Saturday, 21 November 2009


Shanti Bhavan celebrates Children's Day every year on 14 November, Neru's birthday. 
Our day started with a special breakfast of fried puri and spicy sambar.  "Oh yes Mr Peter, breakfast was so tasty, so nice and oily!" Oily isn't an adjective that's often used to extol the virtues of a dish but I must admit that I felt the same way.  Greasy, salty puri...mmm. 

After breakfast we welcomed the children into the school building under a shower of petals and escorted them to their seats.  Every child received a little handmade card and a sweet.

The show kicked-off with a telling of 'Peter Pan and the lost children of Shanti Bhavan'.  Every teacher and volunteer had their part. I played the boy who never grows up for the first, and almost certainly, the last time.

Peter, Wendy and Michaela set off to find the lost children...

Peter finds his missing shadow and tries it on for size.

The evil Hook, played by the headmistress, Mrs. Law.

Yes, yes, I asked myself the same question.  Why is Peter Pan dressed-up as a cabaret Leprechaun?  More Blackpool panto than Broadway musical but the kids loved it.   Take a look at their faces and you'll get the idea. 

Peter Pan was followed by dance numbers, songs and sketches performed by the volunteers, teachers and aunties. Have I mentioned the aunties before? They are the backbone of Shanti Bhavan. Eight big hearted women who keep all 210 children clean, clothed, fed and loved. 
All in all we kept the kids entertained for two and a half hours.  I had to memorise a few lines of Tamil for a sketches i which i was being treated for dodgy guts by a singing doctor.  You had to be there. The finale was a big Bollywood dance number. A couple of volunteers from Artists Striving to End Poverty choreographed a dance to 'Jai Ho', as seen during the closing credits of Slumdog Millionaire.  The day was a great success, and most importantly, the children knew that it had all been put together just for them.

It's not all play.  Lessons are going well.  I'm really helping the kids get to grips with programming; they've come up with some pretty good games.

Less technical, but more fun, I've been teaching a few of the little ones to ride bikes.  There are no stabilizers, so you have to hold the handle bars and run along with them  'Promise that you won't let go Mr Peter!'   I'm also holding a weekly bicycle mechanics workshop.  This week we're fixing punctures.

A beautiful visitor inspects my washing line.



Saturday, 7 November 2009


I'm sitting in a Starbucks clone in Bangalore drinking a masala chai. I've stepped out of India and have been teleported to a culture neutral zone. Looking out at the chaos and colour outside my air conditioned bubble is like viewing a far away land on a plasma screen. These places exist in every city from Boston to Bangalore. Globalisation and caramel cappuccinos. So sad. But who am I to talk? High speed wifi and chocolate brownies. I love it!

All's well at Shanti Bhavan. I've had a month of new experiences, so on one level I feel that I've been at the school for a long time. All of the smiling faces are familiar and I feel at home. On the other hand, the weeks are racing by all too quickly.

The American volunteers take Halloween very seriously. A pagan bunch. We had great fun with the kids. They performed a couple of spooky Halloween dances including a very cute versions of the Monster Mash and Thriller. We put together a few fun activities including the telling of some scary stories by a strange Englishman dressed up as Harry Potter. Expeleratum! I had hoards of little'uns huddled around and hanging off me. They're so cute, but I didn't realise that they could generate so much heat. After an hour I was drenched and exhausted Great fun.

The snake-o-meter now reads '7'. My latest encounter was nearly my last. I came across this snake on my way back the teachers quarters on Tuesday evening. Such a beautiful, docile creature, dressed all in black for a night out . I spend about 5 minutes crouched down watching him, close enough to touch. The local teachers were rather shocked when I showed them the photos. 'This is krait Mr Peter. Most deadly snake in India!'. A snake hunt ensued. I'm glad to say that my beautiful friend had slithered to safety. A lucky escape for both of us, but I can think of worse ways to go. It would have been an interesting story at least.

There's one fellow that i wouldn't want to meet. I'll let my little friend will tell you...

The photo below shows me reading the news at morning assembly. Every day a different teacher reads the news in Tamil, Hindi or English. Given the schools ambition to gain representation for the dalit (untouchable) caste in Ieadership roles in India, this is taken rather seriously and the kids get an unsensored view of world events. I chose to steer away from news of war, death and destruction to focus on climate change, environmental and science news, cut with breaking news of the world's largest rubber-band ball. No prizes for guessing which story created most excitement. Note my two little map-holding assistants hiding behind the easel and my map pointer who I challenged with my stories which included references to Libya, the Philippines, Antartica, Ethiopia and the planet Mercury. There's never a shortage of labour in India.

The next big event on the calendar is 'Children's Day' when the teachers and volunteers put on a two hour production for the kids, When I tell you that most of the other volunteers are New Yorkers from ASTEP (Artists Striving Against Poverty) you'll understand that this is no casual affair. The budding directors and choreographers in our midst lead nightly rehearsals. Some of the teachers will perform some traditional Indian dance numbers. There are a number skits, including one in which I'll be speaking Tamil! If you've seen Slumdog Millionaire you'll remember the big BollyWood dance number at the very end of the film. Well, we're perfroming that! Most terrifying of all is the main event of the evening, a perfromance of Peter Pan and the lost children of Shanti Bhavan. And yes, I am. I take comfort in the fact that the more ridiculous my performance, the more the kids will enjoy it. Gulp!

My pals in 6th grade.

Until next time.