nathai's amazing hands

27.04.13 | preparing for the ring beam

This week began on a slightly damp note, when very heavy rains filled our newly dug trenches with a lot of water and forced everyone to take a day off (maybe not such a bad thing!) Clem’s friend Margherita was in town, so it was a perfect excuse for a trip to the pottery village Nizamabad… a brief account of which can be found here. The next day the skies cleared, and work began laying bricks on the DPC, which had thankfully survived the inundation in tact. While worked progressed on site, we were on the hunt for two people: a supervisor to manage the site after we leave at the end of May, and a barrel vault mason. One thing we’re getting better at is triple checking that people can actually do what they claim they can do – when it comes to the roof structure, this is obviously very important! So when a local mason claimed he had built many jack arches, we jumped in an auto with him to check it out in person. The building was a beautiful Islamic library in Azamgarh, but doubts about his claim arose as soon as we walked in and he couldn’t remember exactly where the barrel vaults were…. after finally finding them, we ascertained from the staff that they were more than 100 years old, and after a completely bizarre and evasive conversion it eventually emerged that in fact our guy had build an RCC roofed extension to the building in 1986. It was time to call Pankaj, and organize for a master mason to come down from Delhi to help us… he’ll be arriving next week, so the focus now is refining the design of the beams and getting them cast – with all the footings for the 1st floor – as soon as possible.

We met a number of potential supervisors – as many as possible from the village – and set up meetings between them and SK Misra from ITRHD when he visited on Wednesday. We’ve now appointed Jintindar, a contractor from Hariharpur, who’ll be co-running the site from now until we leave, and then working full time until the project is complete. Mr Misra was visiting with the Commissioner of Azamgarh, so it was a big event for the school – and we were eager to finish the jute notice boards for the site and the school before their arrival. Nathai and Sanjay (one of the fathers, our auto driver, and the latest addition to the construction team!) did an amazing job to get them finished, and the boards are working really well to inform the village and other passers by about what we’re up to.

Towards the end of the week we said sad farewells to Jostein, who’s headed back to Norway having stayed on for a couple of weeks after the Visiting School… and Kritika who’s attending a wedding in Delhi. Arvind has had to step into her masterful shoes to help us manage things and is doing a great job – but all we can say is thank god for mobile phones, and for Kritika being amazing enough to answer hers in the middle of wedding preparations!

Today’s Saturday workshop focused on the first floor, a light-weight bamboo structure, that rests on the heavy brick and mud walls below. Given how successful the model had been last Saturday, we used this again to get feedback from parents about how to clad the structure, and how to organize the space. This is a five-bay space (above the two-bay toilet, and three-bay classroom) that could work as one large hall / classroom or a classroom and a smaller space such as a library or office. There was some useful feedback such as the importance of dividing these spaces properly, and ensuring proper acoustic insulation.  We also discussed the cladding, and the mothers made some nice samples of woven bamboo screens. There’s some concern within the community about the high summer winds, and how resilient the bamboo structure will be – so we need to make sure this is designed as ‘pukka’ as possible.  We also played a great watermelon game, which Leika introduced us to, causing much laughter, and even some tears for the mother who managed to hit the watermelon and win the game!! We were also joined by Harenar, a father at Chacha Nehru, who’s a carpenter and was working on third model for the school chairs. We’ve already had a set made out of beautiful sheesham wood, and Harendar has now completed a mango and bamboo option. These will be woven during next week’s workshop – and can soon be put into action at the school.