Well, the time has come for me to bid farewell to Mumbai and to India, and I shall be on the early flight back to the UK tomorrow morning. I have spent my last day seeing some friends, and doing (read, beginning) a bit of last-minute gift shopping. I went for a walk as the sun rose over the Gateway of India – probably the only time it actually has some space to breathe – and down to Marine Drive, where even at 6.30am, people are thronging the wide 3km or so palm-fringed boulevard, jogging, pretending to jog, or doing yoga and tai chi looking towards the Arabian Sea.
The past week has been a whirlwind of goodbyes and gifts, and I’m so sad to be leaving the kids and organisations I have been working with. I had my last session with the trainee teachers of Muktangen, who are now in the midst of their exams and preparing for their graduation showcase in a couple of weeks’ time. At the end of the class, they presented me with a wonderful hand-made card, and said that as well as learning a lot, they have had a lot of fun in the classes; a last rendition of The Breakfast Song, was, of course mandatory. I also managed to see the children from Muktangen at a concert on Friday. The Bombay Chamber Orchestra gives some free tickets to the schools for each of their performances, and I was glad to be able to see them as they have been knee-deep in exams – why do they start them so young!? I then had my final Muktangen goodbye at the apartment of Liz and Sunil Mehta, the founders of the organisation, who gave me a wonderful (and very heavy) gift to take home. They have the most wonderful 19th floor view over the bay and Haji Ali, and we enjoyed some welcomingly cold (it’s getting so hot here) beer on their balcony.
We had an extra-long session at the Mewsic centre in Govandi as Mr Patil wanted me to go over as many new activities and songs as we could –thankfully the kids were very active and awake, otherwise it would have been difficult to say the least. Despite the long journey to get there, I’ve really enjoyed working with the children and tutor here. Despite initial reservations, he has really come on board, and is keen to take on the suggestions I gave, not only in Govandi, but in the other Mewsic centres as well. I think it’s all well and good conducting workshops and sessions every week for the kids, but hopefully now the situation there will improve for the long-term, with the training and advice I gave, and the Resource Pack I left – I just hope that the office now takes it forward. When I said that I wasn’t coming back, the kids went 100% silent for probably the first time in the three months I have been going there. Again, the children were very kind in their words of thanks, especially as this is a community that is seen by many as resistant to outsiders – even people from other parts of the city. My final farewell from them was a Pied Piper-esque performance of Tue, tue barima, as I walked back down the fruit and vegetable laden dusty street to catch a rickshaw back to the station.
Gateway SEN School was always going to be the hardest to say goodbye to, as you may have guessed if you’ve been following my waxing lyrical about the place every week. We started the day with a music workshop for the parents of the children, who meet once or twice a month, almost as a support group. They share ideas discuss issues that they are having with their children, before doing a dance, drama, music or art session with one of the teachers from the school. I think it’s a great idea, particularly as many ofthe parents didn’t know any other families who had children with special needs before they became a ‘Gateway Parent’. We decided to do the same sort of activities that we do with the kids, just so the parents can see what it is we do, and also so they can then perhaps engage in some music games at home. Yet again, the winner of the hour was Tue, tue barima, and one of the parents commented that they now know what their son has been singing all these months in the car. At the end, Poornima sang a short song for them with lyrics quite pertinent to what we had been discussing earlier, and all of a sudden, about half of the parents started weeping. I think so many of them carry around a lot of pressure and unnecessary guilt, and it was as if a collective valve had burst. Needless to say, 10 minutes later over tea and biscuits, they were all a bit embarrassed, but I think that it’s good for them to have a space to let out all of these pent-up emotions.
The classes were great, but tough, with many of them asking why I was going, when I am coming back etc. With our two most difficult boys, we had something of a breakthrough, getting them to do an activity and sing a song together. Whilst this may not seem like a big thing, these two boys – whilst very intelligent, with above-average reading and retention skills for their age – are completely in their own worlds and it can be difficult to engage them on a teacher-to-student basis, never mind with another child, so we were so, so happy. At the end of the school day I’m pretty sure there was a collective conspiracy to try to make me cry. All the kids had gathered to say goodbye and present me with some gifts and a huge card, and they all took their turn to say thanks and that they’ll miss me etc. Then, Aditya, possibly the cutest little boy on the planet put up his hand and said in his sing-song voice, ‘I love you’. I think that just about got me. As I have said so many times, the children and staff at Gateway are extraordinary, and I feel so privileged to have been able to be there for these few months – I only hope that they got from me even a small percentage of what I have gained from them.
Saturday saw my last session with the children from the street families of Worli. It really struck me that if some of the families werein a different social strata, then some of the kids would probably be in a school such as Gateway, especially the most clingy ones, but for many of the families, even mainstream education is time that could be spent doing something else; certainly, when Ramesh isn’t there to round up the children in the morning, the turnout is much, much lower for classes. Again, we had some difficulties with one of the girls lashing out and hitting some of the younger children, but I managed to persuade the teacher this time not to reciprocate with further physical punishment, though he did still scream at the boy who wasin tears. So, I ended up cradling this weeping five-year old in my arms, holding back the girl who lashes out with my knee, whilst doing pitch games with the rest; supreme multitasking!
My other main goodbye was to the kids in Kurla. I went to see the school musical they were putting on, and it was lovely to see them singing some of the songs we had worked on. The kids there also had a big effect on me with their eagerness and enthusiasm, especially the first week I went to help them to prepare for the Songbound concert, only to discover their tutor hadn’t come in months, and they didn’t know any of the songs. We just had a mammoth song-learning couple of hours, and they came back the next day knowing everything by heart.
Other things happening over the past week included a couple of sessions observing one of the small choir groups at Mehli Mehta Music Foundation, an afternoon music workshop with a group of psychologists, final miniFROG brunches, and a lot of time going over the Resource Pack I have left with Gateway, Muktangen and Mewsic. They are all very happy with it, and I’ve explained that I will keep adding and improving on it. It has been such alearning curve for me to put together all of these songs and activities, and whilst it is quite substantial already (90 pages!), I think I can work on it a lot more when I have the time and resources in Scotland, though already I’ve been asked if it can be passed on to people in Vietnam and East Africa, so I’m rather proud of that!
I also had my recital with Silviya this week at Mehli Mehta. I was still recovering from losing my voice a couple of weeks ago, and whilst it had come back, and was working well in rehearsals, I think the amount of pollution in the city just took things about 20 steps backwards, and it is probably the least comfortable I have ever felt going into a recital performance, just because I wasn’t actually sure if my voice could handle a full programme of Mozart, Schumann (Liederkreis), Ravel, Howells and Macmillan, as well as some Scots songs (yes, I know, I need to stop being a stereotypical self-flagellating singer). Whilst it definitely wasn’t my finest hour as a singer, the audience were very complimentary, and of course, the Scots songs were the favourites. We were then taken to dinner at the house of one of the Foundation’s committee members – yet another amazingly sumptuous apartment, and another delicious Parsi feast. Mumbai certainly is a city of extremes in that sense.
And that is that! In between there has been lots of dashing around saying goodbye to people, and I am just heading out to dinner with some of the teachers from Gateway. I’m sure you don’t need me to repeat that this experience in Mumbai has been a remarkable one, and all I can say to finish is that this definitely wont be my last time here. Just, please, someone get the recipe of Theobroma’s chocolate tarts; I’m not sure I can live without them now.
Written by Jamie Munn