Originally posted in February 2012
While I continued to have fun with my ‘oven-derful’ biscuit making experiences, I was also enjoying my stint of freelance writing with the Burrp! magazine. However, the fact that writing would become a medium for one of the most fulfilling things I have done in my life so far, was unknown to me when I visited the Founder of Search Years, an NGO in Gurgaon, working towards the overall development of children from villages in Haryana, India. Their center, known as Kalasthali, is where vocational skills and art are used as a conduit to instill confidence and also create employment channels. As I chatted with Mr Shelat and gathered information for my next writing assignment covering this NGO, the casual conversation turned towards volunteering and teaching a skill to some young girls so that they can get better jobs after completing their schooling. Before I realized, I had shared that baking was a hobby (slowly turning into a passion!) and though I was teaching myself, I could take out time once a week to conduct classes…
As I look back today, it seemed like an impulsive and very intimidating thought at that point in time. After all, I wasn’t a trained baker and there were nuances I was still learning, so to think that I can teach a set of enthusiastic young girls, was fairly daunting. Panic attacks before each class even after almost 6-7 months, still seem to be a regular feature, and I think it is because of the nature of my commitment towards this.
This wasn’t about fun; it was about getting another set of individuals as energized and excited as I was about baking…especially considering that they didn’t have the kind of equipment I had at home to practice on or the kind of stress-free environment that I could bake in. But creating that sense of fun for a few hours once a week wherein they could also learn a skill that might become a passion and a career choice, was an indescribable feeling…it couldn’t get better than that when it came to feeling truly fulfilled.
A friend donated the equipment we needed to kick-start the classes. They began in August 2011, amidst lots of enthusiasm which over a period of time has only grown, not dropped or waned. When I started the classes, I was a baker relying heavily on the equipment available…as the classes proceeded, I learned elements from the girls that would work better in their homes, so for example, making the cake in a pressure cooker, since ovens or microwaves were not present in their homes. That was how a lot of women in India baked ( and still do), some years ago, since suitable ovens were not readily available in the markets or even if they were, they could be very expensive.
One of the classes was held just before Diwali (the festival of lights and a New year for most Indians) and the girls and I wanted to bake something symbolic. So we baked chocolate muffins which essentially symbolize the brown ‘diyas’ or clay lamps and made designs on it with yellow colored buttercream icing , to indicate light. Believe me – what these girls created was a piece of art and it certainly didn’t seem like these were made by students who were learning this for the first time and usually had no opportunity or equipment to put their learning into practice except during the weekly classes…the sense of pride I felt at the end of this class, was incomparable. It surpassed all levels of excitement I have ever felt in the past for any of my baking successes!
I started looking forward to my Sunday mornings when I walked into the center and was greeted by faces brighter than the afternoon sun , excited sounds of laughter filtering through the amphi-theatre and children across age-groups surrounding me as I taught, offering to become ‘tasters’ for the output of the day’s class.
The highpoint of my last year came towards the end – as I walked into the center, there were shouts of “cake wali ma’am” and a bunch of little children running to greet me….perhaps I would never bake like a trained baker with perfection, but each time I baked during the classes or even prior to the classes (to prepare well before I taught something!), I baked with love and true joy, because I knew that each such class meant so much to the girls who came to learn the skill and nurture it into a passion as well as an occupation.
More about these classes as we go along…