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Gongs and Building Routines

I have just returned from a momentous journey to India. It is the country where I and my siblings were born, and I spent my first ten and a half years there.

I was last there in 1945-56: in an India shortly to be partitioned, and welcoming the new era of ending the British ‘occupation’, and the strong reaction against all things British. As a child, I had no notion of those traumatic events, and nor did the local people in the Kolii Mallai with whom our lives were so intertwined.

Then, no electricity, no roads, no machines, no radio, had yet invaded those beautiful mountains. Our lives there were very simple, dependent upon local – grown produce and animals: we kept goats, chickens, rabbits, supplemented by periodic supplies brought up the mountains by coolies, carrying big boxes or bags on their heads along with the news from the wider world.

The routines of our lives were just that – routines, that did not need mentioning, and were never explained to us. They just were.

When we returned to this place of our childhood, and saw the bell, still in place near the Church, where it regularly calls the villagers to worship, it reminded us of a big round gong, no longer there, and the memories flowed back….. that gong held a pivotal role in our lives as children. The insistent sound of that gong was a central communication system for the village.

It summoned people for work soon after dawn – and meant that we were all up and ready for our day too. They would come prepared with their stout walking sticks, scarves thrown over their shoulders till the sun beat them into covering their heads, and lunch tiffins, waiting for the assignments of the day.

Depending upon the season, they would be tilling the fields, planting rice or other seeds, gathering crops, digging and preparing more of the fertile red earth of the mountain sides to grow other crops, threshing the grains, preparing fruit: bananas, oranges, guavas, mangoes, for taking down the hills to sell in the markets in the villages of the foothills.

The young boys were assigned to care for the goats and ducks which they would lead down to the rice fields in the valley by the village, and watch to make sure they were safe from the jackals that took every opportunity to grab a tasty lunch.

That gong sometimes took on an urgent, even desperate tone, beaten furiously or anxiously if something happened that needed the help of the men of the village, or the doctor. Occasionally, even in the middle of the night, it might sound, summoning my parents and the Doctor who lived in the bungalow behind ours. They would find a person dying from a snake bite, or mauled by a bear, borne to our front verandah on an improvised stretcher or carried between a couple of men.

The gong sounded to summon the villagers to meetings, arranged to discuss agricultural plans, pay and job changes, seasonal crop decisions, etc. Those were generally lively and heated, but good natured.

Then there were the times when the gong sounded for impromptu meetings, or when there was a fight or disagreement brewing. Then the villagers would gather in dark moods, with angry loud voices, and Dad would go to talk with them, to calm and conciliate.

The gong brought order to the village after our early days there, when there was no gong – and frequently fights and threats and anger would spill onto the veranda of our bungalow.

Becoming a self-sustaining village only happened after routines were gradually established – towards which the gong led the way and gave structure as well as emergency communication to the village.

The picture shows us looking at the crop of coffee beans, laid out on the main road of the village to dry.

Meeting the present village elders, they acknowledged our parents’ work there, with genuine gratitude, and told us, ‘Look, we have our Collective because of what your parents did here!’

So – what have I gained that I can pass on to you parents and teachers from these thoughts about gongs?!

Remember that

1) the routines you set in place with your children are ones that will stay with them all their lives, and are often prompted by simple things like ‘gongs’ that your children will recall when they are adults, like

turning off the tv and not allowing mobiles whilst eating family meals getting up together as a family for early morning prayers before the day begins.

2) routines are helpful in keeping order and giving legitimate ways to express urgent needs. Especially for children with Autism or communication difficulties, having a physical prompt, such as a card or gesture, when they need to have time out or talk with you can mean the difference between a tantrum and calmness.

3) orderliness is important to us all! Especially to boys, who seem to find it hard to organise themselves. I failed at this completely with my boys – and it had disastrous effects upon their

study habits. It is worth persevering with helping your boys to get tidy and orderly, believe me. Not for nothing are there sayings like ‘Orderly home, orderly mind’.

I hope to share lots more about our fascinating travels in future – meanwhile, make your children’s memories of their childhood homes or schools ones they can look back on with enjoyment and thankfulness!

Best wishes


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