Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA


Saturday, October 15, 2011

10/15/11: Bala Mandir Kamaraj orphanage

Our last day in India, and the boys are a’hankering to do some shopping, so first thing in the AM we headed out via auto-rickshaw to Spencer Mall, a huge, multi-level, American-style mall with everything you can imagine. The The boys honed their bartering skills, and Heidi and I picked up a blanket from a guy who has previously hosted SAS homestays in the past. 

Still getting used to having to be careful of condensation on various inner surfaces of the camera/lens when taking it OUTSIDE! Back home in Colorado, this usually happens in winter, going from a warm home to cold, dry air outside. Here in the tropics, it happens when you take a cool, dry camera out into the high humidity. Most effects don't turn out as 'well' as this one. :)

I had planned to try and get onto one of the last trips before leaving India, and FDP to Bala Mandir Kumaraj Orphanage. We ran into Marth in the mall, and since she also wanted to try to get onto the trip, we split an auto back to the ship. We got to the bus with two people waiting ahead to get spots on the sold-out trip, and another two pairs people joined the queue behind us. There were six slots available for seven people, so I offered to stand if it would allow the seventh person to join the trip. Oh yeah, did I tell you (once again) how hot it was? Standing for the 35 minute bus ride wasn’t such a big issue, but giving up my A/C vent left me questioning my decision. Well, not really, at least as long as no one cared about watching me drip at the head of the bus, swaying to the various undulations in the roadway. 






Being that India is primarily a patriarchal society, I assumed that we’d meet mostly girls at the orphanage, which turned out to be the case. We were led into the facility, and were immediately allowed to start meandering around to the various rooms. I spent a bit of time in one of the larger rooms that contained a little locker for each girl who presumably lived in the room, a sleeping mat rolled up on top of each, perhaps a pair of flip-flops perched on top. A dozen girls about 8 to 12 years old performed a dance for ten of us, after which the entire group was led in to see a ‘Waterpot Dance’. Six girls danced and swung clay waterpots around in varying motions, more than once only narrowly avoiding a Three Stooges-esque encounter (e.g. head vs. pot), me waiting for the inevitable ‘Klock!’ sound of Curly’s head bouncing off something at the hand of Larry or Moe.
 




It never happened, fortunately, and the college students were then invited to perform their own dance. They chose some sort of ‘chicken cheer’ that I was unfamiliar with, but it was cute and the kids got a big kick out of it. I continued outside where the boys were playing cricket with a few of the college students. Around the back was a building for younger kids, and I found several on swings, one adult watching over, with some toddlers being led into a different area behind. One little girl was happily pushing another on the swings; the girl on the swing looked like a little princess, huge beautiful eyes, flowing locks of hair blowing in the wind. As a parent, it’s so hard to imagine the myriad reasons these beautiful kids have ended up in this place, parentless, trying to find their way in a world that has more people than it’s resources can reasonably sustain. The facility appears to be doing a commendable job caring for the kids, who seem happy and healthy, contented in the ways that kids can make seem so easy. Most could speak very good English, and many were quite talkative, especially the girls with the female college students, who seemed to bond quickly.
 








After taking a group picture with these older kids and saying goodbye, we went to an adjacent playground where younger kids were playing. From toddler-age to perhaps 3 or 4 (though it’s hard to tell, as the kids are often older than we think, with our western frames of reference), these kids were a bit more shy initially, but some rapidly  warmed up to the college kids fawning over them. Being younger than the previous group, I would imagine these kids are less comfortable in their environment, perhaps having only arrived there recently, belied by some of their sad eyes looking at us, perhaps with less curiosity than confusion.
 




After spending 30 minutes playing, we again took a group photo, and were led into the offices to hear a bit more about the facility, which since 1949 has received various forms of significant support over the years from such organizations as Oxfam and the Staade Stiftung Board in Denmark. In addition to SAS’s typical donation given as part of our trip fees, we passed the hat and generated another 200+ dollars from our pockets, an easy decision to help relieve us of our last remaining rupees prior to departing India.
 



This kid was going crazy showing off his wheely-skills, despite the traffic buzzing by.

As we steamed away from Chennai under the light of the moon which illuminated the exhaust trail of the MV Explorer behind us, I reflected upon how confused my visit to India had left me. I think any elaboration on that will have to wait until I’ve had some time to digest our six days in India.
 

Goodbye, Chennai!


A little full moon to light our way.


Some evening  slide guitar under the moon and 7th deck lights.

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