Sunrise and Dance
SSOA author, Geetha Waters, returned to South India following the publication of her first book, Road to Rishi Konda, to apply the principles of J Krishnamurti’s philosophies to the practice of education for children. These are among her observations:
The school next door was for disadvantaged children and each morning before the break of day, three rickety old buses cranked their engines to warm up for their bumpy journey over dirt roads to pick up children from the remote hinterland.
There was a lull in the village sounds before sunrise. Then as the shimmering ball rose over the shadowy granite boulders of Nooru Kuppa, light rays splayed across the sky, turning the horizon into a golden haze. The sounds of Chinna Thippa Samudram waking filled my ears. I could hear a chicken clucking below, the sound of a bicycle as it thudded over a dirt track towards the main road, followed by the sound of a truck blaring its horn as it headed towards a granite quarry. I sat up in bed, wide awake.
Another day in an ancient land that is being trashed by the disillusioned people who live on it. What a price to pay for the confusion which reigns in our minds because life does not conform to our ideas of it! The outcome of our discontent is evident in the piles of rubbish we leave behind all over the country, expecting that nature will take care of it!
A scientist I had met in Sydney’s Summer Hill Krishnamurti Centre, and who visited us in India last year, assured me that in twenty years most of these hills would be flattened by the construction boom India is experiencing. Already the earth-moving machines could be seen scaling the land, flattening hills with ferocious efficiency to create fields. But I found it hard to believe him. More to the point, I did not want to believe him. The thought of all those wonderful granite mounds that had once been under the ocean being destroyed to build cities for the burgeoning population of India made me feel sick in the stomach. For some reason, I did not see why the forms and shapes of the horizon I had grown accustomed to while growing up in the area should be sacrificed for the benefit of construction companies. There were much simpler materials to build houses with, I protested. ‘What about air crete dome homes made from aerated cement, mesh and basalt or granite?’
‘What about air crete?’ my friend responded. ‘They have to buy it and concrete is expensive. Besides, China is a big importer of granite and they have an insatiable appetite! Their demand isn’t going to go away in a hurry!’
I looked at him, despairing. In twenty years my view would be altered … it was inevitable.
The local people were mostly subsistence farmers. They saw no harm in selling boulders to the highest bidder so they could straighten out their land, prepare fields and grow food to feed their families. My concerns about the knobbly silhouette of the horizon as the sun rose sounded like self- indulgence. My words fell on deaf ears and the locals looked away in polite disinterest.
Every year I’d returned since publishing Road to Rishi Konda, it was the same. They thanked me for any publicity I’d generated. ‘But people have to eat to survive and you can’t Google food from thin air,’ they’d tell me. They laughed at my distress. They thought I was ‘a romantic’, indulging in nostalgia while the rest of the world was going about the serious business of fending for life.
When the sun had risen high over Nooru Kuppa, I thought about my senior at school, Oopali Operajita, who would be visiting later in the day. She had been an amazing dancer at school, extolling with her gestures the space and landscape around her. I had grown up admiring the way she carried herself and danced to the sounds of Carnatic music, accompanied by the veena, thambura and Mridangam. She brought the stage alive with her spectacular energy while the audience sat in rapt silence. I was glad she had started The Operajita Devi Dance Company and was teaching young women in Chennai to dance.
While the landscape was being trashed by heartless bureaucrats all over the country, she could teach young women to appreciate beauty and form through dance and inspire a new generation of audiences to love the land.
Text: Geetha Waters. Her second collection of short stories titled Waking the Mind is due out this month.
Photography: Chitra Edara, Anthony Maraca & Chris Waters
Technical Support: Lewis Hallett