(also known as Gita’s paradise)
10.01.2009 - 17.01.2009 26 °C
We made our way from Vellore to Chitoor where Nancy, our friend from Chennai, met us. It was about 40 minutes by car from Chitoor to Deenabanduparum, and we quickly realized we were getting further out into the country that we have been before. What a glorious village this is! What a treat to be well away from all the urban noise of Chennai, Vellore, Mysore and the other big cities we’ve visited.
Bara is Gita’s (our good friend from Victoria) younger sister, and what wonderful hosts she and her husband Ajeet are! Unlike most households, Ajeet is the main cook, and he has been fattening us up with all sorts of delightful dishes. We enjoy the conversations too, as Bara, Ajeet and their friend Nareen are all social workers, very concerned about the plight of the poor and minority groups. They also know lots about the history and culture of India… and we in turn are learning lots from them.
Deenabanduparum is in the state of Andra Pradesh, not Tamil Nadu, but the borders weren’t always drawn quite correctly, and most people here are Tamil speakers. The language of Andra Pradesh is Telagu, and many here also speak that as a second or third language.
Deenabandu means “friend of the poor” – it is a name given to a Scottish missionary who did good work here in the first half of the 20th century. He was a friend of Bara and Gita’s father, who thought Deenabandu would also make a good name for the haven that he and others worked to create. (Parum simply means village.) It is a wonderful thing that Bara and her family are able to continue his work.
It feels quite different from Childhaven here. For one thing, there is far more land – about 70 acres opposed to the 5 or less acres at Childhaven. As well as farmland, there are separate hostels for girls and boys, a school for standards (or grades) 4 through 10, a church, and a few buildings where adult education takes place/ or from which outreach programs and advocacy campaigns are organized. The biggest differences are the ample space here, the several adult oriented initiatives and the fact that there are almost no young children. The only exception is Aadhi, Bara and Ajeet’s adorable 3 year old son.
Without the young children, it took a little longer for our kids to connect with the kids here… but some good variations on tag and other physical games broke the ice. Since then, our kids have spent lots of time with the students, especially the girls. Without the college students, or even any kids in 11th and 12th standards, the level of English spoken here isn’t as good as it is in Kaliyampoondi, but they are managing to communicate fairly well. Our kids have successfully introduced some string games and many circle/song and/or clapping games to the kids here… and Kaya and Nadia have been dolled up in Saris, flower garlands and make-up a couple of times over. They have also learned several games played by the kids here, and are learning a tiny bit of Tamil. Emil always does well with the other kids, managing to connect as a bit of a tease, poking or mimicking the others, who urge him on to be even more of a clown with their laughter. He’s very popular!
Internet service here is very fickle, but as with everywhere in India, there are ample cell phone towers. We were happy to be able to call my grandma on her 100th birthday! And in a way, we’ve been celebrating too, as we timed our visit here for Pongal, the Tamil New Year and Harvest Festival. It is a 4 day festival and, as we have experienced it, more a family event than a community gathering. The first day is a day for cleaning out and burning things that are no longer necessary. The second day is Pongal itself – which means overflowing abundance. For this day, milk is heated in a ceramic pot over an open fire. After it has overflowed (boiled over), rice is added and once it is cooked, jaggery (raw sugar), cardamom and ghee are stirred in. Once the pongal is soft and fragrant, portions are dished out on banana leaves, and soon devoured. The third day is devoted to cows – their old ropes are replaced with new colorful ones and their horns are filed and then painted in bright colours. We had fun watching the process. The fourth day is meant to be a day to visit relatives, and the fifth a day to see something new.
We haven’t done much “sight-seeing” this past week, but it all feels pretty new. The landscape it dotted with gentle hills – we’ve hiked to the top of the closest one. (That’s a lie - it’s impossible to hike! Even in winter it is far too hot to move faster than a gentle stroll.) It’s also been wonderful to have access to bicycles again – we’ve done a few very pleasant sauntering circle routes through nearby villages and back. When Kaya and I went off together, we couldn’t resist invitations first to eat fresh papaya in a thatched roof hut belonging to a Christian family and then to drink tea in a far more prosperous Muslim household. We were also invited to help plant out rice seedlings and we’re a little sorry we didn’t go for it. I was a little feverish (again!) and felt I shouldn’t stand/sit in the paddy water… and besides we hadn’t brought a camera so knew we wouldn’t be able to record the momentous experience.
Between these lines, I’m sure you can read that we continue to meet amazing friendliness. Where people look stone faced (as they sometimes do), my goal is always to try to tease or charm a smile out of them and I usually succeed. Sometimes even out here in the boonies, we’ve been met by begging, but I often choose to misunderstand it. I suppose the presence of Deenabandhupuram has made some people feel dependent on hand-outs… or wish that they could be.
Helping others is always a fine balance, and Bara struggles to find the right balance. She also has the challenge of trying to keep funding agencies satisfied and, at the same time, find ways to actually meet the needs of the people (which aren’t always the same as the projects that can be funded.) I think she and her family do a very commendable job.