Harvest Day Meal on a Banana Leaf

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The diversity of India is unique. I suppose diversity itself implies unique, but here in India, it breaks the mold in a way that is unexpected and delightful. One of my new friends is Daisy Alexander, the Principal of Rizvi Law College. She is one of the most dynamic women I have encountered – spinning multiple plates with energy and enthusiasm. When we met up earlier this year, she swooped in and embraced me like an old friend. She lives on the other side of Mumbai, which means an hour or more travel, so we agreed to meet up when she was in S. Mumbai where I live. Late last night I got a call from Daisy. “Are you still up?” After I assured her I was still awake, she proceeded to invite me to a special day at her church, The Armenian Church of St. Peter’s, nearby in the Fort neighborhood. On the way over in her car, she explained that it was Harvest Day in the Christian Orthodox tradition. She would introduce me to the Archbishop before the service. As soon as we arrived I was ushered in as the Bishop was finishing his breakfast. I was given idli with coconut chutney as Daisy told him the story of who I am and why I am in Mumbai. A very stately tall man, he gave me a long look and nodded his head in approval. This was no time for small talk. I found myself blurting out “We all come from the same source. We must love like extremists.” He nodded in complete agreement; then we made our way into the central chapel. The women were all dressed in cream and gold saris, the traditional wear for Harvest Day. The sermon was delivered by the Archbishop in Hindi and while he spoke people kept turning around to look at me, sitting in a chair in the back. The woman next to me held my hand and said, ‘he’s talking about you.’ Before I knew it I was asked to come up front and share a message. These days, I don’t have to think about what to say. There is no time to waste and so I shared my response to the terrorist attack of 26/11 and why it is so important to love like extremists. Love comes from the source of our beings and can never be taken away by anyone, no matter how powerful the weapon. These are times that require much more of us in so many ways. Every moment counts. Every moment can be a moment where love is shared.

Following my message, we were graced with the traditional singing of Harvest Day songs by young girls and then a traditional Kerala dance. And, being India – land of unique, this was followed by a cake auction. That’s right – it was the Archbishop’s birthday and when he was presented with a beautifully decorated dark chocolate cake, he graciously suggested it be auctioned off to support the church. The crowd was jumping up and down, shouting out 500 rs, 1000 rs, 1500 rs with lots of clapping and excitement. In the end, the cake sold for 5000 rs. which pleased the Archbishop to no end. After all this, Daisy grabbed my arm and said, ‘let’s go, you are invited to lunch with the Archbishop.’ We went back to the little room where I arrived as the table was being laid out with banana leaves. I was asked to sit next to the Archbishop and was told that the traditional Kerala meal is served on a banana leaf, eaten with fingers. The Archbishop offered me a spoon, but I decided ‘no way’ – I would try something new. Eating rice topped with soupy dal with fingers is rather challenging, but I persevered. I was rewarded with a piece of the 5000 rs chocolate cake – that part was easy!

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