Everyone’s House

“Ragu!  Oh Ragu!  Ragu!!!  Oh Ragu!  Ragu!!!!!”  It is a contest every night to see who can wake up Ragu – a contest nobody has won.  Jayeshbhai even tried:  “Ragu, Maria needs her juice!  John needs his water!” – to no avail.  Ragu sleeps the sleep of the dead, sprawled on the marble floor near the open window, with no mat, no blanket, no pillow.  It is usually Maria who stumbles down from the second floor to open the door for those of us returning from the Seva Cafe in the early morning hours.

Ragu (17, soon to be 18) has been asked to attend to John (recovering from hepatitis A) and Maria (recovering from dengue fever) in the absence of Parvati, Jayshbhai and Anarben’s adopted daughter (who has gone to Gandhinagar to attend the wedding of her sister), just as he was cared for when he was sick and stayed with Jayeshbhai and Anarben for three months.  (He is a diligent care-taker, offering juice and food every couple of hours, and reporting:  “Yoo-Mididi, John did not drink [his protein drink].”)  He and his older brother Baskar (21) are two of hundreds of people who are at home in Jayesh and Anar Patel’s house, which was purposefully built large enough to accommodate anyone and everyone.

Since age 12, when Baskar first started coming to Manav Sadhna, Jayeshbhai and Anarben have taken a personal interest in his family, buying the boys new clothes every Diwali, and giving them opportunities for technical training that will lead to decent jobs and eventually, good marriages.  (Baskar is incredibly hard-working, artistic, and technically adept, and is now one of the regular cooks at the Seva Cafe.)    Ragu now also comes to Manav Sadhna to make cards and candles (diyas).  Baskar and Ragu’s mother cleans buildings; they have no father.

Besides a series of adopted, at-risk children that Jayeshbhai and Anarben raise as their own until they are married and leave for homes of their own, vegetable sellers, shoe-shine boys, and doctors are all welcomed at all hours of the day, offered tea and juice and fed whatever the extended family happens to be eating at the time.  The sick rotate through, attended to by physicians who come to the house to take blood samples, give shots, and deliver medication and lab results.  But more than the house calls and personal attendants who have received similar care in the past, it is the love and attention of Jayeshbhai and Anarben that speeds recovery.

A recent tea invitation spawned a project that has changed the lives of hundreds of people.  A local vegetable seller was one of the people invited to tea one afternoon.  She spoke of the limitations of her earnings due to the fact that she cannot carry very many vegetables on her head.  A larri (cart) project is born.  Now, there are 122 vegetable vendors who have been given carts from which to sell their vegetables door-to-door, relieving the strain on their bodies and increasing their ability to generate income.  Today, the vegetable seller who inspired the project comes into the house to check on the absence of Parvati and gives me a sitafel (custard apple).  She is always smiling, just as Ragu and Baskar are now always smiling – their lives immeasurably better for having been touched by Jayeshbhai and Anarben.

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