A Travellerspoint blog

May 2020

Yoga and Abandoned Children

Solo travel

sunny 25 °C
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Having slept like a log, I eagerly waited for Cari, by the gate, 6.15 am sharp, as planned. The break of dawn brought cool air and a hazy mist to the eerily silent neighbourhood. Not much sign of life, except those few farmers, treading the long, well-kent road from village to market. Carts piled high with freshly plucked red chilli peppers, pungent spices, including cinnamon and curry leaves, and a vast assortment of fruit and veg. It seemed Mysore was not quite ready to wake up and seize the day, but I was!

Cari was my host and had arranged for me to join a yoga class, run by his own highly recommended teacher, and kindly offered to walk me to the location. The walk ended at the guarded gates of an expansive local government compound. He explained the purpose of my visit to the men on sentry duty and in I signed.

Walking through the shade dipping from a tunnel of coconut palm trees, yellow wagtails flitted tree to tree, bringing a cacophony of birdsong. Welcomed into the community centre, I realised exactly how versatile the sari could be, as women twisted and bent in all directions, warming up for the session. A couple of men soon joined, albeit on the other side of the badminton net.

When Parsha, the guru arrived, everyone stopped. After a friendly namaste, they gazed at him, eyes smiling with admiration. Getting into position, kneeling on our mats, he let out an earth-shattering chant, his voice soft, almost musical. The class knew the script, on cue, they repeated each line back to him.

Stopping briefly, he glanced over, instructing me in his best English, ‘copy’. Thinking I heard ‘shanti’, I shouted it quite loudly, every time it came up. At least he would know I was trying! Having had early practice listing to the Cocteau Twins, a great band, notorious for the inability to decipher their lyrics, I managed to wing it. This magical mantra continued for around 10 minutes, making the hairs on my arm stand up.

He even came to my little flat on Sundays, to ensure I received 7 days practice, conducted on the sun trap of a roof above the main house.

The cost of the 3-week yoga course was minuscule, compared to the inflated prices for classes in Gokalum, geared towards foreign tourists.

Walking back, the misty haze had lifted, and the neighbourhood was getting into full swing.
The smell of coffee tempted me in the direction Ravi’s place, to become my post-yoga routine, prior to the 8.30am breakfast slot. Joining those hastily throwing back coffee on their way to work and rickshaw drivers kick starting the day with a shot of caffeine.

The wonderfully delicious masala dosa, famous in Karnataka, Mysore’s state, was on the menu for today’s breakfast. Freshly prepared crisp and savoury dosa’s, resembling crepes, generously filled with a traditional spicy potato mix, served with coriander mint chutney. Cari had spoken to his friend Mumtaz, who ran the Bapuji Children’s Home and invited me to visit that day.

During our post breakfast chat, his wife, Ganga, explained exactly how Mumtaz identified the need for a safe place for abandoned children back in the 1970’s. Being a nurse, who previously worked in a maternity home, she found that many times mothers abandoned their babies and left the nursing home, without giving the correct address. Not knowing what else to do with them, she kept the abandoned babies in the maternity home itself. Pretty soon a fairly large nursery emerged, whereby the maternity home shifted location..

I packed some gifts for the children, coloured pens, books, sweets and headed up to the rickshaw hub. My ex-policemen pals were nattering over coffee, but soon organised a rickshaw to take me to Gokalum. It was a good half hour through the heavy late morning traffic when we arrived in Gokalum. Finding the actual address was tricky for the driver, then we spotted a disturbing sign, urging people not to kill their babies, but to leave it there at the gates. We knew we had arrived.

Mumtaz warned me on the way inside, that most of the children were at school. I was surprised to find she was actually American. Having lived and been married to an Indian for over 40 years however, she almost was a native.

On stepping into the home, immediately hit by the distinctive smell of baking, along with the presence of three teenagers, two boys, one girl, all with disabilities. Lying in single beds, the doors to the outside world left open, letting the sun creep in, ensuring they felt the breeze on their clammy skin.

Introducing me to each child individually, she explained their disabilities. All the children had cerebral palsy and one boy was deaf blind. I will never forget their huge smiles, exposing strong, snow white teeth, on hearing Mumtaz’s voice, they clearly loved her. The children had all been abandoned in dreadful circumstances and were the lucky ones, having arrived at the home by various routes.

We passed a room where a bunch of cute pre-school kids sat, lotus positioned on the floor, excitably listening to the story being read by a volunteer. They peeked up at the window, their baby faces full of surprise, at the big, white, mug, looking down at them, face pressed against the perspex. Although keen, I was discouraged from going in.

Mumtaz was careful not to encourage attachments between visitors and the children, since they had been let down in the past. Volunteers had been tourists who came a couple of times, forged bonds, then decided not to return or went back home. She could not risk the children getting traumatised any further. I understood. Volunteers were now local women and men.

The children were nutritiously fed, clothed, schooled and most importantly loved. Whilst other facilities used corporal punishment with kids in their care, Mumtaz was quick to point out that was not the policy there. The living quarters were basic, but well-kept and clean.

She spoke about some circumstances that led to 15 babies being abandoned outside the walls of the home each year. Young people from rural Mysore, deprived of sex education, along with ignorance about pregnancy and biology, could not keep their babies. Boy meets girl, hormones raging, they have sex, realising the pregnancy quite late on. The resulting problem is children born out of wedlock, a big taboo,

Although the attitude towards female children is changing for the better, Mumtaz explained femicide still occurs and female babies are abandoned more readily. The imbalance in gender ratio in the home, was living proof that males remain societies most valued prize, in the childbirth lottery.

I walked down the steep hill to the centre of Gokalum, grateful I did not have to walk up it. Immediately struck by the sheer numbers of yoga shala’s and young hippy types roaming around, dreadlocked, yoga mat under arm.

I sauntered into a cafe, a real cafe, not a stall with plastic stools scattered around the pavement, at the side of the road.. British, American, Spanish, French rang from the surrounding tables, interjected with the odd burst of laughter. My coffee, albeit the real thing, a large frothy cappuccino, was 200 rupees (£2) my usual cafe, 10 rupees (10p). Do not get me wrong, I was not complaining, just highlighting the inflated prices in Gokalum, for everything!

I could see myself fitting in here, when I was younger, apart from the yoga of course. However, in my more, hmmm, mature years, I much prefer the authenticity of a city and its people. Mumtaz had mentioned local people are not keen on the way Gokalum has developed, since it had pushed up prices for them too.

Funny, I really missed the buzz of my usual coffee haunt and all the madness that went along with it. Out the corner of my eye, a bus swung round the corner, headed for the centre, I decided to take the next one.

Back in town, my stomach dictated that it was time to eat. I came across Hotel RRR by chance, although recommended by Cari, being warned however, that depending on the chef, it could be a ‘bit too spicy’.

People seemed to eat for the sole purpose of satiating hunger, it was rare to see friends sitting around eating and chatting. It was serious stuff, head down, finish, go. With such a great reputation, and also being one of the few 'non-veg' restaurants, it was choc a block. Being lucky, I was shown to the one remaining seat, at a table for 6.

The not too spicy chicken curry was served on a deep lime coloured banana leaf, streaked with yellow, accompanied with rice, roti's and some lip-smacking south Indian mango pickle. Always fascinated watching people eat with their hands, not only do they love to smell and taste the food, they need to feel it too. Having developed the knack of rolling rice into small balls with their fingers, before popping them into their mouth.

Horrendously failing each time, I tried to copy the tactic, I shamefully asked for a good old-fashioned fork. The guy facing me asked where I was from, oh no here we go! As I rose up to leave, he asked if he could join me. No.

Having picked up some fresh fruit from the street vendors by the station, I took the bus back to base camp. I shared the day with Cari and Ganga and thanked them for putting me in touch with both Parsha and Mumtaz. Being a Private Investigator, I also encouraged him to share his day!

Staying with local families has always allowed me to enter worlds, only previously imagined. And today, the yoga was a little bit of self-care, in what turned out to be a very thought-provoking day.

Posted by katieshevlin62 12:20 Archived in India Comments (9)

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