The Chapati Song
Words & Music by Neil Pike 1997

Colabah child, she's born of strife, beggar on the streets of Bombay
Angelic smile and a broken life. "Buy me food, please sir." she say.
All the tears in all the oceans won't wash away the shame and grief I felt.
I just spent a hundred rupees to buy myself a coloured belt.

Small child took me by the hand, led me to a crowded restaurant.
Ordered coca-cola, Masala dohsa all she seems to want.
Told me of her mother, father. Killed in bus crash, 1995.
I just sat there sipping coffee, holding back the tears inside

Round and round and round the world, I can't begin to tell you what I've seen.
Beggars eat from garbage cans, while rich men ride in limousines.
Sweet child, tell us where it is we're going.
Bitter ride upon this globe, I see hunger growing round the world.

Village school in Maharashtra, a hundred smiling faces stare at me.
I sing a song of ancient forest, they answer with a prayer in Hindi.
Feed me full of rice and magic, chapati love until I'm fit to burst.
Eighteen thousand miles I've traveled, this is the greatest joy I've seen on Earth,

Round and round and round the world, I can't begin to tell you what I've seen.
Beggars eat from garbage cans, while rich men ride in limousines.
Sweet child, tell us where it is we're going.
Bitter ride upon this globe, I see hunger growing round the world.


The first time I was in India, I landed in Mumbai and was directed to the backpacker hell-realms of Colaba. After a good night's sleep, I headed into the city centre to see if any money had been wired to me (no such thing as ATMs back then). I was down to about 20 bucks and was starting to sweat somewhat. Unfortunately, there was nothing for me at the Post office so I headed back to Colaba purchasing a woven cloth belt along the way (I've never been wise with money). As I was approaching my hotel, a young beggar child stopped me and started trying to get me to buy some powdered milk for her baby brother.

Naive as I was, I intuitively understood that this was a scam and that whatever I bought would be taken back to the shop as soon as I was gone and that the child would only receive a tiny fraction of whatever money was made. Nevertheless, I was incredibly distressed by this grim example of child poverty (& exploitation) and took the kid to a restaurant, bought her a meal and slipped her some money before leaving. The next day some cash arrived and I caught a train into the hills of Maharashtra to visit & video Rajeev Khedkar and the Academy of Development Science whom the Rainforest Information Centre had been working with for some time. All the way there I was haunted by the memory of the beggar child.

Upon my arrival at ADS, I was shown to my accomodation and pretty much left to my own devices for a few hours. By this stage, I was very hungry. The small amount of cash that had arrived from home had only really covered my train fare & hotel bill and I hadn't eaten much for a few days. This seemed weirdly appropriate but nevertheless we privileged westerners aren't quite as immured to hunger as many of this planet's inhabitants... my stomach was growling loudly.

A quiet knock on the door was followed by the appearance of a beautiful young child. He made the universal gesture for "food" (a semi-closed hand pointing to his mouth) and led me to the dining area where I was fed a good meal of rice, dahl, veggies & chapati. At the end of this, I was taken to a classroom full of healthy, happy children. I sang one of my songs to them which they very politely listened to. Then they sang a song back to me in Hindi.

By this time, I'd been away from home for many months and travelled extensively through Europe & the US. It was my first time out of Australia and throughout my travels, I'd become increasingly aware of the disparity between the "haves" & "have-nots" everywhere. The encounter with the beggar child in Mumbai had been the final straw. I was unable to see any kind of way out of this horrific world-wide scenario.

The classroom of well-fed kids (and the simplicity, love & joy with which they fed & welcomed me) were an epiphany that answered all my inner turmoil. My mood swung from despair to hope. Here was a small group of well-intentioned people doing their best to make a difference... and achieving it.

Naturally enough, I wrote a song about it.

As a song-writer I know that most of my "catalogue" is created from craft & hard work. Only a small percentage comes from genuine inspiration. When that happens, the song usually arrives fully formed and needs little or no editing. The Chapati Song is one of those and I'm eternally grateful to Rajeev & the ADS for facilitating that and in the process rekindling my hope.

Seven years later, I returned to ADS. This time to video an Adivasi group called the Katkari. The Katkari (like all the Adivasi) are the original inhabitants of India. Like indigenous people everywhere, they've suffered under the yoke of successive waves of conquest and had their rights & homeland stripped from them. The last conquerers (the British) enshrined their under-caste status into law, legislating them as a "criminal tribe". A hundred or so years later, they're still a largely disenfranchised & discriminated-against people but (unlike many indigenous groups worldwide) at least on paper they have land rights. Unfortunately though, many cannot read and are in no position to (re)claim their land. Rajeev Khedkar and the ADS were then engaged in enabling the Katkari in getting these landrights.

Once again, I was deeply moved by my encounter with Rajeev and the work he and his group were doing. We travelled to various Katkari villages and documented the process. As is often the case with people at the "bottom", the Katkari had a joy & resilience that's sadly lacking in many of the middle & elite classes. Nevertheless, they were severely disadvantaged by their lack of land and the prejudice they suffered under. Rajeev understood this and was doing his best to change this imbalance. Inspired & saddened, I returned home to my privileged western lifestyle.

Twelve years later, we received word that the Katkari had finally secured their landrights. Rajeev had now been working with an NGO called SOBTI and after much struggle their work was finally bearing fruit and "will help resolve the insecure village land issue in at least 600 - 700 Katkari villages".

Of course, the work is ongoing and there's much more to be done but once again I'm incredibly inspired by the great job they have done & continue to do now. People like Rajeev Khedkar should be an inspiration to us all and if we can help in any way I believe we should.

Neil Pike, 2016.



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