All’s well in Shanti Bhavan ‘haven of peace’. The more I get to know them, the more I realise how wonderful these kids are. They’re all so happy. This is truly a noble and worthwhile project.
Diwali was a blast, literally. Diwali, ‘Festival of Light’, means fireworks, and lots of them. The children of Shanti Bhavan weren’t disappointed. The staff had amassed an impressive arsenal. Now, there are two things you should know about Indian fireworks: 1. the fuses burn for about one millisecond, 2. there’s only a 50:50 chance that they’ll go off. As far as the kids are concerned, both characteristics are a plus . When they do detonate, they are loud and violently explosive. Did you see footage of white phosphorous being used in the West Bank? Another thing that you learn is that Indian firework safety standards differ to those in the west, in that there aren’t any. Picture 200 children of running around with pockets full of assorted incendiaries. The movie below says it all. Warning: Parents with small children may find the following images disturbing :-)
I wandered through the chaos, dazed by the explosion as the palm trees faded into the smoke. The horror...the horror. All we needed was a Jimmy Hendrix soundtrack.
All this being said, the kids had a wonderful time and there wasn’t a single injury. All’s well that ends well.
The school is located in a very rural area. I went for a run to discover fields of rice, flowers and even grape vines. The occasional villages are clearly very poor but have a simple charm. Easy to say when viewed from the comfort of $100 running shoes. Unfortunately the headmistress has asked me not to leave the school again. It seems there's is a bit friction between the school and the local villagers. Clearly I must respect my host’s wishes, so I'm confined to the school grounds except for occasional weekend trips to the nearest town, Hosur, or into Bangalore.
I have a delightful room mate. Meet Vladimir, faithful companion and devourer of mosquitos. But Vlad and I are not alone. Each night we are visited by ‘the beast’. At around 3am I am woken (Vlad works nights) by load sniffing at a the wire mesh that separates me from the warm Indian night. Long, deep inhalations. I swear that the beast is smelling me. By the time I reach the window with my torch it has vanished into the scrubland that surrounds the school, snapping large branches as it makes its escape. This is no goat. The locals suggest two equally sinister possibilities “yes Mr Peter, this is most certainly wolf or jackal”. My neighbours have received no visitations. Has it tasted Englishman before?
A beautiful black snake, longer than a child, sped across the path in front of me this morning.
The academic lobe of my noodle is slowly coming back to life. Working through maths exercises I feel sure that I’ve already covered questions. I look through my notes and find nothing. As it turns out, I have worked through the problems, not last week but twenty years ago! As I haul knowledge up from the depths, memories of my school days are caught up in its wake. Interesting thing, memory. Now where was I....err....um.....ah yes, teaching. As the days pass I’m becoming a better teacher. Having found my rhythm, I’m able to observe the children more, allowing me to change tack when I see that I’m not getting through. The children are bright and diligent. I’d say that their knowledge is on a par with a good UK grammar school, although development is skewed. The children here may be more familiar with Shakespeare’s works than their UK counterparts, but they haven’t ever sent an email or used the internet. As there are no calculators, the kid’s mental arithmetic is excellent. They use logarithmic tables and mysterious longhand methods to calculate square roots. Voodoo magic. I have purchased a scientific calculator.
Nearly dinner time, so I’m off for veg curry and rice. The food it delicious, but more of that in the next time.
P.S. The identity of that vile and ferocious beast has been discovered. Meet ‘Peepers’, head of school security. My offering of a chapati with peanut butter was accepted, so now we’re pals.