I had just announced my trip to India at Flickr when I found a curious email asking me if I’d be interested in photographing a school in India for the school website. King’s Matriculation was in Thirunellveli and it wasn’t part of my trip itinerary but I was intrigued about the project as the school located in a remote town catered to the children in this area.
So I sat down and went through my travel plans to see if I could squeeze the town more than 300kms away from my last stop into my schedule. It turned I could spend a day travelling in and out of Thirunelveli. So we sat down and discussed ideas and by the time I flew to India I had a plan.
Into our second week of travelling I realised Thirunelveli should have been called the land of windmills. The flat topography was dotted with windmills. As soon as I reached the town, I contacted the school coordinator to let him know we were there and i would be heading to the school at 8am as planned. He insisted on meeting us that evening itself and saved me the trouble of finding the school by turning up the next morning to show us the way with the headmistress. I was a bit taken back to be greeted by the headmistress.
Located in the outskirts of Thirunelveli in a town called Konda Nagaram, we passed various villages before we finally arrived at the school. The school had actually been a life long dream of the headmistress’s husband. Right after setting up the school, he passed away leaving the school in the able hands of his wife and son. As we made our way to the school, the headmistress briefed me on the school and the different stages of growth and education in India.
Though the school is a private school, the children are charged a discounted fee compared to other private schools. The objective was to provide the children with quality education, a criteria lacking in crowded public schools. The school was the only building on the nearly barren land. Apparently it rarely rains in Thirunelveli and hence the nearly dry atmosphere of the surrounding area.
Due to my tight travelling schedule, the school had to make the kids turn up in their purple uniforms instead of the white uniforms they usually wore on Monday. Parents had been calling the school from the wee hours of the morning reconfirming the information their children were telling them. While most students turned up in the right uniform some kids turned up in white only to have the parents panic and turn back to get the right uniform for the kids. I tried to help the headmistress convince a parent he didn’t have to but he insisted it wasn’t a problem and returned 5 minutes later to change his son.
I was quite taken by the parents dedication. Most kids arrived in share autos and the school bus, while the older kids mostly cycled to school, while a handfull were dropped by their parents. It was even surprising to see that the Headmistress and teachers knew every single of the more than 200 kids names. The kids were a darling bunch, they would greet us the moment they saw us, walk the corridors with their hands clasped to their backs, smile politely and ask the teachers before they did anything. I did wonder if the students were extra behaved because I was there, they definitely were excited to see me. The teachers were in dressed in their best and everytime I shot a class, I kinda felt like an education officer on a secret inspection.
The students seemed very proud of their school and were ever willing to pose and show me what they had learnt. Of course there were two three kids that stood out with their brilliant smile or when they simply refused to smile at me.
I was asked to shoot one of the top scorers at the school and she refused to smile at me. Half an hour later when I arrived in her pre-school class, she dazzled me with her smile. Lol perhaps it was just too early for her? ;p
My mom had been given the honour of raising the Indian flag at the morning assembly. We had actually not expected it. The kids were all super concentrated in singing the national anthem and gods praise as they were led by the top scorers of the school and the sports master.
I have to tell you about the sports department which is run by this fresh university graduate. The moment he knew I was coming to the school to document them, he rounded up his ever loyal boys and not only did they wash every single blackboard in the school, they drew lines for the football field as I had wanted to take photos of them in action.
There was one boy in the pack of older boys who i think was the leader who was determined to not smile in any of the shots he had to pose in. He would give me a stare every single time I focused on him. He does remind me of a young Rajinikanth (Indian actor). The boys were playing football and volleyball in the middle of the hot sun and were super excited to do it. I was just surprised they were playing football instead of cricket. Perhaps I should have asked them.
Now I was told the sports teacher had lead the school to win the interschool yoga competitions. Piqued by the young mans talents, neighboring schools had tried to wrest him to their side, but I was told he has no plans to leave the school as he believes in their vision. Inspiring for such a young chap!
While I continued shooting the classes, he got the boys ready to show me their yoga moves and indoor games. Everytime I asked a teacher to teach, they would actually start teaching a lesson, show them yoga poses, teach them songs and so on. None of the teachers were posing.
I have to admit the class I must enjoyed was the pre-schoolers because they were the most adorable. Of course I’d occasionally have a kid refusing to look anywhere but at me while the teacher was teaching but any kid would do the same when someone’s lugging a huge black box and pointing it at them ;p
At one point the kids began to animatedly sing children songs and for a moment forgot I was there and enthusiastically moved their fingers to the tune of the song.
The music teacher who is a university music student freelances as the music teacher and he ended up teaching the kids a new song “God is so good” as I photographed them. Eventhough I was finished with my photos, I waited till the lesson was over before I headed to shoot the indoor games session. The boys were pretty flexible and ever eager to show us what they knew.
The school is still waiting for funds to increase their classrooms but still managed to house various facilities for sports, computers, lab, library, playground and even a little animal pen for the children to play with.
The school is blessed to have such dedicated staff members, not just the teachers but also the school attendants. They would check with me on what I was shooting next and get the kids ready, help the teachers move the tables around when necessary. Someone was actually carrying my super heavy camera bag and bringing me drinks every half an hour. At one point I was desperately trying to stop the headmistress from holding an umbrella for me. We were treated like VIPs and I’m truly blessed to have had the opportunity to shoot the school.
From what I’ve seen the school though still growing in size, is full of dedicated teachers and administration who have only the childrens well being in heart. They are constantly looking for any kind of help both financially and in educational material for the school. Their website and contact number can be found here. If you’re around the area you might want to send your kid there.
Thank you to the school, my client who found me on Flickr for giving me the opportunity and everyone who helped me during the session. It was an experience I won’t be forgetting. The website is ready and I can finally tell the story of my experience shooting in India.
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