Monday, September 15, 2008

Feeding the Homeless at Lincoln Inn Fields

Monday, September 15, 2008

I woke up to the realization that I have spent exactly one month in the United Kingdom--certainly one of the happiest and most exciting months I have ever spent. My entire life at this point seems like an endless vacation and I am reveling in it.

It still feels strange to wake up alone in the eerie silence of my flat and not have Llew's quiet presence surrounding me. But most days we speak on the phone just when his day is beginning in New York and mine has reached its middle and then it seems as if he is right here besides me. He too seems to be going from one vacation to the next--we're already talking about a possible trip to Greece in November when he comes back here.

Today I got down to planning logistics for my Anglo-Indian research project. Worked on the PC all morning, drafting introductory letters and making arrangements for my research position at St. Antony's College, Oxford, next summer. Before I knew it, it was time for lunch, then more email correspondence.

At 4pm, I left for my excursion to Marble Arch to get my cell phone fitted with a new Lebara SIM card which is far more economical than the one I am currently using . But the sweet Indian girl Pooja who attempted to fit the card in, found that my phone was 'locked'. Her attempt to unlock it failed and the guys to whom she sent me told me that it would take them 2 hours to reformat and reprogram my phone. I did not have that kind of time so declined their offer and left.

Pooja then suggested that I go to T-Mobile and have them unlock it for me. The trek to Oxford Street from where I had purchased the phone drew a blank as the sales assistant told me that they do not have the authority to unlock phones. However, she sent me across the street to a really smart guy called Sajjid who was able to do it in exactly five minutes! He was also able to give me a Lebara SIM card for free except that he did not have one that would allow me to fill it with any money as he had run out of them. He has called me back tomorrow but the earliest I can get there is Friday and I shall make sure I return to him and have this Lebara SIM card fitted.

Then I was at Bedford Square for our first faculty meeting of the year. Had a chance to meet a few of my London colleagues and over a few tea sandwiches and delicious cake, the meeting got under way, chaired by David Hillel-Ruben. Things moved along swiftly indeed and in less than an hour and a half, we were out.

I walked as quickly as I could to Lincoln Inn Fields to meet Subita Mahtani to whom I had a phone introduction a few months ago through a mutual acquaintance named Leslie Mahtani in Connecticut. Subita, an NYU alumnus who has lived as an American ex-pat in London for several years, is involved with a social service operation that provides food to the homeless three times a week. Because she takes charge of the Monday operation at a location close to my flat, she told me to meet her there. In-between doling out ladles of dal and rice, she hugged me, welcomed me to London and exchanged phone numbers with me, assuring me that we would meet again at length to get acquainted.

I was stunned at how many homeless men turned up for a free meal. One of the guys even complimented Nitu, one of the volunteers, telling her that "the curry is very nice". There was tea and coffee and soda at another station and Mars bars, donated every week by a man who gave up smoking and spends the same money on Mars bars that he would have spent on cigarettes which he then distributes to the poor and needy. Subita informed me that this operation has gone on for years and word of mouth has brought over a hundred homeless people to the corner of Lincoln Inn Fields where, in the shadow of the courts and legal chambers, some of London's poorest people are fed by immigrant Indians whose generosity and compassion knows no bounds.

Thanks to Subita, I saw a side of London that would otherwise have passed me by. I am grateful to her and inspired by her dedication as well as that of my fellow-Indians in this city. Each time she handed out a plate of food or answered a question, Subita said, "God Bless You". This caused one of the recipients of her caring to remark, "You speak like an American". Perceptive guy, that one!

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