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.
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.
Much amusement, particularly as we speeded up,
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
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!).
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!
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.
Whilst a number had clearly played before and displayed good technique,
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.
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.
Staff and pupils participated.
In the later sessions, breakaway leagues were established in true Kerry Packer fashion
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.
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’.
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.
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!