Monday, October 25, 2010

A Place for Everyone - More Adventures in Kachchh

We left Dhola Vira early the next day, heading to a small village where our entire busload had been invited for breakfast.  People were curious and were speculating about the 'richest man in the village' who had asked us all for a meal.  We drove into a modern and well laid out compound surrounded by fields.  There seemed to be a large rest house for visitors on one side and another big building in the distance.  A neatly dressed, soft spoken man welcomed us and led us in, conveying the good wishes of the host.  Evidently the richest man was not to be met in person.  The building, spotlessly clean had rows of rooms and attached bathrooms running along the corridor.  Several of these on the top floor were opened up for us to use.  Then came breakfast.

It was the most amazing meal we had eaten so far- traditional food at its best.  Large, wafer thin rotis made of bajra (pearl millet), thin and long, fluffy sheets of fried besan (gram flour) which left not a trace of oil in the mouth, fresh green chilly pickle, a bowl of the staple kadhi made of sour curd and tempered with spices and a hint of sugar, a bowl of fresh curd and finally hot, sweet tea.  People came by periodically, pressing us to eat more- and more...

Just before leaving, we thanked the people who had looked after us so graciously and I asked them what this place was.  Uptil then, they had not said a word about themselves.  The man in charge explained that it was actually a place for children whose growth was not quite normal, a sort of school and a refuge in a sense from the harsh, demanding 'normal' world, where these children could learn and grow in peace.  It was said in a very gentle, matter of fact way and was a reminder to me that there is a place for everyone in this country of millions.  Differences are not threatening in India as they often are in more homogeneous places; there are many pockets of humanism especially where saints and spiritual leaders have lived or preached.  It is a nice feeling that, though often hidden from the public gaze, there is indeed a place where each of us might find comfort.

We proceeded to Bhuj, dropping off various groups along the way (people were divided into small parties depending on their next destination).  After a large Gujarati thali meal in Bhuj, our small group of three friends along with a French archeologist, a Portuguese historian and a couple of guides, drove out, north by northwest - far into nowhere with nothing but the sun and the earth (and a monitor lizard and large black cobra that crossed the road).  We crossed the tropic of cancer, the Frenchman sat back with an exaggerated sigh of relief, "Ah, but it iz cooler now!" and the irrepressible Portuguese added, " It says, 'the tropic of cancer passes here, but it doesn't say at what time.."

We drove on, stopping at a small village on the way, towards our destination - Hodko village, which we reached well after the sun had set.

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