The Toilet Lady

At KGBV, there is a woman of indiscriminate age who comes to the dorm from time to time.  She stands barely 5 feet tall, with her round, brown face ringed by curls of salt and pepper hair peeking out from under her dupatta scarf.  Her features are pixie-ish, bordering on cherubish, and she has a ready smile for any who want it.  She cleans the girls’ toilets.  Her name is Indra.

The other day, I passed by Indra in the courtyard, and I smiled at her, and she at me, and I reached out to take her hand in a friendly shake.  Just before my hand touch hers, one of the girls rushed to me out of nowhere and grabbed my arm.  “No, Sistah,” she insisted.  I looked at her with my eyebrow cocked and replied, “Kyu nay-hee?” which means “why not”.  The girl, all of ten, glanced at Indra, then back at me, and whispered, “She cleans toilets.”  To which I responded, “So do I,” and removed my arm from the youngsters grasp and proceeded to hug Indra.


Ankle Update

Ankles are no longer swollen.  Woo-hoo!


All girls I start to train make their first attempts at executing the techniques in silence, as if the worst thing in the world is to draw attention to themselves.  It’s surprising to me because they can dress up and be these gorgeous dolls, and that kind of attention is okay and even desired.  But it is almost an unwritten rule that to appear strong and confident is frowned upon and discouraged, that it is maybe somehow ‘unladylike’.  And in my experience, this is not limited to girls in Bihar.  Be it in an Indian schoolyard or a Chicago-area dojo, when women and girls are given the chance to make a loud vocal noise, they are often reluctant.  So, part of what I am doing here is to try to break that silence.  Wish me luck.  This is a very steep road indeed…

New School, New Girls

So last Sunday evening, I enjoyed the company of several people here in Forbesgunge.  One of these, Lalita Banyawala, runs a private girls school for 700 girls.  Additionally, she has established a hostel to take in underprivileged girls and give them a first class education while boarding them in a cozy dorm setting in her home.  Upon hearing about the hostel, which currently houses 20 girls, I offered my services for one class.

It turned out that the next day I had some time for a class, and Lalita Ji requested that I show up at 2:45 pm. After a peddle rickshaw ride through the mud, brick, and concrete patchwork of streets, I arrived at the school, a building of stucco over concrete (the preferred building material here).  A set of gates separates the street from the school, so after the rickshaw driver was paid, I slipped through the gates.  A pathway stretched in front of me for about 100 yards, at the end of which were some girls in school uniforms.  They seemed to be very excited to see me.  There were probably 10 of them…and then 20…and then 70.  OMG.  These girls were from the private school.  A bit of miscommunication. And so started my first class for Shishu Bharti.

For many of the school girls, the concept of hitting a pad was too much for them; of the 70 who had assembled, only about 35 actually tried some of the exercises I was showing them.  All shapes and sizes either jumped at the chance to strike and kick the pad, or were pushed (literally) or cajoled into participating.  Crowds of other school children also gathered around us, absolutely fascinated by the activities.  The concept of personal space is not practiced in this area of the world, so school girls and other children alike pushed, shoved, pulled, quarreled and jockeyed for positions to better see.  Several times, after almost stepping on a small foot, I had to request that the ‘non-class-taking’ kids move back…which lasted all of about two minutes.  While I don’t think the session was ‘productive’, it certainly challenged these girls in a way they never had been before.  I love to see the look of wonder and intense curiosity beamed out of a small sea of dark brown eyes, seeking to pick up and understand every word or gesture I make in order to learn.  It is really a remarkable feeling.

The school girl class concluded after about 30 minutes, and then began my next class with the hostel girls.  Twenty-two young ladies in all, ranging in age from about 8 to 16.  They assembled in a grassy side yard adjacent to Lalita Ji’s house.  Their faces were big question marks, which got even bigger when I started my class with the question, “Where are boys weak?”  Silence, eyes askance to pick up clues from a compatriot.  “Eyes,” I begin, “Nose.  Ears.  Throat.  Neck.  And…” (this is where I insert a pregnant pause for my conservative young audience, but make a small circular gesture in the groin area, causing gasps, giggles, averted eyes).  And so began our first class together.


Aha! Moments from KGBV

So today was the seventh class with the KGBV girls.  I am amazed at how fast these young ladies are picking up the techniques.  In the first class today, we reviewed wrist grab escapes (in which I’ve included biting), and striking to the throat.  In their second class today, I decided to change things up a bit and do situational settings, like girls finding themselves physically cornered, and when a verbal altercation escalates into a physical one.  During the ‘cornered’ scenario, I realized that the girls were letting me get way too close, even though I had explained to them that I was posing as a bad man.  Repeatedly, and one after another, it was clear that the majority of the girls did not have an instinct of a physical boundary for themselves.  This is not uncommon in people who have experienced substantial physical abuse.  And I think, from my discussions with people here, that there is a cultural component as well – Indian people, especially in rural areas, do not have a sense of privacy, and thus have that lack of a concept of ‘personal boundary.’  Regardless of why, I worked with the girls with the help of Sharda in trying to get this concept across.  This is one of those cognitive skills that will need to be reinforced over time, but in looking into their eyes, I did see a small spark of ‘Aha!’

This happened again when I was trying to explain the ‘No is a complete sentence’ concept, and that a man who does not respect ‘no’ effectively does not respect the girl who is saying it.  Sharda once again translated, trying to piece together what I was trying to explaining to her in a combination of english and hindi.  And as she was speaking to the girls in a blurring rapid stuccato, I watched their faces.  Their looks ranged from confused (as if it was just such a foreign concept to them) to almost dumbstruck (as if they were thinking, “You mean that a man has to have respect for us?” in a combination of wonder and…Aha!

Have I Told You…?

…that I really haven’t missed my ankles and fingers being swollen, but they are back again with this trip?

…that the weather here is (unseasonally) beautiful, sunny days with temperatures in the 70s, and a few rainy days to keep down the dust?

…that if you look up the word ‘humble’ in the dictionary, there will be a picture of me, bending over a bucket in the KGBV girls’ dorm courtyard, struggling with washing a pair of pants (to the amusement of my young onlookers) and having said pants snatched out of my hands by a 10 year old who proceeds to pound them into cleanliness within seconds?

…that the girls put on a lovely program for visiting dignitaries the other day, including the karate girls whose performance, though maybe not technically magical, performed with all their heart?

A Note About These Posts

Electricity here is unreliable.  I may be one sentence away from finishing a post, and the power goes out.  And then it could be several hours before the electricity returns, and by that time I am somewhere else, or someone else has the computer (I am reliant on the generosity of my host, Apne Aap, as I cannot find my power adapter (maybe on the counter at home?), and my own computer lies useless for now).  So if you are a stickler for pure chronology, not likely to happen.  Just saying.

First Karate Class of the Trip

(Written on 4/6/12) — After my first night at KGBV (where, incidentally, I now have a room to myself – not sharing with the girls like before – AND have my own mosquito net), I woke up at about 4:30 am.  My friend Sharda was actually up, too, getting ready for a trip home.  After seeing her off, I was still awake, and was kind of in a stupor of not knowing what to do when two little girls appeared, Sahlini and Kalpana, two of the new ones.  Dusk pushed into the courtyard, and I asked them my universal question:  “Karate?”  Oh my, their eyes lit up and their smiles blossomed and they just nodded their heads.  And so began a 30 minute lesson, just the three of us, me showing them how to make a proper fist, how to keep their elbows in while they punched, how to steady and strengthen themselves with a proper stance…and how not to wake up others when being silly.


I sense a theme of crying here, but it can’t be helped, the natural result of heart strings being tugged.  Last night when I was watching some of the girls rehearsing a karate demo (let me just say this demo has been being rehearsed for weeks – I was really just watching), they wanted me to help with their self defense section.  As I watched, one of the girls, Shavana, came over to me and said, “Sister, you teach me this?” and then proceeded to show me a wrist grab escape, not part of the demo, but just to show me she remembered.  Something I had taught her from 18 months ago.  I mean, my jaw just dropped.  This is why I came.  This is why I’m doing this.


Well, there have been so many changes here since the 2010 trip.  In the area in general, many of the roads have been improved, and, dare I say it, but I think the horn blowing has decreased.  At KGBV dorm itself, how surprised was I that they had installed a solar streetlight in the middle of my beloved courtyard with the water pump.  This light provides illumination for the girls to study or other things without having to be confined to their rooms when dusk falls and the electricity fails.  It is amazing the difference in the feel of the place now, more lively at night.  And it is safer since a girl has some light if needing to make a midnight trip to the lavatory.

Hmmm, what other changes?  The building itself has had a partial second story added.  In about a month, another 50 girls will be added to the dorm and will occupy this space.  It will be very interesting to see that many girls added.  Still only one kitchen, manned by the ever domineering Sabira Ji.

Oh, Sabira Ji, my dear friend.  How wonderful to finally see her again.  I nearly cried, but remembered that she hates crying, at least real crying (she LOVES my fake crying, which I do to amuse her often).  She has not changed at all, still has a megawatt smile, still has a booming voice, and still will put me in my place…or try.  I have missed her, and am so glad to be in her presence once again.

KGBV has a new face:  house mother Rheetu Jha.  She has lovely green eyes in a sea of caramel skin, with a slight gap between her two front teeth reminding me of Lauren Hutton.  She has been quietly watching me over the passed few days, but this morning came into my room and bowled me over with a mind blowing whistle-and-table-top-drum performance.  All the while, her eyes transfixed mine, and I was utterly captivated.  A beautiful talent like this in a girls dorm in the middle of nowhere.  And such is India, full of hidden gems just waiting for light to shine.


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