The banging of the drum….
I fell asleep quickly and was awakened to the sound of a drum banging loudly at 5 AM – the children’s alarm clock. I find out later that it isn’t a drum, rather someone bangs the metal door with a stick. In the distance the chanting from a nearby mosque sets the tone for the sun rising. I shower in the freezing air, rather, I splash with the water from a large tap, no shower. I dress quickly, I am late and must put on a salwar kameez, the traditional dress. As I leave my room, the girls are waiting to help me lock the door and carry my knapsack. It is beautiful outside though rather cold. The little ones are showering in the fresh air, singing and laughing. They all say good morning Auntie, how are you and rush to shake my hand and hug me – even these little naked ones , still wet with soap. It’s hard to believe I am here and have to pinch myself. Birds are chirping, there is a litter of puppies milling about, they too greet me with licks. The grounds are lush with flowers tropical trees and a gorgeous vegetable garden the children of Udayan have cultivated themselves. I wonder how I will ever leave this place? It is so beautiful and soulful. These children are happy just to be alive and so thrilled to have me, they welcome me as if I am a long lost relative. I nearly cry as I hear them singing their morning prayers and ponder why it took me so long to come to this land.
First class begins at 8 AM and I must hurry to breakfast. The children eat on the floor, using their right hand to scoop the food into their mouths. I take my tea and oatmeal packet and then I’m off to set up the “studio” (a converted music room).
After two hours, speaking no Hindi or Bengali, the children have created 100 papers. Next class begins in 45 minutes and the room, which is in shambles must be cleaned before the next group – boys class IX comes to work. With the few Bengali words I know I ask them to stop and clean the room. They are very respectful and immediately stop to help. The room is then immaculate.
As I lock up, the sweet voices of 300 children greet me – “good afternoon Auntie”…this goes on until I reach my room – with an entourage of 20 girls and a few little boys, age 3 in step. They wish to come into Auntie’s room to see what it’s like. The girls admire all the clothes and makeup, the boys are eyeing the cookies someone has placed in the room as a welcome gift. In a few minutes all the cookies are gone. I watch in wonder as their eyes shine with delight. This one cookie has made their day.
After dinner, a vegetarian dish with rice and curry, I wander back to my room and visit with Taneil, my Australian neighbor. We are chatting only to find about 50 girls waiting outside the door, asking to come in. The big question is “Auntie having computer music? Movies?” Yes, I do have music and movies so I let the children pick the songs they would like to hear. And then something magical happens – they are dancing and I am entranced. They have such grace and they are laughing, which is music to my ears. The girls ask me to dance and we fall over in stitches after I try to do the “duck walk” . Dance class is officially finished in auntie’s room. We pile onto beds, floor and chairs and spend the rest of the night talking and eating even more cookies. I make a mental note to bring more from Calcutta.