Dinner at Sumangali Sevashram

We were going to Sumangali Sevashram for dinner, if our request for one at the last minute will be accepted. Dinner was to begin at 8PM, it was 8PM now and we were a good 3 minutes away from the Ashram. We expected to see the girls to have started and if so, we were prepared to go elsewhere.

Sumangali Sevashram was spacious, airy and looked a well run place – carried with this, a promise of instilling good values in the children they take care. Ashram is a general day school for the nearby children plus a hostel for girls from economically challenged backgrounds. These girls are taken care of till the 10th Class. They are then encouraged to pursue their higher studies, job oriented training or join work. The school also trains rural women in livelihood tasks in Chamarajmanagar (Karnataka). At the ashram were displayed with pride many artifacts from these endeavors. We noticed some refined models made of granite and other stones.

We had an unique opportunity to talk to Susheelamma, the lady who runs the school, lovingly called Amma. The good aura that you feel around people who selflessly dedicate their lives to the service of others – exudes plentily from Amma. Taking time out from her regular activities, she gave us a brief about the institution signing off with a small wish to be away from the politics of governments and to become a self sufficient institution. As the day’s dinner was already sponsored – Amma graciously invited us to share their food. We were quickly ushered in, leaving Amma reiterating her advice to the caretakers not to henceforth wait for the sponsors beyond 8:15PM, I could hear her clearly – ‘The girls will be hungry and sleepy – do not keep them waiting’.

At the dining hall, the dinner plates are being served we walk to the kitchen where the finishing touches for our dinner is being undertaken. Kitchen is clean and the hygiene is well maintained. Outside the kitchen, near their plates, a couple of cats hoping for some leftovers waited politely.

As the girls walked past us, they greeted us with a warm ‘Namaste’. We stepped into the dining area to hear 100 odd voices rhythmically chanting their evening prayers. A few rows of neatly dressed girls were sitting waiting patently for their food to be served. Some of these kids were probably 6 or 7 years of age and looked like likely to fall asleep on their plates. The elder girls were busy helping their caretakers by serving the food. Today’s dinner was sponsored by someone to mark his/her 60th Birthday. The usherers had an elaborate Arti for their sponsor, their earnestness not a slight bit marred by the fact that the sponsor had not arrived for to share this dinner. They lit the lamps and prayed to God seeking happiness and joy for their kind sponsor.

Suddenly, a small hush fell among us; I turned to see a visually uplifting scene in front of me. The elder girls brought small diyas and placed them neatly next to each ones plate. Another girl followed behind placing the wicks, another poured oil and finally a caretaker came to light the lamps. Each of these girls had a lamp to remind them of who sponsored their food. But from where I stood, it surely looked like they were tiny innocent goddesses whom we were praying to.

Thanks Shyam for the Picture.

The dinner was modest mixed rice accompanied by a sweet, some Boodhi Kalu (deep fried mixture of flour and fried groundnuts) and finished off with rice with buttermilk and some pickle to taste. I felt very happy to share this meal with them, thankful to be a part of this experience. The lady who was ushering us kindly offered to serve more food, we accepted what we could eat and finished our dinner.

On the way out, we gave a donation and requested them to take it against another weekend which wasn’t yet sponsored. They humbly accepted to do so and promised to send us a receipt for the same. As we said goodbye, we thanked our hosts for the gracious dinner and the memorable experience.

‘Next time’, I thought ‘I shall bring my nephew along’.

We had this dinner as a part of my friend Sourabh Dubey‘s Community Project Arpanam. Get in touch with Arpanam to have a wholesome dinner experience.