To one side the kitchen staff are preparing the dough and heating the oil to make fresh hot puris (fried bread) for the children. Pots of cauliflower and pea curry stand ready to be served, along with a large vat of gulab jamin, a favourite Indian sweet in rose flavor syrup. The mats on which the children sit are already laid out, and now food is being offered in the Ashram temple in order to receive the blessing of the divine for food offered to these children.
Soon after the local children begin to arrive, starting with the small children around 4 or 5 years old. They come quietly checking whether we are ready, and then run out to bring their friends. When they return they come with older children, eagerly coming up the steps and towards the seating area. Some of the young children give me hugs, wrapping their arms around my neck and kissing me gently on the cheek. Others want to play and I am soon involved in some light games before the children get seated.
Once the children are seated, we begin to serve the food and fresh water and offer a chant beforet he children begin to eat. Although the school children that attend are disciplined and polite, the local children are not so quiet. They are soon giving the servers directions, wanting more vegetables, more water or more puri, or simply ensuring that their friends who arrived later do not miss out. Everyone is taken care of. It is a joy filled but chaotic start to the program, which eventually settles as the childern begin to eat.
Once most of the local children are served, we then share the remaining food with those adults in the area who can benefit from a healthy nutritious meal. We serve those who are ill, those who are frail or unemployed and sadhus, those who devote their lives to God. Overall today we serve about 125 children and about 50 adults a full nourishing meal. We also have additional sweets, the gulab jamin, remaining which we also distribute to those who come once the main meal is complete. A very successful day!