India: Raise the Roof

photo by Katie Basbagill

A Trip to Chennai with Katie Basbagill and Abbey Bullerdick 

Something I have realized fairly recently is that it’s easy for me to fall into believing that my way of life, my way of seeing and interpreting the world is the only way that truly matters. Consequently, I have also realized that this tendency of mine is neither good for me, nor for the world around me for that matter! I guess it’s no surprise that both of these realizations led me to the conclusion that I needed professional help. I needed someone or something to shake me out of my me-centered delusion. The only problem was, shrinks are pretty expensive and I’m fresh out of college…

Lucky for me, Harrison Center photographer and Bohemian Red Images owner Katie Basbagill captured the cure for my ethnocentric ailments with nothing but her camera and a little hop across the pond to India. I spoke with Katie about her travels and what exactly she had been doing on the other side of the globe.


photo by Abbey Bullerdick

“A media crew and myself, along with photographer Abbey Bullerdick, went to Chennai, India last March,” she said. “While we were there we worked with an NGO called Hands on Houses. This organization builds houses for widows, and for people with severe handicaps in order to provide homes for those who cannot provide for themselves due to their position in society.”

I was taken aback. There I was sitting on the unusually comfortable futon in Katie’s studio, thinking and feeling that the gravitational pull of my life kept the universe in orbit, while I saw love and self-sacrifice pouring from Katie’s mouth with each sentence she spoke. Talk about some much needed therapy!

I asked Katie what it was that drove her to give so much of her time and talents to document these incredible stories of redemption in the lives of some of India’s marginalized. She simply replied, “Love. Love for humanity, love for equality, and love for the pursuit of justice.”

Katie went on to describe a little of her experience in Chennai, “It’s so amazing to see someone who has never owned anything in their entire lives be given a home that they can sweep, and care for. It’s so incredible that it can’t be described in words. You just have to be there and see it.” She continued, “I was so moved by the stories of the people I met, and so inspired by the work of the people of Hands on Houses that we are going to have a show to raise money to build a house for a widow in India named Mrs. Sambooranam. In the end, all of the profits from the show are going to fund this new house. None of it is going to us.”

As I left Katie’s studio I was struck with a hefty realization. When we place our personal agendas aside for the good of another, we become a part of a bigger story. The world is no longer cropped out to fit inside our selfish desires, but is expanded to its original size as we put the good of the other before the good of ourselves.

Since Katie’s show focuses on the poor and marginalized of India, a little of Gandhi’s wisdom seems like a must. Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” I’ll just leave you with this.

India: Raise the Roof is the show by Katie Basbagill and Abbey Bullerdick. The show opens Friday, August 1 in Hank and Dolly’s Gallery at the Harrison Center. Prints from their trip will be sold by donation, and all the proceeds will become a widow’s new house in India. So join me and let’s forget about ourselves for a little while, and build a house together.