Sunday, December 18, 2011

Schoolchildren Visiting the Museum

[posted late because of no internet connection in the room in Agra.]

Yesterday, as we were visiting the National Museum in Delhi, we were swamped  by enormous groups of school children, ranging from the age of six to eighteen, it seemed. They were lined up by school (you could tell the difference because of the uniforms), and squatting to wait to be let into the museum.

As we entered the museum, we headed to buy our tickets (foreign adults pay XXX rupees, while children under 15 pay just one rupee,) and our audio guides. Children under twelve are allowed an attached headset… but what happens to the children between twelve and fourteen?

As we toured the Harappan Civilization's sculptures and pottery (I will be using four cornered bowls in my house.), the school children started coming in, shuffling along and pushing each other with their hands on the shoulders of the child in front of them. The line moves incredibly quickly— I think they will manage to see the entire museum in a third of the time it will take us.

We were of more interest than the tiny, bug-eyed, clay lizard that looked like a cartoon character. We were of more interest than the dancing girl. We were of more interest than even the cute, four-cornered bowls. Some of the girls smiled shyly at us, and we smiled back.

Then, as we went more recently into history, we smiled more boldly. And then it began.
"Hi!" said a particularly brave girl.
"Hello," I say.
"Hello, how are you?"
"I'm good," I'd say, "how are you?"
And then another would become brave enough to hold out her hand for me to shake. Suddenly, they all wanted to. This line of girls is shuffling along at high speeds through this museum, and instead of looking at the intricate stonework of a lintel (XXX), they are pushing forward to shake my hand. I don't their inattentiveness matters much— the one rupee entrance fee probably allows the school to bring them here quite often.

Some would ask our names. ("Maria," I replied once, "Ahhhh!" exclaims the girl, eyes wide, joining her hands, "That is a beautiful name!") We would ask them theirs too, but while our names may feel something like theirs, their names do not sound like names to us. There was, however, a Lakshima and a Reha. That is all I remember.

Once, while I was shaking hands, a girl dashed onto the couch I was standing next to in order to shake my hand. Another shouted "Excuse me, excuse me!" Until I moved her way. A boy about twelve years old shook my hand twice. I couldn't stop smiling at all these children who are so excited just to see you. They're not expecting candies, or chocolates, or money. All they want is to shake your hand.

It didn't hurt that they tapped my cheek with their hand (I'm sure it's a compliment— it's usually accompanied with a very wide smile and head bobble, both of which are good) and pronounced me "very beautiful."

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