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Lunch party for the street kids of Colaba

Jan. 3, 2016

That familiar childhood injunction, ‘Wash your hands!’ came vividly to mind as one followed the line of parents and children forming at the door to the hall of the Holy Name High School. Volunteers with liquid soap and hose pipe helped the invitees wash their hands, while another volunteer gave them a hand-towel to complete the operation. Entry was guaranteed anyway, but everyone gleefully obliged. And they came in numbers, from the wrinkled elderly to the very smallest infant cradled in the arms of mothers who were little more than children themselves.

Once inside, families and friends migrated towards each other and seated themselves in expectancy of what was to come. The event had been arranged and organised by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the parish of the Holy Name and on the agenda were games, snacks, lunch, spot prizes. The children, once they had tucked into Punjabi samosas and chai, took over and the decibels rose higher and higher – the sound of the younger generation dancing and shouting in gay abandon to the Bollywood beat. Jumping, laughing, spinning, every child present was on the floor and every plea for attention from the MC, Fr. Jervis, went unheeded, so he gallantly surrendered to popular demand!! The parents, in the meantime, sat and watched and chatted, for once able to relax in the relatively sheltered environment – a brief respite from daily life.

When the Cardinal entered, some of the women and children spontaneously ran towards him seeking his blessing. No formality here! His Eminence moved among the people, greeting and blessing them. He then led a general prayer, in Hindi, reminding everyone present that Christ came into our world to bring peace, love and hope and that, as one family, we are all brothers and sisters – we celebrate this very specially at Christmas. He prayed that the parents of the children would be able to find work and that the children themselves would get the opportunities to move forward in life. He hoped that the New Year which had just begun would hold out ‘saphalta’, ‘sukh’ and ‘vishwas’ for everyone. The response was a fervent ‘Amen’.

A game was enthusiastically played in which His Eminence participated! Four flags – red, blue, green, yellow – were positioned at four locations and the children had to ‘park’ at a colour of their choice when the music stopped. His Eminence then called out a colour and the children had to sit out the following round. Once the game was over, the children returned to their free spirited revelry and brought their own brand of joy to the occasion. That they were more than capable to lead the entertainment was evidenced by the talent on show when some of them took the mic to belt out their favourite Bollywood numbers, supported by whole-hearted audience participation.

Soon, it was time for the Grace before the repast and the delicious aroma of biryani filled the hall as the plated meal and a fruit were served out.

Post lunch, His Eminence handed out gift hampers to each family. Blankets, sweets and goodies were given as parting presents to the guests as they made their way to their homes under the skies.

Here was the Gospel parable from Matthew come alive – ‘So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find. So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find’ – because this is exactly what the SVP volunteers of the Parish of the Holy Name did, going to every street and inviting the pavement dwellers to come!

And for the pavement dwellers themselves, we hope that this occasion marks the beginning of better things in their meager existence.

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