A pile of perfectly round discs of dough flies over my head and at the same time five little soft and warm balls land in front of me with a thud. I am engulfed in a white cloud of flour and look up gasping. Eight men and women laugh with me with love and kindness in their eyes and we get back to work.
To my right a quiet woman in a bright pink sari is efficiently sorting the piles in front of her, throwing the rolled out dough with the precision of a world champion cricket player onto a giant hot cooker next to forty others in the exact order of readiness. A tall strong man with mesmerizing deep green eyes and an indigo colored turban is sitting at the other end of the cooker and flips the nutty smelling and perfectly browned breads into an already overflowing basket and calls for someone take it to the dining hall.
I am in the langar, the big community kitchen of Amritsar’s Sikh Golden Temple, helping to roll chapatis, Indian wholegrain flat bread, for the 50,000 or more pilgrims who will come for a free meal today. Together with the chapati machine we will cook 200,000 chapatis to be served with spicy dal and rice pudding. And that is just for today, a normal Monday.
There is something deeply satisfying and even nourishing with preparing food for others. Gurdwara is the name for a place of worship for Sikhs, a religious community with its source in Punjab, the Northern Indian state with a border to Pakistan. The temples are open to everyone, whether rich or poor, whatever religion, caste or country they belong to. No-one should have to beg, go hungry or sleep on the streets. Each gurdwala offers free food and a space to sleep for everyone. And you only make a donation if you can.
Many volunteer to help sustain the temple. I wanted to make chapatis, others were repairing the roof, cleaning the floors, washing dishes and peeling onions. Everyone is welcome: tourists, elderly women, young men and children, trained chefs, engineers, office workers and housewives.
After two hours of back-breaking work it was time for a rest and a gingery milk tea in a tin bowl sitting on the ground in the afternoon sun outside the kitchens before making our way to the big hall above the kitchens to eat with hundreds of other pilgrims, volunteers and people from Amritsar. And as the man came around again with his big basket of warm chapatis I took one, smiled and felt very, very happy.