Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Welcome To Udaipur
WRITTEN BY: Sean West
I’ve been thinking about how to begin this blog for many weeks now; perhaps even months.
Venturing through India, whether on foot through the market places or by our supposedly fifteen-seater family truck or even by Pankaj’s Honda Hero; traveling in any way provides you with glimpses, snippets of imagery and pulsating language you pray won’t run away with the pixies before you can get your hands on pen and paper.
I suppose I could start with the airplane ride out of Brisbane, through a brief Singapore stop-over, on to Mumbai, then finally north to Udaipur, where Pankaj awaited me, all smiles, at the glass doors of the modest domestic airport.
But there’s not much else to tell there besides my onslaught of questions hurled at Pankaj on the ride to the house; my feverish cultural curiosity slowed in stride by the sudden language barrier; the repeated questions, then repeated again, then repeated once more for good measure.
That has been one of the enduring struggles on this journey; coming to realise just how inaudible a rough Aussie accent is to the outside world.
The outside world.
It feels like another world entirely, especially since India has been the first overseas adventure in my life. Before arrival, this simple fact was quite daunting. But after just a few days in this house, any sort of culture shock or anxiety starts to subsist; in part thanks to the glorious thrill of finally really being here, in part also because you’re sharing this experience with young people just like you.
No matter how different you are, as individuals, there is a deep-abiding understanding there, as immediate as the exhilaration you feel when you take off on your first international flight.
And then there are the kids.
Sure you’ve been granted a few days rest to nurse the fatigue of your first bona fide taste of jetlag, but then you’re thrown headlong into that sea of little, smiling faces; and their startlingly strong hands bombard you with high-fives, low-fives, hugs and hand-holds. You wish you had more than just the two, so you could shoot them all up into the air the way they beg you to every day.
But make no mistake, there are lessons to teach, worksheets to distribute, pencils to sharpen and naughty behaviour to weed out (oddly, the most mischievous kids are often the most capable learners, always yelling out the right answers with cheeky zealous). Yes, we’ve volunteered in this far-away to teach these children.
But having fun was always on the agenda.
And that’s just at the school, which takes up the majority of our weekday mornings. After an always gorgeous, sumptuous lunch prepared by the ever-lovely Meenaji and an hour or two devoted to planning work for tomorrow’s teaching, we all cram into the truck.
Our destination, an all-boy orphanage nestled tight between a load of humble shop fronts to one side and a number of marble construction sites to the other; the orphanage known more commonly, and sensitively, as The Boy’s Home.
The boys, themselves, are mostly adolescents, wrapped in the tangles of puberty, although a range of both younger and older boys move about among them as if to imitate the family many of them have lost or never known. Despite this underlying melancholy, these boys are as fun as they come.
Mischief, it seems, is not solely prevalent in the wee ones, but perhaps flourishes and embellishes itself with age. These guys know not even Pankaj can interpret their unique tribal-area language, so they mumble the occasional jest or mockery on the sly, though it never strikes you as withholding any real malice. These kids are the same as those boys and girls you held this morning. It is only a handful of years or so that distinguishes the two.
Just like school, fun is the undercurrent here, running at the ankles of education – one cannot exist without the other in these places.
However, perhaps teaching at The Boy’s Home is the greater challenge due to the more demanding content of the work, as well as the simple fact that the students have stronger, more robust personalities.
It’s a much more challenging to rein in a student who has had far superior experience in dealing with ‘the new teach.’ But, all in all you get back from this place exactly what you put in. That sounds like a tired cliché, but it’s the driving force for all of us here. Every kid can feel when you’re making an effort, and likewise, they can just as easily pick up on when you’ve given up the fight.
So we dive in heads-first every afternoon and ride home soaking in our success.
Last of all I think I should mention all the marvelous free time we are granted here. After just three short weeks, my fellow volunteers and I have crammed in as much of India as we could possibly manage.
Visits to the market places, a weekend trip away to Jodhpur and the desert to ride camels and bask in the bliss of a traditional Hindu way of living; a day trip up through mountains to explore the Monsoon Palace, greeted (or not-so-greeted) by the temperamental monkeys at the steps.
But the experience that has stood out the most for me has been the temples we’ve visited, at least a trio now, with many more on the horizon. Each of the three thusfar has, without fail, stolen my breath away like you can’t imagine.
The feeling of standing beneath a ceiling that could, in all likelihood, be several centuries old is indescribable.
And your bare feet slide over the marble floors, sharing the same steps with some of the holiest and wisest men to have lived. Through history we re-discover old revelations and step back in awe at the sheer beauty and significance that dwells around every corner.
Visits to these temples are experiences to be cherished, even if you have lived a mostly secular life.
In these places of worship you can’t help but feel like there are gods smiling down upon you. Brahma grins knowingly, while Shiva stamps her feet and Vishnu is there, mending the broken ground behind her. Hanuman the monkey winks, Durga waves her many hands and Ganesh salutes his trunk of almighty fortune.
You are here and living every day as if each morning you are reborn anew.