Never underestimate the power of dance

Marking MA dissertations is both an interesting experience and a challenge. Many students conduct interesting small scale research studies and write fascinating dissertations that educate their tutors as much as themselves. The challenge often comes with getting them all marked in a limited time span ready for examination boards.

Along with colleagues who teach on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education course in Bangalore, I recently finished marking our latest batch of final studies from a cohort of excellent students. As is often the case there was a significant amount of highly original and innovative work within these dissertations, and the time spent reading and marking was informative and interesting. Most of the students complete research focused upon their own work and schools, and provide insights into the daily challenges that they face and the ways in which they endeavour to overcome these. Often they investigate their own teaching approaches with considerable enthusiasm and critique these in a most honest and reflective manner.

A recent video posted on the BBC news website (see below) encouraged me to return to a number of recordings made by Maitreyee one of our Bangalore students whose excellent dissertation I marked a few weeks ago. Maitreyee works in a special school with many children who present with complex learning needs and in some instances additional physical disabilities. She is an enthusiastic dancer who performs with a local group in Bangalore and had utilised her knowledge of dance to inform her teaching in school.

Maitreyee in her research considered how the use of dance impacts upon both the learning and well-being of the students she teaches. Through a series of interviews and video recorded observations she involved her students at the heart of her project,and was able to demonstrate the many benefits of the work that she has undertaken over several years . Watching the video recordings it was soon evident that many of the young people in her classes use dance as an effective means of communication whilst also gaining a great deal of pleasure from their movement and performance. This is a unique study and one that I hope may find a broader audience though publication.

It was with Maitreyee’s work in mind that I returned to the BBC video posted on this blog which I feel demonstrates a number of things with which I am sure she would agree. Not least that dance can be a tremendous vehicle for learning and that for some students it inspires self-confidence, a means of expression and enthusiasm. Equally important is the message that we should never underestimate an individual who is labelled as having a specific “condition” or described as having a disability.

I have watched this video several times now and each time new thoughts come to mind. Firstly, that I personally lack the co-ordination that is evident in the accomplished young lady featured in the film. Secondly, that she exudes an amazing confidence and authority in her demonstration of technique and her teaching. Thirdly, that she expresses a realistic ambition and dedication for what she might achieve in the future, and finally, that this is a young lady who has great confidence in her own abilities, and that others must also have shared this confidence, though I suspect some may have underestimated  her capabilities.

I don’t really want to say anything more about this video recording, but rather leave it for you to watch and then hopefully to hear about the reaction it might promote in you. If you have comments I would be delighted to hear what they are. I hope you enjoy the short presentation.

Now I’d better get back to some marking I suppose.

 

 

A learning bridge between Europe and Asia that needs to be maintained.

Let's not turn our backs on the opportunities we have to learn from other cultures at a time when they need us most.

Let’s not turn our backs on the opportunities we have to learn from other cultures at a time when they need us most.

I have just returned from a week’s holiday in Istanbul. I had been looking forward to this trip for some time, having wanted to visit this ancient city that straddles Europe and Asia for many years. The history of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, renowned for its architecture, philosophy and art has fascinated me for years, and I can now say that having visited, it more than satisfied my curiosity and expectations.

Whilst Istanbul is now a busy cosmopolitan city like many others in Europe, it succeeds in presenting in a most accessible manner the history of the past millennium and longer. From the Egyptian obelisk of 1500 BCE and the Theodosian Walls of the fifth century, through to the conquest of Mehmet II in 1453 and the architectural wonders created by Mimar Sinan during the mid 16th century, there is so much here to learn and to try to understand. In addition to the artefacts which are excellently presented in the several museums and the Topkapi Palace, the very streets of Istanbul present a historical face to the interested visitor. Views across the Bosphorous, the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara are dominated by a skyline of the domes and minarets of countless mosques and the crumbling relics of ancient fortifications. I have to confess that despite my earlier reading about the city, whilst walking the hilly streets, I found myself often contemplating the significant ignorance that I still have in respect of much that I was seeing.

From this short visit to Istanbul I will retain many happy memories and will long remember many of the fascinating sights and sites of the city. However, my visit was also tinged with an element of sadness which came from talking to kindly people who currently fear for their livelihoods and face an uncertain future. Without exception the people who we met during this brief visit were friendly and welcoming, and it was evident that they wanted to make us feel comfortable within their great historic city. Yet it was particularly disturbing to hear them talking of the falling numbers of visitors and the financial difficulties caused as a result of groups and individuals who are choosing to no longer visit the region.

The cause of this calamity is obvious. The close proximity of Turkey to a war ravaged Syria and the crisis of refugees on the country’s border has brought little by the way of positive publicity to the country. Furthermore, a number of terrorist attacks in both the capital city Ankara, and recently in Istanbul have dominated news reports and leave many would be tourists contemplating whether it is safe to travel. Indeed, during the time of our visit two terrorist incidents in and near Ankara claimed a number of lives.

The fear of terrorism is likely to impact upon many parts of the world in this way. This weekend on my return to England I read in the Guardian newspaper of the efforts being made by the people of Paris, to attract visitors back to that beautiful city following the recent terrorist incidents that devastated the French nation. It is however, important to remember that the vast majority of days in Paris, as in Istanbul pass quietly and without incident. It is even more important to recognise that the people who inhabit these cities, as elsewhere in the world are good, honest and hospitable. There is nothing that the narrow minded terrorists would like more than to stifle the economies of our major cities by driving people away; a situation which we must never allow to happen.

In Istanbul, probably more than anywhere I have previously visited, the close relationship between two of the world’s major religions is in evidence. Mosques created from churches following the 1453 conquest have in many instances retained and respected earlier Christian features. Nowhere is this more in evidence than at the Hagia Sophia where magnificent tesserae depict features from the life of Christ in the form of mosaics. The population of Istanbul is almost exclusively Muslim, and within the traditions of that faith are making every effort to ensure that all visitors to the city feel comfortable and safe. If as tourists we choose now to turn away from this city and many others like it around the world, we will be deserting kind and decent people and handing a tacit victory to those who would deny opportunities to all who wish to learn from other cultures and beliefs. Istanbul, just like Paris, Berlin, London and many other of the world’s great cities has faced threats and violence on many occasions throughout history, but the spirit and determination of good people has always prevailed. An all too brief series of encounters with friendly people in Istanbul over the past week has reassured me that this city and its population will undoubtedly defeat those who would wish them harm.

If the chance arises for you to visit the magnificent city of Istanbul do grasp the opportunity. You will be rewarded by a wonderful encounter with history and culture and through the warmth of the friendly people who inhabit the city.

The bazaar's of Istanbul have been a feature on the major trading routes between Europe and Asia for thousands of years. They remain dependent upon visitors to the city in order to ply their trade.

The bazaar’s of Istanbul have been a feature on the major trading routes between Europe and Asia for thousands of years. They remain dependent upon visitors to the city in order to ply their trade.

 

What can we learn in one minute fifty seven seconds?

 

arrival

One minute and fifty seven seconds – not much out of a busy day, and certainly very little time to do justice to the experiences of a seven year old child.

I can remember a couple of occasions in my life when I thrilled to the experience of being on the sea in a relatively small boat. One of these trips, out of Brixham harbour in Devon, on flat calm waters was to catch blue and silver mackerel, which made a fine supper during a brief family holiday. Many years later, as an adult, a far more exciting journey was experienced from the Isle of May in the Scottish Firth of Forth returning to the mainland following a week living on that quiet and desolate nature reserve. On this particular journey huge waves crashed across the boat as it pitched and rolled through the white crested peaks and troughs of a savage sea. However, as the skipper of the vessel manoeuvred a familiar pathway with apparent nonchalance back to the safety of the tiny port of Anstruther, where we knew warmth and shelter awaited, I was neither fearful for my safety and that of my family, nor apprehensive of what lay ahead.

How different then were my experiences from those of seven year old Malak who features in the first of a series of “unfairy tales” recently launched by UNICEF. These short animations combine the power of art and music to convey a simple but harrowing message about the plight of children fleeing Syria in search of a safe haven where they will not be shot at, bombed, or forced from their homes. Sadly, this is a story with which we are all now so familiar. So, will a simple animated film make any difference?

This was a question I asked myself this morning having watched “Malak and the Boat”, and I am still unsure that I have an answer. The title “Unfairy Tale” applied to these short animations is a subtle play on words. As children many of us are brought up with fairy tales; fables that often become ingrained within our national and cultural identities. Those of the brothers Grimm, or Hans-Christian Anderson, or Perrault have become classics of literature, much loved stories with which we became familiar in our early years. The play on words in the title of these brief animations, with an emphasis upon how “unfair” life can be for so many children and their families is an apt juxtaposition for a series of short films that convey a desperate message. (As a matter of fact, many traditional fairy stories have sinister undertones which have in some instances terrified rather than entertained the children to whom they were read.)

UNICEF’s “unfairy tales” are beautifully made and compelling. They are also short enough to hold the attention of even those who live busy lives and claim to have little time to think. But I am still unsure whether they are likely to have the impact that their producers intend. I find myself asking, who will see these films? They came easily to my attention because I am well connected to media outlets and newsfeeds that consider children’s rights, but I am unaware of them having been placed in a position of prominence beyond these. Are UNICEF therefore releasing these films only in the direction of those individuals and organisations that have already demonstrated concern? If this is the case, can they possibly hope to have an impact?

Whilst conveying the brutality that is a part of the daily lives of so many children and expressing a message that we all need to hear, I wonder if these carefully crafted works of art can possibly change the attitudes and approaches of governments, organisations or individuals who for so long now have been confronted with the horrifying images of children in distress washed up, and not always alive, on the beaches of Europe? Many of these destitute children appear to have simply become a daily feature of our television news programmes and have often been relegated to the inside pages of our newspapers. Can the efforts of UNICEF in producing these films possibly have any effect?

We have already seen that attitudes towards the ever growing population of refugees fleeing war torn countries have been conveyed in words of sympathy, empathy, and sorrow, but of late these emotions have been more frequently transposed by fear, hatred and resentment. But as the images of suffering have become a nightly feature of our television screens I would suggest that the most common reaction has now become one of indifference. Will yet one more bold and impassioned approach to gaining understanding, such as this from UNICEF change any of this?

These are the imponderables that I found myself addressing this morning as I began my comfortable journey to work. I have no answer, and indeed I suspect there are no easy solutions. In the meantime, we must applaud those who are making bold efforts to keep the plight of desperate refugees to the forefront of our minds. The UNICEF films may, or may not make a difference, but at least as an organisation they are taking affirmative action, both through this media and their actions on the ground, to support those who are suffering as a result of the carnage inflicted upon Syria.

I post “Malak and the Boat” here for you to see for yourself. It will take a whole one minute and fifty seven seconds from your busy schedule today to watch this film, and even longer if you then decide to send it to a friend. Perhaps after watching you can help me to find answers to some of the troubling questions I have asked above. If so, I would like to hear what these are.

Click on the image below to watch “Malak and the Boat”

 

A mania which thankfully has no known cure!

If you have similar symptoms to these, cease any hope you may have had of a cure!

If you have similar symptoms to these, cease any hope you may have had of a cure!

If jetlag has a benefit (which in most respects seems unlikely), it is that I find myself with more time for reading. This may be at times when I would prefer to be asleep; 3.30 am. yesterday, but reading is certainly preferable to lying sleepless in bed and counting imaginary sheep. I suppose there are several ways of approaching the inevitable consequences of long haul flights. I do know of a colleague who resorts to sleeping pills, not a particularly sensible solution it seems to me, as someone who has an aversion even to taking an aspirin. An alternative is to toss and turn in the bed for several nights, (not advisable if you share a bed), until eventually the inbuilt body clock readjusts. Personally I have found that given time, the effects of the jetlag imposition will fade, and until this point I prefer to abandon bed for my study and settle down with a good book.

Books are not in short supply in this house, welcome companions collected and respected over many years which now decorate and insulate many walls of our home. Amongst the many tomes are a number that I have acquired during my visits to India, often interesting volumes that are published in the country and seldom available, or at least little known, here in the UK. No trip to Jayanagar would be complete without a visit to my friends who run Nagasri bookshop. This wonderful treasure house, lovingly cared for by intelligent, book loving experts, is beyond doubt my favourite bookshop anywhere. For forty eight years the knowledgeable proprietor of this bibliophile’s heaven has provided a service to the students, scholars and general readership of the Bangalore metropolis. He knows his customers, remembers their areas of interest and will go the extra mile to ensure that he can meet the needs of even the most demanding of readers. Whenever I visit I am greeted with a welcome handshake and smile, and within minutes I am engaged in conversation about the latest titles from various Indian publishing houses, news of respected authors and commentary about recent and forthcoming editions.

Invariably my luggage is heavier on return to the UK than it was on my outward journey. In no small part this is because of the latest acquisition of books purchased from Nagasri. This time seven heavy volumes added to my travel burden (in my defence I purchased only five – the other two were given as gifts), and these have now joined others either in my study or at the bedside in the queue awaiting my attention.

These latest editions to my collection have been particularly welcome as I have resigned myself to additional reading in the jetlag zone. Allasani Peddana’s sixteenth century epic, “The Story of the Manu” is rather heavy going for the early hours, whereas the stories of Hansda Sowevendra Shekhar are ideal in both tone and substance. However, it is a particular book given to me by my good friend Jayashree that has really held my attention over the past few nights as I have been awaiting the dawn.

“The Girl who Ate Books”, written by Nilanjana Roy provides an exploration of Indian literature and the characters and authors from a significant period of Indian history. Lucidly written, with much humour and plenty of scholarship this book has introduced me to writers of whom I previously knew nothing, whilst providing insights to others with whose work I have long been familiar. As a result of my reading I have compiled yet another list of books that I must purchase and read in an effort to fill some small part of the enormous void that is my ignorance. Books such as this are always a revelation and right from chapter one of this entertaining volume I found myself empathetic towards Nilanjana Roy who described the results of a disease with which I am all too familiar.

Roy details the symptoms associated with “bibliomania” sparing the reader none of the graphic detail. The hours spent trawling bookshops in search of treasured quarry; entering the vendor’s lair intent on purchasing a single volume and leaving with three; an obsession with creating space for further bookshelves whilst forlornly rearranging the current system in hope of finding a little more room; perpetually making lists of recommended books identified in the pages of that which is currently being read; feeling acute irritation when forced to stay in a house devoid of even the most rudimentary literature (I try never to return). This author clearly has a significant problem and I find myself sympathising with her plight. Poor woman, I hear myself  saying aloud, how will she ever fit the next twenty years of books into so small a space? What other furnishings will have to go in order to accommodate more book cases?

But then I turn again to the pages in which she outlines the nature of this mania:-

“Collecting books is the same as looking up at the stars: you don’t want to own the stars, any more than you want to own books or the knowledge in them. All you hope to do is to brush the surface of wonder, to acknowledge that there is still, as an adult, some part of you that is always in awe of, and in love with, the world and the word.”

Oh my goodness – she’s talking about me! I too have the disease. Is there a cure? I certainly hope not!

Just re-read that paragraph above that was written by Nilanjana Roy. When an author uses prose as beautiful as this is there any wonder that the reader can become addicted? If this is true of you, be grateful. It is often better to live in your imagination than in the real world.

I’ll be back at Nagasri bookshop in April. I suppose I’d better take a larger suitcase and start rearranging the bookshelves here in my study.

Can we speak of “Mother India”?

The message is clear. No words that I provide can add to this message.

The message is clear. No words that I provide can add to its meaning.

 

In a speech to the United Nations made in September 2015 United States President Barak Obama stated that:-

“One of the best indicators of whether a country will succeed is how it treats its women. And I have to say I do not have patience for the excuse of, ‘Well, we have our own ways of doing things.’”

It should be regarded as appalling that in the twenty first century it is still necessary to be emphasising that in many parts of the world, and in many aspects of life, women still face challenges in terms of being treated with respect and having their basic human rights recognised. Far from having achieved equality, it is true to say that in many instances women and girls remain oppressed and discriminated against.

Yesterday morning, less than a mile from where I am staying in Jayanagar, Bangalore, I came across a wall displaying the paintings shown on this blog page. I was unable to distinguish the function of the building behind this wall as the only indication provided was in Kannada, a language with which I am totally unfamiliar. However, if a picture can tell a thousand words, I think these are more than eloquent in expressing some of the challenges that many women feel exist within Indian society today. Furthermore, I feel certain that these images would resonate with women, and those who empathise with their plight in many other parts of the world.

The treatment of women in India has come under the spotlight and been scrutinised by the media and through the courts on many occasions recently. The death of Jyoti Singh following a savage attack and rape by a gang on a Delhi bus in 2012 is one of the most brutal examples of the dangers that many women and girls face today. But whilst this extreme violence makes the news, inequalities in education and employment opportunities are less frequently debated, despite being an obvious feature of the local landscape. School dropout rate amongst adolescent girls in India remains unacceptably high, despite improvements in recent years, a recent health survey indicated that 56% adolescent girls (15-19 years) in India are anaemic, as against 30% adolescent boys, and the same report shows that girls in India have 61% higher mortality than boys at age 1-4 years. These figures will undoubtedly be disputed and debated, but appear to be a clear indictment of the inequality that exists in twenty first century India.

Fortunately, there are many people here in India as elsewhere who have not only recognised the inequalities perpetuated by a patriarchal society, but are taking action to draw attention to injustice and stand up for those who are subjected to humiliation and discrimination. In 2014 the second Men Engage Global Symposium was held in New Delhi, resulting in the publication of a document that has become known as the Delhi Declaration and Call to Action. The Delhi meeting proposed a number of activities to enable men and boys to debate and understand the impact of discrimination, and to demand a more equitable approach to ensuring women’s rights in all aspects of life. Amongst its most powerful assertions is the following:-

“Patriarchy affects everyone, but in different ways. Women and girls continue to face significant, disproportionately high levels of gender injustice and human rights violation. Men and boys are both privileged and damaged by patriarchy, but are rarely aware of that fact. Men and boys are also gendered beings. Gender equality brings benefits to women, men and other genders.”

The images from the streets of Jayanagar require no interpretation from myself. They are powerful enough to stand without commentary, my only concern being that they are in a back street of a Bangalore suburb and not more prominently displayed. I have a research student here in India whose work is  focused upon the low expectations which still impede the educational opportunities afforded to girls in some Indian communities. She speaks passionately of the benefits that she has gained through education and the support of a family that values the learning that she has gained. She is also conscious of the fact that many others continue to be denied the education that she has received, and she is determined to work as hard as she can to redress the balance.

Life for many women, both here in India and elsewhere, including my own country, has improved significantly. That does not excuse any of us from turning our backs on the many millions of others who still face danger, hardship and deprivation on a daily basis.

How much longer will women feel the need to depict their lives in this way?

How much longer will women feel the need to depict their lives in this way?

 

Also etc….

There is nothing predictable about the streets of Jayanagar

There is nothing predictable about the streets of Jayanagar

In Bangalore I never have to travel far to be surprised. The streets of Jayanagar are populated by colourful people and bright images, and I can guarantee each morning as I explore the lanes I will find something new that holds my gaze. This morning it was the kind of poster that I would never anticipate seeing on the streets of a European city.

I suppose that in the post-enlightenment era of the twenty first century, most Europeans have become distant from those beliefs and mystical claims that feel more attuned to an age of soothsayers and fortune tellers. For this reason it seems strange that posters such as that at the top of this page can be found in many locations around this area. This particular image caught my attention this morning, mainly for its bold assertion of being able to provide a solution to almost any problem you might care to name. Marital difficulties, bad debts and education are all listed as being within the domain of the advertising astrologer, who clearly has powers at which the rest of us can only marvel. I found myself reading this poster and wondering if I should contact this sage in order that he might address the persistent internet connection problems that have been a feature of my stay here in Bangalore this time.
I mentioned this advertisement to one of our students this morning, who asked me whether I had ever seen such notices posted in England. I had to inform her that I had not, and that it seemed unlikely that I ever would. However, I do believe that in many tabloid newspapers it is possible to find daily, or weekly horoscopes making claims about the likely outcomes for any Virgo, Capricorn or Pisces who cares to read them. I remember as a teenager being mildly amused by these harbingers of fortune that informed me that Thursday would be a bad day for financial transactions, but Saturday would bring joy in my love life, or other such predictions; though I never took any of this seriously. But here in India, the views of astrologers are regularly sought prior to making major decisions. Auspicious days are identified for all major events from opening a new business to setting dates for a wedding.
Whilst I am unlikely to engage with this pre-scientific approach to managing my life, I appreciate that there are others who hold great faith in such procedures. Whoever posted this advert clearly has great confidence in his ability, with the guaranteed immediate solution so prominently displayed. I wonder if they offer money back for bad predictions.
The feature of this poster that made me smile more than any other was the last phrase – “also etc”, a catchall phrase if ever there was one. As I continued my walk along the lane away from this advert, I found myself envisaging the wide range of problems that might arrive at the astrologer’s door today. Personally I would be grateful if he could do something about the noxious fume belching traffic that is choking the streets of Jayanagar, and while he’s on the task maybe also consider a way to make it possible to walk the pavements unobstructed. But then again, if that were to be achieved, it would be a miracle!

Rowing boats and navigating a safe passage

Look carefully. There's some serious learning going on here!

Look carefully. There’s some serious learning going on here!

Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a dream!

         (Traditional Children’s rhyme)

Between teaching two cohorts of students and running a training day for our research students here in Bangalore, we like to make the most effective use of our time. This sometimes means providing training sessions in either the schools where our students work, or in those of colleagues who provide support to our work here in the city. We are dependent upon the goodwill of so many friends in Bangalore and we are therefore always pleased to be able to give something back in kind to them and their schools.

Thus it was that yesterday a group of teachers and parents found themselves seated on the floor, rocking to and fro, whilst chanting the children’s rhyme that appears at the top of this posting. Later in the morning, the same group were playing a simple traditional Indian game of hop and catch, though restricted space somewhat limited the scope of this particular escapade.

If having read the above you are wondering what this has to do with the professional development provided to a school staff and parents, I probably owe you an explanation. Latha, who was one of the first students here in Bangalore to graduate from the MA programme, had asked that we visit her school to work with parents and colleagues to consider how early educational experiences can help children to become confident learners. We were more than happy to oblige, and suggesting that formalisation of education is being increasingly imposed upon children at an ever younger age, we decided to demonstrate the value of informal learning and to explore the uses of play.

Great fun was had by all as they experienced the kind of activities that we would hope all parents enjoy with their children. This was accompanied by more serious discussion about early years learning, the promotion of healthy child development and the importance of providing secure relationships between children, and for children and adults. We examined in some detail the many learning opportunities that exist outside of the classroom, and the importance of acknowledging that children learn much from people who are not formally designated as teachers. By the end of the day we had all reflected upon a unique learning experience, and promised to go away and encourage the children and adults in our lives to learn by being more playful.

Today was rather more formal, though also involved a number of enjoyable learning experiences. My good friend Savitha, who has been so supportive of our work in Bangalore, and is a fine example of someone committed to running an inclusive school, invited me to assist her staff in developing inclusive classroom planning strategies. Knowing of the great enthusiasm always exhibited by the staff of Pramiti school, it was easy to facilitate a range of practical tasks focused upon the children with whom they work.

Both of these days were not only rewarding, but were important to those of us who come here to offer the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme. Having rowed boats across very smooth waters, and navigated a route through classroom planning, we will now hoist sail and sally forth to work with our next group of students.

The teachers at Pri. .miti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

The teachers at Primiti School are amongst the most inclusive I have ever met. Not just in India, but anywhere

Monkey business and a critical campaign

A campaign that could make a real change in the lives of many children

A campaign that could make a real change in the lives of many children

In England if you wish to have good views of our native red foxes, the best place to seek them out is probably in the city. These sleek long tailed creatures were originally woodland and forest dwellers, and indeed many still live this lifestyle, but there are also large numbers that have become urbanised and have taken to living within our cities and towns. Indeed the foxes of Bristol have become so famous that they have featured in television documentaries as people have made them welcome in their gardens, watched the growth of their cubs, and walked along with them on the avenues and streets of that historic city.

The fox is a clever animal (often depicted as cunning in children’s stories) and may well have realised that he is less likely to be pursued by woefully sad people who take pleasure from chasing terrified creatures across the English landscape mounted on horseback, if he assumes a more urban identity.

In India I have often seen monkeys. Whenever I have visited the Valley school, surrounded as it is by forest, I have encountered troupes of these acrobatic mischief makers sauntering along the forest floor, sitting on rooftops or high in the canopies of the trees. I remember seeing monkeys sitting along the fence of a park as I travelled into the city from Delhi international airport, and I have caught glimpses of these creatures in Cubbon Park, here in Bangalore. But until today I had never met monkeys during my morning walk through Jayanagar. However, this morning, there they were marching down a lane towards me, all slinky swagger and mast high tails. Amongst their number was probably the most obese monkey I have ever see. The urban diet is clearly doing him no good!

This fellow should certainly go on a diet!

This fellow should certainly go on a diet!

Monkeys are not essential when it comes to finding interest on the streets of Jayanagar, where colourful posters and hoardings advertise everything from cosmetic surgery and ayurvedic health treatments, to website design and translation services. These often provide information overload, and in many instances their content passes me by without holding my interest beyond a few seconds. However, near Madhavan Park my attention was held by a large poster which announced a particularly important event.

I remember as a child that poliomyelitis, usually simply referred to as polio, was a terrifying disease causing terrible muscle weakness or even paralysis. I attended primary school with a boy who wore a leg caliper and had restricted mobility as a result of contracting this awful condition as an infant. In England now, instances of polio are fortunately rare, largely because of a national programme of immunization developed by the Polish immunologist Hilary Koprowski in 1950; if ever a man deserved to be lauded with honours and awards, it was surely this one.

The poster that arrested my gaze today announced two national immunization days and declared an intention to immunize every child under the age of five years. A second poster, with information in both English and Kannada, depicted a child being given the simple oral drops of the vaccine that will provide a life time of protection. Such posters provide a salutary reminder of the terrible health risks that still confront many children and families living in this country, particularly those from the economically disadvantages communities that form such a significant proportion of the population. The message conveyed is simple, but probably needs to be reinforced by education and other means of communication. However the word is spread, as I see many children and adults on the streets of Jayanagar who bear the scars of this disease, I hope that the campaign and its vital message has the desired effect.

DSC00347

As a postscript to this posting: For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, and have been kind enough to inquire. You will doubtless be pleased to hear that I am now fully clad in clean clothes, my laundry having returned from its extensive tour of the state of Karnataka!

Getting things off my chest!

If Munch needed inspiration he could find it alongside me in this hotel!

If Munch needed inspiration he could find it alongside me in this hotel!

Adjusting to local conditions is something I always accept as an important necessity when working outside of my own country and culture. Most experiences can be regarded as learning opportunities and with a little forethought and a positive attitude they are usually taken in my stride. Indeed it is often those events or conditions that are far removed from those familiar at home that add to the experience of working in previously unknown places.

I recall working in Turku in Finland with a good Finnish colleague when the temperature was minus 26 degrees. Walking less than a mile through the city to the venue where we were going to teach, my beard froze solid, forming icicles that hung down towards my chest, and my eyebrows were so stiff with rime that I could hardly move the muscles in my face. However, I also remember that the air was clear, the voices of children singing in the cathedral were very moving and the company excellent.

In China I have on occasions found that the challenges are of a dietary kind. Though I became quite adept at using chopsticks whilst working in Hong Kong, the wide ranging foodstuff that I am more used to seeing hopping around ponds, slithering through the long grass or climbing trees was not always to my taste in mainland China. Having been told that the noxious smelling fermented tofu, considered a delicacy by some, tasted better than it looked, I found that I had been unintentionally deceived. It may well have been a local speciality, but it most certainly was not to my taste. Despite this, I was able to laugh about this situation with Chinese friends, and enjoyed seeing city sights that were novel and interesting to my western eyes.

Here in India, having visited so many times, I have begun to feel inured to the crazy traffic, the obstacle course that appears where pavements should be, the late starts of meetings, and the mangy dogs that roam the streets. You know that you are comfortable in India when you find youself dozing off in the back of an autorickshaw. I love the variety within Indian food, and have learned to cope with all but the hottest days in Chennai. However, just when I began to think that I was fully acclimatised, my complacency found me out.

Power cuts, often associated with stormy weather are a not an unusual feature in India, and these are usually short in duration and manageable. Today, a series of such “outages” as some call them here, have been the order of the day, causing regular minor interruptions to sessions on the MA course. These are generally manageable, and of course, our excellent students are very tolerant. Whilst this is a small inconvenience, other issues since my arrival in the city have been much more of an irritation. It is a symptom of modern life, and more especially today’s working practices that we struggle when we have no internet access. Our lives are, in part, governed by emails, which everyone assumes provide a quick and easy form of communication between all parts of the globe. When such a facility is not available, which has been the case for most of the time when we are in our hotel after a day’s teaching, and hoping to catch up with work from home, it is possible to quickly become irascible.

Before I go any further, and begin to sound as if I am moaning, let me state that the hotel staff are all very pleasant people, and I am sure that they are doing their best to provide a service. We have internet access at the teaching venue, so we can, to some extent work around the lack of this facility at the hotel. Such a minor inconvenience I would normally take in my stride. But when this is coupled with the fact that my laundry has gone walkabout somewhere in the suburbs of Bangalore, I begin to feel the strain.

It is said that Mahatma Gandhi when he was so brutally assassinated owned two dhotis a shawl and a pair of sandals. This was more than adequate for his needs. This I say is all very well, but I am not a Mahatma, and whilst I am generally of a calm disposition, I do not have Gandhiji’s saintly characteristics, and my tolerance level is far less than his!

I have no doubt that before too long I will be laughing about what are, after all, a minor series of inconveniences. I know that this is far from my usual experience of staying here in this city, where people are always welcoming and eager to ensure every comfort. Above all, the pleasure gained from working with good colleagues and excellent students means that as always, being in Bangalore is a privilege and a positive experience. The teaching has been a pleasure, and the interaction with people, not only on the course, but during my morning walks around Jayanagar has been, as always, a delight.

Today I told our MA students that they should write something every day. That writing is a physical as well as a mental process that requires training and practice. Trying to lead by example I informed these eager learners that if I write nothing else today I will at least post something on this blog (internet allowing). Writing I suggested can be creative, is an aid to thinking, and provides opportunities to attempt to solve problems. I have just realised that it can also be cathartic and sometimes allow one to, as they say, “get things off one’s chest.”

Do I feel better for that – probably. But I’d still like to become reacquainted with my laundry!

If my laundry doesn't arrive sooon I shall be as naked as Rodin's thinker. Then they'll be sorry!

If my laundry doesn’t arrive sooon I shall be as naked as Rodin’s thinker. Then they’ll be sorry!

Streets enhanced by floral delights

Choose your colour or have a mixture of each. This lady will help you make your choice

Choose your colour or have a mixture of each. This lady will help you make your choice

It comes as no surprise in a land which presents a kaleidoscope of colours, that flowers play such an important role in the lives of people in India. Rainbow festooned stalls bearing flowers can be found on several of the back lanes of Jayanagar, as well as in the markets and outside many of the temples. On my early morning walks I sometimes pause and watch the stall holders arranging their multi-coloured blooms, which they invariably handle with pride and care, ensuring that they are displayed to great effect on their barrows.

Those without barrows squat on plastic sheeting on the ground, their humble posies displayed for every passer-by in hopes of attracting a few rupees from early commuters or those returning from the temples. I suspect that they have difficulties competing with those who appear to have a preferential position within yards of the temple doors, where I sometimes see both men and women purchasing offerings for a puja.

In some places magnificent garlands hang in splendour beneath makeshift awnings or from flimsy looking wires. Their heady scent fills the immediate vicinity and in the morning breeze drifts amongst the slowly waking streets. Once in Gandhi Bazaar, I watched two ladies seated on the pavement, threading flowers to make garlands such as these. I gave my full attention to these industrious craftswomen in the hope that I could gain some insights into the ways that they manipulated thread and flowers together, but the speed of their hands and the arachnid like dancing of their fingers meant that I was no wiser even after several minutes of observation. Furthermore throughout the whole of this dextrous performance these two skilled ladies were engrossed in conversation, barely watching the interaction between thread, flowers and fingers. This was motor learning of the highest quality. The dignity of such labour is easily overlooked, or worse than this, regarded as menial and of little worth. If you happen to think that this is the case, I challenge you to create such works of art as these two ladies managed from such simple materials.

Simple garlands, or works of art?

Simple garlands, or works of art?

On a few occasions when I have spoken at a conference or run a workshop in India, I have been presented with a small bouquet of flowers. This is a tradition much different from that in the UK where the giving of flowers to men is a rare event. Why this should be so, I have no idea. Surely men can appreciate flowers just as well as women, and I cannot imagine why such a simple and kindly gesture should be inhibited simply because of one’s sex.

Flowers adorn many vehicles in Bangalore. I have travelled in simple autorickshaws decorated with a pendulous garland strung across the windscreen. Cars often have small sprays hanging from their rear view mirrors, and I have even seen bicycles with floral decorations on their handlebars. Near the building where we teach the MA course there is a wedding hall, which when in use is adorned by an abundance of blooms, the hues of which would challenge even the most ambitious artist’s pallete.

Walking the streets I often note women with a small arrangement of jasmine worn neatly in their hair, the white and yellow petals dominant against black tresses, adding yet more colour to their traditional attire. Such seemingly small, but creative attention to detail is a feature of every use of flowers in this country.

Today I passed a jeweller’s shop where a team of men were arranging floral garlands around the window. On enquiring I was told that this was the first day of opening and that decoration of this grandeur was important to this significant event. Later, I was informed, a priest will arrive to perform a puja, on this auspicious day, and then the shop will be sure to trade successfully. I complimented the men on their work and wished them well for the remainder of the day, they appeared pleased that I had even noted their efforts, and even more so that I had offered my encouragement.

So many are the flowers around the streets of Jayanagar that it would be easy to ignore them as simply one more piece of street furniture along these crowded lanes. To do so would be to miss the creativity of those who lovingly arrange and sell them, and who most obviously take immense pride in their work.

No official event in India can be allowed to pass without flowers

No official event in India can be allowed to pass without flowers