Wow ! Its been a while since I last wrote something interesting here. I had been away on work for a while and only just got back. I was wondering what I would share with you. This weekend was great with Friday being the Sri Narasimha Chaturdasi festivities at the temple. I have taken some snaps on the day but I am yet to upload them and write something on it. But as I was lazying at the temple on a slightly yet beautiful rainy day in Melbourne, my thoughts wandered back to Mayapur where I was few months back. One of the highlights of that trip was the time I spent in the kitchen there. And a busy kitchen it was ! No, I didn’t do any service there. Just wanted to have a look at those behind the scenes devotees at work.
One of the first thing I saw when I made my way in, were these women who were busy cutting and chopping vegetables. The whole scene looked very colorful. Blood red tomatoes, yellow melons, green leaves mixed with many bright sarees. All the time, as they cut the vegetables, they chattered away in Bengali, completely oblivious to my presence there. They have no time to waste. In fact, for the 1/2 day I was there, I don’t think I saw these hard working ladies ever get up, look tired or complain.
And they cut that many !! Here I am, after cutting few carrots, potatoes and soaking frozen peas, just for a 1 person dinner, feel that I had put in so much work. And the above baskets were only the first run. They did a few more of these. I was also pleased to see how clean the kitchen was. Although there were plenty of cooking happening all around, the place was clean, had fresh air to breathe and utensils shone in the sun light pouring in. A truly well-lit place.
As the ladies cut up the veggies, this devotee had the rice ready. He mixed some spices and stirred it with all his might. At a certain point, another devotee joined in from the opposite direction to stir the same bucket of rice. Stirring rice is my favourite exercise in the kitchen. Not sure why. Even during catering events here, I quickly take position to stir the rice. Nothing like that fresh steam hitting your face. Very refreshing. Therapeutic almost.
Back to the vegetables. They were preparing a mixed vegetable subji I think. In goes the tomatoes. And the long stirring exercise takes place here as well. This gentleman was fun. Although, I told him I couldn’t speak Bengali, he however decided to lecture to me on something in Bengali. I think he was talking about cooking and photography at the same time. But every time I clicked a photo, he would come running with his chef cap moving from side to side, to see what I had taken. He was a hard man to please. He didn’t look satisfied with what I had taken. So, he went back and continued the exercise of stirring. I sensed that he wanted me to take a few more and the above one he liked. Finally.
The tomato stirrer’s best mate was busy stirring away the melons and some other vegetable that looked like Zucchini. Nice aroma sprang forth here. He looked a seasoned melon stirrer. He was quick and moved around his stove many times to ensure that the spices were well mixed.
I saw these spices where the rice was being mixed. I am not sure what they are actually. Perhaps, raisins and cashew nuts. Whatever it was, sure smelt good. And positioned well for a photograph.
The counterparts of the vegetable chopping ladies were the chappati women. You won’t believe the number of chappatis they had to roll out. Before I started clicking away, I just sat on the floor and watched them. This group was very quiet and concentrated much. Size does matter here. Very quickly, they made the ball and rolled out the chappati for their friends nearby to fry them.
That was hot. I mean, really hot. All around it. But the ladies didn’t care. They were mused that I was so spoilt that I couldn’t bear a little heat and many giggles came my way. Once again, these devotees concentrated on getting those chappatis made as quickly as possible. Chappatis were tossed up in the air and for a few seconds looked like flying saucers in the air before they made a smooth landing on the hot plate.
What ISKCON temple would miss out on Gulab Jamuns !! And this is one of the man at Mayapur, responsible for belting out those spongy wonders. Looking back, gulabs were never my favourite till I came to Melbourne ISKCON temple. I adore them now ! Anyways, this devotee single handedly made thousands of gulabs for the guests all day long. He never spoke much. Every now and then, he would look and smile at me.
And when in hot Mayapur, lassi is a must, watched over by friendly flies. The first time I had lassi was as a child in Varanasi. My parents and extended family had booked almost a whole compartment in a train and went on a pilgrimage to many holy sites across India. While on a boat on the river Ganga, a man on another boat came cruising by and sold us lassi in mud cups. I had never tasted anything like it. The thick yoghurt. The sugar. Fell in love immediately with the drink. Clearly my favourite even now.
This devotee boy made many trips to the kitchen to fill his bucket of rice. Looked like he was on a skateboard most of the time. He would come in a flash, with few large scoops fill the bucket, load it on to the wheels and scooter past skillfully through the many devotees doing their service in the kitchen.
Many stainless steel vessels get filled with various preparations, ready to be served to the hungry devotees from all over India and perhaps the world as well.
You know the food is good when the serving hall is silent. There must have been hundreds of people here but it was almost quiet. You could see everyone relishing the Hare Krishna mercy.
Never again will I ever complain about dish washing. That lady with a huge smile and a gentle song on her lips went about cleaning every single utensil that were used in the mammoth cooking exercise. And how clean they were ! And how happy she was !
When I mentioned to the chappati ladies at the kitchen that I would be sharing the photos with a lot of people and if they had anything to tell you all, they said loudly in unison, “Hari Bol !!!”
That’s what brings all these devotees together. Whether you are cooking, or in deity worship or singing kirtans or visiting the temple, its the desire to please Hari and His devotees that keeps all of them going on and on, no matter how tough the exercise might be. These hardships and long hours are nothing compared to their desire to serve. To serve unconditionally.