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India steps closer to home

A project at a Greenock museum lets children sample the exotic flavours of far-away countries, reports Deedee Cuddihy

Passport to India. McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock until April 16. programme of events for primary and secondary schools tel 01475 715624.

The P5s from Lady Alice Primary in Greenock seem to have enjoyed every aspect of their trip to the town's McLean Museum and Art Gallery. Their favourite bit was taking their shoes and socks off to try out a classical Indian dance in their bare feet.

The children were at the museum to take part in Passport to India, a project aimed at "increasing awareness and understanding of Indian culture through exhibitions, performance and an educational programme".

Lady Alice was the first primary school to visit the project. For a class of 30 P5s, the whistle-stop tour of the sub-continent began with an excellent short documentary film showing the daily lives of two children from Mumbai, whose dad works as an electrician in the Bollywood movie industry. Although their home has no electricity or running water, they are better off than many other people in the city.

Next door, pupils viewed the museum's Indian treasures, which include sacrificial swords, scary spirit heads, intricate model temples made entirely from the pith of trees and, most impressive of all, a beautiful stuffed Indian tiger, shot in 1928. The pupils learned that there are only 4,000 Indian tigers left in the world.

Upstairs in the new art gallery, half the space has been given over to an exhibition of modern Indian painting by a well-known Calcutta-based artist.

The other half has been set out to highlight Indian arts and crafts with displays covering Paisley shawls and other gorgeous textiles, literature, music and musicians, and spices (in a glass case) used for cooking and medicinal purposes. Visitors can handle a selection of spices as well as some Indian craft goods.

This light, airy space is where dance and music performances are being held. The Lady Alice P5s got a demonstration and workshop from Sapna Jobanputra of the Scottish Academy of Asian Arts, which involves lots of stamping of bare feet with hand movements aimed at "telling a story without opening your mouth".

Some children get the chance to try on traditional dress that has been specially made for the project. And the morning ends on a sweet note, with a sample of sugar-coated Indian aniseed.

"Even though we hadn't done any preparation for Passport to India, our curriculum had already covered subjects like endangered species, Paisley shawls and the Hindu religion, and it was interesting to see the children making those connections during the visit," says their headteacher, Betty Terris.

The project manager for Passport to India is Jacky Folley, a dynamic South African drama specialist who moved to Scotland several years ago and took up her three-year post as Inverclyde Council's arts development officer last August. She's been working alongside Valerie Bow, curator at the museum, and Inverclyde's cultural co-ordinators, Anne McGill and Isobel Watt. There has also been in-put from the Indian government, whose consul general in Scotland was guest of honour at the launch.

India is the first in a series of Passport to I projects that will run at the museum. The next will take place in August and focus on Africa, and a third is likely to concentrate on China. All the projects will feature an exhibition of historic objects from the museum's collections, many donated by people from the Inverclyde area who travelled abroad.

An education pack containing basic facts about India, website addresses, activity sheets for primary children, a list of teachers'

resources and information on promoting race equality in education has been prepared by Inverclyde's cultural co-ordinators

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