Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Rain Gods





Unbearably loud --- not a single leaf stands still,
each one joins the chorus
as the wind hurriedly rushes through.

The dark clouds hover over
as the drumming starts in a distance.
People gather together,
to welcome the first rain.
The lightning strikes
as if all the cosmos are assembling for a grand finale.

I look up at the clouds with folded hands
as the zealous wind envelopes my whole body.
And offer a silent prayer to the Rain Gods.

Thinking of the farmers in faraway hilly lands,
who only have work when it rains,
thinking of their little children with empty stomachs,
thinking of the sad grandfather whose cows ran away,
because there wasn’t anything left for them to eat.

The drumming gets louder as everyone impatiently awaits,
the pitter-patter of the first monsoon rain.
I stretch out my hand and feel the first few drops,
anxiously waiting for the showers after such a thunderous show.

But to my dismay everything comes to,
a standstill.
The clouds disseminate as quickly as they gathered.
The temperamental wind decides to go elsewhere for the day.

Only the faithful drumming in the distance remains.
And the silent prayers,
that have yet to be answered.

But it doesn’t rain tonight,
Or the next day, or the next one after that.
Instead the sun shines brighter then ever,
As if to take back its crown.

Until five days later,
As I sit quietly in meditation ...

I hear a few drops hit the tin-roof above,
and then a few more, and then a couple more,
until they all come marching down.

My heart fills with joy.
I could feel the earth being watered,
little seeds will soon start to sprout.
And while I couldn’t hear the drums of the farmers,
I could feel their heartbeats dancing with joy.
The Rain Gods have arrived.

As I sat there smiling in silence,
I knew at least one old grandfather
will be sitting on his porch
wearing the same smile,
thankful that his cows will have to
run away no more,
for there will be plenty for them to eat.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Going Within


Pagoda at Dhamma Giri (The small arches are the underground meditation cells)

The ten days of silent retreat spoke volumes to me as usual. =) The fidgety mind, the hurting body from sitting on a cushion for twelve hours a day, and the un-stoppable thoughts, all add up to taking a really good look at my “self.” This is as up-close and personal as it gets. Even the intensity and type of thoughts radically changes between the first day and the tenth. The “kind” of thoughts generally seems to be a good measure of my progress.

One thing that became apparent in this retreat is that I have to transform from the inside out. If the deepest core of me does not vibrate with the sound of love, anything that I do at the outer level will be faded by what’s going on inside. And thus, the most essential thing that I can present the world is to continue to work on purifying at the depth of my being. The change has to come from within and radiate outwards, instead of the other way around.

To find “Truth” with a capital T, one has to let go of the “Self.” And how is that possible when a lifetime (perhaps many) of conditioning has made us who we are. The question I ask myself is this: Am I ready to let go of my personalized illusions for a greater gain? Or will I wait until the next pitfall in life to ask, what happened?

And when I do get a glance of the “Truth,” will I have enough courage to look it straight in the eye or will I let it pass me by, hoping I’ll catch the next train.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What is, is.


The Vipassana Center Gate

Walking through mountains of Maharastra is beautiful even when you’re taking the main highway. We’re stoping over in Igatpuri for an intensive meditaion retreat about 140km from Bombay. The course is full but we ran across some people who know the coordinators and somehow we’re in! This is the largest Vipassana center in the world and I really wanted to do a retreat here. It’s quite powerful to meditate with a thousand other people. After nine weeks of walking, this will be really grounding and will help set the tone for the remainder of the journey.

Each day that I’m here, I’m reminded of what a privilege it is to be able to leave everything and dedicate so much time to learn about one's inner workings. It’s a really humbling experience to be in the hands of the universe, but so far I’ve been given enough strength to deal with any challenges that come up. Doing something like this -- where you don’t know where you’ll sleep tomorrow and what you’ll eat -- definitely increases your faith for the universe to respond. In fact, you rely on it. Or I should say that it becomes obvious that “I” am not the one that controls everything. “Faith” is a word that we’re often afraid of using, especially in the West, but in this journey, it’s the closest word that I can think of for describing this feeling.

I met an interesting old man yesterday, who asked me a riddle: “What I say is not true, what I write is not true, then what is true?” After a while, he laughs and says, “What is, is." What is, IS.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Urban Jungle

Its one thing to walk 44km in one day but to get up and do it all over again the next day can be really taxing on your body. The muscles don’t really get enough rest sleeping on a hard concrete floor with only a thin shawl on the ground, especially if you keep hearing all kinds of sounds at night. Nevertheless, we walk all day through the valleys and the mountains and make our way into Nasik, a large city known for Satya Sai Baba. His ashram is in the hills of Shirdi, about 90km southeast of the city.

Having spent the week and a half in tribal villages, I’m a little excited about being in a city. I can check my email, exchange some books, and finally get a map of Maharashtra. As we get closer to the city, people seem really different. They no longer stop and smile and ask us where we’re headed. When you ask for directions, as if they’re too lazy to lift their hands or speak, they just nod their heads in the right direction. No small talk, no curiosity, and no sense of connection, unless they can sell you something. Only billboard ads for the latest clothes, cars, jewelry, matrimonials, and health insurance. Coming from a place where people don’t know if they’ll have food tomorrow, this all seems a little self-centered. Although I’ve been a part of this, there’s such a striking difference after being away for some time. All the foods I haven’t seen for a while, sit right there in front of me. Sweets, samosas, fresh juices, and restaurants are serving everything from pav bhaji to pizza. I quickly calculate what I’ve spent for the day and I’ve got about 6 rupees left in my budget. I have no choice but to observe all my food cravings. =)

It’s an absolute urban jungle, and to be here is to be a part of it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Not in the Lonely Planet Guide


Valleys of Maharastra

It was a long 44km after crossing into Maharashtra. I was surprised to see that people look distinctively different from Gujarati’s -- different facial features, different dress, and different personalities. Most of the villagers along the way understood very little Hindi and we couldn’t really make them understand the concept of a walking pilgrimage. In spite of that, there were smiles and curious looks as we walked through the valleys and the green mountains.

Before leaving Gujarat, we were warned that there were no known places where we can stay or people to profile along our route to Nashik. A small village called Nanasi was in the middle and there was possibly a school where we can find shelter for the night. We finally reached the village around six in the evening and came to the largest village we’ve seen today. It had electricity and couple of stalls of random food items. We were starving but decided to figure out where we can spend the night before eating. The villagers told us that there was a school about a kilometer away that would let us spend the night. We walked up to the school and to our disappointment were told that we couldn’t stay there because the principal was out. After pressing further, someone told us about a Shiva Temple about 4km away that “might” let us spend the night. The thought of walking another 4km was grueling and the thought of sleeping in the fields without any running water even more discomforting, but onwards we charged with our achy muscles and tired feet.

After what seemed like a really long time, we found ourselves talking to a guy in the next village who understood some Hindi. He told us that there was a Shiva Temple about another kilometer from there but there were no rooms at the temple, and that we should’ve stayed at the large village that we just came from. What? This was a huge test of patience. There was no food in this village, no room, and no one offered us a place to stay. We were sweaty and exhausted from walking all day.

Just before sunset we reached an old Shiva Temple with a bright blue dome over it. The temple was a small room with stone sculptures inside and an old well in front of it. There was one more tiny room (8x10ft.) for the priest, other than that there was a large area in front of the temple covered by a tin roof. The priest had gone somewhere but Bharat, one of the teenage boys from the village, came in to inquire about what these outsiders with strange looking backpacks were doing in a small village like this.

We asked him if there was a place to shower and he proudly said, “Yes,” while pointing to a metal bucket and the open area next to the well. Okay, maybe we can just wash the salty sweat off of our hands and faces. But how do we get the water out of the well? And this wasn’t your typical well in the villages where you tie a rope to a bucket and lower it down. It had large pieces of rocks around it in a square shape and wobbly big rocks leading down to the water that served as steps. Nipun asks Bharat to help him and they both go down and bring back two buckets of semi-clean water. By the time we’re done cleaning up whatever we can, the priest returns and Bharat helps us explain that we need shelter for the night. The easy going Sadhu only understands some Hindi but he happily lets us sleep on the floor underneath the large tin roof, with all sides open. Thus far we’ve had heat and only heat, but this mountainous area is actually cold. I ask them if there are any blankets that we could borrow. As I stand there, practically shivering, Bharat innocently reassures me that it doesn’t really get cold at night. He still agrees to bring couple of blankets later on.

The priest had already finished his dinner but he kindly asked Bharat to get some raw materials for a simple rice and eggplant dinner. But realizing that we’d have to collect wood and start a fire before the cooking began, we passed on the several hour ordeal. Since it was already 8 o’ clock we opted for going to the only stall in town and buying some biscuits, jaggery (brown sugar), and peanuts. We just wanted to get our sore and overworked muscles to sleep. Since there was no electricity we were in “bed” by 8:30. Although my body was exhausted, I lay there wide awake with nothing between me and the concrete floor but my shawl.

According to the friendly priest, the temple has existed since the time of Rama (as in the ‘Ramayana’). Throughout the night, I was worried about the snakes – after all, it is a Shiva temple =) -- and the sounds coming from well next to us and the animals that could walk in from the nearby fields, but in the morning, I felt almost fortunate to be in a place like this. I walked into the cave-like temple and it really did look ancient with its half-broken statues and old paintings. Afterwards, the priest even made me a syrup-like, milkless tea at 5AM, which I drank under a “rudraksh” tree (whose fruits are worn around the neck for its healing qualities). As I left with a very positive feeling, I remember thinking, “This place would never be listed in the Lonely Planet Guide to India.”

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Tribal Gujarat


Getting water from the well


Outside of the Himalayas, I thought India was a relatively flat land. But all those illusions were dispelled when we had to walk uphill to get to Pindval. In Pindval, we are interviewing a Gandhian author who has written dozens of books and spent the last 25 years working for the tribals. This area has some of the most overlooked folks in Gujarat. Actually it’s 99.9% tribal, according to the literature we read. It’s amazing to see how a 40 kilometer walk can completely change a community’s style of dressing, eating and speaking.

We’re about a few days shy of crossing the border in Maharashtra, where we’ll both have to brush up on our Hindi in order to communicate. So far, Nipun’s Gujarati has kept us very connected to the villagers. It’ll be interesting to be in a place where neither of us is fluent in the local language -- Marathi. Many people also warned us that we won’t find the Gujarati hospitality in Maharashtra and we’ll have some tough days up ahead with the monsoon. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. =)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Meditation and Love

Vimala Thakar, whose thoughts are along the lines of Krishnamurti, concludes one of her books with two things that purify: silence (meditation) and love.

Like we peel the layers of an onion, true silence leads to an unraveling of the ego. And love always asks for the ego to surrender and thus the “I” melts away.

I never quite looked at it this way but it’s an interesting summary of spirituality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Living on a Farm (Part II; Survivor Gujarat)


Kantibhai

As I walk into one of the two rooms on the farm to get something from my bag, I hear a sound. I can’t see too well because it’s almost evening and I don’t know where the light switch is. Maybe it’s a rat. There’s a loud shriek…it sounds like a big rat! I see something move. “That’s not a rat – it’s a snake coiled up between the two wooden cupboards?” I yell for Kantibhai. “Snake. I think there’s a snake in here.”

Everyone comes running. Kantibhai is as cool as a cucumber. He walks right in, as I get out of the way and try to look through the window. Unfortunately, I finally get a good look. To my horror there’s a green snake at least six feet long and two inches wide wrapped around a big rat. I move back with disgust as Kantibhai, who’s also a big animal lover, gets enough courage to say, “Let’s turn the light off since he's already half done and let him relieve the poor rat of his suffering” And without skipping a beat he goes back to his chores. Nipun, Vena, Paras, and I are equally shocked. “Is it poisonous?” I ask Kantibhai. “Who knows, but it won’t harm you.”

He goes on and tells us stories about the first year he moved there. They had at least 50 scorpions and since he doesn’t believe in killing them, he would take each one out. He was bit by only one out of the 50.

As I make a mental note to cross-out ever considering moving into a farm, we all sit around on a cot with our feet up just in case the snake decides to run out of the room. Kantibhai then casually tells us that there’s a lion on the loose and he was in the village the night before last and took two dogs from the neighboring house. We confirm the story with the lady that works there just to make sure he’s not pulling our leg. And I rememeber that another lady in town was trying to tell me that earlier but I didn't understand her Gujarati.

I realized that this is a part of life in the villages and as much as I'd like it to be different, it's a part of nature.

The conversation quickly shifted from scared to humorous. If there was ever going to be a “Survivor: Gujarat,” this would have to be it. We fill Kantibhai in on American reality shows as we try to decide if we’d rather sleep outside and risk getting attacked by a lion or inside where there’s a snake on the loose. Sometimes when it gets a little scary, the best thing you can do is laugh at it. We all got the guts to go in there and get our bedding at night with Kantibhai and Nipun leading the efforts. And luckily, everyone was in one piece in the morning. Waking up to the bright sky at four in the morning to leave, I almost forgot about the events that took place the night before.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Living on a Farm


Papaya Picking

We’ve been walking for almost two months now and just when we think we’re at the end of the rope with people to profile, we run into someone who knows a lot of interesting people. This time was no different.

Just as we were on our last contact, Anandbhai, an activist suggested several people that we should meet. Among them was Kantibhai, whose farm we’re currently staying at. He’s an enthusiastic young guy, who gave up city life to live in a small village and do organic farming. Kantibhai’s whole ideal is that we should live “in tune” with nature. He feels, that is what is best for our bodies, our minds, and our souls.

And staying here has proven that to be true. This has been a great treat for us. None of us had ever picked our own papayas or mangoes before. He has everything you can possibly want for cooking right here in his own farm. Sleeping under the stars on a cot, surrounded by the coconut, sugar canes, and big mango trees is one of the best feelings in the world. Suddenly, there are no worries.

You go to sleep when it gets dark and wake up when the sun comes up. And the first thing you find when you look up is that there's a baby calf staring you in the face wondering what you’re doing on his farm.

It’s the good life and I plan to relish every moment of it. =)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Real Freedom


Just before Sunrise

We walk through a really sketchy part of town. Not sketchy in the sense that there's a lot of poverty and we might get our stuff stolen. But more of an old tribal, hilly area where people still don't believe in wearing clothes and they walk around with bows and arrows, for killing.

As one of the villagers (who happens to be drunk) walks us through the bad part of town, he mentions that if the naga (naked) men see women, they might get other ideas. For a split second my ears perk up, “Did I hear that right?” There’s a moment of silence as everyone tries to walk together now. For a second, I feel the fear arise as my feet start walking faster and the bag no longer seems heavy. What's there to fear? Doesn't fear ultimately come from "ego," being attached to the "I." What am I trying to protect? Getting our stuff stolen, getting harassed, beaten, raped, killed? Ultimately, it’s just a physical body, it’s just stuff. Aren’t these the very attachments I’m trying to work on?

This is not who “I AM.”

I think about the dozens of ants I kill each day walking, they’re precious life too. Why does my life matter more? Then it dawns on me: it doesn’t! I’m just a tiny speck in the universe like everything else. And like everything else, I have my own attachments, family, community, and so forth. There’s nothing significantly special about me. Rationally, I know all this but something about experiencing it today brings forth different emotions that are next to impossible to put into words.

I feel a type of Freedom that I’ve never felt before. Freedom with a capital F, a Freedom that a leaf might feel in mid-flight after splitting from a tree. Suddenly, I have absolutely no fear. None. And these emotions are not coming out of denial, like those times when you’re trying to be strong. They’re coming from the purest space within me that I’m seldomly in touch with.

What’s even harder to explain is the oneness I feel with all of nature. I can feel that there is something much bigger looking after me almost like a mother – protecting and guiding me. I feel like I’ve been this arrogant child, not giving it much credence, but yet it’s been there every step of the way. I KNOW that nothing will happen today. Even if it does, it doesn’t matter. These are all my own brothers and sisters. We all lose our way sometimes. But in this moment, I feel completely enveloped in love. My heart expands further than it ever has to welcome that love. I try to hold onto that feeling for as long as I can and keep walking with a childlike glee. The universe is mine and I, its favorite daughter. The only thing left to do is to love. Everything else fades in comparison.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

No other way. No other time.

Mind is starting to gnaw in on me. Now that physically I’m used to walking and can deal with the physical discomforts, there’s a lot of other stuff coming up. It’s uncomfortable, it’s painful, and all the negativities that usually lay dormant or go unnoticed are showing their heads. There are many things to work on, if only I can remain aware enough each moment to realize that they’ve surfaced. The world is both good and bad depending on my own eyes. It absolutely has nothing at all to do with anything else, as much as I think it does. That much is clear. I have to take on whatever comes my way, sooner or later, willingly or unwillingly. I might as well take it head on. No other way. No other time.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Silence


Chasing Butterflies

The mind is becoming more and more silent. Talking is an interesting activity. There’s so much more ego associated with it then I’d like to admit. The mind is constantly trying to beautify its own image. It’s constantly trying to make sure that others are thinking highly of it. And extremely hurt when someone says anything to harm that image of ourselves. Whether we really care for a person’s opinion or not, anything hurtful that anyone says always stands out more than anything neutral or good. Such fragileness. Even the most realized of people aren’t able to fully part from it. Trying to work at the ego bit by bit, but something tells me it’s going to be a life-long job. Silence is turning out to be an amazing tool.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Movin' On


Spinning Cotton

Gandhi once said that, “haste is a form of violence.” As subtle emotions are becoming more and more apparent, I think that perhaps even irritation is a form of violence. It ultimately affects the surroundings by carrying negativity to those around us…thus bringing in subtle form of violence. The more irritated I am about something, the greater the chances of “reaction” instead of “action” out of my own will.

It’s the last day of Gandhi Katha and we leave for the road again at 5AM tomorrow. Although it’s been amazing staying here, I’m looking forward to getting into the groove of walking again. There’s something really beautiful about walking even though there are a lot more challenges and unknown. I’m feeling ready to go.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Journeys


Sheetal, Vena, and Nipun

I haven’t been writing as much about our day-to-day experiences because by the time I sit down to write, there’s so much to write about that I’ve decided to just share tidbits of inspiration. I’m hoping that the blogs along with the ijourney site will give a more complete picture.

We’re currently back in Baroda to listen to the Gandhi Katha (Gandhi’s life story) from Narayan Desai – son of Mahadevbhai Desai, Gandhi’s secretary, and someone who lived with Gandhi for 20 years, walked with Vinoba for another 20 and worked with Jayprakash Narayan for another 20. The program is for seven days and thousands from all over the country are gathered here to listen to him speak about Gandhi’s life. And somehow by some great luck, we’re staying in the same place as Narayan Desai! To top it off, he’s been kind enough to spend lots of personal time with us. It’s a great honor to be here meeting all these amazing folks who’ve stood for something in their lives.

In other news, Vena and Sheetal have joined us in the journey. It’s been an adventurous few days, since they’ve been here. We’ve spent time having lots of dialogue with college kids, to walking in intense afternoon heat, to sleeping with bats and what I call “killer ants” because they’re so huge. But for now, we are peacefully staying at the Vinoba Ashram and catching up on writing the profiles and meeting some amazing people at the Gandhi Katha. Vena and I are sharing a room with one of the singers for the Katha and another lady who also walked with Vinoba and has dedicated her life to Gandhi’s movement (Sarvodya). Inspiring journeys are all around us.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Mortality


A thirsty crow

Almost every day that we walk, sooner or later we come across a dead animal on the road. Today it was a dog that was slowly being consumed by the crows. Although it’s not a pretty site, it’s a reminder of our own mortality. If in the end, we’re going to turn to food anyways, what are we so caught up in? Shouldn’t we be working hard to understand why we’re here in the first place? Is the purpose of our lives just to live or is there a greater purpose that we can’t see because we’re so caught up in our own little worlds? Many questions are circling around in my mind today and I’m wondering about my sincerity to find the answers. Mind is so easily swayed by circumstances and satisfied with intellectual introspection that we never go as far as we can. Having met all those amazing folks, I know that they’ve realized things I’ve only heard about. They’ve opened many doors to their own selves that I haven’t even begun to knock on. Perhaps this experience of being here will push me to knock a little harder.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Times of India

There was an interesting article about our journey in the Times of India yesterday.

We're currently in an Agriculture University in a small town called Bahadarpur. Interacting with the college students has been amazing. We given several talks and lots of Q & A sessions. I'm constantly amazed at these kids and how impressionable they are.

Will write more soon.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Being a Woman



Every time we tell someone that we’re on a walking pilgrimage, they turn around and give me a good stare. What about her? She’s a woman, that too a frail looking one. Many ask straight up, “Can she keep up with you?” I know they’re well-meaning so I’ve learned to just smile to that, while Nipun in his sweet way comes to my rescue and explains that I’m much stronger than I look. “I get tired but not her. She keeps going.”

On one hand, being in India I expect this. While on the other hand, it’s a little bit surprising. I’ve seen amazing strength in the women here. Most of them work twice as hard as men, working on the farms, cooking meals for large families, all the while raising their children. They’re the first to get up in the morning and the last to go to sleep. Such a balance of vitality and compassion has to come from a deep inner strength.

More and more I notice women watching me closely. How I’m acting, what I’m wearing, what I’m saying. Even more so, the younger men in the community are curious when they see Nipun and I interact. A husband and a wife being good friends seems like a new concept in the villages. As travelers, we have to be constantly aware of our actions because you never know whose lives it’s impacting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

This Moment



The hot sun on my face
sweat dripping down my back
Soles of my feet
hardened from the road
refuse to take another step

Mind is busy making excuses
for why it shouldn’t be this way
Questioning why I’m here
Comforts of home seem an eternity ago

Longing for a familiar face
Attachments
Wanting to hang on to the past
knowing well, it’s fully gone

Right now, there’s only me,
the road, and this moment.

Pick-up one foot,
put it in front of the other.
Breathe in the hot air.
There’s beauty even in that.

See a sugarcane juice stall.
Stop, sit, stretch.
Finally there’s a cool breeze
underneath a Pipal tree.

Keep going,
one foot in front of the other.

There’s only me,
the road,
and this moment.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Always Changing


Vinoba Ashram

Leaving Vadodara was hard. Even though on the first day, we only walked about 6km to the Vinoba Ashram on the outskirts of town. Mentally, I really had to re-adjust back to discomfort, heat, and most of all, the unknown. But once we got to the ashram, I remembered why we had decided to do this and it is worth every single step of walking in the heat.

Nipun has a nice write-up about our experiences at the Vinoba ashram, which is a home to a Nature’s Cure medical center, organic farming, and a legendary gandhian, Jagdish Shah. He dropped out of college to walk with Vinoba Bhave during the Bhoodhan Movement after India’s Independence. It’s an amazing place that’s bustling with activity.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Reaching Vadodara


Shiva statue in the middle of a lake

It was really nice to see familiar faces when Viral, Jayesh-bhai, and several others came to visit. We all shared stories of the past two weeks and had dinner with Dr. Doshi in the evening. This’ll be the last time we see Viral for a while since he’s flying back to the U.S. tomorrow, so it was good to connect with him.

The next day, we had a choice of walking almost 50km to Vadodara where we can stay with relatives; Or make a stop in between at a random village for the night. Since there were so many people to profile in Vadodara and we wanted to set-up infrastructure for the profiles, we decided to push it out to 50 km (our longest ever!) After a very long and grueling day, we reached home at around 7:30 to be greeted by Dr. Uncle and Bhabi with hot dinner waiting and a hot water shower to top off the day. We couldn’t be any happier: clean water, nice clean bed, laundry machine, and the feeling of being home. The good life. Knowing that all good things must come to an end, we cherished each moment and got a lot of work done since there were two computers. The result: www.ijourney.org. We finally have a place to post the profiles of all the inspiring folks so they can be shared with everyone.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

No "Plan B"


Getting to Anand was one of the more challenging days for me. For one, I had a little bit of a stomachache and Nipun wasn’t feeling well either. Secondly, this was our first NGO-type interview so it’s likely that we wouldn’t be offered a place to stay at night. The fears started creeping in, what if I get sicker and we don’t have a place to sleep? What if Dr. Doshi is not there or isn’t interested in being interviewed? I had hyped him up so much in my mind. But yet I had full faith that we would be able to be balanced with however things end up unfolding.

What’s the worse that can happen, right? This is exactly the type of stuff that we’ll have to deal with so we have no choice but to take it one day at a time. “Not knowing” has to be one of the biggest fears in life. Looking back, I realize that there are so many things I didn’t try because I wasn’t sure how it would be turn out. But there we were, dealing with exactly that. What an awesome and scary opportunity at the same time.

We finally reached the eye hospital around 1:30 in the afternoon only to find out that Dr. Doshi just left for lunch. He won’t be back until 3:30 or so. We decided to rest under the fan and wait for him. The volunteers in the hallway cautiously started asking us questions and became more and more interested in what we’re doing. After realizing that we just walked over 25 km, one of them offered us lunch in the hospital cafeteria, and we gratefully accepted.

Spending the rest of the afternoon on a bench outside the hospital was actually pretty fun. At one point, we both looked at each other and started laughing, wondering why the heck we weren’t worried about where we’re staying tonight. I joked that we’ll probably be back at the bench sleeping with the squirrels. Right then, Viral called to let us know that a bunch of them are coming to visit us from Ahmedabad. Wow, our first visitors. A connection with someone from home was very comforting and I was ecstatic about seeing them. But we still had no idea where we would be staying so decided we’ll have to touch base later.

It was past 4:00 by the time we actually sat down with Dr. Doshi, and since he was extremely busy we had to set-up the interview for later in the evening. Without us inquiring and much to our relief, he offered us a place to stay at one of the hospital guest rooms.

Things went much better than I expected, considering that there was no Plan B. =)

Friday, April 08, 2005

Walking Along...


As I walk along on this journey, many things are starting to come up to the surface, many long-held beliefs are being challenged, and many new ones haven’t quite sunk in yet.

This trip is nothing at all what I expected.

The biggest commodities these days are water and shade from the sun. Living with three pairs of clothes seems over-indulgent. Not because people in India don’t have a lot of clothes, but more so because they don’t have to carry them around for miles every day. What we consider poor in the U.S. is absurd in India as well as what we consider rich. People in the villages can live a really good life on couple of dollars a day. While to the rich in the cities, our dollars are nothing compared to how much wealth they have. I realize that we always judge other countries by our own scale which is just really naive since every country is so unique.

I learned about the value of America from a Saint. At times, when we’re so close to the windshield we only see the dirty spots, and all the clean surfaces go unnoticed...the spaces between the defilements.

The lessons are just starting to reveal themselves. Keeping an open mind is the most valuable tool at the moment.

(We’re in a town called Petlad in Gujarat and met with Sajjaad Hussein, Swami Satchidananda, and Harisevak das.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Theory of Karma


“Have you heard of Theory of Karma?” Rajubhai inquires in a loud voice on a roadside food stall as the traffic whizzes by. Nipun and I both smile at each other. Of course we’ve heard of Karma. “No,” he insists “it’s a book, I’ve read it at least 5-6 times.” Impressed that someone like him had read a book by that title, we were all ears.

Before going further, I have to explain that Rajubhai is a huge dark guy, sporting a big gold ring on each hand, a gold bracelet, and probably the most intimidating looking guy in any crowd. Someone you really don’t want to mess with if you see him on the street. Someone who was probably a troublemaker in his younger days turned a devotee because of some good karma in the past. Rajubhai has been a great supporter of us and practically stops anyone he can get a hold of and tells them our story. Nipun jokes that he’s our PR Rep while we’re in Nadiad. =)

So back to theory of Karma, he says, “It’s like a huge grain storage container that you fill from the top and has an opening at the bottom, when you open it, out pours whatever you fill it with from the top.” “Yeah,” we both agreed. He goes on, “What if one year you grow really good basmati rice, what do you get from the bottom?” Nipun blurts, “Basmati rice, of course.” “Yes, and then the next year you have really bad rice and you put that in, what do you get?” We both say, “Bad rice.” He disagrees, “No, you get the good basmati rice from the previous crop,” and with great emphasis adds, “Until it runs out and then you start getting the bad rice.” We all smile at the cleverness of the analogy as well as his enthusiasm in telling the story.

To our surprise, he goes on to add that what we’re doing is using up all our past good karma by receiving food and shelter from others and not “working” for it. He doesn’t quite fully understand how writing inspiring stories and sharing them with the world could be good “work.” Nipun reminds him that we’re constantly taking, just by being alive. Simply by breathing the air, we’re killing hundreds of living beings. It’s what we do with what is given to us that matters. Material things are such small things; we all give and take in so many ways every single day. Much to my surprise, he understood his point.

It still felt like a big lesson: I really need to make sure that I work hard for anything I receive and continue to become more and more sincere and selfless in my giving. And to take only what I really need. It takes me back to quote I heard a long time ago, “Of whom much is given, much is expected.”

Monday, April 04, 2005

Meeting a Real Saint


Exhausted after 23 km trek to Nadiad in the scorching heat, we practically crawled in on all fours to the Sant Ram temple. It’s a huge temple that Nipun’s grandmother used to take him when he was little. Just as we arrived, oddly enough, it was the time of the day that the maharaj (spiritual guru) shows up to meet with people. As tired and sweaty as we were, we walked right in with our backpacks still on us. He called us to the front and asked what we were doing. Nipun spontaneously responded, “We’re doing a walking pilgrimage to find God.” Ram dass compassionately answered, “God resides in you, you won’t find him outside.” And added, “Know Thyself is the most important advice I can give you.” Nipun added, “That’s true; we are doing some cultivation so we can see that goodness within.” He agreed and offered us lunch before we do anything else.

After eating we came right back and planted ourselves on the floor in front of him. Both of us really felt like he was the real deal. Really hesitant about asking such a spiritual saint for an interview, Nipun asked who he would suggest as a good candidate in town for us. He gave a few names as did his disciples for us to profile. Afraid that Nipun was going to leave it at that, I pull on his shirt to find out if the Maharaj has just twenty minutes for questions. To our surprise, as well as his disciples, he agrees and tells us to go ahead. Within seconds, we get out our laptop, camera, and the audio recorder. I really felt like we had someone in front of us who knew what he was talking about.

“What is the biggest thing keeping us from experiencing the Ultimate?” He thoughtfully responds, “The weakness of our minds.” Nipun asks, “Why are there so many temples (like this one), when you say, Know Thyself.” With a smile, he answered, “This is the kindergarten and really knowing thyself is the PhD. We’re all at different stages and we can let go of the tools when they’re no longer needed. This temple is a tool.” After taking up the rest of his “darshan” time and realizing that there are people waiting in line to bow to him, we leave rejuvenated and awed at our luck. He was a pot of gold at the end of our 23km rainbow to say the least.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Feeling "full"


There must be a total and sincere surrender;
there must be an exclusive self-opening to the Divine Power;
there must be a constant and integral choice of the Truth that is descending;
a constant and integral rejection of the falsehood.

-Divine Mother

We were coerced into spending another night at the Auro Ashram. There was a well-renowned flutist coming that Dada wanted us to meet and we still hadn’t visited Manav Pariwar, a health organization recommended to us by the villagers plus, we wanted to visit the saint at the ashram where we originally intended to stay.

The time spent with Dada was priceless. He was so happy that people were using the ashram space for good things. The ashram is a great find and I know that I’ll definitely return to do a longer retreat at some point. Plus, Dada’s become like family so we’ve promised to come and see him before we leave India.

The morning was spent catching up with journaling; I promised myself I’d write one entry a day as a way of reflection and keeping family and friends informed about my whereabouts. Late afternoon we went to Manav Pariwar, but found out that this was the Sunday they were closed. Nonetheless, another person staying at the ashram coincidently was a volunteer with them, so he took us and showed us around, and told us about the organization. They do amazing stuff in healthcare. There are about 6500 people that come there every other Sunday for medical help and about 40-50 doctors from the city come to volunteer their time. Others from the surrounding villages come to help cook for all the patients, since they’re all given a meal as well. All of this is because of one person! It’s always humbling to see how one inspired person can do so much for others.

In the morning it was hard to say goodbye to Dada, he even made tea for me. Sitting on the dining table and chatting in the morning before anyone else came downstairs, I had the rare feeling in my heart of being “full.” There was so much love in the room that there was no need for anything else. Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Endless Devotion



It was always hard to explain to people why we want to walk. Why not just take a train or a car to interview people? That way we can cover a lot more ground. The reasons were always clear to me, although hard to express in words. For one, it’s an internal pilgrimage just as much as focusing on spreading inspiration outwardly, if not more. Walking can allow space for fully being in the present moment with whatever lies in front of you. We’re also using it as a space for silence throughout the day, which helps us go a little bit deeper within ourselves. Secondly, we would never be able to connect with the “common man” the way we can walking. We’d surely miss out on having tea with the Potter’s family and talking about changing from within, sleeping over at Vishnu bhai’s, and spending a whole afternoon at someone like Ghordhan bhai’s home.

In the early morning, Vishnu bhai insisted on walking with us until we crossed the river (about 3 km) before he took off for farming. Still half asleep we make it out to Matar, still in awe of Vishnu bhai and his family. The villagers had given us a name of a doctor who they all cherish because he provides free clinics for the poor, hundreds line up each week to receive medical services. He lives somewhere in Matar.

About a kilometer into town, in a quite corner, we happened to pass the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Although we were planning on staying somewhere else, we knew we had to at least check it out. The first thing I noticed was the dome-shaped meditation temple. We walked right in and met the care-taker who is a huge devotee of Sri Aurobindo and the Divine Mother, and had spent some time with her. Within minutes of our meeting, he had tears in his eyes just talking about her. We pretty much knew right away that we had to profile this non-assuming, humble old man, who was full of laughter and energy. It almost felt like he’s been waiting for us. We decided to spend the night there and get to know Dada better. He had an amazing devotion for the mother and we later found out, has spent his entire life’s savings on the Ashram so that spiritually inclined people can come and meditate here in peace.

As we were having dinner with the dim electricity coming in and out in the background, Nipun asked, “Dada what are your fears, what’re you scared of?” With a childlike glee, he confidently responds, “Nothing, why would you be scared?” Pushing it further, Nipun asks, “What about death?” Like someone who knows more than they’re letting on, he responds, “Oh, that’s not a problem at all. Let it come.” And emphasized in Hindi: “Koi bat nahin, aane dho.”

Friday, April 01, 2005

Perfect Strangers



I got my tired body and sore muscles that could barely move, out of bed, and was ready to go around six o’clock. After saying goodbye at the temple, we headed out for a village named Navagam, which is a home to a freedom fighter who had worked with Gandhi during the Independence movement. Our first interview! We had no idea what it would be like and had no expectations. In fact, we weren’t even sure if he’ll be home.

The tiredness slowly slipped off and I was ready to take on the day. As we walked, humming, “Om mani padme hum,” (A Tibetan chant which means: May all being be happy) and trying to convince each other that my way of singing was better, we came across a row of houses where Potters lived. Curious about piles of trash in front of some of the houses, I stopped to ask how it got there and what they plan to do with it. One of women stopped what she was doing and hesitantly explained that it comes from nearby towns and they use it as fuel (including plastic!) for firing up the clay pots. Their neighbors came to inquire about where we were headed. We told them that we were searching for people who’ve spent their lives doing seva (service work) to write about them and spread the goodness in the world. Curious to learn more, they invited us in for tea. As the mother made the tea, half a dozen other family members inquisitively gathered around us. I asked them about how pots were made. Her son and daughter-in-law were more that excited to show me. We were only there for about fifteen minutes (longer than we anticipated) but there was such a great connection by the time we left. They were open and sharing and instead of idle chatting, we talked about things that were important to all of us. How often can we go into a random house and start discussing the positive things in our lives and the world? Before we left, the Potter went in and brought out two small clay vases as parting gifts. Touched by his generosity, although there was no room in our bags, we took one and incessantly thanking them left for Navagam. We jotted their address (which they were unsure of themselves) promising to send them their photos later on.

After about 10 km, we reached Navagam and the first person we asked knew exactly where Ghordhan bhai lived. Within five minutes, we found ourselves in front of a large, fearless, grand-fatherly man wearing white khadi clothes from head to toe. We briefly told him what we were doing and that we had come there to profile him, so that others, especially our generation can get inspiration from such service-hearted folks. Touched by our sincerity, but as a hard-core practical guy he tried to convince us that we should structure our walk more and figure out exactly what areas we’re going to and plan out who to interview. He mentioned that if we had come yesterday, he wouldn’t have been home. We both smiled and instantly said, “You’re home today.” By the end of the interview, I was honored to be sitting in his house. We learned that he pretty much had a hand in finding solutions to any problems that came up in the village, which explains why everyone knew him. He invited us for lunch and to spend the rest of the afternoon there. It still amazes me how you can know someone for a few hours in India yet they feel like family. He walked us out with many blessings and we exchanged addresses so we can write to him later.

Next, being totally excited about our first interviewee, we headed out to Matar, where we had visited before with some family. After couple of hours of walking, the way seemed a lot longer and it was starting to get dark, about an hour or so before sunset. We passed very few villages and got different estimates to our destinations from people. I was a little concerned at first but realized that I had to let go of any fears and really fully be with the present moment. This is probably just one of the many challenges to come.

A rickshaw driver said it was about 10km away and we’d have to cross a river, but not to worry because the river should be shallow at this time of the year. We walked another 4-5 km before coming to a village called, Vasuna. By this time, it was around 7:30 and the night had set in. We met several people, some suggested not crossing the river at night while others said it would be fine. The more practical part of me kicked in and I suggested we find a place to stay in this village. There was a school in sight where we can probably sleep in the hallway. After being so exhausted, I couldn’t be bothered about food, sleep was all I needed.

As we were discussing this, a man overhears and inquires further about why we were here. Nipun gave him the usual spiel. Right away he said, “You can’t sleep at the school with all these bugs. Follow me.” I couldn’t see his face in the dark so it was hard to judge his sincerity. Generally, I would ask about a million questions but I knew I had to “let go” and it wasn’t in our hands anyways, so I followed. He led us to a two-room clay house, spread out a sheet on the floor for us to sit on and offered us some water. He went out to the other room for a second and we took an opportunity to explain ourselves to his wife, who immediately responded, “this is your own home, of course, you should come here,” and left the room to probably work out the details of our stay. Later we learned that there were three brothers, their wives and children that lived there and the surrounding house. Not wanting to burden them, we ate very little and insisted that we sleep on the floor, which took a lot of convincing since guests are always given a better bed. After dinner, we were hoping to go to sleep but other villagers started pouring in. The word was out that there was a couple in the village doing a pilgrimage. As tired as we were, we stayed up for another three hours talking to the villagers about smoking and drinking, women empowerment, and education. Their ears were definitely tuned in and we took it as an opportunity to be of service and share what we knew. The women were especially fond of Nipun since he talked about how hard they worked, yet they always took my side when it came down to it. =) I can’t believe what a wonderful family this was, everyone was genuinely friendly.

Before leaving the next morning, we offered them the vase we got from the Potter and told them how special it was for us to have received it from someone so sincere. And with it, we passed on our gratitude and good wishes to all of them for their hospitality.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Starting on the Journey



Nipun and I woke up around 4:30 even though we didn’t sleep until almost 1:00 ‘clock the night before. We were both excited and ready to go by 5:30 and although I told them not to wake up in the morning, several people got up to say goodbye and wish us well. Jayesh-bhai walked us to the Gandhi Ashram where we were starting our journey, while it was still dark with the moon above as the only other witness.

As we walked up the stairs of Gandhi’s old house to pray, I had to hold back tears. This was it. Sitting in the place where Gandhi slept, I thought about the principles, with which he lived his life and how he must have felt before leaving for the Salt March, never to return back to this house again. We did the Sarva-dharma-prarthna, a beautiful prayer written by Vinoba Bhave. He took words significant to different religions and combined them together in a prayer to remind us of the interconnection between all faiths. Jayesh-bhai gave us his blessings and bid us farewell on our journey. Before leaving, he pointed out the prayer next to Gandhi’s photo, which seemed perfect for our journey (The photo didn’t come out well but the gist of the prayer is there, so I’m attaching it above).

Full of excitement and wonder we walked off like school children, not knowing what to expect from the days or even months ahead. As we walked through the streets of Ahmedabad with the moon still above us, the homeless on the streets were just starting to wake up. This was probably the most peaceful time on these busy streets and intersections. The sun was just starting to rise as we made our way out of the city. Parts of our walk in complete silence and others planning or rather wondering about the days to come. Exactly two months after leaving the U.S., we were leaving on a journey on foot, to search for the good in the world. All that we had with us were our basic necessities: three pairs of clothes, few toiletry items, towel, water bottle, a couple of first-aid items, map, and a journal. We also brought our tools of service: a laptop, camera, and an audio recorder between the two of us. Once we started walking, even this felt a little heavy at first. We are definitely going to have to get in shape real fast.

As we walked on the outskirts of the town, we realized how much of Ahmedabd we missed out by traveling in cars and rickshaws. We knew we were out of the city when people started giving us second looks. I guess a foreign looking guy and a girl walking with backpacks isn’t all that common here. We decided we’d stop for five minutes every hour just to put our bags down and to stretch out. In a small village, there was a temple where we sat down for a minute only to be approached by a curious looking man wondering what we were doing. Nipun explained to him in Gujarati that we were walking to meet and interview people in India who were doing seva (service) related work and to highlight the good in the world. He insisted on buying some tea for us and chatted a bit longer. Thanking him for the tea and saying goodbye to couple other people who had gathered, we walked off and got onto a highway that would take us to Aslali, a total of about 18 km from the Gandhi Ashram. We were hoping to reach there before it got really hot in the afternoon, asking for directions every now and then just to make sure we were going the right way. At one point, it started getting really windy and the dust was blowing right into our eyes. It was the worst when trucks passed by but both of us were pretty balanced. Neither of us expected this to be easy.

We finally reached a beautiful Swami Narayan temple by the lake. Our hope was to spend the night here as one of our three stops before reaching Chikodara to interview Dr. Doshi. There was no one around so we decided to meditate for a while. At noon, someone came to close the temple and when we inquired about spending the night, he said there were no facilities. After asking a few more questions, he told us that there was a bigger temple about 3 km ahead that might have accommodations. Since we were tired and sore, we decided to stop for lunch before walking further. Worse comes to worst we can find a good spot under a tree to sleep on. Luckily, we were saved from that for now since the larger temple had a room and dinner. We got there pretty late and since everyone takes the afternoon off and naps while it’s hot, we couldn’t help but do the same. The priest said there would be work later in the evening. We took the time out to clean-up, nap, and meditate. There wasn’t too much to do in the evening and it was a little too late to connect with the villagers so we joined the evening chant and did a little sweeping at the temple and basically just tried to recover from the 22 km walk.

Let’s see what tomorrow holds. =)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Colors of Holi



If anyone knows how to celebrate Holi, it has to be the Gujarati's. We just got back from the villages last night and were woken up to neighbors coming over and covering us with color. And of course, we weren't going to just sit around and let it be a one-way thing. =) We got our ammunitions (bright colors, water, and water guns) along with recruiting the kids in the neighborhood, who obviously have a lot more experience at this kinda thing than we do. About 20 of us, the old and the young alike went from house to house spraying people with color. Most people were ready with their own colors and definitely got us back.

It was the perfect excuse for all the adults to play like kids again. We had such an amazing time and it continued all day since many folks came by Jayesh-bhai's home all day to wish them a happy holi. After we ran out of color, we ended with covering every single person in sight with mud. It got a lot crazier than anyone expected and we finally had to end with Jayesh-bhai hosing us all down with water before we could go back in the house. =)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sweeping the Dust

Keep sweeping the dust each day.
Every day it re-appears
sometimes more,
sometimes less.

It’s inevitable,
much like the negativities
that keep resurfacing
in our minds,
often times,
without us knowing
or understanding why.

A Saint once said,
“to invoke divine qualities
in others”
is the purpose
of life.
It seems that would be
the only thing
that could subdue
the negativities
that creep in.
If you’re too busy
looking for the good,
there’s no time
for pondering
over
the imperfections.

Keep sweeping the dust each day.
Every day it reappears
sometimes more,
sometimes less.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Chai with the Neighbors




Our group of about 20 folks has been in the villages for five days now. It’s been a really unique experience living in a village who’s total population is about 200-250 people. Many people still bath in the river, raise their own animals, build their own houses, and have no toilet facilities (we all have to take care of business out in the fields). This has become a pretty neat bonding ritual for the girls, especially mud-bathing in the river.

Most people seem content with their simple living here. The houses are made out of twigs and dirt mixed in with cow dung. There is running water in most homes but you can never tell when it’s going to run out. =) We cook all our meals outside on the gas stove or the neighbor’s clay stove. The villagers are full of curiosity and interest. Although everyone is pretty laid back, they have a full active schedule all day. Most of the men work in the farms and the women do housework along with working on the farms.

We’ve had a chance to do a lot of different things at this village. Some volunteers have taken people who are sick to the hospital almost everyday, done Bhajans with the villagers at night, picked up lots of plastic and trash, and even had a chance to hold a Garba (traditional Gujarati dance). There was also a bathing session where we found the dirtiest looking children in town and gave them a full bath, along with braiding their hair, cutting their nails, and teaching them about cleanliness.

At the end of the day, these are all just tools to connect with the villagers. My most favorite moments have been just chatting with the women and getting to know about their lives. I realized that we’re not very different although our lifestyles are worlds apart.

The Simple Life

No Video Games Needed

Lunch Prayers

A Sadhu, an Artist, and a Poet



Some snapshots from the villages...more details to come.

Well-rooted



Sitting amongst the ancient treest brings about a very deep and serene feeling. It's like being with an old, wise friend. We started our 10-day experiment by walking 9 kilometers to Kabirwad, where there is an old Banyan tree at the edge of the holy Narmada river. The unique thing about this Banyan tree is that it's branches are so humble that they bend over and touch the ground and in the process another tree is created. It's one tree that has re-grounded itself again and again, to the point where it's hard to tell where its original root lies. We often think that we're products of our parents and ancestors but this makes me wonder whether we really know where it begins and where it ends.

This picture captures a small fraction of the tree, which spreads itself around a huge temple.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Mark Making the News...again



Today was the big day that's had the media buzzing around Ahmedabad and all across India, the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Salt March. Organized by Tushar Gandhi (great-grandson of Gandhi), about a 1000 folks started walking from the Gandhi Ashram for a month long journey on foot. Some of us walked for the first few kilometers to show our support. We had the privilege of hosting Tushar Gandhi and his crew for breakfast every morning, since we were his only neighbors. And as a result, we got to learn about the cause first-hand.

After the walk started, which was initiated by Sonia Gandhi, on one of intersections Mark spontaneously started yelling, "Mahatma Gandhi" and crowd follwed in "Amar rahe" (May he live on). It was quite a sight to see. A big white guy showing such passion for Gandhi naturally caught people's attention and the news stations had a field day. Before we got back from the walk, many people had already seen him on the news. ;)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Shivratri



This was my first time celebrating Shivratri, which is a Hindu holiday celebrating the Lord Shiva. We all got dressed up in the morning and went for prayers at the school in the slums, where about 200 people gathered to do Bhajans and dhoon (chant). After the prayers, there was a group of women from the slums, who were walking several kilometers to another house for more prayers. It was amazing to see the faith and dedication in these women. They decorated the riksha (above) to take the large photo of Shiv-ji and chanted all the way. The entire day was filled with eating sweets, lots of dancing to the beat of a drum, and for some, bhang (a type of cannibus mixed in with milk). Happy Shivratri!

Friday, March 04, 2005

Lighting a Candle



Everyone found out that it was John's birthday yesterday. As someone took him out on an "errand," others worked on a beautiful handmade card and got everyone at the Ashram to sign it. Of course, John didn't have a clue that we remembered. The celebration was simple and full of love and laughter. My favorite part was that instead of blowing out candles, the tradition here is to light a candle to spread the brightness into the coming year. What a beautiful way to start another year. =)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

One More Photo



The one thing that all kids have in common all across Ahmedabad is that they lovvve to be photographed. The minute you get your camera out, everyone from the town comes over to have their picture taken. Forget the fact that they're probably never going to see it, it doesn't matter. They just want their picture taken and will do anything to get attention.

We met these kids walking back from the slums and Mark and John almost had to drag me away because the kids kept on wanting "one more" picture taken.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Welcome Home



I’ve been to many housewarmings before but none quite like this. Ma-ji (which means grandma) is moving into her first one-room, one bathroom home made out of concrete materials. She’s been living in a “house” made from couple of wooden poles draped with cloth so this modest place in the middle of the slums seems like a palace and she couldn’t be any happier.

Ma-ji makes less than 50 cents a day selling cosmetics and accesories on the street. This year she's a recipient of a housing grant from ManavSadhana and the organizations’ volunteers decided to do it right and painted the walls with colorful traditional drawings. They also invited the priest for the pooja (prayers) which generally takes place when someone moves into a new home in India. It was a simple 15-minute ceremony with the neighbors and volunteers all crammed onto the tiny street in front of the house.

During one of the bhajans, I sat with my eyes closed and sent out a small prayer that I hope reaches all the Gods that she prays to: “May this home always be blessed. May she always have a roof over her head, food in her stomach, and love in her heart.” After the ceremony, I was taking photos and she happened to look directly at me with folded hands. The look of contentment and gratitude in her eyes made me want to give her a big hug in fear that she’d burst if she was any happier. =)

Monday, February 28, 2005

Dancing Peacocks



I thought that peacock sightings were rare even in India, but we seem to run into the beautiful birds everywhere!

As we were walking around in an ashram for our early morning prayers, a peacock quietly sat on top of a gazebo watching the sunrise. At this particular ashram, you can find almost 80 species of birds...perhaps because there are rows and rows of mango, amla, and chikoo trees whose fruits can't be plucked by humans and are only to be enjoyed by the birds!

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Quiet Afternoon Nap



Gandhi once said, "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Near the Sabarmati river that runs behind the Gandhi Ashram, you can see all types of different animals ... especially pigs. Above is a whole family resting on a hot afternoon, although the little one in the middle seems to be done with his nap.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Bloom



Those who know me know that my blog wouldn't be complete without pictures of nature and animals. Fortunately, India has both in abundance. :)

The flowers above (I forget their name) are beautiful and are just starting to bloom. As a kid, I would hold the little bulb between my fingers until it made a "pop" sound and revealed the flowers. You're probably not suppossed to do that, but hey, I was kid. And I have to admit that I had to do that even now, at least once to make sure it still works. ;)

(This picture is taken in Matar, Gujarat.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mmmm...paan


Mmmm...paan

After dinner with some relatives, John tries the sweet Paan for the first time! From the aloo paranthas and curd in Punjab to paneer dosas of Mumbai to the freshly cooked Gujarati meals at the Gandhi Ashram, the food has been amazing! We keep thinking it's going to go downhill any day but it just keeps getting better.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the children at ManavSadhana eat some of the most nutritious as well as delicious meals in the area. Every day they have milk and ghee (which is uncommon for any hostel in India) as well as ladoos every week. ManavSadhana also runs many nutritious centers around the city for children as well as newborn babies and their mothers.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Messiah


Jayesh-bhai greeted us at the entrance of ManavSadhana with a huge smile along with a hundred kids from the hostel. This man that I’ve heard so much about, the inspiration behind ManavSadhana, who’s met everyone from the Dalai Lama to the President of India, is truly one of the most humblest person I have ever met. Born at the Gandhi Ashram, he’s dedicated his entire life to service.

The next few days he took time out from his busy schedule to show us around and introduce us to various projects that MS is involved with. There are literally hundreds of initiatives serving the poor around Ahmedahbad. One of the most inspiring days for me was a walk through the slums that are a home to about 150,000 people. The major occupation there is rag-picking, which involves sorting through trash to find anything valuable to sell for a few rupees to the recycling hubs.

Jayesh-bhai knew pretty much everyone in town or rather everyone knew him. As we walked through the tiny streets filled with trash, the young and the old alike stopped what they were doing and shouted a hearty Namaste with folded hands. He discussed health with the sick and cleanliness with the children, as he picked each one up and stroked their hair. Most of all, he made them feel loved. Whether it was a baby, an elderly, or teenagers, they all had his undivided attention. He had nothing but concern and compassion for everyone he passed.

As we walked back to the Gandhi Ashram seemingly worlds apart, Jayesh-bhai had more people waiting in the living room for his advice and help. Patiently he sat listening to each person’s problems. No one was ever turned away, which explains the number of programs run by MS, if they don’t have the solutions, they’ll create them.

I pondered over the magnitude of not the number of people Jayesh-bhai has helped throughout his life, but the humility and compassion that he approaches each situation with day after day. I feel both privileged and blessed to be in his company for he represents the light that is in each of us but he's definitely someone that shines that light a little bit brighter.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

In Tune


Gandhi Ashram, India

Music and art are a huge part of ManavSadhna. On this particular day, someone randomly started playing the tabla, someone else pulled out the guitar, and before we knew it, everyone gathered around in a circle for a little singing. More than the bhajans, we all laughed our hearts out!

(This is the main living room of the Gandhi Ashram, where hundreds of people would come each day, asking for help and advice. They' ve preserved most of the ambience, from the time Gandhi-ji was here.)

Monday, February 14, 2005

Reaching Gandhi Ashram


Gandhi-ji's Home

Rows of smiling kids greeted us, as we first lay foot on the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. It was all courtesy of Jayeshbhai, Anarben, Virenbhai -- the founders of "Manav Sadhna", which means 'service to humanity' -- who gave us a hearty welcome.

As we toured some of the projects, we also met with Tushar Gandhi (the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, pictured third from the right) who happenned to be visiting at the time. He's organizing a re-enactment of Dandi March, the 385 kilometer walk that Gandhi and his followers embarked on to protest the salt tax in 1930. Commemorating the 75th anniversary, Tushar Gandhi's ‘International Walk for Peace, Justice and Freedom’ will follow the same route from Gandhi Ashram to Dandi, from March 12th to April 7th.

The above picture is in front of the house where Gandhi-ji and Kasturba lived for many years.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Mumbai

The streets filled
with people,
coming and going
minding their own business.
Stopping for a moment,
means running the risk
of getting trampled on.

Stalls selling chai
in little plastic cups.
Dogs in deep sleep
under the hoods of taxis
hiding from the scorching sun.
Taxi-wallahs
looking for passengers.

Each block has its own smell:
freshly made samosas,
mouth-watering sweets,
flowers, trash,
human waste,
sandalwood incense,
and of course,
freshly made chai.

A city filled
with millions of people
from the richest
to the poorest;
Homeless kids begging for money,
even younger ones playing
on the sidewalks.
What will become of them?
Who will look after them?

A blind man singing
in a crowded train,
from the deepest part
of his heart,
makes you want to
give him everything
you’ve got
but I let him pass me by.
Grateful
to the next guy
who gives him a rupee.

Seeing the poverty,
one can fathom
why the rich,
want to hold onto
their wealth:
the fear, the insecurity,
of becoming like --
the others.
Poverty
so close to home.
The glamour of Bollywood,
fancy restaurants,
designer stores
much more
appealing.
It’s easier to look
the other way
than to find
a solution.

Yet, there are
the courageous ones
who find ways to help
that often go unrecognized.
Bit by bit
they’re making
a difference.
Food for the hungry,
services for the poor,
a kind word for the down-trodden.

This is Mumbai,
Gateway of India.
In all its glamour,
With all its trials
and tribulations.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Doors Opening


Hawa Mahal (Jaipur, India)

Doors have always intrigued me ... architecturally and symbolically. You never know what lies on the other side until you open it. Fortunately in this journey, many people have had their doors wide open for us and awed us with their hospitality.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Beginning of a Journey

After months of much thought and consideration, we're finally off to our journey in India. We've moved out of our place and gotten rid of most of our belongings. We have no real plans. With the blessings of many, we'll go with the flow.

PapaUncle -- Nipun's Dad -- used an analogy couple of weeks ago that seems appropriate for the trip. During one of our meditation circles, he shared that life can either be like a mountain where your goal is to get to the top, or like a river that flows effortlessly into the direction that is most natural and eventually merges into the large ocean.

When you're climbing uphill, going to the mountaintop, there's a constant struggle but in the end you reach the top no matter which side you start from and see the entirety of the universe.
For me, the analogy of the river flowing along is naturally a more attractive one. In this journey, I hope to be like the river that flows along. I know we'll hit a few rocks along the way but if the current is strong even the largest rock feels like a mere pebble.