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 ( http://www.tsunamika.org) 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.
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.
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 respon
sibility. 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. ( http://www.shvaas.org). 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.