After our yoga program ended with a group trip to Auroville, Kirsten and I returned to Bangalore and reconnected with Amita and Badi, the local couple we had met earlier on the trip and who became our generous hosts in Bangalore. We wanted to volunteer at a local ashram. This particular one was like a boarding school and hosted kids who were either orphaned or needed a place to stay while their families sorted out various domestic issues.
We initially thought we’d be teaching English but we soon realized that the kids here really just wanted attention and companionship. They were so happy that we weren’t simply visiting for a day but were coming back every day for a few hours. Because of the number of kids, Kirsten worked with the young children and I worked with the middle to high school ones.
We mainly talked, read stories, created stories, and even did a play where I filmed them with our camera. They loved looking at their performances on the camera and kept wanting to do retakes so they could do better. Many of them started by simply hiding their faces in their scripts and reading. After many takes, all of them were looking into the camera and becoming more animated. One of them wanted to direct and kept yelling “Cut! Cut! Cut!” Bollywood actors in the making!
The older kids and I talked a lot about our different cultures. My group of girls thought it was very strange that people in America would “free date”, meaning dating without being setup by your family. I asked them, “Wouldn’t you want to choose your boyfriend by yourself?” But most of them said no. They said they would much rather have the parents choose, especially where a life-long partner is being sought since parents have been in that situation and would know what qualities to look for. Agree or not, it was a bit eye-opening for me to know that these teenage girls were not automatically persuaded by the western idea of freely choosing their loves. It might sound logical to us but, at least to many of the girls in this ashram, it sounded terrifying.
Everyone at the ashram seemed to be so happy. We could feel their energy. What started out as an hour of volunteering each day quickly ended up being being a few hours of conversation, activities, games, and dinner. They went out of their way to make sure that we were fed well and had a cup of chai before we left. All the children insisted on this and the adults running the ashram were equally as happy to oblige. Once when I told my group that I ate some delicious lemon rice on the train to Bangalore, they made sure to have some for me for dinner the following day. They were always giving. You would never have thought that these kids were parentless or had difficult home lives.
On the very last day, some of the girls dressed up Kirsten in a sari, painted her nails and put bindis on her forehead. My group came up with a list of Indian boy and girl names that they wanted me to consider when we have a child someday. They explained to me the meaning of each name – all were spiritual and sounded very beautiful. Well, except for one. The jokester in the group, Ashwini, wrote down “Barack Obama.” We miss them already.