Another early start to be picked up for school. This time we were hustled into a dark room to put on our saris ready for the day’s Onam festivities. The blouses had been made to fit only this week, mine was red and Jackie’s green. It took two women 20 minutes to dress me with all the pleating and pinning and there was a bit of panic when we hadn’t brought our own bling – but as always someone came to the rescue with perfectly matched coloured necklaces and earrings for us both.
Panic set in when I was told I would need to make a short speech after the children’s performances about the meaning of Onam.
Once the hall was ready we were introduced over the microphone and had to enter as guests of honour sitting right beside one of the main boss Fathers as they call them. Thankfully Mary sat on my right and explained all the songs, dances and skits as well as writing down all the correct names I needed to say.
The children performed magnificently, they danced in unison with the most beautiful costumes. These were children aged between 6-8 and they were astonishingly good. One child was dressed as Mahabali – the king for whom the celebration has been created. He was very sweet and nervous in a very heavy costume but got up in front of everyone nevertheless and made a speech.
Then it was my time. I started with ‘Ona sham sagal’ – ‘happy Onam’ and had cheers – that helped! Thank you to the teacher who taught me that!! I managed to stumble my way through a speech of thanks and understanding that Onam was a festival that ignored boundaries and differences of religion, caste and wealth as well as cultural differences and that it was a time of love and equality, and we felt like we had become part of the family etc. I managed to say thank you in Malayalam at the end – ‘nandhi’ and gratefully sat back down!
We enjoyed a delicious feast served on banana leaves and with us all seated on the floor with the children – again no hierarchy if everyone is on the floor and eating the same food with their hands. Once we had cleaned up we waited for others to finish and met with the drummers who had been playing at parts of the ceremony, had our photos taken again with each one and returned to the hall in time for the house tug of war. The houses represent earth, sky, wind and fire and have the usual four colours so Jackie and I were able to cheer for our corresponding UK house. Unfortunately Jackie’s came third and mine last (though her house won some other competitions).
Finally there were some prizes to be awarded which Jackie and I were asked to present and then we had to say goodbye.
It had been such an emotional day with parents, children and staff constantly checking we were ok, had eaten, were comfortable in our saris and were not hot etc.
We had been so hopelessly spoilt, treated like royalty really and it really was a wrench saying goodbye. All the staff were gathered together and the senior staff spoke about our visit as did the teacher, Tess, who had shown us around earlier in the week which was so generous of her. Both of us said our thanks and I did have to hold back the tears when saying thank you to Mary. She has been the most wonderful host to us and we have had an amazing experience and learnt so much.
After our goodbyes in torrential rain we headed off to watch the snake boat race, really exciting to watch; we also visited a typical Indian family in their delightful riverside home complete with four generations of family and seven cows!
Our last stop today was for my favourite meal, masala dosa which was twice as big as a dinner plate, as thin as paper and as crispy as a wafer stuffed with spicy potatoes and served with coconut chutney, onion chutney and sambar! What a way to end yet another absolutely amazing day in India.