Ganesh Chaturthi

Over the last 2 weeks after the project finished, I’ve been visiting my family, in Bilimora and Kani, then back to Mumbai. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in the Ganesh Utsav here. From visiting people’s houses where they keep Ganpati Murtis, to heading out all over town to see all these murtis, each one different from the last, it has been an awesome experience.

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Having come back to Mumbai, on Tuesday we went to visit Khetwadi, 14 “gullies” with altogether 28 Ganpati Murtis. However, what moved me was the story of Komal, a girl who lives in Khetwadi who took us around to see the Murtis. She’s a 22 year old girl, who has completed her Bachelors in Microbiology, and wants to do a Masters in Dublin. She has grown up with the Ganesh Utsav, and every year she takes 10 days off from her work etc. in order to serve the murti and the community around her. We had never met her before, but she is a friend of a friend of my cousin and her service is that those who contact her/know her, she takes around using her pass to see the murtis in the local area. As we got to know her, we learnt of her background story, and after seeing the Ganpatis, she invited us to her house, to see her dadi.

Komal’s Story

As we were walking around and talking, we got to learn about her family story. She had huge ambitions of completing her Masters and moving into her career, however that unfortunately has changed as her dedication and world is currently her dadi, who is very dependent on her. Her dadi is currently bed ridden, suffering from 40% brain damage, heart disease, and has recovered from 3 paralysis attacks. During these 10 days of keeping the murti, she balances feeding, changing and looking after her Dadi, whilst also being an active member in looking after the Ganesh Murti. This means that she gets no sleep either, and having suffered from stomach problems, she has hardly eaten anything these last few days either. The lines for Ganpati begin around 9pm, and continue until 6am, where Komal helps in controlling the crowd and keeping the flow going. After this, she heads home, where it’s time to change. After bathing, it’s then time to feed her dadi, and then she’s straight out into the area where the Ganpati murti is kept. She comes back to feed her dadi for lunch, and then back out to the murti. In the evening, at 5pm, the dinner feed occurs, she puts her dadi to sleep and then she’s then out all night controlling the crowds and queues. This is a simplified version of her daily routine, but throughout the day her dadi is always in her mind, whilst also receiving around 50 calls an hour of people wanting to be taken around the murtis.

The reason her dadi’s become her world is that during college, her dada was also in bad condition, but thinking everything will be fine and work out she continued away from home at college. Unfortunately, things worked out for the worst, and this changed her actions. She felt that she could’ve served her dada a lot more as she was very close to him, and to stop this from happening again, she built a routine based around her dadi. She used to study at a top Science College, but used to leave lectures early or turn up late to go and serve her dadi. The relationship and bond that could be seen between the two is amazing, and it was wonderful we had the opportunity to visit her house. The dependency on Komal was highlighted by the fact that whilst she was in Goa working for 1 month, her dadi suffered a stroke, to which Komal responded in returning home to take care of her. There are 4 of them who live in a 9m2 little house, due to family problems where their Mama has put a partition 1/3 of the way into the house, however they are very happy and content and are enjoying their lives. Komal says she’s currently sacrificed everything for her dadi, however she doesn’t mind as she has all her life to make her career, but at present her dadi is her world and she’s not going to serve her all the time.

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Her dedication and her lovely personality will definitely remain a memory for me forever. Even amidst the madness that is the Ganpati festival, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing and different people. She’s even invited us back for the Visarjan on Thursday, and has said we can go around with her and their Ganpati to Girgaon Choupati.

Mirchi & Mine

Mirchi – Spice

Mime – all the waiting staff are all deaf and mute which is why you have to order in a different way             here.

Kirtiben recommended a restaurant called Mirchi and Mime in Powai, having never been, but only heard great reviews about. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the manager, who explained the concept and how to order with our waiter Neehal. All menu cards have written on them sign language in order to order the different dishes. Even though we were ordering through this means, something we’ve never attempted before, all our dishes were correct. Along with this, the restaurant had a very calm & quiet atmosphere, compared to the craziness of the roads outside.

Observing the waiters was wonderful, they all talk to each other in sign language, never dropped a dish, like they know where everyone is, and work with great attitude. There was someone’s birthday as well, and they brought out a cake and all together wished the customer a happy birthday, in their own way without any words. This was another awesome experience, and definitely a restaurant I’d recommend visiting if ever in the area.

We were so engrossed in learning the sign language and menu and observing how everything works, that we forgot to take photos, but the experience will definitely remain in my memory.

Dyro

Whilst in Kani, I had the opportunity to travel to different towns with my masa’s Bhajan mandal, and experience a style called Dyro which I had never heard of before. What was most enlightening was that this group of youngsters, all from the same village ask for a minimum charge just to cover their transport costs and sing for Ganpati Dada and no one else. They get confidence from the reaction of the crowd that attends whilst clapping and dancing, and this reenergises them to sing till 2am or so in the morning. Being a tabla player, the coordination, communication and understanding between the two, even though they had little practice, was unbelievable, they were playing together as if they were one. Definitely one of my best experiences, and having played tabla in the mandal, I have also been asked to come back to experience Navratri with them which will definitely be my next trip to Bharat.

This Ganesh utsav has definitely been an experience for me, and I’d definitely recommend visiting, even if it is just a one off. Having seen 40 different Ganesh murtis in 1 hour in Bilimora (town) puts into context the size of the festival. I’ve met some awesome people, made new friends and it has been brilliant to talk and interact with all these people. My masa also gave me the opportunity to drive his car around, I think I’m ready to drive anywhere in the world, and definitely picked up some new skills whilst scaring my masis. I definitely want to visit Bharat again during festival season, and just join the society in rejoicing and fully diving into the occasion.

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It’s All Over… For Now

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What a month it has been, there are no words to describe it. Can’t believe it’s already over, feels like we landed at Mumbai Airport just yesterday, but moving forwards can’t wait to head to Gujarat to visit family. On the last week we were taken out for lunch by Hariharanji, went to a Sewa International Trustees Meeting and most importantly had the opportunity to spend time with the children after lunch and in the evening. On the last day, they gave us a send-off ceremony in which they each explained their stories of why they ran away from home, each one different from the last. These stories highlight the thoughts the children have when running away.

Gautam’s Story
He is from Maharashtra, living with his Aunt, but he’s run away 3 times due to not liking the rigidness in education, but was forced to go school by his aunt. He’s completed 6 years of education, with 4 left to go for Indian equivalent of GCSEs. He used to live on the stations, became addicted to alcohol, used to beg and steal for money before he was picked up by Samatol workers. Through this NGO he has learnt a lot of Sanskars (values) including: respect for elders and others, playing with others, yoga and meditation, and also was rehabilitated from his addiction. Even though returned home safely, the problems at home remained which meant he’s run away again. Hopefully this time he’ll continue to study till 10th so he has some qualifications to take forwards in life.

Naveen’s Story
Again a unique story, Naveen is from Hyderabad, and went on a trip with his uncle. During the trip, they stopped off at the station, where his uncle said he’s going to get Vada Pav (what a dish) to eat. However, his uncle didn’t return, Naveen sat for 2 hours and in the end just jumped on a random train crying which happened to end up at CST where the Samatol workers found him. Again, he is a 14year old boy who has only studied to year 5 as he didn’t like education, however he’s very creative and in his free times would constantly take out paper and start drawing some very good pieces which he will continue to get better at with time if he has the freedom to pursue this.

Rikesh & Raju’s Story
These two boys are from Uttar Pradesh, from a small village who had seen and heard about Mumbai from newspapers, TVs and all around as an amazing place. One day they decided to see the hype, hopped on the train and ended up at CST. Luckily before anyone else could, the volunteers picked up the children and brought them to the shelter.

Javid’s Story
Javid is a 15 year old boy, also from Uttar Pradesh. He is from a small village in Uttar Pradesh as well, and came to Mumbai looking for work again based on its appeal from what he’d heard and without realising the problems facing young boys like him in Mumbai. Again he had no qualifications, but before any trouble got to him he was picked up by the Samatol volunteers.

Sonu’s Story
Sonu is another very young boy from Kalyan, Maharashtra who was picked up at Kalyan Station. For a few months now he has been moving from station to station in search of his brother who also ran away. He used to beg people on the train for 30-40 rupees every day in order to provide food for the day. He also found a job cleaning trains and maintaining the train from which he sustained injuries. However, his parents do not know about these ventures he goes on trying to look for his lost brother. He faced very poor conditions, however he was picked up by the workers meaning he had the opportunity to clean up and be looked after properly while his parents are searched for.

Mohammed & Premanshu’s Stories
Mohammed from West Bengal, and Premanshu from Bihar, both ran away and have similar stories. They both used to be hit by their parents and told off whilst also being shunned by their families as they found education difficult. In the end, the abuse sent them over the edge and they ran away. Premanshu was found just on the Thursday before we left. Mohammed was found earlier in the week, but both remember the stories and especially Mohammed still continues to cry in the shelter.

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What Next for these Boys
Having talked to the children, what was wonderful to hear was that once they are returned home they all wish to stay home and continue in education, or finding work in their home state which is important in terms of being comfortable in a place where they can speak their mother tongue, be around people they know. This will also reduce the chance of exploitation and hardships in Mumbai that uneducated runaways face. The only exception was Sonu who will continue to search for his brother moving from station to station. They all expressed the wonderful experience they’ve had at Samatol’s shelter and what they’ve learnt they will take forwards in their lives. They also said they loved spending time with us and playing/learning new games with us, which they will teach the other children that come to the shelter.

I must say, the month was a wonderful experience of Samatol’s work and the dreams they have for the future of Bharat for children. Our work doesn’t stop here after just one month though. We will continue to support Samatol where we can.

This trip has certainly been an eye opener on the world’s busiest railway, had we not been given this project, I don’t think I would have ever noticed/known about the work that NGOs like Samatol do in saving children at the stations. There are no words to describe it, and I will definitely attempt to visit Samatol every time I return to Bharat and take the whole family as well. Lastly, hopefully the Indian public can recognise and understand the problems faced by runaway children, and help in achieving Vijayji’s/Samatol’s dream of Bharat evolving into a Baal Premi Samaj.

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Dahi Handi & Cricket

With only one week to go, we’ve moved on very fast. I can’t believe it’s almost over.

This week, the shelter reopened, we’ve been continuing our work and we also had a chance to visit the Dahi Handi Festival (commercialised through politics) and play a little bit of cricket with the children.

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Dahi Handi, Shiva Dance Finale

There was one story that stood out for me this week – which was on Saturday. Vijayji received a phone call from 3 members of staff working at Bhusaval station, who work for another NGO. They are happy and have been working with this NGO for a while. However, their salaries are not enough for them to sustain daily needs. Without a second thought, Vijayji offered to top up their salaries with an agreed amount, and also offered an extra 3,000 rupees a month extra in order to cover their train and phone expenses. He believes so much in this field of working, of saving children from the stations that he offered to give these guys extra out of his own pocket in order to keep them working on the station. This late on Saturday night after feeling lonely all day (Suraj had a day off) really lifted me and it was amazing to see his passion.

With the shelter being reopened, and Milindji from Manchester coming to see Samatol, we had the opportunity to speak to workers and kids a little bit more freely. Learning their past history, why they have runaway etc. and also why the workers are in this field whilst and one person’s toughest moment. Baburao, a volunteer, spoke about a recent experience where he and and another volunteer had to drop 2 children in remote villages. First a 14 hour train journey, followed by 8 hour walk to reach the first boy’s house. Following this, another 8 hour walk, however they had to sleep on the road first and make sure the child was safe. On completion of the walk, the family wasn’t in so they waited all day for them to return, reunited the child and had to make the same 30 hour journey back. Unbelievable dedication on next to nothing money, and taking full responsibility for the welfare of the children on the journey. Baburao has many years’ experience, and he and his wife both work for Samatol. The satisfaction of reuniting a children with their families is what keeps them going, and this is all they need.

Lastly, we had the opportunity to play cricket with the kids which was also a nice break from the office chair. All the kids participated, with one very loud commentator. A nice way to end our day, and we will try to keep this up for the last week of working with Samatol.

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Playing cricket with the children just outside the shelter

We also have new roles within Samatol, Vijayji is the narrator, Suraj is the scribe and I am the translator. My Hindi has definitely improved, at least understanding and I am a lot more confident in speaking. I have also learnt a little bit of Marathi: Namaskar, Maazha naav Hem aahe. Hopefully I can pick up a little bit more this week, before heading back to Andheri.

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Halfway Through

Time is flying by here in Bharat, 2 weeks gone already, and so much more left to do!

This week we’ve had the experience of visiting, 70th Independence Day Celebrations, meeting many new and different faces as well as experiencing the people’s support in following the Olympic athletes in wrestling and badminton finals.

Firstly, since the last blog, nothing much has changed, apart from the sleeping pattern has now improved, I’m sleeping a lot better, and undisturbed. We are continuing to get our exercise through morning shakha and the walks to and from the office. I am slowly picking up more Hindi words and able to translate fluently spoken Hindi, although the speaking still needs to further. I am now more used to the culture here of the millions and have accepted it for the way it is, as I won’t be able to change it in mass, but have been trying to induce this is in individuals where I can.

On Monday, we had the opportunity to experience Bharat’s 70th Independence Day, at Swami Vivekananda English School in Bhiwandi, where Narasimhanji is on the trustee’s board. This school is set in a very poor area of Thane, providing low cost education for the young children, and has proven successful with 100% pass success for those in 10th Standard (GCSEs). What was first noticeable was the immense pride the children (and parents) take in getting the kids to dress up smart in their uniform. Remembering our school days, we used to take competition on who could get away with their top buttons undone and the lowest hanging tie, or shirt untucked. But here, pride was taken in looking smart and thus feeling like they are there for a purpose. Secondly, the discipline shown by the kids, standing outside through rain and sun for 1 hour waiting in lines for the raising of the national flag and speeches, without moaning or much movement. Lastly the patriotism, singing of rashtra geet, the national anthem sent shivers down your spine. The patriotism inculcated through education is just amazing, and there are no words to describe it, just wow. It makes you question, why in the UK are we not taught the national anthem, or songs about the nation in school, like Bharat or the USA. It was quite warming photos from the Raksha Bandhan utsav in Rugby of the tying of the rakhi to the Mayor, Bhagwa Dhwaj and the British flag, reminding us of our duty to the country we live in, even if we are connected by roots to another country.

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Post the celebrations, we had the opportunity to listen to the teachers talk and attempt at solving problems together. It was wonderful hearing the passion they had to teach the kids properly and also make sure their messages were reaching every child. Through attempting to solve problems together, they also build the bond between colleagues and help in providing a better service for the children. The one thing noticeable was the female domination in the field, there were only 3 male teachers, as most males want big city jobs and don’t want to go into teaching. And lastly, after having a cup of chai, I was told there was no bin and to throw it on the floor, for which I had an argument with the driver. I said “this is the problem, but I’m taking the cup home with me and throwing it away there”. Hopefully this message comes across to him, and through small changes, but things can possibly happen, but who knows if the built habits can change so easily.

The next day involved us meeting the website host, and talking about developing the web. They had been waiting for someone to minutely go through the website and ensure it was ready for proper publishing. Very simple meeting, but we have been told that the way to learn here is through doing. Therefore, a task was given, to be completed prior to the meeting on Monday. This finally gave us a proper deadline to aim for, and also induced our creative side a little bit, along with the imagining the vision of Vijayji. So far this has been a fun, but hard task, and we are ready for the meeting. Post this meeting, we will have to create a manual instructing future workers how to continue on the work with regular updates.

In the evening, we met Sanjayji Kelkar, Thane Member of Legislative Assembly and a founding member of the BJP. He is the leader of Thane, and makes decisions and solves problems affecting the Thane samaj. For a person in such a high stressed position, looking after 1.3million population, he was so chilled out. He dealt with problems in a calm manner, and came across as very learned. An aspect I wish to take forwards when I start work in post this trip, be relaxed in whatever situation and solve it in a calm manner so as to not cause confusion. Once again, he was another person who followed the works of Swami Vivekananda, and he meditated often which helped in his calmness. With every person we meet, there is a possibility of taking away small habits or things away which could be beneficial to ourselves.

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Friday night saw the Olympic gold medal final in which Sindhu was taking part, and a huge proportion of the nation was involved in cheering her on and this was talked about all day. She got a silver medal that day, but more importantly she could be a role model for the future. The younger Indian population could be inspired into taking part in more sports and professionalising as well as improving the conditions for sports stars out of cricket. Much like London hosting the 2012 which inspired grass root sports participation to increase, hopefully the same impact can be found here. There can only be hope that they do not forget about her heroics in the Olympics, and this can serve to be a stepping stone in the right direction.

Having pushed for it, this week we were finally given keys, so as to be able to open up the office early and begin working. This has now opened up to being more productive during the day and has enhanced the amount we can do for the organisation. We are also working with Ganeshji on the project and he will learn from us about keeping things up to date. Having come from a background of NGO work, he knows what to expect and has been helping to guide us in our work as well. The only problem is, that there seems to be too many people telling us what to do, and who do we listen to. Our final call has been to listen to what Vijayji requires.

Lastly, reading has been pushed, and it has been a pleasure reading Hariharanji’s book “Runaway Children”. This book gives insight into why children runaway, what they do, the conditions they live in and the dangers they face from running away. This book made me realise the troubles these kids face and the real importance of NGOs like Samatol. Without these anything could happen to these children, and so the work they complete, although tough is simply amazing. The book also helped understand the mindset of a child in the shelter stole 1000 rupees from a worker and ran away. The psychological troubles these children face that are hard to be solved, in a real life example to a child that we had been talking to often.

For the coming week I am looking forward to interacting with a lot more people, meeting more organisations who can help in the field of work. I am also looking forward to meeting new Sangh families and trying out traditional dishes from their native areas and interacting with these families to see how they live their lives and their aspirations. I must say the people here have made it feel like it’s home, which has been helpful in not feeling homesick.

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Acclimatisation and Adopting the Local Culture

Wow, it’s already been a week here on the project, and 10 days in Bharat, and I don’t know where the time has gone. It feels like we only landed yesterday. Even so, so much has happened, but there is so much left to do.

Firstly, I was disappointed that the Guru Puja utsav was cancelled on our first day due to the weather, as I was looking forward to meeting Bharat Karyakartas, however on the upside we have been attending the daily (6:30am) Proudh shakha. This has been good as it gets us to wake up, exercised and energised and start thinking throughout the day from the morning, even if I have learnt the bad habit of napping whilst sitting. However, I feel this habit is only temporary and will be negated once my body agrees with the timing and very humid climate I am trying to sleep in. We’ve met some wonderful karyakartas, and were touched that from the first day without even knowing us, they agreed to look after us and provide dinner for us (ensure we don’t eat out) once Narasimhanji leaves for Europe on the 18th. As expected in the pre-thoughts, we had nothing to worry about as everything will be “sorted” by Rameshji, and it certainly has been, these karyakarta are awesome.

This move to Thane away from the city of Mumbai, feels like nothing has changed. The flat we are living is very similar to masi’s, Narasimhanji and Sakanyaji have been very pleasant and have been nice enough to provide breakfast and dinner every day, and life outside is just as busy and loud as in Andheri. Horns, rickshaw, car & bike engines can be heard inside and outside. Where do people find peace here? Hopefully I’ll find an answer or a method that works for some people and try for myself, may even be just through commitment to work.

From the initial meeting with Vijay Jadhav, to today we have met many others in between. But what an interesting week it has been so far. We talked to Vijayji and Rameshji about what to do, and what we can do, and it has been agreed as to the scope of our work – only for it to change straightaway following unforeseen circumstances. This “chalega” attitude from the Indian population needs to be remembered whenever we are working, however if we want/need anything done we need to be proactive and get on with it. One plan is made the night before, we call in the morning and everything changes. Luckily, my hindi is coming on well, and I have been able to communicate well with those required, and on the plus side a lot of the people know English (but I’m using English as a backup, following Rameshji’s rule of 90% Hindi, 10% English). Hopefully the working attitude and motivation continues through the next 3.5 weeks and I don’t get frustrated with the “slow” action and movement of our colleagues.

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Workers waiting to see if any runaway boys have come off the train

Due to the lack of attendance at the office we had the opportunity to observe and engage in field work on the “World’s Busiest Railway” at Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Station. We got to meet these wonderful workers, Madhviben, Ranjanaben and Baburao who work tirelessly for at least 8 hours a day. They aim to identify runaway children and bring them to the foundation or observation home safely, with the ultimate small goal of reuniting the children with their families. These workers are doing fantastic work, the way they treat this children, it’s like the runaway is their own child, instilling trust and getting all the relevant information required prior to moving forwards. You can see why the foundation works and has helped over 10,000 children over the 10 years it has been open. This is in stark comparison to the government home, or child welfare centre in Dongri. Here the centre is run by government officials, they do not have the same compassion and empathy the Samatol workers have, and as has been repeated often, you can see why the kids think of it as a jail, wishing to run away again. Without this compassion, the same service is not provided and the reduction of the problem (100,000 boys runaway to Mumbai every year) cannot be reduced or solved. Over the two days we were based on the station, it was frustrating but in hindsight good and bad that only 1 boy was found and “rescued”; good that there weren’t many children running away, but bad that if there were any, there was the possibility they could’ve been swept but fingers crossed the latter didn’t happen.

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One runaway found, taking required details

Having met Hariharanji, founder of the Street Children Foundation and previous 3-time runaway, a lot of things were put into perspective following his anecdotal experiences. Firstly, he said you require patience to do the fieldwork job, 8 hours a day, walking from platform to platform, listening to the train arrivals & departures, but to find no child and then do the same the next day again, hats off to these workers. The cliché patience is a virtue applies here, but the main driving force behind doing this work is the passion from these workers; without passion for trying to solve the problem they really wouldn’t be here, and Vijayji would not have begun his work 18 years ago. This passion for work doesn’t stop in this field of social work, it will continue wherever we go, a concept taught in Sangh continuously. We have completed 50 years, but the Mahashibir wasn’t a celebration as such, it was a stepping stone to enhance & refuel the passion in every single Swayamsevak/Sevika who attended in our work in the local Samaj and in building good character and karyakarta. However, within Samatol, there was a problem with some of the office staff, these are those who have come through college as social workers and have decided to join Samatol just to complete their studies, or because it’s in their line of work. They don’t have the passion, do not want to see and understand the Samatol way of working, and thus are pulling the foundation back. The upper management is intent on keeping them, with the attitude “it’s fine, they’re doing the work they’ve been assigned”, but others want them to understand the process in order to comprehend the problem and then work wholeheartedly, rather than not turning up to work (which is where we encountered problems). Hopefully, this attitude will change going forwards.

What was most inspiring was Vijayji’s vision and explaining the problems the organisation is facing, and what needs to happen to overcome these. He wishes to open child welfare centres at every station in Maharashtra, reducing the admin work and increasing participation of the government to improve the service provided for these children. There is a need for this, and through continual exposure and awareness this is possible. His ultimate goal is for “Baal Premi Samaj” or child friendly society, and he aspires to reach there following the words & actions of Swami Vivekananda. The problem in society is the lack of action, and the apathy shown to those less well off on the streets. The answer is friendliness for and education of these children, allowing them to make a life for themselves in the future. Through education of the samaj and the children his vision can become true, and he won’t tire until this dream of his is achieved. His words “those who have strong minds either get killed by society, or they die whilst indulged in their work” citing many Bharat workers like Drji, Guruji, Swami Vivekananda and Bhagat Singh.

Another point Vijayji made is, no matter what dharm, or social background the children come from, he sees them as first and foremost a human being. An important message to take out of this going forwards, firstly a human, then anything else. Which brings me onto Dr Brian Cox’s programme, where he says all life on the earth may have arose from underwater hot springs through a potent mix of chemicals and energy, in the right conditions giving to life. In this same way, we are not much different to all other living beings, and share cell bases with plants as well. If this is remembered by all, then this has the potential to lead to a reduction in the attitude of I’m not helping you because you’re this, and the thoughts of helping can be passed onto nature as well.

We also attended a seminar on the economic crisis from R. Vaidyanathan’s point of view. He expressed how the economic crisis can has risen through the breaking up and reduction in size of the family. Certainly made you think, how families are now nuclear families and potentially could end up as proton families and how consumerism and corporates have played a huge role in this. Along with how the Indian female have always been good at saving through their investment in gold. He also came up with solutions, and really made you consider how the economic crisis can be solved. His last point was, this is not a “Global Economic Crisis, this was a Western Economic Crisis”. Bharat is not suffering the same problem as the European countries are through their cultural heritage and practices, many are actually well off.

Finally, on the 14th, we had the opportunity to visit a Sewa UK project in Bharat called Divya Vidyalay, in Jawhar which provides free education too blind and “Mentally Retarded” children. Upon entering the school, the welcome was just wow, there are no words, the children and staff greeted us and the children gave us each a hand-made flower, and it was wonderful to see and hear stories of the free education these disabled children are receiving. This place is not only set in beautiful scenery, it has many up to date technology like rain water harvesting and provides vocational training to the children. What was amazing to see was the tribal art work and work they’d created that was available to buy. Following this there was a programme where the kids sang and the board of trustees said some words of thanks and took suggestion from the donors. The kids singing was amazing in high spirits, and with Independence Day tomorrow, the patriotic feeling was sinking into the hearts of all. Lastly, we were put on the spot to sing Sangh geet, so quickly chose Dharti ki Shaan, and trying to read it in Hindi got through it, definitely not as impressive as the children. It’s wonderful to see that through this educational programme that these children are being given an opportunity to develop where they may not have done before.

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Divya Vidyalay School for Disabled, Jawhar

Hariharanji’s character is also very interesting, having spoken to him again, he has the aspiration of creating a film based on his story, and all profits raised will go towards the children. Everything he does he wants to give to the children, in order to educate them and give them the essential skills required for future life. This passion is extremely inspiring and there are no words, it’s wonderful speaking to him and his experiences. Lastly we met Gautam, a runaway who has been labelled as an “NGO tourist”. Vijayji and Hariharanji explained how in these other NGOs and in the education system, there is no room available to show/be imaginative. For this reason, Gautam has moved from one place to the next in search of somewhere, and this is what Samatol wishes to offer. Even if it is a written law that children should learn practically their skills, this is not what is happening, and is a big cause of trouble for the children. Arts are very much shunned in society, and if a child can excel in this, they aren’t given the opportunity. Without this the child feels he has no choice but to runaway looking for somewhere to voice this creativity. Hopefully we have the opportunity of hearing about more experiences in the coming weeks.

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Vijayji & Gautam, you can see the bond created in their smiles

Over the past week, it has been attempted to try and adopt the local culture and fit in as much as possible. We have had experiences on the Mumbai local train, during rush hour, where there is no personal space, lots of pushing and shoving and some very sweaty conditions. I thought the London Underground was busy, but this just put it into perspective. Along with this, walking to and from the office, we get to experience the roads, and after a couple of days of tentative road crossing, I have understood how to get across the road quickly and “safely”; this involves a lot of trusting the drivers to see you. One year ago, as Suraj reminded me, in the UK I said I would use pedestrian pelican & zebra crossings where possible, even if it added on a or 5 to my travel as it was the safest route possible, but this has all gone out the window upon getting used to the Indian roads. This new lifestyle will be left here when I start work in London in September I hope.

However, some of the habits that are instilled here are quite rude. Firstly, the dropping of litter, a habit that is put into youngsters through their parents’ actions. There’s no respect for the environment around them. When will people learn that this is not helping the environment around them, and even the small action of putting rubbish in our pocket to put in the bin at home is a step in the right direction. It is awesome seeing the Swacch Bharat campaign volunteers working away, but the habit of throwing rubbish away properly needs to start from a young age. Secondly, the use of “Tss Tss Tss Tss” as their way of saying excuse me, very rude. It’s almost like they are trying the use their mouth as a car horn to say watch out I’m coming through, words would be a lot simpler, although this may just be due to the language barrier between states, but still an “excuse me” equivalent would be nice. The tone of voice spoken here is very loud, it sounds there’s an argument going on everywhere and there’s no softer tone, but I’m sure this will change as time goes on. The other problem being how loud the TV is, meaning that you have to shout to be heard as well. Hopefully my opinions change and the locals actually surprise me with their thoughts and actions in the coming weeks.

On the positive side, we have picked up the pace of our work, my Hindi is coming along a lot better (even though it seems like I’m just making it up, the people all seem to understand what I’m saying) and I can’t wait to dive into the work and complete as much as possible. There are so many more people to speak to, listen to their experiences and advice and so much more to do, so let’s see how the next 3 weeks go.

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Orientation Nerves & Mahashibir

Once we had been accepted, we were notified of 3 orientation days not expecting what to do. Amid all the Mahashibir karya & responsibility for the transport team, this was tough to juggle all the work required around, however the orientations were very informal but informative and aided in calming nerves and preparing us for the project itself.

We were told to prepare for the first orientation with a presentation on a timeline about ourselves, and 5 different events or people that shaped us. Having never presented to the mentors before, I was extremely nervous, have I written the right things, what will they think of me, what questions will they ask, all leading to little sleep that night. This would also be the first time we’d be told about the project we are completing and didn’t know what to expect. It was a huge relief in the morning seeing the familiar face of Suraj and especially Ravi which helped reminisce about previous SSVs and helped calm the nerves. We also got to know a little bit about our mentors so we weren’t total strangers and the ice breakers were a great way to help us communicate and interact with one another whilst also having a little bit of fun. This orientation also began the journey into self-introspection, and delving deeper within ourselves, something that I don’t often do.

The following two continued on this journey of self-introspection and all these different techniques helped push boundaries of thinking about oneself. Along with this, we also had the opportunity to hear real life experiences form 2 Swayamsevaks and Sevikas who had visited Bharat before and completed similar projects. Their experiences, although different in terms of what was completed, aided in calming the nerves with regards to safety and those sort of issues to the extent that even spending one night sleeping on the street (if required) will not be a problem. Their experiences also helped in informing us of the work culture of the Indian population and what to expect and what is expected & required of us. It was also implied that we’d have to use our own initiative & be prepared to visit places, complete tasks we wanted to so as to not affect the normal daily routine of those karyakartas at Samatol.

There were a few messages taken away from the final 2 orientations:

  • We are not there to change the world or their way of working & we won’t be able to
  • YFS is about self-development in an unfamiliar environment, where you will learn a lot more about yourself and develop new skills or enhance current skills further
  • YFS will push you outside your comfort zone and it’s something you have to embrace
  • Hindi will be learnt whilst there and developed (although conversations beforehand also help)
  • You will meet a lot of interesting people with wonderful stories, make sure to converse with them as much as possible and even visit their houses
  • The real relationship with people will be built through visiting houses and spending out of office hours time with them
  • Spending time by yourself & meditating is important and will help take you away from the busy 24/7 life of Mumbaikas & will help in organising thoughts

With these messages in mind I felt a lot more calmed and knew what to expect when I arrive in Mumbai (although this may change upon experience on arrival) so let us see, and hopefully my Hindi will improve whilst there as it is very broken while I’ve been here (although I was 3-0 up against a Hindi teacher at mahashibir on short conversations).

Prior to Mahashibir, most of my thoughts and work were focused on the shibir and YFS was pushed to the back of the mind (however I know it was coming soon). Now my complete focus will be on YFS and preparing for it.

Mahashibir epitomised the work of Sangh in the UK, all 450 karyakartas worked for 19+ hours a day tirelessly and willingly in order to create a memorable parivaar atmosphere for the 2200 people attending at the weekend. It was a time where the 3 concepts of Sangh; Sanskaar, Sewa and Sanghatan could be seen in action and the feedback given reflected upon this.

The biggest showcase of Sewa and Sanghatan during the protests that occurred. A team of 20+ Swayamsevaks were chosen to guard the rest of the 2200 attendees of the Shibir (if required) on the front line, and none of the team took a second thought. They all realised the bigger picture of protecting our brothers and sisters within the Shibir and were ready to sacrifice all their weeks of khel/baudhik planning and participation in order to keep the entire Parivaar safe. This for me was a touching moment and the larger picture of Sanghathan within the organisation.

This week really showcased Hindu Dharma in action and hopefully this experience will help the way we work in Bharat as well as hoping to find the Hindu Dharma within people in Bharat as well. I will try to remember that every action will have a consequence, and to weigh up which benefits the most people prior to completing any task. This project will be a test and will push me to some emotional and physical limits, however I feel as if I am prepared now to head to Bharat following the orientations, and now packed and ready for the 5am drive from Rugby.

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YFS – Why & Initial Thoughts

Sewa in its simplest form is Selfless Service and to me it is greater than charity work through the relationships / personal touch made with those that you are serving. Due to my background as a Swayamsevak, the act of Sewa is promoted and is of great focus within our work, and any opportunity, no matter how small or large, should be taken if you are able to.

For this reason, there was no second thought as to signing up for this “new” initiative, Youth for Sewa when I first heard about it from a fellow Swayamsevak. Having completed the formal questions of what is the project, what does it involve, where will it be, I was convinced this would be a great opportunity to serve the Indian community after graduating from university and before starting a career, and not knowing when another opportunity like this may come along.

Completing a 4-week project in India will be challenging, working in a different environment, acclimatising to the conditions in 2 days, and throwing ourselves in the deep end, however I feel this will bring out the real me. It will test my natural abilities, as well as developing & enhancing new skills like marketing, all useful in my future life. The project will certainly be well outside my comfort zone created over the last few years living at home, however I feel as if I can definitely call upon those skills developed during the World Challenge Expedition to Nepal in 2010.

Having told my parents that I am considering completing this project, they were didn’t take any time in saying yes, and saying they will support me throughout the journey I will be undertaking. They had no second thoughts in saying “go for it” and from then on I was excited to undertake this.

The past times I have visited to India have always been as a tourist or only visiting family, living with the comforts of life as if it were home. This will be a completely different experience for me, living with someone who I’ve never met before, working with a lot of different wonderful people of all backgrounds, and this will all help me learn about myself.

I have been told that learning to speak Hindi will be a necessity, and I am anxious knowing that my Hindi is very much broken / non-existent and don’t know how I will be able to learn within 1 month of finishing exams to heading out to India.

I am excited to be a part of the first year of taking on this challenge and being able to try and serve the Indian community, but also nervous as I do not know what to expect and the how far out of my comfort zone I will be. I am sure the project will be both physically and mentally challenging, but following the interview process, I feel as if I am capable hands with the YFS team and am looking forward to completing this. A bit of time left prior to the project so let us see what happens.

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