It is a joyous and beautiful day, the children of the Tushita Foundation have been invited by the owner of Samode Hotels, Yadavendra Singh, to visit his fairy-tale palace and have lunch in Samode Bagh, a lush garden and a fabulous retreat for travellers who come to Rajasthan.
For the past three months, I have been volunteering at the Tushita Foundation, a house of learning and empowerment in the village of Amber near Jaipur. Together with the children and the teachers at the Foundation, we have celebrated several festivals across religions, like the festival of kites, Holi, Milad un Nabi and today, Easter, which is promising to be an eventful one.
My fellow volunteer and I spent a long day helping the teachers organise the trip, following which we had a traditional Rajasthani dinner at Veena ji’s. The morning finds us fresh and excited, albeit slightly tired. Dheeraj, who heads kamalan, has picked us up and soon we are off, all piled into buses. I don’t exactly know how dancing on the bus is feasible on these bumpy roads, but it is of no issue here!
Upon our arrival at the palace, we take a quick tour – it is so beautiful, especially the paintings and the mirror rooms – but we don’t have much time to linger on, for we have to hide little Easter eggs in Samode Bagh for the children to find. Dheeraj, Gajju, Geeti and I dive into the daunting task of concealing them in the very large garden. We are still finishing up as the kids come in shouting, “Go! Go!” It is hilarious and so much fun.
Being American, I am the only person who has ever hunted for eggs, or celebrated Easter for that matter, so I am quickly designated the “speech giver”. I explain to the children that Easter is a festival Christians celebrate to signify the end of winter and the birth of spring, the eggs being a symbol of birth. I also say that they will collect all the eggs in one place and then share them equally among themselves, thus avoiding the possibility that someone could be left without any. And off they go, doing pretty well and finding the majority of eggs intact in spite of the heat. I see a chipmunk fleeing with an egg, even the animals had a turn!
After the children finish the hunt, we sit down to a lovely lunch of paneer and dal, followed by gulab jamun, my favourite Indian dessert, and butterscotch ice cream, my colleague’s favourite. The chef, so considerate and respectful, has come to see the children and stopped by each of their tables to ask them how they liked the food and whether they were happy. The children are thrilled, but never overexcited and are actually quite well-mannered that we can all just relax and share a lovely lunch together.
We were surprised to see a troupe of professional Rajasthani folk dancers perform for us, followed by a much loved magical puppet show. We all join in the celebration and by the time we are ready to go, we all have stars in our eyes. I know that my words hardly do the day justice, but I guess I can just use one to sum it all up: unforgettable.