hey grrrl: Ria & the Good Cranes of Bombay

      There is a girl who was born in Bombay on the very same day I was born in L.A. You know those early little moments that feel like signs from the universe saying, “This is one of your best friends; we made you two together.” Getting to know Ria was like that, reading subtle signs that led to treasure.

     I love gold and red together, like China. Not so much a favorite color, more a favorite color duo. Ria’s favorite color is silver, but silver and blue together. Though she moved back to the other side of the globe, I will always remember her many rings and bangles of silver, and her blue room. When I first saw her blue and silver, and noted how it complimented my red and gold, I smiled and just knew.

     My “twindian” is one of the best gifts the universe has given me. She is an amazing spirit, and she shares her love of life with all she encounters. I asked her to tell me about her latest project, and the inspiration and kindness she shares through it.

we were on our way to a costume party. we don't normally dress this way, promise.

we were on our way to a costume party. we don't normally dress this way, promise.

     My mother is a Japanese translator, and has lived in Japan, so I grew up with a lot of Japanese culture. She taught me to make cranes when I was young, and it became a trademark of mine- I would fold cranes in class, out of receipts, any square paper scrap I found was a potential crane. My mother also taught me the deeper meaning of the cranes- how they represent hope and good fortune.

     One day, bored at work, I folded a crane and posted a picture of it on Instagram. People responded to it so well, I started an Instagram account devoted to my cranes @acraneaday. When it developed a following, that got me thinking I could use this attention for good.

     My friend Divya and I wanted a project to work on in the months before starting grad school. We were both raised in families that put high value on social and self awareness, and community involvement.

      In Mumbai (Bombay), like in any major city, people move so quickly they often don’t put thought into their interactions with one another. And in India, there’s another layer of disconnect with household help. In a city of people with live-in help, there can be an impersonal tint to our relationships with servers, drivers, security guards. They become seen as positions rather than people.

     Thinking on the traditional meaning of the paper cranes, Divya and I knew what we wanted our project to do: get the people of Mumbai to pay forward an act of kindness to those they’ve grown to overlook. To encourage community interactions, selflessness, and a chance to see people as persons, not just service transactions.

     So we came up with the idea of putting one small, simple Good Deed on the bottom of the cranes’ wings. “Give a biscuit to a stray dog.” “Hold the door open for a stranger.”“Write a thank you note to your server on the back of your receipt.” “Ask your doorman how his day is going.” “Give your leftovers to someone in need.” “Hug someone who doesn’t expect it.” “Tell a friend you are thankful for them.” “Give your housekeeper the day off.”

     We added a social media component as well. @ACraneADay Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook all allowed people to take a picture of their deed, then share it with us and all of their friends and followers. 

     But, how to get the cranes to the people of Mumbai? We finally had the idea of placing them in restaurants. People would be settled down and have time to focus on the crane, and think about the suggested deed. Also, the type of people who can afford to eat out are exactly the people we wanted to reach.

     To raise awareness of the project, we developed the idea of A Good Crane Weekend. From June 21 - 23, we would give out as many cranes as possible, and get everyone to share pictures of their deeds.

     When we first approached restaurants in the city, we had a difficult start. Managers couldn’t figure out what our angle was. Why did we want to pass out paper birds? Were we seriously not looking for money? What was in it for us? Why do this at all? Confronted with this cynicism, our belief that the cranes were sorely needed was solidified.

     Thankfully, we found our champion in Pooja Dhingra, an entrepreneur and founder of Le 15 Patisserie (they make awesome cupcakes). She was our age, smart, devoted, and kind- just the ally we needed. She agreed to give out our cranes to her customers, and to spread the word to fellow restaurateurs.

     When we expressed worry that we might not have enough cranes by the Good Weekend, she said “Teach my chefs! They will help!” That grew into the idea of holding workshops to make the cranes. We held several workshops in the weeks before the Good Weekend, and these turned out to be a wonderful surprise. Older patrons, young kids, school children and their parents- so many different people showed up to help us! It was such a joy to see.

     As the Good Weekend grew closer, more and more people became involved. We were shocked to discover the local papers and blogs wanted to cover it! We were in all the major Mumbai papers, and the roster of participating restaurants grew longer. By the Good Weekend, we had over two dozen businesses enlisted.

     The final count for the Good Weekend? Over 3,000 cranes! We couldn’t believe the outpouring of support! From such a rocky, unsure start, we ended up getting the cranes and their good deeds out all over the city. People began using the #GoodCraneWeekend hashtag, and we watched as pictures of the cranes popped up all over multiple platforms and feeds. It was beyond our wildest predictions.

     My favorite moment during the Good Weekend wasn’t from the hashtag, or the press, or the restaurants. One of the participating businesses, Sweetish House Mafia, is a cookie cart that travels the city selling delicious cookies. I stood back to watch as the cranes were given out with the cookies, and saw one girl reading her crane. She looked over, and gave the man next to her a huge hug- he was so surprised! I think she got “Hug someone who doesn’t expect it.” It was wonderful to see.

     We are looking forward to the next Good Crane Weekend, and hope to expand the project. If you feel inclined, make some cranes of your own (we have a tutorial on our website) and pass them out. Bring the cranes to your city, and send us the pictures! We would love to see how far the good deeds go.