Kids Like Attention In India, Too

December 31, 1969, Glendora Press

Kids Like Attention In India, Too

(Editor’s Note: the following is another in a series of articles by Glendora High School teacher Dwayne Hunn relating his experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in India.)

By Dwayne Hunn

On a chance search through a social service center in the city, I made the acquaintance of a Dr. Pai.  Dr. Pai was one of those rare Indians.

He was well-educated abroad, had been to a dozen or so American universities on Fulbright and Rockefeller grants, and was dedicated to bettering his country.

At that time he was teaching college medical courses and requiring that his students get involved in a program of family planning clinics that he was taking to the slums and factories.  I mentioned that I had a large hall that theoretically could be said to reach about 40,000 near-by chawl dwellers.

*

In a few weeks the center had a family planning exhibit that lasted 10 days.  The purpose of the clinic, aside from involving his students in a crucial area, was to educate the poor in just what family planning and birth control meant.

After the educational program, Doctor Pai told whichever parent was present that the male could have a harmless and technically reversible vasectomy performed and receive a rupee reward in return.

Being raised a Catholic, I had ideas against this kind of birth control, but India had given many of those ideas food for thought.

I was a little disappointed in the numbers that turned out for the educational program and not very impressed with the three or four vasectomies Dr. Pai performed. Dr. Pai, however, did not seem disheartened.

His drives and optimism seems to be paying off for about five months ago (this is 1969)  I heard from Dr. Pai.  It was not a very personal communique, but it made me feel rather important, like I had been around for the start of something big.  It happened after a late dinner while I was watching 60 Minutes at Rubel’s Castle in Glendora, California.

*

To my TV screen came Dr. Pai talking of the successes of his scheme.  He had started taking it to rail road stations and textile mills, with PCVs helping advertise his educational program, while I was still in India.  Now it had caught on so well that it was about to be spread to other large cities.

Monetary incentives were still being given to males as inducements to this activity as well as to contact who brought in the “vasectomee.”

June, if all goes climatically well for the Indians, is the start of the monsoon.  For me, it was also the time to decide the course of my future work pursuits.  If I wanted to make it as a strict UCDer I would have to spend hundreds of hours during the next months mastering Marathi.  My work habits had, in a sense, decided this for me.  I could not sit and study 8 to 10 hours a day, even if it was raining out.  I kept plugging away at what I felt were good experiences and jobs and let the future shift out a work pattern for me.

*

In mid-June I overheard a few volunteers mention that an orphanage was interested in having a PCV.  I’d like the idea of working with an orphanage and thought that this might be a new fulltime work site.  Since my Marathi was weak, and since the PCV girls across the street were about to move out, which would return my feeding habits to the street restaurants, I was thinking of new work sites.

Father Nelson, the main work horse of the orphanage, responded favorably to the idea of my coming out twice a week to direct the physical education program, to teach a little, and just to mingle with the kids.  He did not see that it would be possible for me to live at Our Ladies Home for another 6 to 10 months, since the school was being enlarged and would not be ready till then.

The orphanage holds a special niche in my heart.  It was filled with much.  It had the old priest, who technically was Father Nelson’s superior, but who did not work, seemed irritated by the kids, and was seen only at tea time by me.

*

It had Father Nelson, whose seemed to put in 20 hours a day with the kids, always seemed bedraggled, and desired to be the learned philosopher but who, burdened with work, had no time to read, think, or contemplate.

It had teachers who did not qualify for the good paying, which was still terribly low paying, jobs of the municipal schools; nice young men and women trying to do a good job on the younger minds without the experiences, training, and texts that help make them dynamic.

Most of all, it had the kids.

I can remember the first day I got close to those kids.  I can remember how their white teeth stood out on their brown faces, how their eyes sparkled with a special glint, and yet, how skinny their bodies were.

It was because so few people noticed how white and shiny their teeth were and special their eyes were that they were so hard to control.  They went wild when I showed them a new game or exercise.  They went wild when I put one of them on my lap, wrestled with one, or just fooled with one.

*

“Sir, sir, do that with me!  Show me!” you can use this same vein from the kids in the states, but there it meant something different, something more, something less.

Physical education in India is not very demanding.  Most Indian exercises seemed to depend on arm movements from a standing position, knee bends, and standing at attention.  My kids got to believe that pushups, isometrics, jumping jacks, squats, and all those other football exercises built muscles.

After a few months, most of the kids had to pull “Sir” aside to show many pushups they could do, to show their muscles, to show how they could touch their toes without bending their knees, or how hard they could push on an isometric drill.

They were such good kids, and I wished others could give them more.  For a while an English mother of three and her friend came to the orphanage to work with them.  When a buddy from Australia came to visit me, he spent five days, living, playing, and loving them.

*

But when, through publication in the Indian Express (a major newspaper), I tried to establish a weekend visit program to homes and families, it came to naught.  After the publishing of my letter, the only response I knew of was an invitation for me to come to dinner with a good family, because the breadwinner wanted to show me how beautiful Indian family life was.  As I said, it came to naught.

They needed but had little contact with the outside world.  The five days I lived with them was a time for daily trips to the museum, the harbor, and the downtown.  With few exceptions from the different ten kids I took each day, these experiences were all firsts that for them.

For most, riding the train into town was a first.  Taking them on a boat ride, I’d see their awe at being in a sailboat.  Walking around the harbor, I’d watch their excitement at seeing the Gateway of India, and feel my spirits rise and sag.

*

Leading them through the open air parlor area of the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the India’s plushest, and having a manager rush up to usher my not so well dressed brown kids out, made my blood pressure rise and caused a heated scene.

 

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