I bulk update this blog once a month. I’m more frequent on my own domain space HERE
Yet another day was coming to an end and the people of the land were tending their chores. It was all one peaceful ambiance with just minor disruptions here and there. To help manage the affairs, the architect of the land decided to pull up a few responsible men and women and give them the authority to administer sections of the land..Well, ‘Decentralization of power’ as they call it. And then, things changed. With just one word, rose eleven kingdoms all powerful and energetic. And within minutes, the Kings and Queens swore at the altar to uprise their just formed kingdoms. Ministers, Treasurers and Soldiers were deputed and responsibilities bestowed.
Ever since then, things have drastically improved. The men and women now have something really concrete to look forward to – a structure, a pattern and above all rejoice in the powers that they otherwise would not have. There’s now an aura of peace in the empire and the subjects seem to be showing quite some interest in strengthening their kingdoms. As days progress, the architect is still working out the finer details as to how the empires could be allowed to rule in mutual peace and still compete with each other for mutual benefit.
Welcome to Class of IIA at Epiphany- Where we play the Age of Empires with real Kings, Queens and Ministers!
Looking back, it’s kind of funny how just a random idea seems to be making so much of an impact on the kids. Ever since we divided the classroom into groups and gave them this theme to build upon, things have quite changed. Behavior management in the classroom has tremendously improved and almost every objective that is taught, once related to the theme even in some abstract form is investing the kids so much. It has also given scope to introduce an awesome value system in the class, which I’ve been trying in vain for the past 8 months to integrate in my regular classes. This coming friday, if things work well, I hopefully would be able to introduce them to the barter system and eventually trade and commerce. The options seem endless…
While biking back home today, I wonder why this idea didn’t strike me when I was scouting for a proper theme for my class late June, last year. There’s just about 25 instructional days left for this academic year to come to an end and I probably could have invested them a bit more had things ‘clicked’ before. But well, I guess thats just the feeling of not doing enough, that every teacher experiences every single day in his/her life. Really hoping this new system evolves into a robust framework and also if nothing works, I still can now be proud of founding eleven dynasties, not just in my dreams but in reality!
Over the past few months, there’s a lot thats been happening; but for some reason I just didn’t take the time out to visit this space. With the school closed down for the Christmas break and keeping up with the self imposed rule of updating my blog every year-end, here’s a quick snapshot of ‘my’ 2010.
This year has been quite interesting from various perspectives. Looking back, the major checkpoints[not necessarily listed in order] this year would be:
- Ran the infamous Auroville half marathon and vowed never to stop running!
- Resigned from Infosys to join TeachforIndia. [leaving an awesome team behind and making one profound shift in my career.]
- Met Paruammai, attended a close friends wedding and more importantly explored Kerala like never before.
- Joined TFI and reveled in the five week long induction programme.
- Couldn’t resist the temptation to do the Katraj-Sinhagad night trek [Twice on successive weekends!] amidst the rigour of he institute.
- Missed spending quality time with family!
- Reported to Epiphany School where I’ve been teaching IInd grade kids for the past six months and probably continue to do so for the next 1.5yrs.
- Paid obeisance to the rain god by trekking the Kenjalgad fort [First monsoon trek by DH.]
- Hiked up to the Ahupe village to take some time out and celebrate yet another important milestone.
- Visited the Khadakwasla dam.[Failed executing the rock band idea though!]
- Revisited[Hiked] Koraigad, Rajmachi and Ratangad.
- Rode to Khadakwasla dam [Got back to the byke after a long break of 5 months!]
- Registered for the MBL course by Distance education mode from NLSIU.
- Visited the Korlai fort [Didn't byke this time!]
- Registered for the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon[My first Full Marathon!] and raised about 9500Rs. for TFI.
- Ran the Pune Half marathon.[ Well, actually ran a 25!]
- Turned 25 Years! Woohoo!
- Ran the Goa River Marathon.
- Witnessed Shreks’ [a co-fellow] wedding in Vizag.
- Was gifted a Hookah, a mobile speaker , some invaluable coupons and a heart rate monitor!
- Realised that I could afford to save more than I thought I could.
- Squared in and took some real important decisions.
- Vowed to stick on to Ubuntu TOTALLY.
Well that kind of summarizes the year that’s been till date. Tomorrow hopefully I would run a sweet 30k to siphon off 2010 and usher in 2011 and for some reason, I have this gut feeling that the next year would be even more eventful than this year.
Wishing you [And myself!] an awesome and happening year ahead….
Couple of hours back I opened my student tracker, just sat back and started mulling over how each of my kids have changed over the past few months. As I went through the list reading each of the kids names, images of the kid kept flashing in and out of my mind and most of them, so turned out to be of those moments when they were being ecstatic or really happy. This made me wonder how we as humans tend to capture/remember only the positives or the cheerful part in our relationships. But as a teacher, am I not failing my kids in not noticing their negative behaviour and working to get them back to their normal self? Am I doing justice to them by not stopping what I’m doing and not taking that extra time to pay attention to that minuscule behavioral change? How many times have I swept a behavioral change under the blanket and continued with my class/session? How many times have I ‘neglected’ a kid in the rush to finish off a topic/objective?
Sadly in retrospect I seem to recollect more than one occasions where I’ve failed noticing/paying heed to the change. This could probably be one of those reasons why a particular kid did not perform well in a particular objective; a reason why a particular kid did not receive me with the same enthusiasm as he otherwise would have and this is something I’m really beginning to appreciate in this role as a teacher. Every moment in the classroom you end up dealing with the emotions of 46 kids out there. Human to human interaction is the utmost priority. When I go back to my classroom in twenty days for the second term, this is one thing that I have to keep in mind always.
Talking by numbers, my kids have progressed from a class average of 25% to 56% in Math, from 17% to 59% in Grammer and from 28%[-0.1 Grade] to 85%[1.5 Grade] in RC. Thats some significant progress that the class has made. But again, the class average does not necessarily represent the overall growth of the classroom. There still are kids like – Sarfaraz, Nabil, Aditya More, Meghana and Yash Pawar who need to make tremendous progress if they have to be on par with the other kids. I guess that is where the main challenge lies.
Today, I visualize my classroom as a circular board resting on a pivot. I being the pivot and the circular board, a playground where my 46 little ones decide the dynamics of the classroom from inside. My responsibility is to maintain the equilibrium and I need to be extremely flexible so as to adjust and re-position to the external stimuli and the dynamics created by my kids so that the whole system remains in equilibrium always. The next fortnight I guess is all about figuring out how to maintain that equilibrium, about how I push myself to my limits of being flexible and making that transformation something sustainable…
Yesterday was one of those real interesting days. Couple of friends and I had been to the Korlai fort and were heading back from Alibag late in the evening. Seated in the rear of the bus, I’m not really sure how this conversation/debate ensued. For about an hour or so the six of us had a heated conversation on various policies, practices, ideologies and biases. Probably one of the best ever deliberations since my Infy days. In introspection, it kind of gave me some food for thought on how I’d like to proceed with the rest of my fellowship or for the next two years.
Since I last wrote, things have quite changed in my classroom and otherwise. TFI has this concept of having two teachers in one class room if the number of students is more than 30. Kavitha, My co-teacher formally chipped in in July. With this things slowly seem to come under control. The kids receive more personal attention and we’re able to address issues in a much better fashion. Couple of kids who never even open their mouths are slowly opening up and and are showing interest in the classroom. The class dynamics has changed and kids are slowly learning to appreciate English. Community visits seem to make an impact.
Going by last weeks assessments the class per se has shown significant improvement. But looking holistically I still do not see myself doing justice to the kids. Two years down the lane when I move out of this role, I would like to see my kids be able to speak for themselves, have the confidence to stand for what they really feel about and be able to take appropriate decisions given a set of choices. I personally believe, all that these nimble minds needs is exposure to the world out there and a pathway that would help them generate a practical solution to problems. They’re more than smart to figure out things for themselves. Teaching them Arithmetic and Grammar probably would be in the last of the priorities list.
Drawing the dividing line between catering to the parents and schools mandates of ‘completing’ the syllabus, and really imparting what I truly believe would help the kids overtime is something I still need to get a knack of . It is so heartening and overwhelming to see what a few fellows out here are able to accomplish in their classrooms. I guess only time would tell how things unfold…
As I take one last gulp of hot tea from a roadside stall, Ronnie wickedly smiles and brings his hand forward with a congratulatory gesture. He just says – ‘One month’ and grins wildly! I wink back, pay for the tea and walk back towards the school gate. As we quickly make our way through the puddles and pits in the slight Pune drizzle, my mind wanders out in search of those small moments that I could call ‘achievements’ of the month thats been from my one month of teachers life. Sadly I get to recollect just a couple of them. And then it looms on me again how important it is to appreciate minuscule milestones in this journey – Something which I’ve been working hard on ever since the summer school.
Today for some reason, I’m not really as happy as I should have been. Administered a diagnostic test today and a perfunctory look at the sheets sunk me deeper in the gravel. These kids are just not able to answer even bare simple questions. I’ve spent about 23 whole days with these 46 kids and things do not really seem to be on the green side. Classroom and Behavior management still seems to be an issue and objectives wise I haven’t progressed much. They seem to understand Math concepts but for some reason that is just not translating onto the answer sheets. Collectively they seem to know how to reach to the solution but when asked individually they just put up a poker face. English for them seems to be a magnanimous monster lurching right round the corner. I’m yet to figure out where that small invisible spark exists so that I can magically tap it on and fire them up to speed. A couple of strategies to be implemented and a lot more are to be learnt.
Tomorrow marks a new beginning of looking back and taking the best of what worked; of paying attention and appreciating the minute ‘eureka’ moments in the classroom and not to forget – of understanding how close I could get to build the bridge between possibility, predictability and uncertainty.
It’s been close to two months that I’ve been with TFI. 1 week of induction, 4 weeks of summer school and 2 weeks of Placement school. There’s quite a lot that’s been weaving around here. I initially had planned to document most that’s been happening right from the first day but failed miserably. The ‘induction’ wave just swept me off the coast and kept me in the waters for close to a month. The rigorous schedule during the institute and other things took priority and I just couldn’t fit in time to sit back and write what’s been brewing out here. Things slowly seem to have fallen in place now and I’ve decided to be a bit more regular on my site.
For the next two years I would be a class teacher for about 45 second grade kids at the Epiphany school at Guruwarpet, Pune primarily focusing on their English and Math. Going by my preliminary analysis – None of my kids can speak even a basic English sentence properly, Most write in incorrigible handwriting, 2 have been passed on to the second grade despite failing in the first, Just 8 of them understand my English class instructions, Only 4 can differentiate a question from an answer, Average reading fluency stands at about 15wpm [Expected – 40wpm], 3 always retort in Hindi/Marathi when asked a question, Only 6 can add single digit numbers having carryover, 5 cannot even decipher numbers written on the board, 4 just do not want to attend school and 1 girl has this superfluous crush on me! A diagnostic test due later this week would actually bring about how many grade levels my kids are actually lagging behind.
Couple of months back when similar statistics was put up in a presentation, I just couldn’t buy it. But today when I look at it manifesting in my own classroom, I’m sheerly overwhelmed. Each of my actions in the next two years would in ways impact how these kids perceive things and how their lives transform. In the next two years, one of our main objectives would be to plan and execute each of our lessons such that each one of these kids gets on par with their peers and stand to compete with other ‘advantaged’ kids from the private schools. Things are getting interesting by the day!
Looking back, joining TFI is probably the best ever decision I’ve taken till date. The commitment and zeal with which people work here, truly amazes me. It just doesn’t feel like working in a non-profit organization. The meticulous planning, professional conduct, transparent execution, the numerous sessions, reflection and de-briefs that keep everyone on their toes day through night simply floors me.
One month in the institute starkly redefined what working hard/smart meant. My regular day used to start at about five in the morning with a half an hour run around the I2IT campus and then a dash for the morning breakfast. At about 06:45am buses would transport the 100 odd first institute fellows from the I2IT campus to the summer schools at Somwarpet. At about 12:00pm once the summer school gets over we’d be taken back to the I2IT campus for various institute sessions and debriefs till 20:00hrs. Rest of the day is spent on lesson planning for next days classes or other activities that may go on till 21:00 or 22:00hrs. At the end of the day, you’re literally exhausted. There used to be so much to learn and do, at times I just did not understand what was happening around me. There were times when I’d question the very logic of lesson planning and the innumerable sessions. But over time as we saw the progress made by the kids, things slowly sank in. The only source of motivation is the amazing staff and fellows we have here [and not to mention the kids]! At times, even at about 12:00 at night you’d see these folks planning out sessions or logistics for us the next day. They’re just SO much dedicated towards this movement that at times it all looks to be a dream…
Summer School – Class 3D
Summer schools was probably the best that could have been planned for us. For kids this was a summer camp and for us quite learning experience. All through the four weeks, Staff, Program managers and Fellow advisors would constantly watch us while we deliver the lessons to the kids and provide critical feedback. About four fellows handle a class each taking about one or two sessions everyday. Pre and post Diagnostics help chalk the progress made by the kids during the summer Schools. At the end of the four week camp, the kids are better prepared to get back to their schools and so are the fresh fellows to enter their Placement schools where they would be fulltime teachers for the next two years.
At TFI, one centric belief is that we as a movement can bring about a transformation/change in the society only if there’s a transformation in each one of us as a person. I wasn’t really appreciative of this till late. I just couldn’t find the ‘aha’ moments in my summer school while most around me seemed to be really enjoying their journey as a first time teacher. Later over time I realized, I could/would never look at the minor accomplishments that my kids had. I never took stock of the small things that happened every day in the class always concentrating on the bigger picture. Only after making a conscious effort to let loose, I really seemed to be involved and connected with the kids. Teaching only got interesting after that! Ever since, I make it a conscious attempt to see what each kid has to offer every single day and appreciate him/her irrespective of the scale of the progress and make note of it. Things have definitely changed. Now I think more than I used to think before and plan more than I used to plan before. My kids progress seem to have taken a higher seat than anything else and I’m more than happy to do anything that would help them inch that extra step forward.
Tomorrow by this time, fifty more fellows [The second batch of fellow/Tenners for this year] would be entering their own classrooms where they would teach and train for the next four weeks. They would co-incidentally be teaching in my placement school [Epiphany]. Time seems to have simply flown by! I remember myself in that position just about a month back…
Between, over to my other passion of trekking; I managed to do the Katraj-Sinhagad moonlight trek twice again over consecutive weekends. This was during the institute and I still am surprised how I managed to pull it through. Last week I headed out to Kenjalgad with the DH team. Turned out to be quite an experience to start off with. I’m not really sure how much justice i’ll be able to do to this aspect going forward…only time will tell…
Two more days and my vacation comes to an end. A lot was planned for but not everything worked the way I wanted it to. The North/NE trip didn’t materialize, the bamboo shelter remains an open chapter and the Kanyakumari-Delhi ride somehow just cascaded into oblivion. But a lot DID work out of the blue – I had an amazing trip down south, got a hang of living on a restricted budget, walked a couple of nice business deals to closure with a decent profit and also earned a couple of bucks by just reviewing stuff. I now have the confidence of eking out a living by doing meaningful things than just doing some mundane job! And an icing on the cake – The research proposal clicked. I just couldn’t have asked for a better vacation!
Looking back on other aspects, I definitely have slacked a bit in terms of the outdoor activities. I’ve not been running and cycling as much as I wanted too. Probably it’s just the heat thats keeping me indoors. I definitely don’t want this to be on the downswing so I’ve revisited this years targets. Last year I’d ridden about 1300kms so this time I’ve set my target to 2500kms. On the running front I need to finish a Full Marathon in about 3h45m. – The August Hyderabad Marathon should be a good target. Given that I’m heading out to Pune these numbers should be pretty much reachable, but only time will tell.
Coming to think of it, I am going to miss Hyderabad badly. It’s not that this is the first time I’m moving out of here. For four years during my undergrad and one year during my Infosys work life I’ve been away from the city. But then, I did have scope to head back as and when I pleased. This flexibility I’m sure not going to have for the next two years considering the kind of work I’ll be doing in the fellowship. I guess this time its going to be a long good bye to Irani chai and the Hyderabadi Hindi! I got to know quite a few interesting people through the Infosys journey and it’s sad I’m having to part ways just three years through. But the amazing time I’ve spent with them will truly remain embalmed.
In the month of July, most of my family would be coming down from the States for a long vacation in India. I’m afraid I would be able to spend just a day or two with them. Opting to stay back in India, I just didn’t get to see the kids grow up and its sad I will not be able to be with them when they’re here. The way things work!
All this aside, I hope to make the next two years, one truly memorable journey. A journey figuratively interspersed with stations big and small, transgressing routes known and unknown. A journey that would ask of me in giving my ultimate best in understanding, motivating and hopefully transforming the lives of the kids out there. This part of my life, this little part, I hope marks the beginning of a fresh story. A story that gets the pages turning on and on. Fingers crossed…
31st March ’10. A few days back, I was mentioning to a friend of mine – Kerala is actually not ‘Gods’ own country’ during summers. Today as I sit by the window of a state transport bus bound towards Ernakulam from Munnar, I take back my statement. The cool gusts of evening breeze from the omnipresent coconut and Banana trees, the winding roads cutting through the Western Ghats, the narrow age old over-bridges on the canals and water-ways, the yellow haze of the sun as dusk sets in and the distinct architectural splendor portrayed by each of houses round the corner – Cruising in 80s on the barely twenty feet wide ghat roads, I realize there’s something ethereal about this place as I’m left to the mercy of the short mustached man behind the wheels.
I just got back home from a long – or should I say, very long trip from deep down south. This for one was way too different from my regular trips. There was quite an element of predictability and specific destinations and timelines were charted out even before I left Hyderabad. But looking back at the places that I’ve covered during this 17 day vacation and more so the short yet invaluable time I got to spend at each of these distinct locations, I’m more than glad things turned out the way they did!
The informal TFI meet at Pune on the 20th, for which I’d made last minute bookings and changes in my itinerary was quite worth the trouble taken. Though only about 30 folks turned up, the diversity in the group was quite evident. The ’09 fellows seem to be as excited as we ‘freshers’ were and I’m sure there’s a lot we’re going to learn from their experiences in the next couple of months. As we get to know a bit more about each other three hours just flew by. At about 19:00hrs I head to ‘Park street’ to meet couple of my old friends. A late evening dinner in a plush restaurant and I call it a day. The next day even before dawn sets in, I head to Deccan Gymkhana to watch a Basketball tournament of a friend of mine and the rest of the day is spent visiting old pals from the ‘Pune days’. At about 19:30hrs I barely make it to the station to board the Kanyakumari Express to head to Palakkad. The 32hour journey begins…
22nd March ’10 – 23rd March ’10 | Palakkad – Pallavur
As the train traverses through the four states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and finally Kerala, People move in and move out of the compartment. Apparently it looks as if I’m the only one in the compartment who’s completing the whole journey. At about 01:00hrs on 23rd, the train finally chugs into the Palakkad station. I decide to spend the next couple of hours in the station itself. At about 03:30hrs unable to get some sleep, I walk out. We once used to have a hotel here right outside the Railway station. Given the close proximity, there always used to be a flurry of activity at the hotel. Today as I stand by the land, I see that the place seems to have changed quite a lot and there are no signs of our once ancestral house. It’s a bit disturbing to find the house missing there and the present owner seems to have no plans to renovate the place. Its all shrubs and bushes. I wish we atleast had a photograph of the house and hotel before demolishing it…With a heavy head I walk over to the Olavakkode junction. A rick from here takes me to the Town bus stand.
23rd March ’10 – 24th March ’10| Pallavur – Killakotura
I leave Pallavur that evening after meeting Paruammai at about 18:00hrs and board a bus that I presumed would take me to Palakkad. After about half an hour I realise I was heading in the wrong direction and hop off in a town called Killakotura. A few checks with the village folks and I get to know that the last bus from there to Palakkad just left. I’m left with no other option but to camp at the village. I wander about for sometime and finally manage to find a decent looking lodge. The manager offers a room with ‘All facilities’ for 125 bucks. When asked about food in the whereabouts, he says he could send it over to the room. I happily accept and enter the room. For a small village as this, this was quite a luxurious room with TV and Air conditioning! At about 20:30hrs there’s a knock on the door. As I open it, a lady stands there with a food plate. She keeps the food on the table and asks – ‘Ethra manickura? [How many hours?]‘. I instantly reply back in my primitive malayalam – ‘Night stay aana’ [I'll be staying overnight]. And then it looms on me where exactly all this was going! She walks out of the room and in a couple of minutes comes in with the manager. This chap re-verifies and finally when he realises what exactly has happened, he instantly says – ‘Zhorry..Zhorry’ ‘[Sorry..Sorry] ‘ and walks out with the lady! I gulp the food with a vow to be on gaurd next time when someone says accommodation would be available with ‘All facilities’!
The next day morning I checkout at about 07:00hrs and head aimlessly through the village. At about 10:00hrs I manage to find a bus that would take me towards Palakkad. I change buses in between and finally reach Palakkad at about 14:00hrs. The next checkpoint was Trivandrum which was about 10hrs from Palakkad by train. I decide to cover this distance during the night and explore parts of Palakkad in the state transport bus. It was kinda good to just hop into buses aimlessly and just see where the bus was going. At about 21:00hrs I head back to Palghat Junction, have a light dinner, board Amritha Express and crash for the day.
25th March ’10 – 27th March ’10 | Trivandrum
Nothing much done during these three days. I scrap all backpacking plans and just spend time at my grand mom’s place. The heat was literally beating the pulp out of me and I decided to take it easy. Went out for real long evening walks though, exploring parts of Trivandrum figuring out short cuts only to avoid them the next day! TVM had its first monsoon shower on 26th and it literally lashed the whole town – A much needed break from the heat!
28th March ’10 – 29th March ’10 | Ernakulam – Vaikom – Kumarakom – Kottayam
A friends wedding was on 29th at Vaikom. I decide to leave TVM on 27th and reach Ernakulam on 28th so as to catch up with two other friends of mine – Adi and Abi who were coming over from Hyderabad. At about 07:00hrs we board a bus from Ernakulam. It takes about an hour and a half to reach Vaikom and eventually the Guest house where we were put up. We head out to the Shiva temple and then for Breakfast. As I walk through the streets, a sense of belonging looms in. Despite Vaikom being my Maternal ancestors place, I’ve never been here before. My Mom and her siblings grew up here but I wasn’t really able to trace out our ancestral land.Realising there wasn’t much I could do, I just felt contented that I could visit this place during this year.
Sushma – Another friend and Raji – the bride tun up in an hour or so. Time flies by as we catch up with the latest happenings in our lifes. We were meeting these folks after two and a half years and it already looks as if things have changed so much! As we meet more of her friends and family members we’re humbled by the hospitality we’re given. The day is dramatically wound up with a last minute shopping for ‘mundus‘ and Raji’s mehndi ceremony. The wedding next day is swiftly completed in two hours flat and we’re served a lip smacking lunch at the temple ‘sadya’. This wedding turned out to be one of the best ever weddings I’ve attended till date – short, sweet and no unnecessary fuss. Evening at about 15:00hrs we decide to head towards Kumarakom.
For want of time, we decide to engage a rick. and head to Kumarakom directly. For about 250 bucks, we’re shuttled from Vaikom over to this place in about an hour. We engage a boat for about an hour and a half for 450bucks and cruise through the backwaters and the Vembanad lake. I’m not really in for leisure ‘relaxing’ rides. Such rides would best be enjoyed when you’re with your family or with a big group of friends. Nevertheless the ride was quite a stress buster and helped us wind out from all the travel related strain. A refreshing cup of coffee at the Kerala tourism department restaurant and we head over to Kottayam. Adi and I were to stay put at this place while Abi had to catch a Hyd bound train. We manage to find a decent lodge for 400bucks and crash out.
30th March ’10 – 31st March ’10 | Kottayam – Muvattupuzzah – Kothamangalam – Munnar -Udamalpet
To avoid travel in the hot sun, Adi and I check out of the lodge at about 07:00am and head to the Kottayam bus stand. Some inquiries here and there and we figure out we’d just missed a near direct bus to Munnar. One of the conductors directs us to walk a bit ahead, get on to the other side of the bridge, Board a bus to Muvattupuzzah and figure our way out from there. In about an hour we manage to reach Muvattupuzzah and board the bus to Kothamangalam. Kothamangalam seems to be a bigger bus stand and you’d get to find a number of buses starting out from here towards Munnar. In a couple of hours we reach Munnar and directly enter a restaurant for a sumptuous lunch. For some reason, I do not get to sense the Kerala flavor at this place. Every second person talks in tamil and to add to that there was a new political party meeting with couple of ministers lambasting out on the speakers. Mani – an auto driver approaches us and proposes to help figure out an economical lodge and guide us around the place. We somehow seem to like the way he was taking his case forward and accede. In minutes we check in to a lodge and in about an hour Mani starts the guided tour around the place.
Life in Munnar: Our decision to take Mani’s services seems to be quite fitting. He turns out to be quite an interesting person and the discussion moves on from regular ‘guide’ talk to his life and how he was making ends meet. He tells us that he just enrolled his first kid in one of the finest english medium schools in Munnar and managed persuading the management to let him pay the 10grand capitation fee in installments. Since he had his own Auto, he would ride extra hours when required and could comfortably make 10grand a month. As we pass through the TATA Tea estates, he says he wished his wife could get a chance to work with them. All tea pickers are paid just about 140Rs. per month. But the facilities that TATA provides them is what, he says makes people eagerly look forward to employment with them. Apparently they’re provided accommodation and their kids are provided absolutely free English medium education and Transport. TATA also sends five students of their employees[tea pickers] to pursue their Higher education to Australia – All expenses taken care of! Given all this there was a catch in the employment – You would need to have a lineage to enter the job, something that he feels that wasn’t providing the remaining folks an equal opportunity.
Mani also brings out the dark factor of Munnar – Prostitution and Drugs. There’s just no dearth of both. When asked what kind of ‘guests’ he’d prefer guiding – He promptly gets back stating anyone but for Israelis. For the reason that they generally look out for Ganja and he didn’t want to call for unnecessary trouble.
Since this was a complete off-season, we end up paying 450Rs. for the first day and 650Rs. for the second day to Mani. And I’ve just no regrets about the amount spent! Should you happen to visit Munnar anytime I would highly recommend you reach out to Mani on +91 9495879103.
The winding roads and hills badly remind me of the Jalori pass mountain biking expedition I did early last year. There’s nothing worse than not having your bicycle in such amazing places. As we pass by the Annaimudi viewpoint I vow to get back here for a long Bicycle expedition sometime later this year.
Done with the regular spots for that day, we head back home and crash out. There’s a thick mist setting in and the temperature is about 20deg. I find it hard to believe that I’m compelled to use a blanket even in Summer! The next day we travel a bit more farther and cover about 70kms of travel and sightseeing. Munnar apparently seems to be a proper tourist place. There’s nothing starkly different here but for the roads. I decide to head back to Trivandrum that very day while Adi stays back for one more day. A five hour bus journey to Aluva and then Ernakulam and I finally get to board the Kuchuveli express back to Trivandrum.
02nd April ’10 – 03rd April ’10 | Trivandrum – Kanyakumari
Adi gets back to Trivandrum at about 04:00am. We decide to visit the Anantha Padmanabaswamy temple and then head immediately to Kanyakumari. After a three hour long drive and two hour wait in the queue in the Boat jetty we realise the visit was just not worth it. Without second thoughts both head back to Trivandrum that very evening after visiting the Vivekananda Memorial. It so happens that this was a ‘Good Friday’ and the roads are blocked because of processions happening. As the bus takes detours into narrow town roads, I’m amazed at the skills of these drivers. At one point of time he had to squeeze the bus up a 45deg. incline along with a tata sumo! Man, they can literally drive an elephant up your asshole and get it out without any damage! Finally we manage to reach TVM at about 20:00hrs.The next day is spent whiling away time at home and some evening Trivandrum ‘Dhekko’. Adi leaves for Hyd that very day and I follow suite in a couple of days.
With that ends my 17 day long vacation in Kerala!Despite not having elements of surprises, I would remember this break for quite a few reasons – Meeting Paruammai, Attending Raji’s spectacular wedding , Striking off Munnar from the ‘Places yet to visit’ list and more importantly spending some real good time with my Grand mother and figuring out the family tree.
I’ve been visiting Kerala almost every year, for the past twenty or so years. But it’s just in the last couple of years have I’ve sensed a change in the lifestyle . I probably do not have the rights to comment about the place since I spend just a couple of days every year, but for some reason I sense the people and the place as such is drastically changing. Change is inevitable. Development is very much required. But before we start transforming things for the greater benefit, unless we come up with an organic model to secure the time tested practices that are currently in place, we’re prone to lose out on the valuable and irretrievable balance…