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Inspiration Galore (INK Conference)

This past weekend was one of virtual inspiration.  Just a few days before it happened, I found out that TEDIndia was happening again, but it had been restructured to be called the INK conference (in association with TED) that would happen on an annual basis in India (TEDIndia was a one-time thing).   It is the brainchild of Lakshmi Pratury.

If you don’t know about TED, let me introduce you.  It’s a treasure vault of inspiration.  TED spreads ideas.  It started off as a single conference that has exploded globally to be many conferences.   Inspirational folks from all fields are given 6 to 18 minutes to share their work, story and/or idea with the world.   While I don’t have a bucket list per say, attending a TED conference is most definitely something I want to do one day.

Anyways, bringing it back to INK.  They live streamed one session each day, which was fantastic to watch and thanks to social media like twitter I could get the take-away messages from the other talks that happened over the three days.   Some of the best talks are going to be on the TED website, but here are some of the take-aways and stories from the three days (compiled from tweets).

Side: For Avatar fans, James Cameron is coming out with Avatar that will be going to a new biome – the ocean.

DAY  1:

A great write-up on Day 1 is on the TED Blog here –

DAY 2:

Alexander Tsiaris: “When we’re born, we’re given a pristine cardiovascular system. Then, we screw it up.”  He shares stories about wellness to communicate its importance because “Data does not speak to you. Pie Charts never changed anyone’s life – story speaks”

Deepti Naval (after visiting and writing about mental institutions): I could never look at life in the same way again. She gave an intense reading of her poetry, capturing the tortured life of a mentally ill woman.

Simon Lewis: “I believe that we can all rise and shine.” (He gave a talk that started with his almost life-ending accident to the importance of consciousness to science and healing).  He explains the experimental sensor-based technology that allows him to walk today and raises awareness about head injuries and ways to recover from them.

Sophie Morgan: Her life changed when she ended up in a wheelchair. Changed, but didn’t end.  She designed The Mannequal to incorporate wheelchairs in shop windows because disabled girls like fashion too.

Deepak Chopra: proposes that consciousness creates reality. Ultimately, there is only one kind of healing — the holiness that we experience when we return to our ground state.

Nancy Duarte: You have the power to change the world. It only takes a single idea. I’m really passionate about presentations, brilliant ideas can be forgotten just because of how they’re presented. (Great talk on how to make effective presentations)

Anand Kumar begins with the story of Santosh Kumar, a rural Indian who did not have access to formal education but studied on his own. Anand accepted Santosh Kumar to his “Super 30” program. Santosh is now a scientist in Belgium.

George Mathew: When people make music together, they have to listen to each other — that’s an important lesson for young people.

When being beaten in a mugging, his metronome fell out of his pocket. They began asking questions — mugging became a music lesson.

Luis Dias (bringing el sistema to India): Our children are talented. All they need is a chance. Let us give it to them.

Tom Wujec: 3 tech trends might change everything: Digitized reality, infinite computing and rapid fabrication.  Once the 3D printer can replicate itself we will definitively have the democratization of design.  When we’re able to build anything, what will we build?

Corey Bridges: I think the most important thing the Internet enables is collaboration

Sunitha Krishnan: Only when the most excluded, rejected, isolated are included will we have a world that will be a better place for all.

Her story post TEDIndia talk –  Google grant led to led to construction of a school, youth home, adult home, hospital. Her Sunitha shelter has been attacked multiple times by mobs, her life attacked. Today the challenge is how to build a team of people who will be committed under such conditions?

C Mallesham innovated an automatic loom to revive the dying tradition of Pochampally silk sari weaving (took him 5 years, he was told only educated engineers could design something like this).

Mussaret Zaidi: Hygiene hypothesis: lack of exposure to bacteria at a young age may hinder immune development (proven to be true). Food policy should take into account local conditions, consider human/animal/environmental health

Ugesh Sarcar: His father, also a magician, told him magic is all about psychology

Mark Koska: Contaminations from injections kill twice as many people as malaria worldwide. He invented a 5-cent syringe that breaks if you try to reuse it.

Ashwini Akkunji started out by running after cattle in her village in Karnataka. Ashwini Akkunji was supported by her father in becoming an athlete, but faced many hurdles of health, isolation, community disapproval.  She went on to become an Commonwealth champion.


Alexander Tsiaras’ advice for the young (but really all): You are only limited by your imagination. The possibilities are endless.

Raghava KK: We need to pop our bubbles and continue to reinvent ourselves.  My learning is all about unlearning.  Everything we do is art. The way I live my life is art.

His favorite new art project – an iPad app that lets you play with and personalize his illustrations.

John Henry Harris: Play hard, work better.  When we play, we’re open to creativity. At Lego, we have co-creation sessions with kids. It’s really about what the children can teach us. True beauty often lies with the simplest things.

He gave each participant a bag of lego and asked them to build a duck in 30s.  30s led to many possibilities à simple way to share that creativity is inherent in us.

Sharada Srinivasan: The striving for perfection in dance is the same as the craftsman striving to create their perfect project.

Arvind Gupta:  Often one doesn’t know what one wants to do. Sometimes, it’s good enough to know what one doesn’t want to do.  Children want to make things, they want to do things. Science must reach the most oppressed, most marginalized children.

Help spread science and toys to all.  Arvind wants others to use his design.  See all the toys he makes from nothing and get instructions on how you can do the same:

Philippe Starck (Very humourous and wearing crazy pants): Everything is organic, even me.  When you produce, you have the responsibility to keep your product clean. Anything extra will boomerang and kill you.

Shivam Sai Gupta (India’s youngest animator) –  I believe creativity is born from pain and suffering. And, creativity can solve any problem.

Lynda Barry (Hilarious talk) – Starts with how her grandmother is Filipino, which she, unlike Americans, is not crazy.  What is an image? It’s spontaneous and feels somehow alive. The image world is so much more than art, it’s all around you.  The thing that scares me about technology is that reduces eye contact between children and parents.

Matt Groening (another hilarious talk): He began with wisdom from the Simpsons and gave insight into what each character was based off of.   His dad told him “Matt, you can’t draw, so don’t try to make your living as a cartoonist.”  Ultimate payback: naming a character (Homer) after him.

Rives did a funny wrap-up of the conference, poking fun at attendees.

KUDOS to the INK team.  How can I attend next year? 😉




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Busy Busy Busy

Its been busy to say the least.  I have blog posts that are half written in drafts or in my head, will get around to penning them asap.  Dec is a busy time with weddings, visitors, etc even for someone like me who barely goes to functions.

Happy New Year! 2009 was time of growth and I just hope it continues in 2010.  2010 already looks to be an even better year and I hope it is the same for you!

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[09-10] Time for a Time Out

There comes a time when you begin to wonder what really lies beyond the illusion of a world we live
There comes a time when the questions just need answers
There comes a time when you simply ask why?

The time doesn’t arrive for everyone in this lifetime, but it comes no doubt at some point along the journey. The arrival of the moment is not set, though “we” (and by we I mean society – but then what is society besides us?…) tend to say that it is after one has fulfilled one’s obligations – “settled” down, gotten a job, gotten married, had kids, seen your kids have kids, etc…

But I don’t agree with that…

and I have good reason not to… because I am asking those questions now.

Five years since I left home (I got an email about my upcoming 5 year high school reunion…)

Five years since I began to take on life on my own…

Five years of running non-stop. From one activity to the next, from one thing to another.

It’s time to STOP

and breathe.

I’ve been super fortunate you know. I’ve met fantastic people so far on the so-called journey called life. People who know what they want and are doing what they believe in. They are getting up every more (or close enough) looking forward to moving one more step closer to their destination. As Dr. Seuss says they have “feet in their shoes and brains in their heads” and they are “moving in any direction (they) choose.”

In short, they have chosen to be different. To make their mark. Do whatever it takes to follow their dreams.

I’ve been super fortunate you know. I’ve had such a wide variety of events, particularly over the last year and a half. I’ve interacted with poor, been to super-charged places of the world and most importantly, struggled with myself and watched myself through the experiences gaining insight into who “Heena Patel” (whoever that may be) is.

In short, I have experimented. Listened to the voice within. Allowed myself to be guided by the spirit that is connected to the spirit of the universe.

I’ve been super fortunate you know. I have learned and experienced and explored. Learned from these fantastic people, experienced a wide range of emotions, explored ideas and places. In all this, I have progressed, attempting to understand more and more… Now its time to digest.

It’s time for a TIME-OUT.

It’s time to say “see you in a while” to the world and go within. Time to digest the lessons. Find answers to the questions (or dig deeper into the questions). Take more care of myself. Re-evaluate where I am and where I want to go.

I have questions about the reality. I want to develop focus. So for the next few months, I’m moving away from the outside world into the world within. I’ll be meditating, doing yog asan, reading, writing, dramatically increasing my tabla practice and learning philosophy.

So if you don’t hear from me, don’t be offended. I appreciate all the love and support that you all have sending me all this time. I’m following my heart and doing what I need to do to make my life what it can be.

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Quick Update

Hello all

Quick update:

April was a busy busy month. I was diverted from the Service on Wheels project to help out with Manav Sadhna’s ALL IN ONE project. A project that brought together Hindu and Muslim children post riot to share their views on religious harmony. Over the course of two years the youth produced a play, writing the dialogues and song lyrics. At the end of April, they had a huge show at Tagore Hall with lights, newly composed music and a dance. A youth in the project, Bharat (who was also part of the Ekta team that went to the US in 2002) and I choreographed the dance and I was an actor in the show due to last minute need. We had great great fun and youth are amazing, it you want to see harmony, watch them hen they are just hanging out.

initial part of May was spent catching up on Service on Wheels work before Vartik (rohitkaka’s son) got married in Ahmedabad. Now Im out of India for three weeks travelling to Mann Sarovar, Mount Kailash (in Tibet) with my mom. Time to spend some quality moments with nature. Currently in Kathmandu leaving for the Chinese/Tibet border in a day.

Pretty blessed… three major jatras in 11 months; Char Dham, Tirupati/Rameshwaram and now Kailash.

be back in a few weeks to share stories and pictures

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Where has she disappeared

You ask where she went
I don’t really know
You see some time ago
The energy subdued
The enthusiasm dimmed
It evaporated, dissipitated, went up on a whim
But wait doesn’t make sense
It couldn’t disappear, it’d have to transform
To the conservation of matter, we must conform
The energy has changed and moved
Exchanged its shape for another one or two

You see glimpses now
Of who I used to be
A little bit here, or there, or there
When you think you see it all
Poof, its gone in thin air
The magic
The joy
Its shifted to a space that’s not so public at all

The energy ‘s transforming
Whirling and whirling
Creation, re-creation can be seen everywhere
The new shape, new face, new image
Each blurs into the other,
The final face has yet to take form

Form, colour, codes and numbers
Shifting and shifting
Whirling and whirling
Where has she gone you ask
I do not know

I didn’t even know she was missing
Or did I and not desire to acknowledge it
Did I see that she was missing
And not know what to do

What point to hold on to sand as it pours from the hand
Feel the texture of the change
Get lost in the moment of that

It was meant to be
But do come back and share
The laughter, the joy, the carefree oblivion
When pessimism sets me in
Do remind me one more
Of those moments of freedom
When something filled the air

The laughter the joy the freedom
Why is it not something we can all share?

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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 li
fe 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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ESI goes to South India part 1


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.

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