Venue: Palwal Haryana
Date: 18 November
Christmas is round the corner and it is the season of giving. While the whole world is busy attending cake mixing sessions we experienced a different kind of mixing – food, spirituality and philanthropy.
ISKCON Food Relief Foundation at Palwal, Haryana, serves free mid-day meals to thousands of children in the local schools. The food is prepared in a factory like kitchen run by Dhananjay Das and his companions. We were invited to have a look around at the mega kitchen and see the grand process for ourselves.
After a one half hour drive from Gurgaon, when we reached the site at Palwal, we were greeted by garlands and the typical longish tika, Vaihsnava style, on our foreheads. This tilak is perhaps called “rashakali“.
Thereafter Das took us on a demonstration tour of the whole cooking facility. To ensure hygiene, we had to wear masks and caps and shoe covers to enter the kitchen. It was mind boggling to see how about 50,000 rotis were prepared in a stunning automated machine. Similar machines and boilers were installed to prepare rice, vegetables and kheer. The food was untouched by hand till it reached the plates of the students. The same area had an elaborate store that was well stocked with ingredients from reputed brands like catch, Milkfood and so on. A mechanical grinder to powder fresh spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander was also installed and aroma of the freshly grounded spices was lingered in the air. In another room, the village women were cleaning the rice and separating grains from the chaff. Given that these workers’ children would be consuming the food, they took particular special care about the hygiene.
After the kitchen tour, we walked down to a nearby school to partake the food that had been prepared. But before dining, the school children performed well-rehearsed songs on “save the girl child” and Haryana. Three of the students had their birthday and we attended the cake-cutting ceremony. The million dollar smiles that lit up the young faces of the birthday guy and girls made our trip every bit worth. For shutterbugs, this was the moment. This cute celebration was followed by lunch and ended with distribution of token gifts – lunchboxes – to the students.
We came back to the kitchen after this and were seated on the floor, old style. As pre-meal act of saying grace, chanting of “Hare Krishna” and keertan was organised and almost everybody happily shook a leg – ISKCON style. The bhangra style keertan dance fusion was a delight to watch.
The lunch. although called prasad was a grand affair. With three kinds of rice, rotis, chhole, dahi vada, salad, chutneys. vegetables and kheer and halwa for dessert, served on banana leaf, the God inside us could not have asked for more. While spoons were available, people were encouraged to eat with their hands. The whole spread was strictest vegetarian, devoid of onion or garlic, yet finger licking tasty. The food carried the freshness of the local produce and we felt very satiated after the meal.
We did not realize how time flew here and we prepared to leave for our drive back to Delhi. On our way out, we were gifted these very well packed baskets that comprised a copy of the Bhagvat Gita, a prayer bead, a kanthi (beads vaishnav devotees were around their neck) and a pretty cupcake. We were so humbled. A sweet gesture we say.
So while everybody is doing all sorts of mixing, the ISKCON Food Relief Foundation, away from limelight is mixing their hearts with food. We feel blessed to get the opportunity to witness this act of love and the event is one of our most memorable Fun-Dos till date.