Dinner at the Ashram

The festivities had finally died down, but the large explosions of crackers still defend us, leaving our ears ringing. People were throwing them in every direction, there seems to be a strange manic attraction to trying to wait till the fuse has burnt to the last second and then throw them into the air. A few times I saw guys with these large crackers exploding in their fingers as they timed it in correctly, running off with bleeding fingers. I could see there was going to be no end to this for a few hours to come.

 Most of the town folk had now left the temple and headed home. We were now all invited to join the inmates and travellers staying at the Ashram for dinner. One of the travellers, Gurmeet a spiritual healer asked us to join him for dinner and mentioned he would show us how it worked.  On arriving at the dining area we were all instructed to take off our shoes and cover our heads only then were we allowed to enter. The hall was totally empty, devoid of any furniture inside, there were some neon strip lights dangling from the ceiling, interspersed with old rusty roof fans, the floor was sparsely covered just with strips of red carpet running from end to end a couple meters apart.

A few of the kids had already sat down on the strips facing each other, legs crossed. Some of the older kids were walking down the lines placing a metal plate and tin cup in front of each person. More and more people began to stream in, each joining in on the growing lines of people sitting on the strips of carpet. The younger of the children now began to sing. The soft little voices began to fill the room with soft energy, as more and more of the kids joined in the singing, so the whole mood seemed to lift. There was something in the singing that really got to me; I can’t explain it, one of those moments that you are just overcome by many things making up a special moment.

There were people from all walks of life sitting there, rich poor, young and old. No one was given any preference, then from a side door in walked 2 boys, one holding a big pan of rice and the other dishing it up into each person’s plate with his cupped hands as they walked down the lines of people. Then the next guy followed, filling your cup with water. Finally 2 older boys came out, the one with a steaming bucket of curried beans and lentils and the other with a spoon. They quickly walked down the line ladling a spoon of stew into each person’s plate, as they dished up the last plate, the singing stopped and everyone began to eat. There was dead silence as each person leant forward and began to eat. I looked up and down the rows of people, thinking of the harsh reality of the life outside these walls, here was a sanctuary for a few hours away from reality, but the reality that hit me was that there was such a caring side to this culture and here I was being part of that, taken in from the street, fed, given a roof over my head and asked for nothing in return.

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