Sunday, 18 October 2009

Shanti Bhavan Week 1. In at the deep end...


Happy Diwali! Today we celebrate Rama’s victory of good over evil, or  Krishna's victory over a demon. The story's different depending on whether you’re at the top of India, or somewhere near the bottom. Either way, the ‘Festival of Light’ is big. Despite the school's financial problems we’re still going to ‘burst some crackers’ and enjoy a special meal.

I enjoyed a very special birthday yesterday. Birthdays are taken very seriously here. Picture me standing on a chair dancing as more than 200 children sing happy birthday. After the song you shout your age and the children clap once for each year. I’m not sure that all of them could count as high as 38! In the evening a few of us had a car drive us into Hosur, a town about 40 minutes drive from the school, for a special birthday curry. Delicious paneer masala, veg dopiaza, tarkha dhal, mango ice cream...all washed down with fresh sweet lime ‘musambi juice’. I‘m still resolutely vegetarian and chai total.

My Birthday Meal

The pupils here bright and charming. Despite desperately poor backgrounds, the children remain just that, loveable kids, and although they are growing up away from their families, they all seem happy. I haven’t seen any tears or heard anyone saying that they miss home, not even the really little ones. Perhaps this says as much about their home lives as it does about their love for their Shanti Bhavan family. A brigade of ‘Aunties’ preside over the children’s non academic lives. An Auntie travelled with me to hospital, accompanying a boy who’d broken a finger playing football. It was clear that the children get all of the love and affection that they need. I was pleased to see this as the kids have a very heavy academic workload. I’d like to see the kids working less and playing more, but in a land of a billion souls, when you’re starting at the bottom of the heap, you need to emerge into the world prepared for a tough fight.

The school grounds are patrolled by a million dragon flies which circle the bottle palms that line well kept paths. Massive crows, flying in gangs of 25 move around the school, hoping over to snatch any forgotten morsel. They’re magnificent, sinister fellows with their glossy blue-black feathers, jet black beaks and grey hoods.

The ground is alive with lizards, insects and frogs. Two close encounters with snakes already!

We start each day with the school prayer:

God, Creator of the Universe, help us to remember that you are present in each one of us. May we respect each other, and be tolerant of our differences. May we be good and caring towards each other. May the teachings of all the great world religions direct our thoughts and actions. Grant that we may be spiritual in our interactions and zealous in our work and play. Help us to discover different ways to serve our fellow humanity. Guide us to discover the treasure hidden in each one of us, and to uphold what is right, cherish what is beautiful and revere what is divine. As we journey through each day of our lives, give us the grace to accept whatever you have in store for us. Be with us in our joy and sorrow. Help us build Shanti Bhavan into a haven of peace and let this peace touch the lives of all we meet. We salute the divine in each other. Namaste.

I was thrown into the deep end when I walked into my classes at the beginning of the week. Having survived the initial shock, I’m getting into my rhythm. I teach Grade 9 and Grade 10 (15 & 16 year olds) mathematics, Grades 6 & 7 computing and a new programming language for kids that i brought along called ‘Scratch’, Grade 9 and Grade 10 English Literature (As You Like It and Julius Caesar), plus nightly maths tutorials for some of the older children. Preparation, preparation, preparation. I’ve discovered that it’s not as easy to wing-it in front of a class of 15 year olds as it is in a boardroom full of 40 year olds. With all of the preparation, teaching and marking I’m working long hours. Luckily there aren’t too many distraction here. I’m trying to find the ‘Zen’ approach to studying. So far, so good.

Oh, I shaved the beard off this morning. Given the tropical heat, there seemed little point in keeping it.

I hope to find time to update this blog weekly. However, if after some weeks these are the last words to appear in this blog, what can I say? Sorry, talk is cheap.



  1. Nice shots! Welcome to the blogosphere :)

  2. Dear Big Pete,
    What a special place you have found! i really enjoyed your account of the place and am also glad to hear that the kids don't seem to be traumatised by being so far from home.
    Happy Birthday of course, sounds like you had a fab day......

    Autumm has finally arrived here and the air is very chilly - oH! How i envy you the sun and warmth (or is it really, really hot?)
    Keep smiling and avoiding those snakes!
    Take care
    P.S. Your friend is right - nice photos!

  3. Hi Pete,

    Pat and i are enjoying your blog. What a great writer you are. You sound really happy and I think it was the perfect thing for you to do.

    Take care,