…contd from My Trip to Nagapattinam – Part 1
I woke up when the power went off (again). At around 5 pm, Saravanan Sir picked me up and we went to the beach. The Chinmaya Vidyalaya, where I had to take class, was hardly a kilometer away from the beach. When I saw that, I was happy thinking that atleast on a few days I could go to the beach in the evenings and spend some time chilling. He explained to me how Tsunami had hit the place badly a few years back. There was a stadium near the beach which entirely disappeared when Tsunami hit. He said that when they came to the beach after the disaster and felt as if they came to a wrong place because they thought ‘How could a stadium just disappear?’ It was moderately crowded, the day being a Sunday. We spent some time on the beach and I was finally dropped at Swamy Mansion.
I went out at 8:30 to get my dinner. It is totally dark. No street lights, no lights from homes due to the power cut. I used my mobile torch to get some light so that I won’t slip my feet in the uneven roads. I reached the hotel where I had taken lunch from. I could see the curiosity of the hotelier’s eyes. They understood that I was new. The pony tail in my hair always caught attention, especially in such remote places.
In Tamil Nadu, they don’t have rice for dinner. They have Idli or Dosa or something similar to what they have for breakfast. They call it ‘tiffin’. I had some Idlis and went back to my lodge. Again, no power. My neighbor in the lodge had told me with a sarcastic smile that at night the power goes out every alternate hour. He was right, full night the power came and went off every alternate hour. I applied mosquito repellent cream all over my body and tried to get some sleep. And I did get good sleep except for the times when the power came and went off. At those points, I was woken up for a few seconds and then I snoozed off again. Finally I woke up at 6 am. After which the power was continuously cut. I had my shower and went to the school with Saravanan Sir who picked me up at 8 am.
I met the Acharya of the Chinmaya Mission Centre in Nagapattinam, Swami Ramakrishnananda, an excellent teacher of Sanskrit. His peculiarity is that anyone who would attend his workshops on Sanskrit for 6 hours, would be rolling on the floor with laughter for 5 ½ hours. At the end of the workshop, they would learn beautiful Sanskrit. He would teach Sanskrit with quick caricatures he drew on the board which would imprint the topic in our minds. I had attended his classes and knew him in person. When I met him, I gave him a packet of sweets. He jokingly asked, “Why sweets? Is it your birthday?” and started laughing. Swamiji is a very jovial person. For the people who know him, even his look is enough to make them laugh.
He asked me, “Is your stay comfortable?” This time it was a serious question. I smiled back thinking how I should say NO with a smile. He repeated the question again. I said, “Swamiji, can I stay in the school? I think I’ll be more comfortable here. I find it a bit risky to lock my luggage, laptop, etc. in the lodge which has got no security and even the lock is a small one.” He thought for a second and said, “Ok. Let me see.” I felt a bit relieved. We went ahead for the school assembly. Following that was the first class of our workshop. It was 6th standard students. Really sweet and loving children from the village side. I enjoyed all my sessions – 6 hours in total, 4 ½ for 6th standard and 1 ½ for 10th standard. The time duration was the same for the following days. On some days, we had a session more which resulted in 8 hours classes. I was used to 6 hours back to back classes but was doing 8 hours for the first time. Anyways, I enjoyed each and every bit, thanks to the attentive & enthusiastic children and teachers who wanted to learn something, just for the sake of learning it.
On the first day evening, the Principal, Mrs. Geeta Bennett, said that they don’t have a room in the school. But if it is ok with me, I can stay in the Computer lab. She showed me the lab. I was so happy and relieved. I told her that I’ll be very much happy staying in the school premises. She was looking a bit hesitant for having asking a guest to stay in a classroom. But I told her that as compared to what Swami Chinmayananda had to go through, I haven’t tasted hardships anywhere near that. I assured her that I’ll be perfectly fine. She said that I could use the bathroom outside Swamiji’s quarters. I felt lucky that I didn’t have to use the school bathroom. Immediately me & Selvakumaran Sir (maths teacher) went back to my lodge to bring my luggage. I had already kept it packed for, I had dreamed of this move to the school. Thus began my stay in the school.
The campus was very peaceful and serene. There were a lot of trees inhabited by different kinds of birds and squirrels. There was a small water body in the neighbouring compound which brought in kingfishers. All this I could see from my computer lab. Sometimes the squirrels would come inside the lab and even in classrooms. It was fun to see them play. Every morning I would go out and watch them play as I had my morning tea or coffee. I could taste the nature at the start of every new day. The school had a small open area which was surrounded by the rectangular school building on four sides. The sand inside the school compound was the beach sand. I used to get tempted to play in the sand very often. The open area also had an idol of Lord Ganesh and a small temple of Lord Shiva. Every morning Swamiji would come and do a small pooja and offer prayers. It was good to see many teachers and students beginning their day after offering their prayers at the temple.
They had a small ground where the students, teachers and Swamiji would play volleyball every evening after school. I was really surprised to see that the students didn’t leave the school immediately after school. They would hang around, play in the ground, run around, small children would play with the beach sand and leave after an hour or so. The junior college boys formed a team against the male teachers and Swamiji. This school had around 11 male teachers, which was too big a number for male teachers in schools I’ve come across in India. Owing to the low salaries offered at schools, men usually don’t take up teaching in schools. Colleges give a good pay and hence we find more male professors in colleges. Anyways, the school used to get over by 4 pm but the teachers and students would play in the evening atleast till 6 pm. Swamiji would enjoy playing volleyball with them. Under his guidance, I could see a lot of bonding amongst all the teachers and a good bonding between the students and teachers.
There was a caretaker in the school; they called him ‘Thatha’ (grandpa in Tamil). He took care of my food. He used to bring food and tea for me from the hotel. The watchmen were also very friendly. They watched me with all awe and wonder as they saw me talking in English over the phone. And they were all the more surprised when they came to know that I knew a few more languages. For them, they knew only Tamil. If someone of them could talk a few words in English, it was a great thing. Among them was Anandan, who could speak and understand English little bit because he had worked abroad for a few years. He would keep singing Tamil songs at the top of his voice. Even though I didn’t understand it much, I enjoyed the melody in his voice.
Luckily for me, here, there was no power cut between 11 pm and 6 am. That ensured my good sleep. Day time power cut was taken care by the generator. I just had to bear 2-3 hours of power cut in the evenings after 6. After a few days, Swamiji had to travel and his quarter was locked. And the pumproom (for the bathroom that I used outside his room) had its switch inside Swamiji’s quarter. So, they allotted a latrine in the boys’ wash room, for me. It was locked for others and only I could use it. Good that it was allotted to me or else, I would have had a tough time to find a suitable place to wash my clothes. Initially I was a bit hesitant to use the school washroom as it is not usually very neat. But that was not the case here. It was clean.
Morning power cut and mosquitoes would wake me up at 6 – 6:30. The children started coming to school right from 8 am. The school timing was 9:20 but owing to the lesser number of school buses, each bus had to do two trips. Hence, few students had to come early to school. Our classes on Vedic Mathematics began at 9 am for the first batch, followed by three 1 ½ hours batches throughout the day with a 15 minutes lunch break. If there would be a special session for teachers, or something for 10th standard, we would continue till 5 pm. After the classes, I loved watching the volleyball matches. My mind was pretty good with calculations, but my body never followed my mind. That’s my understanding of why I never did well in any physical sport. So, I stood apart always and enjoyed watching.
I would enjoy my evening walks outside when there would be cool breezes, thanks to the sea coast. The time during power cuts was spent over the phone and evening walks, or sometimes in star gazing or sometimes with the watchmen when they would try their best to make me understand what they are trying to say and I too would struggle to express my thoughts in my broken Tamil. Once I was trying to make them understand something and I wanted to say ‘man and woman’. Later I understood that they mistook my words for ‘sex’.
…contd in My Trip to Nagapattinam – Part 3