Mumbai is everything anyone has ever said about it.  I feel very Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-Dorothy-in-Oz.  This was no where more prevalent than in the 2 hour taxi ride I had the night I got in to the city after traveling for 14 hours.

The taxi drivers here are notorious, and knowing this, I at least had the presence of mind to get a pre-paid taxi at the airport.  Even that is easier said than done, because non-pre-paid drivers vie for your business in the hopes of confusing you and taking you for a ride both physically and financially.  So after fighting off about 10 different ‘please get in’s, I finally found the right taxi line (with the help of a police man who I shamed into helping me), and in a state of post-airplane travel torpor, I slumped into the back of the taxi, and gave myself up to this jaunt.

True to all of the taxi drivers that have ever taken advantage of an out-of-towner, my driver took the ‘scenic’ route.  I wish I had been more awake, because this scenic route was amazing.  Moving from the main highway, my driver ventured into a side street barely wide enough for the taxi.  We snaked through this warren of pathways in what I can only describe as an angular luge shoot.  So, picture the smoothness of what one of these shoots is like at the Olympics, then replace the smooth sides with market stalls, people, cows, goats, bicycles, dogs, small children, then replace the smooth bottom with pot-holed dirt and brick, but keep the same plunging speed, sudden twists and turns, and you can just about imagine what this ride was like for 20 minutes.  What a welcome to Mumbai.

Bihar Total

Total number of girls trained in Bihar:

46 new girls trained

+ 11 girls re-trained

+ 19 Shishu Bharti girls

76 total.


More Strikes

Here are a few more photos from KGBV’s last self defense class:

Right in the sweet spot (Simraha, 2012).

Sabira Ji takes a shot (Simraha, 2012).  Note: Sabira couldn’t stop laughing!  She thought it was hilarious that I was teaching this…and then when she took her turn, it was hard to get her to stop… : )

Another great strike to the ‘man parts’ (Simraha, 2012).


A joyous spirit (Simraha, 2012).

Shishu Bharti

I had a lot of fun with the young ladies of Shishu Bharti, and they were a welcome addition to my class schedule.  In a very proud moment for me, Lalita Ji had said she had never seen the girls so happy after any class, whether it was singing or dancing or music.  I was so happy to hear that, to know that what I was teaching them was worthwhile for them.  Because even though I try to make the classes as engaging as possible, these are skills that could help save their life.  I’m glad they had fun AND learned something.

As with KGBV, the young ladies were given certificates and wrist bands on the last day of class, both of which disappeared as soon as they were issued to be proudly shown to Lalita Ji.  Here is the graduation class photo:

In total, 18 girls were taught (only 15 are pictured).  Lalita Ji is on the far right; her husband on the left.

Drinking tea with Lalita afterward, she asked for my suggestions for continuing this type of activity.  Smart woman.  I will be working with her virtually to provide ongoing support.



Out and About in Forbesgunge

Not all my time was occupied by self defense in Forbesgunge.  I had the opportunity to walk around and take some pics.

Boy in an alley (Forbesgunge, 2012).

Sweet seller (Forbesgunge, 2012).

Sheltering tree (Forbesgunge, 2012).


Not yet awake (Forbesgunge, 2012).

Morning meditation (Forbesgunge, 2012).

Babuan Revisited

On a sunny Friday the 13th, I hit the road to Babuan.  Like in 2010, Dheeraj was my driver up to the tiny town on the Nepal border.  The road has been much improved and was less bumpy.  However, it still was an elaborate obstacle course to navigate.

At late morning, the motorbike swung into the familiar drive of Ritu’s family’s house complex.  Ritu, the girls’ teacher, stood there.  We kind of stared at each other in amazement before hugging, me jabbering away in English about how much I had missed her and the girls, unable to give voice to my feelings any other way.  And then her sisters Niha and Shadna appeared, little changed from our prior meetings.  Next was Gita, all smiles.  And then, Urmilla, Ritu’s mother, and again the awed moment of disbelief that we were once again in each other’s company.  A trip across the street took us to Micky, newly married and pregnant with her first child.  Changes.

I took tea while the school girls were assembled for class.  All new girls, about 14 in all.  I warmed them up with some footwork drills, and then moved into self defense techniques.  Wrist grabs, face scratching, knee strikes, web hand to the throat – we did them all.

In no time, the sun’s rays were lengthening, and it was time to leave.  My brain buzzing with “I wish”s (‘I wish I had more time,’ ‘I wish I could stay,’ ‘I with they could all come with me,’ ‘I wish…’), I swung my leg over the end of the motorbike, and was on my way.

Last Train From Simraha

Saturday, April 14th, was my last day at KGBV.  Several girls were getting ready for their karate competition in Patna.  I was so happy to be able to give them a few pointers for their forms performance (‘strong eyes’) and their fighting (block-counter and ‘over-the-top’).  Once the girls had departed for Patna, I gave the remaining girls a self defense class.  We reviewed all the techniques, but this time with more aggression from me, necessitating quick and powerful response from them.  The girls did great.


Afterward, they received certificates and also “Fight Like a Girl” wristbands.  I wanted to get a group photo, but they were all so enamored by the certificates, they disappeared with them straightaway to show each other and the house moms.

And then it was time for me to leave, to get the last train to Forbesgunge.  This seems like it would be a relatively easy thing to do.  But do not underestimate the house moms.  Ever. Keep in mind, I have a very special friendship with the house moms, and they are dear to my heart as I think I am to theirs.  This said, they do not like when I have to leave.  And thus begins a comical undertaking which consists of: 1.  me getting my stuff together and making assurances for why I need to go; and, 2. house moms devising all sorts of ways to keep me from leaving.  This night, there was the ‘give her food’ tactic – they all know how slow I eat, and that I will not insult them by refusing the food.  So, 40 minutes before my train leaves, a huge plate of veggies and rice is put in front of me, at least 15 minutes of eating, leaving me 15 minutes to wash, pack,  say my good byes, and 10 minutes to walk to the train.  My response tactic is to eat as quickly as I can, to not eat everything, and race through my good byes.  Soon the clock indicates it is 12 minutes to eight.  If I miss the last train, I will have to spend the night, which will interfere with my Shishu Bharti morning class.  Time is ticking. I have my bags and start to head for the door.  It is pitch black, and I, not knowing I was going to be here so late, do not have a flashlight.  I ask for one, and Sabira Ji goes away to find one.  One minute passes.  Two minutes pass.  And now no one knows where Sabira or a flashlight is.  Rightly or wrongly, I feel like if I stay there one more minute, I will miss the train.  If I leave, I will be making a mad dash through the darkened streets of Simraha.  I make my decision, knowing that the KGBV ladies are going to be angry for me taking such a ‘risk’, and move for the door.

Now, it has to be said that Simraha is a very sleepy agricultural town.  I have never felt threatened here.  The only other evening I walked to the train, with one of the KGBV watchmen at my side, the house moms had discouraged me from being out at night.  “Girls not good walking at night.  Only bad girls out at night after dark,” they warned.  I laughed.  First, my demeanor when I walk any street, be it here or in a U. S. city, is a proactive ‘do-n0t-mess-with-me’ attitude. It can hardly be construed as anything inviting.  Second, after a day of working with the girls, a thick film of dry sweat and dust clinging to me top to bottom, I am hardly a site for sore eyes.  So the ‘risk’ I take is maybe stepping in something unpleasant while not having a light.

The first few steps in darkness are like a hit to the stomach via my head, if that makes any sense.  I am disoriented for a bit until my vision adjusts.  There are people and animals about, and some shops are open with light spilling across the road.  I connect the points of spilled light with my footsteps, racing along the streets, backpack straining on my shoulders, the smells of wood smoke and curry flooding my nose.  I veer to the right once, and then again at the next junction, and the darkened spot at the end of the path is the train station.  As I get closer, a solitary light glows in its ticket window.  I navigate toward this, and soon I am through the small corridor and onto the train platform.  Only a few people are here, waiting in the gloom.  I find a bench, and sit to wait. A few seconds go by, and my peripheral vision picks up movement, a man in a red t-shirt with a white stripe across its front.  I know if I make eye contact or speak, it might mean trouble, so even when a gentle, “Hello?” is uttered in my direction by the man, I make no move, I do not speak.  He makes a vague exasperated gesture, but then moves away.  A second later, a whistle sounds in the distance.  The train is coming. I grab my bags, rising from the bench, then rapidly walk past the man in the darkness and down the platform.  I maneuver around dark shadows of other people.  The train roars past me, its windows washing me in a flutter of light. As the train stops, I spy a seat, and jump on in.

My seat is by the window, and I have just placed my bag in the compartment overhead, when there is a commotion on the platform, people shouting, and then there is the beaming angry face of Sabira Ji in the train window (holding a flashlight), followed by Manju…and the man in the red t-shirt with the white stripe, Papu, my store vendor friend.  My American impatience has once again gotten me in trouble, and caused hardship.  If I had just waited a second longer, these ladies would have escorted me.  After a bawling out from Sabira (and it has to be said, rightfully so), her face quickly transforms from anger to caring.  I try not to cry.  We reach for each other’s hands through the rusty window bars, clasping them in farewell.  I am on the last train from Simraha, leaving Sabira Ji and the girls behind.

KGBV Karate Girls Take Medals in Patna

These are the eight young ladies who went to a karate tournament last weekend.  They took several medals, and not just because of how pretty they are.  Join me in congratulating them!  Post a comment, and I’ll send to the girls via the hostel managers.



Knee Strikes

Here are a few pictures from the self defense class on knee strikes:





In 2010, I met a young lady named Priya (not her real name).  An older girl of probably 14, she had recently joined the other girls at KGBV from circumstances unknown to me.  However, her shy and withdrawn demeanor suggested that her situation could not have been happy.  She kept to herself for most of my time there, sitting or sleeping on her bed.  Priya joined one, maybe two, karate classes, but otherwise kept to herself, rarely smiling.  Even when she did smile, it looked as if it required great effort.

In 2012, Priya is almost unrecognizable as an extroverted young woman.  Her smile is easy, as is her laughter, and she engages with other girls effortlessly and confidently.  She is a member of KGBV’s competition karate team, and in the classes she has taken this time with me, she exhibits very good technique and a great deal of power.  The girl has brains, too: Priya  is second in her school class.

Priya’s transformation was possible by the excellent and caring KGBV staff.  It is an honor and a privilege for me to come to this place and give even a small amount of support and attention to these girls, but my respect goes to the house mothers of KGBV – Sharda, Sanju, Pinky, Reetu, Sabira, and Manju – who day-in and day-out take care and attend to the sometimes daunting needs of these girls.  Hats off to you, my dear hard working ladies!

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