I can assure you that if I had written my first post in the immediate aftermath of my arrival, it would not have started on a positive note. Did anything get done in my absence???? Did I heed caution and take words such as ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it’ with a pinch of salt? Did I not watch my Indian friends in the Heathrow vicinity burst out in laughter at the thought of the Indians having made a start on my long catalogue of urgent jobs to be completed by end May? But those who have followed my blog may find it hard to believe that I am prepared to eat my words, and just maybe in the light of a more Indian attitude on my behalf, might have begun to develop a soft spot for them.
Of course, it was never going to be perfect and the snag list left for the attention of the management in the expectation that all would be resolved on my return, had gathered three months worth of dust. But giving credit where credit is due, all stops were pulled out on my arrival and within 24 hours the internet was reconnected and activated; plumbers and electricians tended to my requests; hot water in the shower was restored after some helpful soul had turned off the switch and no amount of balancing on the toilet and aiming with a wooden spoon at the switch was going to allow me to turn it back on. Talking about being child and tamper proof! However, the gas cylinder in the kitchen is still running on empty, but as I can still produce a flickering flame, there is no hurry to bring me the replacement ordered way back in January. And the television has not yet come back to life as the remote control has lost all ability to respond, even after changing the batteries twice, but what’s the urgency? As my main entertainment from that device amounts to watching many repeats of BBC World News – I can assure you not much happens in a day, or a week for that matter – I can catch up on stories from around the world on my iPad. So any irritation that bubbled to the surface in the first few hours, vanished with a little patience on my behalf. Bless the Indians, they are well-meaning and when the pressure is on, they can indeed work VERY SMALL miracles.
Walking around town, I am greeted by smiley faces as people suddenly realise I am back. The owner of one of the fruit stalls insists I try her mangoes – I used to buy her grapes before. I stock up on vegetables in the shop next door: tomatoes, onions and okra or lady fingers as they prefer to call them. I have had my first chicken killed without a second thought, having found that being vegetarian does not agree with me. I get a big grin from the autorickshaw driver who lost in the battle trying to overcharge me. Sunukmar, my trusted and regular driver, asks, ‘What happened?? Going to Kovalam?’ I shrug my shoulders, ‘Maybe next weekend… I’ll call you ’. But when disgraced Anandu tries to strike up a conversation and attract my attention, I do not give him a second chance! His boat has well and truly sunk.
And on the roads I spot the unmistakable white lines of several new zebra crossings! Not that anyone takes the blindest bit of notice, but it is progress! At school I see fashion sense is moving into the village as a few ladies dare to use the dupattas draped over just one shoulder (in Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel style) rather than covering their bosoms. In Trivandrum, mannequins show off women’s shorts, although I cannot imagine any ‘good’ woman being allowed to wear them.
On the home front, I now have an oven brought all the way back from the UK and I roasted my first chicken in a cake tin as bringing suitable cooking dishes completely eluded me. It is good to be back! Not even I could have imagined that I would have slipped into Indian mode with such ease.
But then again, school has not yet started and I have already had the first flavour of what to expect… The swimming pool, with its palm tree lined surroundings, that was supposed to be ready in April is still waiting for a filtering system that will take at least another month (read ‘several’ here…) to come. Maybe my swimwear purchase in New Bond Street was rather too optimistic, so Kovalam beach it still is.
And as far as the new school gym is concerned, I have reinstated my membership at my normal gym to be on the safe side of getting some exercise. But the promise of my own classroom has come up trumps…. I was even offered a choice between a classroom so small it would be like fitting 40 children on a postage stamp, or a large auditorium the size of a small football pitch a few floors above ground level. A choice, indeed. And as I am a staunch advocate of exercise, I will be going up and down stairs about 20 times a day, rather than sweltering in a claustrophobic room surrounded by chattering children. And I have an interactive whiteboard!!! Having listed the requirements for my English classroom before I left, I was intrigued to find the most expensive – and most PRESTIGIOUS – equipment was provided, but the humble, essential dictionary which gives learners independence was nowhere to be seen… Plus, as my only piece of equipment in the room is heavily dependent on the availability of electricity, the frequent power cuts may make things a little dicey to say the least. So, to put you fully in the picture, I took my camera to school this morning to show you my new classroom: I will have plenty of ventilation; and maybe the fans might be able to give a whirr; it is even possible that there will be some light bulbs in case the rain clouds darken the room too much; and when the painter and electrician have finished their work, there might even be some chairs and benches. School opens this Wednesday…. I think I shall take precautions and bring in my own laptop and loudspeakers and plan my lessons around not yet being in the new classroom. But I am sure I will be there, someday, soon….