The reason for my exotic holiday, 40K Globe.
After two weeks exploring the natural wonders of Kerala in Southern India and the man-made monuments of Rajasthan in the north, it was time to settle down and call a place home for the next month.
Being able to call a place home offers so much more than your regular touring experience. Home is where the heart is, right? And the heart throbs on the connections it forms. I was living in a rural village, almost 30 kilometres north of Bangalore, called Meenakunte. In my luxurious residential building I met my neighbours, I regularly visited the corner shop below, I dined on a mat on the roof with my team, Team Kunte, we dealt with unexpected cheeky monkeys, I awoke to the cock-a-doodle-doo of a rooster every morning, I learnt the unpredictable public transport schedules to and from the village and I adjusted my body clock to punctually attend my team’s 8:03 morning meetings. I made it my home.
*Note I used the word “luxurious”. My team’s apartment (team of eight people) was one of the best out of all the allocated villages for the other 70 Australian volunteers. We had flushable toilets and hot running water. It’s the luck of the draw which village you will live in. Worst case scenario, you will work out your legs squatting over a squat toilet and you will have quick showers splashing cold water over your bodies with a bucket.
Each morning began with a punctual meeting at 8:03. When we were first introduced to this strict schedule I remember thinking: ‘what have I gotten myself into.’ But I soon learnt how efficient a morning meeting is for the day. All eight of the team members would discuss our plans for the day either still eating breakfast or ready to jump out the door. (More often the former than the later.)
Our objectives for the month were to:
a) Create a sellable leather bag.
b) Teach a local woman how to make it.
c) Bring a sample of bags to test in the Australian market.
The first two weeks we spent working on the prototype that had been left for us from the previous month. This was a complicated combination of silk, leather and embellishments that had been designed by the January team and produced by a tailor in the closest big town of Yelahanka.
During the month working on this project, I truly got to know our Yelahanka tailor, Ramesh and formed my own personal connection with him. Well, as best as possible with his basic English. We quickly learnt that businessmen of India will speak most professionally to fellow men, so the two boys of our team would often be present at most of our important meetings. However, I became the phone contact with Ramesh, calling him whenever we needed to arrange meeting times. And I, had frequent day trips to Yelahanka as opposed to the big city of Bangalore. So I met with him more often.
You know those obligatory family visits you are required to attend as a young child, to visit your mother’s cousin’s husband’s niece. And when there’s no children to play with you always wonder what you’re doing there. Well during the last week of our trip, Ramesh invites the team to his house for dinner. And yes, it starts like those typical family visits, the conversation is rather impersonal and the conversation seems relatively forced. But I know why I’m there. It’s just human nature to want to share your life, your family and your success with people who continue to appear in your life. (And over the past four weeks we had been frequent visitors to his bag tailoring shop.) In the end, no matter where we’re from, sharing something always brings us personal satisfaction. It was nice seeing Ramesh comfortable and proud of who he is and what he has accomplished. I am happy to have met his family, I am happy to have learnt a little of his life and I am happy to have heard about his success.
As part of our month’s objective we were to teach two local women how to make this bag. We found two women, both by the name of Gayathri who we would pick up and take with us, on public transport, to Ramesh’s shop. We did this twice, as well as visiting their house and getting to know them through their photo albums and stories. In the second week our team was invited to celebrate the birthday of Gayathri’s neighbour’s son. This was our first of two Indian celebrations. The mother of the five year-old son served us dinner on a banana leaf and gave us a slice of his massive cake. Dressed in a yellow vest with a royal blue shirt, the birthday boy stood like a prince on his special day. An Indian celebration is not taken lightly, and any chance to share the families joy with their friends and neighbours is taken. Indian celebrations are important events. While I spend my savings on a holiday, Indian residents spend their savings on a family celebration.
(Photo credits to a family member of the birthday boy who took the photo for us.)
Our second Indian celebration was much grander. In the last week of our month’s stay in Meenakunte we were invited to the wedding of the 19 year-old girl living in the house opposite our building. Her younger sister personally visited our rooms a few days prior to give us our invitations. The night before the wedding we visited her house and had her friend decorate our hands with henna. This also gave us a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes preparation that went into the big event. Much of her family were at the house making decorations and preparing the bride. On the day of the wedding, we finished our work for the day, dressed up in sari’s and attended her wedding that night.
This type of wedding was unlike any I had ever been to. Walking into the large hall we sit in chairs, relax into the music and absorb the energy from the crowded room. A queue of guests makes its way to the stage and to the purpose of the event – the bride and groom. We watch the photo-taking procession take place with the newly wed couple and eventually joined the queue for a big group shot. Entering the dining area we are served rice, curries and sweets on banana leaves. Despite eating Indian food everyday I was enjoying its flavours and needed longer to savour its taste. But as a man waits for my chair behind me I am ushered along and scoff down the last bit of my meal. Apparently there was 2000 guests present at the wedding, however unlike my own customs, at this wedding, the guests would come and go throughout the whole night. While there was plenty of food for everyone there was no room for 2000 people at one time. We left the hall with a coconut, leaving behind the music and the flash of the camera as the wedded couple continue taking photos.
By the end of the month we finished with a completely different prototype than the one we had started with. Half-way through our month, our disengagement with the first prototype got the better of us, so we designed a completely new leather bag. This design was a lot more simple and in our opinion provided a more timeless leather bag desirable to a greater market audience.
Producing the second design required more visits into the city. With the amount of traffic, this took over two hours and if we were unlucky, two hours of standing. We found a new tailor in the city, in the midst of the market and a few streets away from “Slaughterhouse street” (yes, this was the actual street name), at a shop called SMY Enterprise. It was this tailor that produced our final 10 leather bags of our design, while Ramesh produced 10 of the original prototype.
Apart from business, one of the biggest reasons we were there were the children. Every home prospers in the presence of innocent happiness.
“Madam can I see your mum and dad. Madam show me a picture of your friends. Madam take a photo.”
Meenakunte did not house a plus pod centre, so I only visited the children twice in the village of Kanur. Waiting outside the small school classroom, the children would crowd around each of the volunteers asking us about our own lives, asking to take a photo with our mobile phones and then proudly singing their plus pod song when it was time to enter the classroom.
During class they were quite obedient and studious and my main role was to assist the teacher in testing the children or helping them with their school homework.
Living in the village changed my understanding of India as I learnt to adjust my life to the time management, priorities and happiness innate to the Indian culture. I experienced the laid back business environment, with high priority towards family engagement and community interaction over both simple activities such as sharing a small cup of chai tea or through grand family celebrations. One month on 40K gave me an Indian home full of living memories that continue to survive within the personal connections I formed with its people.