Wow, Kathmandu!

Chicken momo's!

Chicken momo’s!

Well Kathmandu, you have already been very kind to me!

I must admit that I left Bangalore with a heavy heart, sad to leave all my wonderful friends. I arrived in Kathmandu on a grey and drizzly afternoon, not at all far removed from what I recall of my native climate! It felt so much colder here too and I remember shivering, teeth rattling uncontrollably on my first night while I slowly defrosted under the thick quilted duvet of my new bed. It was also a slight shock to be in that same situation of arriving alone in a new city again, not knowing how to get around and having to build up my connections from scratch! Luckily for me, Bangalore friends came to my aid and I was given some really great contacts so it wasn’t long before one person led me to another and another and so and so forth!

READ-Nepal where I am now working is a small NGO specialising in rehabilitation and advocacy for leprosy affected people. We are based on the Tilganga approach to the Pashupatinath temple, one of the world’s most significant Shiva temples and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll spot us by our blue fronted shop and cyber café, usually with our READ-Nepal Leprosy Centre jeep outside which was donated by the Netherlands Leprosy Relief charity. Behind the shop we have an office, drop-in clinic with a full-time nurse and part-time doctor, small residence for the most vulnerable beneficiaries, a garden and ducks! My work here is generally in a management capacity and I have much to learn; I’ve already written my first proposal and a fundraising strategy so let’s hope it works! It’s a difficult time for many NGO’s at the moment, especially with so much competition for funding!

(Just to let you know, we have started a READ-Nepal blog: readleprosycentre.wordpress.com, for more information see our website read-nepal.org or find us on facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Read-Nepal-Leprosy-Centre/531665653592516 . If you are thinking of doing a fundraising event and would like to support us at READ-Nepal please get in touch with me at katie.readleprosycentre@gmail.com )

The office with cyber cafe and shop

The office with cyber cafe and shop

Our residential wards and garden

Our residential wards and garden

Patarki who has been living at READ for 5 years

Patarki who has been living at READ for 5 years

I’m living in an area of Kathmandu with a high Tibetan population and a 20 minute walk from my house is a huge Buddhist Stupa at Boudhanath, also a World Heritage Site, which is surrounded by a number of Buddhist monasteries. It’s a beautiful, white dome shaped structure topped with golden crown and Buddha’s Eyes of Wisdom peer down from four sides. The stupa actually lies on an ancient trade route from Tibet and has been a point of prayer and meditation for centuries. Buddhist visitors circumnavigate the stupa in a clockwise direction whilst spinning the many wooden prayer wheels.

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Spinning prayer wheels

On 16th March we celebrated Holi here and it was surely a day I will never be able to forget. I was invited to perform with DJ Kichaa, a friend of a friend in B’lore, in Kathmandu’s Basantapur Durbar Square (www.facebook.com/kichaamusic). I got there early to reach before the crowds but in about five minutes was already covered in powdered paint. The square filled fast and by late morning a mass of over ten thousand people were gathered in full festival spirit! The view from the stage was incredible and I tried not to stand there gawping open-mouthed since we were on TV, but I was quite lost for words!

So, not a bad start to my time here in Kathmandu. I get the feeling there is much more to come!

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View from the stage

Me, Kichaa (my left) and crew

Me, Kichaa (my left) and crew

Watch The Burning Deck perform ‘Deluge’ at Om Made Cafe in Koromangala, Bangalore!

And, here’s an article about my time in Bangalore in the Deccan Herald Newspaper!

(http://www.deccanherald.com/content/389338/i-absolutely-love-food-here.html)

‘I absolutely love the food here’
Rohini Kejriwal, Mar 3, 2014, DHNS :
Expat zone

Moving to Bangalore was an easy shift for Katie Mackay from the UK, who came here in September 2013 for a volunteer placement.

She found herself a comfortable paying guest accommodation in Koramangala, made friends at work and outside and even found herself a place in City-based downtempo electronica project ‘The Burning Deck’, for which she plays the trumpet and sings.

“A number of factors brought me to Bangalore. I studied BA in music at the University Of York (UK) but while studying, worked part-time as a personal assistant supporting an adult with learning disability. I helped him lead an independent life and specifically supported him in organising charity music performances. I loved this work and decided to continue in this area after graduation,” recalls Katie.

Following this, she went on to support other adults and children with learning disability and was also a project worker for a charity called ‘The Children’s Society’.

“I really enjoy travelling for my work and made two volunteering trips to Malawi, Africa. After that, I had my mind set on another placement overseas but wanted this one to be more relevant to my professional development. I had a number of options, mainly in Asia, but after much thought, I decided to come and work for ‘EnAble India’ in Bangalore. It’s an NGO that supports the employment of people with disabilities,” she informs.

Adjusting to a new city and culture came surprisingly easily to her.

“I come from a town called Guisborough in north-east England. I grew up outside it in a rural area that’s very green with fields, forests, hills and moorland. I had heard that Indian cities can be quite intense so I did have some apprehensions not knowing what to expect. But I feel I settled really quickly into my new life here!” smiles Katie.

“In Malawi, I was living in a village without electricity or running water for
seven months. In Bangalore, I’ve been staying in a ladies’ paying guest accommodation that houses around 30 young women who are mostly students or working. I share a room with three lovely ladies — two from Kerala and one from Goa — and we really have fun. Moreover, all the delicious meals are cooked for us, so it’s a completely different experience to anything I’ve done before,” she adds.

Indian food was an instant hit with Katie, who enjoys the spice quotient unlike most expatriates. “I absolutely love the food here and don’t miss Western food except when I’m sick. I’m generally not fussy with food and I like spice a lot. I’ve been lucky that the PG aunty is a good cook. I love rasamand sambar and can have them three times a day,” she laughs.

Having studied music and been a part of an agit-swing UK-based band called ‘Reason Breeds Monsters’, she explored the music scene in Bangalore extensively. “Music has always played a big part in my life. My parents both play brass instruments and I started learning trumpet at the age of seven.

I brought along a lovely trumpet that was gifted to me. I managed to connect with some musicians fairly early in my stay here and had fun performing at the GoMad festival in Ooty and some Bangalore venues. I met Sandeep Madhavan in November at a rehearsal for a band and was invited a few weeks later to collaborate on a few tracks for his new album and solo project ‘The Burning Deck’,” says Katie.

She continues, “The trumpet really fit well with the sound and we felt that it would also work well in a live setup. Since then, we’ve played six shows across Bangalore and one in Goa. Each of these performances has been very special to me — for instance, we performed at Goobe’s Book Republic on Church Street with author Jeet Thayil and then recorded a new song with him based on a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. I personally feel that Bangalore has strong opportunities for gigs because there are a lot of venues here and some really interesting artistes passing through.”

Though she loves the City, her only complaint is that the standard of living here is on the higher side. “Entry to certain clubs and festivals or even buying a drink can be quite expensive. But what I love is that I can eat a really filling and tasty meal within 100 bucks!” she wraps up with a smile.

Link

The Burning Deck

Manu, Sandeep and me after a gig at The Humming Tree in Bangalore

Manu, Sandeep and me after a gig in February at The Humming Tree in Bangalore

In November, I was invited to a rock band jam in Bangalore and it was there that I met the bass-wielding, hair-swishing Sandeep Madhavan. A few weeks after the jam, Sandeep got in touch and invited me to record some trumpet lines for new music he had written for his electronic music project The Burning Deck. The trumpet really fitted well with the sound and we felt it would also work well in a live set up and so wrote horn lines for both old and new material. One rehearsal Sandeep asked if I could sing, I expressed that I don’t really ‘sing’ in the professional sense of the word but I know I can sing in tune at least! We tried out a few songs which had been recorded by singers unavailable for live gigs and, after some practise, I was able to pull them off with some success! The singing has been a great new challenge for me and I’ve really enjoyed having this new performance opportunity!

So far we’ve played 6 shows in Bangalore and 1 in Goa to different crowds in a variety of settings and set-ups, it has been another amazing layer to the experiences that I have accrued during my time in Bangalore! The new album in due to be released later in the year and I’m planning on reuniting with the band for the launch and possibly a tour. Check out the album released last year of which we’ve been performing material from in our live shows at http://theburningdeck.bandcamp.com/ and The Burning Deck blog at http://theburningdecksays.tumblr.com/

Some performance highlights have been: a heavy sounding quartet set at BFlat Bar in Indira Nager, Bangalore, with Bharat on keys, Yedu on drums, me and Sandeep; a performance at Goobe’s Book Republic with Booker Prize nominee Jeet Thayil and then recording a new song with him based around a poem by Rabindranath Tagore (wait for the new album to hear it!); a sundowner set at Om Made Café in Koramangala (did you say unlimited sangria?!); a trio set backed by visuals at The Humming Tree in Indira Nager; providing musical backdrop for a new play at the Cubbon Park Tree Festival; and, a trio set accompanied by the swell of the Arabian Sea on Palolem beach, Goa.

Gig at BFlat Bar with full band set up!

Gig at BFlat Bar with full band set up!

Sundown performance at Om Made Cafe in Koromanagala with Sandeep and Manu

Sundown performance at Om Made Cafe in Koromanagala with Sandeep and Manu

Show at Goobe's Book Republic with Jeet Thayil

Show at Goobe’s Book Republic with Jeet Thayil

"An ashoka tree and a creeper!!!!!" Receiving our claps at the end of the performance

“An ashoka tree and a creeper!!!!!” Receiving our claps at the end of the performance

Humming Tree show with nice trippy visuals

Humming Tree show with nice trippy visuals

My new pursuit!

My new pursuit!

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Goa performance at Hi-Tide, Palolem, Goa.

Goa performance at Hi-Tide, Palolem, Goa.

Thank you so much The Burning Deck, it’s been AMAZING and I can’t wait to perform with you again soon!

For now though, HELLO KATHMANDU … I wonder what YOU have in store for me!

Christmas and New Year 2013!

A pictoral account of my Christmas and New Year explorations in South India with my visiting comrade Rich!

The route:

Cottage in the clouds! Not far from Kodaikanal in the Tamil Nadu Whestern Ghats, Karuna Farm is set in a cool, damp hillside forest with supposedly epic views of the valley below whenever the cloud decides to clear - we were not so lucky this time!

Cottage in the clouds!
Not far from Kodaikanal in the Tamil Nadu Whestern Ghats, Karuna Farm is set in a cool, damp hillside forest with supposedly epic views of the valley below whenever the cloud decides to clear – we were not so lucky this time!

1 of 14 gate towers that make up the huge Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai.

1 of 14 gate towers that make up the huge Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai.

Kanyakumari - the most southern point of India where the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Laccadive Sea meet.

Kanyakumari – the most southern point of India where the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Laccadive Sea meet. 

Statue of ancient Tamil writer and philosopher  Thiruvalluvar in Kanyakumari.

Statue of ancient Tamil writer and philosopher Thiruvalluvar in Kanyakumari.

Christmas eve in Kovalam!

Christmas eve in Kovalam!

Christmas Day sea food spectacular!

Christmas Day sea food spectacular!

To the island!

To the island!

About to embark on 2 night houseboat trip in the famous Kerala backwaters

About to embark on 2 night houseboat trip in the famous Kerala backwaters

Sighhh...

Sighhh…

 

Attempting to make coconut rope!

Attempting to make coconut rope!

The coconut rope making machine

The coconut rope making machine

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Elephant training camp near Kochi

Elephant training camp near Kochi

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Elephant bath time!

New Years Eve on the beach in Fort Kochi ...

New Years Eve on the beach in Fort Kochi …

Giant effigy of Santa Claus going up in flames!

Giant effigy of Santa Claus going up in flames!

Need a lift somewhere?

Need a lift somewhere?

Munnar: tea, tea, tea, tea, tea!!!

Munnar: tea, tea, tea, tea, tea!!!

Spectacular view at Munnar

Spectacular view at Munnar

Treehouse in Wayanad!

Treehouse in Wayanad!

Wall art in the Eddekal Caves, Wayanad, believed to date to at least 6,000 BC

Wall art in the Eddekal Caves, Wayanad, believed to date to at least 6,000 BC

Eddekal cave!

Eddekal cave!

 

The end!

EnAble India Update!

I have so much to tell you since my last post so I will break it up into separate chunks!

EnAble India Update!

We had a busy couple of months leading up to the end of 2013 at EnAble India! Here are a few highlights:

  • In November, a group of us headed to Mysore for a working weekend. EnAble India worked in association with the Mysore Rotary Club to host a job fair for both employers and people with disabilities looking for employment in the Mysore area. The event aims were; to enlighten and sensitize employers to the potential of employing disabled individuals; provide employment advice to disabled people; provide advice to disabled people on government schemes available for support; and, on the second day, facilitate a platform for employers to interview disabled candidates for job openings in locally based companies. The event was really successful with huge numbers of disabled people in attendance! Around 20 representatives from local (and some national chain) companies attended on the first day for the talks. One professional from the audience spoke of being moved to tears by videos shown featuring the journey into work of some disabled people supported by EnAble India. 13 employers attended on the second day to interview candidates for job openings, 9 of which selected or shortlisted 43 candidates for roles such as data entry operators, coffee barristers and call centre executives.
Mubarak sign interpreting the candidate employment workshop.

Mubarak sign interpreting the candidate employment workshop.

  • A number of us from EnAble India attended the annual India Inclusion Summit held in Bangalore at the end of November. EnAble India conducted the access audit for the event, provided a sign language interpreter, contributed to the agenda and provided speakers. A charitable auction at the event raised 12 lakhs (1,200,000 rupees) for Enable India!!! Highlights from the summit included a video speech from former Indian president Abdul Kalam, a touching performance from Sampoorna Music Therapy school for children with autism, the life of hearing impaired wrestler Virender Singh and visually impaired stand-up comedian Sandeep Rao. Strong points were made from speakers who felt that disabled people have in the past been let down in India and a lot of work is still to be done. One speaker informed us that it wasn’t until 1995 that disability was seen as a rights issue in India. Previously, the question of disability was not included on the national census either, so without data, support for disabled people was apparently insufficient. Interestingly, the Cabinet has just cleared a new disability bill to replace the 1995 Persons With Disability Bill but it has yet to be introduced as law by parliament. Among other things, this new bill interestingly recognises autism as a disability in itself for the first time.

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  • Just before Christmas, we had some staff training; me and my colleague Subbiah were organisers for Day 1 – Communication. I started the day with a ‘Music and Communication’ workshop, the main challenge for me being that I needed to ensure the inclusion of all my colleagues, especially two colleagues who are deaf. I started the workshop by handing out percussion instruments and asked everyone to play however they wanted to, not listening to anyone else but themselves. A small group that I’d brought into the middle of the circle described how it sounded, which was then interpreted to the deaf colleagues. One person said it sounded like Bangalore during rush hour! I then gave one of the deaf colleagues a drum and asked him to feel the pulse on the wrist of the other and beat it out on the drum. Though a little shaky at first, he soon got into it and kept a firm, clear beat; the rest of the group joined in and it sounded great! I’ve had really nice feedback from many staff members who said they enjoyed the session!

Next Update: Christmas and New Year holidays!

Trumpet News

MadFest

It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon other musicians and music lovers here in Bangalore! Whilst I have largely been focusing my energies on my full time work schedule with EnAble India, I am pleased to have been involved in some music making too!

As mentioned in a previous post, I bumped into drummer Montry, the main figure behind the collaboration and environmentally focused musical project Thaalavattam (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCzLlFoQ6bc) at a charity event in Bangalore. I was later asked if I’d like to accompany him, his manager and drum tech, to a music festival called ‘Go Mad’ as a roady/ co-performer. The festival was held in the grounds of Fernhills Palace in the cool, mountainous town of Ooty; now a ‘locked-in-time’ luxury hotel, it was originally built as a swiss-esque royal getaway for the Maharajah of Mysore in 1844 and later served as a colonial retreat-from-the-heat for the British elite! We were allocated tents outside with the rest of the festival rabble; tents, mats and sleeping bags were provided for all campers for the weekend and I have to say it felt quite strange arriving at a festival and finding your tent set up and numbered along with all the others in nice neat little lines! We did manage to sneak into the palace very late one evening for a snoop around and found huge halls and long corridors lined with shiny wood panels from floor to ceiling, hundreds of slightly spooky looking framed photos of characters from days gone by, antique furniture and chandeliers!  The weekend was a lot of fun and it was great to meet so many like-minded people, watch bands, dancers and artists from both India and overseas and have the opportunity to perform myself! We played mostly in an improvisatory and interactive set-up at various locations around the festival with a stack of percussion instruments that we’d brought along. We found the festival crowd more than eager to participate and it was a pleasure to also be joined by other musicians who just so happened to be wandering around with instruments slung over their shoulders!

In a similarly interactive arrangement, I was invited to join Thaalavattum in a performance in a Bangalore bar called Opus with DJ, percussion, classical Indian violin and visualisations! This was a bit more of a nerve-wracking experience and whilst I didn’t feel it was my best performance ever, it was still good fun. Most recently, Montry and I performed at the opening of an art gallery in central Bangalore as just the two of us. With no time to prepare, we just improvised on the spot and I was pleased that it went down well, I even got given a lovely bunch of roses at the end!

At work I performed with one of the visually impaired candidates at the closing ceremony of their training programme and I also played at a Diwali lunch at the home of one of my colleagues with her son who is an excellent western classical pianist! I have also played at one rehearsal with a rock band in Bangalore called Muddy Wallah so will see how that pans out in the future! Meanwhile I am keeping my eyes and ears open for more musical opportunities and will grab them whenever they come along! I will keep you updated on any further trumpet themed developments!

Jamming around the camp fire!

Jamming around the camp fire!

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Taken during my late night corridor-creeping inside the palace

Taken during my late night corridor-creeping inside the palace

 

Montry and his famous drain pipes at the art exhibition

Montry and his famous drain pipes at the art exhibition

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EnAble India

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So I think it’s about time I talked about EnAble India and some of the work I’m doing here! EnAble India is a Bangalore based NGO set up in 1999 by founders Shanti Raghaven and Dipesh Sutariya. As is unfortunately the case all around the world, disabled people often find work opportunities lacking here for a number of reasons: lack of awareness from employers as to both the potential of hiring disabled employees and the workplace solutions that could enable tasks to be completed to the same standard as someone without disability; often disabled people here are unaware of the technology and simple solutions that could assist them greatly with many coming from rural farming backgrounds; disabled people may also lack the confidence, skills and attitude required to succeed in a work environment.

Here are EnAble India’s goals:

  • To empower the disabled: visually, physically and hearing impaired.
  • To enable the rehabilitation of people with disabilities through supplemental education, extensive training and providing assistive aids designed for daily living, education and for the work place.
  • To enable employment for people with disabilities. This will help people with disabilities fulfil their potential by being part of the workforce and enjoying successful jobs and careers.
  • To build the next generation of people with disabilities who are confident, assertive, smart and independent.

So what have I been doing?! A number of things actually! I began by sitting in on sessions with a group of visually impaired candidates and, after a guest trainer on customer service dropped out, I was asked to step in. I wrote content, VI friendly exercises and conducted weekly sessions all on preparation for work in customer service! It took the group a little while to acclimatise themselves to my accent and some translation was required at first but by the final session little or none was required so I was really pleased! With the same group of candidates, I have also spoken to each individually and produced case studies documenting difficulties, achievements, background and hopes for the future. This has been a very enlightening exercise and I am so grateful for their openness!

Another aspect of my work here has been conducting post-placement surveys with candidates that have been supported by EnAble India into work and their reporting managers. This is done to monitor how the placement is going from the point of view of both the disabled employee and their employers, offering solutions and advice where required to enable the candidates to participate equally and fully in the work force. I have really enjoyed this responsibility and have visited candidates in a number of corporations and businesses in Bangalore.

Another thing I’m doing it writing content for the training of candidates in other parts of India who will conduct their training online. I’m also trying my best to learn sign language – what I have learnt so far is thanks to the patience of Pradeep who I am pleased to say has just been offered a fantastic job opportunity after a very long wait!!! Well done Pradeep!

VI candidates working on their computers using JAWS and Screen Reader Software

VI candidates working on their computers using JAWS and Screen Reader Software

Taking notes!

Taking notes!

Me and job-seeker-no-more Pradeep!

Me and job-seeker-no-more Pradeep!

For more information or if you would like to donate to EnAble India, please see the website:

www.enable-india.org

www.facebook.com/enableindia

For any EnAble India specific questions feel free to contact me on katie@enable-india.org

Dussehra

The 10-day Desera (or Dussehra) festival is one of the most celebrated events on the Hindu calendar and brought with it masses of flowers, lights, dancers, drummers and elephants this month!

The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and, whilst there are a number of different stories celebrated during this time, the take on it that I have heard most here in Karnataka is from the myth of the warrior goddess Durga. In summary, the story goes something along the line of this:

The gods had been defeated by Mahishasura, a demon who could take the shape of a buffalo and had been blessed at his birth so that he could never be killed by a man. The gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva united their powers into a powerful bolt of energy out of which the fierce, ten-armed ultra-powerful warrior goddess Durga emerged. The gods gave her many weapons to assist her in battle including a trident, disc, sword, axe and thunderbolt as well as spears, arrows, armour and a lion! Durga battled Mahishasura and his demon army and eventually destroyed him by impaling him with her trident and slicing off his head on the tenth day.

For reasons I am currently unsure of, on the ninth day of the festival tools and implements of daily life are worshipped and celebrated here in the Karnataka region. Cars, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, tractors, petrol pumps and lorries were ordained in colourful garlands of fresh flowers, banana leaves and tinsel making rush-hour very colourful indeed!

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I travelled to Mysore on the ninth day, three hours’ drive from Bangalore and the very place where the legend of Durga is said to have occurred. Here the festival is celebrated with vigour; every evening the city becomes iridescent with twinkling lights displayed over roads, roundabouts, buildings, across the overlooking Chamundi Hills and of course the beautiful Mysore Palace. In addition, events happen around the city which all conclude on the tenth day with a famous elephant led procession and an arena extravaganza with cannons, motorbike show, dancers, drummers and horses!

Although me and my group had managed to acquire free tickets for the showstopper events on the final day, we knew we would have to depart Bangalore after the procession and so would sadly miss the arena show. We luckily had some local knowledge on our side and heard that there was a dress rehearsal happening so headed down to the show ground a day early. Unfortunately, hundreds of others had the same idea as us and the outer gate was choked with people pushing and shoving! The gates were manned by police in their brown uniforms and armed with sticks; every time the crowd got too unruly, they would all start whacking people with their sticks and everyone would stampede out of the way. One of the girls in our group was from Mysore and was determined to get us in and through her power of persuasion (I believe she used the – I’m with a European who has come all this way just for this – card) a police officer allowed us to sneak through!

Unfortunately for us, we came to yet another set of gates with a similar troupe of police, sticks and crowd all desperate to see the show. The majority of our group were about to give up at this point, including me, but yet again with a whisper in a police officer’s ear, we were through. We could see the outside of the stadium now, with hundreds of people packed on the steps on the outer sides of the building who would probably never reach the top and see anything at all! I really thought it was home time for us then but, again, I was wrong. We managed to slip through at a ground level entry point intoto the stadium with about 100 or so other people. It was very tight and claustrophobic and at first we could only see the show from a big screen above the audience but we managed to push our way through to the side lines where we watched over the shoulders of a two-deep row of police officers. From there we saw an army motorbike corps show, a performance by hundreds of traditional drummers and dancers before deciding to get away before the end to avoid the rush!

The next day was the day of the famous Mysore procession. We had acquired VIP passes which would allow us to watch the procession from within the palace grounds. But again, so had the rest of Mysore and the queue to enter was a mile long by the time we arrived; some people must have been there since early morning and been standing for hours already. We went to the back and had a fairly long wait, I was impressed to see that the queue was maintained reasonably well, with just a few pusher-inners! This was down to the people in the queue itself having none of it, those who tried to sneak in were appropriately scolded and told to get to the back. Once we were inside we took our seats; we were unfortunately quite far back but could still see provided everybody in front of us stayed seated! I needn’t have worried, the standers were policed by members of the crowd, including sweet-looking old ladies, throwing plastic bottles, banana skins and whatever else they could find at them! A couple of fights nearly broke out as well!

The procession itself was a sight to behold. It began with around eight decorated elephants followed by dancers, drummers, stilt-walkers, acrobats and floats representing the different parts of the region as well as moral messages such as the effects of alcoholism. The procession lasted for a couple of hours and was concluded by a colossal elephant called Arjuna carrying a 750kg throne of pure gold. This throne would have once been sat upon by the King but now houses a statue of the goddess Durga, known in Mysore as Chamundeshwari. Millions of people watched this event all over India on the television and whilst they would certainly have had a far better view than I had, it was a fantastic experience to be there witnessing it myself and worth the crowds, queuing and drama!

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I didn't understand what this float was getting at!

I didn’t understand what this float was getting at!

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Sakleshpur and Sleeping Rough!

Things have picked up nicely now in my life here in Bangalore, my work load is certainly full, social circle expanding and the trumpet has made its first public appearance!

I was thrilled to be invited away on a weekend trip with some colleagues to the fresh air of beautiful Shakleshpur (nr. Hassan, about 5/6 hours drive from Bangalore).  We left Bangalore around midnight and reached our destination (after a short stop to change the tyre of our mini bus and another to have a road side cup of chai) at around 6am after a very lively journey with very little sleep. We couldn’t get into our rooms at the accommodation on arrival so wandered the grounds, drank coffee and bumped into some famous ‘Kannada’ actors (Kannada is the local language in this part of India) who were there to do a shoot. Some of our group were quite star-stuck, I on the other hand managed to keep my cool – only because I unaware of their fame until this point!

Late night wheel change stop!

Late night wheel change stop!

Famous actors!

Famous actors! (Back white tshirt, front pink and other to my left)

Later we headed out again in the bus, dancing rowdily to music. First stop was a ‘view point’ which appeared to be a regular stop off for trips such as ours. It was a lovely country-side view with rolling hills and woodlands but I felt it was let down slightly by rubbish littering the field 😦 We made the most of it however and, after much ‘photo-click’ posing, hopped back on the bus and stopped again a short walk from a waterfall. We all ended up scrambling over rocks and splashing around in the water fully clothed; I was actually unsure at first as was worried about leeches but was eventually dragged in! Everyone apart from our guide got away leech free, he ended up with one latched onto his toe! Later in the day some of us were climbing trees and swimming in the home-stay swimming pool!

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The following day we dropped by Manjarabad Fort on our way back to Bangalore; an impressive ruin built in the shape of an eight-point star and a defensive stronghold of Tippu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in the 18th century until his death at the hands of the British in the Fourth Mysore war (1799). The fort is reached by 250 (or more!) steps and has very impressive panoramic views! It has spooky-looking entrances leading to (now blocked off) leading to who-knows-where!

Steps down to what I assumed was a water pit!

Steps down to what I assumed was a water pit!

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It was a great weekend; we had so much fun, ate delicious food and I felt really included in the group!

Just a few days after the weekend trip, I attended ‘Sleep under the stars – Bangalore’s first sleep rough event‘, the concept being that you stay out all night and experience a little of what it’s like to sleep rough! The event was raising money for a number of local charities supporting people as risk of destitution or experiencing homelessness; I was invited by a previous 2Way Development volunteer called Emily who works for an orphanage programme called Reaching Hand. It was a well organised event with a festival feel, there were food and drink stalls, performances from local bands and a traditional dance routine by a troupe of girls from one of the charities. Due to Bangalore’s laws preventing music performance after 10pm, when the music stopped there was a long night ahead. Emily introduced me to some of her friends and I was excited to meet some musicians, one of those was percussionist Montry who had brought a horde of drums and shakers made from waste products. We all were then the main source of entertainment and gathered a large crowd of people listening and dancing for around 3 hours! I attempted to sleep around 4am and didn’t really succeed! I later left with a group of new found friends at around 7am!

Jamming!

Jamming!

 

Bravery

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Bangalorian traffic congestion: this soundscape piece imposes an atonal splattering of mismatched pitches from the horn section accompanied by the fluctuating yet unbroken drone of whirring engines.  Listeners must be bold when it comes to stepping into this throng if you endeavour to reach the other side …

As a newcomer to this city, I still find crossing some of Bangalore’s busiest roads daunting at times. I have let out a few shrieks here and there, mostly when I’ve felt the air-stream of a motorbike or scooter whizz past much closer than I felt was comfortable. I have found the trick is to edge your way out where gaps appear and eventually you’ll get to the other side; if you stand waiting at the roadside for both sides to be clear you will be there all day.

For someone with a visual impairment, navigating your way through this motorised swarm takes another level of confidence for which I have unending respect. Most of the visually impaired candidates that I am working with travel independently to their training sessions, as do all my VI colleagues. I know the only way for me to totally understand the commute from their perspective would be to blind-fold myself and venture out – don’t worry family and friends, I won’t be trying this as I simply don’t have the courage. In addition, cracked and protruding pavements that sometimes disappear completely into a hole, (or tree!) offer their own challenges. Respect, respect, respect, respect!

Accidents do sometimes happen here. Everyone is at risk of course but I feel I can say that people with visual impairments have at least slightly elevated danger. However, it is without doubt a risk absolutely worth taking when your independence depends on it.

Earlier this week one of our VI candidates arrived on the back of a motorbike with one of my colleagues and was carried inside with a bandaged foot; he had just returned from the hospital. Earlier, he had tried to cross a road and been knocked over by a man on a scooter who stopped to pick him up, said ‘sorry’ and drove off. Outrageous. The candidate was very lucky to not have broken anything but his ankle was badly sprained and he was in a lot of pain; I insisted we take him home to rest. In fact, I transported him myself in a wheelchair as I felt confident in my ability to deliver him smoothly and safely and it wasn’t too far. I gave him some paracetamol with strict instructions and told him to take the following day off from training to recover. He stayed true to this but of course was back at the training centre 9am the day after that having taken the same route that was cut short just days before.

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