Melanie makes the most of her stay in Hyderabad but reaching out to the needy is her priority

Her ready smile puts one at ease immediately just like her guffaw warms you up to her when she regales her first time pressure cooking experience. “I didn't know one has to release the pressure before opening the lid. When I forcibly opened the lid, entire rice flew all over the place and I ducked in time to save my face,” says Melanie recalling her first time experience of cooking in a pressure cooker. But what followed then was a taste of Indian trait and character. “All the women in the neighbourhood came running and laughed at my plight, but then later they insisted that I should eat with them and not cook anymore,” says Melanie.

From designing costumes for ballet companies in the US to teaching embroidery and dress-making to the underprivileged women in India, Melanie Kay Wilson Hutchinson has made a journey that a few might describe as gratifying, but she defines her occupation as something she's “so happy doing at this stage of my life.”

“We are so blessed in America, but we don't realise it,” adds Melanie, an observation that stems from her experience in India, specially Kakinada, post-tsunami. Counting her blessings and her days was how she had spent five weeks in 2005, during her first visit to India. She had volunteered to work in the tsunami-hit areas when friends from here requested her to come. “I was in a state of shock initially,” says Melanie, who was visiting a Third World country for the first time. But, within a month she was back in India wanting to be part of the developmental works. Today, Melanie without the support of any NGO or an institution, is involved in empowering underprivileged women and children by sharing her skill in art. She evolved art programmes for children and created seven basic manuals as well. “My goal is to improve quality,” emphasises Melanie who has a degree in Fine Arts and Teaching.

Painting is where she finds solace in when she feels lonely. The number of her works are not an indicating factor to gauge her loneliness though. “Yes, the first year in India was little difficult. I knew nobody here. But in the last four years I've adapted myself well.” She continues, “I'm not the normal American; someone who'd love to socialise, shop…I'm more of a hermit, guarding my private space. People would be very concerned and enquire if everything's ok when I keep to myself. But now I have learnt to make room for people,” says Melanie with a smile.

Melanie, who's yet to travel outside the state, loves Hyderabad's diversity. A non-fussy eater, cuisine here is no special attraction for her. “The food I eat is very bland — no salt, no sugar, no oil, no spice — my children started cooking their own food after they grew up.”

Melanie is frank enough to admit that most Americans come with a ‘we-know-all' attitude and try and implement their method of working here. “I want to change that mindset. The western ways are useless here,” she says.

With 40 of her paintings lying all over her home now, an opportunity to exhibit them might be Melanie's next option.