Thursday, August 31, 2006

"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.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

[08-23] Seven Days Later

7 days ago, it was Janmastami.
7 days ago, we left Safai Vidyalaya after our first Wednesday meditation sit and decided to take a look at the Sabarmati since we could see the water from where we stood. I wasn't completely registering what I was seeing, after I haven't seen the Sabarmati very much, so I couldn't comprehend the implications of the image in front of me, but the look on Mami and Mama's face told me that something was very wrong. The water level was higher than Saturday and the speed of the water much greater. What this meant for flooding I did not know, but it meant it was time to make more phone calls, this time more relief supplies were going to be needed.

Even though it was a holiday, very quickly people starting coming into Manav Sadhna. Water hasn't reach Kiran's house, but the row of homes adjacent to him was flooded. People were living on the street.

Seven days later, the flood waters have gone now. The sun is shining. A greater flood came in on Saturday. Two days after people had gone home, did backbreaking work to clean their homes and were exhausted. The third time the water lasted for 2 days. Homes that didn't fall the first time, fell the second time. Homes that survived the first two didn't make it through the third. Each time the water rose. At it's peak, Barot's home had a foot of water in it. In its aftermath, chicken gunia among other diseases are spreading. People are injured, homes broken and vessels and clothing washed away. People are now hesistant to go back home, what if it floods again. That is unknown. If it rains, water will be released from the dam.

The picture is gloomy, yes, but bright at the same time. For amidst the grey, like aun peeking behind grey clouds, yellow rays light the sky. The resilence of these people is incredible. Their ability to live in the present undeniable. Adaptability admirable. Jayeshmama likes to say, "In India, the illiterate teach the literate." His words couldn't be more true.

In the hugs and calling of "didi" from a child, I learned about hope and happiness. In the smiles on people's faces as they spoke of their broken homes, I learned of acceptance of one's circumstances. In the efforts of the volunteers and people, I learned dedication and committment.

I'm working at ESI, but seeing the need for manpower, I joined relief efforts 10 days ago. It's hard to believe how much has changed in those few days. The bubble around my head burst, a more grounded perspective in place.

I came to India independently. While things had begun to shift before I left, change is process and it takes time. I don't regret who I was, but I want to change my weaknesses so that I can become a better person. Part of coming to India alone requires confidence, in oneself and one's abilities to handle whatever comes your way. I used to and still do (but have a greater awareness and less frequency) want to do everything myself. I had to be in control- it was my defense mechanism. If i control everything around me, nothing can harm me right. There is a positive side to being self-reliant, but when it like anything else is in excess, it's a bad thing. For a month, I shared, but kept things within also, but my meditation hasnt been consistent and I havent given myself the space to digest. Digestion is very important. When I faced frustrating situations, I didn't turn to anyone, thinking I could handle it. It came to a point where I realized I couldn't. I was taught again, like I will be taught in the future, to reach out. Everything doesn't have to be done alone. There are countless people before me who have gone through similar experiences, all I need to do is reach out to them.

I've also learned more about what it means to adapt. To mold oneself to an existing system, work with it and accomplish stuff that you and the system identify as important. I too came in with a NRI perspective and haven't kept as open of a mind as I should to my surroundings, but that is changing slowly.

Indicorps and PeaceCorps and ESW don't have orientations for their overseas volunteers for no reason. The drawback of coming independently is that there is no formal structure through which I can gain awareness of the big no-nos or know to approach a community, etc, but the resources all exist, I just have to reach out and use them.

In seven days, a lot has changed. Step by step, I'm on the journey to knowing myself.

[08-20] Head and shoulders, knees and toes

Day 7 of relief work, day 2 of flood 3. Watching over food vessels, while teams set out to distribute food, a bunch of kids who we had bathed the day before gathered around to give me a hug or simply say, Hi didi.

As one of the girls wrapped her hand around my finger, I remembered a song from long ago.

Want to play a game? Not surprisingly, I got a resounding yes from the kids.
I’m going to teach you a song. Mathu, khubho, ghutan, pug, ghutan pug. (Head, shoulders, knees, feet, knees, feet). Soon all of them were singing and acting out the song and a crowd of adults was growing around us. Heena khe (Simon says) was a hit too.

Then some parents starting encouraging their kids to show off their talents and after a few got over their shyness we had a mini talent show happening in front of the Sunil’s paan no gullo. They sang and danced, while the audience of adults and kids looked on. When I left, I promised two girls we would dance to Kajra re and the kids would be ready with more talents to display. =)

[08-19] Walking amidst experiences

The darkness rustles in a new picture and fills the heart with a new life. As I walk amidst the families, spending a few moments here and there, talking to the children, simply placing my hand on their head, my heart is really filled with love. I do no feel pity, I am filled with sympathy and love. I feel that people are also more responsive to me. In that moment, I was filled with love and wanted to ease their pain with a stroke of my hand. I came up to some children lying on bed. After sitting down with them, we exchanged a few words and then felt silent. One little girl stood with me and as I wrapped my arms around her and there was no need for words. We simply sat.

I don’t know what magic the darkness brought. Maybe it was the fact that there was overall calm in the center, which contrasted sharply with the chaos and noise on the street and flooded areas, or maybe it was the fact that people were able to and were eating until they were full. Whatever the magic was, in those moments, I felt like I was truly there, and able to connect to the individuals around me.

I’m not quite sure how to describe the relief work or rather my reaction to it. I’ve seen other people in action and am amazed at the ease with which they operate and are able to interact and connect with the population. Nirali, Anchal and Anjali are beautiful examples. Here I am, not really knowing how to talk to the families/households, which has been one reason why I haven’t really tagged anyone from the clothing fund and I see Nirali doing it effortlessly. I thought I was good or at least decent at starting conversation with people, but the words have been escaping me. When I went house to house two days ago, I wanted to be “effective” on one hand, but more importantly wanted to connect to the families, I wasn’t able to. Connectivity doesn’t happen because you want it, but rather is a feeling or esaas, which would occur if I looked from my heart. But the words would not come. Maybe it’s because of the experiential overload that I’ve had over the last weeks, who knows, but I’ve feel like I’ve been desensitized to all that around me. Finally, the gates were released and I could feel again. Lesson learned: its absolutely necessary to take time to digest/internalize what I am learning and experiencing.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Stories from relief work

Collected from all the service workers are posted on e-seva's blog.

From the frontlines of relief work: Day 1

Sadly, it seems like such a regular occurrence nowadays. You open the newspaper or turn on the tv and you learn of a natural disaster somewhere- earthquakes, floods, tsunamis. Thankfully, the sense of humanity is alive and well in so many that funds and supplies begin flowing into affected areas. I've heard stories about relief work, particularly after the Pakistan earthquake. The fighting, crowding and overall lack of order that leds to disproportionate distribution. The strongest get the most, while the weak end up with nothing.

Doing relief work in the flooded slums of Ahmedabad is my first experience doing field work and the I learned firsthand the first day why the choas occurs. The first time we went out to distribute, it was an ABSOLUTE madhouse. People surrounding us from all directions- oh behn, oh bhai, muje bhi do na. Yelling and shouting doesn't do a whole lot of good when you are on a crowded street and have 30-40 people pushing and shoving. Having more manpower wouldn't help the situation that much. In the midst of it, Jagatbhai made a snap decision to close shop and head back. Distribution would only happen if things were more organized.

The second time we went back, we went to the Khadi Board. An enclosed area. People had gotten the families to line up. One by one, they came to the van to get their food packet. It went well for a while, we had help from some locals, without whom the order would have been unachievable. But at soon as the people inside were taken care of and the gates opened to let people in from the outside, it was chaos again.

The third time, Jayeshbhai came with us. The families in the Khadi Board were sitting with their families passing time. He got up onto a cart and began to speak.

"We understand your pain and the hardships you are going through. We see the effects of the flood waters. Each of you is our brother, our sister, mother or father and we are here to share the hardships you are going through. People outside these walls want to help and they are sending food for you so that you don't go hungry. When they give us food, they are giving us their trust that it will be distributed properly and equitably. But when we come to give food, you surround from all sides. You are not beggars, you are our brothers and sisters. This food is for you. But when you act like beggars and crowd around us, we are unable to distribute it, which makes all of us look bad and leads to people not wanting to give supplies. We are here to help and need your support so please stay in your place and we'll come around to give you food."

The words struck the people and no one moved as we moved amidst them giving them food. They started cheering and clapping when Jayeshbhai then took a bite from one of their plates. There are many times that we too get our meal or snack by eating with those affected.

After Jayeshbhai spoke, I went over to a corner where his voice wasn't here and repeated what he said. The people understood everything and readily gave their support.

From that first evening's distribution, I saw the power of love and patience. By talking to them, treating them as humans and communicating our ideas and sentiments things can change.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Flood posts

Still in the works.

For some reason I couldn't get pictures to load, but Nirali has them up on her blog here (these are from Wednesday)

Here is the situation:

In the last week the state of Gujarat in India has seen one of its worst floods ever. On Saturday (Aug 12th), more than 11,00,000 cusecs of water was released into the Sabarmati River.

The cities of Surat and more than 300 villages around Anand and Vadodara have been majorly flooded.

The Sabarmati River had flooded due to heavy rains and pushed water into the lower lying areas of Ahmedabad. As a result, hundreds of homes in the Tekra (slums) were left completely submerged in the floodwater. Many have lost their homes, all their belongings and means of livelihood. They have been left vulnerable to illnesses and without access to proper food, medicines and shelter.

On Saturday morning, we were ready to move from relief work to rehabilitation, when once again a high alert was sounded in low-lying areas of Ahmedabad and Panchmahal districts following torrential rainfall in certain high-level regions from where the water is flowing into the Sabarmati River.

More than 40,000 people were evacuated from areas along the river since late Friday night. Last night (Saturday), flood levels reached the highest yet. After receding during the day, more water was released from the dam due to heavy rainfall upstream and currently the water levels are rising yet again.

For those familiar with MS, water reached Barot and Mukesh's house and the steps to Kiran's home on Saturday night. Approx 400 people at currently living in the community center and MS is working to assist 700 people in Hanumanpura, Parikshit Nagar and the area surrounding the community center.

This third round of flooding (Sunday, Wednesday, yesterday/today) has been very damaging on physical property and health. Thurs-Friday, families work endlessly cleaning their homes and working to get their lives back in order. They were physically very very tired by the time the floods came on Friday night/Saturday. The waters came rapidly, so the few possessions that were moved back, were not all taken out in the third round of floods. This third round of floodwaters also have been around the longest and have yet to go down more than 36 hours later.

More on the flood work later. Right now, its long hours and work/sleep when I get home so posting is on hold.

Nirali has a great post on her experiences that includes stories of different people living in the tekra.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Gujarat Floods

Currently, my work at ESI has been put on hold. Heavy monsoon rains have fallen all over India. This has lead to flooding in various regions and dams reaching full capacity. To prevent dam failure, governments have had to release unprecedented amounts of water which has led to massive flooding downstream, Surat was amongst some of the places worst hit by the floods. Surat was flooded not because of heavy rains in Surat, but due to the release of water from the dam and high tide, the city was hit with a large influx of water and no place for it to go.

Over the last few days, due to heavy rains in Rajasthan, water was released from the dam upstream of Ahmedabad. Given the flooding downstream, the amount released was reduced, but heavy rainfall between the dam and Ahmedabad led to dramatic rises in the water level. Lower lying areas of Ramapir no Tekra were flooded again yesterday and the damage was worse than that on Sunday. Currently relief work in underway and I'm in the midst of writing up on my experiences.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who I was and am

Mami is currently working on her MBA part time and with midterms around the corner, I’m helping her out as much as possible. By helping her, I’m learning some econ along the way and partially continuing to be a student in the academic sense of the word (though being a student is not limited to taking a class or learning from a textbook, we are in reality, students of life learning from the environment, including people, around us). One of the classes she’s taking is Organization Behaviour, very similar to my OB class at Cal. One of the articles that I read was particularly striking (wrong word, but I can’t think of the right one) as it was about abrasive personalities.

People with abrasive personalities are high/overachievers, perfectionists, have a need to be in control, tendency to be impatient with people who are “slow” to understand their ideas, competitive, need for power and recognition and not so good at developing people. Sounds pretty familiar. As I read the article, different incidences came to mind where I embodied the characteristics described. It was another realization of internal changes that have occurred over the last year in particular. I had an abrasive personality. I say had because I now feel that the negative tendencies associated with this characterization have diminished.

There are positive sides to an abrasive personality and I am trying to maintain these aspects, while ridding myself of the negative. It’s partially a concerted effort, ie. reducing my need to be in control and partially effects of other changes I am making in my life, such as an increase in patience due to meditation, etc. Whatever the reason may be, I’m happy to be moving away from being an abrasive person and hope that the detrimental effects of being such a person are overcome, particularly in the organizations that I was apart of.

Ahmedabad, four weeks later

So I’ve been in Ahmedabad “working” for four weeks, so much has happened, yet I have posted or given many details… my apologies.

Where do I begin?

I put working in quotation marks because I haven’t quite began yet. The last three weeks have been time for exploration and observation. I’ve been looking, listening and experiencing and my heart has overflowed from all of this.

Currently, I am working at the Environmental Sanitation Institute, one of the leading institutions in India in the field of sanitation. The director, Ishwarbhai (or dada) Patel has dedicated his entire life to the promotion of toilets and is known as Mr. Toilet. The recipient of the Padmashree Award, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Government of India, Ishwardada is a Gandhian, who has made it his personal life objective to work for the lowest in the social structure- the Bhangis/Valmikis or scavenger caste.

Amidst many other things, I have been sitting in on training sessions that are being held for principals/teachers of schools that are about to have school sanitation units installed under the Central Govt’s Total Sanitation Campaign. Through the training sessions, I have learned more about sanitation and hygiene (and what is important to communicate) and have begun to polish my Gujarati and expand my vocabulary to include works related to sanitation (mudh means feces for those that are curious). In addition to observing and learning, I’m looking at ways to make training more effective and again have become more aware of the vast differences in the way knowledge is communicated here and in North America.

There are a few field projects coming through the pipeline that I might be tagged onto and get field experience through also.

Where I am and how it all interconnects?

ESI was started by Ishwardada and works to bring sanitation to villages and slums. Safai Vidhalaya was started by Gandhi in 1932, along with the Harijan Sevak Sangh. Safai Vidhalaya was started with the purpose of improving working conditions for the scavenger class and ultimately eliminating the caste altogether. ESI and Safai Vidhalaya until 2 years ago shared the same space in the Gandhi Ashram and the ESI headquarters continues to be at the Ashram. Two years ago, ESI opened their new campus in Sughad, a village about 10km from Ahmedabad. The facility is a beautiful learning campus set amidst fields. The building and its characteristics are a treat for civil and environmental engineers. There are rainwater harvesting systems, a toilet garden, compost pits, open spaces, passive cooling, natural shading and ventilation. The building really is a green building. Pictures will be available at some point.

Manav Sadhna is a NGO also based out of the Gandhi Ashram, started by Jayeshmama, Anarmami and Virenbhai in 1995. This organization primarily works with in one of the largest slums in Ahmedabad called Ramapir no Tekra. They have a wide range of programs targeting primarily towards children, women and youth. The aim of their programs isn’t simply to bring people out of poverty, but rather to cultivate values, love and community bonds. All of their activities tie back to holistic development. There are several other organizations that tie by to Manav Sadhna including Gramshree (an organization where women learn artistic skills like embroidery and sewing to create wonderful pieces of clothing, etc.), Uttan (a school for mentally challenged children), a blind school.

The environment that permeates all the organizations is that of love, compassion and community. From the first day that one comes to MS, you are introduced to all those present and welcomed into the MS parivar (family). Each person is deeply connected to other another. I got a chance to experience the power and love of this huge family over the last week as many birthdays and celebrations came one after another.

First, it was Sanskruti’s birthday. She’s the daughter of Jayeshmama and Anarmami and of course a ladli (beloved one) of the MS parivar. The night before 7-8 of us got together and decorated the house with streamers, balloons and a beautiful rangoli. The next morning, 40 ragpicking women were invited over for bhajan, garba and lunch. In addition to the women, there were about 25 MS parivar people there helping out. We danced and sang, ate and prayed together.

One of the major characteristics of Manav Sadhna is spirituality. A very prominent and common picture that you will see around all places somehow connected to MS is the sarvadharma picture (a picture that includes symbols from major religions). Prayer is an important part of the daily activities of the institutions. At least at Manav Sadhna and ESI, daily prayer is held with all members. Prathna (prayer) includes saying the Sarva Dharma prayer and sharing of news and experiences, etc. On all important occasions, the beginning of any good acts, everyone prays together. The power and vibrations of these group prayers cannot even be described.

After the celebration with the ragpickers, a group headed to Seva Café to decorate the place for the evening celebration with family. There was no one person in charge of anything. People worked together to decorate, prepare food and serve with guests began to arrive. One really beautiful tradition they have here when it’s a birthday is the lighting of a diya or candles. Candles/ light should not be extinguished but rather lit to dispel darkness. Following this line of thought, instead of blowing out candles on a cake, a diya is lit. Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but stop and simply watch all that was going around me. People interacting, serving, doing tasks with utmost love. It was moving to see and experience all the love that was being shared and felt by all those that were part of the moment.

Similar experiences occurred for Anarmami and Anjaliben’s birthday. People came up with ideas and then so many hands came together to make the idea into a reality. The outpouring of love was not a special occurrence, but simply a mass manifestation of the emotions and feelings of all those that call the MS parivar family. One characteristic thing that happens on birthdays and when volunteers, etc leave is the sharing of values and good characteristics of that person. It is not to enlargen the ego of that person, but rather to share our experiences with the person and to become even more aware of the role that person has played in our life. Another principle found within the parivar is that we are always learning from each other, regardless of our age or the age of the person we are interacting with. By verbalizing the good qualities of the person, we become more cognizant of the role that interactions with one another play in our life and cultivate positive energy as the emphasis is on the positive rather than negative. Even as you listen to others speak, you find inspiration to become a better person and work even more diligently and with more love towards universal good. Anjali, for example, took 11 or so resolutions on her birthday, which including giving up all sweets and chai, meditating, journaling and personal reading daily, changing the way she views the world, amongst other things. None of her resolutions are easy and she made so many. I wasn’t the only one who took inspiration from her and has made (and following) my own resolutions.

As I try to explain this family and environment, I find it very difficult to find the right words to do it justice and at the same time, I can imagine people reading this and thinking that some or all of this may sound hippyish. Words really can’t do justice to what this world is all about. Once you enter it though, its practically a guarantee that you’ll walk away a different person. Everyday, as people come and go and personally, I can see changes in the people who come into this environment. I write in an attempt to share what I’m experiencing, but ultimately it is a personal encounter which will bring vibrancy to the colours and paint on the canvas and make it real.

Just another day

I’ve been talking to family and friends about how I’m surrounded by these incredible people and incredible work, but these words are meaningless without stories to illustrate my point.

Two days ago, I spent the day in Ahmedabad. The day began with an hour meditation sit with Nirali, Rahul and Jayeshmama. It was my first long group sit since Vipassana After breakfast, the four of us headed out to Jagatbhai’s pood (not exactly sure what the English translation would be). It’s residential area in the old city that is unlike newer developments of societies, etc. In a pood, the house are more interconnected and the layout of the area is more conducive to a community environment. Visiting the pood reminded me of pij and nar and the time that me and Sejal spent living in Nar as a little girl. It was very cool to see aspects of village life/older developments within the city.

After the pood visit, we headed over to Manav Sadhna for prathna and to pick up Kunal to take him to the hospital. Kunal was found many months ago lying on the footpath outside of MS. When walking by, Parulben saw him and began talking to him. Over the course of the conversation, she learned that lower portion of his spinal cord was in pieces, which meant that he couldn’t walk. Together with others from MS, Kunal was taken to Civil Hospital and MS volunteers/staff set up a schedule to visit and look after Kunal while he got medical attention. For the next couple of months, many helped out and Kunal learned how to walk with the assistance of a crutch and stick. The volunteers located Kunal’s family and when he was well made arrangements for him to go home. A month (a few days ago), Kunal showed up at MS again. Circumstances at home were less than ideal and he was ill. Rahul came to hear of Kunal’s story and thought it would be best to admit him to Mother Theresa’s hospital in Ahmedabad (which has an incredible story of its own). So after meeting with Kunal, we took him to the hospital. Once all the formalities were complete and reassuring Kunal that we would help him develop skills to earn an income, etc after he was better, we turned to leave, Kunal hands us a large bag. When we looked inside we found that it was full of tobacco packets. Kunal used to sell them on the streets to earn money, but he was giving up that lifestyle. We all just looked at each other not knowing what to say.

Later in the day, Jayeshmama was at Manav Sadhna, when the mother of one of the volunteers came to meet him. Her son, a NRI, had volunteered at MS/Seva Café for a week, 25 hours to be exact. He had been forced to come to MS. One week later, his mom was so touched that she was shedding tears of joy. In 25 hours, her son had been transformed. As a token of her gratitude and appreciation, she gave MS Rs. 10,000. It can take a lifetime to change people, while this volunteer changed in 25 hours of service. Incredible, yet not surprising when you meet and see the people and work of the MS family.

Within a short period of time of this incident, a school teacher comes to meet with Jayeshmama. He and his students had heard of the work that MS did during natural disasters, etc and decided to help out. So the students collected grains and money. By gathering 5 rupees, 10 rupees here and there, they made a collection of 10,000 rupees! And handful by handful, they gathered 6-7 large bags of grain. The teacher had come to meet Jayeshmama to give him the money and grain to pass on to the appropriate people =)

This all in a day’s work. Pretty awesome, huh.

[08-08] Inspiration

“Why do people come to India? It’s to get inspired.”

Wow. It makes so much sense, yet I had failed to recognize this reasoning. Everywhere you look in India, inspiration is right in front of you. The world that many of us live in in North America is so incredibly artificial. Turn on the tap and water comes out. Push down the handle and our feces and urine disappear from sight. Even without a formal survey, I could say with a large degree of confidence that a majority people do not have any idea how clean water gets to their taps and what happens to sewage after they flush. And these are the basic facilities. Let’s not forget how we get our food, where our clothing comes from or how plastic containers are manufactured. At least for those living in urban North America, the world that we inhabit is a mirage, hiding complexities and our interconnectedness to the rest of the world and humanity.

Come to India and a lot changes. Even if you don’t live in a village, where the connection between farm and products is very apparent, you are more aware of the realities of the world around you. For example, my upper class family friends in Ahmedabad, like everyone else, have water worries. Before the Narmada dam project, every week, a tanker would come by to fill their water tanks. It’s a country where even if you live in an AC house and drive a Mercedes Benz, the realities of the living conditions of those at the bottom of the pyramid cannot be swept under a rug.

In India, inspiration is staring you in the face. Everywhere you look there is an opportunity to serve and/or learn. Every moment that I’ve been here has been a growing experience. Left, right and all around, I’m meeting people doing incredible work and with hearts of gold. Some are NRI’s and many are not. Each is giving of their self, body and soul included. In one way, it’s easy to live in India, to be inspired and motivated. I could see how it would be a very different challenge to go back and maintain that state in the industrialized world. It’ll most definitely be interesting to see how Sameer and others adapt. Ultimately though, if one learns to see from the heart vs the head, I believe that inspiration will be found everywhere.

[08-07] 1st Clothing Tag

What do you do when someone hands you 22,500 rupees and tells you to do something good with it that relates to clothing?

Yesterday that was the responsibility I was given. People participating in a walkathon in New Jersey raised this money and after passing through many hands, the money is now my responsibility. With support, guidance and help from Jayeshmama, my job is to spread love and kindness with this money and use clothing as a theme for these acts of kindness.

When I first received the money, I was thinking what sort of event/project I could do. It was a large scale mentality, after all 22,500 is a lot of money. As I got caught up in thinking about what would be a good event type way to use the money giving away clothing, Jayeshmama had a much simpler suggestion. Walk around and talk to people. Interact with them, cut their nails, clean their house and make note of where they live and sizes of family members. Then buy clothing and give it to the people you interact with. So that is the plan.

It hasn’t even been a day since I told mama about the money and he’s already found an appropriate beneficiary. (Note the description of the family is from MS’s annual report 04-05 as it’s very well-written).

Arvind, 16 years old, beams with confidence that few children his age have. His brother, Jayanti, 11 years old, never passes a day without his infectious smile. I had the pleasure of spending two evenings with him thus far and he never stops smiling!

Arvind starts his day at nine in the morning by cleaning his house. He then walks to the main commercial street of Ahmedabad- CG Road, a road he loving refers to as his “office.” Along his walk to the office, he shines shoes, which he keeps up until six in the evening. From his eight hours of labor, he earns 40 to 50 rupees. Afterwards, he returns home to help fetch water and do laundry for his entire household. After eating dinner and resting briefly, he leaves home at nine in the evening, spending the next four hours picking through and collecting garbage to sell. In between all these tasks, Arvind finds time to attend Manav Sadhna’s Street Child School program, where he eagerly learns to read and write.

Arvind and Jayanti live with their mother, who is mentally challenged and elder brother, who works when he is sober. Their father died from alcoholism a few years ago.

Two years ago, Arvind was picking rags late one nigh when he found a box outside of a jewelry store. After arriving home, he sorted through the box and found several pure silver coins. Arvind could not sleep at night knowing that these coins did not belong to him The next morning he notice that the box held a letter with an address attached to it. Since his reading skills were limited, he asked an adult to read the address and took him to the jewelry store to return the items to the owner. The owner, taken aback from Arvind’s honesty, felt compelled to give him a 500 rupee award.

A child that earns less than 50 rupees a day, a child with such dismal family situation, returned a box filled with treasures worth 100 times his daily earnings.

Two weeks ago, Arvind was injured by a motor vehicle. Even though the driver was at fault, he did not get angry. His injuries have limited the amount of work he could do, greatly reducing the family’s daily income. Jayeshmama chose this family to be the first beneficiary of the “clothing” fund.

Death- measure of spiritual advancement

Old post that I forgot to post.

In one of the evening discourse, Goenkaji spoke of different religions. Amongst many other things, two ideas from this discourse have stuck with me:
1) what it means to call oneself a Christian or Ram Bhakt, etc
2) death being the measure of a person’s spiritual advancement (I forget the exact word)

If one calls oneself a follower of a certain religion, God, or diety, then one should strive to embody the characteristics embodies within the religion or person. If one only prays or has belief when one needs something, but does not strive to embody the values and traits of the God or religion, one cannot consider oneself a true follower of that faith. Simple idea that makes a lot of sense, but is not practiced by many.

The example he gave was of two brothers, who said they were great followers of Ram. Ram, amongst many other things, is known for his selflessness. Even as the eldest son and crown prince, due to circumstances, he was sent to the forest for 14 years and had his kingdom given to his younger brother. When the younger brother returned and found out what happened in his presence, he went to his elder brother in the forest and the two proceeded to argue over who should have the kingdom and who should stay in the forest. Each argued that the other live in and rule the kingdom!

The second idea was particularly interesting. Goenkaji asserts that the measure of a person’s spiritual advancement is how a person dies. You can tell a phony from enlightened persons by their state of mind when they die. Jesus, for example, was being tortured on the cross, but instead of hatred and ill wishes, he only had love and forgiveness to offer those who were injuring him. This idea resurfaced this evening. I’m truly blessed. I have not one, but three (my maternal grandfather passed away before I was born) grandparents who are very spiritual advanced in bhakti yoga. Today, I learned more about the spiritual aspects of my dad’s parents, who I don’t see often as they live in India. I also learned how full story of how my grandfather died.

The day before he passed away, my grandfather knew he was going to die. Even at the age of 75, he practiced law. The day before his death, he finished all of his pending work and left behind for someone else to finish. Later, my cousin was sitting with him and my kaki. As usual, my cousin asked how he was doing (he has diabetes, etc), to which he replied “My time to die has come.”

The next day, he had a heart attack. He then walked himself to the hospital, climbed up the stairs and did not breathe his last until he lied down on the bed. To this day, my grandfather’s close friend says that he wants to die the way my grandfather did.

It is said that my grandmother also will have a peaceful death, so powerful is her faith, which I have had the pleasure of experience firsthand.

Blessed I am indeed to have these individuals as my grandparents.