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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The Heart of a Tiger

Book Title: Tiger Heart
Author: Katrell Christie and Shannon McCaffrey
Publisher: HCI Books

Sometimes, regardless of where you are born, and what your priors with a given place are, you feel drawn to a certain dot on the map. For some, there is a yearning to belong to London. For some, the lands of Latin America seem beckoning. For still others, there is a deep seated desire to be one with the sands of time in Egypt – and for many more, the occidant seems like a lure. For Katrell Christie, it was India.

It was not the lure of yoga or the mystical world of Hinduism. It was not the many colourful curries or the many cultural practices of interest. When she was still in Atlanta, Katrell was an artist-turned-roller-derby rebel. She opened a tea shop, and named it Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party – a name she picked on a whim. Little did she know that she had unwittingly set the ball rolling on what would lead to a sea change in her own life, and in the lives of a bunch of girls around half a world away.

Her visit to India took her from the banks of the River Ganga to the terraced tea gardens of Darjeeling, before she wound up in Hyderabad. Then, a chance encounter at a Buddhist orphanage that was already packed to the gills, that she came to know of a bunch of girls who would revolutionise her life in a way she never imagined. Katrell chatted with some of these girls, asking what they would do in the future – and she noticed that many of them had no idea, and no answers to offer. There was a strange, gripping fear that they would leave the orphanage someday – but what they would do in the aftermath of that departure remained a question mark. There was every possibility of them winding up on the streets with nowhere to go.

Katrell could have been like any other tourist, collecting these stories in a bunch of photographs, a few notes and in the annals of her memory, only to recount it to rapt listeners who will all shake their heads in sadness. Katrell, instead, decided to make a mission out of her learning from the visit. Once she was back at her shop, she created The Learning Tea. Selling cupcakes, tea, scones and a bunch of other delights, Katrell was able to raise money to provide for these girls – with everything from a place to live, to education at college, healthcare and their basic needs. Thanks to Katrell, eleven girls have now a beautiful life ahead of them.

Tiger Heart is a reader’s journey through Katrell’s efforts. She chronicles her time in India, recounting her days in Mumbai’s cacophonic surroundings, in sharp contrast with the snow-capped peaks of the Himalaya ranges. Katrell’s memoir is both real and touching – in that there has been no indulgence in so much as a word of condescension or sensationalisation of base fact to tug at heart strings. Katrell did not approach the girls from a place of imposition, or a belief that she had the right to tell the girls what they should do – but rather, that she chose to walk alongside them, identified her own talents and skills, and recognised that they were transferrable and capable of manifesting in a profitable avenue for girls who otherwise found themselves with a bleak future, in need of a shot at life.

Tiger Heart is a very well written piece of Katrell’s heart, truly. Her journey as a tourist transcends into becoming a catalyst for the empowerment of eleven girls. Nothing gets more powerful than that. To the discerning reader, it doesn't take much time to understand why the book is named so - for it takes a real braveheart to stand up to build futures for people aside of oneself.