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.