Today we are visiting Karm Marg, an ashram 12 miles out of Delhi.
Enough traffic talk except to say that today is the first day of Holi Festival so actually there is comparatively little traffic on the roads. In next to no time we are in the countryside. The village of Kheri Kalan does deserve a special mention for the highest and nastiest sleeping policemen I have yet ‘enjoyed’. I lose count of how many times my head actually hits the roof of the car. We have almost arrived, according to the Ola map (a local variation on Uber), when we find our path blocked by a huge water or sewage pipe. The pipe is surrounded by villagers, male and female, who are busy digging and shifting earth.
Having got advice from a stander-by we turn round. A big detour round the village takes us past a lake complete with ibis. Dozens of roadside cows chew lazily as we pass. Eventually we reach a narrow track leading to the open countryside and, last stop on the left, a colourful gate and the words "Karm Marg – Chritable Society”. (yes, it does read Chritable).
A door opens in the gate and we step through into a paradise of bird song, butterflies, fresh air, vegetation, colour and laughter; welcomed with open arms into this refuge for around 60 children. There is a tangible atmosphere of safety and love. Karm Marg not only looks after vulnerable children, it also provides skills training and income generation for the children and alumni of KarmMarg, and for women who live in nearby villages.
Which is where Shared Earth comes in. We buy a variety of products from Karm Marg: bags, bunting, hangings, dreamcatchers and other small gifts. We are here to place an order and to see their new products.
First we get a tour of the site and a cup of chai. There are two organic vegetable gardens which provide much of the community’s food as well as enabling the children to learning about gardening, food, and the environment. They grow everything: spinach, carrots, turnips, potatoes, coriander, lettuce, tomatoes, chillies, beans, guava, peaches, pomegranates, lemons, bananas, cauliflower, onions, garlic, cabbage … Now, at the end of winter, maybe half the garden is full of overgrown plants making seeds for the coming year.
Inside one of the buildings women are busy producing bags and bunting. In another building a classroom is in full swing. In a workshop a boy has a soldering iron out and is putting finishing touches to the sound system that will be needed for tomorrow’s Holi festivities.
David and I sit down with the team to look at all the new products they are making and make a selection for the summer catalogue. I love taking photos of new products in the place where they are made as it gives a much better sense of connection. Ultimately stuff is just stuff; what makes these products special is how they come to be and who makes them.
Several children help me display all the new products so that I can take photos. When it comes to taking photos of the bunting everyone wants to get involved. The kids are a bunch of very professional posers and require little encouragement!
We sit outside to eat a meal made almost entirely from produce that comes from the vegetable gardens: beetroot, mooli radishes, salad, with aloo gobi, dhal, rice and bread. Delicious.
As we prepare to leave Veena invites us to join them for Holi. Making our goodbyes to the kids and staff, David and I climb into a taxi. A peacock meanders past. Then another.
Our driver has a bespoke sound system rigged up on his dashboard. He powers up and starts to rap along with the music. Which is great except that he also turns the steering wheel back and forth to the groove, sending the car all over the place, an hed punctuates the music with hand gestures that require letting go of the steering wheel altogether. The suspension howls and grinds and we race through the village to a cacophony of car horn and Punjabi rap.
Once we reach a metalled road our driver pushes pedal to floor and we blast our way back to Delhi. Exhilarating and insane! At one point I decide to match him rap for rap, tap his shoulder and hit him with a rap of my own. He looks amused, impressed and shocked simultaneously, uncertain as to whether I was performing or talking to him. David reassures him that I was rapping. OK, OK, our driver smiles.
We come to a screeching stop outside our hotel. As we climb the steps I say to David that we really should go back tomorrow to join Karm Marg for Holi, and we need to turn up with a huge bag of cakes and chocolate. He agrees. Watch this space!