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.