It has been another interesting day at the Most Neurotic Dandelion Hotel for the Mildly Bewildered in Cochin, Kerala, the place they call God’s Own Country.
A year ago, almost to the day, at the final concert of the Ingleton Folk Weekend, I gave away a Martin J18 guitar. Many of you will remember the Kerala Prize Draw which, along with some wonderful fund-raising from some very good friends of mine, raised all the money needed to let me to embark on this project with Global Vision International. Without that generosity and support, much of it coming from complete strangers, I would not have been able to come to Kerala and experience some life changing events for India will, if you let her, cast a spell over you that will change your life and will change how you look at your fellow man.
Very early on I knew that I had to make some distance between GVI, who at times did not fully approve of my blog, and the work I had to do and the people I would work with and meet. Not every day was as full as I had hoped and at times I felt I had no real role or purpose. The ‘Arts Project’ I had signed up to, and had been led to believe was an on-going thing was, at best, poor and even though GVI tried to get me to work on other activities in the project it was for things I was either not qualified for or were of no interest. On days like these I had to dig into my own resources and tell myself that whatever I was doing, no matter for how long or with whom, that it was beneficial to those people or that person. My role was to share something with someone else for their benefit, not for the benefit of GVI or, indeed, me. Once that decision had been made the floodgates opened and I experienced some things that were totally mind-blowing. For the introduction to those places and people, at least, I thank GVI.
Having said all of that the high points were extraordinary. Far and above anything I could have imagined. Here are some of them.
Teaching Nishida, Cerin, Rejeesha, Hima, Rugma, Radna, Reeshma, Avasha and Sister Diana, my lovely student teachers The Glory of Love and watching as they changed from a group of shy uncertain women into an enthusiastic singing group was amazing.
The day that Denzil sat beside me in The Settlement and sang a Hindi song for my guitar is something that I will carry with me always.
Having gathered around me a group of girls who had to stay in school during the holidays because they couldn’t go home and listening in amazement as they learned and sang Coulter’s Candy in the most wonderful Indian dialect. Priceless.
Getting to know local traders who would rush out of their shops as I passed and invite me in to sit and talk and have tea with them. These are friendships which cross all international boundaries.
Being invited by Javid to his house for dinner where I sat on the floor and ate the most amazing food I have ever tasted. Paneer, a cheese very similar to haloumi, served as a curry in a rich tomato, onion and garlic sauce is one of those dishes I know I will yearn for again and again.
Feeling a real part of the local community every time I went to Kashi Art Café where I was brought iced tea without even asking or being treated like an old friend each time I visited Fragrant Nature Hotel where one evening, when four of us went there for dinner, the chef cooked his special Pakora, trust me it is not like anything you have ever had in the UK and is not normally on the menu, but he did it simply because he knew I liked it.
These things, and many more besides, are memories which will live with me always. India is a troubled place at times. It is a poor place but it is a beautiful place. A very spiritual place and in Kerala all the major faiths happily co-exist in a way which is a lesson to us all. We in the West live in a society where secularism is more and prevalent and that is dangerous. I say that because secularism, when allowed to, will become disrespectful of religion. Most Indians do not have any of the benefits of our modern world and for those people, and indeed for millions like them all over the world, religion is still one of the most important factors in their lives. In the West we have prospered ephemerally but the cost has been the lack of religion and lack of respect for religion; it is far too heavy a price to pay. It is quite wrong simply because we are disturbing the system of beliefs of those who have no other source of comfort.
That has been my final day in Kerala, where the sun always shines, the welcome is always warm and the people always smiling.
Be well, be kind and never give up.