Chamundi Hill

Chamundi Hill

After we left the jungle, we spent three days in Mysore. We admired Maharaja’s palace and his art collection. We went up Chamundi hill in an auto rickshaw which broke down leading us to hop on to , what I am slightly ashamed to say was our first Indian bus and we bought most of the tourist trinkets in the city to give to you when we get back, so you can give them to a jumble sale in a few months: all grist to the mill of the global economy.

Mysore was very pleasant, eerily traffic jam fee- with the main streets arranged in wide tree lined avenues. I imagine that this is due in a large part to the Maharajas who struck me, on the evidence of their palace and art collections, to have been an interesting bunch- especially the recent one, Krishnaraja: I like to imagine him, dressed like he was in his portraits with head to toe silk and jewels, drinking tea in his hareem from the porcelein tea set with hand painted scenes of County Donegal.

The current palace is splendid. It was rebuilt by the British Architecht, Henry Irwin after the previous one, which was made of wood, burnt down after a birthday feast. It is the same age as our house, with very similar floor and wall tiles- though the similarity ends there. Having said that, I was impressed by the freize on the walls down stairs in the palace which showed in beautiful and minute detail, the Dussera Festival parade through the streets of Mysore. The paintings were done from photographs, some of which had keys beneath so you could identify the individual soldiers and horse/elephant riders. I did think that the Uxbridge Road would make an excellent wall frieze for the corridors of our house. I could people it with my friends in ceremonial dress- though I’d need to learn to paint first so you have some time to work out your costume. Martha, Alfie and George liked the palace very much and solemnly made their way through the audio guide with great thoroughness.

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We left Mysore on the night train to Chennai and then paid about four times the actual rate for a taxi from the station to Mahabalapuram. On the way Ben bought me two gold bangles from a big jewellery shop, so he need no longer feel ashamed of me. I am ashamed to admit how pleased I am with my gold bangles and how much I am enjoying hearing them clink about on my wrist.

Yesterday we went to pay our farewell visit to SEED which didn’t turn out quite as planned. We had imagined we would turn up, sort out the bags of books we were leaving for the library, explain and hand over the other things we had for them, distribute gifts, chat, drink tea, say good bye to our friends and then come back to Ideal Beach for an early night, ready for packing and getting ready to fly home. When we got to SEED it turned out we were actually off to Chennai Central Jail to perform the Cultural Programme.

Initially just Ben was going to go, but then it turned out that most of the Harlan children’s friends were in the cultural programme so we all squished into the small bus leaving our driver from the hotel here sitting under a tree, with assurances that we would be back by 6.30p.m.: because the prisoners would be locked up at 4.30, so the programme would have to end then.

We only left SEED at 2.20 and by the time we arrived, very hot and thristy, at the prison, it was 4p.m. Mr Palinasamy disappeared inside the jail and we waited in the shade outside, Ben and I expecting him to come out, as happened at Vellore Jail, and say that we were too late and we’d have to go home- but no! I don’t know if they made a special exception for us but at 4.45p.m. we went into the Jail to prepare for the cultural programme.

The jail was really very nice. We sat under and embroidered awning in a shady encalve which had “Civil Debtor’s Prison” written on the wall, but was also the prisons’ newly opened bakery. The bakery produces bread in packets which say, (oddly) “FREEDOM” and miraculously to relate, taste like English Bread. The children from SEED were not pleased with the Freedom Bread which I imagine they found unusually unsugary but Martha, Alfie and George were delighted and ate nearly a whole packet each. A large crowd of prisoners collected around George and Alfie to watch them eat these ludicrous quantities of bread- Alfie told all the prisoners that his name was Raja Killi and answered questions about cricket with impressive bravado. George was, as ever, the star turn and had woken up from a refreshing snooze on the sweltering bus in an entertaining frame of mind. There was quite a long period during which the prisoners milled about and massed in large gangs around the children- I have never been in a prison before so I don’t know if this is normal, I rather imagine not.

The cultural programme was a triumph. Ben’s choir performed beautifully, the children did lovely dancing- though I still can’t get my head around the karikal dance, which involves balancing a gold thing with a plasitc parrot on your head and picking up 100rupees with your eyelid- but the highlight was the performance of Martha’s play of Little Red Riding Hood. The prisoners loved little Red Riding Hood- they particulaly like the wood cutter, complete with cardboard axe made by Paramasvilli, and the wolf. Marth said to Ben afterwards that she thought they liked the wolf because he was bad and they were bad: an interesting reflection, I thought. When the play was over Mr Palinasamy brought the authoress out on stage and everybody applauded her. George, who was watching the show on my knee, turned to me and said “Now can I write a play so that I can go on the stage too?” I suggested that he go and play London Bridge on the keyboard, but just as he was heading off to do it the show was over. All the prisoners wanted to pick George up and pass him about but he held on to me very tight and confided in my ear that he was concerned that they might get put back in their cells and he would be swept off with them for a life of imprisonment, by mistake, whilst we went home. I pointed out to him that they were wearing white shorts and polo shirts and he was wearing a blue t-shirt with a velociraptor on it- so there was no way they could get confused, but I don’t blame him for not relaxing his grip on me.

The prisoners cooked us Sambar and Chappati for tiffin and Ben chatted to a man about the glories of Southern India, who told him he was only there because of an “accidental murder”. The prison seemed, on the strength of the three hours we spent there, to be a lovely clean, civilised place and I couldn’t help thinking it looked a lot nicer than living under a tarpaulin next to a road, as many people seem to here- perhaps I am missing the point.

The way home to SEED was much cooler than the way there and the bus had a festive atmosphere. We sang all the English songs the children knew as loud as we could and they sang some Tamil ones too. We arrived back at SEED at 9p.m. but our hotel driver seemed good humoured about our lateness- I imagine he had had a nice afternoon under the tree with the ladies from SEED bringing him chai and boiled chickpeas.

We failed to do any of the sorting out we had intended to do and we handed out the presents to a grave faced assembly of staff and children. None of the things we had bought seemed quite the right thing- but it may just have been that we were all feeling sad and tired. Martha sobbed and sobbed as we drove away, and I cried a bit and so did some of the children. There seemed to be no proper way of saying goodbye and thank you to so many people who had been so kind to us and looked after us so well for two whole months. I have been telling myself that it’s ok because we will go back, so it wasn’t really a goodbye anyway, more of a “see you later” – “later” is not going to be any time soon though. I feel like I am really going to miss the staff and the children from SEED, like I have missed my friends from home, whilst I’ve been here. I think it will just take a bit of distance and time to get it all in perspective again.

So today we pack, one last time and get ready to come home. I wish I was feeling more joyful about it. I’m looking forward to being at home and of course, I’m really looking forward to seeing all my family and my chums and I’m looking forward to the Easter Weekend- but at the moment I can’t really see beyond feeling sad about not being here any more and not being on our adventure any more. I know that the answer is to live normal life as an adventure…I know that….I’ll do my best…I really will…but it has all been such fun, so interesting, so rich.

I will do one last post, next week, for friends we have met here, with pictures of George’s first day at school, but apart from that this is farewell for now from Bushchild. Thank you so much for reading, it’s been great fun to write and lovely to get your comments and feel we hadn’t been forgotten about. I apologise for boring and opinionated bits and I promise not to ask comprehension questions to check that you have read it all.

Think of us on an aeroplane all day tomorrow, with George shouting “I just want to get off!” every twenty minutes, if it’s anything like the way here.

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