A typical day at Heal Paradise starts with the blare of the alarm at 5:30am. This is followed by a quiet doze until the next, more insistent, blare at 5:45am.
After hurriedly fitting 20 minutes of getting ready into 10 minutes, we stumble downstairs to join the students for morning yoga. Stretching ourselves awake as the sun rises.
After yoga, we head downstairs for a cup of ragi malt; a hot drink with a smoothie consistency and an almost-Weetabixy taste. It is made from ragi flour and milk. It is rich in calcium and fibre, whilst being low in saturated fat. Despite these added health benefits, it’s delicious! Most importantly, it’s a firm favourite with the children.
The cooler early mornings are the best time for a walk. Katherine and I stroll along the track to the small village of Thotapalli and back, enjoying the sites of paddy fields and grazing buffalos. The 15 minute round trip is not lengthy, but by this time the sun has risen higher. The red and green hues of the hilly terrain that surrounds Heal Paradise become more vibrant in the sun’s blaze. And we cool climate dwellers are happy to retreat back into the cool shadows of the dorm.
We join the children and staff in the dining hall at 8am. The children line up patiently with their silver trays, then wolf down their breakfast (and maybe some seconds), before racing off to their first lessons of the day.
The school congregates at 9:15am for assembly. A brief affair, starting with the singing of Jana Gana Mana (the Indian national anthem), followed by announcements and news updates, the daily recital of the Heal Paradise pledge, and culminating in the singing of a hymn.
The school day passes in a blur of classes, break bells and lunch.
At 4pm, the rushing around pauses and the school gathers in one of the school’s open air auditorium areas for snack time. On this occasion, one of the teachers, Syam, has been persuaded to put on an impromptu comedy showcase and is doing various impressions much to the delight of the students.
In the early evening the school divides. The younger children head to the playing field for some games. The older students continue with their studies. The atmosphere is more relaxed, and we wander between classes, chatting as we go.
The students tend to be more reflective at this time. They enjoy asking about our daily lives and families. They love to learn about different cultures and their customs. However, they always seem vaguely bemused that we cannot offer them a cultural tapestry as rich as theirs. They seem particularly baffled by our lack of traditional British dances. Their expectant faces make me wonder if I should have learnt some Morris dancing, or even an Irish jig, at some point in my life. But Heal students are more than graceful, and they accept our meagre offering of the Macarena as if it were a Foxtrot.
The few hours before dinner are reserved for bathing, chores and homework. We tend to make ourselves scarce to avoid distracting the students from their studies, and making extra work for the ever-patient housemothers supervising them.
At 8pm, it is time for dinner. The dining hall is alive with chatter and the aroma of delicious food. The PE teacher – lovingly referred to as PET by the students – is on the lookout, ready to blow his whistle at any student tomfoolery he witnesses. The blasts of the whistle echo round the large room. The noise is strikingly similar to primary school swimming lessons.