In a school of 1,400 students, there is always something going on. This past week at Vidya Mandir was more eventful than usual, however, for two reasons: Project Day and Mike’s birthday. Project Day was held last Saturday, November 14. It is a yearly event, kind of like an Open House or a Parents’ Day, but with much more work involved. Each grade is assigned a topic (such as history, cultural traditions, temples) and given an hour or so at the end of each day to create projects focused on this topic. For example, Taz’ class (7th Grade) was assigned fairy tales and folk tales, and the students worked together to make colorful posters, shadow boxes, mini puppet theaters, and models showcasing the various stories. The kids are pretty much left to their own devices, to see what they can come up with on their own, all with a variety of recycled materials, and they are amazingly inventive. For James’ class (3rd Grade), the topic was Indian festivals, however, James himself was pulled from the preparations, as he was one of the lucky few primary students who was selected to participate in a play.
Project Day, which was coincidently held on Children’s Day, started off with decent weather. We had just recovered from the first round of the Northeast monsoon, and were hoping the sunshine would hold for another day. No such luck. No sooner had we arrived at school at 9:00 a.m. that morning, than the skies opened up! I barely had time to run James over to the stage where the teachers were setting up for the play before getting soaked (I had gotten too smug during the small stretch of sunny weather and had neglected to bring my umbrella!). Even in the rain, the play went on as planned, with three performances, and James was very excited to be a part of it, especially since he got to wear his new Indian-style pajama kurta (long embroidered top). He was actually the focal point of the presentation, as an American kid visiting India, who is shown a variety of Indian dances – classical dance, regional folk dances, and even a Bollywood-style number. The dancers were all excellent, even though they were just primary school children. I was stunned by their beautiful costumes, their enthusiasm, and their expertise! All three shows went off without a hitch – no small feat, considering they had only practiced for two weeks!
In between performances, I wandered around the school, where the classrooms were set up to showcase the projects. Not only were the displays artistic and creative, but the students presenting them were eager to tell me all about them. (“Aunty, Aunty, you have not seen my project yet!”). There was a lot to take in, and I did not even make it to all the grades, but some of the things that really impressed me included: a model Navaratri display with mini kolu dolls made out of Styrofoam; a huge, room-sized model of Chennai, with various buildings made of cardboard; a beautiful drawing illustrating the Red Fort in Delhi, and a mini model of King Tut’s tomb and sarcophagus. And even through the rain poured down off and on all day, everyone’s spirits remained up, for the kids were so proud of their achievements.
Given the big excitement of Project Day, the next week was a little more low-key. Mike’s birthday was coming up on Thursday (November 19), but he had just planned to bring in some candy and milk sweets for the teachers and his classes. He hardly expected the day to turn out any differently than a regular Vidya Mandir school day. However, he sorely underestimated the enthusiasm of the students. For starters, he was greeted by hundreds of students (yes, hundreds!), all of whom wanted to shake his hand and give him birthday greetings. One of his 11th Grade classes brought in a cake, and another made him a colorful glazed plate with all their names written on it. He was also given a handsome crimson kurta, a beautiful metalwork box, a small bronze Ganesh figure and a number of other gifts. He is already something of a celebrity at the school, but on this day, he was a rock star! When he came home in the auto-rickshaw that afternoon, he was laden with goodies. To cap off the day, we shared wonderful snacks from our corner restaurant with our Tamil teacher, Prof. Dasarathan, when he came for our twice-weekly lesson. Now the rest of us are wishing that we could celebrate our birthdays in India, too!