Anglo-Indian Travels with my Fracture Boot

Why a fracture boot?           

Before setting off for our second autumn/winter sojourn in India, we managed to squeeze in a week with Toby, our youngest offspring, at Phinda in South Africa, the game reserve where he is a safari guide. On the last night of a wonderful safari holiday, I managed to miss two steps and fall heavily on my left foot. Midway through our 23-hour return journey, I finally had to concede that I would not be able to get any further unaided. So the first wheelchair arrived to take me to the gate at Johannesburg airport.

After the long overnight flight to Heathrow, there was a wait while one man ferried three of us in turn to the buggy at the end of this arm of Terminal 5. The BA Captain and the senior member of cabin staff kindly stayed joking with us on the plane, and eventually the Captain went to commandeer a wheelchair himself to speed things up. As he returned, my man arrived, so I missed out on the chance of being wheeled along by the Captain, which would have made a good photo!

As we were at this point one week from our intended departure to Delhi, I decided to check that my foot would recover without treatment. However an X-ray confirmed that I had fractured my 5th metatarsal ‘at the wrong end’, and, before I knew it, my left leg was in plaster up to my knee and I was given a pair of crutches and an elegant hospital gown to protect my modesty as I departed.

Anyone who has had to use crutches with only one weight-bearing leg for any length of time knows only too well how exhausting and difficult this is, particularly in a house with stairs. Worse still, the implications for our trip to India began to sink in. We had planned two weeks of travel at the start of our trip, and, setting aside the difficulty of getting around India on crutches, the GP and physio were muttering darkly about an increased risk of DVTs and advising me to reconsider the whole thing.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to see a very kind orthopaedic specialist the following Wednesday (two days before our flight to Delhi). He looked at the X-ray of my slightly displaced fractured metatarsal, said it would heal perfectly straightforwardly unless I tried really hard to stop it, gave me an Aircast fracture boot,said the additional chance of DVTs on the flight was ‘vanishingly small’, and wished me a pleasant trip. The relief was huge!

Off to Delhi

So two days later there we were again at Terminal 5, checking in for my wheelchair to the gate. Although I relished being a biped once more, the distances at Terminal 5 are considerable, and discretion seemed the better part of valour. Of course this was the day when a whole gang of novice wheelchair-pushers were starting, so several of them were milling around the assistance area waiting for their first guinea pigs and instructions. One senior but sprightly gentleman from the Middle East, who spent his time chatting up the female assistants who had great difficulty in persuading him to stay in his wheelchair, was clearly overjoyed about his trip to LA. We had our misgivings, however, when he was entrusted to one of the novices whose command of English and, as it transpired, his new role was less than perfect. We felt that LA might be much further away than our fellow passenger was entitled to believe when said novice stared blankly at the hand-held tablet he was given, with flight numbers, departure gates, departure times and much more besides to guide him to the departure gate on time. It didn’t seem to bode well when the supervisor asked, ‘Haven’t you used one of these before? Just press “Select”.’ The sprightly gentleman disappeared from sight and we were starting to feel slightly nervous.

As it turned out, we were lucky in that a senior supervisor came with us to guide my equally novice wheelchair-pilot through the maze. There was a moment of hilarity when, at the security checkpoint, I was stuck in my wheelchair, not daring to dismount, as I watched John, apparently taking part in some crazy version of a TV game show, struggle manfully to whip off the conveyor belt all of our hand luggage – picking up iPads, laptops, mobiles, his belt, hat and shoes, and both of our wheelie bags before they could disappear into the maw of the security conveyor belt never to be seen again!

Once through security, a backward glance confirmed our earlier reservations: the LA-bound gentlemen and his minder were still stuck in the process, having set off well ahead of us. Far from joyous and sprightly, our comrade-in-arms was ashen grey and looking despairingly at his watch, his chances of reaching Los Angeles receding rapidly, while his novice wheelchair-pilot desperately consulted his tablet! But our supervisor took them under her wing and we all set off. We were to wait in the BA Lounge until collected an hour before the flight, so waved goodbye to the LA contingent who had at this point only a short distance to travel, mostly in a straight line.

Needless to say, John had just disappeared to the facilities, leaving me in charge of assembled hand luggage (he always has impeccable timing in such matters), when there was an announcement asking me to contact the service desk. I looked around frantically and then spotted a member of staff to whom I explained my predicament. He offered to stand guard by our bags while I hobbled to the desk, where I was met by the next wheelchair-pilot. We eventually set off towards the buggy which would take us and others on the long journey through the bowels of Terminal 5. Our buggy driver proceeded to regale us with stories of his ‘great friends’ Roger Moore, Rod Stewart and Peter O’Toole, apparently frequent users of the buggy. When another passenger asked if he knew Richard Branson, he wasn’t quite so forthcoming, but muttered that he didn’t often use Terminal 5! Our driver confessed to being an Elvis aficionado and indeed tribute artist, bound shortly for another festival where he would sing and play the guitar, dressed as his hero!

So we made our flight to Delhi, and were heartily relieved to sit back and enjoy the journey. On arrival at Delhi airport I quickly realised that wheelchair driving in India is pretty similar to any other kind of Indian driving. I was a little alarmed to be the leading edge of our convoy as we jockeyed for position along the corridors and towards the lift, but Indians have excellent spatial judgement (even though decidedly un-western ideas of personal space) and we never actually made contact with anyone else.

Once we reached our destination in Delhi, I was able with relief to walk the short distances on two feet. It quickly became clear that fracture casts or boots are virtually unknown in India and mine drew much attention and many enquiries about what I had done. I encountered one fellow fracture-boot wearer, at our hotel, and we greeted each other with knowing smiles and exchanged tales of woe!

Don’t Lucknow…

Two days later we set off for Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, which I had long wanted to visit after reading accounts of the events during the Indian Mutiny or 1st War of Independence, depending on your point of view. Another wheelchair took me through Delhi airport, and an explosives wand was applied to my boot to make sure I was not hiding anything other than a broken foot within. On arrival at Lucknow airport we looked down from our small aircraft and saw a wheelchair heading toward us. At the foot of the plane steps John was told to get on the bus as I sat in the wheelchair. We proceeded to race across the tarmac, skirting planes and tractors, with me clinging on for dear life! The bus carrying able-bodied passengers was about as ancient and decrepit as you could imagine. John and his Indian neighbours agreed it was the archetypal bone-shaker, and one local said, ‘No need to go to the gym; with this bus you get a full-body workout!’ As the bus (top speed, according to John, 4.5 mph) began to catch up with me in my wheelchair, John’s neighbour said, ‘You know, I think we’re going to win!’ He had obviously failed to take into account the bus’ lack of anything resembling brakes and the necessity for the driver, with a hundred yards to go, therefore to take his foot off what might once have been an accelerator to allow his charge to roll to a standstill by the arrivals hall with wheelchair and its cargo gaining fast. But we were cut up by a passing tractor and had to settle for a close second. When we finally met up in the arrivals hall we were weak with laughter! Who would have thought that travels with a wheelchair could be so entertaining?

After this, I decided that it was probably preferable to take my time and walk through the small domestic airports from now on, so I dispensed with this mode of transport.

But I soon had my first encounter with an Indian historic monument which required all visitors to remove footwear. This was the Bara Imambara in Lucknow, an 18th-century Muslim shrine.

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There was no concession for my boot, so I had to wait outside, sitting on a bench. I sat happily watching the other tourists (almost all Indians) coming and going. One young Sikh woman (unusually, for a woman, wearing a turban and the Sikh dagger or kirpan) came up and chatted, asking about my foot and where we were from. After visiting the shrine she came up to me and sweetly told me not to worry as there were lots of Sikh gurdwaras which I would be most welcome to enter with my boot!

At the second monument, the Chota Imambara,

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a slightly more understanding supervisor agreed to let me enter with my right shoe off and a plastic bag covering the offending boot. So I hobbled unevenly through this interesting shrine most gratefully.

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The British Residency, site of the famous Siege of Lucknow in 1857, posed no such problems,

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and I was fascinated to see this huge campus, its ruins pockmarked by cannon shot,

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its cemetery containing the graves of many of the thousands of British who died during the siege, and to feel the atmosphere of this important site.

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A blessed boot

A couple of days later we travelled by car to Varanasi, a tough 7+hour drive on very poor roads, with only a stop at a closed railway crossing to allow for a stretch of the legs. When we went with our guide down to the ghats on the banks of the Ganges, I realised how lucky I was – never in a million years would I have got anywhere near the river on my crutches. We had to walk with many pilgrims

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and shoppers through crowded, dirty streets from where the car dropped us, down a number of steep and uneven steps to the river, and then climb onto a boat.

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Challenging with my boot, but quite impossible with crutches.

The dawn boat ride,

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as we watched hundreds of worshippers immerse themselves in the holy river

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and welcome the day as they prayed to the rising sun and Mother Ganges,

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was wonderful – so much so that we did it twice. Varanasi, with its jigsaw of decrepit palaces,

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interspersed with two burning ghats, lining the western bank of the river, and its deserted sandbanks on the eastern bank, is magical.

When we went for the evening ceremony or aarti at which Brahmin priests daily perform a ceremony putting Mother Ganges to bed,

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our guide asked if we would like to make a contribution to an NGO that worked to make the Ganges cleaner (very necessary) which would entail taking part in a short ceremony with the priests. Little did we know that within minutes we would be standing (John barefoot, me with one bare foot and my well-travelled boot) on the banks of the Ganges, receiving water and then rose petals from the priest, circling round clock-wise and throwing our petals onto the water – in front of thousands of spectators in boats on the river and in serried ranks behind us on the ghat. I did not dare look up, but just kept concentrating, in my unevenly shod state, on not falling in. Thousands of camera-clicking tourists must have some very strange photos indeed of that particular evening aarti!

From our rowing boat on the Ganges, we saw the burning ghats where all Hindus wish to be cremated beside the holy river,

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and the beautiful little leaf boats, laden with flowers, holy basil (tulsi) and candles, offered by many of the spectators and worshippers, floating down the dark water.

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Varanasi, as well as being a major focus for Hindu pilgrims, is a fascinating tourist destination, but is probably best tackled once you have become a seasoned Indian hand.

Southern Rajasthan

We are now back in Udaipur, and as the temperature inside the house with all the fans on rises to over 32 C, and up to 38 C outside, I am eternally grateful that I can remove my trusty boot to rest and cool my foot, and for sleeping and washing. I fear that it will be a little while before I am able to stride across the fields of southern Rajasthan on field trips with Seva Mandir, or trek up to the temple at the top of the hill behind us, but I am so lucky to have my boot and not crutches – and of course not to have done more damage. I dare say that having an X-ray here to confirm, as I fervently hope, that my metatarsal is healing nicely, will be a further adventure…

Kotra: The night before and the morning after …

After a day with the Seva Mandir team and members of the local community looking at water conservation and irrigation challenges, we have some free time before the team meets around a campfire to sing songs and tell stories.  This takes place in Hindi but we get the drift and are then asked to sing or tell a story.  After some deliberation, we sing ‘Kumbaya’ and then a few verses of ‘If you ever go to heaven’ – much to the amusement of the rest of the team.  After an excellent dinner, we head to bed.

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During the night we hear the rain.  It has eased by the time we arise in the morning but everywhere is definitely damp!

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As the Seva Mandir team congregates in the conference room to review progress on various initiatives and projects over the last month,

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we take the opportunity to walk the mile or so into the centre of Kotra town, passing small shops and stalls, and the local prison.

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The centre of town is a crossroads and the hub of activity but, after the rain, it is a grey day.

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The sight of one man cleaning his shoe was slightly comical: two steps later and the shoe would be back to its original condition.

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Nevertheless, the local shopkeepers and stallholders were plying their trade

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and children going to school.

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There is a small hospital in Kotra which attracts patients from the surrounding areas.  Its juxtaposition to the Post Mortem Room did not immediately instill confidence – on the other hand, where more logical for it to be?

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The road back to the block office reveals insights into pre-Independence with archetypal bungalows and gates recalling a different period.

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But it starts to rain once more and we are invited to take shelter in what turns out to be the office of the electricity sub-station.

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Our young hosts speak reasonable English

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and one disappears to bring us tea in a plastic bag which is then poured into small plastic cups which our hosts throw into the forecourt after use.

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While we are there, there is a loud bang and a flash from the sub-station next door.  A major fuse has blown and the technician turns his hand to some repairs before beaming a smile at us.

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We take our leave and head back, encountering more colourful locals and catching glimpses into the past

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but most grateful for the invitation and chat in the dry.

After lunch at the block office (the team meeting concluded), we set off back to Udaipur.   The sky was still full of foreboding and the light unattractive but we were still able to catch glimpses of the local scenery which we are growing to love.

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From the Monsoon Palace

We have been visiting Udaipur for over ten  years but, until this week, had never visited the Monsoon Palace, formerly the Sajjan Garh Palace.  The locals tell you, quite rightly, that it is good to visit on a clear day when you can enjoy the views.  Along with warmer days, this last week has seen a return of clear blue skies after more hazy conditions earlier in January.  We witnessed a spectacular sunset a few evenings ago and resolved to make the trip up to the Monsoon Palace on the next clear afternoon.

Leaving the outskirts of the city to the south west, you drive up through the Sajjangargh wildlife sanctuary which is home to leopard and doubtless other rarely seen species like sambar, wild boar and jackals, but alas no tigers these days.  The tigers were much hunted in the countryside around Udaipur by the Maharanas and the local aristocracy.  There is a hunting tower which we can see on the hill behind the house in Bedla, north of Udaipur.  Bedla takes its name from the family which owned much of the land there before Independence and who clearly hunted where now houses are being erected.

The palace was constructed in the late 19th century by Maharana Sajjan Singh, the 72nd ruler of the Mewar Dynasty, as a place from which to watch the monsoon clouds .  Made famous by the James Bond film, Octopussy, it is rather less glamorous than you might expect, but no matter: location is everything.

Nothing quite prepared us for the wonderful 360 panoramas from this, the highest point in and around Udaipur.  The first view is to the east across the Aravalli Hills which cradle Udaipur.  Lake Pichola, one of the five lakes in Udaipur and perhaps the best known, can be seen to the left of the image.

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The second and third views pan north east and  capture more of the the city which has grown around Lake Pichola and between it and Lake Fateh Sagar.

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The City Palace sits regally on the north eastern shore of Lake Pichola and looks out across the lake to Jag Niwas, once the royal summer retreat and now the Taj Lake Palace Hotel.  Both are wonderfully located to capture the setting sun across the initially lower farmland to the south west on the far side of the lake, before the Aravalli Hills, rising steeply, close the circle of the natural fortress which protects the city.

The next view, coming further round to the north, shows Lake Fateh Sagar on the left and Lake Pichola on the right.

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Looking due north between the hills below, we can see up to Bedla. The house is just hidden from view by the eastern slope of the hill to the left of centre, but we could clearly see the temple on the hill above the house and the hunting tower to which reference is made above.

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Turning toward the west, you return to countryside with hills and valleys.

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It was a cloudless sky with just a little late-afternoon haze by the time the sun started to set.  The spectacular sunset we had witnessed earlier in the week was the result of some scattered cloud low over the hills to the south west.  As the sun sank down behind them, its rays caught the clouds and were reflected back down. On the evening of our visit, the sun sank with a warm glow but no pyrotechnics.  We will watch out for the right conditions and scurry back up to capture an amazing sunset to share on another occasion.  For now, we were blown away by the panoramas, feeling uplifted and very privileged.

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I’ve been up early to finish the blog and have just pulled back the curtains in our small study to see the sun breaking over the hills to the east.  Another clear and bright day: perhaps one of those sunsets awaits!

The secret world of saris: what lies beneath!

For years I have admired the elegance of Indian women wearing saris, and their skill at draping them – and keep them firmly on, whether they are riding motorbikes, working, cooking or shopping.

I have had two beautiful silk saris sitting in a cupboard for years, having acquired them in different parts of India as things of beauty and something I could buy to help support a hard-working weaver.  But how to wear them was another matter.

Then came an invitation to the several events that make up an Indian wedding, so it was now or never.  But how to wear them, what else did I need, and where would I equip myself with the necessary accessories?  My wonderful neighbour Neelima to the rescue!

First stop the Matching Palace in Udaipur’s Bapu Bazar.  You take in your sari (between 5 and 7 metres long, in cotton or silk, patterned or relatively plain – depending on the season, your taste and pocket, and the type of occasion on which you intend to wear it) and choose fabric of a suitable colour and texture to make a blouse.  The men behind the counter are skilled at matching colours and textures and the possibilities are endless.

I learned that some saris are made with an extra length of fabric on the end of the sari portion, in one continuous piece, with a clearly delineated border and probably a complementary pattern, which is intended to be cut off and used to make the blouse.  In which case, you can head straight to the seamstress without choosing a matching fabric from which to have your blouse made.

You also need a petticoat to wear under the sari (and to anchor your sari firmly at the start of the wrapping process).  So you choose another piece of fabric to make the petticoat.

The sari itself needs one further touch: a fall.  This is a length of fabric sown all along the bottom of the cloth to ensure that the sari falls nicely and to protect it from wear and tear.  Yet another choice to be made.  The Matching Palace will take charge of sewing the fall onto my saris.

Having selected and had cut all the necessary fabric to match however many saris you have taken in, off you go to the seamstress, who will make you your petticoats and blouses, figure-hugging and short little tops to wear under your sari.  Having given up bikinis many years ago, I am a little alarmed at the thought of a midriff-revealing blouse, but hope I can rely on acres of silk to protect my modesty.

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Now for the dressing!  One of the most elegant women I know (the mother of the bride at this wedding) told me that after two – or three … or maybe four – times of wearing a sari I would get the hang of it.  I realized that this was not the time to trust to luck.   As the wedding involved formal lunches, dinners and a procession through the streets of Udaipur following the groom on his white horse, I was alarmed at the thought of tripping on my hem and unravelling the yards of silk.  So a secure and foolproof mummification was greatly to be desired!

Armed with a number of safety pins, I enlisted Neelima to help with this.

First you put on blouse or choli and your petticoat and tie the latter very firmly with its drawstring.  Then the leading edge of the sari is placed to one side at the front and tucked into the petticoat.  You turn around once so that one layer of sari wraps around you.  Then comes the skilled part: you have to work out how much of the length of fabric you will use as the pallu to drape over your shoulder, and how much you need for the pleats to complete the process.  What is left is then wrapped further around your middle and tucked in at the back.  The pleats are neatly made and firmly tucked in at the front, secured to the petticoat with a nappy pin.  Then the pallu is thrown over your shoulder (and does indeed hide the midriff, I’m glad to say).  Neelima sensibly suggested pinning the pallu to my blouse to ensure that, as a novice sari-wearer, I did not dislodge it.  Her last discreet comment was: if the whole thing starts to droop, just tighten the petticoat and all will be well!  Et voilà!

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And it was!  The saris felt wonderful, seemed to impart an aura of elegance, and remained safe and secure throughout the long events to which I wore them.

It will take a few more sessions for me to feel I could contemplate dressing myself safely, but perhaps I will buy a light cotton sari, which doesn’t have to be treated with quite such care and respect as the yards of beautiful silk, and have a go at becoming adept!

Sunday at Kaya

At the end of our last blog, we indicated that we hoped to return to Seva Mandir’s Residential Learning Camp at Kaya for some extracurricular activities.  Thanks to Vikas, who made the arrangements, and Prem, who accompanied us, and the wonderful staff at the camp (to all of whom, many thanks), we were able to do this last Sunday for singing and cricket!  Sir Neville Cardus would have been proud of us!

As we walked into the Camp we could hear lusty singing.  The children were in their respective classrooms singing cheerily.  When we were last there, it was the first day of this two-month camp and most of the children had just arrived for their first taste of education in this boarding environment far from their remote rural villages, parents, siblings and everything familiar.  I had been amazed and very touched that day to hear so many of the children singing in their classrooms, always led by one child who would sing each line before it was repeated by the others.  These were traditional songs and I wondered how much comfort the children were deriving from repeating these familiar tunes in this strange new environment.  So I certainly knew they could sing before I planned Sunday’s sessions.

On this visit, I spent a few minutes in the office finding laminated sheets to use as props for the songs I planned to teach the children, and then worked out that, with 197 children in the camp, it would perhaps be best to take four groups of roughly 50 – somewhat daunting, but there was no question of leaving anyone out.

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We walked out to the open area in front of the camp buildings to find all 197 children, already in the four groups, sitting on the ground, with attendant teachers and an air of expectancy.  The first group assembled in a circle and I began the session by introducing myself and asking a few of the children their names.  We then started on the first song, ‘Heads and shoulders, knees and toes’, complete with actions.

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Much amusement, particularly as we speeded up,

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bobbing up and down touching knees and toes, and as we pointed to ears and eyes and mouth and nose!

Projecting so I could teach 50 children a song they didn’t know, in the open air, was a challenge for a voice that was seriously out of practice and I wondered how I would be faring by the fourth group.

Each group resolutely stuck to the call and response mode, although I had hoped to get them singing along with me, so we had to adapt this song, and the others, to fit this pattern, repeating each line after I had sung it once.

Next up was the ABC song

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and I distributed A4 sized letters of the alphabet for every other child to hold up (feeling like a heel each time I passed over one child and gave a letter to the next – groups of 26 would be much easier!).

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I was very impressed by the confidence with which they could recite the alphabet in English.  Not many English children could say the Hindi alphabet, that’s for sure!  Indeed I can’t!

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The most popular song by far was ‘Five Little Monkeys’.  Whether it was the humour of the song itself, the fun of pretending to be ‘Mama’ on the phone to the doctor, or the doctor intoning pompously ‘No more jumping on the bed’ – or perhaps the ridiculous spectacle of me pretending to be a young monkey jumping on a bed and then falling off – who knows!  But they loved it, and were quick to supply the number of monkeys remaining on the bed each time one had fallen off and bumped his head!

The last song I had chosen, ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ was the least successful, despite actions like clapping hands, stamping feet and turning around.  Note to self: must find a few more songs that work better in the call and response mode.  The clapping/stamping/turning bar in this song threw the rhythm as the children repeated each line as soon as I had finished the three bars of words.  Still, it bothered me but not them!

I was exhausted after the first group – only another 150 children to go!  Will I have any voice at all for the last 50?

As I glanced round the children in a circle round me there were some who were painfully shy, some a little puzzled, some on a little cloud of their own, most eager to engage.  Without exception they were well behaved, friendly, welcoming, smiling.  And they sang their hearts out, even though they clearly didn’t understand every word they were singing.  They could certainly teach a few English choirs a thing or two about singing lustily and projecting!!

They unanimously clapped at the end of each session and chanted ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’.  I reflected, not for the first time, how different these children are from some one meets in the classrooms of middle-class Europe.  Absolutely no ‘attitude’, just a sense that they are here to soak up every drop of learning they can find as it may well be their only chance to have any kind of education.

I’m sure I learned far more than they did – and now I must work on a better selection of simple action songs and voice projection!

As Felicia moved on to the second group, John, with the help of some very keen members of staff, divided the first group into two cricket teams!  The stumps were set up and the captains tossed.  It soon became apparent, however, that some lusty bows risked disrupting Felicia’s second singing group, so the cricketers moved down to a larger area where there was a volleyball net which was soon taken down to accommodate the match.  Peace and safety for the singers!

On the newly established cricket pitch, the game was soon underway.  With 25 or so a side, it was a little challenging keeping track of the batting order and ensuring that all the children got into the game, but whilst some were keen to bat and bowl, others were happy to field or just observe.

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Whilst a number had clearly played before and displayed good technique,

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some of the bowling actions were slightly suspect albeit that accuracy was good, particularly one girl who had clearly honed the art by throwing stones – which she threatened to do with some vigour when, as the afternoon wore on, attention spans waned and one of the boys ‘stole’ the ball from her as she was preparing to bowl another over.  Much placating ensued and the match resumed.

With such good bowling, the most frequent call was ‘well bowled’ which the children echoed with great voice (the singing session had obviously been of lasting value); but there were a number of ‘good shots’ not least when some of the older boys and particularly the staff connected with a ‘length ball’ and dispatched it over the wall into the trees and long grass.  We had bought two bats and three practice balls which was just as well since, although there was a set of stumps and a couple of bats at the Camp, there were no balls.  It was easy to see why!  Nevertheless, on this occasion, with 25 fielders aside, a host of boys would leap over the wall to search for the ball, whereupon, John cried out ‘lost ball’, also voluminously repeated by batters and fielders alike, followed by ‘new ball’ when, pending the return of the search party, one of the spares was produced.

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The batsmen were not offered the opportunity to inspect the new ball in accordance with ICC regulations, but this did not appear to be an impediment to the next lusty blow and ‘lost ball’.

On a few occasions, when a batter was bowled when not ready or some other injustice had occurred, the diplomatic call was ‘no-ball’, the left arm held out horizontally and reprieve granted.  Little did I realise how important the call of ‘no-ball’ would be for the outcome of another match, of which more later.

When the second group left Felicia and presented themselves on the cricket ground, the staff judiciously proposed a girls v girls match.  The skills were excellent and the contest keen.

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Staff and pupils participated.

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In the later sessions, breakaway leagues were established in true Kerry Packer fashion

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and the ground soon resembled the Maidan in Mumbai, the home of India’s greatest, where multiple matches are played.  May be there was a young Sachin here too.

I was asked to bat and took guard as if at Brook, before doing a little gardening to the pitch, much to the amusement of these more rustic cricketers.  The first ball was glided to fine leg in the style of the great Ranjitsinhji and a comfortable single taken, whereupon my batting partner showed great disdain for singles and either swished and missed or swished and connected to send the search party back into frenzied activity.

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In any event, at the declaration, I was one not out having faced one ball.  That makes two undefeated innings in India, the other being at Samode a few years ago where I had to ask the camel behind the bowler’s arm to lie down and the locals, having seen my forward defensive, compared me to Dravid – is there any greater compliment?

My bowling (15th change) was a tad less successful – more work for the search party and little boys, unprompted for once, shouting ‘lost ball’, ‘new ball’.

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With the final match drawing to a close, it was time to head back up for some tea, here spicy chai which hit the spot.  After chatting with the staff, we took our leave, waving furiously to the children.

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That evening, we resumed our watching of the Bollywood film (with much singing and dancing along the way), Lagaan, the splendid story of a cricket match played in the time of the British Raj between the garrison side, led by its cold-hearted and mean captain, and a team of local farmers and villagers coached, initially covertly, by the lovely sister of the mean captain. The match is a challenge thrown down by the head of the garrison who has capriciously doubled the annual tax, Lagaan, to be paid by the locals notwithstanding that there has been no monsoon rain for two years and the fields are parched.  The challenge is to defeat the army side in a cricket match in which case the tax will be cancelled for the whole area for three years; defeat, on the other hand will lead to a ruinous trebling of the tax.  Much to the horror and consternation of the locals, the hero and skipper of the local team, Bhuvan, a courageous and honest young man adored by the prettiest girl in the village (and later by the lovely sister, who sees the potential injustice of a one-sided match and offers her advice to the home team), accepts the challenge and three months of training and preparation ensue.

Unlikely volunteers step forward to join the team.  An untouchable with a withered arm, for example, proves to be a Chandrasekhar, and spins the ball viciously, taking valuable wickets.  However, nothwithstanding his crafty bowling, the British amass 325 runs and the innings of the local team, after an encouraging start, collapses.  Enter the last batsman to join Bhuvan with many runs still needed.  It comes down to the last ball with 4 runs to win and Bhuvan, who now has a century, at the non-striker’s end.  His determined and loyal batting partner realises that the fate of the entire area is on his shoulders as he swings at the ball only for it to be fielded inside the boundary as the batsmen cross for a mere single.  Despair! But, as Bhuvan, head drooping, squats down at the striker’s end and the army side celebrate, the camera pans to the umpire standing, arm outstretched: “no-ball”.  Reprieve!  One last ball and Bhuvan on strike.  The mean captain exhorts his opening bowler to do the business.  He steams in, delivers and Bhavan swings, connects and the ball sails high towards the boundary.  The mean captain tracks back, eyes fixed on the ball and, spurred on by his team, catches it – but, yes, you guessed, he has stepped over boundary!  The locals have won. Bhuvan is embraced by his adoring girl, lifted high by the community and declared a true hero.  The garrison is shut down, the mean captain posted to deepest, darkest Africa and the lovely sister, having embraced Bhuvan’s adoring now wife-to-be, climbs back into her carriage, heartbroken, to start the journey back to England where she never marries.  Oh, and the heavens open as the monsoon blows in to irrigate the arid fields.

How important was that “no-ball”!

For those of you who have lasted the distance: Sir Neville Cardus was the renowned cricket correspondent of the Manchester Guardian and also its chief music critic whose writings on cricket have been published in book form, for example Cardus on Cricket and A Fourth Innings with Cardus – no cricket library should be without them; Ranjitsinhji, the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, was one of the great pre-first world war batsmen who played for England; and Chandrasekhar, a cricketer who overcame polio and turned his disability to great advantage to become one of India’s most successful bowlers.  Kerry Packer was an Australian.  Ah yes, the second Ashes Test starts today!

On the Road in India

I remember being told once that Italians view the white lines marking lanes on the roads and motorways as mere suggestions as to how they might like to use the space.  Indians have taken this concept of flexibility to an entirely different plane.  There are roads in towns and highways in the country areas that have carriageways divided by barriers, but any driver who allows that to lull him or her into a sense of security is dicing with death.  Dual-carriage highways are in theory (I think) for one-way traffic on each side, but if a driver (of a bus, a truck, a car, a motorbike or a camel or ox cart) has to get from A to B where the closest distance between the two involves going the wrong way down one of these carriageways he won’t hesitate.  So you will suddenly find one or a whole stream of them coming towards you in what you thought was the slow lane on your side.

In Tamil Nadu once, we were just admiring the brand new highway when we spotted an unexpected obstacle in the fast lane.  A farmer with a cunning plan had decided that a nice hot road was just the place to dry his grain.  So a tarpaulin on the tarmac, a few stones to keep it from blowing away, et voilà!  Sometimes on rural roads the plan is even more cunning.  Grain laid out on the road will be run over, doing the job of separating the chaff from the grain very easily indeed.

If you need to get off the highway onto a minor road to your right, you may well find that the only way across is to mount the central reservation (which will have been broken down – a bit – by others with the same mission) and drive for a few yards down the other carriageway until you can turn off.  Best to shut your eyes if you are of a nervous disposition.

The same is true in the towns.  One of our most terrifying journeys was in a cycle rickshaw (whose drivers are always the scrawniest souls around so that you feel hideously guilty accepting a ride from them) taking us from the Red Fort in Old Delhi to our vehicle, whose driver had parked further away.  The cycle rickshaw man headed down the wrong side of a dual carriageway, weaving between oncoming trucks and buses, and I have never been so afraid of imminent death in my life.

Many a time our driver here in Udaipur, realising that we need to go to a store on the other side of a crowded shopping street, has gone several yards down the road on the wrong side so as to deposit us right outside our shop.  When pulling away again, he will simply push into the traffic, into the path of oncoming tuktuks, bikes, cars etc, and make his way unhurriedly onto the right side of the road again.  This is entirely par for the course.

The other evening bringing us home he suddenly stopped as a young man riding a motorbike headed towards us on our side of a road divided by a concrete barrier, failed to control his vehicle (remarkably unusual) and clipped the front of our car.  Much consternation, the driver leaps out and harangues the sheepish young man, a crowd immediately gathers, a nearby policeman’s view is sought.  We stay in the car, thinking for the thousandth time that we will NEVER venture out behind the wheel here.  After much rather unproductive conversation, during which time the young man returns and surreptitiously wipes down the scratched bumper with a cloth, hoping to make the damage go away, our driver returns.  The young man has no money and no insurance, so beyond a bawling out there is not much to be done.  We ask what the policeman said – nothing much other than that our driver was in the right.

The only surprise is that there are so few collisions.  Indian drivers seem to know how far they can push in front of others, and our driver clearly had a sixth sense that, for once, this bike was not going to manoeuvre in time out of his way.

Police there are on the roads in town: rarely if ever singly, and generally in groups of 2-4, always to be found standing chatting to one another, their backs to anything they might actually be called upon to deal with.

Indian drivers love to ask you what are the three things a driver here needs: good brakes, good horn and good luck!  Horns are regarded as essential.  Almost every truck has ‘Horn Please’ (as well as the somewhat mysterious ‘Wait for Side’) on the back of them.  On the highways they drive in whichever lane they fancy (generally the ‘fast’ lane, for reasons perhaps explained above) so a speedier vehicle has to weave between them, the horn blaring repeatedly to try to ensure the driver has spotted it.  In town too, as one approaches a roundabout the tactic seems to be to drive straight onto it (Belgian style), horn blaring, as you play chicken with the other vehicles.  Of course you might decide that, if a big old bus is coming towards you with no obvious intention of stopping, discretion is the better part of valour.  But a mere car, bike or cart is simply to be honked at as you push in front showing you mean business.

The variety of the road users is something that takes a while to get used to.  I remember on our first trip to Jaipur some years ago, on a very busy main street, seeing a mouse crossing the road between trucks, cars, buses, scooters, elephants, camel carts, ox carts and pedestrians.  I thought it would never make it, but it was obviously a city mouse, much more skilled in braving these streets than I will ever be.

Some of the sights cannot fail to bring a smile to my face.  Today I saw a camel, snooty-looking with its nose in the air as always, pulling a flat-bed cart topped by an advertising hoarding forming a pyramid beneath which was a cassette player blaring out promotional messages.  Years ago, as we drove from Ranthambore and tiger-spotting towards Jaipur, we passed an empty petrol station where a camel had pulled up beside a petrol pump – perhaps to fill up a jerry can, who knows.  I always wish I had asked the driver to back up so John could capture the image with his camera.

Elephants are fairly common, sometimes carrying produce, sometimes wandering back home from duty trundling tourists up to a fort as at Amber near Jaipur, sometimes just carrying a mahout who is taking it to collect tributes at a temple in exchange for a ‘blessing’ from the elephant’s trunk.  (I once had to pay extra to get a second blessing as the camera wasn’t quick enough first time – no names! – and was dimly viewed by others in the queue!)  And I remember looking up from a major road in Delhi to see a couple of elephants carrying grasses crossing the bridge above us.

Camels are common too in Rajasthan.  They are often pulling carts carrying goods of one sort or another.  Donkeys are trained here to carry building materials from yard to building site without supervision.  You see them, sad little creatures, heading forlornly along the road, loaded up with bricks going one way, running a little faster on the way back, but never daring to deviate from the route.

Horses, particularly white, are hired out for ceremonies such as taking a groom to his wedding in procession with drummers and family members, and we sometimes pass stables full of surprisingly fine-looking beasts, their little ears endearingly turned inwards in true Marwari style.

Cows of course do their own thing.  They wander through the towns finding strange things to eat, before heading at dusk to be milked in a dairy which might well be in someone’s front room in the maze of backstreets of the old town, as John has described earlier.  There are ladies on the outskirts of town who sit with bundles of grass which they sell to passers-by who wish to placate their gods by feeding the cows.  One or two cows have worked out that this is a good place to hang around!   At night, they often lie down on the unlit roads, so that you have to pick your way very carefully around them.  Some of them respond to toots on the horn, some do not and have to be slapped on the rump or pushed out of the way.

One morning in Bikaner, on our way to a temple, the guide pointed out a line of dogs standing on the side of the road all looking in one direction.  There the locals would bring spare chapattis left over from breakfast and throw them at the waiting hounds, again to curry favour with the deities.

The saving grace amongst all of this chaos, as it appears to a western eye, is that the speeds are generally low.  Most of the trucks and cars do not look as if they were ever new, and buying a spanking new vehicle of any sort seems little short of folly.  One evening we came out of a restaurant in Delhi which clearly turned into a hot nightclub once the wrinklies had eaten and departed.  Hordes of well-heeled youths were hanging about waiting for the nightclub to get into gear, and as we walked outside my eyes nearly popped out of my head to see ranks of Ferraris, Porsches and Maseratis lined up.  Where do they drive these cars?  Do they just sit in garages and have one trip out every Friday night?

As India ponders the value of its Grand Prix, I wonder about its relevance to 99.9% of the road users in the country.

Settling In

Shopping

On our previous six trips to India shopping has generally been of a predictable nature – popping into the wonderful Fabindia to buy a series of brightly coloured salwar kameez (or rather kurta and pajama or churidar in Hindi), and long scarves (dupatta), my usual garb when here, or looking for presents to take home – bags, scarves, cushion covers, silver jewellery and so forth.

Shopping for shoes

This time of course it is different.

The first task was to equip our house with the basics: pots and pans, cleaning equipment, all the things you take for granted until you have to start from scratch.  As a tourist one is not aware of the supermarkets and malls (and we have been incensed at the suggestions helpfully made to us on the streets of Delhi that we might like to visit a mall rather than the individual shops we prefer), but for bulk buying of household goods it makes sense to head to a hypermarket.

Hardware shop

Just getting in is the first challenge.  After going through the body scanner, one has to present bags at a desk and have the zips fastened with plastic tags to prevent one slipping goods into them.  We then grab a trolley and start the hunt.  We are astounded by the variety (and low price) of many things: from washing machines to sound systems, lentils to vegetable oils of types we have never come across.   We make a few interesting discoveries, for example that virtually no Indian pots and pans have lids, apart from the ubiquitous ‘cookers’ (ie pressure cookers) of which India must have the largest supply in the world, and we have a few surprises: I decide to buy some oatmeal so as to make porridge, but discover when I take it home that it is spiced oatmeal – doubtless delicious, we’ll have to see!

Several things elude us in the hypermarket, and anyway we prefer little local shops, so we go to some of the town’s ‘markets’, which are really shopping areas consisting of rows of little shops.  Bapu Bazar has electrical appliances, plastics (dust bins, storage jars etc), bed linen etc.

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Hathi Pole has cotton goods (lovely Indian print bedspreads etc).  One soon realises that it is quite tricky to mime certain household things, like ironing boards and washing up drainers, and that items one takes for granted are not necessarily part of the standard equipment over here.  All part of the fun – and doubtless adding to our reputation as crazy foreigners.

In one shop recommended by a friend we are able to buy all the appliances we need and they deliver and instal them within hours.  I am particularly looking forward to working with the mixer, which includes a range of blenders to grind spices and help make chutneys and sauces – as seen on Rick Stein’s wonderful TV series.

The vibrant fruit and vegetable markets are a passion of ours, and we never miss a chance to wander through them, marvelling at the riot of colours and textures (and I’m not just describing the produce!).  I have always found it frustrating to be unable to buy any of the produce since staying in hotels doesn’t really lend itself to cooking up aubergines, okra, onion and garlic.  We have both been looking forward to being able to do just that.  So now every day we stop at one or other of the many vegetable stalls along the road and buy enough for dinner and the following breakfast.  So far I have been so tired at the end of every busy day that the menu hasn’t been very varied: a mixture of onions, garlic, aubergine, okra, peppers, tomatoes and coriander, with some cumin and chillies, accompanied by rice and some chutneys and pickles.  But I long to start trying out some of Rick Stein’s recipes.

On previous trips we have always been careful about what we ate, and been remarkably bug-free.  But of course it’s relatively easy if you eat in hotels and recommended restaurants.  Now we are shopping and cooking for ourselves.  We sought advice from a number of Indian and English friends about the use of water purifiers and how to make safe the things you are told not to eat when you travel here, so we had a reasonable idea of the procedures to follow.  But before we came, I lay awake sometimes worrying that I would get it wrong and poison us with inadequately washed and cooked veg.  But so far so good.  We have a water purifier and then boil the water we intend to use for cooking, and we scrub the veg in purified water before cooking.

For now, when at home we are following a traditionally Indian ‘veg’ diet, and it remains to be seen whether we feel brave enough to buy and cook ‘non-veg’.  There are two nearby butchers, whose wares are certainly fresh as they consist of live chickens and goats outside his shop – probably quite sensible given the lack of refrigeration.  I’m just not sure about dealing with a chunk of still warm goat or chicken…

It is a great delight to me to find things like chickoos (naseberries to us Jamaicans, and not a fruit I have seen outside these two countries) and to feast on papaya sprinkled with fresh lime juice, pineapple, custard apples and freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast.

The Indians tend to view tamarinds as a savoury to give delicious pep to savoury sauces.  I wonder if I will be able to explore making Jamaican tamarind balls (sugared tamarind flesh around the seeds, a favourite of all Jamaican schoolchildren) and guava jelly, another favourite from my childhood.

Rubbish

This is of course one of the scourges of India.  You can’t travel a few meters through any town or country village without seeing piles of rubbish strewn around the streets.  Part of the problem is that in many areas there is no organised rubbish collection.

When we had acquired a mountain of packaging material, following the delivery of appliances and furniture, we had to stop our lovely caretaker Jagdish from tipping the lot over the wall onto the adjoining unused plot.  Similarly, we had to rush into that same plot to recover the household waste tipped over the wall by his wife Manju – much to her amazement and amusement.  I have no doubt that they think we are quite mad.   We hope to persuade a local rubbish man (on a bike) to call by to collect rubbish twice weekly, but so far he is reluctant as the other households down our lane have proved unwilling to pay the few rupees he needs to make it worthwhile (about 1p a day).  So we take our rubbish when we go out in the car and drop it into a dumpster.

But virtually everything has a price here, and one of Manju’s relatives carted off all the discarded cardboard and bubble wrap which he sold for recycling at Rs 350.  Maybe there will be a way of making all rubbish recycling pay so that one day we’ll see an end to the awful heaps of rubbish around the place.

We’d also like to investigate digging a compost pit in the next door field, but everything decomposes so quickly here – and attracts unwelcome animal visitors – that we will need to be careful to avoid smells and flies.

Getting things done

India’s love of bureaucracy (doubtless a relic of the Raj) surpasses that of Belgium (where we lived for many years), so we had thought it would take months to get cable TV, wifi and other services.  But we were wrong.  Because on our last trip we had sought the help of the one man in India who seems to know how to ‘recharge’ (top up) an iPad SIM, he greeted us as loyal customers and sold us new SIM cards and a dongle to link the laptops to the internet, with only the need for a few forms and ID photos.  Et voila!

At the house, we had cable TV installed and set up within hours, and the wifi man is due shortly.  The furniture we had ordered from the local store of an Indian chain before we arrived was here when we arrived, as promised, and the mattresses ordered on our first evening in Udaipur arrived a day ahead of schedule – impressive.

We have been extremely fortunate to have the help of friends who have ensured that a request to install a fan in the kitchen, to move a tap to the right height for a washing machine (not sure why that hadn’t occurred to them before…), to remove a bolt from one external door so that there is at least one emergency exit guaranteed to be unlocked on the outside (important for a claustrophobe like me) results in a man appearing within half an hour.

But we can only assume that the caste system applies to workmen.  The painter obviously doesn’t think it’s up to him to move furniture or put down a dustsheet to avoid drips, the carpenter doesn’t think he should clear up chunks of wood, and the men who put in the grills around all the windows clearly didn’t think they needed to clear up cement spills from window sills or basins!  Ah well!

The simpler things take longer though.  Getting a trolley full of goods entered onto a cash register and paid for is a long and tedious process.  More often than not the bar code reader doesn’t work so items have to be entered manually.  And then as you leave the shop a guard asks to see your receipt.  The first time, struggling with an overflowing trolley of brooms, mops, buckets etc, in amongst eggs, pans, oils and spices, our hearts sank as he began to look at every item.  (They don’t give shopping bags, quite rightly, and we had not yet acquired them, so everything was piled into the trolley en vrac.)  Mercifully, he too seemed to realise that this was going to be a hopeless task and contented himself with checking a few sample items before putting a line through the receipt to indicate it was checked.  But now we had to get the trolley to our waiting car – and that meant unloading and carrying everything up and down a set of steps onto the road in the ferocious sun, while trying to make sure nothing disappeared as it waited unattended (probably an unnecessary concern).  It reminded me a little of that riddle of how to get a wolf, a goat and a cabbage across a river in a small boat that can only take one passenger at a time.

We have now worked out that there is an underground car park, but it costs 20 Rupees (20 p) so the drivers have to be persuaded to use it.  But it makes life a whole lot easier.

 

Setting up home abroad

As a couple we have travelled extensively, and moved with our children between the UK and Belgium.  But this is a very different adventure.

I can’t help thinking of my beloved French grandmother.  She met my Jamaican grandfather when he was a very young soldier posted to her native Normandy during World War I and she was still a schoolgirl.  They married a few years later and she set off, at the age of about 20, to spend the rest of her life with him in Jamaica.    Her tales of running a household in 1920s Jamaica are fascinating, and 30-odd years later I remember her sallying forth every Friday from her house in Kingston to Papine market, armed with a big straw basket, to do the weekly shopping.

My mother too, having grown up in Bristol during the Second World War, could not resist a newspaper advertisement for a PE teacher in Jamaica and sailed out to longed-for adventure in the tropics.  She met my father and spent the next 20 years running a home in the hills above Kingston.

How I wish I had taken the time to ask both of those intrepid women how they felt when they first braved the Jamaican market stalls, itinerant vendors and domestic help in 1920s and 1950s Jamaica.  I rather like the idea that in some small way I am following in their footsteps.

Much of what we are experiencing must seem much less familiar to John than it does to me, with my memories of growing up in Jamaica.

 

Hot nights

At the end of the long tiring days we have so far spent setting up home so that we can do something useful, it is wonderful to stand together on the roof of our little house, gazing at the Aravalli hills around us as the stars come up and the half-moon shines down, listening to the cacophony of nocturnal insects and birds.  Even the sound of the occasional dog barking is different in the hot night air.  Back inside we greet our friendly lizard and encourage him to bring a few friends to gobble up the occasional ant and mosquito.