Friday, December 29, 2006

I should be sleeping, but whatever

Have you ever thought about the forces that shape our lives?
Our parents, our environment, our friends, our mentors, the news and media.
Each welding its hands over force that is our life
How much do we control?
Don't we decide the strength and tensility?
Don't we have a say in what direction it will turn?

But what about the forces we can't see?
What about the the forces that are directed by others towards us?
When I say I trust in the universe, I trust that it will take care of me,
I trust that things will work out, just the way they are supposed to.
They will work out in a way that is best for me and all those around me,
all those whose lives are connected to my own.

But what about when you known a force is in opposition to the way you feel life should be?
they way you think that things ought to be and will be if the universe is looking out for you?
How do you play with the "supernatural" or subliminal forces that others guide.

But wait.
Did I just lose faith?

Faith that I am not alone.
Faith that there is a higher spirit and higher force to which we all belong.
Faith that there is a reason why I am here.
Faith that I can become a vessel through which the work is done.
Faith that even if others think not, the work will continue.
Faith that the universe will take care of me, if I let it run its course.

The faith is not shattered. I do trust.

But why am I not convinced?


While I finish the countless blog entries that are half-way written, here's an email that summarized some stuff:

It's been a while, but you are all in my thoughts. I wish at times that there was a thing that would just write as you think or say because there are so many things I want to share and never find the time to put it all down on paper.

Life is going really well. The thing about India is this – all the ups and downs are so much more amplified and closer together. I'll be on this high for a week or two then coming crashing down and the cycle repeats. I appreciate the highs and the lows and while on one level I do not like being in the lows, I appreciate them tremendously and to some degree have learned to watch them from the outside. The growth that comes from the lows cannot come from any high and integral part of life. Gandhiji says that suffering leads to purification of the soul and it is absolutely true. Why the amplification in ups and downs? I'm in a space where I can focus on service and self, in this state, the process is more "rapid" (wrong word).

A guy named Ankur called Jayeshmama once and said that I'm coming to live with you so I can learn how to be a better human being and he couldn't have said it better. That's exactly what I am doing. That may sound all fluffy, but it's true.

I'm incredibly lucky, I get to meet such inspiring people everyday. Recently I went to South India on a trip with our sevaks (cleaning staff) and kakas from the Environmental Sanitation Institute and Harijan Sevak Sangh (org stated by Gandhi 75 years ago to work for the betterment of so-called untouchables who Gandhi called Harijans or children of God). We went to Tirupati, Madurai and Rameshwaram – three important Hindu pilgrimage centers, in addition to Chennai and Pondicherry. The trip was incredible, not because we visited this holy sites, but because of the people that we met. I had the good fortune of going to Auroville and Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, meeting one of the creators of Tsunamika ( and inmates at the ashram. Humble, serene and spiritually powerful people. In Madurai and Pondicherry, I met Pavi's family, the family that runs Aravind Eye Hospitals. There really are no words to express the love that we received. The hospitals themselves are inspiring places and really more moving that any temple.

Lots has happened over the last few months and I have been horrible at keeping my blog updated. This is a long email so feel free to take a break whenever you like. I want to introduce you all to some important people and things in my life and my world that have not been introduced before.

Sonia Deotto

My housemate and house mother. There are so many and so few words to describe Sonia, but I'll try my best. Hailing from Italy, Sonia is a global citizen. She works with the Dalai Lama, who called her from Italy, promoting peace through art. Sonia is always on the move. If you want to see passion and dedication, Sonia exemplifies it. But amidst the cyclone of activity that is Sonia, there is a pure love and extreme clarity. She recently completed her first of 8 experiments to promote peace through art. It was a 5 step process that connected India and Mexico (two countries that happen to be on exact opposite sides of the world). She connected the tribal community that lives EXACTLY opposite of Sabarmati Ashram through offerings of love, flowers and soils. Sonia is currently in Mexico, working in perilous conditions, in an attempt to bring peace to Mexico. To me, Sonia is a mother. There have been countless moments where she has hit the mark on things that are bothering me or limiting my growth. Truly truly blessed to have someone like her in my life.

Tsunamika dolls

Made from "waste" fabric, these dolls represent hope. At Manav Sadhna, we have turned these dolls into dolls of compassion. They are used to welcome people to Manav Sadhna, to acknowledge people doing good work, give them to people that we meet on the streets and in random places, etc. They are so cute and have so much power, which isn't surprising considering the love and thought that went into creating each piece. The dolls were created out a desire to give women affected by the tsunami something to do as they kept replaying the disaster since they were sitting at home idle. A student at the Upasana Design Studio in Auroville (very cool place) create a doll out of the waste fabric. The dolls were easy enough so the women were given training (many didn't know how to sew) and they began to make the dolls. The women earn an income from making the dolls, yet the dolls are distributed for free. People pay whatever they wish by sending a donation. Amazing power in a little doll.

What am I doing?

I'm working on three main projects than lots of little stuff on the side

1) Service on Wheels

It's a van that will travel the villages of Gujarat, spending 5 days in a village. We will hold exhibits on water/sanitation, anti-addiction, health, female education and empowerment. For five days we will spend time with the village and community trying to raise awareness of issues related to the topics above. We'll be doing stuff like village safai, interacting with the children, etc. Right now we are designing the van and want to launch it in March. I'll prob be spending 2-3 months traveling with the van then.

2) Improving ESI's educational material

I'm giving a facelift to ESI's educational material. Essentially trying to incorporate more technology into it. I was asked to do this in the beginning and found it to be a rather drab job and didn't really do much with it, then a few weeks ago, a friend of a friend of Manav Sadhna comes in saying he wants to do some work with ESI. He turns out to the be president of an animation company that does this great work and already has done some presentations on sanitation! I really wanted to include animation and someone came to us! The awesomeness that is always present at MS/ESI. This works right into the van work.

3) Youth Empowerment

End of October to mid November I was really busy with two youth retreats that were happening at our Sughad campus of ESI. The first was for the leadership program students and teaching fellows from Akanksha (youth from Bombay slums) and the second was for the Rotary Club of Gandhinagar for their youth (children of middle, upper class families). Big contrast in the background of the youth. The first retreat was focused on service MS style, Gandhiji, etc, while the second was a leadership retreat with big name speakers, etc. Different styles of running the retreat. Suresh Patel organized the latter, myself with Jayeshmama's guidance organized the former. Regardless of how different they were both retreats had a similar output- a mindset shift in the youth with regards to doing service. What I realized particularly by the end of the RYLA retreat was the power of the retreat model in creating a mindset shift in youth and igniting a fire in their hearts to do something. I'm blessed to be in contact with incredible everyday. I mean I can call up Jayeshmama, Virenmama, Anarmami, Anand, etc whenever I need to and ask for 30 minutes of their time to talk. But most youth in particular don't meet people like them and even a 20 minute interaction with them is powerful. So why not start with Ahmedabad youth and hold retreats to shift mindsets towards service. Towards seeing India as our country as a nation that we need to work for and serve if we want it to develop. I personally don't have any qualms with you wanting to be a big doctor or lawyer, in fact I wish you the best. What I want to see is these dreams and lives coloured with a tinge of social morality and social responsibility. When more than 60% of this country's youth are under 35, we as an age demographic need to do something. So I'm planning retreats.

What else is new?

Lots more but I can't remember. Come visit and you'll get the whole tour!

My parents are currently in town and bhai and Sej will be here in a week, it's a Patel reunion in India. I am very very behind in my blog, my apologies to those following it.

A friend Anjali (she was an Indicorp who has stayed in India and is now in her 4th year here) is writing a guide book to Gujarat that is coming out in January that you should get a copy of if you are planning to visit Gujarat ever. The guide book is called India Guide.

Another friend and group of people have just launched Shvaas. ( It is an "organization" that is a container for goodness in Ahmedabad. There are amazing people doing amazing so why not create a space where this all came be accumulated, or rather encouraged through the collective that would be created.

The project to build toilets in the slums is going really well. Making progress.

I'm happy. Still trying to strike a balance in lots of aspects of my life. From what seems like the double life (that which I usually live when I visited India) and the one I'm living in India to finding time to focus of self.

Monday, November 20, 2006

[11-01] Akanksha Retreat

The three days went by in a blur. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the closing session where everyone was sharing their thoughts and feelings. One after another, the students expressed their gratitude and learning from the three days and I didn’t know how to react.

For three days, my focus was these participants. To make sure that each thing went smoothly, that they were receiving all that we had to offer. From adjusting the schedule to moving them around, they were all that I could see. I must have lapped around the Sughad campus over a hundred times over the course of the retreat, seeing what needed to be done and checking that things were ready, but never did it feel like a chore. I simply did what needed to be done.

What I heard at the last session blew me away. The participants were in tears because of the love and attention that they had received, from the fireworks at the initial welcome to the dolls at the end during Secret Angel reveal. I had forgotten the power of one’s first interaction with Manav Sadhna and Jayeshmama. But they had more to share about than just Jayeshmama and Manav Sadhna. They were also talking about me, about the love and care that they received. I was dumbfounded. A girl spoke of not having any sisters, but she received the love of a sister from me. Others would now always think of me when they heard Raghupati Raagav Raja Ram.

Nirali had given me the idea – wake them up with a prabhat pheri (going around and singing bhajans accompanied to soft music). I didn’t wake any of the MS volunteers, but Ellie woke to join me in the morning. We went around singing and putting our hands on each participant’s head to wake them up. Later the Manav Sadhna guys were complaining to me about the morning singing session, so the second day, I hesitated and ultimately, did not go around waking the participants by singing. But the one day was enough. My thick voice had been music to their ears. The experience of been woken up with so much love and positivity was something most would not forget. At the end of the retreat, they insisted on me singing Raghupati Raagav one more time.

After they gathered their belongings, we congregated in the front lobby- holding hands and standing in a circle. “Didi, you never sung the song,” they said right before we closed our eyes and prayed. When the last lines of Shanti were spoken, I took out the bookmarks (their parting gift) and went around the circle, singing Raghupati Raagav Raja Ram. The group joined in and waited as they received their momento. Earlier that day, Jayeshmama, Nirali and I were thinking of how to close the retreat. A bowing walk amidst other things were suggested, ultimately we decided to see what happens. None of the ideas was used. What we did was simple and beautiful, there could not have been a more appropriate way to end.

Before the retreat, I had been in a negative space for some time and was slowly coming out of it. The retreat gave me a focus and an opportunity to submerge myself in something outside of myself. At one point, during the planning, I had thought why did Jayeshmama give me this to coordinate- I didn’t know how to do a spiritual dinner and they are so many MS folks who have been through a spiritually oriented MS retreat, so why me. I simply wanted the retreat to be over, so I could work on my other projects. Ultimately, I understood.

I had not done anything intentionally over the three days. I sat with the students, talked about my own experiences and listened to theirs. My job was to make sure they were getting all that they needed and that’s what I did. There was no conscious thought process that led me to think that now I will selflessly serve. It just happened. By submerging myself in the moment, I was able to give everything I had, which included my love. I only realized that what I had selflessly serviced after the fact when others, who I highly respect, brought it to my attention.

The learnings from the retreat by no means were one-way. Each Manav Sadhna worker walked away learning something from the interaction as well. I personally, realized, yet again, the importance of all the small details as I saw and heard the impact they had on the participants. People from Manav Sadhna found the inspiration to improve their English and other skills sets. If not all, atleast a few Akanksha students and teachers left Ahmedabad with a different perspective on life, self and seva. In three days, so many preconceptions and ideas were thrown out the window. Some really began to learn the power of love, the heart and selfless service.

[10-30] Search for Good

Day 2- Akanksha Retreat.

Day 2 of the retreat was called Project Day, but in reality it was Process day. The activity for the day – a Search for Good Walk. A walk with a compassion kit full of things to give to people, no money and no set path. We had to find our own food if we wanted food and besides that, the only and most important, part of the instructions – walk with our hearts open.

I had never done such a walk on my own with the find your own food element, so it was going to be an experiment in faith in the universe. Food, by the way, is becoming an increasingly large hurdle that I need to start overcoming. I’m finding my self-restraint with respect to food decreasing. Thus, in all honesty, I was a little worried about the find your own food, but at the same time knew I needed to trust the universe.

Our walk was comprised of many incidences, a few stick out that I will recount here. As we crossed Subhash Bridge, out of habit, I began to pick up trash, Shirajul, Milan and Amar joined in. We walked and clean, while keeping our hearts and eyes open for people to assist. As we passed some vegetable vendors, they looked at us in confusion and stopped to ask us what we were doing. We talked to them about taking responsibility for our city, which is our home and then continued on our way.

After a little way, we came across another cart. A man was selling bananas. Something was different though- there was no trash near his cart, instead he had put a plastic bag on his cart where customers threw their banana peel. We were so impressed by the cart that we had to stop and talk to the man. “I’m educated,” he said when we commented on the cleanliness. “I know how important it is to keep clean.” What is an well-educated man doing running a banana cart?, we all thought. He had a good job at one point, but when he was laid off, he couldn’t find any work. So the he took up a selling fruits. He lives with his son, daughter-in-law and wife in a small home near Sabarmati.

Questions continued in our mind. How was he content with this life? He passed his time reading the newspaper, reading religious articles. His knowledge of spirituality was very impressive. Amar asked him to read something from the newspaper that lay at his feet and so he did. Where the half hour passed talking to him, we did not know, but we realized it was time to move on. The interaction brought more light to the conditions faced by the lower middle class, what about opportunities for them. To express our appreciation for the man and the example he was setting by maintaining the cleanliness of his surroundings, we came him a blanket. It would come in use since he was sleeping outside of his house since his daughter and family were visiting.

As we walked on, a conversation about cleanliness and how one person can be instrumental in changing attitudes came up. What the banana cart man was doing was setting an example. Not conforming to the regular practices of other vegetable and fruit vendors. For his himself or not, he was doing his part to keep the city clean.

Amar pointed out an old woman sitting on the middle of the road divider so he went up to talk to her. Between his understanding of village Hindi and my knowledge of Gujarati, we learned her story. The woman lives by herself and supports herself by begging. A companion beggar came to fill in the details. While we had t-shirts and hygiene kits, what the woman needed was some food, so we spent some money to get her some food. After combing her hair, we went on.

“Didi, can we go this way,” Amar asked, pointing to the road that veered away from the main road we were on. “Of course, it’s your walk.”

We continued picking up trash and soon we found ourselves in the middle of a community. We entered at the corner of large open space, covered in trash. Soon a crowd of boys surrounded us and began asking us what we were doing. The Akanksha youth were a little intimidated so I decided to step in and do some crowd control. We explained the obvious- we were picking up trash because it was dirty. More dialogue ensued about the need to keep their space clean, however no one felt the desire to join us. After a few minutes the Akanksha youth began to speak also and I continued with trash picking. Crowds began to form around each of us as we dispersed and picked up trash. At one corner of the open field stood large brown dumpsters. We collected as much as we could hold and walked the trash over to the dumpster. On one hand, it seemed like a futile attempt as there was so much trash, but the ocean is made up of small droplets of water.

A large crowd surrounded me again, literally forming a circle of 2 feet diameter around me. I stepped forward and the crowd stepped back, reassuming the circle, not a pleasant situation if one was claustrophobic. In my mind, for a second a fear formed about large crowds, but it disappated as I reminded myself to work from the heart. Some men began to ask what I was doing and again I explained the obvious- I was picking up trash and putting it in the dumpster. The man was skeptical. What’s the reason you’re here? Who do you work for? There is a reason you’re here, you wouldn’t just pick up trash like this? Despite the fact that there was a small Manav Sadhna logo on my compassion T-shirt, I did not want to associate with any organization. I see trash so I’m putting it in the right place, I responded, but the man would not believe. Let him choose his truth, I thought and continued picking up trash. One of the youth began to shoo the crowd away and we continued with our work.

The four of us regrouped and began walking, away from the open field towards the opposite corner from where we entered. A crowd began to follow us. At one point we stopped. Do you have any questions, we asked. The crowd looked at us in silence. We turned to each other and began to use our humour. Do I have anything suck on me? I struck a pose. Maybe there is something wrong with the way we look, we turned a circle with our hands out. The crowd laughed. Finally a woman in the back asked, what are you doing? So we explained. We talked to the kids. About the size of the field and how much fun it would be to play there, if it wasn’t dirty. The kids were somewhat responsive. When we felt it time, we moved on.

The crowd continued to follow us. Some male youth again shooed them away. As the numbers dwindled, Milan came beside me. “Didi, they are saying bad things.”

I turned to her with love, “There are always going to be people who don’t like what you are doing. You need to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to what they do and say. Remember what you are doing and why you are doing it. The critics will be many, it’s important to stay grounded.”

She listened intently and walked in silence.

A boy comes up to us and tells me that some women in the gulley were calling us over. We oblige. “Why aren’t you talking to us, you talked to the children?”

“What questions do you have?”
“Explain what you’re doing.” So we did. As we got ready to leave, we asked for some water to wash our hands. They then brought us water and talked to us some more. After some more conversation, one of the women offered us some food. I turned to the other youth and we did was smile. Food had come to us, we didn’t need to go looking. No one was hungry.

They took us inside to see a place where water had filled up. There we had a conversation about mosquitos and flies and one’s selfish interest in cleaning community space, even if it is outside your neighbour’s home. Through some women’s eyes, I could see some understanding. As we moved to leave, the children again began yelling and running to follow us out.

I stopped them before they got too far.
“Do you want to play a game?” The answer of course was yes. “Everyone is going to go out of this gulley and pick up at least two pieces of trash.” Twenty children, that’s forty pieces of trash.

They ran out, yelling and picking up trash. As we came out of the gulley, I asked where the dumpster was. They again ran off, yelling and shouting to the dumpster where they deposited their trash. Before they could disperse, I gathered them all together.

“Hands in everyone. Twenty pairs of little hands joined in with our four. Shall we make a promise.”

“Haaaaa (yes in Gujarati),” came twenty odd voices.

“Repeat after me. I, take this promise, to clean my community every day for 5 minutes. To pick up trash and throw it in the dumpster.”

The energy and enthusiasm of that moment will not be forgotten.

We noticed the time and realized it was time to head back. As we came out to the main road, we saw the woman again and stopped to say hello. In her hand, she held 3 packets of Gutka. I gently took them from her hand and a struggle began between us and the woman. At one point, Milan suggested that we give her the packets back and continue on. Amar and I weren’t so ready to give up. The woman said the gutka was for her neighbour’s daughter. We attempted to raise her awareness on how she shouldn’t encourage the use of tobacco for others. The women was gripped with fear about what would happen if she didn’t take back tobacco. Ultimately, we gave her money for the packets and went on our way.

Given time constraints, trash picking ended. Our conversation was interrupted as a vegetable vendor we saw earlier called us.

“He told me that you guys were picking up trash. Why?”

We launched into our explanation of our city being our home and suggested that she keep a plastic bag for trash for her cart. The woman understood. Laxmi (wealth) only goes where there is cleanliness. If she kept at least her cart area clean, then we were 100% sure that her business would increase. Through simple language and reference to concepts that she herself mentioned, the message of cleanliness and social responsibility was communicated.

The Manav Sadhna workers were intended as guides for the walk, however it was by no means an one-way process. The youth were in tears as they shared their stories. It was their first experience with this kind of service. For us, it was a not a new experience, but no less powerful. The power of love and of the heart is boundless and unimaginable.

[10-19] Colours in Silence

After the bus ride home, I grabbed my stock of rangoli colours and headed out. It was time to make rangolis for Diwali. My first stop was Ramanbhai’s house. Ramanbhai is apart of the supporting staff at ESI. His heart is full of love and his face decorated with a smile. He always makes a point to hello and make sure I’m okay. A few nights ago, I had gone to his house for dinner and was overwhelmed by their hospitality and love.

Ramanbhai’s wife and daughter were home, so the rangoli wasn’t going to anonymous. I managed to convey that I had come to make a rangoli and pulled my colours out after finalizing a spot. Then the colours magic began. A design had come to mind earlier in the day, so I decided to bring it to life. A deevo as the middle petal of a lotus, in front of a green sunset with an aum on it. They didn’t know what I was making and for some part neither did I. I just picked up the colours and began to pour with my fist. Anita had gathered some friends, they were completely silent as the picture formed. The silence was incredibly powerful, interrupted only by whispered guesses on what I was drawing. When the image was complete, I bade good-bye with my hands and went on my way.

Next stop: Kasturbhai’s

As I walked into his gulley, the kids began to shout in surprise. “Heenadidi is here, Heenadidi is here.” Kasturbhai’s wife and sister and other families members came up to receive me. The wordless communication happened again and it was decided that the rangoli would be made beside the little temple. The colours came out and magic begin. Again the power of silence and everyone’s full attention overwhelmed me. Even the mistakes or artistic elements, they loved the rangoli. After snapping a shot of the kids and rangoli, Kumkum, Deepak (4 year olds kids) came to drop me at the street. The little one would not let go of me as I handed her over to her sister. I am always touched by the amount of love they shower on me.

In the evening, I went over to Manav Sadhna. The card project kids were all spending the night to work on cards. When they saw me, the boys again began with their talks of also taking a vow of silence, potentially to mark the one month death anniversary of Chimanlal, the baby bird the project had adopted when Chimanlal’s mother and siblings were killed. As the talks to keep silence continues, Jagatbhai interjected.

“Only take a vow of silence, if you are doing it with the right intentions. Don’t do it to put on some show.”

I was jolted and reflected on his words. Was I keeping a vow of silence for show or for a reason? I needed some time to myself and this was a way, but then what was all of my hand gesturing about. I became aware of how I had been communicating for the day and could identify when it was for show. His simple words struck me.

I hadn’t decided when I would end my vow, but 24 hours seemed to be necessary. When I came home on the bus, I decided to extend that. I would do an intensive meditation session the following day, the vow of silence would continue.

[10-19] Day of Silence

And the day became silent. The Manav Sadhna staff thought I was crazy with my gesturing trying to people (it wasn’t completely silent as in no gesturing or writing). Amod came by with rangolis and trying to teach someone how to make a rangoli without talking to them can be a little more difficult, but we managed and came out with a beautiful sarva dharma rangoli to mark the staff of Diwali (it was Dhan teras).

The card project kids could not believe that I had taken a vow of silence. Listening to their conversation was very interesting as they discussed how they couldn’t even stay silent for 5 minutes, let alone a day. Everyone kept asking why and I couldn’t really tell them. Some said it was for Jagatbhai’s birthday, others because it was Guruvaar or Thursday, only Ellie really knew.

As the morning progressed I realized how much I really needed to just get away. From the city, from people and go within so I contemplated going to Koba for a few days, but those plans fell through.

The only person who really understood what I was gesturing and could do so quickly was Ellie. Apparently, this knack of hers is called Elliepathy. Ellie and I embarked on a trip to get a phone charger and sweets. I got us on the right bus, but when we got on, we both realized that Ellie didn’t know exactly where we were going. We were quite the scene- a mute Indian, who did not look like a local, and a white American, who most would believe did not understand or speak Gujarati (which she does). She somehow figured out the destination through my charades (how do you communicate income tax?) and our adventure had begun.

At Gwalia, Ellie continued with her deciphering of my hand motions to communicate with the workers to find out how much different sweets were, how many pieces were in a kilogram, etc. Her knowledge of Gujarati went far. The journey continued at the mobile store and internet café. Somehow we even managed to have a conversation over pineapple juice.

After spending some quality time together, I headed back to the ashram and Ellie to Seva Café. I was on my own as a mute in the city. Getting a rickshaw/bus back was the most challenging part, as I didn’t know where the bus stop was or what bus to take. My basic Gujarati writing skills came in handy, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the assistance of a man who saw my confused face as I stood on the side of the street. He made sure the bus stopped and I got on okay before he waved good-bye and went on his way. Such a simple action, yet it went straight to the heart.

As I rode the bus home, I thought of how it would feel like to be a foreigner in the country. The confusion and the difficulties communicating, however, they, for the most part, at least know English and can speak. Even with language barriers, to travel the city they can speak the name of the place where they want to go. I was deprived of that ability also. I thought of Sameer and Ruchi’s 14 experiments, maybe its time to conduct some of my own. I think I’m going to travel the city alone and mute for a few hours at the least.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

[10-19] Jagatbhai's Birthday

We finished up our Akanksha meeting and were all just hanging out. Our excuse- the Seva Café staff was coming to Manav Sadhna, but really we were all waiting for the clock to strike midnight. The kids were very excited and all them had stayed the night even if they didn’t have work so that they could celebrate Jagatbhai’s birthday.

At midnight, the kids were all awake and rang to the back room to yell, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”. We sat around in a circle and prayed. The energy in the room was so powerful, which is not surprising when you think of the energy and love Jagatbhai gives all of us. This was our attempt to share that love with him. He lit a deevo and we went around the circle sharing a few words about Jagatbhai. As others spoke, the light of the deevo that was now behind Jagatbhai caught my eye and in that moment I found the perfect words to describe him.

Jagatbhai is a deevo. Near the flame, you receive light and warmth. From afar, you may not feel the heat of the candle, but its light brightens corners of the room far away. Similarly, those who have the opportunity to work with him, gain so much from direct interactions, but even those who don’t work with him, learn much from observing him and brief conversations.

The midnight celebration was very touching. Although some kids were half asleep or didn’t need to stay at MS, they did out of their love for Jagatbhai. The card project children really are Jagatbhai’s children, the love that they all share for each other is very moving.

After the midnight celebration, I had the opportunity to watch Jagatbhai in action, something that is always very rewarding. He was talking to the Seva Café staff about things that he thought needed to improved upon, etc. In a friend and fatherly way, he was trying to awaken an internal desire to change within the staff. Jagatbhai has a way with talking. He doesn’t say much a lotof times, silently observing and accurately perceiving many things around him. When he speaks to you about improvements, he speaks to you as a friend and fatherly figure, with only your interests at heart. Even though he was talking to me, I learned from observing this conversation. At one point, he mentioned how Jayeshmama had once told him to become a zero, ie. disappear from the limelight, and so he did. I took this to heart and in those words, realized that I too needed to become a zero. I am an attention seeker, I needed to disappear behind the curtains, working silently with a pure heart.

After a very late night, I was woken by the sound of by cell phone. It was Anjali.

“Hi Heena, sorry I didn’t call you last night, I thought we were going on the walk in the evening, but we’re doing it now. Raghu just woke me up to get ready. I’ll call you when we are leaving, ya.”

So we were up. After brushing and changing, we waited for Anjali’s call before departing. As we walked towards Subhash Bridge, Ellie and I were fairly silent. As we neared the circle, I wondered in my mind whether or not we would meet up with Jayeshmama et all. As soon as we got to the circle, we saw the four of them crossing the street. There was no need to pull out the cell phone.

We walked in silence. It was dark as we went around the circle, by the time we were halfway across the bridge, the city was alit. In the morning light, we stopped at the Swaminarayan Mandir on the other side and said a silent prayer.

We walked in silence. Without even being aware of it, the Sarve Dharma prathna was being recited in my head, over and over again. There were no other thoughts, just Aum Tat Sat Shree Narayana Tu. Out of the silence came the sound of faith and devotion, it couldn’t have been more right.

The city was awakening as we walked into the old city. Up ahead, I saw a flower vendor, with garlands of marigolds hanging from a string. My heart told me to get some. I remembered the flowers Nirali had on her desk and how she gives them to women on the street. I bought a garland, breaking silence to ask for flowers and gave a few to each walking with me.

We rounded a corner and saw a fight. An 8 year old girl was hitting and shouting at her 3 year old brother. The shouts could be heard all around. Mama and mami almost passed the children, when they turned back to Anjali to approach them. Anjali and I were already on our way. I went to the girl as she was picking up a stone to throw at the boy. Without a word, I gave her the flowers I had in my hand. She looked down at her hands, now filled with orange marigolds, before looking at me, calm and silent. Her brother were running into the streets, so she was trying to stop him. Her love for her brother had turned into a violent fight. Both siblings had released their hot air and were at peace. The sister lovingly took the brother under her arm as we walked away.

We walked by a Muslim basti where families were awaken to the new day. A 12 year old girl stood outside her home, holding her little brother on her hip. Something drew me to this girl, so I placed some flowers in her hand and continued on my way.

Aum tat sat shree narayana tu. The words continued in my mind. In the hands of a woman in the middle of an argument with a growing crowd of people, a small street side temple being cleaned with such love by a boy, to a woman living on the footpath with her family, a rickshaw parked outside a home awaiting a new day of operation. These were the places where more flowers were left.

I saw a woman approaching me and considered giving flowers to her. I hesitated then did. The woman obstinately said no. I had just taken new flowers out and had not walked very far with them, nor had the prathna being gong through my mind after these flowers were taken. It made perfect sense that the woman said no.

The sun was low in the sky, deep orange with a yellow glow rising above the city giving start to a new day. The sunrise was beautiful. I remembered a story and stared at the sun for 20 seconds that day.

We did prathna and sat in silence to pay tribute to someone we all respected. The walk was the perfect way to start the day.

The silence was needed. The mind was wandering and the silence was exactly what had been, without my knowledge, prescribed. As we came back from Jagatbhai’s home, I expressed this sentiment to Ellie and she told me how Sonia had just told her the previous night that I needed to spend a day in silence.

The signals were all there, I decided to spend the rest of the day in silence.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Anarben's story- part 4 of 4

Many people feel that if you do seva, you’ll have satisfaction. I’ve been doing seva for over 13 years now. Even after doing seva for 8-9 years, I did not feel satisfied. I can’t change the world. I began to sink into depression. Even after all these years of doing seva, I hadn’t seen any results. I began to wonder what the point was for doing all this. I was ready to stop doing seva. I began to cut down heavily on the activities I was involved in. I was doing the bare minimum. I began to go to the field less because I was doing administrative work. I was ready to leave the world of seva. Then I went to Vipassana and I got a new life. After the first three days, for the first time in my life, I got to spend time with myself and my thoughts. My perspective on my life began to change dramatically. I began to learn how to work with people and realize who I am. I began to see the relationship between myself and my environment. I often get angry with people because of things they do. Through Vipassana, I began to understand my role in my environment and how much the things around me are related to the way I think and act. More importantly, I made the connection between service (seva) and spirituality. I was missing out on the spirituality side, which is why I was not satisfied by doing seva. Both are needed.

I’ll tell you one more story, this happened after we left Vipassana. Jayesh had to go to the bathroom on the way home, so we stopped a place that had toilets. Now Jayesh always notices the cleanliness of bathrooms. When he went to the toilet, a woman was inside cleaning. Instead of disrupting her, he simply observed her because there was something about the way she was working that caught his eye. The woman was doing her work with immense love and devotion. When the woman noticed Jayesh, she came out so he could use the facilities. Inside, Jayesh notice how impeccably clean the toilet was. Every corner was spotless. Immediately, Jayesh had the desire to do something to appreciate this woman’s work, so he took some money from his pocket and went up to the woman.

“Sister, you are doing this work with such love and devotion. The toilets are so clean.”
“It’s my duty, of course I will do it well.”
“But the love and dedication you do it with is truly incredible. I really appreciate the work you are doing and want to give you this money to show that appreciation.”

But the woman would not accept the money. Jayesh came back to me and told me the story. So I took the money and went to talk to the woman myself.

“Sister, please take this money. You are doing a great job and it’s simply a token of our appreciation.”
“I cannot take this money.”
“What does your husband do?”
“He cleans a school nearby.” (which meant he didn’t earn much either).
“How many children do you have?”
“I’m sure you have a need for money.”
“Everyone has a need for money, but the money we get, we earn from our own hard work.”
“This money is in appreciation for the work you do and it’s coming from your brother, so you can take it.”
“No sister, my boss pays me for the work I do and that is enough.”

And she wouldn’t take the money. The values this woman embodied left me in awe.

As we left, I turned back to ask the woman her name.
“Lakshmi,” she replied.
Lakshmi. I smiled.

Lakshmi is the name of the Goddess of Wealth. God himself had manifested himself to teach us a lesson. From Vipassana and our encounter with Lakshmi, I learned that in every moment God is teaching us something, but our perspective prevents us from seeing these lessons.

And with that her talk concluded. Over the span of an hour and half, Anarmami had given us all immense insight into her life and what it meant to do seva. It’s not a glamourous life, its not an easy life, but it is one that connects you with humanity and with God. Her story was exactly what I and the other NRI volunteers listening needed to here. The humility and love with which she shared her life and parts of herself left us speechless.

As I embark on this path of seva, she brought home the realities of this work. I’ve been blessed to be able to live with this person, to learn from her and her experiences. As I listened to her speak, I bowed down to the spirit within her and energy and space that connects us together. I originally had planned to stay in Ahmedabad only for a few weeks, but I can’t leave this space now. There is so much to learn and experience and where else would I find such people, under whose guidance and example, I can truly learn what it means to serve.

Anarben's story- part 3

I’ll share another story with you. A short while back, I had gone to the tekra for a mothers’ meeting. At the meeting, I spoke to the woman about women’s issues, the support that is available, etc. At the end of my talk, the women began to share their stories. One woman’s story reduced us all to tears. She was a victim of immense sexual abuse by her husband. Her situation was horrific. Her husband harassed her at work and at home. Her husband derived pleasure from her suffering, screams and agony. As I listened to her speak, I was thinking of ways to help this woman. I spent a good half hour to hour talking to her, trying to make her see that her situation was unacceptable and that alternatives were available. After calmly listening to me give possible solutions, the woman told me she could not leave and would endure what was written in her fate. I didn’t know how to respond. She continued by saying that she felt much better just talking to me. Now she felt like there was someone to listen to her and give her moral support and that was all she needed. She asked if she could come back and talk to me and of course the answer was yes. The woman didn’t come back, her family actually ended up moving out of the tekra soon after, but our encounter taught me a lot. There are so many times where we feel like people need material things- food, clothing, money, etc- but so many times all people want is a hand to hold and a ear to listen. My presence and support gave the woman strength. It’s not always about the material things- the greatest gift we can give is ourselves and our time.
Seva work is a rosy and perfect lifestyle. There are many challenges. Many people believe that Jayesh and I are the perfect couple with no martial problems, but no relationship is perfect. We too have gone through our ups and downs. There have been times when things have been very difficult and we needed to live with one another. It’s taken a lot of work on both of our parts. Jayesh and I are very different. Jayesh doesn’t like to wear fancy clothes or go to movies, etc while I do. We began to look at what we liked and didn’t like in one another and then began to change. We began to adjust ourselves to suit the other person. For example, this means that Jayesh will wear clothes that I buy him that aren’t jabho-leghnos. Our awareness of each other’s likes and dislikes grew and we adjusted ourselves accordingly to make each other happy. It’s takes a lot of effort, but when you love someone, you’ll go that extra mile. We love each other deeply and thus were willing to change for other. You all met Jayesh, you know he talks a lot. I’ve often told him that. I personally am more introverted. Now when Jayesh goes to give a talk, he might talk for an hour, an hour and half. When we leave, he’ll turn to me and say, “I spoke a little too much, didn’t I?” Today, we have passed through some of the more challenging times, but the process is ongoing. We are continually adjusting ourselves to the other.

Anarben's story- part 2

I have learned that if I want to do something for the community, I need to change my habits.

I have learned and grown not necessarily from seva work itself, but from the people. And its not just the communities and people that I am working to serve, but volunteers also. One big thing to learn from NRI volunteers is openness. For example, a few years back, two Indicorps fellows were working at Manav Sadhna. Anjali and Bindi had prepared a survey form for the tekra and were discussing it with each other. They didn’t notice me behind, when one of them said, “If we show this to Anarben, she’s only going to find faults in it.”

For a second, I was hurt, but then I began to think. Instead of taking it as an insult, this was an opportunity to look at myself. If this was the perception they have of me, I need to change. So in that instance, I resolved not to say anything negative about that form and ultimately, I even helped them do some of the surveying using the exact form they created. From them, I became aware of the fact that I did not show my appreciation or gratitude and have made more of an effort to do so.

The community has also taught me many lessons. I’ll give you an example from a walk that Jayesh and I participated in along the Narmada. One evening, we were told to find our own food. If we couldn’t find food, we’d have to go hungry. Jayesh and I decided that we were going to eat with the poorest family we could find. So we set out on our search. Along the way, we found a family sitting under a tree. They were cutting wood. The family was from out of town, had no home and was very poor. We began to play with the kids, made them a tire swing off the tree and became friends with them. Through the kids, we were able to connect to the family. We told the family that we would eat with them that evening and they were absolutely thrilled. We set a time to come back and went on exploring.

In the evening, we set out to meet the family. We bought some vegetables, etc thinking that we would all cook and then eat together. Since the family was poor, we expected that they would be a shak made of potatoes and onions, so we bought greens. When we came back to the tree, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The family had beautifully cleaned an area, lined the edge with branches and logs and prepared it for our dinner. The food was already cooked and the shak was made of green vegetables! Jayesh and I could barely eat because we had tears in our eyes.

As we ate with them, I couldn’t help but think about how middle class society, myself included, feed people. The entire evening was so full of love and the family had put their heart into the food. When people come over to eat, do we feed them with love? If someone well-to-do is coming over, we prepare a lavish meal with a variety of dishes, but what if the person coming to eat is poor? Had I ever fed anyone with so much love??

From that day, I resolved to feed every person who came into my house with love. Rich or poor, I was not going to see a difference. Since then, we have fed countless people. They are always people coming and going in our home now, even when we are not there, people come and eat in our home.

"Every moment God is teaching us a lesson, but we have to keep our eyes and heart open to see them"

Anarben's story- Part 1

"Mami, it's time for my nap," I said jokingly as we headed to the talk she was going to give on her life story.

I had no idea what to expect. I've been living with Jayeshbhai and Anarben for 5 weeks now. I have a sense of who they are in the present moment, but next to no idea what they have passed through to become who they are. I've heard hints that its been a turmultuous ride, but no details. I didn't know what to expect.

We all sat on the ground in a circle and began the session with two minutes of silence. Then she began. As soon as she started talking, even though she spoke in Hindi and many did not understand her, a calm magic prevaded the atmosphere. Her clear voice was full of a strength that one could only have after going through challenges.

I've been asked to share my life story. I'll tell you about how I got involved in seva work and some powerful experiences on this journey. Growing up, every vacation, we would go to my mama's house in the village. Where we would pass the days laughing and playing, we would have so much fun. Then 8th standard came to a close and instead of going to our mama's house, my mother had other plans for us. My mother used to be a teacher. A strict teacher and a strict mother. That summer, we were each to tutor 2 kids. We had to pick who the kids would be. If we didn't do this, she wouldn't pay our school fees for the following year.

What kind of mother was she? I couldn't believe my mother was like this, but I had to oblige. Where would I find students? There was a slum near my home and my ayai lived there. So I decided to teach my ayai's kids. But the slum was filthy. How could I teach in such an environment? People also doubted the effectiveness of my teaching since I was only in the 8th standard, so the environment was not conducive to my objectives. So I went to a temple nearby and created a space to work in using cow dung and I began my tuition classes.

Every summer after that, even in college, I continued to tutor during vacations.

My mother was well-known in our area because she was a teacher and my father was in politics, so everyone knew who he was. Everywhere I went, I was known as their daughter and not Anar Patel. But in the slums that wasn't the case. In the slums, everyone knew me as Didi. I was no one's daughter, but rather an entity of my own and I enjoyed that recognition. So be it out of selfish desires and ego, my interest in seva grew.

I was the youngest child in my family and fit the stereotype of the youngest child. I was spoiled and somewhat of a brat. I had a short-temper- my anger came and went in a matter of seconds- and always got what I wanted. I didn't have the discpline or dedication to follow through on anything. I was always starting things, but nothing was ever completed. I took a lot of things for granted- it was my parents' duty to give me things- I didn't appreciate all that they gave me. If my parents gave me a watch, it was because they were my parents and are supposed to give me a watch. I was spoiled and no one said a whole lot to me. One example is the way I ate. No matter what I was eating, I ALWAYS left the last bite. I could never bring myself to eat the last bite of food in my plate, so every meal, some food was wasted.

I was blessed to be married into a family is doing social work. God brought me and Jayesh together. The first seva activity I did after marriage was to help paint the ashramshala in the Gandhi Ashram. Here we would work all day with the kids and eat with them in the evening. To all the kids, I was Didi. When we sat down to eat, of course out of love, they gave me more food than needed and keeping with my habit, I ate until one bite remained. As that one bite sat on my plate, I looked around to the kids eating with us. The ashramshala has a rule that your plate must be completely cleaned, no morsel of food should be left and indeed all their plates were cleared of food. I was a role model to these children and here I was unable to eat the last bite. I drew inspiration from the children and put the last morsel into my mouth. For the first time in my life, no food was wasted from my plate. After that meal, everytime I sit to each and feel the urge to leave the last bite, I remember their plates and my plate too is cleared.

[10-13] Today Ekta Called

Today Ekta called. When I hung up the phone I was crying. It was the first non-family phone call that I received since I arrived in India.
The tears were not of sadness, but as the tears fell, I remembered North America. I remembered my friends and everyone I left to come to India. I’ve been trying to talk to my sister for a few days now and thinking of little cousins. Even though I missed them in that moment, I knew I didn’t want to leave India. I love it here, so then why did I miss home.

I want my friends to be here, to experience what I am experience. But, if they share this experience with me, would I be getting the same experience. So much of what is happening, the changes I am undergoing are because I am by myself. So what is it that I want.

Why do I want to share this journey?
The answer was pretty clear-
because it is so hard,
because I want someone to walk with me.

But the path that is mine is not that of someone else.

I need to do this alone.

The path is hard. There is so much to consider, so many small changes that I would like to and am making. The effect of all this effort is taking a toll. But the sweat, the frustration and everything else that is arising is apart of the progress. Purification by fire.

I want friends and family around…. Do I really?
That’s the easy way out.

This path is my own and I alone can forge a path of peace, focus and silence in the clamor of thoughts and ideas through my mind.

My mind, my thoughts, my behaviour, my actions
These are all my own.
When the path involves altering this, focusing these, purifying these
Who else can walk the path, but me.

This is to be done alone.

Ultimately, it is me. I have the support of so many across the globe. The comfort zone has been released, so why desire a new safety net when the leap of faith has been taken?

This path is a struggle, but it’s one that I have chosen for my own.

Thank you for sending your love, your support and positive energy as I move from the head to the heart and dedicate myself to the path of self discovery and selfless service.

Monday, October 09, 2006

[10-07] Food from God

I came down with a cold. I had a high temperature on and off throughout the day and had spent most of the day sleeping at my aunt’s house, instead of spending time with my mom like I had intended. After dropping my mom off at the airport, I headed home. I was hungry and tired and not looking forward to the fact that I would have to cook my own food. I can’t cook Indian that well and kadhi and khichadi was what I was wanted and of course I don’t know how to make kadhi.

When I got home, my housemate’s mother offered to make kadhi, in her own style. So I got the supplies. On the way back I saw some boys from the community/card project and called them in to give them fruit snacks my mom had just brought. They came in and were hanging out with me and my housemate’s mom for a while, when we finally got up to cook. When they found out I couldn’t cook very well and aunty didn’t know how to make kadhi and khichadi Gujarati style, the 12 year old immediately says, “I know how to make it, let me.”

Pretty soon, all three boys, Vijay (11), Ajay (12) and Utsav (11) were in the kitchen – cutting potatoes, making the appropriate spice mixes and washing the rice. When I tried to help, they’d respond, “Didi, you aren’t feeling well. Sit.”

And so the chef and his assistants went to work. When three whistles blew on the pressure cooker and I turned the gas off, I got scolded for doing this prematurely. “Didi, there is still water in the rice, let it cook. I’ll turn it off when it’s ready.”

So Anchal’s mother and I resigned to watching and learning.

“Didi, you don’t know how to cook,” they asked in surprise. I can cook, just not Indian food, especially since I haven’t made much Indian food in the last four years, especially not kadhi.

As the food was prepared, a wonderful aroma begin to fill the air. As Ajay happily made the kadhi, I began to throw away the vegetable peels and other waste.

“Didi, leave it, we’ll clean up.”

In the time we waited for the khichadi to be cooked and cool, the three boys had thrown away all the waste, wiped all the surfaces clean, including all the stuff that spilled, and washed all the dishes.

Finally the food was ready.

Ajay looks at Anchal’s mother and I as we take the first bite.

“How is it?”

Absolutely delicious. They each try a little and have great fun taking pictures of entire experience.
As they get ready to leave, they turn around to remind me.

“Didi, make sure Anchaldidi tries some when she gets home. We’re going to ask her tomorrow what she thinks.”

After the boys leave, Anchal’s mother and I sit in the living room. “Look at God’s blessing. You weren’t feeling well and wanted kadhi. I thought that you should have garlic and you got garlic. We got the food, and God sent the chefs too.”

The next morning I woke up feeling 100 times better than the previous day. How could I not? After all, God had sent his own angels to prepare nourishment with such love and care.

[10-07] Navrati Recap

Chachi re tari sacha re bhuvani ma
Amba bhuvani ma
Hu to tari seva karis maya lal
Nav Nav raat na naudta karis ma
Puja hu karis ma
Dussera dare havan karis maya lal

Navrati in India.

Didn’t do that much garba, but the garba I did do was a lot of fun.

Night 1: Vibrant Gujarat’s inaugural stage show – great fun, no doing garba, but watched garba and much more
Night 2: There was a reason I didn’t do garba this night…
Night 3: So tired from the last couple of days that I slept
Night 4: So apparently no one goes out for garba during the first couple of nights…
Night 5: Went to Ashramshala for garba with the kids, they are so cute. Some boys were playing the dholki and girls were singing different garbos. Certain beauty in the lack of coordination between the two =)
Night 6: headed to Gandhinagar with the cousins for garba. I spent a lot of time just looking at people’s outfits and the different styles of dance. It was a little surreal. I think my cousins thought I was a little odd because I kept watching everything around me. It’s all new to me. Very cool to see. “Fob” garba really is a lot of fun to watch and do. By fob style I mean, very flamboyant, lots of curviness to the hands, turning, etc. Stuff that guys in N. America would NEVER do and even the girls would struggle with getting the nuances of, but extremely typical here.
Night 7: Ramdev, garba with the MSers – SOOOOOO much fun. These boys really know how to do garba, its was ridiculously fun dancing with them (totally fob style of course). People were coming up with their own moves, etc. I had a blast. It was awesome that Sansui got up and starting doing garba with all of us. We had a fabulous time. I fell 3 times during the night. Good ol’ ankle. Once I roll it once, its bound to happen again.
Night 8: Vinay Mandir Garba in the morning. The girls are so great. I went with Sonia’s Mexican visitors and taught Sara and Carmen how to do garba. It was a lot of fun to see them interact with the girls. Garba with the Chokshi. Gautamkaka’s annual garba. Good times also. Very different from the night before at Ramdev in terms of styles, etc, but still fun times.
Night 9: Garba at NID with Nirali, Asha, Archana and Karisma. Pretty good time. They do this beautiful thing where each student is given two diyas and then they turn off the lights and everyone does the same 12 step garba around mataji with a diya in each hand. Absolutely stunning to see. It’s pretty difficult to do with two diyas, I tried with one. Its amazing that so over 200 people do this at one time and multiple co centric circles and no one gets burned. Then we headed to Maheshwari to join the MSers, but by the time raas got kicking, it was time for us to eat before sunrise since a couple of us were doing roja for Gandhi Jayanti. We still had a great time hanging out, powerful conversations and the ankle needed the rest.
Dussera: Celebrated Gandhi Jayanti with Sonia’s Mexico-India simultaneous peace event, which was very powerful. After it was over, her Mexican guests came to MS to eat. But before eating we danced with them for a half an hour or so, which was great fun. They really got into it and let loose and just felt the music so it was a lot of fun to dance with them =) I love it when people dance like no one is watching.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Who Am I

What’s real?
Who am I?
Is the face that people see the real me?
Who am I deceiving?
The people around me or myself.

Lost amidst who I should be, who I am and who I want to be.
The gaps grow smaller, yet the confusion increases
Where did the real me go?

Wait, who or what is the real me?
Isn’t the person in the mirror reality?
Or is it the person that I am in those moments of silence
How does clarity arise amidst the dust and chaos.

Dreams haunt my sleep.
They seem so real.
Yet the moment I wake up, its gone.
It makes no sense.
Yet the confusion and lack of direction that I felt in that dream persists.

The day continues, the confusion fades.
Yet when I sleep, it comes back.
Underneath the calm, it bubbles,
Slowly under the surface
It is will rise and with it bring the moment of clarity.

The undercurrents pull, but be present, be still
Stand still amidst the storm.
Deepen your roots.
The more grounded one is, the chaos will pass.
Calm will naturally ensue.

It’s apart of the process.
The storm, the confusion, the lack of direction.

Who am I?
I’m working on figuring that one out.

[10-04] Space of being

A couple of weeks ago, I had this powerful conversation (as usual) with Nirali. The theme of our last conversation was “nothing matters”. It’s hard to think that nothing matters, but on some level I recognize the truth in this statement, but I can’t say I’m at a level of understanding where I recognize it to be the Truth.

How does one get to a space where nothing matters was the question. There are so many projects, so many ideas and so many things that I could be apart of here. Everyday there seems to be 5 new things I could be apart. How does one decide what to do and not to do? How does one chose the activities that one decides to participate. I didn’t come to India to do something for the sake of doing something. By physically and mentally leaving behind many constraints, I have the freedom to do what feels right and I want to make sure that I commit myself to something I feel charged up about. If I don’t dig something , the right energy is not going into the activity. No matter how noble and valuable the final outcome is, not having my heart in it is going to make most of the time I spend working on it difficult.

So do you figure out what you want to do? If nothing matters, then why not do what makes you happy, what makes you in a space of giving pure and unconditional love? If you are in this space or state, you are giving as much positive energy as possible. So taking inspiration from Nirali, I too decided I was going to try to work from such a space as much as possible.

All I can say is that it’s an incredible space to be in. My days since that conversation 3 weeks ago just seem to be going so much better. I’m trying not to stress about what I need to do because of others and doing what feels right at the moment, with the faith that in this space all that needs to happen will happen. If I’m not in that space, then its about trying to get myself in that space while doing whatever I am doing. For example, a couple of days ago, a couple of us were sitting in my house. A friend and I had to discuss a couple of things, then I had to work on another project with another friend and a third friend wanted to meet to talk about something she was working on. One thing led to another and the four of us ended up talking for a few hours about everything from the friend’s project to perspectives on life, etc. At a point, the thought crossed my mind that we should work on the sanitation project, but at the moment, the conversation we were all having was something that everyone was so present in and was gaining so much of out of that it didn’t make sense. We didn’t end up doing a whole lot on the sanitation project that day, but the work that needed to get done got done.

The days are so much more positive overall. Seeing myself from the observer’s perspective, I can see the growth that is slowly happening. Really really powerful space to be in. Space of giving pure love or atleast present.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

[09-24] Dance

Over the last week, I have been extremely fortunate to see two stage shows. The first was put on my Sonali’s mother and was traditional Gujarati dances and the second was put on by the Government of Gujarat and was the kick-off event for Vibrant Gujarat Navrati Festival 2006.

I believe I have seen a stage show in India before, but it was soo many years ago that I don’t even remember it, so I could these as my first.

I was really looking forward to seeing Sonali’s show because I would get to see how raas-garba stage performances are done in Gujarat. I knew that there were different from what the Indian diaspora has made raas-garba (more so raas) into in the States, so it would be interesting to see. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I really became aware of how we have blended styles and steps together and lumped it all under the name of garba without recognizing the diversity of the dance style itself. Garba is done is many many different way with each region having its own distinct style, yet in North America, particularly at the collegiate level, we simply call it garba and say that it represents all of Gujarat. It was interesting to see different types of moves that I use in my choreography sprinkled over different dances, it really was a testament to that fact that all the stuff I know is a mix of different styles. As I watched the dances, I knew I could do them myself, but when it comes to choreography, its funny how you only remember a small set of moves. It would be have great to participate in the dance so the moves would become muscle memory and engrained in my choreography as I would have done them over and over again at practices.

Many of the dances that I saw wouldn’t work for competition and probably would bore a lot of people, but that does not devalue the art or its beauty. While watching the show, I really felt a desire to learn how each dance really is done, what the differences are, etc and bring that knowledge back to the States to raise people’s awareness about it. The music was performed live at the show by the group that performs at all Chokshi parivar events and as usual were incredible.

The Vibrant Gujarat show was my first large scale stage show- on the scale of what is done for Filmfare awards, etc. The audience was HUGE. It began with a beam show to invoke Mataji, which was really enjoyable, followed by a segment on Gujarati dances. Initially a few dances were performed with mcs coming in between songs to explain the background of garba. I had difficulty understanding it all, but would love to have that info, especially for Satrang. Then there was an 11 garbo non-stop piece, where they showcased different Gujarati garbas from across the state. They had over 150 dances on stage at all times. One dance would be in the middle, while all the other styles, in their own costumes and moves, would dance to that song around the sides. You really had to pick a focus and watch that. The all-guys dance was simple in terms of the quantity of moves, but very powerful. I tried to learn the moves from watching, but definitely cannot remember everything.

The Gujarat piece was followed by 8 dances from different countries, which was a lot of fun to watch. The people I was with were getting bored from these dances, especially because it would be 6-10 people on a stage that was formerly occupied by over 150 dancers. The Indonesian dance (Rampai Aceh) was an absolute delight. The little boys from Nepal were charming, there did the Ramchandra, which to some degree is similar to raas. The level of precision and synchronization varied from group to group. The Isreali group performed modern dance, which they called platform. The Sri Lankan group did a jugalbandhi between Bharatnatyam and Kandoi (I think that’s what its called, the dancers would similar outfits to what the Sri Lankan group wore at Indus Culture Show, but the moves were much more intricate- that dance style requires as much training as any Indian classical style).

After the international dances, came the Unity through Diversity dance, which represented 13 different states of India. Again the stage was FILLED with dancers in different costumes, doing their own moves to whatever music was playing for each state’s dance. There were classical dances- Kathakali, Kathak, Mohiniattam and a wide variety of folk dances. The dancers from Orissa wore outfits similar to that of Odissi, but their dance was extremely acrobatic and required immense flexibility. They would write the name of the style on the screen as they were performed, but there was so much other stuff to see that I didn’t pay attention to it.

Lastly, there was a 1 lakh deevo aarti to Mataji. All the performers on stage had deevas and many woman were carrying the large tower of deevos on their head and then each audience member was given a deevo also for aarti.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was EXACTLY what I’ve wanted to see for years. I finally got to see so many different dance styles that I have read about live, done by people from the states that have been doing them for years. Granted there is differences between stage performances and the dances as they are done by the people on the ground, but nonetheless there is authenticity to the music and moves. In the Unity through Diversity piece, they did was Anita tried to show two years also with different dance styles coming together, but with one musical piece.

What I saw, really is what we have been trying to convey through Satrang. The diversity and vibrancy of India through its dances. It’s a shame that there is this immense lack of awareness of the diversity of dance in India in North America, but that really is because the skills to train and teach people in these styles isn’t readily available.

The shows gave me a newfound appreciation for the aunties who choreograph dances for Fogana, the traditional way. They really are trying to preserve the rich artistic heritage that Gujarat has in North America. At the collegiate level, we really have butchered a lot of dance styles, but its not necessarily because of ignorance or conscientious effort. Teachers don’t exist or aren’t affordable. People who have learned one dance styles once will go out and teach it to others in attempt to share, but of course things are going to be lost in the translation. When dance is taught without teaching about its history, significance, etc, it goes from being an art to recreation. I still remember all the times I would be saddened by the fact that dance is not considered an art, but recreation by so many of my peers.

But what does that mean for me? I can’t simply critique and not be active myself. If I believe that knowledge of these styles is dying then I took much educate myself in order to share the knowledge. I remember reading the little information that is available on the net about different Gujarati and Indian folk dances, but without seeing them the repetition of that information is not as effective as it can be.

But do I necessarily want to become a traditionalist? There is a beauty to how at the collegiate level, students have made traditional dances their own by meshing it with local cultural influences. More people are interested in dance because of this transformation. Where do you strike the balance?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

[09-20] Great Day

What a day. The day started off with Wednesday Meditation. I have not been good about meditating so it was very nice to be in a space conducive to meditation. Today we began our 36 week discussion on the Sarve Dharma prathna. Comprise of 36 words, the prathna is equivalent to doing jaap on a mala, each word has been carefully chosen and has immense meaning behind it. For the next 36 weeks, we are going to discuss one word. Today we began with word 1: Aum. We are considering putting up the discussion on e-seva and hoping others will share their thoughts on the word also.

After meditation, I headed with Brenda to Vastu Shilp Foundation. Brenda is a volunteer from Ireland who is in Ahmedabad for 8 weeks. For a long time she has had this desire to visit India and unexplicable connection to India. She cannot pinpoint where or when this desire came into being and that too is not important. One story I love to share about Brenda (since I heard it yesterday) is that she thought that everyone had this desire to visit India. When she found that that very few, in fact almost no one had this desire, she was extremely shocked. She is really enjoying her experience here and I have no doubts that she will be back for a longer period of time.

The Vastu Shilp Foundation is an organization started by Shri Balkrishna Doshi- India’s most famous architect. We had a pleasure of meeting Yatinbhai Pandya, who heads up the research side of the foundation. An absolutely incredible individual, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. He does research and interpretation of traditional Indian architecture and techniques to understand the reasoning behind the design of different built environments. India has incredible buildings that were built based on a science and understanding of the natural environment. There are many many practices that are good from traditional techniques and also those that are not good. The Vastu Shilp Foundation works to identify the good practices and implement them in the practice of design of built spaces. India is full of structures that work in harmony with the environment and there are countless design elements that have evolved and been honed to the local context. Yet soooo many modern structure mimic Western architecture and design features which are not conducive to the local context. For example, putting the long side of the building east-west makes sense in a cool environment as it increases the solar radiation received by the building, increasing internal temperature, but in a hot climate, you want to lower the inner temperature so such a design feature doesn’t make sense. They have examined many sustainable and green design features, old and new and try to incorporate them into the practice wherever appropriate. As Yatinbhai said, and I fully agree, the impetus is on the professional community to become raise an awareness of the importance of using appropriate technologies (suitable to local context) rarely that merely mimicking what one sees elsewhere. To raise another’s awareness, one must be educated oneself, so Vastu Shilp Foundation seeks out and/or develops locally appropriate alternatives, which are economically competitive with existing practices. The Vastu Shilp Foundation designed ESI-Sughad’s campus and the Manav Sadhna Community Center and has made both spaces demonstration units for various technologies and ideas.

ESI-Sughad is a very green building- a civil and environmental engineer’s ideal built space. Wastewater and sullage is reused. Organic waste is composted and/or turned into bio-gas. Rainwater is harvested. Water is recycled. Nature and built spaces live in harmony and co-exist. There is greenery, passive cooling and natural ventilation and the space is made from as much recycled material as possible.

For 1.5 years, Yatinbhai worked with two European organizations to make products from waste. They are created bricks from fly ash (a readily available waste product) that are stronger and financial equivalent to existing bricks, walls out of discarded glass bottles, tiles out of ceramic waste pieces, doors from vegetable crates and jute bags and soooooo much more. The products are very useful, financially affordable (or cheaper than equivalent products), do not require a large skill set to produce and are using what is currently considered waste. The work they have done can transform communities and provide alternative income sources for the poor. The opportunities are countless, now it’s a question of implementing the ideas and creating manufacturing and distribution systems. Some markets for the different products already exist, the supply must be created.

The principles and values with which the foundation operates are incredible. I can think of soooo many architecture students and/or green civil engineers who would love to see and hear all about their work. If you want to know more, def holler.

The thing that I really really enjoyed about the foundation is the fact that they are trying to close the gap between research and practice and incorporate so many ideas and concepts that are being researched and developed all over the country and world. For example, it was the foundation that told ESI about root system treatment of wastewater, etc and now Sughad transforms its WW into toilet flushing water. It is incredibly important to get the layperson motivated to go green and there are financial incentives to do so. By educating themselves about such options and presenting them to the clients, the foundation is slowly creating a green revolution in building design and at the same time transforming the way in which the built environment is looked at with regards to the natural environment.

In the afternoon, after spending some time with Brenda, I worked a bit with Karishma on a project she thought of yesterday. Last time Karishma volunteered at MS, she took back Gramshree and MS products to sell at the WashU diwali show. A bunch of us were sitting around and thinking how it would be a great thing to try again. Also so many volunteers come through MS, if they took back stuff to sell, the market that these products would reach would grow immensely. All of us volunteers sitting around could see these products doing really well in our college communities.

In the evening, I attended a Gujarati folk dance stage show that some family friends were participating in. It was my first exposure to traditional Gujrati folk dance in India. We def have made a lot of changes to real Gujarati folk dances in the US and Canada, particularly at the collegiate level. Fogana still remains traditional in many ways, but collegiate comp def not. I really enjoyed the show. Part of this was because of a new thing that I am trying to do in my life- which is trying to be a space of joy and happiness and as much as possible. The movements and more importantly the music was very vibrant. I really tried to put myself in a space of happiness, which isn’t that hard considering dance is involved. Not surprisingly, in light of this perspective or space, I wasn’t as critical as I usually am of the dances and really enjoyed myself.

The musicians are simply incredible. This group is always the one that performs at events with the Chokshi parivar and they are amazing. Just as I was transfixed at Manojkaka’s bhajan, I was transfixed by the music and musicians today. Very powerful.

The day was really powerful.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

[09-16] Happy Birthday Seju!

So it's my little sister's birthday! Happy Birthday Sej! (she's not so little). As has been the case for the last 4 years, for the 5th year in a row I am not around physically to share the day with her, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate right.

What better way to celebrate than to spread some joy and compassion. So that's what I did. It's Saturday, which means that there is Saturday Special today at MS and I'm at home because of chikungunia (which I've essentially recovered from, but I'm recuperating from yesterday's day trip to Patan - which was AWESOME) so I have some time to go out and share the love.

I had a wonderful conversation with a grandfather and grandson who were out in the heat selling chunna chor? (I don't know what its called- the cornflakes with tomatoes, marchu and lemon juice?). They are now going to feed some poor kids/elderly chunna chor to mark Sej's birthday.

I "baked". Found a no-bake cookie recipe online so we made coconut-chocolate cookies (taste like macaroons) which turned great! and then distributed chocolates to the kids at Saturday Special and the Ashramshala. The kids sang happy birthday with soooo much enthusiasm and love, I know Sej got the message (or dilmail =).

So in the MS parivar, when there is a birthday, we celebrate by sharing the good qualities of the birthday person. In keeping with that tradition.

My sister- she's the gaam ni maasi, the one who knows the world. Sej has this exceptional talent (which she inherits from my mom) of remembering everyone and every experience she has with others. Introduce her to a desi and 99.99% that within a few minutes she'll find a way that she's somehow connected to them. But just remembering names is not the end of it. If you're a friend of this girl, you've had a bonding session with her at some point and she remembers every detail of your life. She's goes way out of her way for her friends and even strangers. I really have learned a lot from her, especially when it comes to maintaining relationships. Lots of the things I do for others are inspired by her actions and of course the mass emails to friends- I literally copied her on that. Always smiling, full of compassion and exudes a magnetic force that draws people to her- that's Sejal.

[09-15] Patan

Day trip to Patan with MS and Gramshree highlights:

Sun temple at Modhera is absolutely gorgeous. The Surya Kund or Ram Kund is a tank that literally reminded me of Paheli and the song Laaga re Jaal Laaga. The Surya Kund like all kunds has steps to go to the tank in the middle from all four sides. Along the steps to the bottom are 108 mini temples (108 = number of beads in a mala also). After people bathed in the water, they would go around and pray at each of the 108 temples in the Kund before going through the sabha hall to the temple itself. The temple represents the pinnancle of Solanki architecture. All the structures are made from beautifully carved sandstone. Literally an amazing place to take some gorgeous pictures. The bright colours of people's outfits looked stunning against the sandstone. (This was the day I didn't have my camera on me..., but others took pictures, I just done have them yet).

Lage Raho Munnabhai is an AWESOME movie. Very well done. It's funny and imparts great lessons. Even though we all work with organizations that rest on Gandhian principles, its easy to forget the power of Gandhian principles. This movie was a perfect shot in the arm of energy. The dialogues are great and you're continually laughing. When we came out, we began to pick up the trash in the plaza. The looks on the shopkeepers' faces were priceless. So many people have seen the film and then walked through the plaza, but I doubt they started picking up the trash afterwards... =)

Rani-ni-Vav or the Queen's Stepwell. Commissioned by the queen as a memorial to the late Bhimdev Maharaj (who had the sun temple constructed), the stepwell is a masterpiece. Again gorgeous carvings. Unlike a tank, a step well has stairs on up to 3 sides leading to the well. Rani-ni-vav has steps on one side. The step-well is 7 stories deep and due to passive cooling is incredibly cool as you move down into the step-well - a welcome relief from the hot day.

Patan's Patola. Incredible artform that exists only in Patan. There used to be approximate 800 weavers, now there is 7-8. Its takes 4 people 3-4 months to make one sari. Each piece is only made by order, each thread in the design is hand dyed. The method for dyeing for each design was done atleast 150 years ago (some designs are older). A small handkerchief costs Rs. 15,000. The pieces are created by crossing weaving two threads- the horizontal and vertical one. Each thread has been pre-dyed to create the pattern. (I'm not explaining myself very well so check out the website). Very cool.

Playing antakshari on the bus was also a lot of fun. Boys vs Girls. THe guys are a lot of fun to play against. They all sing as a group, are very loud and have a ton of fun, which makes the whole experience a lot of fun too.

Overall, the day was my first day doing any touristy thing in Gujarat and it was a lot of fun. The history of this state is incredible and its been a very long time since I've seen any ancient Indian architecture. The experience of seeing places that are not in use is very different from visiting those in use (ie. temples such as that in Dwarka). I'm excited for India Guide: Gujarat to come out and have an even greater appreciation for all the knowledge Anjali has about Gujarat.

I'll put up pictures one day. sorry.

[09-10] Chikungunia

Yessiree, came down with my first boute of illness in India - chikungunia.

Thankfully, I had a mild case. My joints were not completely stiff, I was mobile, it just felt like I had arthritis for a few days. Fever and headaches went away after two days and lots of pills. I essentially slept for 3 days straight. But I am better now =)

Was out of commission for the week, but ready to start the week =)

[09-08] Dancing in the Rain

Playing in the rain is a LOT of fun. We just had a flash storm and it was awesome. I didn’t get a chance to play much, since we were trying to keep Sansui inside and Raghu was cold, but rain really has magical properties. A few weeks ago, when I was going to my Kaka’s via bus from Gandhi Ashram, there was a large downpour. The gulley to his house was a lake. It was sooooo much fun to walk through it to get to his house.

Rain truly is awesome.

Think about it. It’s nature’s love. Plants grow so much better with rain water than they ever do with water that we take from other sources. After the first rainfall beautiful plants and grasses grow.

Rain- Nature’s love

Dance in it.

[09-07] Bubbles Bursting

I came to India with the mentality that I’m not here to change India, but India will change me. Keep an open mind, but more importantly keep an open heart. The recognition that I will not change the world is an important one, but remembering that in your day to day life is much easier said than done. Keep an open mind, keep an open heart- again something that is easier said than done.

I’ve been in Ahmedabad for six weeks now and slowing the bubbles are starting to burst around my head. In retrospect, I can say though I may have had a slightly better understanding of what it means to do service work in a developing world, I’m no more enlightened than the person next to me. I’d heard the stories and was on hand aware of what to expect, but the story is completely different when you’re the main character.

I’m so surprised, yet not surprised that I got caught up in the traps. Well maybe they aren’t traps, but necessary steps that every NRI has to go through. It takes more than just knowledge of what is likely to happen to come out of a mentality and way of thinking that we have been trained in.

Bubble number 1: India is not the US or Canada

Well duh.. no brainer right. In the N. America, we work on an external clock- deadlines, due dates, etc. In fact, as Indians we often complain about IST and get frustrated with it, though we all follow it… tyranny of the majority is our justification. Everything in India works on a much slower pace. It simply takes longer to get things done. For someone who is used to deadlines, likes to get things done and over it-this is a slightly difficult concept to become okay with.

Organization is not everything. A lot of work that I have been involved with isn’t formally structured. People kind of flow and things get done. But from an outsider perspective there is a lack of efficiency, etc. It takes some clarity of mind and untraining of the mind to recognize that there is some rhythm and organization to the seemingly unstructured flow.

It’s a very difficult process to untrain the mind. There are ties when I wonder if I am seeing things in certain ways because of my North American background or because there actually is something wrong. Slowly I’ll learn. As a person who likes to do, its been a challenging process to simply look, listen and learn, but as with any change in behaviour, etc, this is my sadhna. It is a practice that will take time.

There is a really awesome practice at MS that on someone’s birthday, we talk about that person’s gunas or positive attributes. I could see how it would be a challenging process on the part of the birthday person to make sure that the conversation does not inflate one’s ego. The process is not for that person. The process is a space to reflect and think about what one has learned from that person and to share that with others. With the people we see every day, work with all the time, it can be easy to forget to recognize what we are learning from them so this provides that space. In addition each person learns different things from the same person. We each share a personal and unique interaction and this is a space to share those experiences. I have found this process really powerful. Sahil was here for 6 weeks or so, I got a chance to interact with him for about 3 weeks. It wasn’t as if we had hours long conversations, but I still learned from him and I didn’t recognize that really until we spoke about him when he was leaving. As others shared what they learned, I thought about it and realized what I had learned. Sahil is really good at adjusting. I didn’t know this, but while he was MS, he never complained to other people, he just went with the flow and did stuff. He shared some of his frustrations with me, but not with MS staff. He adjusted to the culture at MS. Until other MS shared their experiences, I didn’t realize how much he adjusted, thus I learned from Sahil how to manage expectations and adjust. Anjali- I had only known her for a few days when it was her birthday, but already I had learned a lot from her. Bhaskar’s birthday was a few days ago and again the sharing was so powerful. You really get insight into people and are reminded again of how cool each person is, which sadly can be something that we can forget.

Bubble 2: Subconcious desire to skip the difficult steps that come between where I am know and who I want to become

Sounds weird and is sort of difficult to explain. I am surrounded by people who exude pure love. They are well on the path to knowing themselves and being present at all times. I want to shed agyan and negativity and be in state of constant harmony, but you can’t just get there in an instance. It’s a process that involves a lot of suffering after all suffering is for the purification of the soul. It takes effort and practice. No matter what I know or say, until I go thru the trials and tribulations which are inevitable, I won’t really understand and knowledge will remain knowledge and not become wisdom.

Plenty of other bubbles are bursting. The process is well underway.

It’s amusing on one hand to see how quickly I can fall back into old habits and thought patterns. Literally at one point, I was thinking, I could change this place around. That’s when someone had to come and ask me: did you come to change an organization, did you come to change people or did you come to change yourself? I had entered this spiral that veered off the path of truth which I have set out upon and forgot one of the things that the preamble to my blog says. Luckily I am surrounded by people who will guide me on my path. For their guidance, watchful eye, I am utterly thankful. Truly blessed to have so many around who care and will/are shining beacons for me when I get lost in the darkness.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Anarben's story- part 2

I have learned that if I want to do something for the community, I need to change my habits.

I have learned and grown not necessarily from seva work itself, but from the people. And its not just the communities and people that I am working to serve, but volunteers also. One big thing to learn from NRI volunteers is openness. For example, a few years back, two Indicorps fellows were working at Manav Sadhna. Anjali and Bindi had prepared a survey form for the tekra and were discussing it with each other. They didn’t notice me behind, when one of them said, “If we show this to Anarben, she’s only going to find faults in it.”

For a second, I was hurt, but then I began to think. Instead of taking it as an insult, this was an opportunity to look at myself. If this was the perception they have of me, I need to change. So in that instance, I resolved not to say anything negative about that form and ultimately, I even helped them do some of the surveying using the exact form they created. From them, I became aware of the fact that I did not show my appreciation or gratitude and have made more of an effort to do so.

The community has also taught me many lessons. I’ll give you an example from a walk that Jayesh and I participated in along the Narmada. One evening, we were told to find our own food. If we couldn’t find food, we’d have to go hungry. Jayesh and I decided that we were going to eat with the poorest family we could find. So we set out on our search. Along the way, we found a family sitting under a tree. They were cutting wood. The family was from out of town, had no home and was very poor. We began to play with the kids, made them a swing off the tree and became friends with them. Through the kids, we were able to connect to the family. We told the family that we would eat with them that evening and they were absolutely thrilled. We set a time to come back and went on exploring.

In the evening, we set out to meet the family. We bought some vegetables, etc thinking that we would all cook and then eat together. Since the family was poor, we expected that they would be a shak made of potatoes and onions, so we bought greens. When we came back to the tree, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The family had beautifully cleaned an area, lined the edge with branches and logs and prepared it for our dinner. The food was already cooked and the shak was made of green vegetables! Jayesh and I could barely eat because we had tears in our eyes.

As we ate with them, I couldn’t help but think about how middle class society and myself included feed people. The entire evening was so full of love and the family had put their heart into the food. When people come over to eat, do we feed them with love? If someone well-to-do is coming over, we prepare a lavish meal with a variety of dishes, but what if the person coming to eat is poor? Had I ever fed anyone with so much love??

From that day, I resolved to feed every person who came into my house with love. Rich or poor, I was not going to see a difference. Since then, we have fed countless people. They are always people coming and going in our home now, even when we are not there, people come and eat in our home.

[Scribe's note: This is absolutely true. Living with Jayeshmama and Anarmami over the last few weeks, I have seen a countless number of people come in and out of the home. Each person is treated with the same amount of love and respect and fed with pure love.]