Let us introduce you to our new part of Aljezur.Life. Stories of Aljezur.
Locally written stories, reports and tales all happening in beautiful area of Aljezur from Odeceixe till Carrapateira. And even beyond. The area of the natural park of the Costa Vicentina and all humans living here from all over the world make the best stories and we will provide them a platform to share their awesomeness.
If you believe we need to hear your story, your neighbor is a local hero or the world needs to read and hear your words. Please contact us and let’s share it.
LOCAL HERO – Shail Lall
Local Hero is a series of interviews presented by Weronika Maria Kostrzewa who started her career as a journalist in Poland. After getting her master degree in journalism and communication and after few years of working in media, marketing and hospitality, she decided to continue her education within meditation and Yoga, and traveled the World. She is a disciple of the Tibetan Buddhist master of tantra: His Holiness Karmapa XVII Thaye Dorje. Today Weronika is a resident of Portugal, teaching mindfulness and the complete practice of Yoga.
WHY LOCAL HERO?
In the traditions coming from the East, „Local Hero” may be seen as Bodhisattva – the compassionate being who commits its life into service of helping the others on the path to full awakening. In the West, people tend to call it an Angel. Weronika sees it as the living being with a healthy mind and little ego.
Soon more interviews with the Local Heros living in the neighborhood of Costa Vicentina Natural Park in Portugal will be coming up. Her idea behind this publicity is to share with the local community the understanding of one consciousness.
Some of us know Shail already as one of the best kitchen chefs in Aljezur. Her delicious Indian goodies, like: samosas, tiki, lassi and other snacks together with the masala tea are available to taste at the „farmers market” on Saturdays. The breakfast with her hand-made food became a weekly tradition of many „Aljezurians”, including myself. Shail is very easy to recognize because of her warm attitude, calm voice and beautiful, honest smile. But what inspired me to interview her was a day when she refused to take money for her food, saying:
„Today I offer my meals for free! Enjoy and tell me what you think, please!”
That was the moment when I recognized her as the LOCAL HERO and decided to get to know her better. I was curious what are Shail’s reasons of doing what she does. And of her trust in people. Why does she spend her time in order to cook for us and doesn’t always ask for money? Here are the answers to these questions, including many of Shail’s little-big secrets.
Weronika: Good morning, Shail.
Shail: Good morning, Weronika. Here is a tea for you together with some warm tiki. Help yourself, please.
W: Thank you very much for having me here, at your home. And for accepting the invitation for that interview. I must say that I feel honored to be your guest. Let me start our chat with the question related to your name: Shail. What does it mean?
S: Well, Shail means a mountain. Or a rock. My father decided that he will call me that before I was even born. Shailaputri* is also one of the many names of Shiva’s wife.
W: That sounds very interesting. I often refer students of Yoga to „Tadasana”, the mountain pose, explaining that mountain is well grounded but connected to the sky or Universe at once. The mountain transmits all the energies up and down but it also stays in the great stillness.
S: Yes, that is right. It refers also to the strength. I think I stand up to that expectations.
W: I do not know you very well yet but I think so too. I know only the obvious things about you: that you are from India and that you are one of the best kitchen chefs in Aljezur. Where are you from exactly?
S: I was born and brought up in the capital of India: Delhi. It was my home until I was 19 years old, that is when I got married. Then I moved to England where we stayed for about 12 years, so my son Sean was born there too. My husband is a surgeon, that is why we were moving from place to place many times: Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland and many other places.
W: Was your marriage „traditional” what in India means arranged?
S: Absolutely, yes. My family was always telling me that I will have the marriage arranged unless I tell them that I do not feel good about it or that I have somebody special in my life. I was not forced.
W: Knowing the Indian culture a little, I must say that you were very lucky to have a choice.
S: Yes, indeed. My parents have already known the family of my future husband, so when we met before the wedding, we liked each other from the first sight.
W: When did you decide to move to Aljezur in Portugal?
S: I did not choose Aljezur. It has been an idea of my son and his wife Meenakshi. It happened few years ago. They decided to come here and they invited me to join them. At first I was not interested in that move because I was in Canada. In that time all my life was there, I felt I was from there too. But after some time I realized that it is luck to have children who want their mother to be close. I decided that I will give Portugal a chance for 4 weeks at first under one condition: that I will have Internet right away, to stay connected. But I fell in love with Portugal during the first week already. The people were so nice! It was not about the place, that is of course beautiful. To me it has been the people who made it so beautiful. And now I think it has been an amazing change in my life.
W: Does it mean that you made friends very quickly in Portugal?
S: It means that wherever I went, I felt the love. I saw it in the eyes of people. It was an amazing feeling. For instance, the lady who lives in the apartment above me is one year older than me. She does not speak a word in English and I do not speak a word in Portuguese. I was invited to visit her and at first I was scared that I will not know what to do there. I took my iPad with me, so whatever I thought, I translated. And we stayed there chatting for 4 hours.
W: Beautiful example. If there is a will, there is a way!
S: Yes! Now I can say that we are friends. When we meet, she asks to visit her again and if I can not come, she is a bit sad. That is how the people are in here.
W: Sounds like you are not only a strong person, like the mountain but also very open for the new. You had traveled a lot and lived in many places. Could you tell me something about the cultural influences that made you the person who you are now?
S: I was born as a Hindu and educated in that tradition, of course. But I was always surrounded by the right people in the right time, so my understanding of life was developing accordingly. It feels like I was born on the right path by the Nature: always guided to the next place. As an adult, I had no particular philosophy that I belonged to but I always loved the teachings of Buddha. And of Ghandi. And, of course, I had my belief in the God. I surrender myself to God. Or to the Nature. Or however you want to call it.
Everybody is a Guru
W: Did you find that natural guide inside of yourself or was it coming from the outside?
S: Everybody is a Guru but the understanding of it all came to me from the outside. My father, as a great leader, was always talking a lot about spirituality. Sometimes people would fall asleep but something was always captured and stayed. The same thing happens now with Sasha, my grandson, who is often behaving silly. But it doesn’t matter because he is watching us and at some point he will grow and reach it. When some knowledge will be needed, he will have it because he experiences it everyday. I know it because it happened to me too. When I was 7 or 8 years old a great master of Yoga, Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, moved next door to our house. He started teaching us and I could not believe how much of the body movement one can do. I started teaching Yoga when I was 11. But it was not up to me, it was just happening that way. Right people, right places – all the time like that. I think I just have a good luck.
W: Good Karma?
S: Yes, good Karma. I have done nothing. Just following the Nature.
W: According to the teachings of Buddha or even Hinduism, if one is born in such great conditions, it has to be the result of your good past life-times. Do you have any memories from your previous life?
S: There is such a possibility because that is what I was told, of course. But I do not know anything about the past or future. I only know that I am happy today. And it has been like that all my present life.
W: Being with you today assures me that your personal happiness does not come from luxurious life-style, expensive clothes or fancy objects…
S: Oh Gosh, please, no! But I can’t decide for everyone. Maybe there is someone who feels happy with an expensive clothes or cars, or something like that? If that makes him or her really happy, everything is fine. Hopefully it is not there because of the ego or to show off, otherwise it will become a source of suffering. But I don’t think I could tell anyone how to be happy because, in my case, it is just a natural state. Nature brings it to me. I have some silly things that I like too, for example: tennis. I don’t play tennis but I follow the games. Roger Federer – I am crazy about him! Yesterday he played in the finals in America, so I had to wake up in the early morning to take my iPad and check the results. Thanks God he was still in the game! I was cheering for him, walking around and saying „Yes, yes, yes!”. Sasha was looking at me strange. Probably at my age I should not be doing this (laughing). But that makes me happy, what can I do?
W: That had to be funny view indeed. To be able to see the world so joyfully, you must have healthy mind. Do you think it has something to do with the healthy body or your diet as well?
S: My son says that. He thinks that I am so because I have the right diet. But I am not sure about that. I do meditation every day and that helps me to remain in that state of mind. When something negative comes into my mind, I immediately say sorry to God and that helps me too. I don’t let those things to grow. But again, I don’t take any credits for that. It has to be the Nature.
Meditation is the key
W: How important is the practice of meditation in your life?
S: It is the most important thing. It keeps me on that path. I have no alarm clock but I wake up at 4 A.M. naturally and my mind tells me to start the practice. I do that also for the body. I don’t practice on Fridays and Saturdays because I am working, so on Sunday my body tells me already that it needs stretching. And my mind needs some rest too, so I sit and meditate. The mind gets calm again. Yoga and meditation – they are the most important in my life. Maybe also that I am not eating after 5 P.M.
W: Would you agree that, if every child had a chance to learn how to practice that calm state in the mind, the world we live in could possibly be more joyful place?
S: I agree with that 100%. If we could teach the children how to reach that state in meditation, the world would be a success. And that is possible. We just have to teach each other, one after another, how to get there. Patiently. When I was at school, before the classes started, we all would be doing that: praying, meditating – everyone in its own way. Keeping the mind in that discipline and peace for few minutes. Once you had that experience, it comes back whenever it is needed in life. By Nature.
W: Thank you for that inspiring answer. Let’s move now to the topic of the delicious Indian food that you cook for our local community. That activity is the reason why the people know you here. Could you share where you learned how to make such a tasty food?
S: Nobody taught me cooking actually. When I was a child I was watching the cook of my family working in the kitchen. But after I got married, the first party we did at our house in England was a complete culinary disaster. The food was really awful. Fortunately my husband said it was all good, so I kept on trying and slowly learned how to cook. 2 or 3 years later people started saying: „Oh, Mrs. Lall has a party, we have to go!”. It has been so because they liked the food so much (laughing). That is when cooking became my hobby. And afterwards cooking became my real passion that stayed with me until now.
W: You had no teacher of cooking? That is a surprise.
S: Yes, that is right. When we moved to Northern Ireland a lady who lived in the neighborhood told me: „Oh, I have met many Indian woman but none of them cooked such a delicious food as you do!”. That was how she introduced herself to me during our first coffee meeting…
W: Very kind.
S: Right? Who does not like to receive compliments? That was the beginning of our relation. And then she started to teach me the English etiquette: how to set up the table, how to sit and so on. I follow that rules until today.
W: I saw it when we took a sit today – you look very elegant.
S: Yes, those things stayed. She would say things like: „Oh no, darling! You need to polish the silvers every week! Every Monday is the delivery day. The sandwiches you make like that… Serviettes must be served that way…”. She taught me a lot. But the teacher number one was my mother in law. I had never met a better person.
W: Your mother in law? That is not so common.
S: I don’t know why it is like that but I know what you mean. Yes, my mother in low taught me the etiquette of the family and relations. I had not such a big family myself, so I did not know many things. She explained me that when I need something, I better speak to her, instead of the father. That was a great support. And right now my biggest teacher is actually YouTube.
W: Sorry, what?
S: YouTube, yes. I learn there everything related to cooking those days.
W: I am happy to hear that because YouTube is also one of my teachers (laughing).
S: I know! There are so many things! Every week I check what is new, even about the samosas that I had been doing since so long. Anything a need to know is there. Especially because we became vegan now, so I need to learn a lot again and everything comes from that YouTube- school. I go through the videos and then I make my own decisions about how to cook. Every week someone from my clients tells me things like: „I can not eat cashew nuts”, so I come back home and check what else I can use for my cakes to adjust to that person.
W: You said „we became vegan now”. Does it mean that the vegan diet is something new in your life?
S: It is present since 7, maybe 9 years. Seon, Meenakshi and Sasha became vegan first. I was always vegetarian but I did not think too much of the animals being used to produce the milk or so. After some time, I started feeling the suffering of those animals too. But my main idea was to eat together with my family. I don’t always have the complete understanding of the things related to the veganism but my son feels it very deeply, so I follow him. Because we are family. For me today many new things became important. For instance, the contamination of the nuts and different kind of allergies that people have. Or the hygienics. I always try do do few extra things for those who can not eat everything. It is not only because of professionalism but also because of the trust. The trust must to remain. And you know what? It is not the samosas that are good. It is the people who live here, all of you who come, accept it and make me feel good. You guys made me feel so big that I can not explain…!
W: Thank you for saying it but it is always both sides – you know that. The conditions came together, so we can meet you, taste your food and you apparently can enjoy us doing it. That common experience is developing and it builds the trust between us, like you mentioned. But it is always coming from both sides.
S: Maybe… yes. I will tell you a story. One day something strange happened. I always add lots of spices and herbs to the filling of my samosas. And before making them, I have a taste of it. But that one day I forgot to taste! I don’t know why. I went to the market and only then Sasha tried one samosa and told me that it is disgusting! There was too much salt. And, oh my God, he was right! But at that moment most of the samosas were already gone. And you know what? Nobody complained. And until today, nobody had never complained about anything. How could that be? You, guys make me feel so big! You are accepting me, coming with the smile… So many people told me: „Oh, we don’t come here because of the market but we come here because of you – we want to have our breakfast with your food.”
W: That is very true! I know some of that people. Probably not everyone knows that it is possible to order your food also during the week days and pick it up from your home. I am guessing that the local community would be happy to discover that fact. Maybe after reading this interview?
S: But I am going for 3 months to Canada now…
W: That is a very bad news for us, indeed. Fortunately you will be back at…
S: At the end of August probably.
W: I would like to know your personal opinion about the vegan or vegetarian diet. Why is it your choice?
S: I simply think it is healthier. The way the animals are raised in the factories, how many hormones and chemicals are inside of them… Even if you do not think of their pain and suffering, you must know that the meat today is poisonous. As simple as that.
W: Somehow most of the global society prefers to stay ignorant to that knowledge and eat meat – no matter what. Probably it is because of the cultural conditioning that turns into the addiction.
S: Maybe. But I do not think that people are that naive any more today. The knowledge is available everywhere, so I think that everyone makes its own choice.
W: Many people do not educate themselves, don’t read and don’t try to find independent media. That is a choice too… If you would have the power to create some kind of change on the planet Earth or in the way how it is is being managed by humans, what would you do?
S: It is not that I accept everything that I see but I do not think I can change something apart from myself. I have never thought of changing other people. For now I have not changed myself enough yet to start changing the planet. If one day I become perfect or almost perfect, I will start thinking of it maybe. For the moment I am addicted to sugar and desserts. Every day I tell myself „Oh, no, no! Today no sugar!” and I have sugar again, so… I have too much work to do with myself still. Sugar definitely did not come from the Nature.
W: Very humble answer. It is hard to say „no” to your cakes, I need to admit. Would you say that cooking became your profession now?
S: Probably you could say that because I get a bit of money from it. But cooking is still coming from my heart at first. It is my passion to cook. If I had another source of that money, I would still go to the market every week and do the same thing. That is actually my wish for now. THE WISH.
W: I wish you will get to that point too. Could you please explain how does your system at the farmers market work? When are you asking for the money and when is it donation based?
S: Every week I do samosas and snacks and I charge for them. But once a month I cook some extra dishes that I offer to everyone free of charge. I do not accept any money for it. I want people to enjoy and taste something new. I share my passion. Sometimes all my food has been donation based – that means that the clients could decide how much they would like to pay for it. And every time with my meals I offer the Indian tea without charging for it. Maybe I am being a little bit selfish because it is actually my joy to offer it. It is just nice to share things.
Sharing and caring
W: What makes you the happiest in life?
S: Exactly that! Meeting people and seeing them smiling. Sasha coming to me with a smile. Seon asking, if he could cook for me. Small things, you could say, but they are not small to me. Those things are priceless. When you are feeling healthy, nothing is going wrong. Sometimes I am cooking for 70 hours but even then when I see the people enjoying, I am so happy. That is why I do it.
W: Is there something in your life that you always wanted to do but had no chance to do it yet?
S: Let me think… Seems that all the things were always coming to me. I wanted to travel and I was traveling. I still like it, so I still travel. I can’t think of anything.
W: What you shared just now brings us back to the beginning of that talk, when you said that everything in your life is happening by its own. That you are being guided and follow the Nature.
S: Yes, you are right. I always tell Seon that, if we confuse the Nature with thinking like: „I don’t know what is right for me. Shall I do this or that…?” then the Nature doesn’t know what to give us. And that is when we get lost. But if you say what you want, things happen. It is unbelievable but that is how it works. The Nature knows what to give you before you even put the seed of that thing into your mind. But if you start having confusing thoughts, that is when problems start. I am telling you that just because the Nature does it to me all the time. It is the experience that I have, so I can share that. My father believed in the astrology, palms reading and things like it. He was often telling me and my brothers and sisters that we can never wish anything bad to each other because it will happen too. He was saying that we will get the things that the God wants us to get and that is better to keep thinking positive. That is why before I even start thinking of something bad, I immediately say sorry to God and stop it right on. I am so sorry for it. And the Nature has the ability to decide what to do or what is best. Unbelievable.
W: You told me that you studied. May I ask what did you study and if you had ever worked for someone?
S: Ah, right. I stayed for 3 years at University in India studying Arts. But I did not finish it, as I got married and we left the country. Working, working… there were many small things that I did. But the most important experience I had, was in Canada. I was a student of transcendental meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was an advanced Siddhi practice that I could not afford and that is why I started helping at my teacher’s ashram. I cooked for them, including the summer courses for 150 people. And later on I was asked to take care of 2 small children of one family of the teachers. I agreed to do that for 3 months at first but after all, I stayed with them for years. The mother of that children is that type of person who does everything the right way by her nature: she is a great mother, friend, everything. Best in all what she does. She had never had to shout or tell others what to do. Things were always happening naturally around her. Her children are now 22 and 23 years old and I need to say that they are amazing people too. They live in Canada but they are very close to my heart. That was a paid work but in my heart I had never felt it was work. It was just happening. Again.
W: And how about your husband?
S: We are divorced now.
S: Well, we are still very close friends. I am staying with him every time when I visit India. At some point we both felt that divorce was the right thing to do. Again that was the Nature. But one piece of paper doesn’t mean that our relation is lost. For us it does not matter. Our love, affection and friendship is present.
W: Does it mean that, if you meet an interesting person here in Portugal, would you consider having a new relation again?
S: I do not think that I want to. I am so happy by myself now. I don’t think there is even a smallest chance for it (laughing).
W: Never say never!
S: I agree, I never say never (laughing again). As I said already: I may say never but I do not know what the Nature has prepared for me next. But for the moment that is my answer.
I follow the Nature
W: At this point you present yourself as the mountain again: very strong. Not many woman feel so confident by their own.
S: Yes, I can understand that too. When one has no chance to have so many experiences, then such person does not feel too confident in life. I think many people are lost so much that their confidence goes away. But when one keeps on getting more and more experiences, by the Nature, then strength develops naturally too. When I go to the market on Saturdays and see you all, I feel so good with myself… Do you know that every Friday night I do not go to sleep because I prepare the food for you for so many hours? I spend Friday night in the kitchen cooking. From Friday morning until Saturday I do not have any rest. And every Friday when I do that again, I think: „Next week I am going to take off!”. But then on Saturday when I am at the market, first person comes in and that is when I ask myself: „Why did I think I would not be coming? Look at that affection and smiles!”. This experience boosts me up so much that my confidence can not go away. And it was always like that with me. Every activity was adding into my confidence. It is there without me doing anything. I just follow the Nature.
- * Shailaputri is a Hindu goddess considered as the absolute form of the Mother Nature.
- * Mount Meru is a sacred mountain in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cosmology. Its exact location is officially unknown. It is said that Meru lies in the middle of the Earth or Cosmic Ocean, being surrounded by all the planets but it may be invisible to us. It is believed that Mount Meru will be the last object that disappears once our world will end.