The Future Picassos of India

India is teeming with art. Creativity is effortlessly encouraged in schools and even in the home I volunteer with. Everyday it confronts me from intricately carved Ganesh statues to kolams or delicate line drawings.

Below are some samples of work done by the children. I plan to stow a stack in my backpack and devote a few hours to some art galleries in Mumbai.

By |January 31st, 2011 |Categories: Savarsai |9 Comments

Republic Day Means Freedom

A fog permeated in my brain. Eyes half shut scanned my Timex. 6 am. Not my usual wake-up call, but instead of groaning bones and muttering complaints I only felt excited.

Today is Republic Day across India. Although Mother India gained independence from nasty Britain in 1947, it wasn’t until January 26, 1950 that a Constitution of India was cemented.

Kavita and I were invited to Savarsai, a nearby village built around a school that 9 of the Child Haven children attend. Since she sits on the board of the school, Republic Day made this an auspicious occasion.

Excited village kids

Like most days in India, I never know what to expect. Today’s events were no different.

I sprang up from bed determined to dress nicer than my usual Keen sandals and wrinkly t-shirt. Still, mornings are coolly crisp here and over an olive green dress and baggy jeans, I covered up in a toque and sweater.

Venturing outside I nearly collided with Sonali.

“Auntie, Republic Day!!”

She skipped by holding a thin red sash, a glow radiating from a very adult face. Sometimes I forget she’s only 10.

The kids were issued new school uniforms the night before and whorled around the matron demanding this and that.

“Didi, dress! Powder! Oil!”

A half hour later, they emerged with polished shoes, starched uniforms, and white powdered faces. Not to mention vibrating with national pride.

Girls decorate their hair with ribbons and garlands

Kavita came out in a sari dotted with delicate flowers; the intricate border weaved with scarlet and buttery gold threading. For a change, I was speechless.

The other kids hopped buses to attend their ceremonies, while we set off on foot towards the village.

I had walked this road before, narrowly avoiding being hit by trucks, always amused at the words “horn please” painted on their backsides with a whimsical, child-like hand. Besides truck diving I often scoured the ground to steer clear of steaming mounds of cow dung. Today the road was still and dung was a faint worry, not a threat.

Instead, my focus was drawn towards the village entrance. Streams of children in green uniforms marched past us, yelling slogans in Marathi and waving Indian flags.

Students from neighbouring school joining in

“All the children invited to village,” said Kavita.

Indeed, the entire village set on a walkabout, with children leading the charge. I eagerly joined the Pied Piper brigade. One set of children shouted, the rest answered back.

“I lovvve my India!! I lovvve my India!!”

Ambica (from CH) in the freedom march

“Mahatma Gandhi, our father!!”

It was the song of freedom.

Woman who is on board of village school

Everyone gathered at the center of the village where an official said a few words and initiated a Hindu ceremony.

Lighting of the ceremonial candle

Everyone cheered.

The flag is up!

We then headed for the village school where another ceremony took place. All the neighboring schoolchildren gathered in a rectangle around a flower-designed kolam.

An independent country gathers

Kolam bursting with colors

Another official (the village is overrun with them) copied the same ceremony, broke a coconut on the school steps, and then released the flag amid a sea of awed faces.

Flag of glory

Children are the manifestation of God in India and pride in their heritage was never as evident to me than today.

I staggered with joy, wondering if a group of Gregorian Monks were chanting close by. Just delusions for my ears adjusted to the tonal crescendo of the kids singing India’s national anthem. Some Child Haven and village kids stood on the steps, full of identity, a complete sense of knowing who they are.

CH children: Sonali (left), Chitra (behind left), Yogesh (front middle) & Neelish (middle back)

After that emotional ringing, we piled into the school, where the board gave speeches. Having no clue what was said, I can only conclude the words involved tales of how Republic Day came about.

Enjoying boring speeches? I think not.

New pens and notebooks were handed out to the best students; I clapped especially loud for the Child Haven ones.

Scored a green pen. Yesss!

There’s a sound reason why kids also adore this day – chocolates! Many can score up to 3 or 4 in one morning. Who cares about breaking the shackles of oppression? I got two Eclairs and a Coffy Bite!

The kids sucked back their chocolates, high on sugar, boasting at how many they received, giggling as they showed each other the half still in their pockets.

Screw Republic Day! We want these!

The teacher called it a day. With swift precision, the school emptied in two minutes flat. We gathered our motley crew of kids and headed for home.

Teacher of village school (left) and Kavita (right). Notice the matching saris!

As we walked, I thought about Gandhiji. He lived an unconventional existence, broke from his station to carve a legacy that brought one flag, one voice to India.

Freedom is not an easy road, but once you gain it, how lovely it is to feel your feet upon it.

Happy Republic Day!

By |January 26th, 2011 |Categories: Savarsai |11 Comments

How to Eat Bareback in India

When eating in India, it’s customary to use your right hand. No prized cutlery from wedding of the year will grace your plate; you would be lucky to even receive a rusty spoon. What is the fuss with right versus left? The left hand is considered unclean, used for washing yourself after a toilet trip, cleaning your ears or something of that nature.

Some travelers feel uneasy on proper etiquette, so here’s a step-by-step guide on how to eat Indian style.

1. A basic thali of chapatti, curried vegetable and soup (in small bowl):

2. The first part of the meal involves eating chpatti with your vegetable. Get warmed up by ripping apart the chapati with your right hand and using the pieces to cup some vegetable. Don’t forget to pinch some chutney in your chpatti before grabbing the veg.

3. Pop the scooped vegetable and chapatti in your mouth. Do this until the chapati is gone.

4. Next, get a heaping serving of rice. Pour some of the soup over your rice to wet it.

This is what I call mixing paint. Artists intermingle oil paint on their boards before applying it to the canvas. You do the same with a thali.

5. Take a small handful of rice, move it to a section of your plate, then take some vegetable and move it to the same spot. Now mix them together with a squishing action, what you want to create is a malleable ball. Add soup if the mixture is too dry.

6. Clasp the ball of rice and vegetable like a piece of dough and eat!

Repeat until your rice is gone or your stomach is a dam about to burst. Soup can be picked up with your right hand and sipped from the bowl – sans spoon.

Final tips:

  1. It is acceptable to serve or pass food with both hands, just be sure to actually eat with the right.
  2. If you’re a gal who enjoys manicured nails, polish nails on the left hand only. The right hand should be bare.
  3. If you normally eat with your left hand, practice eating with your right before leaving for your trip. Practice will make you come off like a travel star.
  4. If you’re traveling North, only dirty the first two fingers while eating. This sounds difficult, but an informant told me curries are drier and there is more bread in a meal than in the South.
  5. Mehndi is one of the many pleasures of India, but if you get a mehndi design ensure it’s not on your eating hand.

The surprising benefit of eating with my hands is how sensual food has become. You begin to develop a personal relationship with it. Touching my food has deepened the flavors, opened up the floodgate of sight, touch, smell and taste. Try this with your lover or spouse, I guarantee eating will take on a new dimension. (Cue the porn music).

By |January 15th, 2011 |Categories: Savarsai |56 Comments
Tags: ,

What Does a Volunteer Room Look Like?

If you’re thinking of volunteering overseas or am ghoulishly curious, take a glance at my 3 month residence in India. Besides nightly visits from dinosaur size bugs, rats running across the roof and dangling spiders, everything is peachy!

By |January 9th, 2011 |Categories: Culture, Savarsai |41 Comments