It was just an ordinary day. We left Calicut at 645am ( even that’s normal!), called in for chai and tiffin and started riding. We were heading for the beach – destination Kunnar. On arrival at 230 we stopped for juice to be met by a nice guy telling us of the hotel he worked in just up the road, near the beech and with wifi. We were determined however to be right on the sand and so set off for another beech 8km up the coast. Up and down a few hills we arrived at the peninsula. We passed through small local villages, good bakery’s but sadly no hotels. It was 430 when we finally checked into the hotel we were told about 2 hours earlier. We showered, made ourselves at home and then headed to the lobby to make use of the Internet.
It was here we got taking with another hotel guest, Hisham Hassan. He was just checking out having been there for the past two weeks while Maradona visited the area. A well connected business man it was interested to chat and, while to the English Maradona is perhaps not such a hero, it was a good conversation, and then came the question that would change the next 24 hours….. Would we like to be in the media?
John and I had read of another couple cycling through India while in Mysore and had joked that it would be fun to also have a story in the local paper…. Our reply to Hisham then was of course …yes.
Within a hour two media interviews had taken place, two sets of photographers had arrived and a camera crew were arriving the next morning. 7 am we were told. We wanted to be back in the bikes by 830 am latest, already later than our usual departure time. Hisham had also taken a call with Bobi Chammanaur, a very successful entrepreneur and owner of Chemmanaur jewellery chain. He also wanted to meet us. We were reluctant, given he was based back in Calicut, the place we had left the previous day but eventually agreed…. Swayed perhaps having tried on two very expensive and stunning diamond necklaces ( only joking!!!….)
While the jewellery looked amazing it was the conversation I had taken with him that had persuaded me. He was a keen runner, interested to meet two people with the willpower to cycle the globe but also someone who through his business success has set out with the rather ambitious goal to get rid of homelessness in India. Given both my work in social enterprise and corporate social responsibility and of course the fact that I am raising money for The Homeless World Cup I was interested to meet him. We were going back to Calicut the following day.
Time did not permit for us to cycle this and to stick to the schedule we had to now get to Mumbai, a car was sent to transport our bikes and we got a lift with hisham, following another media interview. We were being taken to the Taj hotel to meet Bobi. Most of our experience so far was that the expensive hotels ( of which we have stayed in none!) were mostly rude to two smelly cyclists but we were bobi’s guests now! On route Hisham was keen to introduce to others he knew, family, police chiefs, friends and it’s fair to stay we found some of this frustrating. While good to meet others we felt out of control and perhaps wished to be back on the bikes. Two visits would however be real highlights of our day.
Hisham told us of his father, unfortunately no longer with us, but a man who sounded remarkable and inspiring in his achievements – an UN attendee, involved in key government work and also helped to establish good hospitals and schools in Calicut. One initiative he wanted to see, though had to leave its accomplishment to his family, was a school in Mahe, his home town, between Kannur and Calicut.
We agreed to visit the school and the welcome was overwhelming. Dressed smartly in their beige uniforms the children formed a corridor of loud applause as we arrived before going on to sing their school song. They were so pleased to have visitors and we were given flowers and asked to sign both the school guest book and many exercise books of the children. It was so warming and a real honour.
Finally arriving at the Taj we sat down for lunch. Unfortunately Bobi couldn’t join us as we ate but said hello and noted we would then see him at one of the “poor homes” he had established later that afternoon. With an ambition of a poor home in every town Chammanaur has an outlet, there are three currently established. I was not sure what to expect but the home which housed 7 men, some elderly and some with mental health issues, was exceptionally run. Cleaner than many hotels we have stayed in the men looked well cared for by the family who lived there to help them. It seemed in contrast to what we can sometimes hear regarding care facilities back home and I felt a sense of humility and a “part of the family” rather than just a “nice” social add on. While it’s not core business it is fantastic to see time and money being committed for this work not just for business growth. I look forward to following this progress.
We had further opportunity for conversation that evening as we stayed at Bobi’s beach house and enjoyed some great Keralan food as well as a wee reminder of home with a glass of Scottish single malt! We did however end up going to bed much later than our usual 10pm ish slot. It had been an interesting day, a chance to see another side to India but we were itching to get back on the road.
We’d had photographers follow us all that day …. Very odd…. Though we were not sure if any press stories followed. It would be good to find out but we are chuffed with the three articles achieved and I hope I may be able to make a connection with the poor homes initiative and The Homeless World Cup work here in India. That really would be a good result.