Two roses and a thorn – full post

Today the emotions of leaving hit like a hot madras with extra chilli.

This evening there was to be a gala evening with a cultural programme of entertainment so our attention turned to rehearsals after breakfast. It’s customary that the visitors dance, and the legend that is Bachchan wasn’t going to let us get away without a bit of naacho this time. An hour of choreographed chaos, and the piece was complete, but with only 6 hours until our saree fitting, the girls went off to start getting ready. Michael thought that joining them for a quick lather of fake tan might be misconstrued as cultural appropriation, so he occupied himself with the children of Udayan instead.

The girls had their sarees fitted by the female staff of Udayan. They got the full Bollywood megastar treatment, with a team of dressers fitting the vibrant-coloured clothing, pinning and pruning as necessary. The boys sorted themselves out. After a photo shoot and quick walkthrough of the routine, we headed to the dining hall and greeted the children and staff. The children were so forthcoming with compliments, it felt amazing but left us wondering if foreign visitors to our school would be treated in the same way.

We then had an amazing presentation of singing and dancing. Traditional Indian songs and dances as well as a specially prepared dance to an English song – Bones by Imagine Dragons. There was then a short speech by Udayan Director Dipak and a presentation of certificates with our pictures on. It was then time to dance. A cheeky hybrid of Eurafrican-Desi Naacho moves later, and every face in the room had an ear-to-ear smile. The smiles quickly turned to tears as the children were dismissed and both visitors and hosts realised that soon saying goodnight, would turn to saying goodbye.

We finally managed to prize ourselves away from the children and were led to a rooftop banquet prepared by the staff – which must have taken them days. The starter of Chicken pakora was devoured, and Liam’s request for some Indian music was escalated by Udayan Chair Emily into a full-blown dance party with all the staff of Udayan. Many of the staff work 24/7 for the children, getting a few days off each month or when the children are away with family for the puja festivals. It was amazing seeing them relax and let off a bit of stream! A highlight was the smooth moves of Suren, the assistant cook. Now in his 70s, he was a boy taken in by Udayan years ago. He has no family and during the lockdowns, was one of the few people who had nowhere else to go. Watching him tear up the dance floor was another expression of the lasting legacy of Udayan on the lives of those who get to call this place home.

If every course was followed with a Bollywood dance spectacular, it would have been a very long night, not that it would have mattered to us. As our main course of mutton was served (with chutney and papadams) it was suggested that we share ‘two roses and a thorn’ – two joyful and beautiful things, and one thing that has perhaps challenged us the most. For perhaps the first time this trip, the table listened intensely to each other and phones weren’t touched for the longest time. The impact of this visit on each individual was put into words, perhaps for the first time. Again the tears flowed, filled with gratitude and joy, and a little pain. The pain that comes when you give a little piece of yourself to something or someone else, and when someone gives you a piece of their heart and you graft it to your own. No pictures. No video. It was just for us.

A Bengali rice pudding was dessert and a super-sweet condensed milk and honey ball. But nothing would be sweeter than the joy we have experienced tonight as the impact of this trip is starting to manifest.

By Michael – Love you Patrice. I can’t wait to dance for you when I get home!

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