9 Cities, 15 Days, Many Ripples
Dear ServiceSpace Family, Everywhere I go, some or the other ripples from the past sweeps me up. Over the last 15 days, I slept in 9 different cities and was in front of tens of thousands of people -- and our work feels like an instrument of a subtle revolution whose time has come.
More than a dozen Awakin gatherings have started since the beginning of 2013. Tons and tons of Smile Cards are in motion. Seva Cafe/Karma Kitchens have started in various new cities, with Bangalore most recently blasting off with 40 volunteers and 150 guests. Indian Smile Decks are being happily embraced by many corporations, and schools are about to get introduced to beautiful Smile booklets that just returned from the printers. Giversity is being birthed as an online university of inner transformation driven education. Local groups are interviewing local heroes, Conversations.org style. :) Even more importantly, people are tapping into the spirit and stepping up the generosity in their own contexts. In Pune, a young woman held a "kindness fest", where hundreds of people were tagged with small gifts ranging from a hug to hand-made wisdom scrolls. In Baroda, a man came up to me and explained how his act of service was to go to disadvantaged communities and help them do community marriages (to save them money). "But after listening to some Giftivism stories, we decided to step it up and went to a village -- only to realize that the villagers stepped it up even more and gifted 77 unique items to each of the unknown couples that got married there." Another young woman gathered some friends, made tea at home and offered it to 75 morning walkers at a park nearby. For every confused look that didn't trust the offering, she rebounded it with love and rekindled that invisible bond. One story after another, the decentralized ripples are doing its thing. And because all of it is powered by non-financial incentives, nature seems to be adding a lot of momentum to it. :)
In the spirit of gratitude, I tend to write periodic stream-of-consciousness (ie. unedited) kind of note to my parents (and few others). For those who are interested, below are some the emergent possibilities in motion.
Met with a big hotelier; his wife's sister passed away but he still insited on meeting and stayed till midnight talking generosity. :) His son started a pretty awesome magazine at the age of 15, aspires to change politics and now is at UC Berkeley (incidentally, living few blocks away from our home). Half way through our conversation, he tells his Dad that he wants to intern with ServiceSpace this summer. :)
Opened at TedXMasala -- what if we learned generosity from those who had little? That was my topic. They held a kindness contest and had the winner speak for five minutes, and gave a Smile Card to everyone to pay forward with an act of kindness. Full house, with about 400 overflowing folks. Many known folks brought their families and friends to listen; "Five Pandavas" represented; so many thanked me for ServiceSpace since they had benefitted from it in some way or another. People cutely came up to share stories and ideas -- and love and blessings. In one of the funniest compliments I received, a girl wrote a long email that concluded with something like: "Thanks for doing this despite being a Gujarati". LOL! Another fellow asks, "My parents taught me that we should be selfless such that your left hand doesn't know what right gives. Why share my kindness?" I told that him that one can share anonymously, like on HelpOthers. Yet, in our times, if we don't share, trillion dollars of advertising will be the sharing; and ultimately, its just a practice so its best to avoid intellectual excuses, because if we were truly developed in selflessness, we wouldn't be bothered by sharing or not sharing. He smiled. :) We went to eat at Papa John's and met three other young women who said the talk was an "eye openor" for them and wanted to stay looped in. Fortunately, Sheetal and Deven were/are busy catching and nurturing the ripples, including various kindness projects, invitation to share with local groups, and connecting folks to each other.
One guy in a nice suit came up afterwards and asked me if he can share something honestly. I smiled and said yes. He told me that he felt like strangling me through my whole talk. :) "Generosity makes us weak; we will have no progress if we're lazy and 'moved by love'. Gandhi has destroyed our country. If we do all this kindness stuff, we will head back to the stone ages." I cracked up and told him, "And we'd be happy." He was clearly irritated, so we chatted a bit. "I am your anti-Christ", he said. I told him that he could strangle me but I would hug him. :) And without notice, I gave him a hug. He cracked a smile and I pointed it out to him. We spoke and I told him of a few tidbits about people he admired. Bit by bit, he started flipping. By the end, within five minutes, he offered me a ride and asked if we can stay in touch. :) Sheetal witnessed the whole thing and enjoyed the entertaining yet transformative experience. :)
Spent one night at Sachi's. Her mom always spoils us. :) Since last month's trip, Sachi's aunt went to a 10-day, which she felt would never happen! She had a grand time and now its leading to various other unexpected ripples. Her mom is also going to her 2nd 10-day on Feb 1st. Yash gets a huge smile on his face when he starts to describe his Awakin to Giftivism experience: "Amazing". It has shifted some solidly in him.
Met with Yogeshbhai at his small "school of happiness". He gifted me a pledge of holding space for an hour of meditation, *every* day for the next 365 days. Just meditating in his sacred space altered my biochemistry subtly -- and beautifully. He's very much part of the posse and I look forward to looping him in even more; he's currently thinking of emabarking on 5200 kilometer walk for peace! :)
Interacted with a CEO who runs a 3000 person software company. Another kin, with whom we had various friends in common -- about 6 years ago, one of his company's board members held an Awakin gathering when I visited his home in Texas. :) We spoke about creating a group in his company (in-kind volunteer group, completely non commercial) to create mobile apps for social good (like kindness), and he's fired up to do it. I may have to take another trip for this, and he's keen to come to Sughad too.
Headed to Seva Cafe launch in Bombay. On the way, saw a fight and then in a sharp contrast, entered the sanctuary that Siddharth and Lahar had manifested at Shanti-van garden. So necessary for our world today. Lahar's mom had hosted about dozen folks previous night to cook for 120 folks -- labor of love, and it showed. Khush, Neerad, Sheetal-ben and many others created gorgeous ambiance; Apun Ka Club kids greeted us with huge smiles; kindness table, quotes, flowers, you name it. Many people came. My masa came sporting his Karma Kitchen t-shirt (LOL!), while Neelam Aunty continued to sport larger than life smiles. :) Kindness table rocked with the freshly printed Indian Deck (thanks to Madhu and Meghna). Overall, such a big response that Sid has already suggested doing a second round in February. Another friend of Lahar's -- Nitinbhai -- visited Smile Cafe in A'bad and wants to do something similar in Bombay. Met many folks at Seva Cafe who are ready to spread this in various directions. And after the inspiring response, I'm sure Sid/Lah may end up spending more time anchoring all this energy in Bombay, let alone the six Awakins that have cropped up in Bbay and another couple in Pune. :)
Met with the daughter in law of the famous director, Shyam Benegal. She saw one of my previous Ted Talks and was quite moved; she has a 4000 sq. feet of prime real estate and wants to use it for non-commercial, social good purposes. She already had architectural plans laid out (that she showed me) and is keen to start implementation very soon. We had an energizing conversation (about Karma Theatre and Karma Cafe and a potential space for a Compassion Tank), and she urged me to join their team of advisors -- which is unlikely given my constraints, although I told her (and her team) that so long as they were focused on Giftivism values, I'm always happy to guide and support.
Also met some folks who were friends with people who had hosted Awakin San Diego about 4 years ago. :) Beauty of noble ties is that they don't expire so soon. :) We had a grand conversation, about how to run a hospital in tribal areas, without fundraising! Very open-hearted people, associated with Srimad Raj Chandra mission. They refused to leave until I gave them a date when I can give a talk at their center. :) One of the women was in charge of Shantivan, and we decided that if I return to Bombay, we will host an Awakin there, with friends from their community. One of the young women, a longtime subscriber to ServiceSpace projects, spontaneously gave me a gift as we were departing -- "I'm taking the 40 day kindness challenge, starting now," she said. Another girl, even younger, said she would post a positive picture on her facebook wall every week (or perhaps even everyday!).
Had beautiful conversations, with folks ranging from my aunt's yoga friend (who also ended up being Lahar's wedding dress designer) to Pooja Taparia who spoke beautifully about spending 12 years working with abused children and learning to have compassion with the abusers to Mansi who does "sing a smile" project to tag groups (like senior centers) with songs (with a band of their friends) to Gautam Sachdev who runs a publishing company. A woman gifted me a Tulsi plant; few minutes later, another woman says her daughter was really keen to meet me since following ServiceSpace following the UPenn talk because was homebound in bed and so instead she came to visit. Her daughter's name was Tulsi. I gifted her the Tulsi. When you're in the flow, things come into your left hand so you they can leave from your right hand.
In the evening, Bhumi hosted an Awakin gathering at her home in Mulund. About 25 of us sat (for half an hour), and most had never sat before (and were nervous!). However, practically all said how easily they were able to sit. How beautiful to be able to first meet people in silence! Bhumi elegantly led the circle, and everyone shared beautiful stories. One kid shared how seeing Jayeshbhai with lepers was the most inspiring moment of his life. Another shared an experience of spending a night with a sweeper, who told him that you can't sweep the streets properly until you sweep your mind. Bhumi also spoke about how a Smile Card led to a retreat (where her and her father washed everyone's feet after 3-step-and-a-bow experience) which led to Smile Space booth she held at her college (where they tagged people with small gifts). As we were climbing some stairs, Arvind-bhai (Bhumi's Uncle) casually says, "These are completely different kids, than they were a month ago, somehow."
No one knows what that somehow is, but something is happening somehow. Jayeshbhai was on the other side of the country, hosting an Awakin gathering in Calcutta, while Guri was in silence for day and a half, and as were all of you shining that light in your own corners of the world. Somehow its all connected. :)
On my first night in Delhi, I was a guest at Analjit's house. He first heard me speak at Doon and felt that people in his corporate world should hear about Giftivism; so he invited me to speak to his staff of 62 thousand in Delhi, and I went. The night before, he invited a dozen or so business leaders for a mindful dinner. I shared a few stories, and sparked off a conversation. In such settings, initially, there's always a kind of awkwardness, until the vibration of love takes over . Then, different kind of content is amplified in the circle. Just that morning, Analjit had spent 4 hours with Dalai Lama; Lord Leitch from England had just returned from a retreat with a remarkable benedictine monk (Brother Lawrence). One amongst us had gone to Thailand to ordain as a monk for two weeks and spoke about a gift economy there. Much to everyone's surprise, including mine, :) the evening conversations went pretty deep. Are human beings fundamentally good? Most people didn't think so. How will we solve the problems of the world? How does profit motive affect your ability to be-the-change? Is faith necessary? What does generosity do to our neurochemistry?
As we headed to our fancy round-table dinner, we were talking about gift economies, decentralizing money creation, and designing for small (instead of scale). These were all heads of businesses that were valued in thousands of crores. Certainly for this evening, everyone felt like brothers (and a sister :)), as we hugged like kin. Sandy, who runs 7500 hospitals in 191 countries was very moved and wrote a warm note that ended with, "I so enjoyed meeting last night. You and I have much in common and I would like to keep in touch." On the face of it, we don't have anything in common :) but when we strip the veneer of our identities, we can build bridges of love with everyone.
The next day, I gave the big public talk. Compared to my other talks, this certainly wouldn't go at the top of the list. Perhaps it was due to my lack of sleep, or perhaps something else, but so it was. Still, plenty of ripples. One guy came up and said, "I like to be a giver, but I've noticed that people just talk over me in meetings and then my inputs don't get counted at all. Should I still keep giving?" Another guy, a very successful guy from the biz world, came up to tell me that he feels like he's known me before I became Nipun. :) I also heard some surreal episodes -- like someone's neighbors kid driving a Lamborgini, racing super fast, hurting someone and father rescuing him due to his influence (and he wants to start Awakin gatherings in that neighborhood). Its hard to even process all that, considering that I didn't even know India had Lamborginis! One of biz leaders took a Smile Deck and is going to close her meetings with everyone drawing a card, and open next meeting with check-in rooted around their previous acts of kindness. Another participant is coming our Moved By Love retreat, and spend some time diving deep into ServiceSpace ethos. A billionaire later wrote a note titled 'Gratitude': "You are fortunate to catapult to a much higher level in one shot. For us, lesser mortals, it is one step at a time. Thank you for modeling one such BIG step ... I learnt a lot in very little time." While I am myself still taking small steps, I was touched by his humility.
At night, six of us met informally for a circle of sharing in my hotel room. No one knew everyone but it ended up being a deeply transformative space, although its source couldn't be pinpointed. We all shared stories. Pratyush shared a story of how he visited a tribal home in Kerala once and the woman with him asks a family: "You had lunch?" Yes. You had breakfast? Yes. Dinner last night? Yes. You have food for tonight? Yes. Then she barges into the house and opens the lids of the food containers -- everything was empty. Then she asks again, "When was the last time you ate?" "Maam, three days ago." After a long pause. "Then, why did you lie to me?" "Maam, I didn't want you to worry." Here was a hungry man, and a hungry family, and instead of thinking about his personal needs, he is thinking about smile on a stranger's face. We all spoke candidly. One of the girls, from Canada, reflected on her "very dark" spiritual experiences that ultimately got her gunning for the "light", as another was in tears while reflecting on the Delhi gang-rape situation and some of her own difficult experiences with the men in the city. We all chose to fast that evening, in solidarity with a local activist who spent many days fasting at Jantar Mantar (epi-center of recent Delhi activism). All of us felt that there was magic in the air. It wasn't even the content -- just the space in between the notes that made the music.
During one of the outings, I met with Pawan. Many moons ago, he used to come to Awakin gatherings (and often brought home-cooked dessert!), and we remarked how noble ties are such that we can meet after years and still feel like we haven't missed a beat. He is now a proud father of 2 and his small company is doing great! At one point in our conversation, he thanks me for altering his life path -- and opens his laptop and says, "This message is always in my inbox. Whenever I get confused, I read this email you had sent after we first met. See?" It was an email from 2003! His company is very much values-first; for every hire, they screen 700 applicants but don't rush into hiring; as a general rule, they all eat lunch together; they have clear guiding principles, and encourage giving "smileys" with compliments to each other. We had a powerful circle of sharing with his staff of 15, after which everyone pulled a Smile Deck card and were excited to do the act. My parting gift was a bunch of small chocolates: "We thought we'd give you something that you can share with others." Indeed, I loved sharing it with the many others I met later in the day.
In the afternoon, I visit Goonj for the first time. They do remarkable work of upcyling trash into products like sanitary napkins for women. They receive 1000 tons of in-kind donations every year! Most of their beneficiaries are villagers, with whom they have started an innovative "cloth for work" program -- you give your labor for a local project that local folks find valuable (say like building a bridge) and you are compensated with cloth. Its practically a trash-based economy. :) Anshu and his wife (Meenakshi), who started Goonj and still managing it together, are long-time friends of ServiceSpace. In fact, as Arathi and I spoke to their team, Meenakshi opened with: "ServiceSpace has changed my life. Thank you." In a car ride together, few of us had a great conversation about inner transformation. "Meditation is very selfish," one person said. Then we spoke about how one can cultivate inner resources through meditation, not just for one's own indulgence, but for the benefit of others -- something that both Gandhi and Vinoba did and spoke about.
The last part of my day was -- an Awakin circle! During a previous trip in November, about 20 (random!) folks had met at my hotel room for a spontaneous Awakin style gathering. It was wonderful, and almost reflexively, various people volunteered to host once/twice a month and it has continued. This time, Prakhar hosted it as 30+ people crammed onto his living room space. Instead of a circle of sharing, few people were called on to share. One of them was Shagun, who shared her first Awakin experience: "I was traveling a lot, and for the last 10 years, nothing felt like home. Yet right when I walked into Uncle and Aunty's place in Santa Clara, it just immediately felt like home. I told myself that someday I want to do this wherever I settle. As the clock turned 2013, I decided that the time is now. So since earlier this month, I've been hosting these Wednesdays in Gurgaon, where I live." Vidhoo spoke about her first Smile Card act: "I went to do it as a project, but then realized it is a process." Shuba's mother came for the first time, closed out our session with a classical song.
It's a process.
Bangalore Ripples ...
As I landed in Bangalore, Rajesh drives me to his home (where he has personally done all the thoughtful plumbing and electricity)! Since my last visit here, perhaps a decade ago, a lot has changed -- especially traffic. :) That evening, Rajesh and Vallari hosted an Awakin gathering with about 30 folks, most of whom knew about ServiceSpace. Ambiance felt very sacred with a deep sense of gratitude. Nidhi and Seeta run a magazine (and an alternative school of 600 students) where they've published lot of ServiceSpace blogs; Vedha (who is a farmer) has been anchoring local Wednesday gathering for a while; Vinod has been routinely gifting many of his artwork and books to the ecosystem; Monal has been a DailyGood subscriber for ages and brought along her husband for his first-ever meditation. Couple people spontaneously said that they wanted to go to a 10-day, various people decided that they will continue Awakin gatherings every week; a woman, in tears, said, "You just have no idea how grateful I feel to be able to thank you in person. ServiceSpace has changed my life and saved my marriage."
The next morning, I visited Anupreet and her service family. Six youngsters have decided to quit their jobs, get a piece of land in a village, live a farmer's life with a heart of service -- and see what happens! Build relationships and let the social action follow.
Soon after, I spoke at the Yahoo campus. Being an engineer myself, I enjoyed reflecting on some stories from my early days. The first fellow to raise his hand was in the first row, with a giant smile: "You may not remember me, but I've been to Wednesdays at your house. I've had your mom's food." :) Many thoughtful questions, that I redirected it in the direction of social change and inner transformation. The most frequently asked question these days is around helping the needy versus doing a circle of gift. Right after the talk, someone else walks in and says, "Can you do another talk in another building?" Word had spread fast, :) but alas, I had to leave for the next event ... but the division head also invited me to speak at their Sunnyvale campus, which made me wonder how interesting it was that ServiceSpace started in the heart of Silicon Valley. Could it have started anywhere? Probably not.
Next up was MindTree. Back in the summer, the CEO of the company had emailed my talk to the whole company of 11K software employees. I spoke about Giftivism values, which yielded a couple dozen engaged questions. Towards the end, a young woman says, "How did you convince your wife to go on a pilgrimage like this?" I replied, "You mean, how did she convince me?" Then, I spontaneously riffed a few giftivism stories from Guri's life, where she countered dangerous situations with an open heart -- which hit a chord. After the talk, few folks were invited to a brainstorm around bringing this spirit into action. "If ServiceSpace had to design Twitter and FaceBook, how would you do it?" "Can we start a kindness campaign within this campus?" (These "IT parks" in Bangalore feel a bit weird -- its cleanliness, security, lack of visible human suffering seem transplated and unreal.) Post our event, they have now created a team of 15 folks to carry forward generosity. One of the upcoming ideas is to bring Seva Cafe (Karma Kitchen) to the company kitchen itself, where their engineers will be waiters and the janitors, security guards, and service staff will be the customers. :)
That night, I stayed at Susheel's home. When Susheel was young, he had repeated dreams of a young kid stranded on a burning building. One time, he stumbled into "regression therapy" and realized that he was (in a previous lifetime) a Dutch pilot who had to crash a plane due to a malfunction; he chose a spot that he felt would have the least damage, only to realize there was an 11 year screaming at the top of the building. Coming out of that session, he Googled the accident and sure enough, all the details matched up with his vision. That changed his life perspective altogether -- "Everything is connected. We can't get away with anything." He was leading a multi-million dollar division, that taught him to be aggressive, cut-throat ambitious and dominating. Quickly, though, things changed. When he turned in his resignation letter, his boss ripped the piece of paper: "This is nonsense. You are the next VP of our company. Go, take a little vacation." Out of respect, he did but then ultimately, quit in two months. He went to a run a unique eco resort, learned to build a community with the nearby villagers (who were staffed at the resort), and then after five years, felt a deeper calling; lot of his staff followed him out, although they would have no salary for 9 months. Last year, he started a restaurant called Vriksh. "Its not really a restaurant, but a space for community." He came to one of our Moved By Love retreats, was shifted: "Regression therapy taught me about other lives, and Giftivism taught me about this life. Two of the most powerful shifts of my life." On the flight back itself, he decided to start putting it into action!
The next morning, Shabnam graciously held a "satsang", where she invited people for breakfast and treated us to enchanting Kabir songs. She can be credited, in part, for popularizing some of the most sung Kabir dohas today. Since I was amongst the listeners, she highlighted some beautiful lyrics on generosity. "I can't possibly give to thee. I'm only returning what I've kept for so long. Thank you for the opportunity," Kabir once sung.
With Shabhnam and our mini breakfast gang, we went to Shristi -- one of the country's top design schools. I spoke about designing for generosity, and how ultimately, it is only a design flaw (in our mind and our world) that creates systems rooted in greed. I gave many examples of how we think in ServiceSpace. In the middle of the talk, an old man gets up jubilantly and gently says (with what felt like teary eyes): "I've spent 37 years working with the tribal villages. Everything you are saying -- although framed in a very different way-- is exactly in line with what I've learned, and I just want to say thank you. It renews my faith in the next generation." At one point a young woman declares the opposite: "All this sounds good but I'm sorry to say that no one from our generation thinks like this. They're just into themselves and will never change. This isn't realistic. I don't know how we will make this practical." After a few stories, I told her that while we may not be able to shine a flash light from point A to point Z, but we still can go to point B and C and will eventually hoep to get to Z. She kind of bought it. :) Lot of the kids ended up coming to Seva Cafe (Karma Kitchen) couple days later, and are keen to design products that cultivate a kind of inner transformation as the school founder is thinking of creating education without a price. :)
That night, we had another Awakin gathering -- such a simple thing of sitting in silence, sharing and having a meal but its so elegantly meaningful. This was no exception. Profound stories were shared. Hearing them, a woman shares, "I just came here to drop my friend, but I'm so glad I stayed. I graduated from IIT and now I'm a stay at home mom. I've been feeling quite confused, but now I realize that I can change my perspective, and instead of feeling like a victim of my circumstances, I can generously share my inner transformation -- and feel good along the way too." It was quite powerful. Another young man in his 20s (a band member, with a smokey breath) had an insight for the first time in his life: "It had never occurred to me that I should be grateful. But now I realize that I will never regret having said thank you to someone else, particularly those who have been nice to me." Another woman spoke about difficulties in her corporate life, and everyone shared examples using the power of love in challenging life settings -- and she's next going to try a Smile Card experiment. :) Everyone decided to start Awakin every week in that very space, and Srikanth -- a big fan of Ramana Maharshi -- agrees to anchor it, and they've already hosted their second gathering the week after.
Next morning was Seva Cafe. They had to close the flood gates after 40 volunteers; and had to stop seating after 150 people! Bangalore was on fire with the spirit of gift. A band offered songs. Group of volunteer bicycled 25 kilometers to volunteer. When a mother in law hears about this concept, she figures there's some illegal agenda: "They must be converting black money." She came and left transformed. A kid took a flower on the ground to say thank you to the band members. An old man says, "I came to volunteer, didn't know what to do, but I just felt like I belonged." Love was in the air. A reporter comes up to ask, "Why does this work?" I point to the stairs leading upto the seating area; it read: "Love is all you need. All you need is love." I ask her to pick up a Smile Deck card; by just reading the word 'Smile' she's smiling. "You're smiling. You feel the love, right? That's why it works." Next to me was a man from previous night's Awakin gathering. I call him to meet the reporter and explain: "This man was returning home last night, got into an accident, has couple of fractures, is now in a cast. Yet he says, I'm going to be here. I'm going to take a stand for generosity." That's why it works. A woman running a college initiated plans to bring Seva Cafe (Karma Kitchen) to her college next month; another woman wants to start a full-out restaurant; few other places have shown interest too. Lots of kids from nearby Shristi College of Design are churning further ideas. The volunteer slots for the next month's event are already full. Many other derivatives are in the works.
Serving others together brings people together in unexpectedly beautiful ways. Our spontaneous evening circle went very deep with monastic stories of inner transformation. It is a thing of grace that many ServiceSpace members are monks and nuns.
In another moment of wild inter-connectedness, that night as we were leaving and on the streets, one guy comes up to me and says, "Didn't you speak in Beijing last month?" From Beijing to Bangalore, its a small world. :)
Next morning, I spoke in a massive auditorium of Christ College. Some curious questions. "How does Giftivism compare with Amarya Sen's thinking?" "You use examples of Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. but their political positions were marred with problems." "What is the impact of all this?" Impact of inner transformation is distributed over many generations, so some people have a hard time groking it, even when their hearts nod in agreement. One guy very sincerely asked: "I've grown up framing generosity as 'loving charity', but a gift economy is person to person." I gave a longer answer (which ought to be blogged since its a very common question) that essentially spoke about the shift from sympathy to empathy, how the aid model is helpful for relief but we need to simultaneously work on a cure as well. A good bit after the talk, as we were walking on the campus, that same kid finds me on campus to say, "Sir, my name is Mohammad Akram, and I was the one who asked you that question of loving charity and I've been thinking about your answer ever since. I realize that when you are chartiable, it doesn't create a chain. It stops. But within a gift circle, the gifts keep on going forever, so its far stronger in that sense." It was a sweet interaction. Later, I got a heartfelt email from one of the student leaders that read: "Over the years we have had so many people give us speeches on kindness and generosity, but none of them have been able to reach to us like you did today." We went in for lunch with professors and such, and when I came out, I saw that two youngsters waited an hour just to say hello. "Sir, we just wanted to say thank-you. I'm already a part of ServiceSpace, and have also been volunteering with KarmaTube." :)
My last stop was Azeem Premji Foundation. It was a small group, but ended up being one of the more powerful talks. These students were groomed as leaders in the development and educational field, so I let loose for a bit. :) I spoke about Pancho, ABCD (asset based community development), and leading with inner transformation. It was very well received, as one of the professors himself said that it was an eye-opening talk for him. Again, I ran into ServiceSpace ripples there, with people thanking me for DailyGood and more. After the talk, a leader of the university took all the Smile Decks (the Indian version) we had and has many plans for other ripples. :) So the beat goes on. That night, as I was to board my bus, a gang of five of us had dinner together. Throughout my trip they wouldn't let me pay for anything, so I decided to empty my wallet on them. As they launch into their no-way-jose mode, I offered a story of how a young man, at a retreat in 2010, watched me do prayers before a meal and then proceeded to take some food from my own plate and feed me the first bite. When I looked at him quizically, he simply said: "I just wanted a piece of your prayer, so I thought I'd serve you this first bite." And with that line, I told Susheel, "By receiving this, you are giving me the opportunity to be a part of your prayers and service to the world." He didn't know what to do next. :) In a moment of inspiration, he offered it all (it was a significant sum, which was gifted to me in a previous city) to the person next to him -- a student, who dropped out of the traditional race and chose to become a musician. "You've always wanted to buy some cymbals, so here you go." That kid had just returned from having a smoke outside, we had just had a profound two-minute conversation on meditation, and now all of a sudden, an outrageous act of kindnes lands in his laps. He's truly speechless. A grandma on our table gently reminds him: "Son, its okay to accept when the universe gives like this."
The ripples continue on. I went to Madurai next, where I met with Jayeshbhai, Anarben, Guri -- and Pavi and her remarkable family. Grand time. Then, we meditated in the caves of Ramana Mahrishi in Thiru and Sri Aurobindo's samadhi in Pondicherry, and interacted with several hundred people along the way. Even got to have dinner with Mark, Yoo-mi and friends -- and hug Sujatha and Balaji at the Chennai airport! I left for Baroda, where I had several events in a span of a day and a half, to close out the trip. Some flew in from Bombay to attend, and one of them later wrote: "Worth million times the miles I traveled." At the end of the second event, I convened our posse of local volunteers to do the dishes. That simple act touched many folks. The next morning, I got an SMS from Trupti: "Moved to action. 75 cups of ginger and lemon grass tea with lots of smiles and loads of luv was served this morning at 7AM at a local park. Had a wonderful time."
In service, always a wonderful time.