About 20 years ago, in some middle of nowhere track in India I met an eleven-year-old boy who said his name was Killi. Killi attended (from time to time) the local village school and his favourite lesson was called... Truant. “It’s simple,” he explained to me, “School is about learning things, and when I go to class I learn nothing, apart from the fact that the teacher either isn’t there or doesn’t do anything when he is. Even were he to beat a boy one day, we’d all have a little entertainment spiced with our resentment, but more often than not he can’t even be bothered to do that. He just tells us to carry on studying.”
|Not Really 11|
It wasn’t long before Killi’s lost the isolation of his Jungle adventures. “After all” added a school-chum, you need to have a buddy with you in case of snakes. “And I suppose my parents would miss me” said Killi in reply. “More like they’d miss someone lugging jars of water from the village tap at 3.00” a.m. grumbled his mate Vibhu. You know how we stand in there in all weathers keeping each others’ places in the queue before grabbing a bit more sleep until we go to attend classes that aren’t there!” Killi simply didn’t reply to this, but he welcomed the company nonetheless, and soon there was a gaggle of four or five boys playing hooky as they explored the jungle nearby.
In the course of time, Killi and his mates would come back with many things, mostly Nellikai or wild gooseberries, their ragged pockets bulging with the hard green fruits along with string and unprotected razor blades. These became a currency with the boys as they emerged from the forest, sharing them round, but only with kids who were prepared to do other work in return. I swear these children had several sets of eyes. They’d shared and bagged the prestigious job of pushing the wheelchair, so I would use this free form of locomotion to explore as much of the mountainside as I could with wheels permitting. It wasn’t long before I’d scream out NIL (STOP!) because I’d seen a wiggle of movement under some plant and ordered them to bring it to me. Astonishingly, most boys were terrified of some of the creepies like bristly devil-headed caterpillars, advising me to be careful and not to touch. Persuading the diábolo to leave its stalk and wander along my hand while I blew mock kisses in its direction. That raised my social status even more, and I must admit I much enjoyed the power which was heaped upon me.
It wasn’t long before my room was filling up with bugs, millipedes and inch-worms, not to mention the odd sweet-jar which contained soil and ant lions, and occasionally a flower-pot snake or two. As the specimens poured in I soon realised that I was biting off more than I could chew, or indeed feed. And what is more I saw that all this gathering and collecting “for John” had very little to do with me until the small runnel of regular absenteeism from the village school turned into a river. John would be well and truly in the spot-light if it was traced to him!
|It Was Like This: Thanks Getty!|
Matters came to a head one day when I found that unasked, a boy had cycled a further 12 miles into the depth of the jungle and came pedalling furiously back. He presented me with a live chameleon he had captured there and thought I’d like to keep it as a pet. A live chameleon was something I’d never met face-to-face before; I’d always wanted one as a child and now my wish had been granted in a quite unexpected way. Even so, I had a strange surge of emotions sweeping through me at the moment; Deeply touched that a boy had cycled so far on my behalf and that he’d correctly guessed what I would love. At yet at the age of 44, I’d also learned that the creature would be thoroughly accustomed to the deeper jungle world which was his home that very morning. After giving the boy a hug of thanks, I told him that it could not be.
On opening the little box, the lizard had done its utmost to convince me that it was a Fischer-Price Plastico-rubbery toy which had pipe cleaners embedded in its limbs. The creature seemed frozen & dead, but after leaving it alone a little it started to move jerkily and roll those googly eyes. The boy pleaded for me to keep it but I explained through my friend that back home in Tiruvannamalai the conditions were totally different. There wasn’t the humidity and the greenery there, and even if he lived he would never find a mate. Without his jungle cover he’d soon become a target for a hungry crow and rat, or perhaps he’d simply die to have his flesh picked off by ants. I think that of all the futures I saw, that was the saddest possibility.
|Killi With Brother Ramana|
And then one day he decided to clean my floor with a brush, push the chair even more and make my breakfast. Jungle adventures were left behind as time’s broom swept us all on. I missed him sorely when I returned to England I determined I would bring him, with his brother, to help me throughout the year. Inevitable difficulties followed, the most formidable of which were the Home Office Dragons who made it an almost forgone conclusion that entry to the UK would be referred. “Highly unlikely” was the term used in their letter to my MP.
Surprise followed on from surprise. Who knows what happened in the intervening years. Somewhere along the road that chameleon lizard must have traded places with an axolotl. In the course of leaving the watery humid jungle a veritable dragon has emerged to begin his life as a fully-fledged UK Citizen.
|Killi's UK Welcome Ceremony.|
In the picture, in front of the portrait of Her Majesty the Queen, we see Killi with the High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, Penelope Walkinshaw as well as Councillor John Powley. Killi has just received his Certificate of Nationality.