Monday, March 29, 2010

Sunday, March 28

“The best way to find yourself is by losing yourself in the service of others”
“Hands that help are holier than lips that pray”

These are some of the premises of a wonderful place called the Seva Café on the rooftop of a building in the busy shopping district of Ahmedabad, that I went to tonight with my cousins Sucheta & Dharmesh. Seva means service, and the Seva Café, which is run entirely by volunteers who do the cooking & cleaning, serves a delicious dinner at no charge. At the end of the dinner, the patrons can contribute as much as they like, with proceeds going to fund different projects to help the needy in Ahmedabad. There is also a shop consisting of crafts & clothing made by the poor, which allows them to showcase their work & make a living.

I have been staying with my cousin Dipika & her husband Bharat since I got in to Ahmedabad on Friday night. I’m taking a few days PTO to visit my family before flying back home on Wednesday. My mother had 2 sisters & 2 brothers, and my father had 2 brothers, and most of them had large families, so I have many cousins, who have children, and many of them are grown & married with children of their own. The in-laws are also part of the extended family, so it’s easy to see why weddings are so big (Dipika & Bharat’s son was married in February & they had 600 people at the reception!). I won’t have time to visit everyone before Wednesday, but I’d like to see as many of them as I can. And it’s nice to be able to communicate with everyone since I speak Gujarati pretty well – which has surprised some people. I can even read some of the signs.

Another cousin Naina (Dipika’s sister) & her daughter Disha, had picked me up this morning, and I went to their house where I had a huge lunch. Sucheta & Dharmesh picked me at Naina’s house (we went to their house in a rickshaw), and I spent the evening with them. I had some fruit at their house called chicku – they don’t sell it in the U.S. unfortunately. It’s like kiwi, but brown on the inside as well, sweet, and without the seeds. There is a chicku tree at Sucheta’s house. I remember eating a lot of chickus & mangoes when I lived in India as a child.

The purpose of this trip being about water, I had to find out how my cousins get their water. The municipal water is turned on two hours a day, in the morning, and each house has water storage tanks that are filled up. Water is used from those tanks until the next day, when the water supply is replenished. As in Lucknow, every house I’ve been to has a water purifier system for the drinking water. Dipika & Bharat carry around their purified water in plastic bottles when leaving home, just to be safe.

When we were driving from the Vadodara Airport to the hotel last Friday, I had noticed how smooth the roads were & the streets weren’t as crowded as Lucknow. Gujarat has the fastest growing economy in India, and it is evident in Ahmedabad, where there has been a lot of growth in the last few years, with high-rise apartment buildings, shopping malls, and highways (overpasses are called fly-overs); the roads even have signs! There is still poverty & the city is still crowded by U.S. standards, but it doesn’t have the crushing poverty & over-population of U.P.

Dipika & Bharat in their house.

From left, Dharmesh, Disha (behind me), Naina, Sucheta, Disha & Jitesh's son Tanay, held by his Dad Jitesh

Arriving at Sucheta's house in the rickshaw.

The Seva Cafe.

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