"There is fun in being ordinary" (Awakin Talk with Jayesh bhai)
A couple of months ago, Jayesh bhai was in Pune silently serving many in the community there by his presence. Here are some excerpts from his Awakin talk at the Urban Ashram. In a separate post, we will publish the Q & As that followed after.
God is the smile on someone’s face; God is the compassion in his heart. I don’t know if God has a form but it is definitely in the form of values. Praying to the form is religion and going beyond the form to look at inculcating values is spirituality. We have a chance of being staunch in religion but in spirituality our heart opens completely. I keep learning that from every one here.
My father spent his entire lifetime in sanitation work; the kind of work that the whole society had neglected. All his work was deeply rooted in compassion. He used to love being addressed as “Mr. Toilet”. When I came into sanitation work, he explained to me very nicely that true service is not a hobby. It is a thankless job. Initially you will like it when people say you are doing a good job and you can also flaunt ‘I serve’, or ‘I helped someone’. It’s a feel good factor. The first task my father gave me was to clean 125 public toilets and as all of you know, public toilets are like hell on earth. About 25 years back if you ever entered a public toilet, you will step out as soon as you enter. People didn’t even know how to use it. My father used to say, whether it is cleaning or praying as long as you did it from your heart, it is the same.
As I kept doing this work I started realizing that
in ‘Pravrutti’ (Activity), ‘Vrutti’ (Intention) is key.
After I took up sanitation work, we started connecting with more people and one of the places is ‘Ramapir tekra’. Just like we have Dharavi in Mumbai, Ramapir tekra is the largest slum in Gujarat. It is an extremely poverty stricken area. I’ve noticed that poverty and dirt are very closely connected. There is malnutrition, tuberculosis, illiteracy, etc. If a person is sick, he cannot work, if he cannot work he cannot earn well, if he doesn’t earn well he cannot eat good food, so he becomes anaemic, and hence remains sick and like this he remains in the poverty circle.
So we connected personal hygiene with community work and decided to go there every Sunday for a cleanliness drive. I think it was the year 2000. Since there were no toilets they used to defecate in the open drains and because of that there were problems of Cholera, Malaria, etc. We used to carry gloves, masks, etc and cleaned every Sunday. The people of the slum made make fun of us “here they come – Scavengers – here they come. Now they will click our photographs, have them printed in newspapers and raise a lot of funds for themselves”. So our work was criticized stating that this is being done for fund raising. This work is never easy. People become a judge of the mistakes of others and a lawyer for their own. If someone makes a mistake, then immediately we say what should be done and if someone points out our mistake, we say ‘it is because of these causes that we behaved this way’. That is when we understood and when you start understanding nature also starts supporting you. At that time there were heavy rains and the whole place was flooded. People used to live on a slightly elevated piece of land and defecate in the low lying areas. But now came the problem, how to defecate, there was water all over, drains were flooding. We decided to supply food packets for all to eat and when I went to a small hut a lady was crying a lot. I asked her Mother-in-law, why is she crying. She replied “Jayesh bhai she is my daughter-in-law and is newly married and suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea and the problem is we have no place for her to go to the toilet”. She is also reluctant in taking help from us.
Here we found our starting point. Every evening we would gather people and share her story and tell everyone that we want to build a toilet for this sister. In one evening we built the toilet. There was a noticeable shift. People started looking at us with compassion and they started seeing the purity of our efforts. Slowly everyone started keeping their houses clean and people from all over the world come to see Gujarat’s largest slum.
When we opened our health centre, there were usually around 120-130 patients visiting everyday, today there are not more than 10. We started work on hygiene, nutrition, and sanitation for them. We have around 23 kindergartens for kids. Today we need more kindergartens than temples. In temples we find ‘Shiv’ (omnipresent) and in kindergartens we find the little ‘jeev’ (life). According to UNESCO, about 15 lakh children die due to diarrhoea, anaemia, etc. This space started bringing about a big shift in holistic development. There were pre-pregnancy tests, nutrition for pregnant women, healthy delivery, and vaccination and soon there were a noticeable shift in the outlook of people. Superstitions, blind faith, etc all started reducing, but all this took time. This became our learning ground and we learnt a lot from this process.
From Consumption to Contribution
When I come to Pune, I feel very grateful that someone actually opens their home up to nurture so many journeys. It is like a pilgrimage to me where so many people meet with an intention to do good. It is not easy at all. How people were cooking with so much joy, there was no weight, there was gratefulness. It is all done with the spirit of contribution. It’s a move from consumption to contribution.
How can we consume now and contribute later? Most of us think about knowledge also the same way, we want to learn everything, gain knowledge and share later. What I know, I share according to the truth of the moment as per my understanding. It is really the intention that matters. If the share is with an intention to impress you all, I am putting myself more in trouble as I get into the game of managing expectations. Instead I let it flow from the heart and try to share with a noble intention with all humility. I rather be ordinary so as not to get caught up in these things. There is fun in being ordinary. To become special is a trap, where you build a security wall around yourself and end up not seeing the real you. I like to be in a circle with you so I feel one with you. I have come to share space with all of you and support in all the good that happens here. It feels like family to me.
The biggest asset in current times is the feeling of being a part of the family of noble friends. Moved by love is a family and all are welcome to Ahmedabad to be a part of some of our experiments.
Small practices and small acts of kindness
Long time ago, we were walking a distance of 26 kms. Gopal dada, then 87, was also walking with us. He would pick up every stone on the way. He kept picking up one stone after the other. Maria, a phd student who had come from Stanford, observed this strange action, her head started thinking and she asked me so I referred her to ask dada. Dada replied that “in my village there was no electricity earlier and it used to be dark and in our village people walk around without shoes. On one such occasion, I had hit a stone which broke my toe nail and it bled profusely. I was very small at that time. Since that day I decided that I will pick up a stone if it comes in my way so someone behind me will not get hurt.”
Simple. This was effortless bending down. It was not an activity for him. It was an effortless action for him and the thought behind was that anybody walking or cycling behind can trip over and get hurt. When I was doing the same action today, two three of our daughters and another brother also started picking it up. This compassion is contagious, provided your intention is right. If you do it for showing or impressing somebody then there is no compassion. That is our ego. But if there is a true deep feeling in the heart that I am doing this action so that someone behind me will not suffer and also the feeling that the stone has actually provided me with an opportunity to serve; then I will see things from a different perspective. Then it is deep looking. When we do deep looking; we do deep listening.
I value this opportunity to talk to all of you. Sheetal had offered that I could attend the silence hour a little late as I had been up last night and been walking since this morning. This is where I see that love is more important than ideal. Otherwise he could’ve insisted to begin sharp at 7pm else it would not work. Love is divine flow. “Whatever the question love is the answer.” “All we need is love, love is all we need.” These things are written around this space and they are also written at ESI. This love is not the one rooted in attraction but rooted in sacrifice, in giving ,in cooperation, in trust, and in respect. This is what I consider love to be. This is the truth according to my understanding and I thank you all for listening.
Please don’t consider this as a pressure of my thoughts on you. Don’t get influenced but whatever you liked from this add it as an essence to your life. And I will feel happy about it. Even if you don’t take anything, I am still happy.