Of Lice and Men

My latest basket of photos is linked to in the post below. If you have any trouble, try again while logged out of Facebook. If you’re still having trouble, apply anti-lice lotion to your computer, leave for 20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.

Getting up at 6o’clock on a Saturday morning for a sound day of de-lousing may sound like hard work, but since some extremely noisy political rally had been going on just outside my window since 4:30 (the exciting bhangra music and rousing speeches being very, very amplified to the audience of three people and two goats) it really wasn’t that bad.

The Love & Care Orphanage is home to about 300 children, most of whom were extremely sweet and very excited to have their hair combed by Europeans. They were dressed in slightly Oliver Twist-style cast-off clothing, and generally had between ten and thirty lice on their heads.

After the lotion and the combing, the kids all moved over to a large water-tank for rinsing, and this developed into quite an exciting waterfight, with huge smiles all round, and vaguely reminiscent of that good old GCSE English Literature favourite Blessing.

After this came the children’s discovery that the volunteers had cameras, and this started an endless chorus of, “Brother, please, one photo!” which gradually turned into several thousand photos with fairly damp kids in different permutations. I’ve uploaded the very best ones to Licebook and here they are.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

One morning, I came across an abandoned bus-stop absolutely teeming with baby chickens, for no obvious reason and with no obvious owner. A few of the braver ones had wandered out into four lanes of heavy traffic, and local schoolkids were running about trying to shepherd them back to safety.

Just thought I’d mention.

A touch of roll play

A couple of days later, I joined a queue outside a tiny hole-in-the-wall “medicals” shop. The owner immediately pulled me to the front, invited me inside, told me not to worry about removing my shoes, sat me down on a stool, turned the fan on over my head, and was generally excited that I was there. Then I bought the couple of toilet-rolls I wanted and left, feeling rather guilty at not spending more…

Just after leaving, I was accosted by some miscellaneous local who gave me the usual grilling about my name, my parents’ names and what I was doing in India. When I told him that I was working for a magazine, he asked which. When I mentioned the Madurai Messenger, he let out a triumphant, “Aha!” and pulled an ancient back-issue out of his bag, claiming that his brother’s photo was on the front cover. I extricated myself before finding out what his game was, but he was definitely up to something; why else would a person go out holding nothing but a bag containing only an old copy of a free mag…?

A touch of censorship

The staff of the Madurai Messenger were given a chance to suggest potential topics for articles in our next issue, and I asked if I could write something about the election campaign which was disturbing my sleep every night. However, apparently free publications in the state of Tamilnadu aren’t allowed to write anything critical of the government. And I get the impression that that means not writing anything on the subject of the government whatsoever, at least while maintaining journalistic integrity!

One story I did get the chance to volunteer for was about a village nearby where all the people have the same name. The Editor said that whoever covered it needed “maturity and sensitivity,” so I thought it better to give it a miss

The wheels on the bus go up and down…

The journey between Madurai and Munnar has two stages. First, I stood for the 90-minute trip to Theni Bus Stand. A lady sitting near me asked if I wanted her to hold my backpack. I said I was alright, and earned myself a hugely reproachful look, plus the rebuke, “I would never take anything from your bag!”

The next bus-trip was one of the highlights of my whole India experience. Four hours on a cramped bus, twisting and turning along mountain roads so violently that people were genuinely falling out of their seats, in such complete darkness that the driver (rather terrifyingly) relied on whistle-signals from the conductor, who was hanging out of the back door, to know when to turn and when to slow down!


A convoy of Jeeps; tea; a rearrangement of hotel furniture; “Do not put waste down the toilet”; an elephant with an MP3-player; carnage at the bus-station; and a particularly delicious tomato oothapam. Tune in next time!

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