One Last Lesson in Faith from Raghuhbai

Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Feb 9, 2014

It's just been a couple of hours since I heard the news. One of my dearest friends, and inspirations, whom some people called a 'Love Warrior' passed away last night in a road accident on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Raghu Makwana, or Raghu Palathi as he was fondly known in his communities was driving on his three-wheeled motorcyle to a relatives home before he came to his untimely death at the age of 29. 

Most of you who know me, or have been associated with this blog would be familiar with the story of Raghu. When he was only 1 year old, he developed polio in both his legs and was limited to a life of walking with the help of both his hands along the ground. It's hard to imagine a mental state one would have in such a situation. You'd expect resentment, negativity and a state of resignation. Or perhaps that's what we are conditioned to expect. 

Not Raghu. Raghu was an anomaly. A flag that stood in all those winds of Maslows theories and conversations that said you need 'atleast this much' to be in a 'giving' frame of mind. Raghu was an anomaly was because he ran on something that none of these theories seemed to factor in - an unextinguishable, un-definable and at times irrational value called Faith.

At the age of 20, Raghu left home in his village to live a life of contribution. Armed with merely 300 rupees in his pocket, but loads of that faith. Through various serendipitous encounters, he found himself in the eco-system of the Gandhi ashram and eventually serving women and homes in the Slum community. Stories of his journey and acts of generosity are endless. But some of my most transformational moments with him came through the smallest conversations.

Often, over the last few years there were times when I'd be feeling scarce. After conversations with friends and family I'd wonder how I'll look after myself. Inevitably I would come across Raghu bhai at these times and sit down with him for a conversation. It's hard to explain what transpires in such interactions. Here I am with my bank balance, intellectual capital, skills, a family structure that support me, and right next to me was a man with limited physical capability, a bank balance that would last me a few days and almost no family support to speak of. Yet, his radiant eyes and shining teeth would send forth the most beautiful intentions you could imagine - 'Siddharth bhai, how can we serve our friends more?'

Through the last three years that I've known him, we've had several adventures in faith together. Some of my closest friends have spend hours driving through the slums with him to get a glimpse of the fuel that moves him. Leaders of organizations, intellectuals, injured dogs lying in the gutters of a slum, or kids that would be bubbling with enthusiasm on his backseat - everyone has been on one of his incredible rides. He would embrace it all as he zipped through the narrow mud roads of the 'Tekra'. Smiles and waves would cheer him on as his motorbike clattered with the food for the elderly women he served. 

Sometimes, we would head out for what I called Mini-pilgrimages - walks with no money or telephones. Raghu would be on his tricycle with a musical instrument in hand, and me on my feet. Through walks like those you could see his secret sauce to life. Squatting on the floor he was always at a vantage point. It was almost as if he was forced to approach each situation and person with humility, and that allowed him to see the divinity in everyone. From his funders. to kids that he served on Sundays, everyone was a manifestation of the Divinity, or 'One above', or 'Upar Wala' as he called it.



Once, while we were returning from one of his numerous talks - we were both hungry. It was past lunchtime, and we hadn't figured out where we would be eating that day. I found the car parked outside the McDonalds on Ashram Road. Immediately, I cringed - this Golden Arch represented every value I did not approve of. But not with Raghu, he looks at it and says innocently - 'I've heard about this Mc Donalds place a lot - lets just eat here'. I walk in, with Raghu behind me walking on his two hands. Clearly, this was not what the McDonalds staff and guests are used to - we were a unique combination, Raghu and I. It was a weekday afternoon, and we go through the queue and get our food really quick. As we sat on our table, my eyes were darting around the room to see everyone's attention come our way. Raghu, was used to it though - glances from people, often with pity, wondering how he lived his life. But he held them with grace, almost to say 'I can see why you're suffering when you look at me, but honestly, I'm pretty happy :)'

Gradually, one of the guests mustered the courage to come over. As I saw him walk over, I tried to make it a bit more comfortable for him. Immediately, I introduced him to Raghu and told him a bit about his work. As people saw us talking, more guests joined in. Slowly, even the janitor, and attendants at McDonalds came into our circle. Stories were shared about Raghu in the slums, the women he served and the homes he offered Tulsi plants to. How he lived in the spirit of Service, and how his 'upar wala' always took care of him. 

I took a step back and was amazed - here we were, in a McDonalds! Raghu's presence had transformed it into a temple of sorts. All around, you could see people inspired by the way he lived his life. That was the true work of Raghubhai. It wasn't limited to the meals he offered to the aged women in the community, or the hundreds of Tulsi plants he offered to homes in the slum - it extended out to the thousands of people who had been touched by his spirit. As the emails and Facebook posts pour in form across the world, you start to get a glimpse of what his true impact really was. 


As I write this, I'm still struggling to come to terms with his passing. I notice my mind can't help but drift to the most obvious question - 'Why do Bad things happen to Good people?' or 'Why would a soul that dedicated so much of his life to alleviate the suffering of others go like this?' or 'Why did he have to ride his bike on the highway on that particular day?'

I see myself taken over by a whirlwind of confusion as I start to imagine a hostile world that's out to get us. Immediately, I hear Raghu's voice from within - his eyes shining bright as he says with a smile. 'You can't have all the answers Siddharth bhai. We just have to have faith that the 'Upar Wala' has something beautiful in store for us. We just have to keep playing our part on this beautiful stage called Life'

~ Jai Jagat ~ 

Posted by Siddharth Sthalekar on Feb 9, 2014 | permalink


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  • Madhu wrote ...

    After polio, Raghu Makwana lost his legs.  He had to walk with the support of his hands.A long time back, a few friends took a walk on the street with the inspiration to do a small act of kindness.  After some searching, two of them saw Raghu arranging the shoes that people had left outside the temple.  Given his condition, their first impulse was to do something for him, but when they conversed with him, they quickly realized that they were actually receiving a lot more than they  See full.

    After polio, Raghu Makwana lost his legs.  He had to walk with the support of his hands.A long time back, a few friends took a walk on the street with the inspiration to do a small act of kindness.  After some searching, two of them saw Raghu arranging the shoes that people had left outside the temple.  Given his condition, their first impulse was to do something for him, but when they conversed with him, they quickly realized that they were actually receiving a lot more than they could give him.  Raghu's big-hearted devotion coupled with a sharp and street-smart intellect profoundly impressed them, so much so that they spoke about him to their nonprofit mentor Jayeshbhai, and ended up making him financially self-reliant.
     
    Raghu's impluse of kindness is ever-present.  One of his many kindness endeavors is the Tulsi project.  Whenever he learns of a family (mostly in the slums nearby, the largest in the large Indian state of Gujarat) with some dispute or even violent abuse, Raghu courageously walks in to spread good cheer and gifts them a tulsi plant.  Most of these are complete strangers.  Sometimes he'll recite a prayer, sometimes he'll talk about wise saints, sometimes he'll share stories.  Hearing hopeful messages from a young man without legs is quite transformative!  When he leaves the holy Tulsi plant, people accept it as a blessing; and as they nurture the plant, and are reminded of its presence everyday, they sometimes grow in empathy.  To date, he has given out more than 500 of these plants, one at a time.
     
    Let alone folks in the slums, Raghu even attracts famous people. :)  Once, a philanthropist gave a talk to the slum kids and described the experience of flying in a plane.  A few weeks later, through wild serendipity, it so turned out that Spice Jet Airlines donated an entire plane for that whole group of slum children and young adults, including Raghu, to "fly in the air".  Miss India herself received them at the airport, and personally chatted with Raghu about life in the slums, as they were all gifted a royal tour of a big city.  Even more recently, when Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the former president of India, was giving a talk, he was so inspired by Raghu that he not only invited him on stage but also opened his talk with: "When I asked Raghu what is your dream in life, he said only one thing: 'I want to see the women of India and their children smile.' "
     
    In Nadiad, during the 'I am the Change' film project, college students produced a video on him too:

     
    As a Lok Mitra fellow for our Moved By Love posse, Raghu continues to shine his compassion quotient in creative ways.  To start 2011, Raghu gave birth to one of his dreams.  When he lived out on the streets, he often felt deeply moved by others on the streets who had even less than him. He made a vow to himself that he would return to serve them one day, and that day had arrived for him.  He put together a team of five everyday folks, (one of whom is blind!), who would make small sacrifices in their own lives to support delivery of hand-cooked meals for some of the absolutely neglected people on the streets.  They appropriately named it "Tyaag Nu Tiffin" (Food of Sacrifice).   Everyday at 12:30PM and at 7:30PM, Raghu starts off on his hand tricycle to deliver the food.  It's the same food he himself eats, but he won't eat it until he has finished his round of offerings.
     
    In a recent feature in Times of India, Raghu notes: "I'm not doing anything great. I'm not on a mission to change the world. God has been very kind to me in my struggle to survive. Now it is my turn to repay the kindness by helping other needy human beings."

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  • Tharanath G wrote ...

    I strongly agree with Raghu bhai..Dear friend with a bigsmile and amazing energy to spread the message of love.
    we only can play our part with all heart and humility. Rest is not our hands. Some one there up above is there to worry about..
    my love and prayers are with his devine soul..I know he will be in peace where he is . May be that uperwala has a better task cut out for him.

  • Aditi wrote ...

    To describe Raghu bhai's spirit would be to attempt to describe the mixture of pure love, joy, and service embodied. When you were around him you, you felt an infectious sense of possibility. Many of us discovered Gandhiji's ideals and spirit within the flow of service at Manav Sadhna and Gramshree. We left with a renewed faith in the possibility within each of us. We were so emboldened because our encounters with people like Raghu bhai convinced us that the Gandhi Ashram was anything bu  See full.

    To describe Raghu bhai's spirit would be to attempt to describe the mixture of pure love, joy, and service embodied. When you were around him you, you felt an infectious sense of possibility. Many of us discovered Gandhiji's ideals and spirit within the flow of service at Manav Sadhna and Gramshree. We left with a renewed faith in the possibility within each of us. We were so emboldened because our encounters with people like Raghu bhai convinced us that the Gandhi Ashram was anything but a relic of the past. Raghu bhai was a modern day love warrior. And equipped with nothing more than his cycle, the champal (shoes) that he wore on his hands, and that beaming, unforgettable smile he unlocked the latent power in everyone to love and be loved.

    Many of you are already familiar with his countless efforts to serve. In his recent endeavors with  Tyag Nu Tiffin, he did so much more than provide meals, twice a day, to the elderly in Ramapir No Tekro who didn't have anyone to look after them. He became their friend, their son, their rock. Raghu bhai saw God in everyone, but to some, the closest they ever felt to God was when they were with him -- witnessing his radical generosity first-hand. 

    Part of Raghu bhai's power, part of what fueled that inspiring inner confidence of his, was Raghu bhai's unflinching clarity. Raghu bhai was never out to show the world how many meals he could deliver, because for him, getting to an old woman's house was just the beginning. The project may end when the food arrives but what happened afterwards -- the chai, the chatting, the small errands, the spontaneous field trips, the late-night requests for help -- that's where the parivartan (change) and parivar (family) begins. Often without telling anyone, often spending money of his own, it is truly too numerous to count the number of times Raghu bhai seflessly inserted himself as a positive force into difficult situations in the slum. When he was called upon, he arrived. Perhaps that is why his last moments were on the road, because when he was on that cycle he was always responding to a calling greater than his own. When questioned about how he retained his clarity, especially when he became entangled in family situations that were inevitably confusing or complicated, he would confidently answer, "If we see the bad in other's you'll find the bad in yourself. There's bad in all of us. But I'm going to see the positive in them. And to do that, I must see the positive in myself."

    When I spent a year working alongside Raghu Bhai at Gramshree, I would sometimes notice the reactions of first-time visitors on their first encounter with Raghu bhai. They'd watch Raghu bhai and the environment around him and become transfixed. Raghu bhai was a paraplegic but he never drew attention to himself. And I would notice that it was precisely because of that, that newcomers would stop in their tracks. The Gramshree family would be laughing with him, joking with him, running around him to get to their next piece of work, arguing with him, listening to him sing, begging him to sing with that melodious voice of his, but never pausing to acknowledge he navigated life without two legs. It's almost as though we had all forgotten the strength his every day took. Though we might not have recognized it each day we were around him, slowly slowly his spirit, his confidence, they infused us with so much possibility, with a boundless hope that in this world, truly anything is possible. 

    Raghu bhai also had an uncanny ability, amid everything he was already doing, to make us feel the immense love of his gratitude. He would so genuinely be grateful for our company. He proudly spoke of photos of volunteers he had printed out and would happily recount story after story of sharing his days with others. Each time, for a year at Gramshree, I would tell him "thank you" from something, he responded without fail by mocking me "Are, su fanku fanku karu choo?"  And it is from him, and that loving joke, that I adopted a phrase into my own vocabulary. Sometimes when those closest to me tell me thank you, I respond with a "It's not a thank you thing" to me meaning, it is an "I love you" thing. 

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  • Amit wrote ...

    Almost 3.5 years ago, I came to Jayeshbhai's house but because it was so late, everything was locked and I didn't want to wake anyone.  Not knowing what to do, my friend and I went to the other side of the street to Gramshree.  Raghu-bhai was staying there at the time and he woke up hearing our plight from outside the door, he welcomed us in with sweet loving arms and even sang devotional songs with us that late evening.  Here are two video recordings from that night: Happ  See full.

    Almost 3.5 years ago, I came to Jayeshbhai's house but because it was so late, everything was locked and I didn't want to wake anyone.  Not knowing what to do, my friend and I went to the other side of the street to Gramshree.  Raghu-bhai was staying there at the time and he woke up hearing our plight from outside the door, he welcomed us in with sweet loving arms and even sang devotional songs with us that late evening.  Here are two video recordings from that night: Happy New Year, and Tribute to Gujarat. On my last visit there, I told him how my wife had taken care of me after I had been injured and so as a tribute he sang this song about the divine in each of us. There are so many Raghu-bhai stories.?  I will miss him dearly, and I pray that his spirit continues to soar in its full glory through each of us. 

          

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  • Neil wrote ...

    Beautiful reflections my friend, he was such a pure soul. May his soul be blessed on its onward journey

  • Somik Raha wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing this, Siddharth. For those of us who haven't met him, this gives us much pause and inspiration.

  • Sandeep wrote ...

    I thought I'd share this photo of him with you all:



  • dev dugal wrote ...

    Great piece on Raghu. Glad to have the opportunity to meet this soul during my last visit. His legacy and warmth will live on.

  • Amrita wrote ...

    I can never forget the day I spent with Raghu Bhai sitting behind him on his scooter. It is one of those days that will continue to inspire me all my life. We left with packed dabbas that had to be delivered to the homes of the elderly in the slums nearby. The entire ride till we reached there I couldn't help but wonder what drives a person to do this everyday. And it really is 'faith'. We got there and went to every house to give out the dabbas. Raghu Bhai received blessings from everyone the  See full.

    I can never forget the day I spent with Raghu Bhai sitting behind him on his scooter. It is one of those days that will continue to inspire me all my life.

    We left with packed dabbas that had to be delivered to the homes of the elderly in the slums nearby. The entire ride till we reached there I couldn't help but wonder what drives a person to do this everyday. And it really is 'faith'. We got there and went to every house to give out the dabbas. Raghu Bhai received blessings from everyone there. Almost every other person we passed by on the street either stopped to talk or called out to him. While we were on our way outside one of the houses a lady called to say that there is a little puppy dog who had been sick. Raghu bhai stopped and found out everything about it and told her that we would come back to get it. As soon as we finished delivering the dabbas Raghu Bhai headed back to her house. We picked up the dog and left for the animal hospital. On the long ride to the hospital I kept thinking about this 'faith' he had. If it wasn't for the faith that Raghu bhai had, this dog would have easily just remained in the community without anyone knowing. To believe that taking the dog to the hospital will ensure that he would live longer was another instance of this very 'faith'. We waited till the dog was treated and we took him back to where we found him.

    It makes me really sad today to hear about this. Raghu bhai really is and will always be a symbol of undying faith for me.

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  • DESH DEEPAK SHARMA wrote ...

    A great soul serves everyone all the time. A great soul never dies. It brings us together again and again.

  • Purvi wrote ...

    A great soul..!! Every one who met him even once was inspired by his spirit of service and beautiful smile..!! He will always be in my heart and keep inspiring me.

  • Ani wrote ...

    Dearest Siddharth,
    Such a beautiful tribute you have shared on Raghu.. thank you. Indeed, those questions you speak of have no appropriate answers.We can only continue being inspired by his spirit of a Love Warrior, and be grateful we were blessed to have had his soul touch our lives.

  • Colleen wrote ...

    This was painted the night before and the day of Raghubhai's accident. It was originally painted the other way around with the drippings falling down. After I got off the phone with our India family and learned of Raghubhai's transition, I glanced over and saw that the painting was showing me a new way of looking at it.     I lived with Raghubhai at the Craftroots office for the 3.5 months (on and off) that I was in Ahmedabad. During that small slice of time, we  See full.

    This was painted the night before and the day of Raghubhai's accident. It was originally painted the other way around with the drippings falling down. After I got off the phone with our India family and learned of Raghubhai's transition, I glanced over and saw that the painting was showing me a new way of looking at it.  
     
    I lived with Raghubhai at the Craftroots office for the 3.5 months (on and off) that I was in Ahmedabad. During that small slice of time, we became like a little family.  I'd wake up early in the morning to see Raghubhai making us chai (even though he doesn't drink caffeine), big bright smile, singing "Jesse Krishna! Good morning Colleen-ben!". We'd all take turns to run out and buy milk and breakfast. So many memories, countless meals, morning meditations and prayers, singing, garba dancing, gujarati language lessons in broken english - all in our little office home. 

    We sat our first 10-day Vipassana course together, along with 11 other noble friends.  I remember helping Raghubhai fill out the application.  One of the questions was "Are you disabled?"  I read the question to Raghubhai.  He looked down at himself, looked back up at me, and with the most confused look said "No! I am no disable!"  My heart warmed, and I responded "You're right Raghubhai.  You no disabled!"  Check!

    The last question on that application was "Why do you want to take this course?"  Raghubhai's answer: "I want to purify myself even more so that I can serve more people"  He was selfless even with his own spirituality.

    To me, Raghubhai is like a love security blanket.  There's a place in me that felt that if Raghu is in this world sharing his light, that the earth will stay on its axis.  That there is still hope and love in the world. What's coming up for me now, as I reflect on Raghubhai's life and that slice in time that I spent with him are questions to myself.  How can I live more fully and authentically like Raghubhai?  How can I serve the world with my expression more deeply?  How can I also be a security blanket?
       
    Raghubhai and I didn't speak the same language.  Most of our conversations were through the heart.  There isn't a day that passes that I don't access Raghubhai's love through my own heart.  And for some reason, now that he's transitioned, I can feel his love even more. 

    With deep gratitude.

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  • Pavi wrote ...

    It didn't seem possible at first. I read the news of Raghubhai's passing late last night. I'd just gotten up from meditation, and the words I was reading on the screen made no sense. How could he be gone, just like that? Raghu whose flashing smile I can still see so clearly when I close my eyes. Raghu who made a playful game of sneaking up next to us to touch our feet, before darting away, so quick and graceful on his hands, his incapacitated legs folded neatly beneath him. Raghu who could sing  See full.

    It didn't seem possible at first. I read the news of Raghubhai's passing late last night. I'd just gotten up from meditation, and the words I was reading on the screen made no sense. How could he be gone, just like that? Raghu whose flashing smile I can still see so clearly when I close my eyes. Raghu who made a playful game of sneaking up next to us to touch our feet, before darting away, so quick and graceful on his hands, his incapacitated legs folded neatly beneath him. Raghu who could sing to God with a voice strong-winged as a bird, Raghu who found wholeness in broken places and learned to serve with a love that defied physical limitations. In the brief time I spent with him, he made me want to be a better human being. And now, though I didn't know him nearly as well as many others did, like all his brothers and sisters in service I feel a gaping Raghu-shaped hole in the universe.

    After reading the news I sat down in tears, on the cushion I'd just risen from. And as I began to meditate a small voice inside said quietly, "He knew he was here to love and serve. He loved. He served. He lived a full life. Who are you crying for?" And I realized that I was crying for me and all the many of us who simply wish we'd had more time in a world that had him in it. And in that moment there was no grief only a wordless sense of awe and gratitude for the life he'd lived.

    One of my favorite memories of Raghu is from several years ago. And it has nothing to do with his countless acts of compassion or his heroic generosity. It was a moment that gave me a glimpse of his whimsical side and his sense for the poetic. We were a big group meditating at Sughad, sitting together under the night sky. At the end of the hour we opened our eyes and went around in a circle sharing reflections. When it was his turn Raghu spoke in Gujarati and his voice was full of laughter. He said before closing his eyes he'd looked up at the sky and seen the crescent moon with a single star below it. "And all through the meditation I was thinking how perfect it would be if the star had been positioned just a little higher. Then at the end when I opened my eyes there it was right where I'd wanted it." We all looked up then, at the beautiful sight of a bright single star cradled in the silver curve of the moon. "I really need to learn how to focus better when I'm meditating," Raghu said smiling sheepishly. And I remember thinking then that he must have the soul of an artist or a poet. Because who else imagines rearranging the stars like that? There are other memories of course. Of sitting down to a meal with him and hearing from someone else how that very morning he'd stopped a woman from committing suicide simply by stopping and listening to her tell her story and giving her a cup of chai. There's the memory of weaving through the slums riding triples with my sister on his scooter laden with gleaming tiffin-boxes. The way I remember it, it was like riding with royalty. Children and puppies and grandmothers and schoolteachers and shopkeepers in tumbledown shacks all seemed to know him -- they came running out of their homes, lifted their hands in greeting, or shouted out his name like he was one of their own. And he was. I remember marveling at how well he knew the lives he served. How he stopped to touch the feet of one, and to check on the health of another, how he delighted the kids and how he never just dropped off food at someone's doorstep, but always went inside and sat down as if this one person was the only person on earth that he needed to be with.

    He had such humor and dignity. I think of his straight-backed poise, and his way of looking directly at people when he talked to them. I think of his ready smile and the nobility of his heart. Noble. The word fits him well. He was truly a Noble Friend to all of us who knew him. He was one of those rare people who truly understood that in helping others we help ourselves, and in healing others it is we who heal.

    He was such a luminous star in our lives. And I can't help thinking that now maybe he's just changed his position a little -- to find that perfect place in the sky.

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  • Alissa wrote ...

     “If I see the bad in people, then I’m seeing the bad in myself. There’s bad in all of us. But, I’m going to see the positive in them. And if I see good in myself, then I can see the good in others.” –Raghu Makwana The summer sun sizzling on the pavement, Burning heat on your skin, Relief of a warm breeze, Rhythmic honking, Clouds of dust in your eyes, Bumps in the road, as you clench onto nothing, Swerving around  See full.

     “If I see the bad in people, then I’m seeing the bad in myself. There’s bad in all of us. But, I’m going to see the positive in them. And if I see good in myself, then I can see the good in others.” –Raghu Makwana

    The summer sun sizzling on the pavement, Burning heat on your skin, Relief of a warm breeze, Rhythmic honking, Clouds of dust in your eyes, Bumps in the road, as you clench onto nothing, Swerving around a river of stray dogs, slow moving cows, motorbikes, children.

    raghuThe sweet smell of chai (tea). Laughter, Gleaming eyes, Bright smiles. The voice of Raghu, giggling.  “Raghu-bhai!!  Raghu-bhai!!” the joyful children scream as Raghu zooms past them through the narrow, maze-like alleyways of the slums. Balancing 17 tiffins (stackable meal containers) on his motorbike, Raghu Makwana delivers food to the elderly who live alone in the nearby slum areas. These majis and kakas (grandmas and grandpas) are physically unable to work, widowed, and don’t have a family to lean on, except for Raghu. Without his tiffin deliveries, these elders would have no choice but to return to the chili and water they were eating before Raghu found them.

    Tyaag Nu Tiffin (“Food of Sacrifice”) organically grew in 2010 when Raghu Makwana started using the little money he had to feed three of his elderly friends. During the day, Raghu works at Gramshree, a NGO serving the women in the slums of Ahmedabad, India. Over the years, he’s built a kinship with these people, all of them turning to him like a brother (“bhai”). Catching wind of his generosity, Raghu’s friends began sacrificing a meal per week to save money for Tyaag Nu Tiffin. Three years later, with the help of the Pollination Project grant and a community of supporters who continue to sacrifice a meal per week, the project now serves 17 elders. Tyaag Nu Tiffin has transformed from serving food to three women to becoming a vehicle for others to give.

    Raghu deeply understands the suffering of the community he serves.  Struck with polio as a child, Raghu has no use of his legs. He grew up in a rural village, and moved to Ahmedabad to earn money for his family.  Unlike many people with his same condition, Raghu refused to beg for money. He always believed that he has a greater purpose in this world. Instead, Raghu decided to go to a nearby temple and quietly straighten shoes. Every morning he would show up at the temple to serve, and each night he would return to the streets to sleep. Raghu shares, “When I came to the Iskcon temple, I did not receive food or love.  I know what it is like…you have to give people the benefit of the doubt – that’s what I was given.”

    Walking on his hands, wearing flip-flops like we would gloves, smiling from ear to ear, singing, laughing, full of joy and wonder, full of life and love, Raghu has nothing and everything. He doesn’t look at his condition as a disability; he looks at it as a gift – an opportunity to connect at the heart and serve. His openness brings people in, his inner strength gives them wisdom, and his service regenerates his energy. Serving Tyaag Nu Tiffin’s majis and kakas keeps his internal flame lit, a flame that gives the communities around him hope, a flame that fills his soul with peace and joy, a flame that lights the flame in each of us, one by one.

    17 people. Two meals per day. Every day.

    Through hot summer days, drenching monsoon rain, Raghu’s commitment to these elders is impermeable. Because of Raghu’s commitment, he has become a brother and son to everyone in the slum area. When there is a family dispute, sickness, or death, the community turns to Raghu for support, to serve as their voice. “Raghu-bhai really goes beyond doing just his duty of delivering tiffins. He has assisted families living on the streets suffering from domestic violence, broken up physical fights between mostly misdirected youth, taken children out to the movies that normally wouldn’t get this opportunity, especially the young girls, some of whom have never been out, or left their community pre-marriage,” shares Varsha Mathrani, a volunteer from the USA.

    With a heart full of compassion, Raghu serves each person, one at a time, through one small act at a time. Observing a young man, who walks on his hands through the slums to serve has both uplifted and empowered the people around him.  It empowers the surrounding community to help one another. It plants seeds in the hearts of volunteers who come from all over the world that have joined him on his tiffin deliveries. “Experiencing Raghu’s life today made me feel the closest I’ve been to God…it makes us think of little good deeds we can do in our daily lives with no expectation of receiving anything in return. To actually DO something to make this a better place,” reflects Fernando Grajeda, a volunteer from Guatemala. Monetary contributions evolved from food to energy that continues to flow and ripple out. The impact of the energy sparked by this grant is immeasurable.

    From the outside, Tyaag Nu Tiffin can be seen as a service that helps the elders. In actuality, it is a service that offers all of us the opportunity to share the light that is in each of us.

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  • Sudhir wrote ...

    Those whom the Gods love, they take away from us early !

  • Neil Patel wrote ...

    Raghu Makwana, a friend and long-time pillar of the Manav Sadhna ecosystem, passed away yesterday. Lot of people closer to him (UPDATE: beautiful writeupby Sid) will probably be posting more detailed tributes about him and his work, I want to share some of my reflections on what he did and who he was, and what it means to me. Raghu was a true unsung hero. He wasn't famous, he didn't have followers, his work was small. But it was done with a deep purity and with a vast amo  See full.

    Raghu Makwana, a friend and long-time pillar of the Manav Sadhna ecosystem, passed away yesterday. Lot of people closer to him (UPDATE: beautiful writeupby Sid) will probably be posting more detailed tributes about him and his work, I want to share some of my reflections on what he did and who he was, and what it means to me.

    Raghu was a true unsung hero. He wasn't famous, he didn't have followers, his work was small. But it was done with a deep purity and with a vast amount of love. He was a real-life manifestation of Mother Teresa's credo: "We can do no great things; only small things with great love".

    I will remember a few personal moments with Raghu. First was his smile and his loving embrace. Having no legs, he was low to the ground, so to give him a hug you'd often have to crouch down on the ground. But it never felt unnatural or abnormal. In fact his "disability" didn't enter my conciousness much if at all when interacting with him. That may be one of his most inspiring qualities. He had such dignity, he never let you feel sorry for him.

    And he never felt sorry for himself. As Amitabh shared today during the funeral, he was a modern-day Shravan. Instead of asking his parents to take care of him, he took care of his parents and his entire family.

    He took care of so many others as well. He treated the 30+ maa-jis he served through Tyaag Nu Tiffin like his own mothers. Jayeshbhai noted today that he would feed all of them before he ate himself. So he acted like a mother to them. That motherly love is close to Godly love. Jayeshbhai called Raghu "baghwaan nu maanas" ("man of god"). And that's why he left us so early; God called him up to do His work.

    I will never forget Fernando's sharing during an Awaking circle just after he had spent a day making the tiffin rounds with Raghu on his custom-made hand-pedalled cycle. Fernando was an MS volunteer from Guatemala. That day when he saw Raghu interacting with the maa-jis, he felt closer to God than he had ever felt. People were confused about him coming to volunteer in India. Why were you going? Were you depressed or crazy? Why are you leaving your good career and all your friends? Fernando didn't have an answer to the question until that day with Raghu. That day, he realized he had come to India to tell his "masterpiece" love story, and it was about a man with polio in an Indian slum serving meals to old women.

    Countless others have been  touched by Raghu's feats of love. Abdul Kalam once saluted him and presented him an award. Jayeshbhai shared that a volunteer from the other side of the world heard about Raghu's passing and called him, crying and crying. She was from a different country, followed a different tradition, observed a different religion, spoke a different language, but had connected with Raghu's heart. And so she was crying and crying about how this soul could have left us so suddenly.

    Nisha and I talked tonight about pure work. Without putting any labels on it himself, Raghu did pure, heartfelt work. I remember speaking to him a year or so ago after his first 10-day, he had a visible glow. He had seen how the inner work connected with the outer, how he had connected the dots and gained a spiritual perspective to performing each action. He got it. And since then he had put it into practice.

    These days I find myself thinking about legacy more that I probably should (read:EGO). What is Raghu's legacy, now that he is no more? His work was a drop in the ocean, but it was so pure, done with genuine love, beyond seeking self-congratulation or external accolades. And that purity itself rippled out. Fernando wasn't moved because Raghu was an exemplary social entrepreneur. He was moved by the depth of Raghu's compassion and love.

    I find myself feeling more and more that for me planting seeds of compassion and love is the only legacy worth striving for.

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  • Olivia wrote ...

    I am absolutely devastated by the news about our dear friend Raghubhai. From my second day as a volunteer at Gramshree, Raghubhai welcomed me with open arms and from that moment on, we became very close friends. Everyday we would go into the slums to distribute tiffins to all the elderly who have no family left and we would sing and laugh all the way. Every morning we would pray together and with his limited english he would always say "Happy happy happy?" Our favourite song to sing together was  See full.

    I am absolutely devastated by the news about our dear friend Raghubhai. From my second day as a volunteer at Gramshree, Raghubhai welcomed me with open arms and from that moment on, we became very close friends. Everyday we would go into the slums to distribute tiffins to all the elderly who have no family left and we would sing and laugh all the way. Every morning we would pray together and with his limited english he would always say "Happy happy happy?" Our favourite song to sing together was "Why this kolaveri Di" which was a hit in India at the time. Raghu would also teach us some words in Gujurati every day. He took us on adventures and introduced us to another world. With a friend who was volunteering with me, Laura, we would say that when we left Manav Sadhna, whenever we were sad, we would think of Raghubhai and his warm smile and big embrace and remember him saying "happy happy happy!". Raghubhai made a huge impact on my life. At a time when I was lost, he helped me find myself. I will never forget him. RIP my friend

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  • Laura wrote ...

    There are no words strongs enought to explaın what I feel about thıs tragıc event.
    I realıse that we lost more than a frıend, a enlıghted soul.
    He ıs so close to truth, love and compassıon that I m not worryıng for hıs soul, and I even could thınk about how he ıs stıll and stıll wıll enlıght us.
    I agree wıth you, we should not stop and turn around thıs feelıng horrıble feelıng who saıd of ınjustıce.
    I saw than Sandeep shared the portraıt I dıd of hım last year. I m very touched about ıt.
    I was thınkıng fews days ago how I wıll gıft ıt to hım when I wıll met hım agaın.
    It wıll stay a gıft to hım.
    Sendıng to you all my support and love.
    May we carry on spreadıng love, compassıon, joy, lıght and anythıng who ıs Raghubhaıng.
    Laura.

  • Srijan wrote ...

    This is a small remembrance and condolence I requested from Dr Kalam for the bereaved family. Dr Kalam wants this to be translated in Gujarati and then we can deliver this letter to the family whenever you go there. If nothing else, it is just a way to show how we truly value our "copper coins" (from the Mahatma Gandhi and old woman story):

  • Robin wrote ...

    Raghu, I am so sad to hear that you are physically no longer with us...what I remember most is your beautiful voice, your musicality. Your true passion for music and expression was what touched me. Whenever I practiced tabla or taught music, you came by to watch and participate. We even got to play tabla and sing together a few times. I had the privilege of accompanying you on one of your many selfless service days, where you delivered tiffins to so many needy families...it was humbling for me to see your tireless devotion, it inspired me constantly. Your smile radiated joy. We love you always.

  • Bela wrote ...

    It has only been a few days since dear Raghubhai's passing and I've been feeling so moved by everyone's reflections on the kind of humanbeing he was and how to honor his life and values....each reflection has felt like a mirror held up to my heart in moments overwhelmed by confusion and sadness.... This morning while sharing breakfast with Colleen, I understood in the silence of the bright yellow sunlight that Raghubhai's polio was in a way like a "gift"....we don't usually think of polio as a  See full.

    It has only been a few days since dear Raghubhai's passing and I've been feeling so moved by everyone's reflections on the kind of humanbeing he was and how to honor his life and values....each reflection has felt like a mirror held up to my heart in moments overwhelmed by confusion and sadness....

    This morning while sharing breakfast with Colleen, I understood in the silence of the bright yellow sunlight that Raghubhai's polio was in a way like a "gift"....we don't usually think of polio as a gift but not being able to walk, always sitting with his legs crossed at the feet of elderly women and noble friends allowed him to literally serve with such humility and grace...he told me a few times, "Everyone tries to make me a hero but I only want to make myself a zero."

    Not being able to stand tall and be at eye level with most of the human world, walking on his hands to offer his presence to anyone that needed love, and holding space while sitting cross legged at the feet of so many that felt alone or unheard....Raghubhai's physical "disability" served as a tool for constantly reminding him of being "zero"....it was his embrace of zero that made the rest of us feel like a hero in his presence of love.

    What I learned from Raghubhai about life....the lessons are quietly emerging from the silence and stillness....he shared that he always tried to see the good in everyone...seeing the good in others helped him to see the good in himself and vice versa....that is one lesson that shines in the forefront of my heart and mind in this moment...one lesson that I will sit with in the coming days....

    My husband Tejas shared his reflections with me and I would also like to share them here:

    "How beautiful this soul was.... You know this is in a way a new beginning for him...Wherever his soul is now, he will again begin this 'Tapsiya' of selfless service...

    There is one saying in Gujarati..it goes 'sadhu to chalta bhala'...meaning 'the life of saint must be nomadic' ..it actually means that Saints, who are symbol of selfless love, cannot or must not stay at one place for long...because they spread their love and wisdom wherever they are...and the whole world is in dire need of this...so if they stay one one place, the rest of the places and people in this universe will miss it... So our Saint Raghubhai, having spread his soulful, selfless and endless love here has been ordered to do the same amongst a different set of people in a different location...and Raghubhai being always super ready for this act, has rolled his sleeves and is already at the task at the other place...he is looking at us all from up there smiling with his bright eyes and requesting us all not to be sad or not to mourn...instead, carry his legacy in the best manner we can.....

    This is what happens with souls like his...no matter how much time we spend with them, we always want more...when Jayeshbhai talks, you don't want him to ever stop... Like I told you..the other day I saw Nipun's first video..you never want him to stop talking...so while they are on this earth, they meet with different people, travel to different places and enlighten people...Raghubhai, the Saint, is also on the same mission...albeit of course on some different planet under the supervision of Mother Universe for even a better cause.... we all salute his being and we all love him....and continue to be inspired by his blessed life.."

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  • Radhika wrote ...

    I feel happy to read about people like Raghu Bhai and their work in an age where only money seems to be valued - in every sphere of life!!!

    Yes, his 'passing-on' may be a set back to those he was bringing help. But, looking at it from the point of his 'upar wala' - I would consider his life as a very rich one - well spent, giving back to the society. A short and fulfilling one.
    I wish his passing-on will not create a vacuum. I am sure he would have inspired many,many of us, at least some who will be able to and in a position to continue his noble work.

    I myself would love to, but am not in a position to do so just now - due to various commitments to the family.

  • Mike Lee wrote ...

    What a gift to have read this. I, we indulge in cynicism as if it has some meaning. Who are these saints among us? Oh for a shred of his dignity and purpose.

  • Varsha wrote ...

    Some remembrances… Belaben & Mia shared a poem by Ellen Brenneman: “His journey's just begun Don't think of him as gone away his journey's just begun, life holds so many facets this earth is only one. Just think of him as resting from the sorrows and the tears in a place of warmth and comfort where there are no days and years. Think how he must be wishing that we could know today how nothing but our sadness can really pass away. And think of him as living in the hearts of tho  See full.

    Some remembrances…

    Belaben & Mia shared a poem by Ellen Brenneman:

    “His journey's just begun

    Don't think of him as gone away

    his journey's just begun,

    life holds so many facets

    this earth is only one.

    Just think of him as resting

    from the sorrows and the tears

    in a place of warmth and comfort

    where there are no days and years.

    Think how he must be wishing

    that we could know today

    how nothing but our sadness

    can really pass away.

    And think of him as living

    in the hearts of those he touched...

    for nothing loved is ever lost

    and he was loved so much.”

    And, I thought I’d share:

    To Raghubhai, my Ahmedabadi brother, a brother like
    no other,

    I'll miss your smiles, Good Morning!s, Namaste!s,
    Kemcho?s, Mazama?s, Aap kese ho?s, Aap kaha par ho?s...I know these are all
    from the outer senses, and, to some extent, selfish, as you're likely in a
    higher, free-er, lighter place now...your spirit, hugs, love, care, compassion,
    empathy, friendship and brotherhood lives on.

    You allowed me to play the role of Didi, even
    though I'm the youngest of my siblings. And many times, you were like an older
    brother to me, even though younger in age, showing me the ropes in Ahmedabad
    and supporting me...even though you're the youngest of your siblings (if I
    remember correctly).

    I hope your spirit touches as many, if not more,
    lives as you inspired when in the body of Raghubhai. My best of love and
    blessings to you, wherever you are.

    You taught me about love, from the Bada Dil (Big
    Heart) you have-- more than the mere romantic type, a love that knows no
    boundaries, goes beyond judgments and preferences, likes and dislikes, a love
    that simply is and exists (in, and around, all of us).

    It's probably the best lesson and person I could have
    learned this from. You’re one of the best teachers I had, of how to live and
    serve selflessly. I keep thinking unconditionally
    giving can be a complete spiritual path by itself.

    You'll always be my Ahmedabadi brother and always
    live in my heart. I love you bhaiya.

    And this is dedicated to you (my love for you may
    be about the same as the love you shared in nearly every interaction I noticed
    you had with the world):
    (see link)...

    Another poem:

    “Kindness

    Before you know what kindness
    really is

    you must lose things,

    feel the future dissolve in a moment

    like salt in a weakened broth.

    What you held in your hand,

    what you counted and carefully saved,

    all this must go so you know

    how desolate the landscape can be

    between the regions of kindness.

    How you ride and ride

    thinking the bus will never stop,

    the passengers eating maize and chicken

    will stare out the window forever.

    Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

    you must travel where the

    Indian in a white poncho lies dead

    by the side of the road.

    You must see how this could be you,

    how he too was someone

    who journeyed through the night

    with plans and the simple breath

    that kept him alive.

    Before you know kindness

    as the deepest thing inside,

    you must know sorrow

    as the other deepest thing.

    You must wake up with sorrow.

    You must speak to it till your voice

    catches the thread of all sorrows

    and you see the size of the cloth.

    Then it is only kindness

    that makes sense anymore,

    only kindness that ties your shoes

    and sends you out into the day

    to mail letters and purchase bread,

    only kindness that raises its head

    from the crowd of the world to say

    it is I you have been looking for,

    and then goes with you every where

    like a shadow or a friend.”

    --Naomi Shihab Nye

    And some quotes that describe how you lived:

    “The fragrance always remains on the hand that
    gives the rose.” –Gandhi

    "Never doubt that a small
    group of inspired volunteers can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing
    that ever has.” --Margaret Mead

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  • Varsha wrote ...

    The link didn't work in the last comment posted. Here it is: (see link)

  • Caroline wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing this. What a wonderful sharing to receive on this Sunday Morning.
    I had not heard about Raghu. Thank you for his life and deep sense of love.

  • Bhavana wrote ...

    Who says Raghu Bhai is no more. In this your memoir, Siddharth, he lives as he would in a countless other memories and hearts. Men like Raghu Bhai never quite die. And the more intensely we remember them, the more they live. I never met him but have read about him. This is such a beautiful piece - it's like being with him. Had always wondered how love and war could come together. I can see now, and how!

  • Ellen wrote ...

    As my tears flow, I am uplifted by your story of Raghu. He truly "lived life" in the short time he was here. God bless you for sharing this Truth.

  • Yana wrote ...

    Thanks a lot for introducing Raghu. Reading about your questions regarding his death, my hearts answers was: 'he moved on, he qualified to be at a place where he can do more good than before. I learn from your story, not only His realized humility, but also your willingness to honor it. That is healing as Well. Thanks a lot for being a friend to Raghu.
    Blessings, Yana