On Independence Day in India the thing to do is fly kites. Kites are made of two wooden sticks and tissue paper, along with a big spool of twine. People take to roofs, streets, and parks to fly their kites.
On August 15th (Independence Day), Patrick, Alexa and I decided to see the kite-flying experts in action. We strolled around a park and, sure enough, spotted people with kites. I remember thinking that the big spool of twine was laughably optimistic, because there was no wind. Nearby, a few kids were having a hard time getting their kites off the ground. Understandable, because there was no wind.
But then we looked up and noticed tiny black specks, which blended with the birds way up in the sky. Kites! Hundreds of feet in the air! We couldn’t understand how that was possible.
We found two kites of our own and tried to fly them in the park, alongside the kids. We had exactly as much success as they did. Our clumsy efforts attracted some spectators, who watched us try to fly the kites without wind. Eventually, a guy who didn’t speak English stood near us and began laughing, almost hysterically. We started laughing too, at him and at ourselves. Thankfully, he took the reigns.
He instructed Patrick to walk the kite out 30 feet away from him and to throw it in the air. Then the guy performed a mysterious sequence of jerks and reels and suddenly the little kite was floating up above the tree line. He carefully fed it more and more twine from the big spool and it went higher and higher into the sky. He gave the spool back to us, but at this point the kite was flying itself. We took turns holding the twine, incredulous at the strength with which the kite tugged. We fed it more twine from the spool that no longer looked so amusingly big.
Jake’s and my favorite class at Vidya School is 6th grade. We have this class most often, and got to know these kids the best. Whenever we walk into their classroom, all 40 students stand up and greet us with a chorus of, “Good morning, ma’am! Good morning, sir!”
The 6th grade classroom is also perhaps the least furnished. Kids are crowded two or three per desk, and the tiny blackboard is often unreadable because of the sunny glare from the window, which looks out onto slums and piles of trash outside.
“I’m inspired by the resourcefulness I’ve seen in many areas of life in India.”
Despite having few materials or ideal classroom space, the 6th grade class is wonderful to teach. The kids are enthusiastic about learning, cooperative with the lessons, and wildly creative. Out of that bare classroom come stories of strawberry fairies chasing lions, stories of haunted houses and stories of sneaking Coca-Colas. When we write an assignment on the blackboard, the kids get to work straightaway on the activity, hopping up every now and then to get close enough to read the board. They call Jake and me over to their desks to check their work, to make sure it’s perfect.
When we go outside to play in between classes, they teach us their favorite games. These games also don’t require much equipment. One of the games is a version of Jacks played with small rocks collected from around the school. Another is called Kabbadi, which involves lines drawn in dirt and trying to tackle opponents.
Something I’ve noticed that’s different in India than in the U.S. is how people sit. It seems like almost everyone is comfortable sitting on their haunches, wherever they are. People sit on their haunches or the ground while waiting for a bus, standing by their shop, playing card games on the sidewalk, or just resting. The most striking examples of this were at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity home and the National Museum in Delhi.
One Saturday, we visited some older women at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity home. These women were probably all over 60 years old, many with mental or physical disabilities. To my surprise, many of them sat on the floor. There were some chairs, but the women seemed content with sitting on the ground and were able to stand back up again without assistance. I couldn’t really imagine a group of septuagenarians in the U.S. going from standing to sitting on the ground so easily. When we joined them on the floor, we all formed a circle which became a much more more intimate environment than if we were sitting in chairs.
On another Saturday, we went to Delhi’s National Museum. The museum displays beautiful pieces of art from all over India, from all throughout the thousands of years of its history. Also enjoying the museum was what looked like a nursing home tour group – dozens of elderly people being led by a tour guide. When I went into one gallery I was surprised to see all of them sitting on the ground, legs pretzeled, listening intently to the guide talk about one of the exhibits. I watched the scene for a little while. I stuck around not for the exhibit (the tour guide spoke all in Hindi) but because I wanted to see if the older people on the floor would ever be able to stand up and walk again. Sure enough, once the tour guide finished, they all promptly unfolded their legs, rose from the floor and continued on to the next gallery. I tried to remember a time when I had seen that happen at an American museum but couldn’t.
We were flying kites in the park on Independence Day for almost two hours. As the sun began to set, the park got cooler and more people showed up. More kites filled the sky, and pick-up cricket games filled the park. In the center of the park, a pagoda filled with elderly people sitting on the floor, chanting in unison.
During our time in India, I’ve seen people do a lot with a little. While I find myself despairing over the lack of wind, the lack of teaching equipment, or the lack of chairs, people here find ways around it. They develop strategies for getting kites airborne without wind, are creative and able to learn without fancy classrooms, and can make any small space an intimate community just by sitting on the ground.
I’m inspired by the resourcefulness I’ve seen in many areas of life in India.