Indian colleagues, leading the research agenda

Researchers experienced and novice work together to develop an understanding of educational issues.

Researchers experienced and novice work together to develop an understanding of educational issues.

 

In recent months an exciting new venture for our work in promoting inclusive education in Bangalore, has been the development of a small cohort of research students who are registered to study for a PhD with the University of Northampton. These are, for the most part, students who have completed their MA programme with us in Bangalore and have already produced work of exceptional quality for their postgraduate dissertations. Indeed, some of their work has been published in reputable research journals and their investigations have attracted interest beyond India. These enthusiastic investigators have been busy of late generating formal research proposals and submitting these for the scrutiny of university committees that oversee research quality and ensure ethical practice.

For those of us involved in supervising the work of these students and providing an appropriate training programme, both during our visits to Bangalore and at a distance, this development brings new opportunities and challenges. It has always been our intention to support colleagues in the promotion of a new generation of skilled researchers who can assist in moving inclusive education forward in this part of India and we are delighted to have recruited colleagues of such outstanding quality. However, we are also aware of the currently limited opportunities that exist for these colleagues to become fully immersed in an education research culture such as that which exists in the UK and much of Europe. We are though, fully committed to the process of assisting our students to change this situation, and have every confidence in their abilities to play a leadership role in the near future.

I have been thinking about these challenges over the past couple of days, my attention having been drawn to an article written in an Indian financial magazine called Mint, by Anurag Behar who is from the Azim Premji Foundation. Under the headline Researching Education, Behar argues that there should be both an increase in educational research in India, and a realignment of focus to ensure that we can gain greater insights into both the role and effectiveness of the teacher, and a deeper understanding of education in a social context. The article is clearly written for a lay audience, but makes a number of astute observations about the current lack of understanding of education provision in the country and the ways in which it may promote positive social and economic change.

A number of expressions in this interesting piece of journalism provide evidence of the thoughtful approach adopted by Anurag Behar. At one point he suggests a specific role for educational research when he states that:-

“with experience and rigorous reflection, one can arrive at relevant (let’s call them) operating principles that can help in flexibly responding to multiple contexts and situations. Given our dynamic social reality, even these need constant critical interrogation”.

He then goes on to suggest some quite specific questions, listing some of what he sees as being current priorities:-

“how can the capacity of our 8.5 million teachers, who have a full-time job, be improved within the constraints and diversity of our education system and social reality? How does community engagement with schools become effective? How can schools foster constitutional values? How should schools be governed, recognizing fully that simplistic, industrial-mindset governance mechanisms are not only ineffective but also harmful to good education? How do we deal with the rot in the pre-service teacher education system?”

As I read Behar’s short article, I wondered how many colleagues working within schools and universities in India would agree with the arguments he puts forward. Those of us who endeavour to keep abreast of educational research in India, are often frustrated by the apparent belief that large scale surveys are the only means of providing useful data. Such work requires significant funding which is not available to either the practitioner researcher, or to many who would wish to engage with the kinds of questions that Anurag Behar would have prioritised. The value of smaller scale studies focused upon the specifics of pedagogy and classroom management is largely denied by those in positions of authority and power in the Indian education system. In concluding his article he suggests that:-

“Research in education must focus on the real and important issues within education. This requires educators themselves to become adept at asking and answering research questions, rigorously and systematically. If educators take responsibility for research, it will definitely cause a quiet revolution in education research and education itself”.

I find myself totally in agreement with this last statement, and hope that Behar’s views may be heeded by those who oversee educational research in India. Our young enthusiastic researchers in Bangalore have already proven themselves, along with many of their peers who have completed small scale research for a post graduate qualification. They have developed research skills and utilised these as they have investigated the realities of classroom life, and the challenges faced by teachers, students and families. Their commitment to the promotion of change and the development of a more equitable society is one of the most important stimuli that encourages myself and my colleagues in our work in Bangalore. In reading the article from Anurag Behar I am heartened to see that others are recognising the importance of fostering a research culture that is clearly focused upon schools, teachers, children and families. Such arguments further justify the work being undertaken by our excellent students and will, I hope encourage them towards ever greater achievements.

Floral artistry of the highest quality

DSC00742

 

Until this morning I was totally in ignorance of the Bengaluru Karaga festival that takes place here in Bangalore. Yet another indication of how little I really understand about this city, but also another one of those delightful discoveries that seem so frequently to occur during these visits.

Early morning is most certainly the only time to walk the streets of Jayanagar during this period of excessive and oppressive heat. As has often been the way during my stay in fourth block, this morning I crossed the road and made my way through the lanes that form the hinterland around the hotel where I am staying. These have become familiar over the years, and I now recognise the faces of regular walkers and inhabitants of these streets, yet they can still serve up an occasional surprise.

Walking along a familiar lane, which I know to lead past an often colourful temple, I could see, well before reaching this shrine, that the road appeared much narrower and even more colourful than usual. The closer I got to the temple, the more apparent it became that something extraordinary was under way. To my delight, on arrival I found a collection of the most beautifully adorned trailers with floral displays and decorated idols all being prepared for a parade around the district.

DSC00749

I have written before on this blog about the craftsmanship that is evident in the use of flowers in this city, but today’s exhibition truly excelled. Floral sculptures of this quality are not easily achieved, and one can only wonder at the dedication of those who have created these amazing labours of love. Sadly, I will not be able to see the kaleidoscopic parading of these floats. I can well imagine the accompanying music and the flash of fireworks that will be an essential part of this traditional and long standing celebration. Rather than expect you to imagine the beauty and creativity that I enjoyed this morning, I will let you judge for yourself the quality and skill of the craftsmen who created these wonderful artefacts.

CLICK ON ANY OF THE IMAGES TO ENLARGE

Balmy Nights and Dosa Delights

Good food, good company and a cooling roof fan

Good food, good company and a cooling roof fan

In all the years that I have been visiting Bangalore I have never experienced heat such as that which is singeing the city at present. I associate a hot sticky atmosphere with some of the times I have spent in Chennai, where the humidity means that it is normal to be drenched in sweat, but the Bangalore climate is generally less oppressive.

This week, by mid-morning the temperatures are usually in the high thirty’s and I find myself grateful for the air conditioning in the room where we teach. It is noticeable that some students have taken a strategic view of the situation and locate themselves where the full blast of cold air can be encouraged to sweep across them. I usually find air conditioning somewhat oppressive as it dries the atmosphere causing my throat to tighten after a long period of teaching, but during this visit I have come to see it as a blessing. However, with the entire city seeking solace from the AC machines, the Bangalore power suppliers are unable to cope with demand. The resulting power cuts, which have been frequent in recent days shut down the cooling systems, meaning that once again we swelter in the heavy atmosphere.

Night time is a challenge. I cannot sleep with the air conditioning blasting in the room. It is noisy and the constant drying of the air leaves me dehydrated. Switch it off and the heat takes over. Most nights I lie on top of the bed, waking several times to drink water and seek the comforts of a rub down with a towel. Such mild discomforts are, of course, a minor price to play when measured against the work with which it is a privilege to engage here in India.

My good friend Sumathi tells me that when the climate becomes so oppressive in her house, she takes a sheet, soaks it in water, wrings it out, and hangs it across an open window. This has a significant impact in cooling the room. It sounds like a positive intervention, but I suspect that if I try it here, the hotel management may well be less than pleased.

It was in the company of Sumathi and her husband Ravi, along with Pooja and Darshan that we ate last night at one of the four MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) that grace this city, MTR 1924. These simple, but delightful emporia, which as the date suggests, have operated for the best part of a century, serve some of the finest dosa to be found anywhere. I had previously eaten at MTR near the Lal Bagh, and it was a great experience to be taken to this different outlet in Jayanagar. It was clearly Sumathi and Ravi’s intention that we should try as much of the menu, which offers a vast range of South Indian cuisine, as we could possibly manage. As a consequence the table was soon adorned with masala dosa, rava dosa, neer dosa, bhath, plain dosa and assorted chutneys. A feast for the eyes, the stomach and the soul. Good company, good food, good conversation, and all under the breeze of efficient roof fans – what more could one wish from an evening after a busy day of teaching. Indian hospitality is always warm and welcome, the weather here is hot, but something that simply has to be accepted.

Riding shotgun on an auto-rickshaw

Not promoted to co-pilot, but driven to desperate measures!

Not promoted to co-pilot, but driven to desperate measures!

 

There have been many volumes written about the epic voyages of lone sailors such as Francis Chichester and Helen MacArthur, countless books about the great polar explorers like Wally Herbert and Roald Amundsen. It is even possible to buy accounts of far less substantial journeys such as a ramble along the Pennine Way, or cyclists riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Why then are there no best sellers describing the adventures of the auto-rickshaw drivers of Bangalore?

Yesterday, I learned (alas too late) a most useful expression in Hinglish, that redoubtable hybrid comprising the butchered use of a combination of any Indian language and English. You can find Manglish spoken in Kerala, Tamlish in Chennai and Teleglish in Hyderabad, but Hinglish seems to be a collective term used to describe any linguistic marriage of the Indian vernacular and the old colonial tongue. “I should, ” I was informed use the expression “wrong roado;” definitely not “wrong roada?” which apparently is  a question directed only towards the most proficient auto rickshaw navigator, but specifically “wrong roado,” an assertive statement which translates roughly as “you are travelling in the wrong direction, you are clearly lost, where on earth are you going?”

Over the years I have experienced many adventures in these essentially Asian vehicles. I recall for example, my good friend and colleague Johnson advising me that an auto-rickshaw was undoubtedly the only advisable  mode of transport in which we should travel to a “local”special school in Kerala.  One and a half hours later, prising my battered form out of the cramped vehicle, having negotiated a thousand potholes, many muddy tracks and not a few hair raising manouvres in and out of traffic, I found myself wondering why a taxi would have proven a less efficient means of travel to this destination. By the time my body had re-established some form of equilibrium, several hours later, it was time to repeat the odyssey  in the other direction, an experience that I hardly relished throughout my visit to the school.

On another occasion, late at night, once again with Johnson (is there a pattern emerging here I wonder?), the auto in which we were travelling collided with a rather large dog. Sadly, the dog came out of this experience somewhat worse than ourselves and our driver appeared more concerned that we should recognise his skill in keeping the vehicle upright on the road than he was for the welfare of the poor beast. I could go on regaling you with tales of drivers who seemed to be auditioning for a stunt role in the latest Bond movie, or others who appeared to be a pale imitation of the racing driver Fangio. I could further bore you with recollections of vehicles that have broken down and others that have made stately progress whilst emitting a cloud of thick black oily smoke. But let me instead bring you up to date and explain why the expression “wrong roado” could have been particularly useful had I known it yesterday morning.

The journey from the hotel where we stay to the venue in which we teach is, theoretically straight forward. I have walked the route on numerous occasions and can usually complete my perambulation in less than half an hour. However, some mornings, with heavily loaded bags weighing us down, we choose to travel by auto-rickshaw. Yesterday was such a day, and having successfully hailed a passing pilot (not always as easy as it may sound) David and I climbed aboard bound for a day’s teaching. At first all was well, but then the driver took a turn down one of the narrow streets with which I am familiar  from my morning walks. In my naivety I assumed that perhaps road works or traffic difficulties had warranted a diversion. However, within moments it became clear that this was yet another example of a driver whose inbuilt satellite navigation system was dysfunctional. Very gently (at first) I suggested to him that we were not en-route for our desired destination. My lack of Kannada (or at this point, even the appropriate Hinglish) did not assist the situation. With an all too familiar head shake the driver ignored my comments and proceeded quite happily in what I knew to be totally the wrong direction. “Madhaven Park,” I politely suggested. “Madhaven Park,” the driver replied, this time nodding in affirmation, but still progressing away from the requested terminus.

Eventually we arrived at the gate of the Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens, a venue that under normal circumstances I would be delighted to visit, but on this occasion,  being  some considerable distance from our intended destination I was less than joyful. The time had come for affirmative action. Locating myself on the narrow front seat beside the driver I decided that sign language, and indeed using the boldest of gestures, was clearly justified. Thus it was that having gently pointed the driver in the right direction and indicating with a frantic waving of arms at each junction we finally arrived at the teaching venue. On arrival the  driver  appeared  even more relieved than ourselves. This may have been something to do with ridding himself of the Englishman who had elected to ride shotgun, though personally I was somewhat disappointed that he didn’t offer me a more permanent position riding as navigator to prevent other similar situations arising.

In truth, I am a great admirer of the auto-rickshaw drivers of Bangalore. They have a refined spatial awareness, generally display a cheery countenance, and are paid very little for offering an essential service. Incidentally my latest excursion was with a driver who knew exactly which route to take, avoided many of the potholes and all of the dogs and delivered us promptly and efficiently to the door. Polar explorers, lone sailors, mountaineers, intrepid all – but let’s not forget these warriors of the roads of Bangalore.

 

Smile, you’re on camera!

New found friends on the streets of Jayanagar

New found friends on the streets of Jayanagar

 

It has been a while since I posted anything on this blog. Sometimes other writing commitments have to be prioritised and of late I have been running to catch up. But being back in Bangalore working with students and colleagues inevitably prompts new thoughts and offers rich experiences.

First impressions of India tend to remain embedded in the mind. When here, I often recall the searing blast of heat, the chaos of traffic and the brightness of colour that hit my senses on first arriving in Chennai in 2000. This was a real shock to the senses, and one that repeats itself daily whilst in this country. On this current visit I have a colleague with me who is making his first visit to India, and I am sure that in years to come he will be recounting the similar sensory assault that greeted him yesterday.

In order to assist his acclimatisation, soon after arriving in Jayanagar I took David for a short walk (it would have been even shorter had I not become lost in the backstreets!) around the winding lanes of the district. Pointing out familiar landmarks and introducing him to the rich tapestry of the street vendors and their multi-coloured palette of assorted goods, I soon found him indulged in one of his favourite passtimes of taking copious photographs. As I observed David happily clicking at his shutter and making subtle adjustments to the camera lens in order to frame the right image, I knew that before long the inevitable crowd of photogenic enthusiasts would  gather.

Whether it is something to do with our current egocentric era of superficial celebrity; one which  has given birth to that most ubiquitous utensil of self egrandisement – the “selfie stick”, or simply a generous attempt to to give the tourists a warm welcome, I’m not sure. But exactly as I would have predicted, within minutes we were surrounded by a group of young men and boys, all eager to be part of the scene and a central feature of at least one, and preferably multiple photographs. Looking slightly bemused David found himself required to frame photographs of the “other foreigner” in the company of these local celebrities who clearly relished the thought that they may now feature amongst the many pictures that comprise David’s family album back home in England.

Such trivial incidents amuse me, not because of any great significance, but more because of the simple humanity displayed by local people who feel the need to engage with visitors to their community. The desire to communicate and to relate to other human beings is a natural instinct, but one which is often ignored or even suppressed. As we rush about our busy lives we pass thousands of individuals on the street who can easily become a nameless blur of humanity. Taking a little time to stop and share a moment with a stranger, or simply saying hello with a smile can go some way to restoring the sociability that has traditionally formed a bond within and between communities. Five minutes pause for an unplanned photograph can be time well invested if it sends a message that, though our lives and experiences are vastly different, we share many of the social characteristics that have informed all of our communities. Hearing the laughter of the gathered crowd, and trying to interpret the content of their conversations which I am sure involved a number of harmless jokes at our expense, I was particularly impressed by the ease with which these youngsters felt able to make friendly contact with  strangers who had chanced upon their street.

Once again over the coming days I will try and fail to understand many of the features of people’s lives here on the streets of Jayanagar. It may be impossible for me to gain a true picture of the experiences of those I meet, but in my failed attempts I can at least ensure that my efforts are accompanied by a smile.

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.

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!

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

Landmarks and Locals

The "Green Mosque" (hopefully) an ever present landmark in the lanes of Jayanagar

The “Green Mosque” (hopefully) an ever present landmark in the lanes of Jayanagar

One of the advantages of my early morning strolls around the streets of Jayanagar is that I have gradually built a mental map of the area around the hotel where we stay. Bangalore is a vast and confusing city, and even getting to grips with Jayanagar fourth block demands a certain mental dexterity. Furthermore, just as I feel I am getting to grips with the area, something changes and I find myself having to reset my compass as I set forth into uncharted lanes.

In England navigation is relatively straight forward. Streets have names, usually clearly displayed on street corners. With a few notable exceptions, once a building is in place it remains there; in some cases for hundreds of years. Here in Bangalore the shifting sands of development mean that every time I come here a new building appears, or an old one disappears. Furthermore, whilst streets are labelled as mains or crosses they sometimes appear to defy logic and I rarely find this system to be a navigational aid. Simply knowing that I am on 12th Cross offers little comfort, and is so unlike a friendly Acacia Avenue, Bilberry Road or Gladstone Street. When asked to give directions in an English town with which I am familiar, this always seems like a reasonable request. The same demand in Bangalore would tax my brain and in all probability result in me sending an innocent soul up a blind alley.

Fortunately there are a few immovables here in Jayanagar that have a certain permanence to them. I find that temples and mosques are particularly helpful. The local bus depot and a couple of large colleges also help; the Ashoka Pillar and of course the Lal Bagh appear reliable, but beyond these features I am always cautious. In various locations there are excellent wall paintings, for instance one depicting Nehru and Gandhi seated together (copied from a famous photograph) and another of a flying Hanuman. These have been in place ever since I started exploring the streets of Jayanagar. But I am ever conscious of the fact that they could so easily be erased.

Overconfidence can soon become my downfall on these morning walks. This morning was a case in point. I found myself standing at what I call the “Green Mosque” (simply because of its green and white décor), a place with which I am comfortably familiar, though I could never give directions to anyone wishing to locate this interesting building. From here, or so I thought, my way back to the main road on which the hotel is located is simple. Walk past the temple with colourful gopuram, turn left at the blue building and walk to the junction where there are always colourful film posters. From here the route is straight forward – or so I believed. Fifteen minutes later, when I found myself again standing before the opposite side of the “Green Mosque” to that visited earlier, I was mystified as to how I had apparently completed a circle having made no progress towards my destination.

Contemplating the nature of being lost, and after much speculative wandering, I came upon the cause of my confusion. How was I to know that the blue building would, since my last visit have been painted yellow? And whose decision was it to start pasting those film posters on a different wall? Ah well, this is all part of the joy of exploration, and a reminder not to become too complacent about my understanding of this complex maze of lanes.

I have a slight suspicion that I have been recognised by a number of the local inhabitants of the back streets of fourth block. This morning, as is common in this friendly district, several people smiled and one elderly gentleman greeted me with a welcoming namaskar. I suppose I am easily recognised as a European stranger on these streets. Perhaps it was just my own insecurities showing, but I feel sure that when I reached the “Green Mosque” for a second time this morning, a group of men gathered at the roadside were shaking their heads, sniggering and saying to each other, “there he is again, completely lost, and not for the first time.”

I suppose I could have approached these amused bystanders and asked them for directions. But I suspect that this might have resulted in me being even more disorientated than was already the case.

Tomorrow I will venture in another direction, probably past the bus station and the Jain temple (assuming they are still there). Of one thing I am certain there will, as ever, be plenty to explore and try to understand on the streets of Jayanagar.

Hanuman is flying, and therefore I am not relying on him as a navigational aid in Jayanagar

Hanuman is flying, and therefore I am not relying on him as a navigational aid in Jayanagar

In the world of sleeping watchmen

Early morning newspaper sorting. With regulation balaclava to keep ears warm in 10 degree temeperature.

Early morning newspaper sorting. With regulation balaclava to keep ears warm in 10 degree temperature.

The second night in Bangalore is always the worst. On the first night, after arrival in the city and following a long day of travelling, I usually manage to stay awake until around ten o’clock before collapsing into bed and sleeping through until around seven the next morning. But for some reason once I reach night two, my body rebels. My inbuilt clock tells me that something is amiss, and when my brain wants to sleep my body resists. So it is that I spend night two, fitfully between sleeping, turning in the bed, getting up and reading and occasionally even writing. All of this matters little as tonight, being night three, I will sleep.

As a result of this undesired restlessness, I was out for my morning promenade today earlier than I would usually countenance. Before the earliest appearance of the sun, the morning scream of squirrels and the whirling black kites, I found myself exploring the nearby lanes of Jayanagar. This early morning ritual is a valued personal time before the chaos of the Jayanagar streets and the business of the day begins. A time to think without too many interruptions, and to observe the life of this effervescent district of the city.

Those few souls who were on the streets at 6.00 am this morning were huddled in blankets, as they shuffled about their early morning business. Men in balaclavas and women, shawls bound tight around their heads and shoulders, shivered in the reluctant new dawn. All this, whilst I, an Englishman recently arrived from freezing climes, enjoyed these most comfortable temperatures of the day. I noted at one point an elderly man seated on the roadside, peering from beneath a colourful blanket, watch me as I passed. He shook his head in apparent disbelief, before returning to his hibernation. I suspect he thought it madness that an Englishman in tee shirt and lightweight trousers had ventured out so poorly clad in a temperature of only ten degrees.

One feature of these early walks is the many sleeping watchmen who huddle in the doorways of shops and businesses. Notionally on guard, these nocturnal workers cut a shabby sight as they lie like discarded piles of old rags beneath a jumbled arrangement of multi-coloured cloth, or sit with knees beneath their chins on plastic chairs dozing towards the end of a long night’s duties. I find myself wondering how skilled a burglar would need to be to pass unnoticed beyond these snoozing security men. Would they spring to life in order to apprehend the creeping villain, or might they simply slumber on? I like to think that they dream sweet dreams, but I suspect like my personal second night in Bangalore, every night is passed in a restless shuffling for these men.

There is a road near here that in my mind I have labelled newspaper avenue. Here every morning, men can be seen sorting the day’s newspapers ready for delivery to houses or to local vendors. Squatting on the pavement, heaps of newsprint before them they count and neatly arrange their wares into bundles, adding supplements and advertising junk, occasionally handing them up to a two wheeled delivery man who sets off for his daily rounds. Like others on the streets at this hour these workers are wrapped against the morning chill. As I passed today a cow, having neatly removed a single newspaper from a pile was being shooed away by a paper sorter whose momentary lack of vigilance had enable this bovine vagabond to take advantage. Cows in England do not, as far as I am aware, read newspapers. I suspect that this may also be true of the cows of Jayanagar, and that this particular black and white beast was intent on a more literal devouring of the news. Before too long the newspaper men’s work will be done, and hopefully like me they will be bound for breakfast before the commencement of another busy day.

It’s good once more to be walking the early morning streets of Jayanagar; to have the space to think, to observe and hopefully to learn.