Nagpur: Rest, recuperate, relaunch
Maharashtra, Sat 26 Feb
Back at base for three weeks. Resting, writing, figuring out how to ship a sitar.
Photos: (1) Suitably dressed for the occasion, the dustbin monkey awaits his fill (2) Women head to market (3) There are many routes to happiness.
Jolarpettai: Lost in Tamil Nadu
Tamil Nadu, Thu 17 Feb
The return reservation from Kochi doesn't come through, so we travel unreserved in a train going roughly the right way. Alighting by evening, we make an unplanned halt in the small Tamil Nadu village of Jolarpettai.
Photos: (1) In the ureserved compartment things are a little tight. (2) At Jolarpettai, a masala tea is just the tonic. (3) Next morning, I sleep in the luggage rack for the short stretch to Chennai.
Kochi: A home-spun orphanage
Kerala, Tue 15 Feb
In their small Eranakulum home Dr.Joseph Sabu and his family look after ten destitute boys. It is a properly registered orphanage, but home spun in style and spirit. The boys spend their time studying for exams, chatting and playing, or helping to build a new larger home just a few hundred metres away.
Photos (1) Dr. Joseph Sabu flanked by his father and mother. There are no staff. The extended family of six look after the boys. (2) The boys often get invited for free meals at local events or religious occasions. Here, they set off for a funeral feast (3) The orphanage needs funds of £10,000 to complete the ground floor of their new building. In the meantime, the boys themselves lend a hand to build their future.
Kerala: Paradise in green and gold
Kerala, Sun 13 Feb
God's own country, Kerala, was a verdant tropical paradise under golden sunset skies, Fertile paddy fields stretched endlessly on both sides as our houseboat drifted lazily past palm groves, churches, and nothing more than beatific nature.Time floated by in the company of friends Shashank, Joanna, Pedro and Birgit.
Nagpur: A family wedding
Maharashtra, Tue 8 Feb
The dancer but a child, her eyes expressive with the spirit of Bharat Natyam. The mehfil springs to life as relatives dance in the aisles. At the temple of the monkey god Hanuman, our groom bids farewell to the deity of bachelors and seeks permission to end his celibacy. Well meaning aunts sing home-spun verses. The curtain drops, and in a shower of rice the couples garland each other. A new life begins. . .
Photos: (1) The young Shravani Sakalkalé performs Bharat Natyam (2) The groom Himanshu sets off for the temple of Hanuman accompanied by proud sister Sharwari (3) There is dancing in the streets. My friends from Europe join in !
Mumbai: Life barefoot
Tue 1 Feb
My sandals are safely stowed outside - they will not be needed for the week. Behind the main temple hall, through a small wooden door marked 'strictly for brahmacharis', I take up residence sleeping on bare wooden floorboards. 'Brahmachari' can variously be translated as servant of god, one who has taken diksha as a monk, or virgin (which are largely synonymous).
Here, I settle in to tackle the fundamental questions of life such as how to have a bucket bath without a mug in a bathroom without a door, how should we live in this life on earth, and what is karma?
The answers, of course, will be in my book ;)
Photos: (1) the door to a secluded world (2) robes dry in the breeze while a monk chants the mahamantra (3) monk takes an afternoon nap in the vedic library.
Pune: Painted storks at sunrise
Maharashtra, Sun 30 Jan
At 4am I set off with cousin Adhiraj for Dikshal, arriving by daybreak. We persuade a fisherman to row us out to the fertile wetlands. As the water turns golden with the rising sun, the bird-rich paradise of Bhigwan comes into view. .
Pune: The gangster
Maharashtra, Fri 28 Jan
I meet with a reformed goonda in his former den. Over deep fried green chillis and whisky, he recounts his life story. I learn a thing or two about extortion.
Pune: In one moment of dance
Maharashtra, Wed 26 Jan
There are times when all of life seems to be contained in a single moment.
I went with a sponsor to an observation home for girls aged 6-18 who are in conflict with the law, committed by police, abandoned by parents, or found operating as minors in a red light area. As we spoke to the girls they launched spontaneously into choreographed cultural folk dances, insisting that we stay for just one more song and then just one more song until we were fully absorbed, enthralled in the energy and spirit of the moment.
It was an environment which could have been full of troubled souls, but instead it was a community of happy freedom. The sort of environment that reminds us that those in the most difficult situations often demonstrate most graciously the power and joy of community.
(No pictures of observation home due to sensitive legal status of residents)
Photos: (1) Siblings of doorstep school (2) Doorstep teachers take extra classes for struggling pupils outside government school (3) Doorstep school's transport bus
Pune: School on wheels
Maharashtra, Mon 24 Jan
The doorstep "school on wheels" bus lurches down a rubble path raising a cloud of dust, settling down at the confluence of three building sites. Children clamber up the stairs with their baby brothers and sisters in tow. On board it is time for the morning pledge "Dear Lord give me knowledge and wisdom, no matter where I move or how hard it is I shall always seek a school". Then, it's time for word games . . .
Pune: Doorstep School
Fri 21 Jan
Luxury apartments rise up across Pune, carrying our aspirations into the sky. Built by thousands of workers who migrate with their families from site to site. Their children rarely go to school, but Doorstep school brings education to their doorstep. The goal: Basic literacy for every child and every child placed in school.
Staffed by an army of angels on a nominal salary who bring enthusiasm, dedication, joy and kindness into the lives of thousands of children, inculcating a lifelong love for education. I watch this amazing operation with awe. http://www.doorstepschool.org/
Photos: (1) The children of doorstep school. (2) Across 90 seperate sites, doorstep school distributes teachers, provides resources and transports children every day, building literacy and a love for school into the poorest communities.(3) Cousin Manjari welcomes a new car into the family with the breaking of coconuts, garlands and a prayer. One dealer accessory: a dashboard mounted statue of Lord Ganesha - the remover of obstacles!
Nagpur: The season of kites
Maharashtra, Fri 14 Jan
Cries of "O-kaat" can be heard from the balconies as children celebrate the capture of another kite. This is the season when at a little wind blows in the otherwise still Indian sky, the sun moves into the house of Capricorn, sweets containing jaggery are handed out, and a thousand kites dance in the breeze. . .
Nagpur: Where am I?
Maharashtra, Wed 12 Jan
This is like that point in the movie where early doubts set in and our protagonist questions his course. Who am I? Have I set off on the right path? How far have I come?
What would I do if there was nothing that I had to do? The answer, for this year at least, is this. I am spending some time in Nagpur at home. I have set up some work with a charity educating children of construction workers in Pune. I have arranged to spend time living in a Hare Krishna temple experiencing the life of a devotee. I am going on a holiday to Kerala and will be working for another charity in Kochi. I am having the time of my life !
Does it matter whether the path is right? No, only that I make good with this path.
Photos (1) An autorickshaw stares out (2) Monkey at the Pench reserve (3) Sun sets over Diksha Bhoomi, Nagpur.
At this place in 1956 Dr. Ambedkar gave his famous speech on emancipation of the untouchables, converting millions to Buddhism.