We had outgrown the small chapel and our friend Anil Kapoor, owner of the Tavern Restaurant gave us the use of his restaurant on Sunday afternoons. It was as wild as ever. There was lots of dancing. Community of Nations Church wasn’t good at holding back on their joy. When we got too rowdy, he let us have a smaller hall above the restaurant which filled up within a few weeks. There were people sitting along the windowsills and on anything that looked like bum space.
The gypsies from near Landour Community Hospital started coming back. We hadn’t seen them since Raju died. There were also a few families from a snake tribe. They trained monkeys to do tricks and hunted porcupine in the jungle. Their dogs were thin and covered in quill marks.
Jesus had healed their youngest daughter, Sarda, during one of our outreaches. She kept coming back and her family followed close behind. Her parents, Dayaram and Pooja were so grateful. They had a corn business. They sat at the side of the road with small steel woks filled with hot coals. They cooked corn-cobs over the coals and covered them with chilly and lemon before selling them to passers by. When the corn season was over, they walked from place to place, selling bangles and bindis.
They lived in a plastic tent above King Craig with their two sons and two daughters. Their place was so lovely. The outside was made of black plastic and they had lined the inside with a tribal fabric. There were a few trunks with mattresses to sit on and a pile of mattresses, which they put on the floor to sleep on at night. Near the door they had made a clay oven and there was a basket for their few steel utensils. When the weather was good, one of our favourite things was to lie on a mattress on our tummies and look down onto the Doon Valley.
Once when I was sick, the ladies came into my room with marigolds from their little garden. Every now and again we would find a packet of sugar or flour at our door. They even brought a freshly caught porcupine for us. We had no idea what to do with it, so they went into the kitchen, turned on the gas and cooked it right then and there. No pots or pans needed. They gave the quills to the girls.
One of our most memorable church camps was with these new families. About thirty of us went down to Laxiwala and set up our tents near the river. There was nothing there, just lots of trees and space to set up camp. We all had duties and there was lots of hard work involved. When it was all done, we took our soap, shampoo and towels down to the river to have a baptism, wash, swim and brush our teeth. Tony was wading in the river with Dayaram’s brother, Om Prakash. Om Prakash looked into the water and at lightening speed, caught a snake that was swimming by. Tony thought it was pure luck until it happened a second time.
At night we sat around the fire and sang our hearts out to Jesus. Some songs were translated into Hindi and stories were shared. There was lots of laughter and giggling that came from the tents late into the night.
They were so good at jungle living. We weren’t. We had run out of paper plates so someone climbed a tree and got huge leaves for us to eat off. They made an amazing fire in minutes and before we knew it, we were sitting around enjoying our dal, rice and sabzi. They had strengths we didn’t have. They lived so simply and efficiently. They knew how to use the resources they had. Nothing was wasted. Nothing was extra. Everything they owned was necessary for their survival. We learnt so much from them.
On the last day, we decided we needed to celebrate. We needed meat. Tony got in the jeep with Om Prakash and his wife Bina and drove to the closest village to find some chickens. The only ones available were live ones. They put ten of them in the back of the jeep with Om Prakash. While they were driving along, Tony looked in the rear view mirror and saw feathers flying. The chickens were going crazy as Om Prakash was getting them ready for dinner.