ESI goes to South India
The annual meet of the Akhil Bharat Rachnakat Samaj was held in Tirupati from November 25-27. It was an annual meeting of Gandhian social workers from all over the country and the event overlapped with the meet of the Harijan Sevak Sangh. Jayeshbhai was attending because Nirmala Didi insisted that he and Ishwardada attend. An eight day trip to South India was added to the sammelan timings.
So it became an opportunity to take the elders and sevaks of the Harijan Sevak Sangh and ESI on a trip to places they would otherwise not have the chance to see. The trip though became much more than that, it indeed became an orientation for us all. We had the chance not only to see religious places, but spiritual places and spiritual people.
We went to the Meenakshi Mandir and got joy because we could express our love to God, this joy was religious in nature. We went to Aravind Eye Hospital, Auroville and Aurbindo Ashram, met people who we didn’t know and experienced joy that was spiritual in nature as we received pure love. That is the power of heart to heart connectivity, the power of invisible bonds that ties each of us to each to each other.
When we arrived in Tirupati, we ended up at the bus station for a few hours waiting for accommodations to be found. 15,000 people had taken over the city for the sammelan so accommodations had become haphazard. Devendrabhai, Deegandbhai, Harshadbhai and Jayeshmama ran all over the city to try to make the rooms happen. Finally, due to the Maruthibhai’s efforts, we got 6 wonderful rooms in Venkateshwara Srinivasam. The hotel was beautiful. It has over 500 rooms which were all full and then a free rest hall where hundreds of guests slept and had access to clean bathrooms and lockers. Everyone had to clean their own rooms, while the staff kept the rest of the hotel impeccably clean.
While the rest of the gang went on a site-seeing tour of temples around Tirupati, I went with Jayeshmama and Vasrambhai to the workshop, Mama was leading a discussion on youth empowerment. Initially, it was just the three of us, so we started planning for the leadership retreats, but finally a group began to form, primarily of youth from a certain college in Orissa. There was another man from Bihar who was also supposed to lead the discussion and he’s the one who began the talking- asking first about something I don’t remember. The answers talked about the lack of youth involvement and the need for workshops, etc for youth to connect to one another. The crowd continued to grow, so this took a while. Then the man continued and asked what our vision for the future was and then delved into the importance of vision and his own vision. This took well over 10 minutes and was very frustrating. Here he was talking about the need for youth to be involved, he posed a question and then instead of allowing the youth to answer, he was answering it! It was a great example of how the older generations talk about youth participation and empowerment, but don’t give youth the chance! I was a disappointed that Jayeshmama didn’t get a chance to really talk or interact with everyone. At one point, he posed the idea of ending the discussion and actually doing something- cleaning up the workshop grounds and people were receptive to it, but the other man continued to go on his schpel and didn’t seem like he was really listening (and just following how he wanted to lead the discussion). Several cool things that came out of the interaction. Another gentlemen who it seems was also supposed to lead the discussion, but had a bad throat did a simple activity to illustrate the need for collective action, which I actually ended up using two days later in Pondicherry. Also from hearing what the other youths were saying, my desire to hold leadership retreats as a means of charging up youth to take action was strengthened. It was clear that many felt the need to interact with others and get in contact with people who would provide that extra push need to do something and this was from people from all over the country.
After the workshop, it was time to head to Tirupati for darshan of Balaji. Grabbing an late afternoon bus, we made our way up to mountain. The views were gorgeous, the sun was midway through its descent and shone perfectly over Tirumala. As we made our way up, the gates that act as markers to the temple came and went, paying tribute to the Balaji and expressing the artistic genius of the time. We arrived early in Tirupati, so people could get their head shaven. I’ll be honest, I too wanted to get mine shaven, but alas it wasn’t a smart choice as I had a wedding to attend a few weeks later. Instead, we roamed the city and waited for the others. When they came out, they were in complete praise of the way the tonsures were done and others (Deegantbhai, Vasrambhai and Nareshbhai) too wanted to get one done. So we headed back to the tonsure place and this time I went to take a look at how its done. I was thoroughly impressed. The system developed is simple, in the sense that no technology is involved, highly efficient and hygienic. Each person is given a number of a barbar, there are about 25 barbers/floor and 4 floors. On each floor is a open, tiled room rimmed with male and female barbers. Before each shave, the barbar cleans his blade with dettol and wets your hair. Within 5 minutes, your tonsure is done. You squat with your head over a ditch in the floor, into which all your hair falls. The place is impeccably clean. Showers are also provided outside each shaving room. I was so amazed. It’s natural that such a system would be developed in light of the thousands of people who offer their hair to Balaji every day, but seeing it in action was great. Maybe next time I visit Tirupati, I took will offer my hair… just kidding.
We stood in line for darshan for about 2 hours, which actually isn’t as bad as it could have been. Even amidst the pushing and shoving, I was able to have a peaceful and long darshan of Balaji. The idol is beautiful, there really are no words to describe what I saw. I think I was able have a good look because I was doing darshan for Raghu’s mom or masi, who’s family god is Balaji. Near midnight, we made our way down to Tirumala and got ready for our trip to Chennai.
After a day’s travel to Chennai and roaming the nearby area, we rented a luxury bus with tv and dvd player for the remainder of our journey south and headed to our first destination, Pondicherry after a night of rest.
It was our day in nature. We first stopped at crocodile park. Great choice. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed and hundreds of crocodiles housed there. These crocodiles are from all over the world. From freshwater to saline crocs, these reptiles are quite a site. It was amazing to see them through the eyes of our sevaks, who had never seen a crocodile before. There are some great pictures so take a look.
After seeing crocs, we continued our day outdoors and stopped in Mahabalipuram. Here we saw the butter ball, which is set perfectly on its center of gravity that even that British army could not tip it. Of course, Mahabalipuram would not be complete without seeing the famous mural of Arjuna doing tapa (penance). The guide told of us the various stories carved into the wall. It’s amazing how much. One could sit for hours to hear about what each depiction represents. One funny story is that of the fat cat that is doing penance below Arjuna. Seeing Arjuna doing tapas, the cat decided to follow suit. As he stood motionless, mice began to circle around him, taking him to be a rishi. While Arjuna did not eat, completed absorbed in the name of god, the cat opened an eye and began to pick a mouse, one at a time, and eat it. Hence the cat has a ballooning stomach and Arjuna is skin and bones.
We took a trip to the seashore at Mahabalipuram to visit the old shore t
emple, which is slowly eroding away due to the sea, waves and wind. From the ancient temple on the shore, we went to the five rathas (chariots). Each chariot is carved from a single piece of stone. The mastery required to do such work in unimaginable. Pictures do more justice than words.
Auroville (Indus Valley and the Matrimandir)
After the rathas and stone carvings, we headed to Auroville- The Mother’s village, located outside of Pondicherry. There we met many brothers – Manoj, one of the creators of Tsunamika dolls and Dhruv, one of the creators of Indus Valley, Auroville’s version of Seva Café. We had a beautiful time in Auroville. The village is very peaceful, full of greenery and interesting architecture. To have Manoj as our guide was very special. If there is one word to describe Manoj, it would be serenity. His face glowed with this understanding. Soft-spoken, each word was spoken with care and depth. Being able to have a satsang with him as we walked amidst the trees is something I won’t be able to forget.
The first place that we went to was Indus Valley. Indus Valley was inspired by Seva Café. After the tsunami, the Indicorps fellows gathered in Tamil Nadu to help with reconstruction work and stayed in Auroville. During this time, the founders interacted with Anjali and Anand and the concept of Seva Café came up. The founders had a space where they were going to make a café and they decided to base it on the idea of gift economy, thus Indus Valley was born. The space they have created is beautiful. It’s an open space with many little details that make it perfect. It’s connectedness with nature is moving and of course, the food was great.
From Indus Valley, we went to see the Matrimandir, located beside the center of the Auroville. When the Mother had a vision for the city, she said it would be centered around a tree. That tree is an old banyan tree. Beside the banyan tree is a large golden egg, the Matrimandir. Representing the Golden Egg that emerged from the earth, the center dome (made from real gold) is surrounded by 12 petals. Each petal is a meditation room that has its interior in one of twelve colours, which represents a value and stage of in meditation. One progresses from one petal, one colour to the next, until reaches a level of consciousness to mediate in the dome, the white room. Lined with white carpet, the central room, housed in the golden egg, houses a crystal in the middle. The sun is directed to the crystal, through which light is dispersed throughout the whole room. The Matrimandir has been under construction for over 40 years and will be complete in February. As it was in its final stages of construction, we could only see if from the outside.
The third element in the garden is the giant urn topped with a lotus bud. When Auroville was founded in the 60’s, the Mother had two children from every country (123 total) come to the international city (Auroville) with soils from their land. One by one, each pair of children offered their soils, creating the earth of humanity. From the urn, emerged the bud of a lotus.
The information center at Auroville is a super green busy and very architectural cool, so the civil and environmental engineer was thoroughly pleased. Our trip was short, but incredibly moving. I would love to go back and spend more time in Auroville.
Aravind Eye Hospital- Pondicherry
From Auroville, we checked into the Guest House at the Ashram in Pondicherry and then Jayeshmama and I headed to the Aravind Eye Hospital where Kannamma had called a meeting for their nurses to hear Jayeshmama speak. I got to serve as the translator. I loved the opportunity to hear Jayeshmama speak and the girls enjoyed the conversation also. It was chance for Jayeshmama to express his thought on Dr. V and appreciate the nurses for all that they do.
The nurses of Aravind Eye Hospitals are very inspirational. The hospital trains rural girls who have passed their 12th standards as nurses. At Aravind, they are always trying to maximize efficiency, be it of space or people. So these nurses are trained in everything that does not require a doctor, including refraction testing, etc. They are also the caregivers, the women who offer love and support to the patients. Aravind places a strong emphasis on making sure that each patient is treated with love and respect and it is these women who has the greatest responsibility in enacting this ideal.
At the end of the talk, I conducted the activity that I had learned in Tirupati with the nurses. It was a perfect way to end as it embodies the idea of supporting each other and working as a collective soul force, which is what Jayeshmama spoke of.
We then had a feast literally. The staff had prepared a wonderful meal for us, which shared with Kannamma, Ravindra and Dr. V’s brother, Dr. Srinivasan, who happened to be in Pondicherry at the time. By this point, the rest of the gang also had joined us. We unfortunately did not get a chance to get a full tour of the hospital, but felt the love and spiritual strength that embodied the space.
When we walked out of the hospital, Devendrabhai pointed something out that I had not taken note of: the lack of smell. The hospital had not smelt like a hospital with scents of medicines, etc even though we had gone through the patients’ area! Pondicherry is the first Aravind Hospital where there was ample space, so the campus is beautifully set up on one plot of land.