For me now it is time to move on, so what has been happening here in Bhopal?
On a personal note, just after penning the previous ‘What’s On’, I went to Vietnam for an international conference and workshop in Body Harmony. This has been one of my studies for a few years since I first did a course in London with the founder Don McFarland. He has ‘been around’ for many years and worked alongside both Rolf and Feldenkrais and I never know quite what he will teach or what I will learn, but it is always worthwhile. On this event there were very few of us from Europe so there were many new Aussie friends to make.
On my return I had always intended to start at Chingari, the ‘sister’ to Sambhavna where they care for many of the children being born today and in recent years with disability caused by their parents exposure to the gas or water. However, as is becoming familiar in India, we had to get a festival out of the way first! This one was Holi, on the first Monday of my return. It’s the one where everyone takes great liberties with other people’s clothes and sprays them with many different coloured powders.
At the time the volunteers were Alice, Jessica, Ina, Bella and myself and we went out in the afternoon wearing clothes that didn’t matter!
That meant, as on any festival week, the attendance was light all week. India has a true gift for extending every festival to its absolute maximum and even if the festival is ‘officially’ just one day we can still all take the rest of the week off anyway!
On the Tuesday began my sparring with Indian Bureaucracy to get an extension to my visa. It is really done here to such a delicacy that must have been refined to its nth degree since the leaving of the Raj. I needed just 10 days extension because the High Commission of India in London gave me only a 6-month visa after promising a 12-month one. Additionally, the yoga course I am doing has been slipped by several days so I had to change my flight as well.
I had already been there once and met with the DIG himself (very senior) but it still took three visits of several hours each to complete and even then I had to do a bit of polite and gentle but determined insisting. I haven’t actually got an extension but the local office has applied to the central government office, with a positive recommendation, and has given me a stamp on my registration document to say that I have applied. That, they promise, will get me out of the country without being arrested! We shall see.
Back at Chingari the next week started with a flood of children. Each Saturday some of the staff visit the bastis (or areas) around the factory site to see if there are any families with disabled children needing support. They have to do this as many are illiterate and simply don’t know they can attend while others are kept indoors because of the stigma associated with having a disabled child. Others in the team stay at the centre and assess children for eligibility and condition – mostly cerebral palsy related though there also seems to be an increasing number of boys with muscular dystrophy, and of course there are those with issues such as growth retardation, deafness, blindness, and mental problems etc.
Last week there were about 10 children newly accepted and they all came one afternoon! The day is split into two schools really. One group of children attend in the morning while another comes in the afternoon. The afternoons had been quite light anyway so now it was definitely full and for the first time I did earn my (imaginary) money.
Chingari has three permanent physiotherapists, Sanjay (boss), Huma and Rishi – you can see us all working in this picture:
Sanjay is at the back there, Huma to the left (with a shawl that seems as big as she is) and Rishi at the table on the right. That’s me in the foreground, ie right next to the door. This is just a normal state with us all working. It gets even more crowded when there are mothers working with their child or some children doing their own exercises, supervised from one eye by Sanjay.
The most difficult question I get asked is “why are you here? Why do you do this for us?” The son of one of my patients at Sambhavna first asked it and last week Rashida asked, and several in between. I still have not found a satisfactory answer for myself, but it is at least as much about what I receive as what I give. Even simple things like the three mangoes my very last patient at Sambhavna on Saturday gave me, the smile of a child, children choosing to have their sessions with me (others choose the others also of course). All of these things and more. There is that occasional recognition in the street also –even this afternoon, as I was waiting to cross the busy Berasia road, Ishaq, a patient from Sambhavna passed by hanging out of a bus and waved and shouted at me.
I may be slightly different as I see many of the patients at Sambhavna and the children at Chingari while many volunteers are here for shorter periods and do not have the same exposure to those people.
Maybe I should have a bit of a roundup as I am about to leave. What have been the ‘wowee’s and what the ‘yeuk!’s?
The latest yeuk for me is the temperature slowly climbing into the 40° mark – too much for this Englishman. Of course, the bureaucracy for my visa extension. And always expecting to be charged more than the locals for everything, I don’t mind a little, but when it is farcically in excess I do take a bit of umbrage. Treating people who look older than I do and finding out they are younger. Having my mobile phone stolen.
Some of the wowees, they still make good tea in India, being given a fair price for something first time and not having to negotiate, the dedication of all the staff at both Sambhavna and Chingari. Attending some Indian weddings. Discovering the arts centre, Bharat Bawan, and its free concerts. Rachna, Sathyu’s wife, being selected as a parliamentary candidate for the city.
I have also made many new friends.
I must also give especial thanks to the two nurses, Shabnam and Aziza, my ‘assistants’ as Shabnam calls them! Both have been brilliant as organisers, translators and sometimes lecturers (usually about promptness!). And on my last day Shabnam came with a birthday cake as I shall be celebrating it in 4 weeks whilst still in India.
Shabnam is on my right and Aziza on my left. Kamal is the other man and is one of the pharmacists. At the front is Mahendra, the pathologist. It was Raoul, the accountant who took the picture. You will have to read the book when it comes out to see him!
So, it is goodbye from me to all who have made my visit memorable and to anyone who happens to read this. I am leaving for four weeks of yoga in the north and then I fly back home.
Maybe, to answer that often asked question, “when will you return?” I will come back later this year to spend more time at Chingari.
If you want to assist in any unpaid way, there are many things you can do and you don’t have to visit Bhopal to do them. Spreading the word is what is important. Although I will stop my regular Bhopal Diary blog, I will keep the facebook page, Bhopal Today (please ‘like’) going with the help of Tabish who will be posting snippets and stories about people.
As soon as I get home I hope that my book will be proofed, printed and kindled and then I will be giving talks to groups. If you are a member of any group at all and might like to hear more about my trip and what it is like in Bhopal do please get in touch. Schools, groups based on church/mosque/temple/synagogue etc, children’s groups, business groups, women’s groups, anything – I will come and give a talk. Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange it.
Thank you for your interest.