Friday, January 12, 2007

[01-11] Gratitude List

Yesterday, the quote of the day really touched me. Right after reading it, I went to the ticker to check out blog updates and Fred's latest was the first the link. He had a post on Cafe Gratitude. So it was a morning of reading about gratitude. I was inspired to keep a gratitude list of my own.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

[01-07] Family

The Patels came to visit. December was a busy month and very memorable month. A few days after returning from the South, I spent time with our family friends in Ahmedabad for Manan’s wedding. I had a good time, we had nightly dance practices and cousins from the US. After the weeklong wedding, it was back to MS for a few days before my brother and sister arrived. Then it was Patel family reunion.

The first night Sejal came, bhai and Sej spent the night at the ashram. They saw a little of MS, went to Bhikhabhai’s house with Pari and then the three of us went to dinner. Last year, at graduation, Bhai and Sej came a few days early and it was the first time really that all three of us, since we have gotten older, had the chance to hang out with just each other. We had a such a great time, just sharing and being in each others’ company. At one point, my sister or I mentioned something that Mom does and my brother turns around and goes, “yo, my mom does that too!” He was not used to kicking it with his sisters. We rode bikes across the Golden Gate Bridge, they met my friends and we just hung out. It was rare because we usually see each other in Toronto for a few days, but are hanging out with friends, etc. We became a lot closer that week. This time it was the same. We just talked over dinner, sharing our experiences, our worries and our triumphs. It was beautiful.

The next week flew by in a blur. Up and down to Nadiad every night from wherever we were. This time was a little different though, we were just visiting family. I had the opportunity to share my world with them. They spent a day seeing MS, ESI, Seva CafĂ© and shopping at Gramshree, they came to the Christmas show at the community center. It was so moving to see my siblings in particular just soak every detail in. I took Bhai and Sej on a mini-service walk where we interacted with all sorts of people. The desire to serve is within all three of us, after all we learned from our parents, so I wasn’t surprised to see them in action, my heart overflowed.

In Mumbai, we just hung out. Sitting around reading, doing Sudoku and watching movies, it was the perfect break and just what I needed. By the time my siblings and dad left, I was refreshed and ready for the new year. Spending time with my family, being able to connect even more with Bhai and Sej was just what I needed. We haven’t been very good with keeping in touch over phone or email, but in a few days, few hours really, everything was shared.

On new years, we spent a good 3 hours with friends playing taboo around the kitchen table. It was perfect. It was the perfect way to end the year and begin the new one. I can tell this year is going to be different, in a very positive way, I await each day and only ask that I can live each moment of it for what it is.

November, MS Youth Orientation

I sat there simply looking at the two of them, simply feeling the energy, the love that was around me. I shouldn’t be near the center of this oval, but it was too late to move, maybe it was supposed to be this way so I feel it from all sides.

A hush fell over everyone, they had realized it was almost time to go home. Four days together had come to a close, it was almost time to head back to the real world. Where the four days went no one knew. I hadn’t been there for all four days, but I could feel the difference in the air. They were even better friends, the smaller circles had expanded to include even more. There was more maturity and understanding in the air.

It was the closing of the MS youth “retreat.”

The MS youth. There are so many and so few ways to describe them. They are Manav Sadhna. Some of them have been with MS since day 1, they were the first kids that Jayeshmama, Anarmami and Virenmama could find from the street to spend a few hours with them, to be bathed, be fed and have fun with. Thirteen years later, they are Manav Sadhna’s youth, not Manav Sadhna’s future, but Manav Sadhna’s now.

They are incredible human beings. People with boundless compassion, an innate sense of how to serve. They’ve grown up in the MS world that we NRIs are so lucky to be apart of. They are Manav Sadhna. But when they step out of Manav Sadhna, as Niku so aptly put it, they become a big zero. They find it hard to succeed, to make it. Why? Something was missing. They were missing the skill set needed to survive in the world to which MS is the anti-thesis, where planning is needed, where people don’t just trust that things will happen.

It was time for them to look at themselves, to scrutinize their weaknesses and fears and become aware of what it means to be a leader.

That was the vision.

Four days. Six organizers. 22 youth. I was blessed to witness parts of it.

The night before it all began, I was at Sughad hanging out with the three girls, Niku, Pinal and Hemagini. “Didi, what is this retreat all about?” There was a lot of confusion and even some fear. I tried to quell their fears, however until they went through it, they weren’t completely going to get it. All I could offer was a little bit of advice- forget your fears, the people you’re going to spend the next four days with are people you grew up with, if you can’t speak in front of them, then whom? The retreat is going to be work, but you can do it.

I returned three days later. I could see the wheels churning in their heads as I walked in. They were well into the process.

“How is it going?” I asked. Many could not answer, which was the best answer.

I continued my work (which is a story in itself), while their sessions continued. It was game time the next time I saw them.

The lake of poison.

I’ve played this game so many times, but every time there is something new.

Anj gave each group three pieces of newspaper as their boats. The problem was that the grass was wet and they were stepping on their boats. Bharat used his problem solving skills and went off to find trash can lids soon after all the extra boats were ripped up also from use. Then Sandeep did something I never saw before- he “skied” from one end to another with his feet firmly planted in head large plastic bowl- now that is creativity.

As I observed them again, against the backdrop of Sughad, I wish I had my camera. It happens so often, seeing people hanging out in Sughad, observing the serenity of them against the background and the desire to take that perfect picture.

Anand had his lecture and then it was time for Roopal to go. She was headed back to the states for a while, with no set time of when she would be back. The youth had made gorgeous bouquets of flowers, their artistic talent stunned me, I would never be able to make something so beautiful, and Kamlesh wrote a song. We all held hands and walked to the gates singing Pyara Hai, Pyara Hai, Pyara Lage, sending Roopal off by reminding her of the beauty of this land.

After Roopal had left, it was Jayeshmama and I left in charge. They completed their good qualities activity, which I forget the name and we thought of skit themes. Each group was given 15 minutes to make up a skit, one on Love and Affairs, others on NRIs, Manav Sadhna and Role Models. Their impressions of Jayeshmama, Anarmami, Virenmama, me and others were great. Barot was a riot as the flirt/affair guy in the Love/Affairs skit. I was the girl he was hitting on. Every time I looked at him, I burst out laughing. The skit on Ishwardada (under Role Models) were so powerful, starting with Lallo as a Harijan with an Indian broom as a tail and handkerchief to spit in hanging under his mouth.


They all had 11 questions they were asked on the first day.

What is leadership? What a five qualities of a leader? And so on.

The discussions that ensued as they talked about the questions was so interesting. I had never really thought of what this group of people thought about concepts such as leadership. For me, it seems almost cliqued. We hear about leadership all the time, in our classrooms, in clubs, on sports team. Everywhere its seems as if the educational system is trying to groom leaders. But that’s not the case hear. Many of their concepts of leadership, about the ability to be a leader in any setting, etc. were new. Watching as many struggled to synthesize the material was a powerful experience. For me, I still find the word leadership hard to define, even after running several leadership camps. To see what this group came up with was a gust of fresh air.

It was the last day. One of the last sessions was time with Virenmama, Jayeshmama and Anarmami to hear about how Manav Sadhna actually started. A lot of the story had already been shared so the session became a closing session, where everyone began to share what they had learned. I noticed what I had begun to realize yesterday – how novel some of these ideas about leadership were to these youth. Ideas of planning, preparation, etc are things that I was taught many times during my schooling, but the way they were presented were new to all these guys. I was reminded of the differences in ways that students are prepared in India. The orientation had gotten many to seriously think about their dreams for the first time and when combined with discussions on planning, they became aware of what they needed to do in order to make their dreams a reality.

The final scenes of the retreat were the most moving. Virenmama pulled out a volleyball and the game was begun. People were in the swimming people, others were tossing a Frisbee and more were lounging around chitchatting. As darkness fell, Jayeshmama sat on a bench near the lake talking to some of the youth and soon the crowd grew and everyone fell silent. An acute awareness had grown that it was almost time to leave. I simply sat and watched. Jayeshmama and Anarmami sat together on the bench, with all of their children around them. Love was radiating from all directions. Over the course of three days, the relationship between the youth and founders changed. Many of the youth were under the age of ten when they first came to Manav Sadhna, now one is married and has a child. The relationship shifted from one of just parents and children to that of friends. I was blessed to be apart of those moments.

When we returned indoors for dinner, we all began banging on our plates and tables creating wonderful music before everyone ate the delicious food and chatted away. Finally at the end, we all formed a semicircle in front of Mama and Mami and sang the song that is most appropriate, Yeh to Sach Hai Ke Bhagvan Hai. We were all in tears as one by one got the warmest hugs from the two. Someone is truly watching over me to have given me a family like this.

For over thirteen years, Virenmama, Jayeshmama and Anarmami have worked in Ramapir no Tekro. The youth that are now staff were children who were boot polishers and child labours when they first arrived. The three brought these children up with immense love, care and attention, trying to fulfill every need and provide them with all the opportunities possible. As I sat there in the garden with them all, I was reminded of my own dream – to create a home for children who otherwise don’t have a home. I want to be the parent of children who don’t have that happiness from their blood parents. Jayeshmama and Anarmami showed me that dream alive in colour that day and it a vision I will never forget.

Friday, January 05, 2007


“You’re more than 50% selfish.”

The comment had been prefaced by an agreement not to take offense, which I didn’t. Initial thought – umm okay, considering the fact that I’m in India trying to learn to be selfless, not quite sure if I would say that I’m at this point more than 50% selfish. I kept the thought to myself and simply nodded to acknowledge that I heard it.

(Side note: The statement was not an observation, but a comment made based on my selection for my favourite colour, so the commenter was not trying to be rude.)

Over the next few days, I was able to connect many seemingly unrelated things back to the statement and what I was told began to make more sense.

When I go out and serve, I can comfortably say that I’m not more than 50% selfish. Yes there is some svarth involved on some level, particularly due to the feel good feeling that one gets when helping someone else, but especially because of Smile Cards, I’ve been contemplating the idea of anonymity and kindness even more. Smile Cards make it easier to remove the selfish part of service as the anonymity factor reduces the public acknowledgement or proclamation of the action.

But what about the other aspects of my life?

One thing that has been on my mind a lot is my coming and staying in India. My parents, understandably, would like me closer to home. The topic of fulfilling one’s own desires and that of one’s family is one that has been coming up a lot. Coming to India is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, so when graduation came near I decided I was going to do this. I was able to mix my academic interest with this dream and begrudgingly or not, it was my mom who bought my ticket. But I know that they aren’t completely happy. And it’s not abnormal, there are countless NRI volunteers’ parents who feel the same way. So how does this relate to being selfish?

I came to India to realize my dream, but what of those around me. I left home at the age of 17 and spent the last four years in Berkeley. After India, it’s grad school and at some point marriage. When do my parents and I get to spend time together, live together – my parents’ dream?

I am always saying I want to live my own life, but what does that mean?

I wanted to spend a year away from family and friends, submerging myself into a community and project, but what about all those around me. I’ll be honest, I get frustrated at times with all the phone calls I get from my parents’ friend who want me to come to their home, etc and get upset when I cannot take the time to visit their town. I want to fully experience the place that I am in and don’t want to leave to see family friends. I want the isolation so that I can really understand my environment, but isn’t that me being selfish. I get mad at home for telling all these people to look after me and at these people are simply sharing their love, for me or my family, why should that make me mad?

What does isolation mean? Is it really a realistic life?

Take for example Indicorps or Peace Corps, you live away from home in a different country for a year or two years, with limited vacation, etc. The submersion experience. I can imagine that you learn a lot from the experience, about oneself, about one’s relation to the world. Lots of personal growth, but what happens when gets thrown back into the “real world,” the world with family and friends and obligations?

There are many times where I want to just retreat. Go away from everything around me and hang out with just me. Vipassana retreats are a great retreat, spending time with you and yourself for 10 days straight, but isn’t that a bubble too. Not everyone can go off and be a monk, or can they?

How does one balance one’s own self interests with all that one “should” do? If you aren’t going to be a monk, then you’re living with the world. Where does the line get drawn in terms of what is being selfish and what isn’t?

I don’t know, I don’t have the answer. But the comment that the friend made that night has brought a lot of things in perspective. I am selfish.

I’m horrendous at keeping in contact with people. I write long emails (at times) to share what I am doing, but don’t often take the time to respond to other’s emails or find out how they are doing. Why would people care what I’m doing, if I’m not taking an interest in their life? Quite frankly, there are many times where I think I should email this person or call this person and then get lazy, too consumed with what I want to do. We are all products of our environment, we grow because of those around us, who provide us with the support and encouragement to takes leaps of faith, but then I fail to continue to acknowledge those networks.

Then there is being judgemental and not getting along with all different types of people. I struggle to relate to people who’s ideas are completely different from mine (not opposite, but different paths). Being adjustable or anukud to situations and people is something that I am trying to learn more and more. It is an idea that truly relates to all aspects of life and can make life much more enjoyable if practiced at all times. Being adjustable is being selfless. If one can make oneself appropriate to all people, one molds into the image that others enjoy. To make yourself appropriate, you have to give up selfish desires. For example, in an argument, even if you know you are right, but all parties will be happy with an ambiguous response, instead of forcing everyone to agree to your specifics, agreeing to the ambiguous response will not make you any less of a person, but makes you appropriate to the situation. A better example is when disagreements occur between siblings. As an elder sister, I always hear, “Heena, you’re older, let your sister just have it,” even she isn’t 100% deserving of it. In this situation, to make myself appropriate, I have to give in. There are two ways to look at this scenario:
1) with frustration because I have to be the bigger (or “better”) person
2) with content that I was able to make my sister happy
Each response determines my mental state of mind, ultimately I decide how I am going to feel afterwards by the way I see the situation.

So my inability to get along with all sorts of people comes back to me being selfish. So that person was right. In ways that I had not seen before, selfishness pervades many aspects of my life.

More than 50% selfish.


Now its time to make that change.

Note: This entry was written over the course of several weeks. As I finish it today, I can tell that the tone of the final portion is different from others. This entry in a way marks my process.