Blue Bird

Ooty, India


We are caught in the middle of the crowd surging to board the blue toy train at Ooty, squashed against a large man from Bangalore, who holds a blue canary in a cage in the air above him. Amidst the chaos there are shouts of protest as people strive to shove past people, the hands and heads of smaller individuals disappearing beneath the crowd as if they are drowning in a sea of high waves. Whistles blow, elbows jab, shoulders shove as worn suitcases and battered bags are squeezed through the already blocked doorway. Silken clothes and coloured cottons merge in a blur of confusion, while the early morning heat rises up from the platform bringing with it scents of mixed spices, dust and sweat. Above all of this is the song of a blue canary. The boys and I are pushed towards the train and find ourselves stumbling up the metal steps behind the large man from Bangalore. Together we squeeze our way into our small second class wooden carriage, decorated with flower carvings and rose painted stained glass. He sits down opposite us with his blue canary, while his wife, a pretty petite woman in a pale pink sari, sits beside him, sipping noisily from a plastic container of fruit-juice. Next to her is a short stout man with round gold rimmed spectacles, a piece of twisted cello-tape sticking a broken arm to the left frame. “I am a lecturer of psychology,” the man with the blue canary informs us all, turning to accept the cup of steaming chai that his wife has poured from a plastic flask. The train toots out our imminent departure loudly, and as it does so a thin man with a pitted face and shabby white cotton trousers joins our carriage with a breathless grin. He sits down beside me. He has no luggage at all. The train jolts and begins to slowly move forwards, speeding up and rocking our carriage from side to side, knocking us shoulder to shoulder with embarrassing proximity. “I have worked on the trains for twenty years now,” the spectacle wearing man is saying with a triumphant nod of his head. “And for my hobby I collect stamps.” This statement comes as a proud declaration. “How many stamps do you have?” Dow asks. He likes stamps. “To date, I have one thousand and twenty three. I am very particular in which stamps I collect,” the spectacle wearing man continues. “And what is your occupation?” the lecturer asks me, his voice a little too loud for the size of the carriage. His wife is holding out a Tupperware box full of currant cakes. He takes one and bites into it. Crumbs sprinkle into his lap. “I am a writer,” I say, and the carriage echoes with enthusiastic exclamations. “I have written a story,” the lecturer informs us all, wiping the crumbs from his lap onto the floor, and offering his last piece of current cake to the canary, with a shrill cooing sound. The canary twitters and ignores him. “It is a story about a phycologist,” he tells us. The pitted faced man, sits silently, only nodding encouragingly whenever anyone speaks, his hands in his lap, unmoving. “Well, good luck,” I say and the lecturer chuckles and munches on a palm-full of nuts his wife has handed him. “And you?” he booms, addressing Dow. “I’m an archaeologist,” Dow tells him. “Very good,” the lecturer says and then raises his eyebrows expectantly at Orly. “Well, I used to be a milkman,” Orly informs him. “Because I love milk, but now I’m a footballer and a photographer for the National Geographic.” “Excellent,” he nods. “Excellent.” The carriage falls silent, save for the crunching sounds coming from the lecturer and his wife, who after feeding themselves once more try to entice the canary into eating with them. Once again they are unsuccessful. The lecturer sighs. “I am very worried,” he says. “We bought this bird in Bangalore and I am taking it back to Pallathruthi for my daughter and it will not eat any of the things that I am giving to it. I am fearing I have brought a very fussy bird and that he will die of starvation before we get there.” The pitted faced man rustles a hand into his pocket then, and eventually retrieves it clutching a small handful of sunflower seeds. With a small shy smile he passes them to the lecturer who looks thoroughly confused, but who turns and feeds them to the bird. After a moment of anxious waiting, the bird eventually begins to peck at them. The lecturer claps with glee. “Oh my friend, you are a Birdyologist?” At the next station the train stops and a hundred hands thrust through our window holding mangoes, nuts, pineapples and clay cups of hot chai. I buy a bag of cashew nuts from a man wearing a red baseball cap with “Yankee’s Rule,” scrawled across the front, and as I do so the ticket master arrives, sternly asking to see our tickets. The pitted faced man shuffles in his seat, the smile suddenly disappearing from his face, and when the time comes for him to show his ticket, he’s suddenly standing and trying to get out of the door. The ticket master blocks his escape. In the confusion that follows I can hear only the shouts from the ticket master and the pleas from the pitted faced man, as he tries to explain the absence of a ticket. Amidst the noise, the lecturer stands, still swinging the canary cage in his left hand. “This man is my friend,” he booms. “If he does not have a ticket I will purchase for him a ticket. You must turn and deal with me,” he shouts dramatically to the ticket master. Moments later we sit shoulder to shoulder, silently swaying to the rhythm of the train. “I did not have enough money,” the pitted face man mutters by way of exclamation, and the lecturer shrugs. “Yes my friend,” he says eventually, and turning to his canary scatters a sprinkling of seeds into its cage. “But you do have sunflower seeds and for me they are very much worth their weight in gold.”

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child ( as they travel to seven countries on a quest to collect the seven colours of the rainbow. If you would like to donate please go to or text RABO77 and the amount you would like to give to 70070.

Lindsay’s trip was supported in part by Inventing Futures, a global youth agency, based in Bath, that works with 9-24 year old who are at a transitional stage in their lives, giving them the chance to create a future full of opportunity.  If you would like to know more please visit:

Audley Travel (01883838200; offers tailor-made trips to India and specialised tours and home-stays to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Posted in Colours | 4 Comments

From Sound To Sight

(Mysore, India)

Mysore Silk FactoryWe move from outside to in. From beneath a clear blue sky and a tree of bright green, to the dank dark, tea-stained interior of The Mysore Silk Factory. Built in 1912 by His Highness Sri Krishnaraja Wadiyar Bahadur, the Maharaja of Mysore wanted quality silk saris for his family and ornamental fabrics for his armed forces that would set them apart. Already we can hear the sound of machinery hammering from within the depths. Already we are being handed balls of cotton wool to stuff into our ears to drown out the sound.

We are led first into the spinning room, huge rollers that turn around and around, reeling silk from the silk worms that are incubated on the property, the friction filling the air with a static tick. The heavy metal machinery rattles. The floor shakes. The sound hammers and jars. It soaks into the very depths of you, the vibration, an unending clatter that resonates inside your head, behind your ears, your chest, as if sound were filling up within you like something solid. We cannot hear each other talk. Can barely hear our own thoughts.

There are both men and women working alongside each other in this dark interior, barefooted and dressed in dark green shirts. Some of them wear earplugs. Some do not. They will most probably be deaf by the time they retire from working here. They will earn £500 a month for their time, but if there is the slightest defect in what they produce it is deducted from their salary. The women squeeze the boys’ arms, smile and go back to their work. The men tussle their hair.

We move on, into rooms where threads of silk hang like spider webs across the iron machinery, on into dying rooms where clouds of chemicals rise up from steaming giant vats of dark purple, green and red, stinging our eyes, burning the inside of our noses. On into warping rooms and winding rooms, stretching and ironing rooms, where great sheets of silk, strung up on wide bamboo poles, stretch from one end of the room to the other.

This is progress. One hundred and fifty nine looms that thunder out eight hundred thousand meters of the highest quality silk per annum. Crepe-de-chine, Georgette, Zari printed crepe silk saris, semi crepe saris. In over one hundred different synthetic colours. And all the while, as we move from one room to another, the noise follows us, hammering endlessly in our ears. The boys cannot bear it. They want it to end. But still the rooms keep coming. The noise spilling through one doorway into next.

Until finally a small door, at the very back of the darkest room opens. A rectangle of light falls across the floor. A small man in a cotton checked dhoti, tucked up to show his nobbled knees, beckons us to walk through it. And suddenly, in one step, we are lead back from in to out. Back beneath that clear blue sky, that green tree. Into a world that still rings with the hammer of machinery. I can no longer hear the thrumming of the Mysore traffic, or the birds that are flitting back and forth from the branches around us. I can hear only the beating of my own heart, the breath in my lungs. The world is not as we had left it. The sounds have dulled. We blink in the bright sunlight. Strain to look out across the lawn that surrounds the Mysore silk factory.

And there in front of us, lined up in rows and hanging from wooden bamboo racks, are the colours. Bright silk saris, threaded with gold, blues, fuchsias, flaming oranges and burning reds, vivid greens and shimmers of blinding magenta. All billowing in the hot wind like coloured sails. We have exchanged a world of sound for one of sight, darkness for light, dullness for colour.

So onward then – But onward in search of the silent colours. Travelling backwards in time, to a hand made loom in some corner of a dusty yard, a sheet of silk dyed with colours from the tree, the leaf, the flower, the stone you can crush and grind and knead in the palm of your hand. Those very first colours that meant we could paint what we saw in the bright world around us, lay it down across cave walls, across blank canvasses and vast sheets of empty white paper. And as we did so, still hear the birds singing and the wind rustling in the trees.

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child ( as they travel to seven countries on a quest to collect the seven colours of the rainbow.
If you would like to donate please go to or text RABO77 and the amount you would like to give to 70070.

Audley Travel (01883838200; offers tailor-made trips to India and specialised tours and home-stays to Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Posted in Colours | 2 Comments

At First. And Then. (Two worlds colliding)

At first there is only the beggar in the road who sits on his haunches, staring vacantly and milky eyed through a cataract lens at the place where the road meets the curb, his nobbled hands cupped into a bowl that he rests on his knees. At first there is only the dirt and the mounds of stinking litter that collect in the gutter, clogging up the drains so that when the rains come, small dams form, sending rancid water into homes, into shops, into the places that people need to keep dry and clean. At first there is only the sound of honking horns, the trundle and grind of passing trucks, overloaded and tilting on every bend, rusted cars and bikes, that belch out black fumes, that swerve and weave from one side of the six-laned, pot-marked road to the other.

The boys and I keep to the shadows out of the heat, their hands holding mine more tightly than usual, their stride more hurried, their eyes more alert. They are used to travel, used to poverty, to a world that seems to exist down low, closer to the ground; the shoe shine boy who has set up shop, cross-legged upon the curb; the barber with his wooden box that he sits upon, a comb, a cracked mirror, a pair of rusty scissors, laid out in front of him; the woman amidst a clutter of pots and pans, serving chai tea and roasted corn that she cooks over an open brassier that belches out heat into the already heat-filled air. But not this poverty. This loud dirty world that seems more dark than light. More hell than heaven. That leaves them, already longing for the merry go round that is travel to stop, so that they might return to that place where they can lay down their hats and be know.

At first.

And then.

Up ahead, in a lay-by that cuts off from the pot-pitted road there is a group of young teenage boys playing cricket in the heat and the humidity, the sun blasting down in rays through the drooping banyan trees that do not quiet cast a shadow over their part of the street. They play bare foot, tugging at shorts of synthetic fibre and T-shirts with baseball team logos across them. For cricket stumps they use three plastic pop bottles filled with murky water. The wicket keeper has tied ragged pieces of cloth around his knees. The fielders stand in the six-laned traffic, dodging cars and trucks and honking bikes that speed up or slow down depending on the lights up ahead.

And then. A hard hit, and a ball that flies out into the traffic, that smacks across one car bonnet, then another. That bounces high and up and over, onto the curb, rolls three feet across the chipped walk-way and stops, ten feet from where we are sitting in the shade beneath a coconut palm.

And then. Dow is running and picking up the ball, and there are shouts from the fielders in the traffic to throw it this way, to throw it that. Dow lobs it to a boy in a Red-Bull T-shirt, who catches it with one hand, then throws it over the traffic, over the crowded bus and the truck piled too high with bamboo, right back to the bowler, who jumps, arching his back, to land it in his hands. And then the boys in the lay-by are clapping, and their arms are waved high in thanks. And Dow is grinning. And Orly is grinning to, and just like that, with a little touch of humanity, there is not just the litter in the gutter, or the noise of fume-belching trucks, or the beggar who sits on his haunches still staring at that patch of mottled road. There are women in coloured saris on the far side of the street, and the barber is smiling at some joke that the shoe shine boy has uttered, as he cuts the hair of a man in a suit that is too small for him so that the hems of his trousers expose a pair of bright orange and green stripped socks. We are back on track. With that travel longing, a residue of some ancient calling that warrants us to seek out, to move forwards along that open road, with a wide-eyed hope that around the next bend, might lie the country of our dreams.

The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child ( as they travel to seven countries on a quest to collect the seven colours of the rainbow.
If you would like to donate please go to or text RABO77 and the amount you would like to give to 70070.

Posted in Colours | 3 Comments

The Rainbow Hunters:  A trip around the world – seven countries to find seven colours for the charity War Child.

IMG_8761 On October 3rd 2014 my two boys (Dow and Orly) and I set off on a trip around the world.  Over a period of six months we will be travelling to seven different countries to find seven different colours, raising money for the charity War Child as we go.

In India we will travel to saffron fields that lie in the mountains of Kashmir, join the harvesters in a sea of blue crocuses which hide the yellow stamen that produces the most expensive spice in the world.

In China we will trek to temples to find the most prized china that the Ming emperors were buried with, prized because it was glazed with celedon green.

In New Zealand we will find the lavender fields and the purple sea snails that weep the colour violet.

In Australia we will venture deep into the interior to find Aboriginal settlements and the ancient cave paintings of red ochre that date back to the earliest of mankind’s paintings.

In Chile we will seek out the Lapis Lazuli mines, that lie high in the Andes at 4000m, and find the rock that can be made into the blue pigment that has painted a thousand skies.

In South Carolina we will find the Indigo fields, journey to the plantations that carry the legacy of the American slave trade. In Italy we will discover the secret recipe that is cremona, the orange varnish that has coloured the violins of Stradavari.

If you would like to donate please go to Just Giving or text RABO77 and the amount you would like to give to 70070.

Posted in Colours | 8 Comments