Several houses near my parents home have been demolished and are being rebuilt this year. As is the norm in India, building materials block the road, children play in the construction site and there is dust everywhere.
The house right across from my parents’ is one of these. Every time DH and I stepped out, the day laborers stopped to stare—not many white men in our middle class residential neighbourhood. The laborers’ kids followed our every move. DH left a week later and they had no other option but to follow me. Apparently I’m not that interesting—they ignored me after just one day!
I decided to ask the parents to send the children to me everyday—to work on basic academics. The little girl beamed when I asked one of the women if I could work with the children. The foreman said, “Amma they are going away on Saturday but why don’t you work with them for the next few days? They will like it a lot.” The little girl was ready to go with me that very minute. I asked her to wait because I needed to get the materials/toys ready.
Armed with paint and starch for some art work, and flowers/leaves to assess their number work, I went over—only to discover that the girl refused to come until she had changed into a different outfit. I told her we were going to paint and she should wear old clothes. But no, she had to change. A few minutes later, she came down radiant in a beautiful white (!) pattu paavaadai (full length silk skirt) with a pink border. Her brother followed with a leaky nose. I gave him a tissue which he held like it was the most precious gift ever.
We managed to paint without any mishaps (thanks to newspaper aprons) and counted in Telugu and Tamil and there was a smattering of what sounded like English. They were very bright and so excited at the prospect of learning. At the end of the session I decided talk to their parents to see if we could work something out for their schooling, in spite of their nomadic lifestyle.
Later that night, I returned from a classical concert at the local temple and unlocked the front gates. (I had locked all the doors/gates as I was alone for the next few days. Late at night our maid V came to sleep over as there were reports of burglaries in our neighbourhood).
As I unlocked the gates, I heard a chorus from across, “Amma, when will V come? Don’t worry, we are all here. If you get scared or see anything suspicious, just yell out. No one will get past us. We’re all here to keep you safe.” The workers stood in a long line and reassured me for the next five minutes as I locked the gates. When V came I saw the line up again. They waited until I had locked the front gate, the foyer and the main door.
I had eight people guarding my doors that night 🙂
Talk about benefits of teaching!