Art for Autism Madurai, poster
Sunday, January 11, 2009
During my 2 days of downtime in Madurai, I visited the Gandhi Museum. The museum was built in Madurai in honor of Gandhi's decision to go back to home spun clothing and traditional ways of dress and living while in Madurai. Several paintings and pictures adorn the walls of the museum detailing the oppression and rise to peace in India over the centuries. Most powerful for me was seeing the robe Gandhi was assassinated in, still bearing the blood stains of this Christ-like man. Overwhelming moment. I was the only one in the room and was brought to tears thinking about the world...and my place in it.
Then, after little time for wandering, Ram and I hit the ground running to prepare for India's first residential Arts for Autism Festival. For 3 days 15 families from around the country spent time together at a secluded retreat in Madurai. At the festival children were taught painting, music, and drama and were encouraged to share their work on the final evening for the public. Pictured below is the candle lighting ceremony in the meditation chapel to begin the festival.
We were able to spend a lot of time working with the mask using Ram's Mask for Autism module. I have to admit, I was not 100% sold on the mask before arriving in India...my attitude towards the mask has now changed. In Bangalore I saw children fighting over masks on the final day of the workshops...the same children were reluctant to wear the mask on day one of the workshop. In Hyderabad I saw a grandfather find connections with his grandson through creative play wearing the masks. The most dramatic support for the use of the mask came in Madurai...one young man came to the festival and literally covered his face with his arm for 2 days straight. I whispered to Ram that we should try the mask with him..and we did. As soon as the boy started wearing the mask his hands dropped and he started dancing and playing with the kids. By the end of day 3 he was not needing the mask and was keeping his hands and arms down while dancing with the other children...when he got overwhelmed he would put the mask on for awhile...total transformation. His parents came up to us with tears in their eyes saying "it's a miracle from god"...not sure about that...just some people willing to try something new and fun...no miracles...just creative experimentation...
Another family really tied into the idea of focal point training using flashlights to build attention. One father was so excited about the method that he brought a flashlight to the Temple to work with his son on attention shifting. In all 3 cities the flashlight exercises became very powerful tools for working on attention shifting and focus....lots of fun!
Parents and their children danced and sang songs before an audience of observers. Observers were shocked and moved to tears saying "We thought everyone would be sad and moaning...and to see parents and children so happy is such a surprise". A great moment for Ram, Madurai, and the parents and children of India.
Thanks for being with me....best wishes,
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Busy city streets in Madurai hum with energy...but it is a less fearsome and modern energy than that of Bangalore. It is an artist's paradise. The temple in the heart of the city was constructed in the 4th century, with improvements and additions made through the years. In the center of the temple there is a 1000 pillar court where artists, poets, and musicians worshipped Shiva and Meenakshi and celebrated new works of art together. I will post pictures from this temple at a later time....breathtaking and beautiful.
It is common to see cows walking, sleeping, and sitting right in the middle of city streets. Picture cows plopped down in the heart of Manhattan. The cow is sacred and roams the streets of india along with stray dogs and cats. Here you can see the cow eating trash by the side of the road. Another very, very common sight.
At the Meenakshi Temple, visitors can pay 5 rupees, a dime in US, directly to the elephant. She then raises her trunk and rests it on your head as a blessing. Sadly, the blessing elephant is chained to the temple wall and has been trained to give the money to a man sitting out of view. A mixed emotion. Note to Ingrid: an elephant's trunk feels like a hairy old shoe, and it's trunk gets your head wet. My head had elephant snot on it for 2 hours!!!
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
We stayed at a lovely place called the State Bank College in Hyderabad. It was very comfortable and had large green areas away from the busy streets. It was odd to hear birds singing after staying in chaotic Bangalore...Hyderabad has something like 70 million people living there....man...
I will always think of the parents and teachers who are working in Hyderabad...a great group...and of the students from Hyderabad who taught us many lessons. Also, I will remember the sleepy Chai Ram and I shared in the heart of this wild, exotic, ancient place.
Monday, January 5, 2009
This place was just down from my hotel in Bangalore. Ram and I just referred to it as "Krishna Coffee". In India, straight black coffee is not common and you get strange looks when you try to order coffee that way. So, after a day or so, this young guy at the coffee shop learned how I preferred the coffee and would have one ready when he saw me coming into the shop. I love this place. The first place I went alone in Bangalore...I went for coffee 3-4 times a day at this place. Usually after calling Elizabeth or my brother. A great place....