Saturday, December 11, 2010

Travels in Kerala: the 'Young Indian Futures' team reports

Today we follow Shakyajata’s report from Bodh Gaya with another by her, this time from the other end of India - almost 2,000 miles south, where she has been visiting the small Triratna groups in Kerala. We’ve included it in full to give you the full flavour of her experiences - enjoy...

For more information on the projects mentions please see She writes -

“Dear friends,

“Here is the first proper 'report' I have been able to put together since arriving in India this time. I hope you will find it enjoyable, and I apologise if you would rather not receive it, please let me know if that is the case.

“I am writing this while sitting in an almost unbearably hot internet shop, in Trivandrum, the main city of the South Indian state of Kerala. Trying to imagine the freezing UK my friends are writing about - it seems like an alien world. Trivandrum is steamy and humid (it has rained a lot), coconut palms grow between the concrete buildings. and most men wear the short lunghi, a kind of folded-up skirt...Priyadaka wearing his, is a sight to behold. In a crowd, the air is filled with the rapid-fire burr and bubble of Malayalam, which sometimes hardly sounds like language at all. A different world.

“I am travelling with two of the best companions in the good life, that you could imagine. Helen Sullivan is from Sheffield, lives in Manchester, and decided to come here on the basis of a couple of meetings - she is just great to be with, resourceful, patient, kind and honest, and highly idealistic. I enjoy her company more by the day. She has a strong response to the spiritual aspects of life in India, and became a mitra (a more committed Buddhist) at Bodh Gaya, the place of the Buddha's Enlightenment, a couple of weeks ago. A hugely special occasion which she shared with 19 of the students we are supporting at Aryaloka Computer Institute, Nagpur. She is teaching English to those students and others, together with our fellow-traveller Priyadaka....the nicest guy ever to put the wind up me by swimming out to sea in the dark, and disappearing for what seemed like an age...I am glad to report that he reappeared, after several minutes of running up and down in utter panic....this is the way Priyadaka is, I'm afraid.

“He has many other qualities too. Typically, when I twisted my knee in a slick puddle and was hobbling for some days (not easy in India, where the ground is rough and the lighting unpredictable) he was just unfailingly aware and helpful, step by painful step...and his English classes produce gales of laughter, howls of glee, and a lot of English...he is a thoroughly compassionate man. For the last few days we have been thoroughly enjoying the natural beauty of Kerala, the backwaters and the beaches, the cormorants and sea-eagles, the fishermen and coconut sellers, the unspoiled loveliness of it all, as well as meeting good friends.

“The first month in Nagpur, was quite hard work for all of us. The students we are supporting are studying Animation (both 2D and 3D) - ten of them, fully supported, or Hardware and Networking, 4 of them fully supported, plus 2 part-timers. The Animation students especially, are finding the course tough. A lot is being expected of them (would-be animators in the UK usually study for 3 years) and maybe not all of them will make it, they will have to be guided into other career channels, eg photo studio work. However, to the delight of everyone, 3 of our last intake of Animation trainees are now on their way to very good jobs in the industry, having been offered training with a view to full employment in a big company in Delhi, at salary levels undreamed of by young people from their poor background, doing enjoyable, creative work. Their experience will open up a career path to the graduates who follow. In fact, all but 1 of last year's intake are now employed, with good prospects. Very encouraging, even though to continue to support them stretches our resources to the limit, giving them this capacity for self-sufficiency for themselves, their families and their communities, makes all the effort completely worthwhile. It is the most satisfying thing I have done in my life.

“In a few hours, Priyadaka and I will board the fast (if rather expensive) Rajdhani Express, for a 41-hour journey all the length of the country to Delhi. It is cold up there, which will be a shock after Kerala. We are going to attend the wedding of Tarun's brother - we have known Tarun a long time, he is one of the 3 animators who are breaking ground in the industry, and it will be a delight to see him, Nagaratna and Syambabu when we arrive. I have bought myself a rather splendid new sari for the occasion. Yesterday Helen and I went to a tiny tailor's shop to get me a choli blouse made, and the number of measurements was amazing (Helen measuring me, of course he could not do that) which made us suspect that he was rather fascinated with the process of these 2 crazy white women wielding a tape measure in his shop...

“It has been raining very heavily in Trivandrum, the night before last there was a spectacular thunderstorm and torrential rain. Yesterday we hoped to go to Kanyakumari, at the very tip of India, but there were no trains as a landslide on the line.....disappointing, but on the other hand I think we are all 3 getting a bit fed up with being tourists, and want to get back to being more directly useful. The wonderfully persuasive Chandrabodhi has somehow got me to lead a retreat for women at the Urgyen Sangharakshita retreat centre in Maharashtra (on Xmas weekend!)....Helen is keen too, and we will have a couple of days after the retreat to ourselves in this remote, wild place (think wolves and bears, hope not too close!). I feel really inspired by this request, as well as wondering how on earth he managed it, and what I am going to do....

“Healthwise, we all seem pretty well, though Helen is extremely attractive to insects and Priyadaka gets an allergic swelling at times, and I need to keep off the spicy food (not easy in South India, place of heavenly masala dosai). But we are in good spirits, and meditating regularly which keeps us on an even keel, in the friendly chaos of India. I will send some photos too if I can, but you can see them on Triratna News soon, anyway (just google it)

“May you all be well and happy, life going well for you, well wrapped and healthy.
“With love, Shakyajata

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