Soap-Makers Extraordinary

Every Thursday, the 11th graders at Pathashaala have ‘cow time’, which has surprisingly little to do with these beauties.

Cattle with humps don’t need much water, and were once common in throughout south India. Govinder the Bull and his lady friend live at Pathashaala as part of a conservation project.

Instead, ‘cow’ stands for Community Oriented Work. It’s a day devoted to activities such as taking stock of maintenance issues in the dorms, painting the paving stones outside the dining hall white to prevent burnt feet, and other projects that benefit the community. Today they were making their second batch of soap for the school’s use; at some point they will also be called upon to assist in soap-making workshops for women in nearby villages. I’ve always been interested in learning to make household staples like that myself, so I tagged along and took notes…

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Feeding the Masses

(3kg Chocolate, 5kg Cheese… It must be European Food Day!)

At some point last month, Camille (my fellow volunteer, who has now left me for Nepal) and I decided that it would be fun to cook some food from our home countries for the community here at Pathashaala. ‘Cultural awareness’ was certainly the motive we named, but it might have been that we were simply hungry for a meal or two that didn’t involve rice. We confess to nothing. But wait —

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I can only describe the morning of February 23rd fully by acknowledging how little I understand, and how much I am a guest in this place, privileged by my brief glances into village life, and by the warm welcome I have received from everyone I have met.

Over breakfast, Gautama (Pathashaala’s director) suggested I come along on a journey into the villages near Chengalpattu and Thirukazhukundram to distribute solar-powered lights. He explained that during the rainy season in November and December, there was a great deal of flooding throughout this part of Tamil Nadu, and Pathashaala was one of the only places lit up at night because of its exclusive use of solar power for the lamps. The school took donations from parents and friends to help the local communities stay afloat, and in the process discovered that quite a number of households in the area never had use of electricity at all. Continue reading “Outreach”

Enter Pathashaala

It’s been almost a week since I followed the coastal toll road south from Chennai, through Chengalpattu, into a flat and richly coloured corner of Tamil Nadu. As I write, I’m looking out a screened window at the rice fields, and in the distance, the domed buildings of Pathashaala. These 55 acres were purchased by the Krishnamurti Foundation India in 2006, with the intention of building a small residential school. This dream has since become reality for around a hundred students (called Learner-Educators, or L.E.s for short), several handfuls of the reciprocal ‘Educator-Learners’, a variety of staff from the area, and two volunteers, my roommate Camille, and myself.

A glimpse of the Bay of Bengal.

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How I Got Here

(Above and Beyond Flight EK544)

I got a message from an old friend the other day, reminding me to play my turn in our virtual game of Scrabble, and wondering how my exams were going. It took me a moment to realise that a) most university students were taking exams at the time, and b) he still thought I was a student at the University of East Anglia. I’m sure there is a universe where this is the case, but it’s not in this one.

Back in September, shortly after deciding not to commence my studies at the university, I considered making some sort of public announcement. A blog post, or something scrawled on your Facebook feeds. Lightning changes of heart are made of the same thing as poetry, though, and what I can describe as ‘I was looking for another uninsulated kitchen to call love (and love is a warm place)’ in my notebooks was more likely to get question marks than comprehension that I was no longer in Norwich. The closest I can get to colloquial is to say that it was the wrong place and time, and I was unwilling to unpack my roots for three years in England.

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