What is Pakhala? (Pronounced: Paw-Ka-L(r)aw, and, US friends, don’t even bother trying to pronounce that L/R sound! If you insist on trying, it’s an “L” but with the tongue rolled far back on the palate.) Anyway, pakhala is yet another food-eating experience of a specialty dish from the state of Orissa where my friends Priyanka and Anupam are from. I had the grand adventure of eating pakhala today at lunchtime. The steps: In a bowl, scoop in some rice (using your hands), then pour in lots of water. Then add unsweetened (natural) yogurt, lemon or lime juice, hot chili pepper, and salt. Then take an assortment of side dishes, such as eggplant, potatoes cooked with mustard oil, various veggies, and more. Add a bit of flavorful mango Indian pickle on the side. Then take a bit of this and that, dunk your hand into the water-and-rice, and scoop it into your mouth! Here are photos (Click on the set to see the sequence):
And a video, in case you are curious as to how a newbie approaches the adventure of eating pakhala:
The mix of flavors (spicy and tangy and salty) and textures (liquids and solids and crunchy and soft) delight the palate, while the whole body engages in the moment — hand plunging into the rice mixture, body bent forward so as not to make a mess.
And so — it becomes a metaphor for another of the day’s adventures — distribution of the “kid kits” to children on the streets. A mix of tangy, salty sadness that simply can’t be helped; the crunchy fact of never-enough against heartbreakingly-overwhelming numbers; the sweet-softness of just-plain-joy on the children’s faces and the fluidity of unfettered childhood that engages the body, heart, mind, spirit. Laughter and tears, all mixed together. Concern mixed with joy, beauty with hardship. A “thank you” side by side with a shove out of the way. Please try to see these children through my eyes — not as some sort of voyeuristic cyber-tourism into desperate poverty, but as a slice of time and place with families and children who (sometimes) give me hope and make me smile. I may not be saying it right or well, but maybe the photos will help you understand…
As you all know, I seldom post pictures of people in need, for all sorts of complex reasons. I also want to be crystal clear about the fact that these kits were distributed in the name of the friends who provided the funds for them. These are not from me, but from you: Cathryn, Peter, Wendi, Anya, Miriam, Sharon, Beck, Amy, Linda, Jenny, and Betty. The joyful smiles of the kids are for you, as is my deep gratitude.
Here are a few shots of the kits themselves — 60 in all. (Wish it could have been 600…) Each kit had: shampoo, soap, comb, bandaids, tissues, toothbrush and toothpaste, flipflops, some candy and a sticker. (Click on the photo set for bigger pics.) I had labeled each bag with the name of a donor and a little blurb about him/her. You can see those in the third photo.
Out of respect for the children and families, I have blurred the eyes in the photos… with the one notable exception of the last one. Sorry if the blurring makes the pictures less aesthetically pleasing, but it’s the only solution I have in this type of situation, where the circumstance is an obvious “hand-out,” rather than just a snippet of daily life. The un-blurred last photo I have explained below.
We had a smooth system in place to distribute the kits: Priyanka drove, and I held piles of the kits on my lap and at my feet. (Note that everything is reversed from the US — Driver is on the right; cars drive on the left-hand side of the road.) We pulled up along the road near areas where we knew there was a need, or when we spotted a child. We would call, “Child, come here! Bachhe! (Child!)” That child would approach, we would hand over a kit, and we would ask that child to go find more children. Within moments, children would appear from all over, and we would hand the kits out the window one at a time. We did this at three different spots, and the 60 packs were gone within about 20 minutes all-told. At the second spot, although there were many more children waiting, we decided to move on when the crush of the children became too much. I was concerned for their safety, and minimally for ours as they reached into the car. In this particular set, there’s a story for the last photo of the two boys. They were in a spot where we were not swarmed, and the boy in the white checked shirt took his kit, and grinned from ear to ear, and then jumped up and down. I wanted a photo of him jumping and grinning, but when I asked him to jump again, he called the other boy over to do a back-flip for us! Anyway, in the photo, you can see his beautiful smile, if not the jump. 🙂
When we came to the third spot, we had only 6 kits left, but luckily there were fewer kids. One boy told us that he had a baby at home (presumably his baby sister, or possibly a cousin?). We did not give kits to anyone who told us there was a child at home, only to those we saw directly. So he asked us to please wait, please, and he would go get her. He came running back with her in his arms. This is the final picture that I have not blurred — because I didn’t want to blur those beautiful eyes of the baby or the sparkling ones of the boy.
And so I’ll end this post with wide-eyed wonder and the twinkle of a doting older brother, just in time for Mother’s Day on this side of the world.