Jitendra drives the brake pedal into the floor of the bus and we come to a stop some in a clearing about 20 feet from a couple of nondescript little buildings. We’ve arrived at Vatsalya’s Udayan orphanage, an anonymous campus hidden away off the Jaipur-Delhi highway. It’s anonymity matched only by that of its eighty inhabitants…rescued street children and orphans of the Jaipur area.
The ten of us are led on a tour by a girl named Chandini who’s body language tells me that she has no small stake or place here. We learn later of her success story. She arrived here a mere 6 or 7 year old. Now a Kathakali dance teacher and practitioner when not pursuing her higher studies, she rightfully exudes an air of ownership. Together with the very much in-control Mr. BLJ (babulalji) she leads us through classrooms, dorm houses, bathrooms, mess hall, vegetable fields and sports fields.
The classrooms are missing window frames as if the bell rang and class ended before the windows could be colored in. Or may be this is intended, so kids brought here from harsh existences may learn to day-dream. We move on... In each class hangs one portrait: Marky Mark (aka Mark Twain) , MG (Mahatma Gandhi), Nelson Mandela…
The frames are hung too high, maybe ten feet off the floor. You cant read the bylines but the message is clear… these are elevated souls...you can get there too!
To enter the dorm we descend a few feet from ground level. This home for so many kids is cradled into mother earth, literally and intentionally. It stays cool like a basement, provides a shelter from the brightest rays and smells like ‘a boys room’. It hits me. My boys ten thousand miles from here with an uninterrupted supply chain of deodorant smell the same! An olfactory proof of the brotherhood of all boys! In the center of the concrete floor is a circular dugout fitted with a mattress…a prefect wrestling pit for all the physical tugs and wars of boyhood.
We head into the “mess” – a place where the school eats together three times each day. Long wooden tables reach out in both directions from a circular center. The tabletop is about 18 inches off the ground, just enough to get the lower half of an average Indian body under with legs crisscrossed or extended. Children line both sides of these long tables and chatter and watch the kitchen door expectantly and say a prayer.
We are ushered and assemble around a round table. The concrete floor also serves as our seat. Those who have natural cushioning are fortunate! Lunch arrives into our circular stainless steel plates. One curry, unlimited puris (fried bread) and a rice pudding. The last being a refuge for those with burning tongues and rumbling stomachs. Some spoons are handed out…but for some its time to take the plunge literally and figuratively…hesitant fingers with pinched pieces of puri head for the curry. Dip, dive, skim, touch, explore…a dance of fingers, puri and curry orchestrated by the courage at hand.
We eat a lot. I dare not look back to see if the kids are offered unlimited puris. Why invite guilt?