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The Food-Sharing Day

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By Savitri Narayanan

It was the food-sharing day! Even as they lined up for the morning assembly, excitement was tangible on the Class V students’ faces. There was a spring in their steps, a smile in their eyes. The food-sharing event was scheduled for the 5th period, followed by the lunch break. The class looked forward to it with much anticipation.

The New Horizons School was a progressive school that looked for ways to enhance and   enrich children’s learning for which they looped in and worked closely with parents. ‘Food-Sharing day’ was one such activity that children eagerly looked forward to. There was much fun and good food! In consultation with the parents, every class held it once a month. On that day, the students brought not lunch but an empty lunchbox and a spoon while a group of volunteer parents planned together and brought along a delicious, nutritious meal for all the children. They also gave a brief explanation to the children about the cooking procedure.

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At the stroke of the 5th period bell, class V students rushed to the activity hall with their empty lunch boxes and spoons. The volunteering parents and the helper, Sushma didi, were already present there. Soon the prefects pulled out the mats which they spread them out neatly in a square. When the children were seated, the parents too sat down facing them.

The children expectantly looked at the containers that each parent had brought along.

It was Jason’s mother, Susie aunty, who started the session. She opened the container, took out one piece and held it up to show them. It was of round shape, yellowish in colour.

With a smile she said, “This is pineapple pastry. It is made out of refined flour, sugar, baking powder, a spoonful of….”

Children paid little attention and were obviously not interested.

Khushi’s mother Renu aunty was next.

“This is kheer,” she said opening her stainless-steel container, “To make this you’ll need lots of milk. You also need . . .”

Once again the children had lost interest. The lunch boxes were out in front of them and they were growing hungrier.

When Renu aunty sat back after her narration about the kheer, Sneha’s father got up and came forward. Instantly the children were all alert and puzzled. Usually, it was the mothers who came as volunteers for ‘share food’ day. Why was uncle here? Did he too bring some food?

“Children, you must be hungry by now,” he said with a broad smile, “Especially after seeing those tempting desserts like pastries and kheer.” He looked around and continued, “Desserts are eaten after the main course, right?” he said, “So have a fill of some aviyal and rice!”

The class looked around. Where was Sneha’s mother? Where was the food?

To their surprise, Sneha’s father lifted and brought forward a large stainless-steel container.

“Stand up, see how appetizing the aviyal looks! Carrots, beans, pumpkin, raw bananas, snake-gourd, string-beans, radish…”

True the dish looked warm and inviting. So colourful too!

Sneha’s father continued, “Apart from the vegetables, lots of grated coconut and some fresh curds are all we need to prepare aviyal! And here’s plenty of rice to go with it!”

“Thank you parents for volunteering,” said Ramnath Sir and turned to the children. “Time to eat, go wash your hands!”

The parents along with Ramnath sir and Sushma didi went around serving the dishes and the children ate heartily.

When they were somewhat satiated, Ishaan was the one who said aloud, to nobody in particular, “I have a question!”

“Ask!” said Ramnath Sir. “Questions come up in intelligent minds!”

“How come Sneha’s father cooks aviyal and brings it to school?” asked Ramdas. “Doesn’t he go to office?”

“He must have taken leave today!” said Prakash Kumar.

“Uncle must be working on second shift,” said Umesh. “My father works on night shift too!”

“You’re all wrong,” said Sneha’s father. “I don’t go to office; I work from home – on my computer!”

“You cook too?” asked Raghav.

“Yes, I do all the cooking at home, I like it!” said Sneha’s father. “My wife goes to work in her office, I stay at home!”

The children exchanged glances and looked at Sneha as if she were an object of interest in a showcase. Sneha, on her part, felt embarrassed as if she was on the stage and forgotten her lines!

“Times are changing, children,” it was Sushma didi who changed the subject. “Now women do all kinds of work, not just cooking, housekeeping like old times; look at me, don’t I leave home and come to school?”

Sneha’s father explained cheerfully, “I cook because I’m good at it and I like it!  The way some of you are good at Maths or badminton or singing or boxing – given a choice, won’t you love to continue in that line?”

“My mamaji is a good cook, he runs  a hotel,” said Meenakshi.

“When there’s a wedding in the family and we call the halwai- – aren’t most of them gentlemen?” asked Sneha’s father.

“Men or women, one should do what one is good at!” said Ramnath Sir. “You all have heard of illustrious women like Indira Gandhi, Lata Mangeshkar, Margaret Thatcher and others. Imagine what would have happened to this world if they all had stayed at home cooking!”

The Principal walked in unexpectedly.

With a cheerful smile she said, “Such a thought-provoking discussion, Class V, well-done!”

The students, staff and the volunteer parents were pleased at the tone of approval in the Principal’s voice.

“Are you ready for an assignment?” she asked.

“Yes, madam!” they said wondering what the assignment could be.

“There’s a saying, ‘think outside the box and new worlds open up! Do your research and identify some celebrities  who dared to think and act differently; they may be well-known   scientists, scholars, artists, technologists or businesspersons today but they followed  their calling, found their path to success. Tomorrow in the morning assembly you’ll be given time to share your findings. Good luck!”

As the Principal walked away, the children too closed their lunch boxes and ran to the playground but their mind was already thinking about those who thought out of the box.