“Fantastic and Fabulous”

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Something remarkable has happened. Several somethings, in fact. I presented the medals for a relay race. I enjoyed it. I had my photo printed in no fewer than six Tamil newspapers. And this is how it happened…

Chapter I: “Talented and Brave”

It would be horrifically un-PC of me to entitle this chapter of my life, “How I ended up lounging in a comfortable chair while the locals toiled in the sun and saluted me when marching past,” but that’s a pretty accurate reflection of what went on.

It was the whole-school, all-day rehearsal for Thursday’s Sports Day and Friday’s Annual Day. I took over 2GB of photos and video (videos are too big to upload from here, sadly…) and have tried to transcribe the hilarious commentary, most of which was read from a prepared script by the Head Girl.

A warm welcome to one and all here … We are here to parade our various capabilities in sport.

[A group of six girls sing a beautiful Tamil a capella]

Thank you both. I will now welcome our honoured dignitaries … the District Sports Officer … the Inspector of Matriculation Schools … the most respected and delivering managing directors of … This is Akshaya’s 17th Sports Day, and in the 16 years, we have come a long way from our humble beginnings; we have now this magnificent structure.

A healthy mind is a healthy body, and sports and athletics are central to this concept. Now our Chief Guest will raise the flag, and then our march group will carry colours to signify unity and integrity in our institutions, led by the District Runner. They are ane outstanding and committed group of people.

[The entire pupil body, arranged by age, gender and house, marches around the running track, heralded by a fanfare and mimig the carrying of school, local and national flags; Goolam (my South African colleague) and I declined to head up this procession! The four houses are the rather uneven Tiger, Panther, Cheetah and Lotus.]

They will now make a declaration of our commitment to the rules of sport.

[Several older boys gather in a semicircle, still pretending to bear flags, and bend onto one knee at an excruciating angle, caned into the precise position by waiting teachers; a call-and-response pledge then followed, accompanied by a solemn drumbeat and what looked like a Nazi salute. I could only catch, “…respecting the regulations of sportsmanship for the glory of sports.”]

Akshayans, about turn! The Olympic torch has long been a symbol of sportsmanship…

[Several boys and a girl run a relay race proudly holding aloft the Olympic torch, or to be more precise, a sink plunger painted gold.]

And now, look at the smiling faces we are about to witness before us!

[8-year-olds perform Indian dance moves, backed by ‘The Crazy Frog’]

Yes, that was a good dance by our kids. And here comes another itme… shall we look forward to it?

[Various spectacular gymnastics, boys jumping through hoops and over their peers etc. The Head Girl read out scripted expressions of ‘spontaneous’ admiration.]

Wow, that was brilliant… Wow, great performance, keep your hands together for this… Wow, that was a beautiful display; audience, keep the applause raising! Thank you so much, that was fantastic and very talented.

And now, flexibility of the body is a gift given to very few. Our gym class want to show you how flexible they are.

[Incredible human pyramids began to form on the playground, all on top of a pile of duvets for safety!]

Wow, that was very brave. It shows that the boys are very talented and brave. [I’m not quite sure that the Head Girl actually included the word ‘the’ in the previous sentence, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Next, the women from the Teacher Training Institute, all in uniform red saris, perform a remarkable dance.]

And now, here are our Third, Fourth and Fifth Standard Pupils to perform a dance with their dumbells. Dumbells speak louder than words [sorry, just put that bit in bold to remind me to have it printed on a T-shirt!] so here with their actions and dumbells.

And that was the end of the Sports Day rehearsal! Next, the Head Boy took the mic for Annual Day, welcomed the ‘Chief Educational Officer’. Then followed a series of dances, including Tunak Tunak Tun and a bunch of very smiley kids performing to a Michael Jackson song (“This brings back the days of Michael Jackson and his love of children,” perhaps wasn’t a wise thing for the Head Boy to say, however…)

The final act featured the male trainee teachers, who presented a series of very short comedy sketches, choreographed, in mime, with one of their number beat-boxing all the sound effects. It was extremely weird, but quite funny, especially for the performers’ female colleagues, who were almost in hysterics the whole way through!

Chapter II: “The Glory of Sports”

The Principal’s servant found me early the next day, and told me that I was to go and watch the Sports Day of the school’s other branch. He also asked me to “tell South Africa,” but I contented myself with just telling Goolam!

We drove over with the Principal, and were met by the Head, who was wearing a very shiny suit and a very shiny face. In sight of many, many video cameras ranging from the professional to the Nokia, we were handed bouquets, led along a red carpet and onto a tasteful shady VIPs’ podium with soft chairs, nibbles, an endless suply of tea and coffee wallahs and a large banner displaying pictures of definitely non-Indian children at a variety of sporting occupations.

We were joined by our fellow dignitaries, the ‘Correspondent sir’ (whatever that means!) and a terrifying senior police officer, wearing sunglasses and a beret on his bald head. He was the Chief Guest.

After a prayer song, the flags of India, of the school a nd of ‘sport’ (a hand-stitched Olympic flag which is actually banned from unofficial use under international law!) were raised.

Throughout the Chief Guest’s speech, various uniformed police underlings wandered past and saluted each time they did so. He spoke of the glory of sportsmanship, in inspirational and slightly incoherent English, finally making the grave observation that “all work and no playu makes Jack a dull boy,” before living up to that ideal and rushing off to deal with police matters rather than stay and enjoy a morning of leisure!

Just before leaving, however, he made the “declaration of sports meets,” reading off a script: “I hereby declare this sports meets open,” and then ceremoniously throwing a live dove from the lecturn, which unceremoniously hit the ground with a thud.

Then the entertainments started, and entertaining they were. “I think we will make many Jackie Chans here,” observed the commentator, as karate students shattered terracotta tiles with their bare hands.

Finally, Goolam and I gave out the prize certificates, one of whom was made out to a girl named Blessey Angel. After this, the Head gave the Principal, Goolam and I gold-wrapped “tokens of love with the best wishes of Akshaya Om Shanthi School.” Unwrapping htis later revealed an unpromising ratty-looking cardboard box marked, “Kit Kat snack pack,” which contained a metal-lined tupperware pot with a back-to-front transfer of a ladybird saying, “lunch,” on the lid.

I spend all morning being entertained, lauded and waited on in the shade and all I get is a lousy snack pack…?!

Chapter III: “Jaya jaya jaya jaya he”

Republic Day here in India is January 26th, and the hcildren all gathered in parade formation, wearing Indian flags pinned to their chests, while Goolam, Madam, the school’s “managing director” (main donor) and myself gathered, similarly beflagged, on the dignitaries’ posium, which was, for some reason, teeming with large, vicious red ants.

After the national anthem and flag-lowering, the parade began, and all 1000 pupils, plus staff, marched past on the salute. After the national pledge, a girl began to “share my views on our beloved nation,” which were largely about full access to education, an increase in industrial output, “quality electricity supply” for every village and closed with a “pledge not to do any action which may lead to the destrution of India’s success.”

Next came the managing director’s speech, in Tamil. During it, I rather made a spectacle of myself; an enormous red ant had crawled up my leg and bitten me. I instinctively yanked up my trouser leg, scandalising the 500 spectating girls in the process.

Chapter IV: “Interesting and Amazing”

The dignitaries started to arrive, and we were all seated on the podium and presented with individually felt-tipped programmes proudly advertising, “Lion. Dr. E.N.P’s Akshaya Vidyalaya Group of Institutions.” The Dr himself was present in the guise of his son-in-law, who is apparently automatically a director of any organisation his father-in-law is managing director of!

Also present were the District Sports Officer, and Dr Narayanasamy, the “best teacher of Tamilnadu.” The Head Girl read the welcome address: “I deem it a great honour to welcome Mr Gabriel from London and Goolam from South Africa, and invite our director to felicitate our foreign friends,” at which point we had embroidered cloths draped over our exalted shoulders.

Next came another abysmal failure with a disgruntled dove; once this one hit the ground, it waddled away under the podium, and had to be retrieved by a crawling caretaker.

Skipping over an event on the programme with the enigmatic title ‘Blooming Blossoms’, we moved onto the dances, this time accompanied by a scripted Head-Boy-Head-Girl double-act.

HB: Keep your applause ringing for that one, audience; did you enjoy that, Mina?

HG: Kids dancing with feathers is amazing and interesting. II think they may outperform their counterparts with their multifarious skills!

[…]

HG: That was fabulous and fantastic! And do you knjow what we have next?

HB: No, what do we have next?

HG: Something amazing to see; a human pyramid!

HB: [shocked] A human pyramid?

HG: Yes!

HB: A human pyramid is where a group forms a pyramid by standing on each others backs, necks and faces.

[…]

HG: Wow,that was like they did not have a bone in their body!

HB: And what’s next, Mina?

HG: Well, do you like folk dance?

HB: Yes.

HG: And do you like kids?

HB: Yes, I love kids very much.

HG: Then you’re sure to love our next performance!

[…]

HB: Bellissima, kids, that was brilliant. And what’s our next performance, Mina? Will it be wholly entertaining?

And so the duo went on, as very small children in ludicrousy realistic costumes paraded in the guise of Indian greats such as Nehru, Mahatma Ghandi and Indira Ghandi. As it began to get dark, flyng insects of all shapes and sizes began to swarm onto the podium, attracted by the lights. Coughing out aphids with every breath, us dgnitarries collectively presented awards to the younger kids.

Careful listening to the commentary revealed that we were handing out ceremonial silver plates to children who had made such illustrious achievements as, “second place, girls’ musical chairs… rthird place,filng up with water… first place, boys’ picking of potatoes.”

We also presented ‘mementos’ to all the school’s menial workers, carpenters, kitchen staff etc. One very elderly cook was so overcome with emotion that she bent and kissed the ground in front of the Principal. Catch any unionised English worker doing that…

Chapter V: “Gracious and Mind-Blowing”

As the thousands of guests were arriving, the Vice-Principal’s voice rang out, “Another gentle reminder to prizewinners to please gather at the back immediately without further delay, ” the last few words dripping with unabashed menace!

The welcome address, read by the Head Girl, included, “our dear Madam, who inspires all our activities be they curricular or co-curricular,” and then the Madam herself got up to read the school’s Annual Report, which included a section on us foreigners, plus a list of named students’ exam scores.

At this point, paper cups filled with a uniquely bitter and unpleasant Fanta were handed out to the dignitaries, and the then began to hand out the mountainous pile of individually-wrapped prize bowls to those teachers who had produced students with “100% or more” in public exams. Then we moved onto the pupil awards, which were more entertaining:

“… A. Jupiter of Third Standard, second in Tamil elocution; …second in dictionary reference; …flower arrangement; …Henna designing; …storytelling; …memory competition; …English rhymes.”

The Head Boy and Head Girl’s scripted double-act made a return, and continued to deploy adjectives in the manner of an over-excited ten-year-old.

[curtain whisked aside with astonishing speed, and one young girl does a solo dance to open]

HB: Now our kids are going to do a beautiful dance for us. I hope it’s very interesting.

[…]

HB: Wow, that was fantastic and fabulous! What did you think?

HG: Interesting, brilliant and amazing. I loved it a lot.

[…]

HG: There is no more than watching kids smile. Now can yhou both guess the next performance?

HB: No idea, Mina.

HG: Well, our girls have a dance for us, a few moments of worries-free relaxation.

[…]

HG: They surely showed this well, isn’t it, Vijay?

HB: Yes, they are graceful.

[…]

HG: And now here come our b… erm, lads.

[Four boys perform an excellent dance drawing whoops of delight from the female teacher-trainees.]

HB: We were rocking here! That was amazing, fantastic and fabulous!

HG: Yes, they nearly broke the floor. I think they will become professional dancers.

[…]

HG: What is the next programme, Vijay? Is it a folk-dance?

HB: Yes, Mina. But it is different. Give it a good round of applause.

[Six female teacher trainees perform a dance, three of them dressed as men, it being completely inappropriate for them to dance alongsiide actual men.]

HG: Wow, they were gracious and mind-blowing, guys. What did you think, Vijay?

HB: I agree. Thank you for that amazing performance, girls.

[‘Tunak Tunak Tun’]

HB: This Punjabi dance was marvellous, fantastic and amazing. I was in the Punjab!

HG: I agree with you both. Next is not a dance. can you guess what it is?

HB: No idea, Mina.

HG: Skating!

HB: Amazing… students are going to skate on stage?

HG: Yes! Let us watch the programme!

[…]

HG: It is risky on a small stage, and I am amazed too!

HB: Yes, they were rocking!

[The rest of the evening goes by in a bhangra-filled flash.]

HB: Attention please! Teacher Training students have two-day holiday. Classes will resume on Monday. […or ‘the weekend’ in English?]

And that was that. The VIPs drove off in white Jeeps, the Principal departed to visit her husband, and one child, surveying the bunting-strewn, fairylit scene, said to me, “My school looks very nice, yes? Is Akshaya School popular in England?”

Blimey, that was a lot…

Apologies for my general over-excitement with this week’s events, and for the awful keyboard I’m again using to type. Please make comments which are fantastic and fabulous!

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3 Responses to “Fantastic and Fabulous”

  1. Sandra Webber says:

    Well I never thought you’d enjoy a Sports Day or become a sports writer! Nor did I ever think I’d enjoy reading a sports report. That photo of you in the Tamil newspaper could be inciminating if used out of context however – looks like you are occuping a senior advisory post in a military regime!

  2. Lester Wagman says:

    Fabtastic! I especially liked the golden sink-plunger and the vexillological reference to the rules concerning the olympic flag – will make sure Lord Coe is aware for next year. Keep up the fanbulous blog!

  3. vince says:

    Ambridge Evening Post: Move over Bill Bryson – G.A.Briel is the new Alan Whicker!”
    New Socialist Worker: Briel strips the fetishistic bunting from the post-colonial corpse of athletico-materialsim to reveal the stark realities underneath.
    Amazin Books: customers who did not buy this also did not buy The Pigeon-Fancier’s Self-Help Manual by Guano Noah Problemo; A mug of tea and a Mars bar: memories of Glasgow cafe society by Jock Ularrity

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