Saturday, March 12, 2011

at the orphanage

the main room of the orphanage is like a kindergarten classroom.  the walls are adorned with informational posters: animals, numbers, letters, all in hindi, kannada, and english.  there are pictures of historical and religious figures: gandhiji, sai baba, jesus, swami vivekananda, arjuna in his chariot with krishna, and the trininty of ganesh, lakshmi, and saraswati.  the floor is a dusty terrazzo.  there are different activities for different days.  monday, wednesday, and friday are for the playground or dancing (the hands-down favorite).  tuesday and thursday are for english, which i must confess, is quite hard.  none of the volunteers are esl instructors per se, and the younger kids barely speak english at all.

when we march the children to the playground the reaction from the locals is a mixed bag.  some of the adults look at us with quiet contempt.  as if, owing to the law of karma, these kids had their situation coming to them, so fuck'em.  others give us dull, vacant stares.  others, mostly the children, are another matter.  from them we get radiant welcoming smiles and sincere greetings.  the smiles are familiar.  they trigger the association, whether warrated or not, one makes with india and spirtituality.  when we get to the playground the kids split up, with the older boys going off to play cricket and the rest going batshit running all over the place randomly.  in this regard they are like children anywhere.  the playground is dusty, with rickety rusted monkey bars, prickly weeds, and some well-placed huge piles of cow shit.

it was in my second week in mysore that i started volunteering at this orphanage.  the place is a few miles out from the shala, in a scuzzy part of town.  i'm not sure what the stories are for all of the kids, of which there are about thirty, but the sign on the building says it's orphans and for rehabilitating kids who have been forced into labor.  one of the children, a boy named shivappa, had acid (acid!) thrown on his face, leaving half of it horrifically scarred.  he is maybe five years old.  the rest are mostly aged five to eleven years old, with a few four year-olds and some teens and preteens. i see the amazing elasticity of the human spirit when i'm here.  whatever it is they went through, the children have love, openness, and warmth which is utterly humbling.

i'm happy i came that first day, happy i continue to come, and will return when i return to mysore.

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