One of the great privileges of being fairly independent is that I can arrive unannounced at the project sites and see for myself how they are really doing without anyone being warned in advance scrub up and look busy. Last Saturday I cycled to Keelalathur, the first and dearest project to me. It is where it all started and I always make a point to go there. To a certain extent it is a survival mechanism to have shameless favouritism in India. With over 1.2 billion people, some means of selection is essential or you would drown. There are now 5 elderly welfare centres and only 3 of there are funded by VRCT. Of course, I was deeply involved in the development of the principle of an elderly welfare centre and the rest evolved from then onwards, but this occured once I was back in the UK, consequently, I had much less personal input and connection with the members of the group. At Keelalathur, they actually feel like old friends. Pushpampal, who grudgingly attended at the beginning, always looking dissatisfied and complaining that whatever we were giving was not enough, is now one of the staunchest members. She is always gratifyingly pleased to see me and is very cheeky with her greetings. Last time she told me I looked like a boy since I had lost weight, this time, she pointed to her hair, to me & then to the greying paint on the wall. Nothing escapes peoples' notice over here and my increasingly greying hair was no exception to the beady eyes of Pushpamal.
In the back, the garden is a little more productive than before. Proudly, they presented me with some lemons from their tree. Beans hide between twisted vines and curry leaf plants glisten from their recent watering. Apparently they have a harvest for approximately 6m per year. Its not a huge amount, but the Elders enjoy tending the plants and they can reduce by a small amount their food costs. A few years ago, everyone was enthusiastic about the idea of a working garden, but when the monkeys used the net as a trampoline before snaffling the produce at Kovasampet, everyone became downhearted and I assumed the idea was dead in the water. Somehow, despite this, those little seeds of enthusiasm flourished despite an apparent lack of encouragementNow each centres with land attached. It is a metaphor we would do well to heed. In the UK we start projects and when they do not produce results exactly as expected in the proposal, they are often binned, but we rarely give them enough bedding in time. These projects have shown me that the pace of change is slow but steady instead of rapid and transformational. Perhaps we need to aim for smaller, tidier ambitions and apply them with greater patience, so after a few years, we do not have several failed initiatives to show, but a subtle shift in perspective and outcome.
Today, I promised them to come back so they could give me lunch. It is important not to always be the donor and create a permanent sense of gratitude, it is an ultimately destructive and disempowering dynamic, consequently, going to have lunch is an easy way of allowing them to give back. I look forward to it even though I will not really be able to understand the dinner table conversation!