1999, Ooty, India
Plate 49, 18x27
The Toda people living in Tamil Nadu treated us with much kindness during our stay. I would believe them to be the most gentle and caring group of people I have ever known. One afternoon several of them loaded into an old station wagon and asked if I would like to come along, so I did. What they did was unbelievable. They went to the two larger hotels in town and pulled into the back by the restaurant kitchen door. With the cook's help, they loaded three large containers of good food from yesterday's production. The same repeated at the other hotel, but we received only two cartons and a large basket of still-good fruits. This was all prearranged and happened every Tuesday and had been going on for years.
On Wednesday they set up a large table in the open, just off the main central square, and all those in need were welcome to eat, to talk, to be recognized, to again be made to feel human. "You may be poor, you may be down, but you are still one of us." This is a confirmation of the heart and soul of a people. The three people serving the poor each Wednesday were the town dentist, the head doctor at the local hospital, and a most beautiful young lady, the dentist's assistant. What gripped me in seeing the Wednesday meal was more than the eatable food served. Conversation was served, hope was served, wisdom was served, and a feeling of recognition was served. I have never before or since seen the rich and very poor get on more harmoniously. It was almost as if each fed the other. The scene seemed to say no rich, no poor, just people. What is better in a society than its ability to heal itself, to make itself grow?