Breakfast for 33 Please….?

Another very sweet thing happened the other day in Palani, which falls into the “Just Say Yes” category of life allowance. It was morning, just after sunset and I went to the place near the steps to the temple where about 50 or Saddhus sit and wait for alms. I’ve walked by there a few times and when I have, I’ve always tried to drop a coin or two in each bowl. I stopped at times with a few of them with more interesting faces or serene smiles and took some photographs, giving them a 10 rupee note in compensation. It’s not much, but it’s really more about honoring and appreciating there generosity. Anyway, one man took some time to wash his face and put ash on his forehead and also a red spot before being photographed. After I completed the gauntlet, I came back to him as the sun had come up more and asked him to come with me into the sun for further photographs which he did. I offered to buy him tea and he did some sign language which intimated to me that he would prefer food. Remember, I could find no one outside of my hotel owner in Palani who spoke English and Tamil. So we went back and forth with me trying to understand if I should bring him food (because he was older and had a limp) or if he would come with me. Whatever I signaled, he ended up coming with me, and as I looked back, a few more Saddhus were coming too. OK, this will be fine. I looked back again slightly later and you can’t believe what I saw. I had become the Pied Piper of holy men and a long line of about 30 of them were coming along with us for breakfast. I just went with it. It was so sweet. We went about a block to a restaurant where they all sat and somehow I communicated to the owner to feed them all, which he gleefully did. The food was flying there and it was all great. Here’s a pic I took of some of them eating, although many were also eating on the floor in a back room, each with their own banana leaf. In total there were 32 people who ate breakfast for a total cost of about $15. Couldn’t hardly imagine spending it in a better way.

I practiced again in dealing with the beggar kids, trying to learn from my “get the fuck away from me” mistake, this time at the bus station. They started swarming me, but instead of ignoring them or trying to shoo them off, I gave them lots of eye contact, telling them clearly and simply “no.” That, of course, wasn’t enough, so I just played with them and was silly and loving. Some of them kept asking for money (as the greatest weapon of the young beggar is virtually indefinite persistence) but other’s started in this fun pantomime game we invented. They would pretend to write on me from a distance and I would pretend to wipe it off, or pretend they poked me in the eye with the fake pen. The same thing progressed in reverse too, with me pretending to write on them and them wiping it off. It was all so special. Eventually they all dispersed, but they did so having been loved and seen and appreciated, instead of chased or ignored. It was wonderful. Lots of Tamils were watching the scene in curiosity too while waiting for their busses.

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