Thursday, April 5, 2007

An amazing place

Yesterday afternoon, at around 3:30 pm, I was picked up at the university guest house by Mrs. Ivy Katherine and taken to the Don Benny Public School. It’s a couple of miles outside of Tirupati in what is still a rural area. The school—actually a private school—is the dream-child of Ivy Katherine and her husband, Ramesh, who bought the land on which it stands 12 years ago. Over the ensuing time, they have developed it into the awesome, ashram-like place it is today.

It is a school for children from kindergarten through age 14-15. All classes are taught in English. Class sizes are small (max 25 students) compared to most other schools in India, where class size is normally anywhere from 40 to 50 students. But the best thing about this school is its location, in the middle of nowhere, yet close enough to the town of Tirupati to have a ready catchment of students.

From the moment I arrived I was captivated by the serenity of the place. The 200 or so students, along with the faculty, were all assembled in an open area under the trees, where they were sitting quietly while Ivy Katherine and Ramesh took me on a tour of the establishment. Fortunately, there was a cameraman on hand to take pictures, so I gave him my camera and told him to shoot away whenever he pleased. The photos above give you some idea of the beauty of the school, set, as it is, amongst the surrounding hills.

Mrs. Ivy Katherine, soon to be Dr. Ivy Katherine, is the principal of the school. Her husband, Ramesh, is a Phys Ed teacher at a college about 50 miles away, but the Don Benny School is as much a realization of his dream as it is of Ivy Katherine’s. He manages the plant and supervises all the construction, which has been ongoing over the past 12 years. He also coaches the sports teams and I watched him later in the evening playing soccer with some of the boys. For a 49 year old, he’s remarkably fit, agile, and full of energy in a very quiet, unassuming, really beautiful sort of a way.

Together, Ivy Katherine and Ramesh have created what I consider to be a model school where the children are able to grow up as part of a close-knit family in an environment where homespun, simple, unalloyed values can be nurtured and acquired. To see all the children sitting around me, from the little kindergarten kiddywinks to the soon-to-graduate 15 year olds, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in a kind of time warp, like I was stepping back 50 years or more to a time and place when innocence had not yet been shattered by modern mass communications.

I was introduced to the students by Ivy Katherine and one after another they came up and presented me with garlands and bouquets to welcome me to the school. Then I gave a little speech. As you can see from the pictures, I had a lot of fun, and the children seemed to enjoy it, too.

Afterwards we had a photo shoot with the teachers and with the different age groups of students. The students were then dismissed for the day. I sat down with Ivy Katherine and her daughter and we chatted for about an hour while watching Ramesh and some of the students playing soccer. After that we went indoors (Ivy Katherine and the family live in a house on the school grounds), and watched a movie while dinner was prepared. Dinner was delicious, as usual. I love South Indian cuisine and Ivy Katherine seemed to know all of my favorite dishes.

Around 9:00 pm I said my farewells and, with a wistful sigh of inner contentment, settled onto the back of Ramesh’s motorbike for the ride home.

What an amazing country this India is. I'm falling in love with it more and more with each passing day.

1 comment:

Michelle Wun said...

Enjoy reading your blog.