there we were, out in the world, to make some sense of the current situation. We were prepared. We went through our questionnaire, made it easier, simpler, to the point of better understanding. We interviewed each other to understand how people will react, what would be their questions? We practiced explaining why certain questions were asked. We were ready. We went in a group (safety first), always at the door, never went in, always after morning rush or after the 1 O'clock nap time (we were in Pune, we knew better than to disturb them between 1-4 PM). Our smile and patience would put the stewardess to shame. But nothing would have prepared me for what came next.

Nearing the end of our assignment, I was allocated an affluent area, which consists mainly of Army families. Army families are by default more concerned about their responsibility towards society in general. I hit a JACKPOT! Most of the families welcomed us with open arms, asked if we would like some water, where are we from, what is the project about, what more they can do to help, what they can do on their level, etc.

One person I interviewed was a little tricky. We met at her doorstep. I introduced myself and explained the purpose of our survey. Showed my ID card, verification contact numbers, etc. She was busy and asked us to leave the form and to come the next day to collect it. So far, many people entertained us, some agreed to take a survey, some rudely declined, some declined politely, some offered water and listened to us, some were even more welcoming but that's not always the case. So, when she said she was busy but would like to take the survey, even offered to write down the details herself, I was ecstatic.

The next day was a different story. The next day, I went to her place to collect the form. She opened the door and grabbed me inside. I was there with my two friends and was the only one pulled inside, and the door was closed leaving my two friends dumbfounded. I politely asked to let me out or at least keep the door open. She was having none of it and started interrogating me. I consider myself to be brave when needed and I have no shame admitting that at that point I was on the verge of panic. I tried calmly to ask her what the issue was. She was apparently suspicious about our motives.

I assured her that none of the information would be disclosed. “If you are still not comfortable, ask us why such and such question. If you don't feel comfortable don't give specifics, like name and address and income, just don't mention it on the form. We would like to understand how much income plays a part in your choices. We will just mention Mr. ABC, living at XYZ chooses this..... - (Not based on income, little/more influenced by income). Usually we fill out the forms, if you would like to see what we have noted down, we are happy to oblige. If you would like to verify our details, here are numbers of our teacher, college office and internship office. If you are still not convinced about our intentions, we would answer any other query you have. If you still don't believe us, well then, that’s still okay, we will move on, you have yourself a good day!” Nope! Nothing worked!

At that point I was in flight or fight mode. I left the form and our internship details in her hand (we were meant to provide those if asked), said my thanks and dashed towards the door. I made it to the door before she could catch up. Found my friends, on their phone, ready to call for help. Fortunately, we all left unscathed.

Party after the work was done!

Despite this traumatic event, I was not about to lose hope. We had our target, omitting that area wouldn't have given us an accurate conclusion. There was no way around it. So, we pulled ourselves and went ahead. Unfortunately, the lady had called ahead and warned a few of her neighbours to not entertain us. Our request was shot down multiple times. Doors were shut even seeing us approaching. We were discouraged but our spirits were lifted by a very kind, old home owner. 

He understood my position, offered me some water and advice. He said that army families are known for their service to the community but also for their vigilance. She may be right at her place to question my intentions. I totally agreed with him. Although I would have much appreciated if the conversation happened in front of my team and out in the open. I would have been more relaxed about her intentions too and would have tried to explain even longer. We both laughed and moved on.

Turns out this interviewee was a proud ex-army grandfather, whose two sons, a daughter and a daughter in law were in the army. He eagerly showed us all the systems he installed to make his home more sustainable. His family was aiming to become a self-sustainable and carbon neutral family. He was researching solar electricity generators. The problem was the required space as it was already crowded with a solar water heater system in his new home, constructed with sustainable materials and methods. He was also looking for a natural air purification method to go with his viticulture garden. His motivation behind all this is just so he could contribute more to his country. He was asking what more he could do to help (!!!). He insisted on keeping a few forms with him, so he could help spread the word. He put a good word about me to some of his neighbours. His enthusiasm was endearing and energizing. We all could learn from him.

It is not enough to say that we do some of the eco-friendly things. It is high time we do ALL the things and then some more.

Author: Tejaswini Datar