Few Joyous Days in Baroda

November 2012

Dear Friends,

Last night, at a gathering hosted by AURA in Baroda, bunch of folks met for a sacred gathering of generosity stories.  Beautiful hand-drawn art, thoughtfully orchestrated logistics, small gifts for everyone.  It opened brilliantly, as Jagruti-ben spoke about Guri as a way to introduce me. :)  After some meditation, stories were shared and questions arose -- Does radical empathy arise naturally or does it take effort? Is it meaningful to give even if hurts?  How do you avoid power dynamics in service?  Has fear ever prevented you from being generous?  At the end, as a gesture of gratitude, people made pledges of kindness, some of them publicly.  The head of the organization said that she's often neglected to practice kindness in her engagement with teachers and she'll pledges to change that.  One person said: "Our maid helped my grandparents die gracefully, and I want to start a bank account so she can die gracefully."  "I pledge to give even when it hurts."  "I will do three acts every week."  With tears in her eyes, an older woman shared something like, "I've had a deeply troubled relationship with my mother-in-law, who hasn't received my help for the last 30 years.  This week, she's turned immobile, moved in with us and I now pledge to see this as my act of giftivism.  I will offer every act of service with my greatest love, as if God has manifested in my life in this form."  In private, people came and shared more stories -- and hugs. :)  A woman, with burn marks across her body, whispered to me, "I've had an abusive father, and I'm deciding that I'm going to forgive him. I want to liberate myself from the pain."  And then gently asks, "That's like an act of kindness, isn't it?"  I bowed to her with a silent smile.

The day before, we visited the Vinoba Ashram in the city.  Giants of Gandhian movement happened to be present -- Narayan Desai, Gautam Bajaj, Usha Tai, Jagdish Shah, and various folks from the younger generation.  As we spoke about creating a web portal for Vinoba Bhave's message/vision, I said to some of the elders: "Ultimately, all we need from you is your blessings."  They smiled big. :)  They gave us permission to share all of Vinoba's books online, gave us a copy of all his digital content (thousands of photos and rare video  footage and more) to make film on Vinoba, and spontaneously created a list of the remaining Gandhian elders whose life stories ought to be documented.  If we had strategized about achieving such an objective, it would've taken lots and lots of effort.  But here, it all just happened organically.  Right place at the right time with the right people.  All completely unplanned.

That day was also Wednesday.  Little over a year ago, my parents were in town and they interacted with two enthusiastic sisters -- Jignasha and Swara -- who wanted to host local Awakin Wednesdays.  "It's very easy.  Just do it and you'll see," my mom said as she helped them cook for the first Wednesday with a few local friends.  Over the last year, it has been a magical experience for them, in those wonderfully ordinary ways.  Jignasha wrote this last week: "Hosting Wednesdays has been a journey for us to let ourselves believe more and more in the collective that is created by all of us sitting together in a circle. Initially, there were many questions - oh what will happen if someone comes late? what if someone talks too much in the circle? what happens when we have less food? what if someone does not rsvp? ohh english passages - how can we have something in a local language? what if someone comes in between? who will open the passage? And so many more and more and more. We never had any perfect answers but they kept evolving as we walked and continued reconnecting to the collective space again and again.  In these months, I have been able to deepen my trust in people and intent.  I want to thank you all for teaching me how to trust in the wisdom of the collective."

We had planned our Baroda trip to ensure that we had a Wednesday there.  So we went.  Our first time.

Lo and behold, 65 people showed up and they moved it from their living room upto the terrace.  Signs by the elevator read: "Taking the stairs is good, good good". :)  So we did, and it was good. :)  As we approached the rooftop, flowers and candles greeted the staircases; a volunteer put a tilak on our forehead while adding, "Life is beautiful, and we love you."  Approaching the big circle on the rooftop, first thing we noticed was a giant flower "rangoli" in the center with a delicate golden hue emanating from the carefully placed candles.  Different cloth mats were placed on the floor for people to sit, a mic system was ready on the side, volunteers were strategically standing in various areas.  It was, without a doubt, a labor of love!  After an hour of silence, Guri and I opened with a few thoughts: "We don't know what we have done to deserve this, but we feel blessed to be here."  In fact, Guri had a profound meditation there and spoke articulately about inner transformation -- and concluded with a poem, "Dear Pilgrim", that she had written on a recent pilgrimage.  Afterwards, dinner in silence was arranged for everyone and loads of volunteers kept serving us home-made food.  True to Indian goodbye tradition, :) we ended up creating a second circle with half the folks -- this time sharing lots of laughs about Wednesday stories.  Love was in the air. 

Since I'm going in reverse order, I might as well speak about Tuesday.  Tejal Amin is from a renowned family and now runs benchmark schools (and a college) with 8000 students; she had heard about ServiceSpace from various accomplished folks and wanted me to address a big function.  "I will be happy to share, but perhaps we can engage at a deeper level and create a local platform to catalyze a movement of generosity," I offered.  She loved the idea, so on Tuesday, she invited a few friends, I took along a few grassroots volunteers and we had an energizing brainstorming session.  "Kids copy/cheat too much these days?"  How 'bout an Honesty Shop?  It's now in the works.  "Every year, we host Baroda Marathon with 40 thousand runners and many more participants."  How 'bout a kindness booklet with stories, ideas and a sleeve with Smile Cards in the back?  Also in the works. "Can people in the marathon contribute time instead of money?  Can that even be in lieu of the entrance fee?"  Perhaps we can create a alternative local currency too, a la Karma Bucks!  "The younger generation needs more positive news and role models."  How do we create a school-wide DailyGood.org with inputs from the students themselves?  That and much more is in the works.  Instead of me giving a big talk, we are all now going to do a Smile Card act, bring a story and share it with others on Dec 16th with a core-team of couple hundred volunteers -- and ask them to do the same.  Then it'll ripple out organically in various forum ranging from schools to events like the Baroda marathon.

This is just the story of last couple days.  Every day is likewise eventful, as seeds get planted within me and perhaps some in spaces around me.  In one of these meetings two days ago, an Uncle mentions how he really liked the be-the-change "kurta" I was wearing.  By the end of our conversation, I took it out and gave it to him.  "Please laundry before use," I told him while sporting my white undershirt, and a big smile. :)  He was stunned and overwhelmed, naturally.  Next day, he informed me that he hasn't been able to get himself to wear it, but he's thinking of hanging it up on his wall as a reminder that ultimately it is in giving that we receive.

Moved by love, :)



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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."