Time’s up, Mr Riddell. The visa is coming to an end and Melbourne is calling. Back in November I came here to see whether I’d be able to cope for what I’ve called the Long Haul. 01 June 2014 was so far away and there was so much I could see from that distance that could be achieved. When I finally arrived back in January for that Long Haul it was cold and miserable, the bed needed double blankets and school was such a dark and dismal place on some days I couldn’t even see the kids in the back row of class.
It’s now in the low to mid 40’s every day, we can’t get enough chilled/frozen water to cool us down. In fact, it’s hard to get enough water some days with the supply generally not being available until late in the afternoon when the Colony then echoes to the whir of water pumps up and down the streets. Coupled with the patter of my little feet off to the English Wine & Beer shop for a chilled Fosters! We have ceiling fans but no air conditioning where we live although on the odd occasion we’ve been exposed to air con in the bedrooms upstairs or through a Metro trip/Shopping Centre visit. It’s made the heat that much harder to cope with; that wall of heat when you walk out of the cold air almost takes your breath away. Our days of going into the hostel to play with the kids each evening around 5:00pm are now rare events; by that time we’re exhausted and hanging out for the water to come on so we can shower to cool down.
With Merry and Jeremiah; what they’ve managed to do, starting from nothing and with so little is an inspiration
Last day of school and a lovely farewell for all of us – sweating it out under the tree!
But in spite of that we’ve still managed some incredible times with the kids. A late morning visit to the hostel earlier in the week brought all kids out for water fights and plenty of fun on the roof. A couple of days later we took them all off to the movies to see one of the latest Bollywood creations. Full of pathos, very bad acting, very bad props, musical numbers for no reason and editing that would leave Peter Jackson weeping, it was fantastic. The kids repeated the lines, they sang along, they talked to the actors and all the while were so well behaved and just a pleasure to be with. Followed up by ice cream at home, hopefully a morning that they won’t forget because we sure won’t!
“I’m not sure they’re your glasses are they, Prakash?”
So. Has it been worth it? If I measure it in terms of achievements then definitely. A school timetable in place (for now), draft business plans in place for a new school and orphanage. A Government submission is awaiting approval for full funding for the Orphanage Opex. A Business Plan completed for a new Adoption Agency and now submitted. Jeremiah is flushed with pride that he can now use Excel though Aakash is giving him a run for his money when it comes to speed of learning!
Parvez can swim, Shivam can sort of swim. Kids know that writing Hindi characters in English classes is not acceptable. Aakash knows there is no honour in cheating. And that lying to cover your actions (or lying, full stop) doesn’t cut it with Sir ji. Kids that rarely, if ever, get a hug from an adult have had more hugs than you can count. Though not just from me, from all the volunteers. Hitting of children appears to have been stopped (again, possibly just for now). Parvez and Aakash now have a laptop to share and help them with their schooling and to get them a step closer to being the scientists they want to be.
If I count through the things I’m going to miss I use up both sets of fingers, both feet and then some. Starting with the kids (obviously). Their hugs, their smiles, their joy at just being alive and playing. The feeling I get walking up the stairs to the hostel to a chorus of “Hiii, Sir! Hiiii, Peter” with hugs, High 5’s and handshakes all ‘round. I then range through the smells I’ll miss, the noise, the chaos, the heat, the dust, the filth. The beggars, the food, the other volunteers. The Metro crush, the stares which break into a smile as soon as I stare back, wiggle my head and smile. Merry’s kali chai made with ginger and some sugar. The random acts of kindness from strangers, the aggression as well as patience displayed by people that comes with living in an over populated city of 25 million and a country of 1.2bn people.
I’m certainly going to miss these two boys! Bikash and Prakash.
And what am I not going to miss? The smells, the sounds, the noise, the chaos, the heat, the dust, the filth, the chaos that comes with living in an over populated city of 25 million and a country of 1.2bn people. The beggars, the food. Semi toasted white bread only ever served with one type of fruit “jam”. I won’t miss the queues (a term used loosely), Indian time keeping, the Indian way of having a complete lack of spatial awareness while walking the streets, the lies, the half truths and vagaries of trying to get an answer to the simplest things.
I won’t miss the traffic, the horns, the total disregard for road rules other then I’m on the road so I rule. “After sometime”, “I’ll just go and come again” and “after just 5 minutes, Sir”. Although I have to say I’ve acclimatised to the words, “No, Sir, no internet today, but maybe after sometime” It just leave me shrugging my shoulders and walking away smiling. It’s a metaphor for the whole country.
With luck the new PM, Narendra Modi, will be able to somehow harness this country that’s lurching out of control towards controlled anarchy and manage in the coming years to steer it towards a more positive future. The wealthy are obscenely wealthy, the poor just keep bubbling along desperate for any crumb they’re thrown and the gap between the two widens daily. There is something intrinsically wrong with a country where a woman (our housekeeper/cook) sleeps in a shanty on the side of a busy road with her four children under 6 and has to leave them on their own to play in the dirt while she comes to work. Corruption, tax evasion and overt support for illegal activities ensures the inequity will continue for many years to come.
The religious tensions simmer away below the surface and coupled with a large enough percentage of the populace still holding on to the hangovers of Caste, it’s a volatile mix. Neru’s vision of a secular and open society is long dead. Although they’re currently lonely voices in the media there are predictions of violence and a coming civil war that will leave Partition looking like a small infraction. May that day never come.
I’ll be back here as soon as I can and for as long as I can.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh