We had breakfast outside – Ella and I had toast this morning, with the same ‘mixed fruit’ jam we’d also found at Jaipur which tastes oddly of cherries. The boys had omelettes.
We were ready to set off at 10am and headed down the road. We knew we were to visit the school today at Karkeri, which Scott and Josie have been very active fundraising for since their first visit there. We understand that their contributions have helped to build 5 new, enclosed classrooms and install a water pump and a toilet among other things. As far as we were aware we would have chance to have a little look around and perhaps see the kids in their new classrooms.
The journey was punctuated by more goats than I’ve seen so far, and we tapped a new, and hitherto unguessed at, specialist subject of Shakti’s – trees. We saw Acacia trees, which we had already seen being made into doors the previous day, and were aware from our trip the previous day that the gum is used in the Jaipur Blue Pottery. Shakti explained that other uses included the green leaves as food stuff for goats, and the beans as food for humans. He also pointed out an ‘Israeli Acacia’, which has similar qualities.
Further down the road he showed us a Banyan Tree which he says in his childhood was referred to as a ‘Ghost Tree’, and that the tree is seen as holy. He said that worship of the Banyan Tree had taken place on Saturday. Having looked this up, I can see that a blessing is performed by married women to prolong their marriage, and that this is performed when there is a full moon, which there had been a few days previously. Further down the road we could see another Banyan Tree with cloth attached to it and it seems part of the blessing is to tie a thread twice round the tree.
On arriving at the school we saw that one of the teachers was outside clearly waiting for us… On closer inspection it turned out that half the school was there, some wearing traditional costume, some carrying garlands.
We stepped out of the car into the sunshine in slight shock, and were each called forward one by one to have a blessing consisting of a tikka/tikhal mark, this time with additional rice and some cane sugar. We were pretty shambolic at this, having no idea what to do with the palm sugar, and the young girl administering it seemed mildly amused. We are each also given a flower garland. Lastly ‘Driver Sahib’ was called forward and Shakti also given a blessing.
Inside the school we were firstly taken to a small room with a table and a few chairs – the headmaster’s office, I think. It had pictures on the walls which he was proud to tell us were of the ‘first lady teacher’ in India, as well as the first male teacher, the first prime minister, the current prime minister and Ghandi.
Outside the office on the way to the first classroom a load of pictures of the school were attached to the walls, several of which featuring “The honourable Mr Scott and Josie” perhaps on their last visit. We were introduced to the first class, who were pretty small and had their English books open. Two girls stood up to read a poem and cracked under the pressure of their English guests and sat back down again. One of the two came forward and read it out of the book instead. Several kids were asked to stand up and say ‘my name is….’
In other classrooms a similar greeting – some of the kids were asked to think of questions to ask us ‘what is your country?’, ‘what is your region?’, what is your favourite colour?’ and then after some hesitation one girl came out with a corker ‘will you sing us a song?’. Not wishing to be churlish, I answered ‘erm… Ella sings…..’ Sorry Ella. She managed a verse from Yesterday, (which received a round of applause) and then one of the girls from the class responded with an Indian song of her own. In the next class two girls performed a song together which Shakti told us roughly translated to ‘we are all one people’ or similar.
As we went through the classes, some of the kids were pointed out for a particular skill, eg one girl is a skilled ‘Kho-Kho’ player and has played at a national level, another plays the harmonium, another is a great dancer and often chosen for state occasions.
We talked to the older classes, and then were led to the classrooms at the back of the yard, which are still open to the elements – these were populated by three or four classes of tiny people, from around age 4. Some of them demonstrated their a,b,c’s in a very loud and determined fashion ‘a is for apple, b is for…’ etc… I think we all quietly picked a favourite at that point – mine was a feisty shouty little thing with enormous eyes, and what appeared to be a net underskirt over her leggings.
After meeting all the classes, some of the older girls performed a dance, with the girl who had performed the blessing (the same girl who had been singled out for her dancing skills), taking the main role in the dance. All of them confidently carried a metal pot on their head through the dance. Afterwards, asking what the dance was called (‘Chari Dance’ I’m told), the teacher pointed out evidence of blackened sides to the insides of the pots, as they often had fires lit inside them. They hadn’t done this as it wasn’t safe to do so inside. I’m again in awe of health and safety in India – I strongly feel that in England, for so many reasons, it wouldn’t be considered safe to carry a pot of fire on your head, inside or outside. Particularly so at school… but really I can’t think of a single situation where it would work out…
We were invited for tea and lunch with the teachers, and they gave us spicy samosa-like pastries, some fruity sauce which is a local speciality and a small chai tea.
After lunch we were treated to a demonstration of ‘Khokho’ outside, girls versus boys. Steve and I were invited to step forward and the boys became ‘Sir’s team’ and the girls ‘Madam’s team’. They each stepped forward to introduce themselves to us.
Kho-Kho essentially appears to be a complicated form of tag, where the team who are ‘running’ try not to be caught, the team who are chasing crouch down in a row, facing in different directions… Once the runner crosses the line, the chaser tends to tag a team mate who can only set off in the direction they are facing… It looked pretty difficult and it was interesting to see the difference in tactics between the boys team and the girls team. Essentially the boys just ran as fast as they could, and the girls were way more tactical and ran far less far. And then won.
They then demonstrated Kabaddi, this time boys against boys and girls against girls. This time Ella and Jack had a team each in the boys game, and Ella and I had a team each in the girls game. They made the pitch for this out of the sand on the playground/courtyard area, by neatly piling it in lines to form a rectangle for the outside of the pitch and a couple of lines across. Really efficiently done…
Above: teams are introduced before Kabaddi, Below: playing Kabaddi
Some of the boys were getting a bit cheeky ”ma’am, ‘ma’am’ come and sit here’, and asking as many questions as they could think of and telling me their names, and who was their brother etc. They were shuffling closer and closer and then went in for the photo opportunity. The teacher wasn’t impressed, and I felt slightly bad for getting them into trouble….
After Kabaddi it was home time. We’d had an incredible day, and felt incredibly privileged to have been welcomed as we had, and shown some of the skills, the learning and the amazing attitude of the children and staff. Scott and Josie have done some great work with the school. Updates, pics of the old classroom, and an opportunity to donate can all be found at: http://www.karkerischool.org.
We stopped on the way to admire a temple at the roadside, where I nearly fell into a cows’ drinking water container. We were pretty tired after a big day out.
We sat outside for a while after dark, around another big fire, listening to a very angry preacher from a nearby mosque over the loudspeaker, and it wasn’t too long before it was bed time.