7:15 and the alarm sounds. A kurta and leggings. A few bangles. Email over French press robusta with Nina (I’m telling you – could surely open Nagasandra’s first coffee shop – any investees out there!!). Elevator, complete with that ghastly hotel music, by 8:05.
As my first visit to CM National School where Nina works, she gave me the full tour including the beautifully overstocked and spacious library, padlocked shut and all. We were supposed to meet Nina’s school owner and introduce him to Nikhil of IndiaCan at 9:30 with the hope of arranging a seminar to pitch IndiaCan’s intensive 5-week TALLY, Pearson English, and soft skill courses to 11th standard students (have been collaborating with Nikhil over the past few months to launch vocational training programs in affordable private schools — more on this later). Nikhil arrived around 10:20_ in fine Bangalorean fashion_ shortly after we’d heard word that Nina’s school owner had recently vacated the premises with unlikely chance of return. Side note: This meeting was not only cancelled 2 more times before it went off, but since Nina’s school owner took both ideas that Danielle and I pitched to him and implemented them on his own through other providers.
While waiting for Nikhil, I was on the phone with one of the guys from Reap Benefit, a start-up social enterprise that we’ve been collaborating with to launch low-cost environmental and sustainability initiatives with students at my school. After 4 days of lingering emails, unreturned phone calls, and being passed between 4+ different point people, free transportation for Srinidhi School students to attend “Wake up Clean up“, Bangalore’s largest waste management event, was alas confirmed!!! The bus was scheduled to arrive at school to collect the kids at 10:30am. It was now 9:38. Called Madam (school owner) to inform her. She’d recently heard. No idea if the Madam herself would have called me to relay the victorious news. No idea. Would bet lakhs upon lakhs however that she could not fully articulate what she was about to send 50 kids and 2 teachers an hour and a half into the city for. Lunch was provided though; it must be something good! Will meet the bus and the children at the event itself I told her.
Leaving CM National, Nikhil kindly gave me a lift to Freedom Park (the site of the event) on the way discussing the root causes of profuse corruption, school owner genuinity and altruism, and why Indians lack a little thing called “initiative”. Once at Freedom Park, the all too common broken English quasi-scavenger hunt for fill in the blank (today the Freedom Park bus parking lot) ensued. While on the hunt, I called Madam to check in on the bus that by now should have reached. The children were still at school and there was no sign of the bus. Knowing that it would take “some time”, I wandered across the street into “____nagar” (“settlement” in Sanskrit attached to the name of any district or town in Bangalore) looking for a Vodafone recharge and quality caffeine. Soon stumbling into longtime Bangalorean eatery MTR, on my hit list for awhile now, I indulged in a little legendary Rava Idli while welcoming the chance to phone Shifa, our Kannada speaking savior about following up by phone with parents from this past weekend’s survey.
The bus reached by 1:30 (only 2.5 hours delayed!) — Forty-nine students from classes 6 and 7 and two non-English speaking teachers in tow. Albeit two of my favorite teachers were sent, send “Foreign Miss” with someone who she can talk to, no?! Off we went for skits and a puppet show on neighborhood dumping grounds and proper segregation, companies turning plastic bags into plastic chips, and an interactive art installation with people drowning (literally) from garbage. Fellow IDEX’ers, Daniel with kids from his school and Dream A Dream’s designated photographer for the day, Sarah Hayes were also in attendance! Definitely one of those experiential afternoons right up until letting the kids loose for a few minutes on the playground at the exit of the park. You would have thought those kids had never been on a swing before. The truth is that some of them hadn’t.
As the bus pulled out of the parking lot and I was briefly catching up with Danielle (colleague and “Inkling” collaborator) about the results of yesterday’s meeting with MedSkills, the bus successfully bisected 4 lanes of traffic, stoping just shy of taking out a chaat stand. During the classic 5-point turn, the bus slowly crushed a little white car at its rear. While the public stayed calm initially and the bus driver continued to maneuver the bus so that traffic could again flow, a heated brawl soon ensued. From what I could gather from the students about what the police, car driver and bus driver were saying, it was that the bus needed to wait for the car driver’s brother (the owner of the car) to arrive at the scene. As the car driver launched into verbal onslaught going as far as to stand in front of our bus for the next hour while attacking the bus driver and attracting a crowd, the bus driver remained stoic, seemingly not phased by the whole ordeal as if this was a routine 5pm occurrence (there must be some law somewhere that protects government bus drivers from liability in the case of accident) . Best part of the whole thing besides attempting to keep 50 Kannada speaking kids quiet and assured on the bus for an hour, was the teacher’s strong affirmation that this was not_ I repeat NOT_ a bus/car “accident” but simply a “bump”.
“Bump” or otherwise, we were delayed an hour and a half reaching home. Immediately ditched the now sticky leggings and hit the nearby park (a hidden gem found a few months back!) for some laps at dusk. Was on a bus an hour later headed back into the city to catch a bus to Auroville (7 hours east in Tamil Nadu) where Madison and I would be spending the weekend doing a workshop in permaculture at Solitude Farm.
I typically don’t go to school with Nina or chaperone a field trip or endure a bus accident (although this was my third). It’s true I usually run in the mornings not the evenings, some days cut-off by a herd of goats with a few trailing sheep, other days cornered by 5 skittish strays. Rava Idli (or any idli for that matter) isn’t the standard luncheon fare and I’m rarely lucky enough to see so many other fellows. I do travel by bus, albeit typically not with 49 kids, and the traffic is usually far worse. There is usually an hour or two of morning “mentoring” with my school owner… warming up with chitchat about shopping in Dubai and crocheting before stressing for the umpteenth time about the criticality of single-sex bathrooms, hand washing sinks and a working budget for FY2013…
I picked today because there were no major catastrophes or run-ins. No brawls with rickshaw drivers over bad meters or conniving bus drivers hoarding due change or phone vendors about selling “second hand” phones versus broken ones with bad batteries…. Today there were only a few flubs and even a couple small wins. It was different from yesterday and will surely differ from tomorrow. Today was just another day in India — India “Itself” :).