Vegetable Seller At Gandhi Ashram

Feb 19, 2005

No vacations. Life is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day for Jayesh Patel. Whether he's sitting at the Gandhi Ashram or not, he is constantly serving. His philosophy is simple -- give everything to whatever comes up in the present moment. I mean, everything. No if-only's, no what-if's, no doubts. Just plain ol' compassion, every moment.

With the 700 million poor people in India, with a prime spot like the Gandhi Ashram where anyone can walk in anytime, you would think that he would run out of resources but he doesn't. Despite running 7 organizations that touch thousands of lives -- most prominently, Manav Sadhna that educates 7400 slum children every year -- he is never stressed, angry or disappointed. Jayeshbhai says that true service only knows love.

When a beggar (he would never call them that) comes to him to ask for money, he will gently pat their face and ask them how they are doing and invite them for a meal at the ashram; when he walks through the slums, almost everyone recognizes him as he hugs all the "untouchables"; when we showed up first at the Gandhi Ashram, he welcomed us with a huge line of kids who all high-fived us; when John showed him The Tickle Bugs, he called a publisher to translate it in Gujarati within two hours.

Whatever the cause, Jayeshbhai has the answer. In fact, it's the same answer everytime -- serve.

Some know him as Jayesh Patel who was born at the Gandhi Ashram, Guri thinks of him as the Godfather of Service, Peters calls him the Goodfather, John considers it a blessing just to witness "him". But I wanted to see him really tested. I mean really tested.

And so it happened, just as I was sitting next to him at the Gandhi Ashram.

A man in his mid-thirties walks in with a teary eyes and a weary face. A while back, Jayeshbhai had seen him selling vegetables on the streets; in random conversation, he gave him a card with his contact information and said that if he ever needed anything, he should find him at the Gandhi Ashram.

This illiterate man travelled a long way to find Jayeshbhai; everywhere, he would show Jayeshbhai's card and go from one place to another, until just now, when he found his destination.

His wife was dying of cancer. She needed three bottles of blood and three thousand rupees before the end of the day, to have a chance at an operation. He tried everything for the last eight days; and nothing was working. He couldn't even give his own blood since he was under 50 Kilograms in weight.

As an offering to "God", he hadn't had any food in the last entire week. When Jayeshbhai finds out, he first offers him some food. He declines, after repeated offers; his primary interest is his wife's health.

Quite honestly, I was still thinking -- how in the world can you trust this guy, how are you going to come up with three thousand rupees, and how exactly are you are going to help a dying patient. Instead Jayeshbhai tells him, "Don't worry, brother. We'll do everything we can to help your wife. Don't worry, and have some food. Will you?" He nods, somehow affirmed.

Almost immediately, Jayeshbhai passed around an empty container to the twenty-some odd folks in the room -- all doing their own things at the time -- and asked a kid to encourage others to contribute whatever he can. I anonymously put in practically everything I had in my wallet, Rs. 150. He asked someone else to open up an emergency stash that he keeps for such kindness related acts. And confidently looked at me and said in Gujarati, "Watch, it'll all work out just right."

Within ten-fifteen minutes, he had about 1140 rupees collected and three volunteers were ready to give their blood. Just like that. And here I'm still wondering if this is a legit case for kindness.

Then he cancelled his plans with bunch of us, for the night, and went to the hospital to comfort this vegetable seller and his wife. Next day, Jayeshbhai told us in his spirited yet calming tone: "See how God does his magic. One of my friends who is doctor called me last night, as I was going to the hospital, and he said that he would admit her for free at her hospital right away!"

The operation went on.

Unfortunately, the woman didn't survive. But the vegetable seller's spirit in humanity did survive.

Jayeshbhai donated the collected money to ensure a proper funeral for the unknown lady. And so ends another day in the life of a true karma yogi at the Gandhi Ashram.

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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."