Day 11: A Tale of Two Indias
Our Sunday only really began after lunch. What essentially amounted to an elongated nap on the overnight train had caught up to us by the time the train pulled back into Chennai around 5am, no matter how invincible we felt whilst playing cards long after the sun and most of India had settled down for the night.
We got back to the convent at 6, and freshened up before heading to mass at 7. It wasn’t too different from the masses back home but there was a lot more singing, led by the brilliant trainee teachers.
Once we’d downed a hearty breakfast, we were all eager for a nap, which took us to 1 o’clock, when we had lunch and planned out the rest of the day.
We had been invited by the women doing the teachers training course for a program. The was offered to the girls at the Sacred Hearts school who had come from poorer backgrounds, as it was only two years, after which they would be given a job at the school to help them overcome their situation. It was great to see the joy and hope in their faces despite the unfavourable conditions they were coming from. They treated us to a spectacular display of the most talented dancing and singing, with traditional and modernised styles of dancing and some catchy new hymns. Our increasingly redundant routine of “Cotton Eye Joe” mashed up with the Macarena had once again been heavily undermined by the grace and elegance of the Indian dancers. However, later on in the day we came across a few of the girls practising our dances amongst themselves, which made us feel a little better and brought into perspective that they were just as eager to learn about our culture as we were to learn about theirs. It was difficult to drag us away from teaching each other various dances from our childhoods but the teachers managed in the end.
Before doing anything else, we wanted to see the pensioners feeding program the Sisters had set up. This was something the convent had done for Christmas but, following the huge success, was changed to a daily event at 4 o’clock. When we arrived, there were about 20 elderly people and two children from the school. They had travelled a long way to come here and for most this was their only meal of the day. The Sisters told us that this cost them about 3000 rupees (~£30) per day, for a meal that could feed about 40 people, any leftovers the people would take home with them. We did what we could to distribute the food and keep the people company and the genuine happiness they displayed was heart warming. Even the wise Sisters told us they had been taught a lot in the ways of simple happiness and humility since beginning the program. We headed back to the convent filled with a simple sort of joy and got ready for a smashing night out. We were going shopping.
5th Avenue was a very western shopping centre, much like the Trafford Centre, where most of the wealthy of Chennai did their weekend shopping. We came across many western brands and shops we hadn’t seen anywhere else in India and the whole place reeked of the upper class. No chance to haggle here, prices were set high and people paid up as a lavish display of wealth, no expenses spared. We split up and looked around, feeling very much like we were back home in the West. We spent our last few rupees on what we could: toys, snacks and local spices as gifts for those friends we’d almost forgotten about. Then, with bags full of goods and bellies full of doughnuts, we headed back for our last night in India.