Chocolate & Charity in India

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I live down the street from “The Chocolate Man” aka “The Chocolate Stand” or ‘Trupti’s,” a much-loved and very packed little storefront whose proprietor, wife,  son and daughter-in-law roast coffee, special-order pasta, organic jam and soy milk for Western tastes and have a little business making their own chocolate. The 40-80 rupee bars, coming in flavors such as chocolate-cardamom, dark chocolate almond and chocolate coffee, stave off many chocolate Jones. Otherwise, the chocolate in India isn’t quite up to US or European standards (albeit Cadbury has a large presence here) and tends to look but not taste that chocolaty. That isn’t to say Indians don’t love their sweets! Sugar dominates cups of chai and coffee and is whipped into plenty of ghee-heavy local delicacies. The price paid is a high rate of diabetes (India leads the world in number of people with diabetes) and tooth decay.

Most likely due to my mom diligently giving us fluoride as children, I’ve made it through my life thus far without getting a cavity.  When I went to the dentist here they reminded me to rinse, but opined I didn’t need a cleaning ‘unless you insist.’
This week I’ve been back at the dentist, albeit helping take some of the children from Operation Shanti who need dental care to their appointments.  These children spent much of their young lives on the street before coming to Karunya Mane, OS’s shelter for children in need, and the concept of a toothbrush is fairly recent to their thinking. As such, many have cavities already— only one girl of the few I took to the dentist Wednesday didn’t need a filling. Instead, she received a cleaning and a good talking to about brushing up and down.
“They are very cooperative,” the dentist noted as the last one got up from the chair.
And they were! As well as surprisingly joyful and easy with themselves. They loaded into the rickshaw with me, holding on tight as we bumped along, and stuck their noses to the wind like dogs in a convertible, inviting the sounds and the views of the fields and roadside sheds we passed selling meals and puffed treats and chai. I marveled at how wise and wonderfully in the moment and far beyond their years they seemed. They took their turns in the dentist chair without whimpering at the drill, shrugged off their procedures like it was no big deal, and delighted in my iPhone photo album as we waited in the lobby.


“Friend?” they asked, pointing to photos of my loved ones in the states. “Friend,” I said. Every time a photo of a friend’s child came up they jumped, cheered, clapped and smiled.
Back home at KM, they clambered out of the rickshaw, smiled and waved to me, and were off to their beds without a backward glance.

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