By Rohan Narine
As a British-Guyanese-American of Indian and South Asian interfaith ancestry from Queens, I sometimes unknowingly become the center of attention at posh parties. Now aware, I relish time and don comfortable cloth to tell a story or two at these parties. On Saturday, April 7th, 2018, Sadhana, the most trolled Progressive Hindu organization in the world, held its very first beach cleanup of the year. Surprisingly, to the detriment of haters, they actually did real and tangible work. They volunteered from the heart which led to magic and mystery. This story, told at a wedding reception one posh evening at some fancy country club castle estate chateau in New Jersey, is a recollection of that magic and mystery.
So, if you may not have known, my wife is not your average human. She’s quite the star. Combining beauty sprinkled with a dash of lawyer, Aminta has the gift of turning convoluted theory into earthly pragmatism. Being able to distill deep diving and often-divisive Vedic philosophies into simple words and actions is a gift that must be witnessed to be believed. On this day, Project Prithvi’s first beach cleanup of the year, Aminta carefully pieced together a devotional ceremony to Mother Earth, and led through her kindness a beach cleanup dedicated to a living planet that loves all faiths. From one volunteer came two, then four, then eight, then sixteen, and then it sort of didn’t double to thirty two okay, but about twenty five people in all bore the freezing wind chill, without a budget for marketing or promotional material. The magic had begun.
A little before 10:00am, one of the first to arrive on the scene at the world-famous gazebo in Jamaica Bay’s parking lot was Timothy Farrell, a National Parks Service Ranger so quiet that he disappears in to the background of the cleanups better than Waldo in a Where’s Waldo puzzle. With him was his sidekick model-faced socialite Rick Jenkins. Together they represent the best that the National Parks Service has to offer. Their personalities also jive at exactly the right times, gifting them the nuance of keen listening. Luck, for some reason or another, always seems to be on their side.
On this inaugural Saturday morning, the cleanup started on time, gave way to a naturally growing group of volunteers, and garnered a strong turnout from Parks Service advocacy. But, it was cold, like when your butt hits a wintry toilet seat in a public bathroom. There was just no warmth that day. One mother and daughter duo, Shaneeza and Feona, went back in to their vehicle to warm their hands, and that was at 11:00am, just one hour in. Only about 20 garbage bags had been filled, and over a handful of Murthi’s collected. Sensing an energy, I suggested to Aminta that perhaps the cleanup should end a bit early. Aminta hoisted the idea up to a vote by the volunteers, and even Rangers Tim and Rick agreed. So, instead of ending at 1:00pm, at 11:15am Aminta decided to throw in the sari and call Sadhana’s first inaugural beach cleanup over. She then expertly delegated staff who in turn led volunteers to regroup at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, about one mile away, for lunch. It was 37 degrees.
Once everyone who was hungry corralled, car-pooled, and parked in the Refuge’s lot, they were given a glimpse into another world. Inside was a receptionist who at times rotated front desk duty with a Park Ranger, restrooms with open doors for visitors who needed a rinse from the rough outdoors, and glass enclosed fossils of crustaceans often found alongside broken Murthi’s at the Bay. There were even sightings of white people. Once assembled in the de facto art gallery, tables and chairs were causally pulled out to accommodate. Placed on the table were two aluminum trays of Guyanese-style chickpeas and one partially filled plastic container of authentic wiri wiri pepper sauce from, you guessed it, Guyana. As the line formed, Ranger’s Tim and Rick heard that Guyanese-style chickpeas were on the menu and unhesitatingly flew in like Iron Man and War Machine trying to rescue an infinity stone.
All thanks go to Sadhana’s self-appointed Sous Chef Babita Rampersaud who graciously served her chickpea creation to warm volunteers in small Styrofoam bowls (next cleanup they were biodegradable). Lunch never tasted better. Volunteers are always given the opportunity to network at the cleanups, and lunch is mostly when it happens. This post-cleanup luncheon I had pleasure of meeting Ms. Mala Tiwari’s two sons Yogesh and Mohanesh (also known as Andrew and Ryan here in America). I didn’t get the chance to speak to Yogesh that much, but Mohanesh, a smart handsome future scientist about half my age, had a phone that was twice as powerful as mine. I made it my purpose to inform him that my birthday is in November, twice.
As lunch gradually concluded, and thinking no one paid any mind to that small plastic container of wiri wiri, Ranger Tim, who waited for everyone else to finish eating, picked up a bowl of chickpeas, mysteriously focused his gaze on the pepper sauce and liberally poured two spoonful’s all over his lunch. I think I saw the Styrofoam in his bowl begin to melt. Everyone’s energy shifted to him in slow motion, their eyes opened wide, their mouths opening wider, all simultaneously gasping in horror over what had happened: a bowl full of chickpeas just went to waste.
One volunteer said, “You can’t eat that, you know that, right?” Another said, “You’ll have to throw that away. That’s too much pepper. Just grab another bowl.” I told him, “It’s cool bro, you didn’t know. It’s not your fault.” Tim looked at me and without blinking said, “No, I know. It’s alright. I like the spice. I love hot foods.” Everyone in the gallery looked at Tim, confused. Was he trying to save face knowing he ruined his meal? But to the amazement of us all, he did the unthinkable. He took a bunch of chickpeas oozing with pepper and ate it without flinching. He just kept on chewing, swallowing, and chewing some more. Tim kept that cycle of what everyone thought was taste bud birth and death going until he finished it…all of it.
Tim is a quiet guy at Sadhana’s beach cleanups. He mostly smiles, greets everyone with kindness, and packs up at the end right on time, every time. He subtly disappears into the background, functioning like a computer’s random access memory, always performing anew each time it’s rebooted. However this time around, seeing him take down the wiri wiri peppered chickpeas without searching for a sip of water, I thought two things: he’s either faking it or he’s the real deal. But my wife, my sister-in-law Hemma, and everyone else who embraced their chairs upon seeing the sight could only confirm the impossible: Ranger Tim reappeared to us all with a tongue shielded from the wiri wiri. Maybe while cleaning the Bay Mother Durga or Mother Kali granted him a boon? Who’s to know? To me, it’s all still quite mysterious.