With the weekend looming, there is always the challenge of filling 48 hours with meaningful activities. This may not be such a labour in the Western world, but weekend entertainment is often in short supply in a small town such as N. So when I was invited to join B, and a few of his friends, to come along to Kanyakumari, the most Southern tip of India where the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea meet, it was an easy decision to make. The sunset and sunrise are rumoured to be spectacular, a sight to behold. How could I resist a visit to such a place?
There was a niggling doubt in the back of my mind though, as I have had dealings with B. on a number of occasions…. He is a man on a mission to make a ‘better India’ in which improving the English of its inhabitants, and those of Kerala in particular, features heavily and this invariably relies on British volunteers to come and save the day. Has colonialism come full circle, I wonder, and are the people once despised by the ‘natives’ now seen as valuable sources of cheap money and crucial knowledge to be plundered at liberty? Or is it the sheer lack of business acumen and desperation that makes Indian men turn to the West, whose values many consider contemptible and inferior?
In the last few months, my expertise has been sought to kick-start a language school in Trivandrum; a project B. has left in the hands of God and which he expects to see fulfilled with plenty of prayer… I have been accosted by the school manager to find British tourists who will flock to his new venture: a kind of residential retreat in a grandiose building in the middle of nowhere offering a full two months of a bit of yoga, a bit of cooking, a bit of martial arts, a bit ayurveda, a bit of everything.. Basically every British tourist’s dream of India (????) for which I must find a minimum of 10 people to make HIS dream come true; the business plan covered less than an A4 sheet of paper and missed fundamental information such as whether there was even any demand for the kind of services he wanted to offer… Needless to say, B’s prayers have fallen on deaf ears, and if the Manager would like me to do his business plan and marketing for him, I will not come cheap! So, I had my reservations about the Kanyakumari trip, but went along anyway…we were going to stay in a convent and meet some Indian nuns, and in the interest of giving a true and all encompassing picture of modern India, it was an opportunity not to be missed.
After preponing (I know, you will wonder: Indian English… but give it some thought and you will see the logic) our departure from 4.00 pm to 2.00 pm in the afternoon, B and company arrived at 2.00pm Indian Stretchable Time (IST) which funnily enough coincided with 4.00 pm on my clock. In the meantime I had been ready and packed for the last two hours, waiting to be chauffeured to India’s extreme Southern point. It was indeed a very interesting journey, and as always my camera was never in the right place to give you a flavour of the views that caught my eye. But I am planning to go back in a few weeks’ time with different company and a different agenda.
The real purpose of the visit became clear on our arrival at the convent, just having missed the sunset as B insisted on stopping for tea and unnecessary food on the way. The nuns are dealing with a legacy of Indian grandeur: a massive building originally intended as a teaching institution for budding priests. A venture gone sour and a building (or buildings) left with no purpose, but considerable upkeep and maintenance costs to be covered. So, who better to advise them than B, with us in tow… Us meaning me (to scour British soil for British volunteers to come and teach English to young adults) ; two yoga and meditation teachers to put in their penny’s worth and a doctor with considerable expertise in leprosy. Although I am sure B’s three other companions had been briefed on the mission, my expected contribution was not revealed until we arrived in the nuns’ office… Unfortunately for B, I cannot see how British backpackers will be enticed to the come and stay in Kanyakumari for weeks or months on end with just the sunrise and sunset for entertainment, however beautiful they may be… I am sure the novelty will wear off after a few times…
But let’s look at the bright side: I saw the most amazing sunrise at about 6.00 am the next morning; I have learnt that modern nuns are just as keen as other Indians to take photographs of the white visitors on their Nokia mobile phones; food and accommodation were courtesy of the convent so I did not have to spend any of my hard earned cash; and I met some really interesting people who live and work in Trivandrum – an opportunity to escape N at the weekends and see how urban Indians live. I keep on being told that Urban India is much more Westernised than the little hamlet where I stay. I will keep you posted if I ever find out.