Lunch at the Saraswati Vidya Kendra, Kumta

photos of Students Chanting before Lunch at the Saraswati Vidya Kendra Kumta by Arun Shanbhag
A few weeks ago I wrote about mid-day lunch at the Shanbhag School in Kumta. During our recent visit to Kumta in July, I walked over to the adjacent primary school – Saraswati Vidya Kendra.
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Lunch at the Shanbhag School


In 2007, the Shanbhag School in Kumta (and their parent, the Konkan Education Trust), started to provide lunch for all their students. In the midst of a long day, the students had previously rushed home during their lunch hour. There are no cafeterias or restaurants near the school.

The school made a significant investment in cooking equipment and prepares a nutritious, vegetarian meal for the ~ 850 primary and secondary school students. Lunch is simply rice, sambar or daal, a lentil curry or vegetable and pickles (see actual student plate above).

During my meetings with parents of Scholarship recipients, and listening to comments at the Parents Teachers Meeting, parents absolutely love the school lunch program. Parents are relieved of the pressure to pack a lunch every morning, or have it ready for the lunch break. Parents are also surprised (and glad) their kids actually eat the variety of vegetables and lentils the school serves. The school subsidizes the lunch and charges students Rs 80 per month (~$2 per month, Rs 4 per meal or ~ 10 cents per lunch!). Students not on the meal plan can eat occasional meals and drop cash in an unmanned donation box.

Kids love the food too. Meals are taken in the company of friends (and associated peer-pressure to finish their plate). Lunch is done within 20-30 minutes, and since they still have an hour break, they get to play around, gossip, or browse the library.

I showed up just before lunch time to “test the quality of the school lunch program.” I always have interesting reasons to be present wherever free lunch is served. Very delicious food and a primary reason why we included lunch as part of the scholarship package for needy students. If your travels bring you to Kumta, you are welcome to join in for a delicious lunch.

Note: In this post from 2014, you can see new pics and video snippets of students in the primary Saraswati Vidya Kendra, lining up for lunch and chanting the blessing.

See pics from the Lunch, below
Continue reading “Lunch at the Shanbhag School”

Scholarships for the Needy

I have previously written about the Shanbhag School, an academic beacon in Kumta and surrounding villages.

The Shanbhag High School, managed by the Konkan Education Trust does not receive any governmental aid. But it follows the state determined academic syllabus and guidelines. While we attract many students who can afford fees, our family wanted to make good education particularly accessible to the poor. Thus last year we gave 16 scholarships to very needy students to attend either the Shanbhag High School, or the affiliated primary school, Saraswati Vidya Kendra. At a new site dedicated to our Scholarship activities, (Shikshan.org), you can browse the list of Scholarship Recipients for 2007-2008.

You can also read about my personal challenges in identifying needy girls: Where are all the needy girls?

We did not rest, last December (2007) during my travels to Kumta I visited most of the scholarship recipients in their homes. The visit served two purposes: (a) to meet the families and convince them of our commitment to support their child’s education ~ and in turn expect them to make education a priority; and (b) to ensure that these were indeed needy families, which I could determine from their living conditions.

They lived in simple 1 or 2 room homes, or with relatives, and it was emotionally overwhelming to experience the gratitude of these families. Below, I share with you some of the scholarship recipients in their home settings. Appropriately I have omitted their names.


We supported the boy in the center, flanked by his father and cousin sister. Being poor, the girl was enrolled in the local government run Kannada language school. She wanted to attend our English school, but being in 8th std (grade) it would have been academically disastrous for her to switch the language of instruction a year before the State Board Exams. This was an important reason why we started giving scholarships to students in primary school!

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Tambdo Phovu – Red Flattened Rice

Pics how to make Tambdo Phovu poha, red flattened rice by Arun Shanbhag

Phovu (beaten or flattened rice) freshly mixed with few spices is a staple of Konkanis. Growing up, we’d eat tambdo phovu (tambdo – red) nearly every day for breakfast. If not for the main dish, at least as a side. I prefer it sprinkled with a little sev, or served on the side (see pic below). When visitors arrive unannounced, the women would quickly mix this as a snack. Since this is simply ‘mixed’ it is also called Kalayile (mixed) phovu. Continue reading “Tambdo Phovu – Red Flattened Rice”

Fresh-ground Raagi Flour

Fresh ground Raagi Flour pics by Arun Shanbhag
Raagi Bhakri is a favorite in our home. It’s easy to prepare and very filling. During this past visit to Kumta I replenished our stock of Raagi flour.

A few blocks from our place in Kumta is a little “girNi” (or mill) which grinds various types of flour. It is run by a distant relative ours; apparently everyone in Kumta is related to each other! And fortuitously for me, he was milling raagi flour that day. So here’s a little tour of the making of Raagi Flour.

Above – Shanbhag maam (in Kumta I call all elders by this honorific ~ we are all related, you see) poses with a bag of Raagi flour.
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Academic Update from the Shanbhag School 2007

When I first posted on the Shanbhag School, the upper floor (1st floor) was still under construction. During my visit in Nov, it was a thrill to see students enjoying lectures in the new classrooms. You can see pics of ongoing classes later in the post. But first, an important question: How are the students performing academically?

In a word – EXCELLENT!
Summary of Results of 58 students who appeared in the 2007 X Std, Karnataka State Board Exams:

  • Highest score of 97.7%
  • 3/58 students scored greater than 97%
  • 20/58 students scored greater than 90%
  • 34/58 scored greater than 85%
  • 54/58 scored greater than 60%
  • 3/58 scored between 50 and 60%
  • 1/58 scored between 35 and 50%
  • No student in the entire class failed the X std Board exams

WoW! Congratulations to the students on their excellent performance. Also a big pat on the back for the teachers who did an outstanding job of educating the young. Since the Shanbhag School is a private school, it does not receive any Government subsidies or aid. Thus the teacher’s salary are much lower than at local government-aided schools. The dedication of teachers to teach is thus so much more appreciated. The 2008 exams has recently concluded and it will be some months before the results are out.

Here are a few pics of ongoing classes. Note: I did not know that Thursdays are “casual Thursdays” and students did not have to wear their blue and white uniforms (which you see in this post). Thus the school took on a festive appearance. YaaY!

It was a fabulous November afternoon. Looking towards the front of the school. For comparison, see here for pics from a few years ago.

Continue reading “Academic Update from the Shanbhag School 2007”

Kids on a School Bus

When I asked folks at the Shanbhag School the best way to travel to Kodkani (about 15 kms from Kumta) to see Shilpa’s parents, they recommended that I ride the School bus. On Saturdays, school ends at noon and the bus drops off students in Kodkani. Riding the bus would thus bring me in Kodkani in time for lunch. And another experience to notch!

Leaving the school, the bus was packed! I felt guilty as a seat was saved for me. But gave me a chance to take a few pics.

Little kids from the adjacent primary school got the pride of place next to the driver. At each stop, the conductor would literally carry a little one and hand them over to one of their parents waiting at the stop. Then joyously they would scamper away.

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Meeting Aayi of Aayis Recipes

Looking for new recipes, you have likely browsed Aayi’s Recipes the uber popular food blog hosted by Shilpa. This is M’s favorite “go-to” site anytime she needs inspiration for her cooking.

During my travels to India, I look forward to visiting our ancestral town of Kumta – Jewel of the Konkan in coastal Karnataka. And when I read that Shilpa’s Aayi (mother) actually lives in Kodkani, a village near Kumta, I had to make the pilgrimage and take darshan of this Devi – the inspiration behind Aayi’s Recipe. I contacted Shilpa and asked to visit her parents. She readily agreed and gave me their contact details.

And on a beautiful Saturday, I hitched a ride on a school bus dropping kids off to kodkani. Now, that in itself needs a separate post.

As the bus pulled up at the designated place, Shilpa’s father was waiting and brought me to their beautiful home! Wow! A traditional style bungalow, which immediately transported me back to the home of my grandparents in Bhatkal. Terracotta tiled roof; an open ‘jagli’ and a tulsi vrindavan in the front yard. The magnificently blossoming tulsi gave me great vibes of the place (see pic later).

And what a joy it was to finally meet Shilpa’s Aayi! Yes, Aayi of “Aayi’s Recipes.” Hundreds of thousands have salivated at her dishes, as shared by Shilpa. Legions have been inspired to try her creations for their loved ones. And so many look forward each day to new posts to titillate the palate. And I was invited to a beautiful konkani lunch made by her! 😀

Look at the spread. I hurriedly captured it before wolfing everything down. By the time I was through, not a morsel was left. What is more beautiful than all those recipes Shilpa posts on AayisRecipes? Eating dishes lovingly made by her Aayi! … and I got to eat it! nyean, nyean, nyean, nyean!

Continue reading “Meeting Aayi of Aayis Recipes”

Shanbhag School in Kumta

photos of CVSK High School Kumta by Arun Shanbhag
Our grandfather is from the village of Chitrigi in Kumta (coastal Karnataka). Since he moved to Mumbai in the 1930s, we all considered Mumbai our home with not much connection to Kumta. About a decade earlier, our family decided to support a High School building in Kumta in memory of our grandfather, but our family remained uninvolved in the school management.

A few years ago when I visited Kumta, I was thrilled to see an institution bearing my grandfather’s name. And ecstatic on hearing eedy students grateful for the fine school in the area. For me this served as a call to action; to serve this area, the students and the school. Continue reading “Shanbhag School in Kumta”

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