Friday, March 23, 2007

8 months later

Dearest friends,

Every time I sit to write, I think back to when I last wrote and can't help but feel a it overwhelmed by the amount of experiences I have had and more importantly the task (though task really is not the right word) of writing it all down. Sonia tells me I should write everyday, which I should, but writing takes a LOT of time, I've learned. It's all about the balancing act. When you seem to find it, something comes to tip it to one side. I want to share all that has happened, yet the question becomes how. Its been a lot easier for example with my brother and sister since they have seen it, meet the people and felt the love and environment I am in, nonetheless, you're not seeing doesn't deter me from the effort, but rather motivates me to put it all down so I can truly share my world and my life, which is wholly supported by the love and encouragement that each of you are sending me from all over the world. These emails are novels, I agree, they are by no means written in one sitting, so take breaks in reading! =)

Turn on your music and if you have the song "Jiya Dhadak Dhadak" from the movie "Kaalyug", listen to it. It'll transport you to the space that I am in. It's been the theme song for the last two months.

So the last two months:

We'll let's start with the present (which now at the moment of typing is now 1.5 weeks ago). I am in Varanasi/Benares/Kashi, the oldest city in India, for my roommate Anchal's engagement. We missed the train (which wasn't my fault) and caught a flight to Delhi from where we made the rest of journey by train with Laxmi and Sonia, who Krupa, Anchal and I met up with. I'm traveling with my tablas, which can be a pain, but they have become such a big part of my life, that tablas are not a burden, but my tablas. One week without practicing would be really hard.

I spent Holi and Duleti with the MS (Manav Sadhna) gang in the Narmada Valley. Great great weekend. Played duleti with coloured powder outside a Shiva temple that is from the Puranas time, where we also sang bhajans. Singing bhajans (devotional songs) at this temple is a fond memory because I was able to share this with Virenmama who is a very devoted Shaivite (Shiva devotee). We played duleti (covering each other with coloured powder) along the banks and in the Narmada river. Holi is the festival of colour and is celebrated with a huge fire on the night of Holi and with colour fights on the day of Duleti (after Holi). We did a lot of masti (mischief) and ate lots. We got to see the inside of the hydroelectric plant in the dam and WHOA are dams huge! As for my views on the Sardor Sarovar dam itself, they are continually evolving as I meet different people and learn more about it. (the dam interestingly enough is the reason I decided to do environmental engineering emphasis and became so interested in water and sanitation).

The month of February was international volunteering month at MS, meaning that we had an influx of volunteers from the US and UK who came to serve for the month. We had 8 female volunteers. We moved out of the ashram house (Jayeshmama's old home in the Gandhi Ashram itself, used by the female volunteers) in early January because of renovations to the home. (As I write I realize that I have not shared pictures of the most basic places in my life, namely the ashram house, MS, ESI, Safai Vidhylay, which I will be doing shortly). We moved into the dormitories of Safai Vidhyalay (I believe my blog has a posting on all the organizations, how they are related, etc). Moving to Safai was a great experience. The day we moved in Safai, Laura (or "mom" as she is called by hundreds), a Be the Cause volunteer who came on a service vacation to MS last year, moved into Safai also. Laura, amongst other things, is an extremely loving, huggable mom, who is spreading seeds of love wherever she goes. Literally she is a mom to everyone. The dorm brought us all closer together for many reason. The atmosphere really seemed to change. Part of it is the strength of the space itself, Safai being the karmabhoomi (land of action) for some many powerful people, part it being that every new visitor/volunteer (Guri's friend Sandy from Cali, an Australian woman named Linda that Sandy met on her travels, Maria from Alaska) brought a new energy of positivity to the space. And then there is the fact we were all in one space. Very powerful connections were created in that space. In the first two weeks, Snehal arrived from for 6 weeks, Sandy and Linda for 4 days, Maria for 2 weeks. It was the beginning of daily 11pm chats to catch up on the day and each others' experiences. A few weeks later, Krupa from Cali, Binisha and Ekta from the UK and of course Laxmi from the UK was still with us. A blurb on each of these fabulous females below is on my blog for those interested. The ritual of daily chai (made wonderfully by Ramanbhai) and Parle-G's and hanging out with ESI sevaks (Nareshbhai, Govindbhai, Laxmiben, Jayantikaka, Ramanbhai) had begun as soon we got to Safai. The staff lavished us with love.

The last two months have flown by. I moved back to the ashram home with a bathroom that looks like its from a really nice hotel and Safai Vidhyalay's dormitory is bare. I returned from Benares and the volunteers were gone. Krupa left last night. It's me and Anchal and Sonia in the house, but Sonia too leaves for Mexico at the end of the month. No more 8 girls living together (until the summer I guess). This week since I've gotten back has been of internalizing and focusing more on myself and my work, which has its own advantages

The volunteers have been an experience in itself. Specifically the women I lived with. Observing teaches you so much, I realize time and time again when I actually observe. Each volunteer comes for a different reason and from a different space. To watch them as they go through their own process over the course of the month or months that they are here is very very powerful. I see the struggles that I had when I started and watch them encounter things I have no yet experienced. Each volunteer teaches you something about yourself. Laxmi and Krupa didn't really want to come to their last prathna because that's when everyone talks about your good qualities and shares their appreciation. It is their humbleness that makes them uncomfortable in such a situation, but on the other side I see the reason for the practice to be different. This gundarshan (viewing of good qualities) is very powerful for the listeners and sharers because it allows us to reflect upon what we have learned from that individual, making it more easy to internalize those lessons. Also it is a moment of inspiration as we reflect upon the qualities of the person in ourselves and find the motivation to develop those skills in ourselves. We have an example to look to, which makes it easier to hone that skill.

Two things are the focal points my life. Music and the Service on Wheels project. A small thing on both are below , more on it is on my blog .

Music has taken on a new dimension in my life and I'm loving it. Listening to great music, singing and playing tabla are staple activities in my life now. Music is infusing every part of my body and soul and in the process making me more in turn to the music of the universe. Tabla is particular is something I am really doing for myself. It is my grounding. I am so blessed to have the Guruji I have – Pandit Divyang Vakil. Guruji not only is an accomplished musician, but more importantly he is extremely personable. He is a philosopher and I love the conversations I have with him. Music is intricately linked to spirituality and Guruji has a strong understanding of both. I always look forward to classes.

Music is something that is felt by so many here. The people at the home (the volunteers) and MSers are so supportive of my musical pursuit which makes is easier to overcome challenges and find the motivation to stay focused and practice.

Service on Wheels
The service on wheels project is Virenmama, Jayeshmama and Anarmami's 16 year old dream project- to have a van that will travel in the villages doing service work. Their dream is finally coming through. ESI is creating a Service on Wheels van that will travel the villages of Gujarat doing 5 day camps in each. We aim to provide information and motivation focusing on five topics: water sanitation, health, addiction and education, specifically female education; the underlying theme for the project is empowerment, to empower villagers to take their future in their own hands.

The van is being designed by Prakashbhai Vani (graduate of the first batch of students from the National Institute of Design) and his team at Playtpus Labs. I am the project coordinator, in addition to being responsible for developing the IEC (information, education, communication) material for the van. Which entails giving ESI's existing material a facelift and additional punch by incorporating new technologies and gathering and creating the materials for the other exhibitions. Panels, games, presentations, the works on each topic. I am working with an animation designer, Sakshi, who is student at the National Institute of Design (NID).

The project is quite a bit of work and on a tight detail, which means running, but that is completely okay. It is nice to have a focus and good to have a reason to not jump from one thing to another since I have a large load with this project itself. I'm having tons of fun working with Sakshi, its awesome to have someone my age to work with and I'm learning loads about what good and effective IEC. Toilets of course are a lot of fun and we have seen quite a variety of scenes as we have been taking pictures in villages for our panels and animated film. In fact, I've even had to go on a hunt for newly made defecation, which surprisingly wasn't so difficult to find, even though it was almost 11am.

Creating effective IEC material is most definitely a challenge, especially since I have not spent much time in villages, but I have lots of great resources. I did an overnight stay in a village called Haripura, which was great fun and just reinforced the idea that has been at the back of my head about village life being the life, so much more grounded and organic. Then you see the villages that aren't so clean, don't have as much prosperity and wonder where the middle ground all is. Something about the village definitely resonates somewhere inside, my understanding it, we'll its all a process.

In all, I'm happy. I'm enjoying the ups and downs. It's very powerful space to be in when you can recognize the ups and downs and be somewhat equanimous during the downs in particular.

There have been some great discussions, lots of thoughts continually evolving, and such the journey continues.

I've been trying to find my own balance and after getting inspiration from 2 Daily Good emails 2 months apart, have been really good about keeping a daily gratitude list, most of which are posted online. They give a small glimpse into my day. It seems to be working atleast in that I end my days on a good note since I write my list before going to bed. That and listening to some good music makes sleep so much more peaceful.

Another novel now comes to an end. For those that made it through, kudos to you.

With lots of love, good wishes and gratitude

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