02 October; Udaya Convent School

Posted: 2 October 2017


On the outskirts of Ernakulam there is a very run down part of town. You might call it a slum. For the people who live there it is home, even though home may be a shack at the side of the road, that it is a precious, joyous place is evident in the faces of the people you pass on the street. 

Hidden in a corner of the busy Udaya Nagar Road there is a small schoolroom where every day sisters from the Udaya Convent, under the guidance of Sister Anisha, provide somewhere for children to go to play and sing and dance away from the busy main road on which most of them live.

I was met today by Susheela Pai, a popular, well known performer and teacher of classical Indian dance who gives freely of her time and talents to teach the children the importance of dance and movement. Her philosophy about the importance of movement is summed up simply in a story she tells in which a small boy was wondering why his grandmother was always lying in bed. ‘She has air to breathe, and water to drink and she is fed her food of choice and she is surrounded by family who love and care for her so why is it that she feels so low?’ Susheela ends the story by giving the answer. ‘Because there is no movement. People must keep moving. It s as important as the basic necessities of life.’

The children here were wonderful. Smiling and happy and eager and willing to learn new songs, even songs in a foreign language. I was able to sit with about 20 children, aged from about 5 to 13 or 14 and we went through some of my favourite children’s songs from Tom Paxton’s ‘Going to the Zoo’ to Woody Guthrie’s ‘Car, Car’ to what is fast becoming a favourite everywhere in Kerala, ‘Coulter’s Candy’, changed to Chocolate Candy for ease of understanding. Children here love chocolate and they love the song. 

Ally, bally, ally, bally bee,
Sitting on your ama’s knee.
Crying for one rupee
To buy some chocolate candy

As we were getting to the end of our time together it was decided that I had to be taught a song in the local language of Malayalam, the only palindromic mother tongue in the world. It was a song about building a boat from the wood of the flower tree. 

Njanum, njanum, endalum,
Aa naalpadhu perum,
Poomaram kondu kapplundakki. 

Which translated means;

Me and my people,
Those forty people,
Made a boat out of the wood of the flower tree.

All things considered I think I managed not too bad.

In the film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, the unhappy Jean Ainslie (Penelope Wilton), recoiling in horror in India and retreating into a bitter negativity, asks Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) what it is he likes about India and what is it he can see that she cant. Dashwood replies, ‘ The light, the colours, the smiles. The way people see life as a gift and not a right. All life is here.’ Later on in the film Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) says, ‘India hits you like a wave. If you resist you will be knocked down. But if you dive into it, you will be all right.’

Everywhere you look in India you see that light and colour and those smiles. At every corner there is a potential wave coming right at you. Waves that take the form of sights and sounds and smells, some you wish you had no experience of, but waves that will knock you flying unless you meet them head on and dive in. And when you come up for air you know that whatever the wave it has enriched your life.


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