Stephen was a teaching assistant for five months in Anand Niketan school just outside Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
Sitting in this café, in many ways I could be anywhere. People chatting, eating cakes and drinking milkshakes. Young and old together. A man reading a newspaper in his native tongue sits beside me peering over his spectacles. A mother makes an aeroplane motion feeding her infant some purée. Normality.
Of course, I'm not anywhere, though. After just a month here, that curvy-horned grey cow, having his breakfast at the same time as me, is a part of the furniture. The furniture itself requiring me to cross my legs on this levitated straw mat takes a few uses before you realise how comfortable it truly is. It is possible that the 80 year old gentleman across from me is genuinely a Newcastle United fan as his stained and faded shirt suggests, but I doubt it.
India is like the whole world, right in your face. That includes the good, the bad, and the weird. It's intense. Beauty is everywhere, from the polished colourful Gods in the vibrant temple, to the stunning generosity of hospitality, to the blessed smiles of children with dirty faces playing cricket with sticks in a back street. Mini-entrepreneurs are everywhere, ready to mend your shoe, tell your future, paint your bike, sew your clothes, sell you things you didn't realise you needed, boil your chai and cook your everything. Positive energy is contagious. Festivals, of which there seem to be more than days themselves, are unique and important.
The disparity between wealth and poverty, so obvious all around you, is difficult to bear. We all know we are lucky, in Britain, and we know that there are plenty of people with nothing but the clothes on their backs sleeping outside every night, and children whose aim of childhood, instead of being learning to read and enjoying life, is survival. India (in your face) takes these people and parks them next to a Ferrari. One soothing factor of the disparity is that wealth appears to have no correlation with happiness.
The school I work in is private, and the children are very aware of their privileged status. It is refreshing to hear 14 year olds talk of how they wish to make their country a better place for all, eradicating the caste system and making illiteracy a thing of the past. In a country of 1.25 billion people these things will take time, but I am proud to be educating the growing middle class that will have the responsibility to make India reach its potential. And as the world's largest democracy, the responsibility is great.
Life is too short to not go to India. It is life times a hundred; with so much going on in every corner you look in, and so much waiting for you around the next. St. Augustine suggested that life is a book, and that those who don't travel read only a page. In this book he speaks of, there couldn't be a bigger chapter than India. A monkey is eyeing up my cake.
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