It was like a 4-hour long roller-coaster ride with no safety bar! Over 4 hours from Bangalore to Mysore in the back of a taxi with seatbelts we had to tie together because their sockets didn’t work. And yet we loved it. This was our first time in India, and we were amazed by what we saw from the taxi. Destitution was obvious along roads lined with dilapidated buildings and piles of garbage, stray dogs everywhere nosing among it. There were masses of people engaged in multitudes of trades, carrying amazingly large loads of all kinds of saleable items on their heads, their scooters, their carts, their trucks. Numerous vehicles with unbeliveable numbers of passengers; trucks with scores of people standing on the back, scooters with up to 3 passengers riding pillion. Everywhere roadside huts selling goods of all kinds, and particularly green coconuts, bamboo poles, and chai. There was no doubt we had entered a very different reality to the one we know at home.
I was there to teach knitting, a 3-hour class each day for a fortnight. I gave it my best, teaching many techniques for socks, cables, stranded colourwork and lace. Judy’s Magic Cast-on, German Short Rows, Wrap and Turn Short Rows, Bavarian Cables, Celtic Cable Beginnings, Two-Handed Colourwork, Trapping Floats, Steeking, &c. I love teaching, and this was a delight, and yet my best memories are not of the classes, but of the place and its people. Humbling, aweing, exciting, heart-wrenching.
For the first week of our visit the Dhasara festival was taking place. The highlight of this was the procession at the palace. Over 2 hours of outstanding Indian spectacle, with highly decorated elephants, and magnificently skilled dancers, acrobats and musicians. I cried with joy watching it, affected by the energy and privilege of the experience:
The key element of the visit however was seeing charitable work supported by Knit For Peace, the organisation that invited me to teach on their Mysore holiday. The holiday takes place at The Green Hotel in Mysore, a charming former palace. All profits from The Green Hotel, plus the Knit For Peace holidays, plus various donations via The Good Gifts Catalogue, are used for charitable projects in India, many of them in and around Mysore. We had the unique privilege of visiting some of these projects, and this was the most memorable part of the holiday, at one and the same time heartening and heart-wrenching. People living in utter poverty warmly welcomed us as friends, and I was constantly amazed by their resilience and astounding cheerfulness.
In a slum area of Mysore this charitable work provides medical aid for all residents and a feeding programme for children. We visited a medical hut and a childrens’ educational play and feeding programme. While we were in the play hut there was a sudden and mighty downpour. Water streamed in through gaps in the corrugated roof as volunteers climbed onto it to cover it with plastic sheeting. Meanwhile the children were eating hard-bolied eggs and a vitamin-rich soup:
In another part of the city the same organisation runs a training programne to provide young women with skills they can use to achieve economic stability. Many train as beauticians, and they practised applying mendhi patterns to some of our hands and fore-arms:
Everywhere I was impressed by how women are empowered by the projects. In a street near the beautician programme Anita told us how charitable workers have assisted to improve their lives, providing toilets in each house (small hut-like bungalows built by the government to re-house slum-dwellers). Before this the women had to defecate in open fields, risking sexual attack. Now they have organised themselves as a community, engaged in self-advocacy and protest.
This has all affected me deeply, and I have decided that from this point forward I will use a portion of profits from my business each month to buy ‘good gifts’ via the Good Gifts Catalogue. Do check it out!