Doesn’t Love a wall #2

Re-published from Eartha:

Experiencing the gift of Inter-being

RAHUL HASIJA MARCH 14, 2017
Experiencing the gift of Inter-being

It was four in the evening and I was returning to my home and work place, Udaipur after a month-long break. I live in a room located in an Ashram campus surrounded by the Aravalli hill ranges. As soon as I entered my room, I was welcomed by a swarm of wasps hovering and building a hive in my room. Although I wanted to co-exist, as it was a very small room, I felt a little threatened and requested a farm staff Rafeeq ji to evacuate the wasps from my room. Villagers usually do this by bringing some smoke below the hive which makes the wasps fly away. What he said next shook me from within. He said, “Dusk is approaching and if I chase them away now, they will not get chance to rebuild their home or find one by night time, let us do this tomorrow morning.” Deeply touched, I moved my bags and spent the night at another place.

***

I am trekking on a difficult terrain where I have to climb a really steep hill. I am tired, struggling to keep my peace and calm. I start losing hope. A co-traveller and nature admirer, Mihir brought comfort and peace to my mind inviting me not to resist falling. He put his hands on the hill, asked me to do the same and said, “Trust this hill; he has been here for ages. Surrender yourself, he won’t let you fall. You will be taken care of.”

***

A shaman (traditional healer), Koitso Salil from Sikkim, in his interaction mentioned a very fascinating practice of the tribal societies he has been part of and witness to. These communities, he said, would never go trekking on mountains and hills. They don’t feel the need to. The only time they do is while grazing their livestock and that too, not without seeking permission from the mountains to do so. The purpose is never to trek, climb or conquer a hill. I realised that I too had never seen any villagers walking aimlessly or going for a trek in the hills I live close to. They revere the hills as an elder, someone as mighty as God. The whole idea of conquering Everest or any other mountain range or crossing the English Channel became meaningless to me. How can I climb on to or conquer someone who is a relative, an elder, a friend or a fatherly figure?

Experiencing our inter-connectedness with water

Incidents like these have changed the way I perceived nature and have brought richness to my relationship with her. Thich Nhat That, a spiritual philosopher, very beautifully puts it across. He says, “What do you see in a piece of paper? If you are a poet, you will see clearly a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain and thus no trees and no paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist, and if we look deeper into the paper, we see sunshine, the logger who cuts the tree, his parents, etc. So we can say that all of them are interconnected. They are inter-beings. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.” Inviting this idea of inter-connectedness into my conscience itself has been a humbling experience. Unfortunately there’s something that causes a separation – a wall that hinders me from seeing that what I do to this piece of paper or to any possible inter-being, I do to myself.

There are two prominent relations human society has with nature: First, we see her as something to be fearful of. In the campus I live on in the Aravallis, I have seen people packing their bags and running away overnight from the fear of lizards and snakes. I have myself killed some mosquitoes, ants, crickets, cockroaches, rats and a few other small creatures and I’ve realised it was nothing but fear on my part to do so. While living in Bangalore, my room was one night occupied by ants – the roof, floor, walls, and every other possible corner. I was taken aback and killed some in haste. Early next morning, there was no sign of them. They’d come and gone. I felt sorry for the ants I’d killed. They were sort of my guests for the night. The more I become accustomed to the urban concrete life, the more is the fear within and less is the feeling of co-existence. My niece resists jumping into the soil; she feels that would dirty her.

In our second relationship with nature, we see her as a resource to be used. We have been taught in our schools to differentiate between living and non-living things, we have been taught how different places are rich in different mineral and metal resources. The English language too reserves the pronoun ‘who’ for humans and uses ‘that’ for non-humans. Sadly, the moment we turn our relatives into an object it becomes so easy to perpetuate violence on them because they are no more seen as living beings. Indicators of our personal and national progress – the Gross Domestic Product also measures dead over living entities.

If you sit and relax under a tree with contentment, it won’t add to GDP, but cutting and selling it would. If you walk on a hill with your friends, it won’t add to the GDP but blasting the whole living hill and selling the ore beneath him would. We revere mother Earth saying ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and then insist on buying and selling the same land. Our fascination and supremacist attitude towards human life and our contempt for other lives as lowly or lower births also adds to this hierarchy and violence.

Over the last 7 years, I have been trying to dismantle these dangerous perceptions within me, with the youth I work with at Swaraj University as well as outside that. My pursuit is the healing of our relations with the Earth and shifting from an Earth-dominating to an Earth-honouring lifestyle. Apart from reducing our consumption, some of the ways to do this include: Spending a couple of hours observing a living organism (other than humans and the other large mammals we usually see), spending long silent time on the mountains with no agenda and no gadgets – just being there like any other piece of rock, rolling over the soil, smelling and listening to the Earth, walking across a stream or river barefoot and experiencing water and the wisdom it carries. The intention is not to study nature or have an adventure, but to acknowledge her sacredness, respect her presence and get in touch with the abundance she holds. And then, when we visit extraction and mining sites or dumping yards, we also witness the separation that is the result of our lifestyle.

Open pit mining

The next step for me and the community I live in towards imbibing inter-connectedness is to invite all beings into our decision-making – inviting someone who speaks for the rock, someone who speaks for the jackals, and someone who speaks for the grasshopper to be able to peacefully co-exist with our extended family and to realise that we do not own the Earth, the Earth owns us.

The Wall Between. Illustration: Devika Bedi

Illustration courtesy – Devika Bedi
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Doesn’t Love a wall #1

WALL

[wɔːl]

NOUN

 

One of my very dear friends once called me a ‘Wall’. Well, being a huge fan of Dravid, it was not less than a compliment. But what she meant in this context was that although I can connect with people well, I don’t let people take a glimpse of my life stories so easily, which means there’s a wall in between separating the two entities trying to connect.

Astonishingly, walls (or fences) have come to me in various shapes, colors, and thickness and they have been an interesting source of learning for me, a subject I love to learn from. They may look dead, but to my amusement, they breathe, eat and grow, and unlike other common walls that can be brought down by hammers or machinery, these walls are multi-layered, complex, deceiving, deep rooted, many a times invisible and all of them self-built, and that is what makes them potent (sometimes lethal). Perceptions, experiences, notions, beliefs, values, judgements, image, culture, tradition, and practices are some of the architects & building material behind making of these walls. Thus, to bring it down is not a simple one-time task. It really takes courage to destroy one’s own creation. It is a fair co-incident that one of the poems I read in school that I still remember fondly speaks about walls. It is Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Walls’. “Good fences make good neighbours, walling in or walling out” he said. But what has been with me the most is another line from the same poem “There’s something that doesn’t love a wall; that wants it down”.

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Pic Courtesy: Samyuktha and Asawari

 

#1 from the series of ‘Doesn’t Love a Wall’ is a compilation of stories of the walls I have witnessed, built and shattered and sometimes still building in my life at a personal and inter-personal level. The walls thus play a big role in creation of this ‘between/separation’. Some of the instances and moments that helped me understand the walls within:

# Poetry of tears: At one of my Khoji meets at Swaraj University a few years back, a fellow Khoji Vijay raised a question – why do we fear looking into each other’s eyes? It gave birth to one of the powerful rituals/processes I have come across. We took up a challenge and did an eye-gazing exercise, facing each person present in the group, for not less than 20 seconds each, turn by turn and looking into their eyes without speaking a word. From that year on, I DSCN1991have hosted the same for many groups and every single time people start with giggling or awkwardness, but end up bursting into tears and hugging each other. And every time I do it, it has brought a few walls down within me and surely in others too. The first time I did it for myself, I found no reason, but I started crying. While crying, I didn’t know where the tears were coming from. This was the first time I ever cried in front of people and that too so many. It felt awkward. I never questioned why it felt awkward. I thought I didn’t believe in the popular notions of ‘मर्द को दर्द नहीं होता / Men don’t cry’ yet that was what I had seen in my world around. ‘Being strong and crying are arch rivals’ and such beliefs overpowered or rather controlled my body’s response and unfortunately does for millions of others who carry the same image.

Much to my surprise, amazement and happiness, that same evening, I found myself connecting and sharing more deeply with others and felt much lighter. I felt there were some walls (some people also call it masks) within that went down. Sooner in my life, I realized tears have no single reason to come out, and they are the most beautiful thing to happen to a being. To add to this wonderful realization, I must not forget to mention that I bonded with my soul-mate Kamalbir (soon to be wife) over tears. We were crying for different reasons when a common friend gave us an article by Osho on ‘poetry of tears’ to read together.

It was a simple realization, but it deeply reflects how the society works and manifests. An excerpt from Osho’s talk that simplifies this:

“When touched by love, what you can do? Words won’t help; only tears can convey what is happening deep down in your heart. Tears are the most valuable treasure you have. But man has been distorted in every way. Man’s nature has been pruned according to the ideas of vested interest. Nation need armies and they do not want man to be at all touched by love. Their tears have to be dried up and their love has to be blocked, otherwise they will not be able to kill and murder and massacre people – people who are just like you, and people who have not done anything wrong to you, and people whose wives, whose children, whose old parents may be waiting for them just as your parents, wife and children are waiting for you”

# Patri-archery within: One of the interesting things to happen at Swaraj Uni, when I joined was the live debates and discussions that would occur on gender and patriarchy. The only girl in the group Sakhi, from Nasik was a hardcore feminist and she would always assertively put across her views on gender insensitivity, patriarchy and its impact. Coming fresh out after my graduation, I had probably just heard these words before, I never knew anything about it. Although, I would not get into debates as I hardly knew anything on the topic and had nothing to contest against (and was afraid to fight too:-D) but I would listen to her with deep interest. And understanding the subject and introspecting it with own life made me more aware and present to the patriarchal values flowing within my family and around, the subtle ways of snatching and exhibiting power and sometimes not so subtle, but very obvious. And that is something I hated to see within my family and around. What was more shocking realization to me was the presence of same within me! I was left startled and ashamed to witness the same seeds within me that germinated during my interaction and being with the loved ones. Be it my relationship with my mother, my girl friend and the way I would see the world around, I could see the judgements, the anger, power-struggle, and the suspicion that would arise out of that little patriarchal belly of mine. It indeed was, and is still painful to witness the same. To see and witness within, what you hate outside is deeply humiliating for self, yet mere observing those signs has helped a shift within and around.

# Main aur meri body: Being able to be aware of self brought in an understanding of the rift I had created between my body and the notion of how my body should be like. I realized there was a discomfort with my body, and how it looked like. And also began to question the source of my discomfort. Is it because I have been bombarded with images of perfect faces and bodies in media all the time? Is it because how I am is not acceptable with some standards of society? Am I seeking acceptance from outside or it must come from within? It was pretty vague, there wasn’t a proper reason, yet there was a distorted image of self. And this got me running into analysing how persistent pressure from media and society to have the perfect body, face, colour, shape, size has made me lose respect for our bodies and has made us uncomfortable within it.

‘I am not comfortable with what I am, at present – a fully, proper working body, yet, I carry those images of more proper bodies’. That sounded strange. What images am I carrying? Am I just living in those images rather than living with my present self? I have been studying advertisements for last few years now and also the consumerist traps they lay down. And these images, as I studied further, always leave us with a feeling of incompletion, being not perfect, and more to achieve. I am glad I didn’t go to the extent of measuring my body parts with an inch-tape. Societies’ differentiation of mind-work and body work is another wall that creates subtle hatred for body. Work where physical intensity is required is looked down upon and paid less for and quite opposite for mind-based work. I have realized how difficult it gets to heal from such notions because it is not just individual, but the whole society which suffers this dreadful disease of notions.

# Seekers and Shakers: Khojis (learners) who come to Swaraj University are great wall-shakers. 4 years now since I have started facilitating, and every year there are khojis who shatter these walls within me – with their questions, actions and being. And I have deep gratitude and love for these lovely souls who walk into my life to make me more humble and down-to-Earth. They shake me off my beliefs, values, and notions of the world. Aparna, a girl from Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh was one of them. She loved to question and her questions were bare, very simple yet they hit hard. I remember there was a workshop on Presentation skills and she raised a question on presentations – ‘why do we need to learn presentation skills? Is it not just about sharing our true and present feelings? Why do we need to add artificial stuff to it to be more attractive? If something is true, it doesn’t need any support.’, ‘Why do you call someone lazy? May be that person needs rest at that moment. Is it because we consider someone working, on a higher scale, than someone just sitting idle? Where is this assumption coming from? And so on. Witnessing her journey helped me understand the power of questions that I felt would never come so easily from within. Another Khoji Sayani, who took a courageous step to actually sit idle for a long period of more than a year, listening to self, in spite of persistent pressure from family and society, she gave herself time to understand what is driving her to do something. She would start working on something and would always lose interest in a few days. And she felt behind this dissatisfaction, there is something and there is something behind her constant need to jump into doing something. Listening and witnessing her journey gave me courage to take responsibility of self, to understand what is driving me and why. And there have been many more khojis like them who every year come and make us more flexible and open to learn. All this while being with khojis and on my self-designed journey,  I have realized that true learning will persist only if I am open to all kind of possibilities in life, even if they are something I am completely unaware of, afraid of, have judgements about, or something that the society doesn’t approve of. And when I feel I am open to all the possibilities, I feel that in my body. My body is much more flexible and less rigid.

# f%#k : I remember walking and chatting with Vijay, my fellow khoji at Swaraj University, six years back, I mentioned something about being “जंगली” (which means wild and also refers to a forest-dwelling person) and about another tribe I had heard of from a forest officer saying that these tribes are the reason for excessive logging. Vijay immediately questioned me as in why did I mention it. He asked me “Have you met these tribes? Have you ever talked to them? Why did you say जंगली? And why is it fun for you? How can you say if you have never met them?” I became defensive for a while, trying to cover up for what I said because that was purely said in fun. But his questions had brought my assumptions on the table. I had made a belief without ever cross-checking it. And surprisingly, for years that have passed, these terms we use, many a times in a derogatory manner, have drawn my attention. Words like कंजर, गंवार, भंगी, कमीना, and many more words refer to a sect, or a community and they have settled so much in our sub-conscious minds that we take it as it is we have heard from other people who use it (many a times our family members) Why any community has to bear the brunt when we never even know about them? And the same is for our body parts. Almost all the cuss words used have few things in common – either they refer to a caste/sect/community, or they refer to a body part (which is mostly female’s) I am sure there must be other ways to remember these communities or body parts than use them as cuss words. I understood that it is so essential to strip us of our assumptions. And the best way is to go beyond our set community, class, culture, religion, region, and meet and interact with every possible person.

# Right, Wrong, Truth and perspectives: I’ve always been interested in stories and stories bring in a lot of different perspectives. Some perspectives stand opposite to each other thus questioning presence of a single truth. It is interesting that 4 years back I wrote an article on Right, wrong and truth (https://thefreedomwalker.wordpress.com/2011/12/03/wrong-right-and-the-truth/) and my interest has all the more increased in this subject. For our ease and workable understanding, we are quick to classify and label things and people as essential and non-essential, right and wrong, etc, etc. And when we classify and compartmentalize them, we make it as ultimate truth to be lived and perpetuated. But there’s a hidden danger – we necessarily don’t have a common truth. And that becomes a conflict. And when there is a conflict – there’s either this side or that. There’s no common ground. Some examples that may help understand this subject – Who discovered America? The story we are taught in schools says Columbus, the explorer who discovered America. fb_img_1440160072879And then, there’s another perspective (in the pic) that says “In 1492, Native American discovered Columbus lost at Sea”. How can someone discover a nation when there are hundreds of tribes already living there? We have all seen the World Map. Why is it not the other way round? The Earth, as it is said, is round, so why is the map always shown the same way? A closer look would show how the map generates perception of the world towards Northern Nations (which in the current map are Upwards) that they are more developed, superior and prosperous than the Southern nations (which in the current map are Downwards) When news anchors on top of their voice glorify army, stating that the army is securing us from the hands of terrorists and other forces, it is a partial statement. They never mention, and I am sure they would never even think of the reasons why one would be a terrorist. Would they be for the fun of it? Adivasis who are fighting for their land are pushed out of their lands (land which is mother to them), displaced for the industries and mineral mines to come by the same army. It is so easy to alienate and label people as Terrorists, Maoists, fundamentalists, Naxalists, but do we have the time and capacity to listen to their story as well. Hundreds and thousands of Syrian children have died in the ongoing war. Every year hundreds of such children are sent to dangerous mines in Congo to mine coltan for us to kill imaginary angry birds on cell phone. Do we have the time to listen to their story? As a famous author Chimamanda says “that we live the danger of listening and believing into a single story” Can we just hold on, and make space for the perspectives, for the other stories to come up? – To form a common ground, to listen to each other’s story, and to end the glorification of vengeance and separation. I will cover more around this in the #3 part of the series.

Now, the interesting part is, when I mention the facts above from history, or from books I’ve read (for example the Columbus example), barring a few, I have not checked all of them for reality, some of them are way far, some I really can’t as they are way past in history. So, for any matter, if I am holding these perspectives and making them my ultimate truth or my way of life; if I am on any side of the perspective, it would always result in separation. It would divide us between us and them. Color, caste, religion, culture, region, and many more separations we have already formed and the end result is that it always separates. I wonder who I am without these perspectives. It is very easy to shift from one perspective to another, but to stand at a neutral ground seems much more difficult – a place where I don’t have to be on either sides, there are no sides at all; it is complete in itself – and maybe that’s the field Rumi talks about, far from the wrong and right, I would like to meet myself there.

# The dangerous presence of ‘Measurement’ in our lives: Another interesting facet of this whole wall game we are playing is measurement – some sort of ranking mechanism that makes something/someone better or worse than the other person. We live in a world where every one of us is trying to find something unique within – it could be a skill, talent, dealing with matters, and way of approaching life. And in finding this uniqueness, which is not restricted to simple matters, the society has gone beyond, to search for how better off we are from the rest and thus people (including myself) find uniqueness in their own culture, colour, living setting, class, financial security, etc. We are, in this era of extreme competition (or may be this era has always been there, in some way or other) trying to figure out what extraordinary thing we can be part of or how we can do something extraordinary (you would have heard people say – “I want to do something different and unique” or “I want to something for the society”) In pursuit of being someone better and unique, we separate what is around us, to see ourselves in isolation. Some examples would set it straight – People (may be you too) in your home would have said “look at those poor people, at least we are better off, we have 3 meals a day to eat”; Poor whites would say to their wailing children “look, need not worry, we are still better than the blacks”; Scientists claim “human mind is larger than any of the other mammal, thus we are superior creation” and a few days later, when they realize whales and elephants have much larger brains, they say “humans’ brain to body ratio is much better than other mammals, thus we are superior creation”

There’s a constant need to evaluate, measure and put an index for ranking people, places, money, class, animals, what is of value, and what is of not. And it hits everyone, some way or the other. Everyone, at some point of time in their lives, would feel others are much better. And when we are at a stage, when we realize that there’s no uniqueness within us, we are all the same, ordinary as others, our whole drive and motivation to life evaporates.

A closer look at my life showed me how I am constantly creating a wall, trying to be better and unique, to be different from others – in the way I look and the work I do and the life I live. And I wonder, who am I without these? How do I live in this ordinariness? If I live without a measuring scale in my life, would I be able to transcend my connection to all the souls of Universe?  What if I am already in sync with everyone, but not able to see or feel it yet?

These are just few examples to put across what these walls are capable of. I am still juggling with questions like – Who am I? Am I just my beliefs, values, dreams, philosophies? What if one day they fall through the cliff? What will remain of me?  What if this ‘between’ doesn’t exist at all? Who am I without the perspectives? If what I am seeing is just an image I have of the world, then what is real and what is true?

Questioning my beliefs, and already instated thoughts; questioning what I’ve been taught by the Schools, College, Society, Media, family and re-checking their integrity; questioning my not-so-questioning attitude; thinking beyond the set standards and the flow of society; challenging set standards and unnecessary customs followed by the society; looking at the other side which the forces (market, corporate, school, society, media) of the world devoid us of;  these are a few things that would help those of you, who are willing to see the walls within and break them down.

Coming to an end to this #1 of wall series, I invite you to do a Tod do Wall (Break the wall) challenge. What are the walls you are breaking? What are the walls you are willing and wanting to break? It would be interesting to know how you are struggling with certain walls, in finding ways to dismantle them.

And indeed, there will always be something that doesn’t love a wall, it would want it down.

Till we meet again,

HAKUNA MATATA 🙂

 

 

 

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My article re-blogged from www.ecofolk.in

13 Experiments with Simple & Sustainable Living: Stories from Swaraj University

Experiments with Simple & Sustainable Living: A story from Swaraj University by Rahul Hasija

1

Khojis at the lake-side behind campus

When I see small ants, hundreds of them, crawling in my mud house every day, when I hear the Nilgaay (Blue bull) jumping in my backyard garden in middle of the night in search for food, when I see stars, planets and meteorsand the faint milky way in the night sky, when I see the grass growing wild in the rains and vanish in the summers, when I hear people sharing deepest of their stories, music and dance, when I see birds and bees do what they are best at, and when I see people playing with mud & manure in the fields for the foods & fruits they mother for us, I realize something is alive – it is thriving and it is breathing with me. For last 6 years, I have been experiencing this aliveness with my community at Swaraj University, Udaipur.

Swaraj University is a university without classrooms, teachers, pre-defined syllabus and degrees. Intertwined in the form of a 2-year program, it has also been a space for many learnersfor the last 6 years to pursue their hearts’ calling,healthily question their lifestyles, their notions of the world, self and society and a space to be comfortable with themselves – a space where they can feel accepted.This space also came into being with the aim to challenge the institutionalization of education, health, food, entertainment and lifestyle and to give youth an opportunity to reclaim all of them in their lives.

Khojis(that’s what we call the learners, a Hindi word for ‘Seekers’) from the previous batches have explored and worked in more than 75 different fields; some of them are eco-architecture, farming, theatre, design, healing, technology, facilitation/teaching, writing, film making, storytelling, alternative education, ‘kabaad se jugaad’, event-management, healthy cooking, and even living simply in an intentional community.

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Surrounding hills around the campus of Swaraj University

Located 15kms from Udaipur city amidst the fatherly Aravalli hills range, we reside in a place called Tapovan Ashram, which was started 25 years back by a retired couple, who bought this as a barren land, reforested it and turned it into an ecological heaven. It is home for many species of birds, insects, reptiles and predators, and living on the campus itself has been a healing process for many of us.

Having been part of this space from the beginning, as a Khoji, then interning for a year and then as a facilitator and having experienced living on the campus from last 6 years, I intend to share about experiments we have begun with and how they are helping us transit to an ecological community.

‘Ecological Sustainability’ has been an important pillar of the program at Swaraj as we believe learning cannot happen in isolation and in separation from Nature. The more we sense the interconnectedness, the more in-tuned we are with self. In all these years, there have been various experiments and practices tried, some intentionally, some just came to be, at head, heart and hands level to understand the impact of our current lifestyles, assess it and slowly shift to ecologically sustainable ways (Here, Sustainability means living in harmony and inter-dependence with other beings – living and non-living, that doesn’t risk their present or potential future lives)

Some of them are:

 1. Hands-on work at the campus

All the learners and faculty on the campus are actively involved in cooking, cleaning and maintaining the community spaces. Our continuous involvement with our hands has helped us reduce the weightage today’s youth gives to head work and it has helped us understand the potential our bodies hold. A lot of youth I meet and interact with have a distorted vision oftheir physical bodies because of the persistent pressure from media and society to have the perfect body, face, colour, shape, size(I was one of them few years back). This bombardment has made us lose respect for our bodies and has made us uncomfortable within it. Doing regular hands-on work releases some of that pressure as it has made us feel and connect to our body. Hands-on involvement is not limited to cooking, cleaning and farm-work, experiences like theatre, dance movement therapy, cooperative games, and meditations of different kinds collectively helps in healing our notions of our bodies and self. I remember,by the end of my 2 years at Swaraj University, I realized I had become so comfortable with my body that it didn’t matter what kind of clothes I wear and how I look. As I observed around me, I have seen people consuming more and more, and shopping for the outer beauty because there is an uncomfortable relation with inner being. The moment I became comfortable with my body, I realized I needn’t buy new clothes or accessories, in a way reducing my consumption.

It was also intentional from the beginning to have no maids, servants or workers on the campus as it gives us the opportunity to move away from the parasitic relationships we have on people and often communities of certain backgrounds, for the work we are capable and responsible for.

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 2. Re-think Development

What are the places we consider ‘developed’ in India?Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, would be a common answer. Paradoxically, these so-called ‘developed’ places have no pure air, pure water and pure food. Then what is so ‘developed’ about them? If a man sits under the shade of a tree to relax and experiences contentment, it adds nothing to the GDP, but when the same man cuts the tree and sells it into the market, it adds to the national growth. So, are peace and contentment contradictory to nation’s growth? More of such mind-boggling and intense processes are part of this workshop that has been transformative for many. It takes us through a journey of questioning our lifestyles, our consumption patterns, our standards to measure success, happiness and of course ourselves and aims to understand the whole idea of Development through the different lenses.

Co-facilitated by me and two other facilitators Reva & Sameer Dandage, this workshop,with the help of stories, film screenings, sharing of personal experiences, participative discussions and visits to mine & dumping yards, brings out hard-hitting stories of people, places and communities that are struggling to exist from the devastating impacts of ‘development’. One of the most impactful story for me has been the story of Congo and Coltan – of kids of Congo being sent to dangerous mines at gun-point and thousands of women being raped just for a metal used in our cell phones and other gadgets. I was moved to make a decision that I won’t buy a phone in my lifetime as it is causing nothing but sorrow to fellow beings. And indeed, it was not just my decision, people who have attended it have brought about many amendments in their lifestyle. The workshop helps us to understand the mainstream model of development – extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal – to aspects we are many a times unaware of. It becomes very clear by the end of it that we have turned to the tendency of using finite sources infinitely (minerals, fuel, trees, etc.) and infinite sources (such as time) finitely. Another independent workshop aligned to Re-thinking development is Jeevan Vidya, which brings to us sets of proposals towards our lives, relations, world and spirituality, all of which bringing a new and different outlook towards life.

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3. Interconnectedness and being one with Nature:

The pre-extension of re-thinking development is re-connecting with nature. It was clear to us that facts and information won’t alone make an impact on us as we are already numb with bombardment of information we receive from media, society and education system. Rekindling our once lost connection with nature is as much important. How can I fight for the lakes, mountains and forests if I haven’t been to one or haven’t experienced the stillness that comes within their presence?In the contemporary world, there are two prominent relations we have with nature – first, we see it as something to be fearful of, and secondly we see it as a resource to be used. At Swaraj University, we try to dismantle both these attitudes as and when the learners arrive on the campus. Some of the exercises we do are spending a couple of hours observing a living organism (other than humans and other large mammals such as dogs, cows), spending time on the mountains with no agenda – just being there like any other piece of rock, walking across the stream of river barefoot and experiencing water and the wisdom it carries; One of our resource persons Sureshtook us through a startling journey of observing nature and its creatures(sun, sky, birds, flowers, bees, insects, sounds, and self) from morning 4am to night 11pm and it was amazing to see how day and night unfolds and how every moment there are parallel lives living and sustaining the world.

We also do some rituals to understand the elements of nature, shake our beliefs and experience the mountains, lakes, trees, and rivers as our relatives rather than resources. One of the most shocking and humbling experience I have come across which changed my relation with nature was when I realized and understood that the villagers never go on trekking on the mountains and hills. They only sometimes walk on these hills to graze their livestock, and that too, they seek permission from the mountains to do so. Conquering Everest or crossing English Channel became meaningless as our relatives are not be conquered on. We have also had a Shaman (traditional healer) come and share shamanic practices they practice in their tribe that re-align and heal our relationship with nature.

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4. Slowing down

We have tried to inculcate the element of ‘slowness’ into our program as Slowness in today’s World is therapeutic. Reconnecting with nature adds to our experience of slowness. Another beautiful gift we have received staying at Tapovan Ashram is the ‘slow internet connection& phone receptivity’on campus that has been a great healer for a lot of us as it gives us more time to connect to ourselves, our close ones, mother nature and to what is present.In a well-known documentary ‘Ancient Futures’, a local Ladakhi lady talks of her relative who bought appliances like refrigerator, washing machine, mixer, to save time. Sometime later, when this lady wishes to visit her relative, the relative says she has no time. Indeed there is a need we felt to actually slow down our pace rather than holding time (which is indeed not in our hands) Thus, we have chosen not to install or use wi-fi routers, LAN systems, T.V., or any other modes of modern-day entertainment. It is part of the program to start reclaiming our modes of entertainment. Learners do it with their own style designing and holding different kind of get-togethers, musical evenings, drum circles, star-gazing nights and much more.

 5. Experiments with gift culture

When I had just joined Swaraj, the same week we, in groups of two, were sent towards a village without any money or gadgets and were given a challenge of building relationships with locals and have dinner with them before coming back. It was my first time to a village. Within three hours of my time in the village, I realized a stark difference from a city. With their limited means but unlimited heart space, we were served food and lots of love and it was so easy to get into people’s house. And that is when I realized the potential of gifts they carry – the gift of abundance. At Swaraj we are constantly striving (failing, falling, getting up, trying again) to imagine and create a space for being the gift – which means slowly cultivating inside us and around us a wholesome state of giving and receiving. As a part of this we are experimenting with gift culture practices like moving from transaction to trust, contracting to connecting, scarcity to abundance, private ownership to commons, extracting from relationships to nourishing each other. These are big words and yet they hold meaning for us in small acts.Mentors, resource persons and well-wishers of Swaraj Uni. have abundantly showered on us gifts of their time, energy and resources and there have never really been any ‘transaction’ with them. Khojis too, have been spreading these gifts wherever they go thereby keeping the gifts in a flow.

Our idea of ‘money’ and its utility also changes as one this journey we also see world from a different lens. Major focus of our education system is to prepare us for livelihood and the whole economics is based on scarcity. We, at Swaraj, are trying to strive for a world where youth also focuses on living life. Livelihood is just a part of it. Even for most people working in Swaraj University, money is not the prime driver for being there.

One of the beautiful experiments we do at Swaraj is of ‘Dariya-dil dukaan’ – Shop of the open hearted, a space we create for some time where people can share their gifts (it could be clothes, gadgets, recipes, skills, time, invitation to home, etc.) and people who need it can receive it. I have been hosting Dariya-dil dukaan from last few years and every time I do it, I feel enriched by the sharing experience which takes place. It multiplies the power of sharing and challenges our attachment to stuff, thus making a small dent in our consumerism. I have seen many-many people shifting from regular buyers of stuff to hand-me down users of stuff. I recently got a kitchen added to the place I stay and I got all the necessary cooking and eating utensils as hand-me-downs.

These practices of gift-culture (economics of abundance) bring to us a possibility of a world where we see, give and receive everything as gifts – river, water, air, food, skills, everything.When we see everything as gifts, there is a deepening of feelings of gratitude that really can help us come out of consumer culture. “When anybody is in gratitude, every perception is different and every response to a situation is different. It colours your whole world. And the things that we try so hard to achieve become either irrelevant or effortless.” – Charles Eisenstein

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6. Cycle yatra

Every year, with a new group, we go on a sacred cycle yatra –ajourney to connect with each other, to the Earth, to communities we meet, to the forests, land, water, air, and self, and all that without the safety netsof money, clothes, food, medicines and gadgets. It is not a rally or a race, and there is no message or measurement. For 7 days, we move along the village side, without pre-deciding the route or the village, randomly chose a village, go and join the villagers in whatever work they are up to (farming, cow-shed cleaning, grazing, construction, etc.) And let me tell you, I have been on such yatras for four times, but never has the day passed when we have slept hungry.

It has been a transformative journey every time we set on it as it pushes us beyond our comfort zones, puts us in extreme vulnerability as we are without any safety nets, helps us move beyond the parasitic relationship we have in city and helps us surrender to the Earth and its people.

7. Jaso Ann, Vaso Mann (You are what you eat)

At Swaraj University, a lot of thought goes into preparation of food, selecting what is cooked and how it is cooked as we believe it is the aliveness of food which makes us alive. We try to include lots of millets in ourpreparations, get as much as organic grains as possible and use minimum of processed oil in our foods here. Michael Pollan, a well-known researcher of food once said “At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind”. Knowing the story behind our food is also encouraged as we invite resource persons who with the use of films, visit to various food industries, discussions and actual preparation of food bring to us what we eat. One of our resource person, Purvi Vyas, who is also an organic farmer in Gujarat takes this fascinating subject of the ‘Geography of food’ and brings us face to face with the dangers of pesticide farming, chemical used in food, GM food, farmer suicides, factory farming and much more.

Khojis are also encouraged to participate in the kitchen, know more about food, interact with the kitchen staff, try different recipes, and bring traditional recipes from their parents and grandparents. One of our key nourisher has been Sumi Chandresh, an artist, unschooler parent and a great cook,who for last many years has experimented on food and brought variety of food recipes and ingredients to the Swaraj University kitchen.

Reva Dandage, the co-founder of Swaraj University, and I have been trying to grow our own food from last couple of years in the campus area itself. Both of us stay on the campus for most of the year and farm for at least two seasons. We often share our produce with each other and other members of the community and it is indeed a pleasure and learning experience for both of us to observe and see our tiny little seeds grow into a mature plant.

8. Participating in ecological movements

Khojis participating in the Jan Satyagrah yatra by Ekta Parishad – Jal Jangal Jameen andolan

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Khojis participating in people’s movement against the Nirma Cement factory in Mahuva, Gujarat.

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Khojis and team members of Swaraj have been witness to many social resilient movements across the nation. A huge population across India is resisting oppressive forces for their land, water and forest rights and these are the people who have lived, for generations, in forests, close to land and rivers. In a recently held gathering at Swaraj, Rajagopal ji, the man behind many land rights movement said “Aadivasis and their ecological wisdom makes them one of our gurus”Participation in these movements is not just to support them, but also to support ourselves as commons are at stake and we are all going to be impacted. Some of the movements our khojis and team members have been part to or have witnessed are people’s movement against Nirma Cement factory, Mahuva, Gujarat, people’s movement against POSCO in Odisha, Swaraj Beej (seed) Yatra that happened across many states (2 of our khojis were part of the whole yatra), Jan Satyagrah yatra by Ekta Parishad. We have also been involved in Economics of Happiness in Bangalore –a larger movement towards localization.

One of our khojis, Gyan, came to Swaraj with a focussed goal of becoming a mainstream masala film director. When he travelled with the Ekta Parishad yatra video-documenting the social movement, he was literally moved, meeting local people and listening to their stories, so much that he chose to document their lives and stories instead of making a mainstream masala film.

9. Visiting & collaborating with other Ecological communities

As part of our learning journeys and mentorships, we also visit many ecological communities, where people and organizations are trying to shift to ecological ways of living. We visit organic and natural farmers, suppliers of organic food, kabaad se jugaad artists, eco-architects and their work-site, etc. These visits and sometimes mentorships are to learn and meet people who are an inspiration, who are trying to be self-sustained and minimising consumption and destruction. Swaraj University has also co-initiated Eco-versities Network with 50 eco universities around the world.

Visiting Varsha Samuel and her balcony garden in Dharwad

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Khojis visiting an organic farm in Pune

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10. Understanding Swaraj and Commons

Every year, we play an interesting game of musical chairs that is way different than what we have played in school functions or birthday parties. What do we remember of that game? Running around the chairs, trying to push the one who is ahead and being cautious of being pushed by the one following us, having our ears attentively placed on the music waiting for it to stop and start again, our eyes, like a hawk’s, set on the chair.

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New kind of ‘Musical Chair’ – the one we need now to understand the power of Swaraj

Aren’t we playing the same game at a broader social, political and ecological level? Pushing communities and other living beings out of their space and sometimes till extinction, hoarding immense money and power to push others, living with immense insecurity of losing out and maintaining the status quo. The different game we play has just one pre-condition – no one shall lose. And indeed, it is a game changer, as what we see are people dancing around, sitting on each other’s laps as the chairs go down, going around in every direction.Manish Jain, another co-founder of Swaraj, takes us through this process of understanding how these chairs symbolize our commons – air, water, food, and land, and how do we shift to a new story – a story of people living in harmony, reclaiming their lives, inter-dependence, self-reliance and creating healthy and resilient communities, and that is what the idea of Swaraj is, which Gandhi, Vinobha Bhave and many others talked about.

 11. New Eco-construction on the campus

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Zomsa Geodome café & Chulha (Zomsa in ladakhi means getting together place for a family)
Bamboo structure bathrooms & grey-water harvesting plant

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There has been some eco-construction which has happened on the campus – that is more local style with local materials, where more natural lights flows in.Some of the khojis, who have been interested in pursuing eco-architecture have been part of designing, budgeting and actual construction along with the locals.

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New eco-toilet on the campus
OJAS – Mud-plastered & round structured hall

 

 

 

 

 

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12. Making & using herbal products

We encourage our khojis and other visitors on the campus to make and start using non-chemical self-care products. Some of the products we have made on the campus together are tooth powder, soap, mosquito repellent, lip balm, joints-pain oil, tea, utensils cleaner, etc. The recipes of these products are copy-left (instead of copyright) and anyone can make it.  22.jpg

Applying cow-dung based organic face-pack
Making and presenting herbal products like lip-balm, tooth-powder, foot crack cream and deodorant

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13. Alivelihoods

Every year, there are khojis who plan their projects, a stepping stone for deep diving into their own work. These projects are varied – some want to build their own enterprise, some want to work independently on their creative projects, some want to assist already existing organizations with their own inputs. We call it Alive-lihoods projects – where a lot of questioning and helping goes into how these projects are serving people and bringing individuals and communities alive, how is it serving the local ecology and economy and nitty-gritty of economics and our notions of money are challenged to go beyond the mainstream model of economics.

One of the khojis Kamalbir,who began a start-up project of upcycling textile waste into utility bags and then selling it into the market, soon struggled with the idea of scaling up or not – scaling up means more products in the market, which again means more consumption, and more production means the support staff of the team (the production unit, who are Women-folk of a village in Udaipur) that now have enough time at home to work for self, home, farm, poultry, would then have to focus full-time on the production. The rest would suffer. Thus, she decided to continue the work in a way where production of bags remains just one of the work and the team-members can continue to keep other valuable service activities of life in loop.Thus, understanding the ‘abundant economics’ (gift Culture) has been as important as understanding marketing and money-making, not just for khojis, but for the team as well.

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Kamalbir and Ritesh, khojis of Swaraj Uni., selling their eco-products

 

These are some of the experiments we have been up to, and all these, at hands, heart and head level, add to truly experiencing our oneness with nature and move towards a sustainable life. To be very frank, we are just beginning to understand the vastness of what still needs to be done and undone and we are faltering and making mistakes. A lot needs to be worked to be in-tune with the ecological wisdom.These choices, actions and sometimes inactions are boosting our intent of shifting towards a more sustainable life.

 

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The strangest species called Parents and children

”We have had an experience, which we don’t want our kids to have, but the kids want to plunge into the same experience again… I suppose this is what generation gap is”, A parent.

5 years back I had read a small article by Osho in one of the magazines where he is responding to a parent’s worry for his adolescent child’s erratic behavior. Osho replies (not in exact words) – Dear friend, I must congratulate you that the time has come, that your child is now beginning to find and make meaning out of his life. He has been living under your umbrella for all these years, accepting your values, beliefs, thoughts, and actions as his own. But now, he is coming of his age, he is making his own meaning of the world, he is beginning to question everything he was taught or made to believe. If he refuses to listen to you, your thoughts and desires, be happy, for now, this separation is the beginning of his new era, a new birth – a birth he would give shape to.

I was again reminded of this in a Dialogue on Education hosted by The Heritage School in Gurgaon. I was one of the participant and we were made to go through a process called the ‘Fish Bowl’ – a group of students (of age 16-18) sitting in the inner circle to share, whereas we, all the adults (including teachers, parents, youth) sat in the outer circle, to listen – listen with the state of wonder.

The students in the inner circle were asked:

What is it that you don’t get it about them (parents/adults of the society) and what is it that they don’t get about you?

Some of the replies they shared

– They ask why I’m silent when I am quiet, and when I talk, they say why I talk so much.

– They are way too helpful, and they don’t let us make mistakes

– They confuse us – sometimes they say be mature, you are grown up, and sometimes, they will say – act like a child, you have not grown up

– They always ask us the reason for our decisions, but they never share their reason behind any decisions

– They always crib that they have seen more life than us and are more experienced

– They label us like you are hard-working/lazy, etc., and they don’t give regards to the transition we are going through, they don’t realize that our personalities are shaping.

– They are hell-scared about what society might say

I was amazed to hear the young students share honestly what they don’t get about their parents. I wish their parents were there to listen. I have been associated with youth and youth organizations, one of them being Swaraj University, from last 5 years which has brought me to know and be face to face with many child-parents struggles. Tired of their parents’ expectations and the burden of societal pressure they dump over kids, I have heard the children crib about their parents, I have heard them cry, I have seen them run away from their homes and I have seen them rebel, rebel hard. I have also seen parents cry, longing for their child’s love, anxious and concerned, burdened with their life tasks. I don’t know who is stranger – the child or the parents, but it definitely pains to see the struggle arising out of their separation where such beautiful relationships get noisy most of the times due of lack of ACCEPTANCE – sometimes from self, from family, from society and so on.

One of the khojis was recently sharing with me a dialogue she had with her parents where she had to ask them to find and define happiness for themselves rather than finding happiness in her presence, actions or reactions – which brings us to another of the dreadful causes of these struggles – EXPECTATIONS. And I am sure it is quite difficult for parents whose whole existence depends on the child for so many years until one day when the child begins defining his/her own identity and I can sense how difficult could it be for parents to shift gears and let their inseparable part separate.

I would like to share 2 conversations which touched me and my conscience deeply. One of them was Dr. Quratulain Bakhteari, who heads a learning program called IDSP in Baluchistan, Pakistan. She was sharing about her program whose initial 2 months are focused on finding roots – going back to your family and searching for your ancestral roots. The biggest reason behind this initial stage of finding roots is to get back to the family, to tie back the thread which somehow in this rapidly transiting world gets torn apart, and she said, “That is how the parents would begin supporting you for such unusual lifestyle choices and studies”. I and my peers questioned her that the parents won’t do that to which she responded very beautifully – ये जो आपके वालिद और अम्मी जान होते हैं, वो बड़े अजीब किस्म के होते है, बाहर से तो बड़े सख्त होते हैं, पर आप के लिए इन का दिल पिघलते देर नहीं लगती । (Your father and mother, you know, are very strange. They may seem very hard from outside, but for you, they can quickly soften from within)

A small conversation with her inspired me to search for my roots, to get close to my father who is fond of history and I did. And it also inspired me to design a small program called Reclaiming your Roots for khojis at Swaraj University where a few khojis researched on their paternal/maternal history of last 100 years. One of the khojis Arpita Gaidhane from Thane share how she got close to her father when they both went on a journey together to know their ancestral history.

Another small and beautiful conversation was with Jeetu Dave, a khoji’s father who had come for the parents meet at Swaraj. He shared how our struggles or anger with parents as a child blocks the source of all the energy for us and once cleared, they are the ultimate source of energy for our work. He shared how his anger in the past got projected into the future and the anger towards his father did not let him blossom even in his adulthood. His realization came too late in his life but yet he asked for forgiveness, and led the anger in him rest in peace.

The fish bowl I mentioned above to which I was part of inspired me to host a similar circle for parents and children at parents meet of K5 khoji cohort at Swaraj University. Many parents were supposedly against the ideas of their children, and not just ideas – lifestyle, life choices, actions, everything. The children (khojis) too seemed in a rebellious mode as many of them constantly shared their struggles with the parents. And as a little expected, the parents meet did start with an intimidating note. The concerns and anxieties of parents rolled in and did burdened the excitement of khojis who had been preparing hard for the parents meet. The concerns ranged from ‘my child doesn’t even wear proper clothes in front of relatives’ to ‘what would my child do and which is the one last field which he/she would choose and work upon’.

My idea was to hold a fish bowl circle at the end of 2nd and final day where the parents and children can express to each other “what is it that they don’t get/understand about each other?” but on the day 1 itself, the parents and children were, without such a circle, such blunt and sharp with each other, blowing apart each other in every other session that what they didn’t understand about each other became very obvious. Of course there were some exceptions to that.

IMG_3987 (800x533)At the 2nd and final day, the anxiety did loosen up after parents heard the individual stories of khojis and what they are learning. On that evening, we held a circle of fish bowl for parents and the children asking:

What is it that they (parents/child) inspire you and you appreciate in them?

We very rarely appreciate our loved ones (especially the ones whose presence we have taken granted for like parents or children) but are very quick to depreciate, which is very often public. I remember a few years back, while I was away from home and chatting on facebook with my father one day. He suddenly said “I love you beta”. I did not know for few minutes how to receive the love my father had showered. I hesitated in replying but then I did. And it has taken me and probably him a good amount of time to overcome the formality in the relationship which stops us from hugging and sharing appreciation so often.

I too feel such formality in many of the relationship struggles between parents and children. Being the host of the fish bowl circle, I witnessed many parents and children finding it hard to even appreciate. But yet, I felt blessed to host such a circle, at the end of which, I could see some moments of joy and lightness, some khojis hugging their parents and parents yet again bridging the gap to trust their children and offer the support they often find it hard not to offer. Remember, the last scenes of LAge Raho Munnabhai, where Sanjay Dutt stops Dia Mirza on the radio from taking her father’s name. “He says – बाप का नाम पब्लिक में मत उछाल । अरे बीमार है वो, उसे फूल भेज ।” (not insult your father in public, he is ill, send him flowers)

We are all in some ways ill, trying to heal ourselves of this separation. What will heal us? What will help us blossom? Some flowers indeed, who will find their way, in their own strange ways, to our hearts. I believe our hearts know the answer … am I listening? Are you listening?

Reminds of a beautiful quote I read long time back –

हम कुछ न कहें और चाहें कि हमारी बात तुम्हारे दिल में ख़ुशबू की तरह उड़कर बस जाएँ

(I wish without uttering a word, my feelings spread like fragrance in your heart)

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The balloon of Guilt

I wrote this story 2 years back with lot of realness of my life into it but woven with a little pinch of fiction. As I was reading it today, I felt it is time to remove the little pinch of fiction, add more reality and share it with you all.

“My mother wasn’t keeping well from the last two months. I have been spending time with her, taking care of her well-being. The doctors have advised her not to exert pressure on the body and all she needs to do is take rest. It has been a learning experience for me. In a way, I am also learning to be patient enough to understand my mother’s needs. I have also learned cooking. All this while, I would cook simple food for all of us…” continued Zain as he shared his story of previous two months with us. Zain was my batch-mate at the Umitti5-3niversity We were meeting after our semester break and sharing what we all did. Gathering words for my turn of the check-in story-sharing, I looked back and wondered where I was during the semester break? – Down south in Andhra and Kerela, at least a thousand miles away from my parents, wandering everywhere with a back-pack and bare-minimum money.

“I am also learning to be patient enough to understand my mother’s needs” Zain’s words ‘patient, needs’ echoed, fuelling my mind with pictures of my parents, specially my father. Tall, fair and plump with large thick glasses resting on his short bulgy nose, a wrinkle-less face still shining in his late-fifties. It were his eyes that I got stuck at – dull  and heavy, tired with decades of responsibility – responsibility of earning a living for a joint family, getting the siblings settled in education, jobs and marriage, being a face to the society and so on. I could see those eyes. And just the memory of those tired and dull eyes haunted me. There I was, hundreds of miles away from him, wondering if my staying away from him is adding to his burden. Would he be craving for his son’s presence? “Am I not taking enough care of him?” I thought. I finished my dinner quickly that night. Instead of walking back to the room, I stopped and turned towards the terrace. The cold was sharp, heavy and it was beginning to get unbearable, yet I walked up the stairs. I realized giving pain of the cold to my body was the only way to remorse.

The sky was clean of clouds. Orion constellation stood with the bow facing north. It always faces the north. The north suddenly reminded me of the conversation I had with an old man I met at a northern Punjab town of Tuglaqwal – tall, with long white beard, clean purple turban and a spotless white kurta pajama. He owned a big school, and for last 40 years was a daunted, strict and unshakeable man, his spirit, acts and being spoke in his words. And yet, his unshakeable soul was weak as he spoke. “God bless you son with lots and lots of happiness. I wish you achieve success in life. But son, let me tell you this, I am unhappy for you, and it hurts me a lot because I am a father. I know the pain of being away from the son. You are so far away from your father, he must be dying for you to be close.” Said the old man in grief hugging me and giving me a box of jaggery as a gift.

The memory of old man’s words brought another set of memories. I couldn’t take off my father’s face from my mind. I had lied to my father and ran away to Rajasthan for a long backpack journey. He cared for me so much that he wouldn’t let me be away – away in terrains of life where my life could be in danger or surrounded by uncertainty. He has lived enough of uncertain life that he has wished to devoid me of such experiences, and that is what has created a one-hand-different views-distance between us. “He has never been selfish in providing me anything, then why am I being one? And living with the irony of not being able to express my appreciation for him life has been difficult. He, undoubtly, has been the unsung hero of my life. I have been running away from home all the time. I have so much got used to the freedom that a single question of ‘where are you going?’ from my father makes me impatient. I can sense his care and concern, but rebellion is what my every bone is filled with. I heard the shrieking call of a lapwing somewhere close to the college premises. It seemed there was a predator on the run to kill lapwing’s kids. I turned around and saw the Great Bear constellation to whom we Indians refer to as ‘Saptrishi’. Its presence up in the sky just above the dormitory confirmed that it was late in that winter night. I checked my cell phone. It was 3:27 on the clock. I left for the room to sleep but couldn’t all the night.

The overwhelming feeling stayed with me, walking with me as a shadow, making me feel the presence of a dark element within – the element which bluntly spoke on my face and labelled me ‘hypocrite’ and questioned my values of respect. All I had learned in my life – my books, stories from my mother, stories of the great Sufi saints – respect and care were permanent structures. And there I was, struggling to keep them in me for my father. We had a difference of opinion, well to put it right, opinions. But I still loved him? Then why did I not stayed with him, taking care of him?

A few days later, a counselor friend of mine Kokil offered a Taro card session. I gave it a try. From a deck of I don’t remember how many colorful cards, she asked me to choose two cards. I randomly chose two. I then shared stories of my relationships with family members, with friends and colleagues. After sincerely listening to whatever I had to say, she said “How much guilt are you carrying? With all your relations, you are carrying the burden of one strong emotion – guilt”. I sensed a bubble of heaviness in my gut. I moved my hand over my stomach; I was getting as plump as my father, may be carrying the extra flesh of guilt within me and so was he probably. I could figure it out then what moved within me with Zain’s words – it was guilt.

A few days later, I received a hand-written letter from a close school friend. I had written to her sharing my grief and guilt over not doing enough for my parents.

Dear Rahul, Sorry for the delay yaara! My pen didn’t want to stop writing. By the way, the letter you wrote was perfect for an #$&*@. It sucked – just one page, and that too an inland letter… …Do you remember sharing about your family and the guilt you have for not spending time with them? Yes, you are selfish, but who is not. Be selfish, but remember not to be self-centered. There is a saying if you don’t love yourself, you somehow can’t love anybody. You can only make and spread happiness around you when you feel it from within. So don’t worry if you want to stay outside your hometown, and not go home, just make sure the home is happy.  

Rahul, I would like to quote something here from a movie ‘The Heroes’. The hero says to his girlfriend – tere vaaste lakh jawaaniya, par ae jawaani desh vaaste.’ तेरे वास्ते लख जंवानियाँ, पर जवानी देश वास्ते! (I sacrifice my million lives for you, but this life is for my nation) Consider it in your situation; you have been with your family for almost 20 years, made your parents proud by being a sincere boy. Now, your rest of the life is not just dedicated to them but it is shared by your passion towards nature, environment and life. Live this passion Rahul, live it. Don’t guilt yourself of being selfish. Just let your passion drive you in a direction that creates a happy-happy situation all around you.

Don’t stop and ponder about your selfishness but let it mingle with your selfishness itself. Enough of my speech…”

With me all around the world,

Arshmeet

I read, read and re-read those lines – “तेरे वास्ते लख जंवानियाँ, पर जवानी देश वास्तेThese words made perfect sense. I was carrying huge amounts of guilt for things I was not able to fulfill, but never the satisfaction of things I was accomplishing. I felt exonerated. I felt the balloon of guilt within me, tightly tied to a rope of thoughts was now released into the air. It didn’t alter my concern for my family. But those words, I believe, came with a touch of helium and love. And with the touch of love, the balloon got pushed up in the air. With the balloon there was something else which got released – a single exhalation, which released me from that nagging pain of guilt.

All these years of my rebellion age, I have struggled to align my thoughts with my father’s and all I have got is his support. I would often praise my mother more because she aligns with my thoughts, and motivates me in my journey. And just because my father questioned my thoughts and acts, I resisted him. To cover that with an excuse – I am of the age where rebel and resist is the only weapon. My father or for the matter anyone close questions my acts, I shoot the question down, close myself for further interrogation and still do what I want to. But when I look in retrospect over all these years, my respect for my father has risen multi-folds. He has questioned me, but he has never let the societal pressure and questions even reach me. He has held fort and shielded me from all those pulls and pushes of the society, providing me every possible supported me in my journey.

* Hakuna Matata *

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Demise of Play-time

I played a lot. Once back from school, I was all the time on the roads, in the front corridor of our apartment, in the nearby gardens to play, play and play. Sometimes, it was cricket, sometimes it was hide and seek and sometimes it was badminton. I see it as a rare phenomenon nowadays in a child’s life. The roads and the verandahs where we used to play freely are now full with posh cars of people. So, roads and the verandahs are out of stock for the little ones as well as for the adults to play. Some who dare to play do get the brunt of neighbors for spoiling their cars. The gardens, which by themselves are in limited numbers, are now just ornamental places where adults come for walk, jog, do yoga but playing is not allowed because – “Gardens are not the place to play” – Yes! I heard someone say that too. And of course, half the parents are too insecure to RELEASE their kids to play as if draculas and fire-spitting dragons are wandering in the gardens, but they are ok letting them kill those dragons on their cellphones. And that is where it hurts me a lot. Half the world with their heads stuck deep into their cellphones trying to make and destroy the world of fantasy where one death is for sure – the death of playing – which is also the death of hands-on playing, and sportmanship. At the age, where the child is filled with high energy, anything else other than playing suppresses that energy, which the child then releases in rather dangerous manners – some of them being anger, frustration, fights, blackmailing parents, high food and stuff consumption, etc.

Here’s a small film I made with two kids from Ahmedabad, who have never been to school – Qudrat, 14 is very good at art, making warli art, film-making and tattoo making are few of his passions. Ajanmaya, 9 loves theatre.

Play…..play…..and play….

and say…. Hakuna Matata 🙂

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Where’s Sita?

Pre-noteIt has been a while that I have written something for my blog. The readers might believe, looking at the date of my last post, that the freedom walker might have stopped walking. I felt the same. May be I was waiting for a realization to happen – something to struck me hard. A few days back, an acquaintance of mine, Fiona, whom I was meeting for the second time, instigated me to write by pouring loads of satires on my no-writing spree and thus I began writing. 

 

A couple of weeks back, I was in Dharwad, the cultural capital of Karnataka for a learning journey with khojis of Swaraj University. We were hosted by Dr. Sanjeev Kulkarni, a gynaecologist turned farmer from Dharwad at his farm ‘Suman Sangam’. Every second day, he would share some of his life experiences with us. I am sharing what I captured in one of his sharing. And this is something which a lot of people would have written on, but still, a lot of it was new to me. Also some inputs from a social activist Anita Borkar.

 

Dating back to thousand years, the male member of the family used to go for hunting, whereas the female member stayed back in the caves (read home) with their children, taking care of the cave as well as their kids. And it is said that women, while being at home, noticed some edible plants. And she noticed it growing every year. And thus she started saving seeds and replanting them again every year. She started saving seeds; she started growing crops every year and thus the agrarian life of human begin. For thousands of years, women have been doing the majority of work involved in agriculture – right from tilling, sowing the seeds, watering, cultivating, harvesting, seed-saving and even going and selling it into the markets. No need to say that agricultural work involves hard physical labour and 70-80 percentage of agricultural work is done by women. And quite opposite to the stupid belief of ‘men are stronger than women’, women indeed are physically more stronger in that respect, and the mechanism of nature proves that. The child birth ratio is heavier towards men. Males are more prone to infant mortality compared to females and to balance it out, it is nature mechanism to produce more males than females (for example, for every 967 females, there are 1000 males)

It is after the onset of modern agriculture, when technology was heavily introduced (in India after Green Revolution) the role of women in agriculture started dipping. There were now tractors to till the land, irrigation and canal systems to water the crops. Women started becoming burden to the family. Her role started diminishing and was limited to handling household chores. Women-folk, who were once the strongest pillar of agriculture, became ‘one extra member to feed’. The age-old tradition of dowry added to the burden, and thus fueled the thought –

Why not do away with the female child?

I don’t know exactly how old is this tradition of female infanticide, but many patriarchal communities drowned the female infants in water when born. One of the communities went on to the extent of holding up a ritual called ‘Doodh Peeti’ (Milk drinking) where the female infant was drowned in milk and it was said that they are doing the honors to the infant by drowning her into something pure.

Taking references after watching Anand Patwardhan’s documentary Pita, Putr, Dharmyudh, Sati system was no different. Feeding the widow was as much burden for the family as remarrying her. And how better it could get if the widow is done away with her husband the same time? The sati is turned into goddess – a local deity – which opens up the scope of people coming and offering money at her temple.

It was in early 80’s when Dr. Kulkarni started working in one of the famous hospitals of Mumbai. He had just started his career as a gynaecologist. It was the same time when modern day medical techniques of IVF and Ultrasound were introduced in India which was originally introduced to check the normalcy of the foetus in the womb. Dr. Kulkarni began noticing a surging trend of abortion cases in the hospital.  He started collecting data on the same and after recording details of 100 abortion cases, the result was shocking. 99 out of 100 abortions were of female foetus. The only one male foetus abortion was because of some genetic abnormality. He wrote a report named ‘Missing Daughters’ describing this disgusting scenario.

These abortions were taking place at ever-increasing rates. The technology was put to use in every locality. Gynaecologists considered it as an act of honour – a social service they were doing – not letting the female child face the brunt of the society after being born – and thus terminating her before birth. There were open advertisements running on the local trains of Mumbai with the caption –

Why spent lakhs of rupees on dowry, when you can do away with the problem in just Rs.500…

The technology was easily available and the doctors had their full support to it. Dr. Kulkarni raised this matter at many levels. And it was obviously not easily taken. It took years before a law was made and years more before it started getting implemented. Until then, the damage was done. From 1980 to year 2005, 15-30 million women were estimated to be missing in India, majorly in the state of Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, U.P. And 90 million women were missing during the same duration in seven Asian countries collectively which means that there were millions and millions  of women who never made it to this world.

 

The other connection

A lot has been written and spoken on the matters of female foeticide and pre-natal sex determination. But what captivated my attention to this issue this time was the other two connection it had. To me, at first, it was only the burden of dowry, carrying forward the family legacy, and traditions that allow man to undertake the ritual for e.g., the last rites of family members and social structure that pulls women down in every context. But what is it that fuels the same? Why such traditions? Why such social structure? How does it came to be?

The first of these connection is to agriculture and the reduction of women participation in it. The rise of modern automated technology and widespread cash cropping has reduced the status of women on the society. States where cash crops like cotton and sugarcane are grown, the rate of female foeticide is much higher than other states. Punjab, which was the heart of green revolution, has the poorest sex ratio of the nation. It is one of the scariest sides to the damage ‘modern day development’ has done.

The other connection which Dr. Kulkarni mentioned is the Hindu Fundamentalism connection. States where there is strong presence of Hindu fundamentalists are the states with much higher female foeticide rate (Gujarat, Maharashtra, U.P to name a few) The reason being that Hindu fundamentalism promotes and fuels patriarchal society. Till a a few decades back, posters, billboards, and hoardings would have Lord Ram’s picture with Sita and Hanuman along. After the onset of Hindu fundamentalism, and the whole Ayodhaya spectacle, it was only Ram who made it to the posters and hoardings. Ram with his mighty bow – the warrior Ram. Sita’s existence is a question now. I wonder where is Sita?

 

 

 

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The distances between hearts – a short story

Once, a revered saint was walking along the Ganges with his disciples. On his walk, he noticed a few people engaged in a furious heated-exchange of words. He realized that there might be a dispute between the people. One of the passers-by told the saint and his disciples that the people in verbal-spat are blood-relatives.

The saint made the disciples witness the fight. Later in the evening when the saint and the disciples got settled at a dharamsala located at the nearby ghats, the saint asked the disciples, “What did you notice during the fight?”

“A few people were furious and shouting at each other over some issue”, replied one of the disciples.

“They were not ready to listen to each other”, replied another disciple.

The saint then asked back, “Why do you think they were shouting at top of their voices even while they were standing physically so close to each other?”

“Because they were angry”, came a sudden reply from one of the disciples.

“Yes, it seemed they were angry. But, why did they shout when the other person was standing so near to them? Or for that matter, as you would have witnessed many other disputes in your life – between husband and wife, brother and brother, teacher and student, shopkeeper and customer – why do people shout at each other instead of sharing their anger in a way that keeps their differences to themselves and doesn’t opens it to the hawking eyes and ears of the world?”

The disciples were confused. They tried a few answers but to no avail.

The saint smiled and said “when two people have differences between each other and they are angry, it is not their close proximity or physical presence which matters. In spite of being so close physically, their hearts are at  distance from each other, at the extreme poles, and to cover that big distance from one heart to another, a person needs to shout. To make the other heart listen, a person needs to shout”

I_Love_You_And_I_Hate_You_by_BenHeine

 

The saint continued, “And in quite the opposite scenario, when two person are in love, a mere murmur is enough to communicate. Have you witnessed two lovers communicating? You may give 200% of your ears to listen to their conversation, but you won’t be able to. When two persons are in extreme love, words take a back seat and just expressions are enough. The whole body communicates and it takes no time and no words to be interpreted by a lover because their hearts are so close”

Stick_Figure_Love_by_vaynex2

* Hakuna Matata *

 

* Story shared by Subhashini Passi, Indore in one of the group meetings of Samanvaya (https://www.facebook.com/groups/466207246732316/?fref=ts)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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गुरु-शिष्य परंपरा

This week’s story comes straight from the Sufi singer Mir Mukhtiyar Ali:

हाल ही में मुंबई में आयोजित कबीर फेस्टिवल में मीर मुख्तियार अली जी को सुनने का मौका मिला ! अपने गीतों के साथ-साथ वो रोचक किस्से भी सुना रहे थे! एक रोचक किस्सा था प्रसिद्ध गजल-गायक गुलाम अली साहब का ! गुलाम अली जी बड़े गुलाम अली जी के यहाँ गायकी सीख रहे थे! 12 साल बीत चुके थे पर बड़े गुलाम अली जी न एक बार भी छोटे गुलाम अली को बैठा कर सिखाया नहीं था! वे जब भी रियाज़ करते, छोटे गुलाम अली को बाहर काम से भेज देते!

एक दफ़े की बात है, गुलाम अली साहब ने बड़े गुलाम अली साहब की मोहतरमा से दरख्वास्त की कि वे अपने शौहर से कहें कि उन्हें भी सीखने का मौका दें ताकि खानदान कि संगीत परंपरा को आगे ले जाया जा सके! बड़े गुलाम अली कि मोहतरमा ने छोटे गुलाम अली को सब्र रखने को कहा और कहा कि वक़्त आने पर उसकी सिफ़ारिश वे ज़रूर करेंगी! थोड़े ही दिनों में वे अपने वादे को पूरा करती हैं और बड़े गुलाम अली साहब को कहती है कि छोटे को भी गाने का मौका दिया जाए, न कि उसे हमेशा दूसरे कामों में मसरूफ़ रखा जाए!

एक दिन कि बात है, रियाज़ का वक़्त हो चला था! बड़े गुलाम अली साहब ने छोटे गुलाम जी को बुलाया और कहा कि आओ, बैठो और गाओ! छोटे गुलाम अली इस बात से थोड़ा झिकझिकाए! पर बड़े गुलाम अली ने उनका ढाढ़स बढ़ते हुए कहा कि गाओ और गाते रहो! अगर मैं उठ के अंदर भी चला जाऊँ, तब भी गाते रहना! छोटे ग़ुलाम अली साहब ने गीत चालू करा। बड़े गुलाम अली साहब घर में टहलने लगे! जब वे रसोई में पहुचे, तो उनकी मोहतरमा घबरा गईं! उन्होने घबराते हुए पूछा “कि आप यहाँ हैं, तो गा कौन रहा है?” बाहर बैठे छोटे गुलाम अली साहब उसी शिद्दत और शान के साथ गा रहे थे जीतने छोटे गुलाम अली साहब गाया करते थे! उन्होने यह कला उनके साथ बैठ कर तो नहीं, परंतु सिर्फ सुन कर ही हासिल की !

इसी तरह मुख्तियार अली जी ने अपनी ज़िंदगी की कहानियों के कुछ अंग भी बांटे । मुख्तियार अली जी राजस्थान के पूगल क्षेत्र के निवासी हैं और उनके पूर्वज भी संगीत से उतने ही जुड़े हुए थे जीतने वे हैं । पर संगीत की यह कला यूं ही नहीं सिखायी जाती थी, उन्होने दीवारों पर कान लगा-लगा के संगीत सीखा! और यह कहते हुए मुख्तियार जी ने अपने उन पूर्वजों को शुक्रिया अदा किया उनकी कुर्बत के लिए, क्योंकि आखिर संगीत तो उनके पूर्वजों का ही है जो इनकी रगों में दौड़ रहा है ।

Check out another story at a blog I just glanced upon:

http://chaitanya-atman.blogspot.in/2009/03/passion-of-student.html

Until we meet again,

Khuda Hafiz 🙂

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Fill me with stories

fill_me_with_stories_by_knowsnorules-d4b3hh1

Stories I believe have the power to change the world and the world within us. I have been deeply influenced by stories – stories my mother has been telling me from childhood, stories I read in books and stories I experience on the run. I also believe our life is a story and every moment, every interaction, every  heart beat comes with a story. Recently a friend shared that ‘an enemy is one whose story we don’t know’, and quite the opposite would be that people whose story we know are our friends. Being passionate about stories, I try and bring to you real-life stories, folk-tales and stories of every kind.   All the stories would be archived in the page  https://thefreedomwalker.wordpress.com/storiescorner of my blog.

Today I bring to you the story of Chimamanda Adichie, a novelist who with her experiences shares the risk of listening to just one story and making our judgement. The world comprises of many stories and what if we take that one more step to know stories behind a single story. Here comes Chimamanda with her story:

* Hakuna Matata *

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