On a recent visit to India, we took a cab from Belgaum to Badami to see the exquisitely carved cave temples. The route goes through some of the most rural and poorest parts of North Karnataka, with whole families helping in tilling the fields, sowing, weeding and harvesting. See post on peanut farm. Sugarcane (kabbu) fields lined both sides of the country road. We passed this one with a small set-up to make jaggery (unrefined brown sugar, or gur) from the cane juice. Continue reading “Sugarcane Fields: Making Jaggery”
A nice part of visiting temples in India is, I get to meet the locals. The hard working laborers with a few days off to visit temples. These you wouldn’t meet in hotel lobbies or in coffee shops. Their kids care less for the soulful art, and are playing around with each other. Them, I look forward to meeting.
And so many I met on this trip to Karnataka. All, despite being poor, were rich of heart, of kindness and grace. Their eyes brimmed with joy. Through them life reminds us – there is a way to live! Through them I asked – what have I done with my life? For what? In the kindness of these, I find my happiest moments. Not in the bars, not in ritzy coffee shops on Colaba Causeway, not with my fancy gadgets. My camera incidentally is the vehicle for reaching out; actually, for them to reach out to me.
It's usually the poorest who will strike a conversation with us. Perhaps they have nothing to fear. Most are kids – certainly fearless! When they see I have a big camera, they come up and ask to take their pic. The common phrase was, “Anna (elder brother) photo!” pointing to themselves. I gladly shoot multiple pics and they scramble away, jumping up and down. With my big camera, they prolly feel like stars in a movie production. And I treat them like stars. Some stay back to ask where I am from. If they hang around long enough, I show them the pics on the LCD screen – then their amazement sees no end.
While I derive joy from this encounter, what's in it for them? Perhaps in approaching and dealing with me, their confidence is boosted. They may hesitate less, the next time they have to stand-up for something. Perhaps. Here I have assembled a few pics from our recent trip to Badami, Pattadakal and Hampi. Other than the actual sites, these interactions I craved the most.
Pic above: As we parked near the Cave temples of Badami, these two came up and he confidently asked me to take their pic. They appeared to be siblings – look at their beautifully intertwined fingers.
At the MahaKuta Temple complex near Badami: The kid selling Goli Soda darted by as I tried to get his attention. The other two noticed, ran after the kid and brought him back to pose with them. The kid was ~ 8-10 years old, selling Goli Soda.
Busily shooting at the Hazara Raam Temple in Hampi, the girl in the center asked to first take a pic of their largish family. Then she wanted a pic with only a couple of her friends.
These boys did not want to be left out and asked to take their pics.
These girls were tending the baby and were thrilled to have their pic taken.
At the Vithala temple in Hampi, this young girl Gouthami asked me to take a pic of her family. About 10, she directed her mother and older relatives to pose. Then she wanted one with her mother (above). While I was surprised at her english, my jaws dropped when her mother spoke flawless english and explained. They were from a village in AndhraPradesh and were leaving for Tirupati on the night train. Gouthami wanted more pics and her mother wrote out their address; and I mailed the pics.
I saved the best for last!
While visiting the Tungabhadra Dam, the adjacent gardens had a light and water show. We found seats in front of the fountains, which was to “dance” to the music. This group of kids were hovering along the perimeter of the fountain. They kept staring at us. To break the ice, I took a pic. They ran away. This happened a few times and finally one of the boys, boldly stood in front of me and posed a body-builder's pose. I took his pic and showed it to him on the LCD. He and his friends stared in amazement. Then they all wanted pics. Finally I got this pic of the 12 boys and girls in the group.
By now they were very friendly with us and all over our bench, squeezing themselves between M and me. I found some packs of Wrigleys chewing gum and offered it to them. They were thrilled! They spoke Telugu and I only knew a spattering of Kannada. I did understand “uuru” (town) in one of their queries and I replied, “Mumbai.” Sighs of approval spread through the group. They asked many more questions, but I could not understand what they were saying. But they just kept talking, and we listened intently and nodded. There was an older gentlemen with them, and he too only spoke Telugu. We could not figure out if the kids were from one family, or neighborhood kids out for a picnic.
As the show ended, our driver came to fetch us, and I asked him to inquire with the older gentlemen. We found that these kids were from an Orphanage in Raichur and were on a picnic to see the Dam and the gardens!!! My heart sank like a rock!
We walked back to the car in stunned silence; the kids waved us goodbye.
Here were kids with literally nothing in this world, not even family, and they seemed so content to be merry. M & I talked about how we had been quibbling earlier in the evening – we who have so much; and the kids, with nary a penny to their name were happily enjoying the moment. That was for an important evening, and I hope it changes our lives forever. Even today, whenever M and I have a disagreement, we think of those orphans we met at the Dam, see how happy they were with what little they had! Certainly, we have much more.
As part of our annual charitable givings, I hope to identify an orphanage in rural karnataka and make a huge donation to them. We have also decided not to take any more gifts to our relatives in India, but to instead continue and increase our contributions to the schools and other deserving opportunities. I encourage you to do the same.
Update May 2009: Now many years later, I see this event did have a profound impact on our lives.