06 October; Udaya Convent School

Posted: 9 October 2017

I was wakened about two o’clock by the mother and father of all thunderstorms. My homestay is across the street from the Indian Navy’s gunnery school and for a few minutes I thought that perhaps we were in the middle of some night time training exercise. 
     I lay and listened to the magnificent storm raging outside, illuminating my room with unfailing regularity. Between the tympani of thunder claps and lightning flashes I could hear the rain pounding down outside. I lay listening for a while wondering whether or not it would be wise to go up onto the roof to experience the storm first hand when suddenly my alarm clock went off and it was 7.30. I had been lulled to sleep by a thunderstorm.
     Expectantly I rushed out to the balcony, expecting to see torrents of water cascading down the road only to discover that everything was just as it was with no sign of any storm. Maybe I had dreamt the whole thing.
     ‘Did you enjoy the storm last night?’ asked Philip as he served me some Masala eggs.
     ‘I was beginning to think I had imagined it. It all looks the same.’
     ‘That is how it always is. Rain and storms at night. Nothing to see the next day. The ground here is so hard and baked that it just soaks up the water like a sponge.’

     After breakfast I got a taxi back to the Udaya Convent School. I wanted to take a walk and have a look around the neighbourhood so I got there about an hour early. As I am getting out of the taxi I check the temperature, mid morning and its already 31 degrees centigrade. Outside the heat hits you like a sledgehammer and I begin to wonder if a walk is such a good idea.

     In 1957 Kerala’s Legislative Assembly was amongst the first states to return a democratically elected Communist government and as you walk along Udaya Nagar Road it is clear that the Communist Party still has huge support. Hammer and sickle flags are evident everywhere but here, in one of the poorest parts of Kochi, the people you meet are quick to tell you they are tired of the old systems and the need for change. 

     ‘It is either the Communist Party or the Congress Party,’ says Mr Khan, who makes a living recycling cardboard. ‘The Communist Party and the Congress just fight each other ad do nothing for the people. It is time to give the BJP, the Baharatiya Janata Party, a chance.’
     ‘Will that make things better?’ I ask him.
     He shrugs. ‘It can’t be much worse,’ and he waves his arm up and down the street.

     In such poverty and squalor you might think it would be difficult to find any joy anywhere, but the human spirit is made of sterner stuff. In the street people greet me as I walk past. Women, elegant in their colourful saris, standing in groups talking and smiling, nod to me as their beautiful children gather round looking up at me with big, brown laughing eyes

     ‘Hello, sir,’ they say.
     ‘Good morning,’ I reply. 
     ‘You from?’
     ‘From Scotland.’
     ‘Ah Scotland. Very beautiful country.’ 

     In the school room, after singing with the children, I decide that I would like to take a series of portraits and with the help of Esha, a young volunteer with the most amazing voice, we get them lined up.

Having your photograph taken is a serious business and they are all very excited. Eventually we get through them and I have a unique portfolio of  young people who will never see their portrait but they are all, each and every one of them, a valued contributor and I thank them. 


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