Sunday, November 21, 2010
(Friday, November 12)
Soon there were more than twenty beggars, mostly women and children, sitting in a long circle outside the Lakshmi temple near Mysore Palace. I distributed leaf plates. Two male volunteers at the temple distributed the rice, sambal, and chicken curry. The cook, Devi, her best friend and Claudia, saw to the distribution of the food from the large pots and canisters. The food that Claudia and I speculated to be “so much,” for there appeared to be few beggars at the temple when we arrived, was fast disappearing. The hungry came out of the woodwork. All were very calm, they waited patiently at their plates to be served. They were grateful when they were finished.
I came to stand beside Claudia. We were both stunned by the scene. It was upsetting, and moving and inspiring all at once. It is not everyday you go to feed the beggars. She leaned into me and whispered, “I don’t know how we can go shopping after this?”
This had all started with our desire to go shopping.
(Regardless of our shopping requirement, Devi would have fed the beggars. She was committed to doing it as an extension of their puja, when they fed 120 of their family and friends, including us a week and a half ago.)
Claudia sought the assistance of Devi, her painting teacher’s wife. She was happy to accompany us but with one condition, we come with her to feed the beggars. It was more auspicious to shop after such an act, she said.
In the west, we do not put the two concepts together. Feed the beggars = go shopping. Doesn’t make sense, right? But today, I feel like my way of thinking is wrong. There is a beauty in the Indian way, you give, you receive. Good deeds, good karma.
As the women complimented Devi on her superb cooking, getting her to fill the last of her tasty sauce in their plastic containers, I was struck by the bigness of Devi’s heart. Her family isn’t rich, but they are comfortable enough. They live simply. And when Anand is successful with his painting, they go out of their way to share.
In the end, Devi and her friend, had given away all the food—except a couple of bags of curd and a bowl of cucumber slices. We were munching on cucumber slices when we were approached by a group of adults administrating to the feeding of the school children. While we fed the beggars, they had cooked a large pot of veg rice for busloads of touring school children and nuns. They had left over food and were offering us some.
At first, Claudia and I were embarrassed. It didn’t seem right to eat at all after such an experience. We were so pressed, that in the end resistance was futile. A bowl of rice was delivered to our party. Plates were rinsed on our behalf. We sat down where the beggars were eating earlier to take our own meal.
As we ate, Devi explained to us, “This is god food.” All the food she’d prepared was given away, yet we had not eaten ourselves. And here was new food, still hot, and very tasty provided for us. I felt a part of this strange (strange, to a westerner anyway) and beautiful cycle. I dropped my embarrassment and enjoyed the food.
In the rickshaw ride back to Annand’s, I felt this so blessed to have taken part in such a kind act.
We even went shopping. After dropping off the pots and pans, Devi and her friend took us to buy long tops. We then wondered into a fabulous little sari store where Claudia, completing the giving cycle, bought Devi a sari she had her eye on. At the tail end of our shopping excursion, I bought all four of us a round of badame milk and a box of sweets.
On our way back, we took a side tour of Devi’s best friend’s family’s homes—I guess we were the attraction, “the foreigners.” At each stop, the ladies proudly took out the sari to show to family friends.
It was already a full day: Friday led class, beggars, and shopping. And we weren’t done yet. The rest of the evening was a blur of good vibes—that was part of the giving cycle too. We headed out once again to Ashadayaka Seva Trust Fundraiser, where the orphan kids were so lovely and warm at the door. Students at the shala offer their time and energy for the Trust, which exists from private donations.
After the time at the temple, it seemed that this was now a good time to pay things forward with raffle tickets. The show itself was fabulous, the flute player, the ensemble, the kirtan with the children was so hearty and cute, if not loud. Most importantly, the event raised roughly Rs40,000 for the care of those beautiful children.
But it was what came after that truly capped the night for me, after the show was done and more than half of the yoga community had departed, there was dancing. Really fun-loving dancing! The kind of which you do not see everyday, children and adults, moving together with such heart-felt abandon, like it were the grand finale of a big Bollywood film. It felt good to be in the throes of it. And while the dancing would be short-lived, our partners were children after-all and needed to go early to bed, not to mention the neighbors would likely complain about the loud music, the spirit of that amazing day and evening would continue.
For more info on the Trust and how you can help, please check out Ashadayaka Seva Trust on facebook.