Colors of the World: 10 Minutes with Gypsies

Have you ever had those moments when you finally let go and magic happens?

I was a clenched anus of blockage. For two months and 28 days, my life was filled with adjustments upon adjustments.

With four days to go on volunteering, that’s when I decided to climb a mountain.

Er.. not exactly a mountain, I suppose. The landscape surrounding the volunteer home consisted of a busy highway, beyond that, endless hills. High enough that you can’t see past them. Dotted with tangled bush or flattened by fire to scare away snakes or ready the ground for planting.

Tucked into those hills, I knew there was a pristine lake. Beyond that, my imagination took over.

That day I dropped the primary kids off at school and decided to cut through a field in front of the village.

long shot of camp

I came upon dwellings that reminded me of igloos, except these were desert igloos. Not a chip of ice was used in their construction.

There had to be 15 or 20 tents.

I thought of long, black worms when I gazed at them. Corrugated metal acted as walls and insulation. Shiny garbage bags must have been rain protection, and sawed off branches held everything in place.

I arrived at a clearing. At my feet, lay the leavings of a fire, rocks composed in circles smeared with dark ash.

A few steps further, there they were. A group of women huddled before me, staring in fascination. They seemed very young, my guess, ages 17 to 21. Children of varying ages surrounded them, dressed in mismatched clothes, or barely anything at all.  Their tiny faces were

April 6th, 2011|Categories: Culture, Savarsai|Tags: , , , , |37 Comments

Colors of the World: Kavita Patil

“Since 2001.”

A serene smile lit her face as she said it.

“You have been manager of Child Haven since then?”

That smile again. “Yes, yes. Only me and 2 girls. When Prakash and I marry 10 children here. They cried at marriage time, asking where I go. We stay in village 1 night.”

“You marred late?”

She laughed gently, how I imagine Buddha might respond to a cosmic joke.

“My father was teacher, then principal. I tell him, want to work, get feet on ground before I marry. He accept my decision.”

“That is unusual, isn’t it?”

Doling out soy milk to the kids

“Not always usual, my father teacher, he say school first. Other village women marry, no work or school.”

“And how did you meet Prakash?”

She clutched at the gathers of her sari, laughing deeper, harder.

“Everyone say we are love marriage, but arrange marriage through friends. First year, come Priya, 5 years later, come Supriya.”

It was my turn to laugh. Even I assumed it was a love match, they were opposites who complemented each other very well.

“Auntie, time for washing [clothes], more chapatti?”

“No, no.. Oh Kavita, you work hard. Wake up 6 am, get Priya ready for school, helping other children, washing, cooking, you are so busy! Bedtime not until 10:30, 11:00!”

This time she grinned, one soaked in confidence, a sense of knowing where she belonged.

“Yes, but I like it.”

What is Colors of the World? When I set out on this adventure, one of my goals was to interact with locals, not just

March 9th, 2011|Categories: Culture, Savarsai|Tags: , , , , |6 Comments

Puri, Puri in My Mouth

Bread is essential to daily meals in India. I’ve eaten them all: chapatti, roti and naan.

But, how about puri? Not a standard dinner item, I’ve experienced its deliciousness at weddings, engagement parties or sometimes breakfast. Mostly though, it’s served with pride at ceremonial events.

Puri is a round, flat bread that puffs when cooked. I was first exposed to it at the volunteer home, then got hooked. It’s by far my favorite. Who wouldn’t adore deep fried bread? And if you don’t, you’re just wrong. All wrong.

The best method to enjoying puri is with a korma, dal or potato masala. Either way it goes well with any meal.

Rockin’ Puri Recipe

1 cup of either atta (whole-wheat flour), maida (refined wheat flour) or Sooji (coarse wheat flour)
1/4 tsp. of salt (or to taste)
1/2 of water (judge this, you might need less or more, depends on the flour)
Ghee (butter) for flavor.
Vegetable oil for frying.

  • Combine flour and salt in a bowl.
  • Slowly add water to the flour and salt mixture. Keep adding water until it forms into a pliable dough. You don’t want the dough to be too dry or too wet. A happy medium.
  • While adding water toss in a little vegetable oil or melted ghee with the dough.
  • Knead the dough until smooth. Make sure it’s not sticky. If so, add some flour.
  • Form the dough into 6 inch balls.
  • Use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a thin-medium thickness. Make sure it’s not too thin or the bread will end up crispy. You don’t want that!
  • Heat enough vegetable oil in a deep pan to cover the
March 6th, 2011|Categories: Savarsai|Tags: , , , |9 Comments

A Love Affair Ends

Dear Volunteering,

Alas, all things have a natural end. I’m sorry it had to come to this, but our time is over.

It’s a myth that love affairs are riddled with happiness.

Sometimes, you nearly made me cry.

On the good days, you had me grinning ear to ear.

Despite our rocky time together, I’ll always remember the endless sunny days, our walks to school together, dancing to Marathi disco and eating Cadbury chocolate until our fingers got sticky.

I’ll think fondly of our lively dinners and visits to all the neighboring villages.

Most of all, I’ll miss our children. Make sure Sanghvi continues her studies. She’s so bright. And don’t let little Rohan get bullied anymore. Watch Suresh mature, I’m excited to see what kind of man he grows into.

As I lounge in Goa sipping frothy cocktails and admiring a pool boy’s behind, your memory will fade, but not your impact.

You forced me to discover reserves of patience I once thought was a mirage. You taught me to accept, even when I didn’t want to. How holding a child’s hand means more than offering an extravagant gift.

Thanks for these 3 months, it lasted longer than any of my relationships, really.

I’ll leave you with some pictorial tokens of my affection. Please don’t cry, you’ll only make it worse.



February 17th, 2011|Categories: Savarsai|Tags: , , , , , , |37 Comments

What I Do All Day

When you’re volunteering overseas it’s the opposite of pleasure travel. I eat the food given to me, sit on freezing concrete and pace my time according to a schedule.

Since I’m working at a home for children, everything centers around them.

Wake up call is 5:30 or 6:00 am

Yeah, fantastically early. Even in my previous life I never woke at 5:30 except for a bathroom break or nightmare jolt. Prakash makes the kids do calisthenics to get the blood going before school. It’s actually fairly refreshing.

After we’ve been sweating to the oldies, they get their ration of toothpaste.


7:30 am is morning prayer and follows the essential Gandhi philosophy:

Be compassionate to all living beings

Live a simple life

Treat all people equally

Be kind to each other

Respect others rights to be different

Be thoughtful

Help others

Do your best in everything that you do

Be happy

My favorite part is when they all sing:

“Live a life of true… and happiness you will find… Gandhi, Gandhi, Gandhiji, Gandhijiiiii!!!”

School Drop Off

After a breakie of chapatti and lentils, I usually take the Marathi primary kids to school at 10ish. It’s a close 10 minute jaunt to the Savarsai village.

I’m constantly amazed how the kids can walk on sharp rocks and uneven paved roads with their tiny bare feet!

Kitchen Duty

Once in a

February 13th, 2011|Categories: Culture, Savarsai|Tags: , , , , |22 Comments

Coconut Chutney – Indian Holy Grail

It’s no secret that I am violently in love with coconut, so when my volunteer host, Kavita presented me with homemade chutney at dinner one evening, I nearly fainted with joy. Is coconut better than sex? A close second.

Chutneys are used as an accompaniment to the main meal. They can be wet or dry, and are usually a grainy texture.

I managed to extract the recipe from Kavita. You may not be physically present in India, but try this recipe to taste an authentic chutney. It’s sooo damn good!

Hardcore Coconut Chutney

1 small red onion
1/4 cup of fresh coconut (dried coconut is an acceptable alternative)
1 tomato or tomato paste
Lots and lots of garlic (3 or 4)
1 green or red chilli (your preference)
2 tablespoons of peanut oil (or vegetable oil of your choice)

  • Dice the onion, tomato, garlic and chili. Put aside.
  • If using fresh coconut, shred into small pieces.
  • Combine all the ingredients except the oil. Blend together with a mortar and pestle or a food processor.
  • Pour oil into a pan, fry the chutney on medium high until heated through.

Combine it with a vegetable, basmati rice or Dal. Dip your chapati in the chutney, it’s yummy!

* I highly recommend adding extra coconut, it’s a nice contrast to the chilli.

February 7th, 2011|Categories: Savarsai|Tags: , , |20 Comments