'What I Learned From My Time With Jayeshbhai'
There are few things more difficult than capturing profound experiences in words. Language becomes like fetters that limit how far one can venture.
However, fettered in language, I still try to capture time spent with Jayesh Patel (Jayeshbhai) of Manav Sadhna.
Why did I ‘shadow’ Jayeshbhai?
Those who are connected to Jayeshbhai have a sense of the impact his presence can leave you with. For me he represents a living legacy of Gandhian ideas.
At times, he simplifies metaphysical ideas with the ease of a compassionate scientist. At other times, he responds to a question with the grace of an artist. And mostly, he is a flow of love, trying to honour what emerges.
The word ‘darshan’ means seeing. From an initial fascination with Jayeshbhai, to spending time absorbing his ideas to heading back into the world with him as a pole star, my relationship with him (in my head) has had different seasons.
For a while now, a desire was brewing, to see Jayeshbhai in action even more closely. How would it be to experience him deal with life on a day to day basis? How could I observe his ideas in action? Would I be able to absorb the energy that he moves around with?
If it would be the time of India’s freedom struggle, I’d have surely gone and ‘checked out’ Gandhi, wondered at his ways and absorbed the inspiration. In these times, it is Jayeshbhai for me.
CUT TO THE END - Me heading for Ahmedabad station
On my way back to Mumbai with a grin on my face and a flood of memories (imagine hearts floating in the air), I was heading to the station.
I was reflecting on all that I had seen and learned. I wrote it down immediately. Then I re-wrote it. And, finally, this is my third attempt at trying to articulate it.
I have tried to stay true to the spirit of action that I learned from Jayeshbhai - with a pure intent and a surrender to the flow of words.
TO HOLD PURE INTENT, AND SURRENDER - TO GIVE FULL CONSENT TO NATURE TO WORK IT'S MAGIC.
Towards the end of my trip,I listened as Jayeshbhai read quotes from his room in Sugad. One of the quotes implied that there is abundance and intelligence in nature. We, those engaged in seva, must create space to allow nature to work through us. And this consent, coming from surrender, must be complete.
Jayeshbhai has put this quote in his room as a reminder to practice this daily.
As I reflected on this, a few questions emerged. Have I really allowed my work to happen through me? Have I fully surrendered? Surely not! There is still so much of ‘me’ in my work….but perhaps that is what I was here to see and learn…
MOST OF JAYESHBHAI IS NOT ABOUT 'ME' BUT ABOUT 'YOU' AND 'US'
Life is beautiful and there is much to be grateful for. Out of this gratitude comes hope, and it is this hope that moves his being.
In the time I was with him, I saw him spend time and attend to very senior officials and young giggling girls. I saw him engage with many volunteers and plants and trees. I saw him speak to laborers and joke with kids.
Is there ‘value’ to this kinship? Does it make any difference to the world?
JAYESHBHAI'S 'THEORY OF CHANGE' SEEMS TO BE ANCHORED IN 'MAITRI'
It is maitri that is going to move the world. More than organizations, which have a purpose, it is when people convene in love that they make change happen. It is when we put our egos aside and share vulnerably. From this sharing, collective intelligence is birthed, and from there, action emerges.
To him, as he says, it is very clear - Noble friendships are the way. Sharing is the way. And out of deep love and compassion for each one (each one being the best possible that a person can be at the moment), there is flexibility in embracing people as they are, for who they are.
For me this was a very important aspect to understand.
At some stage, my fellow-traveller and brother Kishan and I were reflecting on what is it that would be non-negotiable for Jayeshbhai? We saw him engage with large corporations as well as the government, we saw him deal with very ambitious people as well as humble ones.
If everything is okay - what is not okay? What is the basis then, of engaging - what is the ground to stand on.
Through this reflection, we realized that we could see no other ground except deep love - ‘love’ manifesting as compassion, empathy, playfulness, acceptance, nurturance, faith and attention.
The last one was particularly interesting to see - deep attention to small things. At a tree plantation ceremony, Jayeshbhai bade farewell to the guests of honor and then started out on a round of all the trees planted with the girls.
With each tree, he asked the girls its name. In a moment, he was a biologist talking about the qualities of the plant. In another, a story teller plucking a right fruit from our mythological wilderness. And while we digested the story, he would become a momentary philosopher, leaving us with something deep to ponder about!
To be in this space for a few hours a day seems feasible but for all the time that I was with Jayeshbhai, I experienced this space of slowness and care.
I don’t think Jayeshbhai takes himself too seriously, in that, for a man of such wisdom, he is often playful and fun-filled. This connects him to a whole range of people across gender, age and cognitive modes.
At one time, in response to a question I asked him, he invited a lady to come and sing one of her favourite songs, leaving it for me to find my answer. At another time, he willingly posed with a beautiful peacock on the terrace of Safai Vidyalaya. And when I complimented his cook for an amazing breakfast, he sheepishly replied that it was Jayeshbhai who had done the cooking!
Talking about cooking, another beautiful metaphor Jayeshbhai gave was that of the flour-mill. The ‘chakki’ has two stones - one that stays still and the other that moves. Only in that combination of stillness and action does flour come out!
ACTION GROUNDED IN STILLNESS- Seems a very potent mix!
I have given a lot of thought to the stillness that Jayeshbhai embodies.
I cannot get that stillness by quoting him. I don’t think it can come by having the same experiences as he did either. Rather, it seems to come from an exacting practice, done every single day, with every single act.
And it is this practice of stillness, that is what allows the magic of connections to unfold. From top officials to very ‘simple’ folk, Jayeshbhai brought in an unconditional acceptance of everyone who walked his way. Rather than avoiding connections or selectively choosing to engage, he opened himself to be fully present to whoever and whatever entered his world (at one stage that included a dancing peacock!).
There were many requests that were made of him - and I saw his loving refusal to a woman who was pleading with him to have her toilet roof fixed. It wouldn’t have been too difficult for a man of Jayesh bhai’s stature to do that but he said, “Send your sons to me. I will speak to them.”
I saw him hold this opposite : Deep acceptance combined with gentle nudges.
His methods are two [or multi] pronged - letting people be free to be themselves (like having tobacco, for example) and yet constantly reminding them about the possibility of giving up those habits. And while the suggestion sounded spontaneous, I was sure that he had repeated these nudges several times.
Where was that patience coming from?
In every conversation, every speech, every joke, there was a movement towards the same direction. This was the direction of a higher possibility, a greater vision. Relentlessly, he shared what he saw happening to a particular space or a person.
In this open space, we are planning to create a new kitchen. There, we will be creating a gaushala. Why don’t you send some Blue Ribbon volunteers to come and stay here?’
As he did this, individuals around him eagerly waited to take this up and make it happen.
Repeating his vision and scattering the seeds of it every moment, he let’s Nature take over and run the design for him. The specific HOW isn’t his to figure out.
But not all seeds are ‘scattered’ - some are also very deliberately planted. He shared the example of Bhaskar, whom he sensed would be very successful at running Seva Cafe. He planted him there, based on his potential.
Each of us serving to our potential with our talents - this was the message.
And what was Jayeshbhai’s offering? What was he focussing on?
Having moved to the potent background of Manavsadhna, Jayeshbhai is silently supporting it in many different ways. In many other trusts related to Gandhi, he is one of the youngest trustees. It is this legacy that he is now holding and living.
The various trusts that occupy spaces around Gandhi ashram have differing ideas about what to do with them.
Some of these spaces are neglected, others are under-utilized. The journey then for Jayeshbhai, is to reclaim these spaces - through a variety of means and tricks.
Some of these have produced a backlash for some members of the community, and these require firm handling. Depending on what the situation needs, Jayeshbhai provides it.
There is a flexibility of approaches that I see Jayeshbhai having. Some of these are so contradictory that Jayeshbhai, exercising them may seem hypocritical. However, all these approaches are exercised with love for the other.
It is this love that makes Jayeshbhai’s every act filled with intensity. The power of the small actions that happen around this man travel all across the ecosystem as inspiring stories that move others.
What is it that makes these actions so viral? What about them is so touching? What is it that pulls people to this unassuming love-filled being?
It is probably an ineffable but very potent quality that affects us at a visceral level.
It is the space of love that takes years of patient cultivation. This love has flowered in Jayeshbhai. His stories, his energy and his warm blanket of love, all point to the saadhna of love that he engages in.
As we were heading out of his home, there was garbage on one side of the road. Jayeshbhai placed a call to the Municipal corporation to have it cleared. It was the road named for Eshwar Kaka (his father). Even Jayeshbhai takes these ironies in his stride and continues to do his work.
We spoke about how Jayeshbhai did not have a car or a driver for a while. It was finally after Anarben’s insistence that he agreed to have one. Living within one’s means, and living while supported by his wife were totally comfortable ideas for him. At the same time he pushed for ensuring economic stability - money is a good slave but a bad master.
The intellectual in me had gone on this trip for exotic conceptual complexity. Instead, what I returned with was an experience of simple love. It was an experience that I could not fully codify, nor could I break it down and make it my own.
But I was inspired - ahead of me is a long path of expanding my capacity to love. The same love that would manifest as attention, stillness, patience and connection. I cannot help but bow, even in this moment as I write this, to that beautiful embodiment of purity that I found in Jayeshbhai’s being.