Following the stars to Katmandu

18th October 1996 at 01:00
Twenty-nine years. In astrology this is the frequency with which Saturn returns and the age at which individuals undergo a radical change in life. I find this a suitable explanation as to why, in an economically insecure climate, I have left my teaching job, the mortgage, the opportunity to dine out at least twice a week, and the luxury of allowing my Sainsbury's shopping bill to run into multiples of tens.

I'm leaving, and where I'm going they marry according to the constellation of the stars. I'm going because I'm fed up with the embarrassment of continually telling people that I've never been.

India is: balti houses in Birmingham, Bollywood movies, Oxfam adverts on the TV, swirling paisley on an expensive Liberty print, the Brighton Pavilion, ladies shivering under elegant, brightly coloured "shalwar kameez" on an English winter morning. Ahhh, Indiahhh.

I, like many of my contemporaries, have grown up attempting to piece these fragments together. Born in England of SikhPunjabi extraction, I am now preparing my "homecoming".

I'm not sure what to expect in India, but therein lies the attraction. I feel at this stage very much like a blank canvas, as in the Holi festival, ready to have all that colourful powdered paint thrown at me.

Manjit Dhillon has taught for five years in an Islington primary school, north London. She will spend a year in India and Nepal, working for some of the time with street children in Katmandu, through the charity ROKPA

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