News From India
This February was quite a significant birthday for me. The big 60 but without pension or bus pass! However mike came up with a brilliant dream. Can we take the children in India on a holiday to the seaside for your birthday present? Mike has never met the children, indeed never been to India before. The children live in Andhra Pradesh , a long way from the sea and bone dry. The idea of a holiday has never been in their consciousness. Well Orange sent off a few emails and made a few phone calls and before we knew it all the arrangements had been made to take the children to the beach at Kovalam in Kerala. As there are 32 children who have only ever swam in a very tiny swimming pool before it was imperative to go to a beach with lifeguards, and Kovalam had 3. Brilliant.
At the other end, in Puttaparthi, another great friend of children, Veda Narayana, a native Keralan himself, was busy sorting out buses and coaches and trains to transport the children across the southern subcontinent of India. Happily his sister works for Indian Railways and was bless her, very helpful. Arrangements were made by Veda with other friends to provide food for the children at strategic points en-route.
Prices were negotiated with a brand new hostel, The Vedanta Wake Up, just two minutes from the beach and they arranged for outside caterers to provide all meals.
So on 9th February the adventure began!
First the children had to get from Puttaparthi, 4 hours out into the desert from Bangalore and the nearest big rail terminus. You can only imagine the excitement as most of the children had never been on a train before.Leaving Andhra Pradesh
Trying to get some sleep amidst all the excitement!
Waking up to the lush backwaters of Kerala. The children were ecstatic to see all the greenery and the water and the wildlife.
Tired, hungry and unbearably excited they arrived at the hostel. They kept so patient waiting for lunch to be served . Much excitement about having televisions in all the bedrooms. They are not allowed TV at home but are shown films and documentaries. So exception was made for the holidays and they were not banned. But even that couldn’t keep them from the beach. I gave them a horribly long and serious lecture on how dangerous the sea can be and what to do if they get pulled out by a rip tide. I think some of it went in but then we were off through the network of little allies and shops which led out to the white sand and blue sea. This is when they lost it a bit and squealing happened. It was contagious. All us adults felt as if we had never seen the sea before either. Within minutes they were all in.
To be honest it got a little scary at first as they were so excited it was hard to keep their attention and direct them away from currents but after a bit of a fright we had their attention and safe fun commenced! Then I spotted a young man renting out body boards. Oh now that was something I wasn’t anticipating in India. Brilliant. Most of us adults were performing military duty in the waves to make sure they were all safe. Covered in factor 50, hats and goggles of course. But those waves were just so perfect for bodyboarding that we had to have the odd go now and then. But the kids were delirious. Little Nandini just would not come out of the water. Grinning from ear to ear for the whole holiday. She didn’t even want to come out for lunch. Reluctantly leaving the sea at sunset.
So two and a half full days just flew with all of us turning into mermaids and mermen. It was hot, very, very hot. Even the children with their skin were having to use sunblock on their little faces.
One of the most spectacular sites in Kerala was the abundance and variety of eagles in the sky all day. This one landed on the wall of the
hostel and conveniently posed for photos like a pro.
On the third day Veda Uncle had organised a trip for the children down to Kanyakumari at the southern tip of the subcontinent where the three oceans meet. There is an amazing Hindu temple there which you reach via ferry to an island in the midst of the maelstrom. All in their Sunday best for temple.
It had been discovered that very close to Kanyakumari was a pretty cool Waterworld facility with all the slides and tubes and adventure that you might expect to find in the hotspots of Europe. On hearing this dear Veda Uncle was busy on the phone negotiating special rates for our children for the afternoon. Well, imagine their little faces (better, have a look at the photos)! Totally heaven on earth. Fearlessly they threw themselves into all the fun and thrill of it. All the teachers joined in too of course… It was a very exhausted and hungry bunch that came home to Kovalam at 9 that night. But the Vedanta Wake Up did them proud and after a great veggie feed-up they fell into their beds speechless.
But next morning, of course, all the kids were up and ready to go. The teachers were perhaps a little less enthusiastic as they nursed all their bumps and bruises. But they rallied and another couple of great days passed in a flash in the waves of the Indian Ocean. I had a hit of an idea then. I asked the lovely young man we hired the body boards from if he knew of a local surf school who could come and give the older ones some taster lessons in surfing. Five lovely boys turned up and all the older ones who wanted had one-on-one instruction in the metaphysics of surfing. A world known intimately by our two sons, one of whom runs surf holidays to Morocco. And would you believe it, the young man who owns the surf school funds a free school from his takings! There really are some lovely people out there.
On the Thursday night the children were invited to a Sai Baba temple in Trivandrum to chant the Vedas. The ancient Vedas are the wisdom passed down orally for thousands of years before writing was invented and the chanting of these sacred texts are believed to bring divine vibrations onto the planet. And no-one chants the Vedas better than the kids of the Children’s Project Trust. In large part this is Thanks to Sri Veda Narayana, a Professor of Sanskrit, and famous for his chanting and teaching who is now a huge part of the children’s lives.
Then came the last night. It all felt so sad but wind was in the air about a special concert the children had prepared to celebrate my birthday.
Well, 7 o clock I was all ready on the sofa awaiting the start and they all came down holding cards. They had all made and painted/coloured their own birthday cards and were so excited to show me their creations. It was really quite overwhelming being buried in such unconditional love as only children can so freely demonstrate. The tears started to well up and to be honest they didn’t stop for hours. I felt so blessed by these divine little beings. What a gift for my birthday. I have never felt so blessed.
The concert began and they all performed. We had solos, duets, trios, quartets, full ensemble. We had songs in English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Hindi, German. The children demonstrated their amazing talents along with the amazing breadth of experience and education they have received from friends all over the world who have taken time out to spend time with them. It felt so great that the Mount Haven Hotel has been able to help co-fund this wonderful project. The staff at the hotel all stayed to watch and listen and all of them were in tears. I have had an email from the company complimenting us on our beautiful and well-behaved children.
Anyone who meets our children is so impressed by their confidence, their speech, their profound sense of Self, their knowledge, wisdom and the love they shower on all who come within their orbit. You feel very confident for the future of numerous deprived and neglected children knowing that these little ones will one day be teaching the next generation. To know of the heartbreaking situations these children came from just makes the transformation even more startling. This is the true meaning of The Alchemist! Michael, Aleli,Peter, Laurie, Ganeshan, Veda, Julia and the other dear souls who have dedicated their lives to this are more than mere Saints. It’s not often you have the great grace to meet such totally selfless and loving beings.
The last day came and we were all on the beach straight after breakfast. The children didn’t want to waste a moment before the coach came after lunch to take them back to the train station at Trivandrum and the long journey home to Puttaparthi. Words can’t describe how Mike and I felt as they all disappeared waving up the little track to board the bus. Empty and desolate come to mind. Bereft? But what memories of such great joy and happiness. My 60th birthday was the best of my life and Mike and I are plotting to try and take them on holiday again please God.
So a really huge thank you to all the guests of the Mount Haven who contributed to this through having treatments here and to all the friends and family who made special contributions. To SaraswAthi Ma who contributed through the retreat here in the autumn. How fitting for a Divine Mother to be part of giving such joy to her children. None of this would have been possible without all of you.