I have always wanted to go to India, and finally achieved my dream this year – Richard and I spent just over 7 weeks in the northern part of India. The focus of the trip was volunteering, which we did for five weeks – teaching children English and Maths in a rural community just outside Udaipur, as well as doing activities with orphan boys, disabled children and the ragpicker community who were based near the volunteer centre where we were staying.
The volunteer experience really gave an insight into the local culture. The sights, sounds and smells of all life being lived on the streets, with cows, pigs, thousands of stray dogs, donkeys, not to mention the crowds of tuktuks and scooters, and throng of people constantly staring at us and trying to get us into their shops was something we just had to get used to.
Needless to say, there were a few situations when we felt challenged – working with the ragpickers was a mucky affair, they are rough people living in truly rough conditions. The schoolchildren were also poor – country people who didn’t always manage to go to school, but they were lively and engaging, sometimes hard to control! Facilities were very basic, ancient blackboards in the classrooms and little more than pencils and paper with whatever teaching aids we could produce ourselves. You had to watch anything left by the window – one morning a cow managed to stick her head in and chew up half of our worksheets! The children’s lunch was cooked over an open fire in the playground, where the children also had to pump up their water. The disabled children loved the craft activities we did with them and the orphan boys we worked with were delightful – well-behaved and affectionate, my heart went out to them especially.
After the volunteering we went travelling for a couple of weeks, visiting Bundi, Pushkar, Jaipur, Agra, Varanasi and Delhi. Of all the places we visited, Varanasi was the most challenging. Seeing bodies being cremated on open fires on the banks of the Ganges, one after another is an image that will stay with me a long while. We stayed in some lovely accommodation, each place full of character, and ended up in a beautiful guesthouse in the British part of Delhi, very gracious!
So hopefully this will all lead to some inspiration for new artwork. Cows were such a feature of our travels, lumbering through every street and alley, so I have begun with some studies of cows and saris and will continue using colours and contrasts that are about life in India. More results to follow!