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. =)