Even today, when I listen to his music, I am filled with the same tranquillity and wonder I felt as a 7 year old hearing him for the first time.
Inside the church walls was an old lemon tree, where she would make a brief stop and discreetly pluck the lemons within reach. She would come back, her cycle basket laden with all her shopping, the juicy, glistening lemons nestling right on top. She did this for months; quite sure her little theft was going unnoticed. Until one day the old Father came out and smilingly gave her a handful of lemons. From then on, it became an open practice.
The lemons I found in this Karnataka village, locally called ‘elakkai” were much bigger. I got two to take back to Mumbai, their spicy, heady scent filling my hotel room and suitcase.
|The lemon tree at Palbhavi|
I pickled them, the Belgaum way, the recipe a little more elaborate than my mother’s version. She would chop them up; add bits of ginger and green chillies, a dash of turmeric and some salt. Bottle them for about 4 days and they are ready to eat.
One week after their father died, Chimni’s mother discovered that she, and the children, were HIV+. They were thrown out of their village. Desperate, the mother moved to a city hoping to find a job, leaving them with a relative who wanted to have little to do with them.
There are 21 children at Sevalaya. Most of them orphans. They have grandparents, aunts and uncles, but few are in touch with them. The stigma towards people with HIV in India is huge. That’s true even of cities where there is access to treatment and information. The situation in rural India, much worse.
As Ravi Bapatley, the founder of Sevalaya, found out when he started this shelter 3 years ago. He quit his job as a newspaper reporter, and with a loan from a friend, bought some land outside Hasegaon. He enrolled the children in the village school because he wanted them to integrate with the local community. But the villagers withdrew their kids, and vandalized the shelter. But Bapatley persisted, with the help of NGOs, and today the children have found acceptance. Apart from food and shelter, they have regular access to Anti Retroviral Therapy, ART.
|Volleyball game at Sevalaya|
But Sevalaya needs a lot of help. These are kids who have been rejected by their very own. They need counselling; a need the staff here, while caring and committed, is not skilled to meet.
Chimni loves to go to school and draws beautifully. For a 5 year old, she is amazingly independent. I guess it’s because she has never had anyone to look after her. But she is very closed, and answers in monosyllables. Ask her to sing though, and she can go on for hours. Especially her favourite song on the monsoon.