Pork and Politics in Darjeeling
Categorised in: India 2011
By Performers Without Borders
Colourful concrete houses dot the slopes and bushy green trees column out between them. Mornings can be sunny and cold or just drizzly, and we are constantly reminded by the locals and friends we have made here that “the weather isn’t supposed to be like this now”. But it’s still wonderfully clean in comparison to Varanasi. There seems to be a rudimentary rubbish collection system: concrete boxes on every road side where rubbish is thrown and can be sorted through by the rag pickers before being dumped somewhere else.
We have met and been befriended by the owners of a local cafe “Petrichor”, which feels like a second living room with movies and board games, tasty muffins and herbal teas. Also one of our neighbours has a small cake business. These really are the tastiest cakes around (making up for the downgrade in quality of the sweets after moving further north). “Cake Lady”, as she is commonly known, has baked us some nice birthday treats and desserts. Then there is Emma and Roshan; Emma is the Acting Director of Edith Wilkins Street Children Trust (EWSCT), where all our circus fun happens, while Roshan works with small farmers, forest villages and organic/fairtrade tea gardens in the area. They have been very welcoming, providing us with cups of tea after workshops and letting us do our washing at their house.
PWB has been provided with a 3 bedroom, 1 kitchen, 1 toilet flat for our stay here by EWSCT. The flat is a 30 minute work-out walk from the centre – up and down, down and up. Luckily the carnivores among us are able to keep our energy levels up with all the butchers around offering great quality bacon, cutlets and sausages! My first bacon sandwich in 3 months! (Sorry Dave, our third generation Vegi). As in Varanasi there are still lots of dogs around which bark at night but mostly they only give the unicyclists hassle. (Andy got an unlucky surprise when cycling along and a dog bit him on the leg: he is getting rabies jabs now!)
We are settling into a routine here of working three week days with the drop in centre kids and the weekend mornings with the residential children. In our first few days at the EWSCT centre we ran introductions to the props and started writing new names down. As it’s our third project I think I am getting better at names – mainly because they aren’t so unfamiliar any more. I have met at least three Pujas, several Laxshmis and countless Manishes. Success! I’m remembering their names before they even get mine; perhaps it’s the lack of pressure because the children here aren’t as demanding for our attention or shouting “my name, my name!” all the time.
Despite Darjeeling being different in colour, weather, noise, and people from the rest of India – cows and rickshaws have been replaced by lots of jeeps – public performance is still a big thing and on our third day the PWB team settle down to watch a 2-3 hour show. The EWSCT performance has all the trimmings: a colourful backdrop with candy coloured supporting for the roof, a sound system and lots of enthusiastic kids.
It starts off well on a sunny morning outside with some partner work dancing then – suddenly – big drops of rain start falling and everyone bundles inside. After an hour of re-shuffling, nearly everyone has a seat in the big classroom and we continue. Choreography to some traditional and some modern dance music are followed by an award certificates ceremony.The children are applauded for everything from 50 metre races to improved behaviour.
The favourite act seems to be the Euro pop song “Gasolina” which two older boys dance along to. Everyone starts screaming and bouncing up and down – threatening the stability of the building. Teachers drag us to the front to dance and older ones stand on chairs to clap along. The whistling is intense and before the song can finish “again, again” is demanded. Repeat above scene with no less enthusiasm!
While we were here state elections were held on 18th April. A little bit of context: Darjeeling is part of West Bengal but there seems to be large support for the formation of a separate state “Ghorkaland” because of the large differences in culture and language. Practically every shop and restaurant/hotel have Ghorkaland written on their facades and this issue is playing a major part in voter allegiance regarding parties. The Indian government established an independent hill council in the 1980’s to placate the hill people which is now in turmoil because it didn´t hold democratic elections for 20 odd years. In 2007 the ruling party’s leader was overthrown. Since then the demand for state independence has been renewed.
Results of the recent election will be announced on 13th May and we await the outcome excitedly. As for the EWSCT centre, we are thrilled to be working with such a responsive and friendly group of children – and no doubt due in part to our improved teaching skills – this may prove to be the best project yet.