In the Deserts of Kutch
We had a magical trip across the Desert lands of Gujarat. Jayeshbhai decided to take a group of us to Kutch for the Rann Utsav. An annual celebration that the Government of Gujarat now holds in the Great Rann of Kutch also known as the white desert. Here, on the northwestern borders of Gujarat, hundreds of square kilometers of desert land fill with shallow layers of ocean water, and then they dry up post monsoon. The vast desert transforms in a majestic white “snow” (salt) cover wonderland. And to see this rare phenomenon of mother nature, thousands upon thousands of people are now coming every year for the Rann Utsav.
Here's reflections from fellow brothers:
For us the Rann Utsav was one beautiful excuse to engage further and deeper with the Kutch community. Reaching late night to Dhordo, the last village before the white desert. Mia Hussein, the village sarpanch, met us here and welcomed us to his village. The weekend continued with a diverse ray of activities, events, meetings and interactions throughout a wide variety of settings from VIP spaces to homes and villages where now having a community water faucet is a miracle in and of itself.
There was something magical and quite deep that grew out of the weekend. A lesson in love and life. A message of oneness. Everywhere we went, with the loving guidance of our dear Jayeshbhai, we were able to see each situation, each person, each event as another offering, another blessing, another opportunity to serve. Whether it was being in the middle of the white dessert and the full moon at midnight and cleaning a statue of a mother and kid that had been spat on, or playing with the dogs on the street. Whether it was a toilet inauguration event with the Chief Minister of the State or a meeting with the cow shepherds. Whether an interaction with a group of well-educated social workers or a homeless babaji on the road. There was a sense of love, acceptance, presence and oneness that was being embraced. That everything was okay and that we could only offer our presence and love in each space, nothing more, nothing less.
One of the great lessons to see in live action with Jayeshbhai is his constant mindfulness to bring the conversations and spaces back to the spirit of service. We noticed that whenever he would be engaging with our leaders of the community or friends of higher social status – the conversation always came back to serving or sanitation and hygiene through talking about bringing more toilets to the community or helping others.
Being with a group of noble friends that embraces the breadth and depths of society with so much love and compassion is quite a blessing and an important lesson to keep nurturing. It doesn’t matter who one is or where they are from…We are all one. We can all serve each other and hold space and compassion for one another
I had heard of the incredible rehabilitation work done by Manav Sadhana after the 2001 earthquake in the Kutch when Manav Sadhana volunteers camped out in the villages for a year and worked day and night to rebuild hundreds of homes. The villagers had tremendous gratitude for their untiring service and a strong connection had been made. Nothing prepared me however for the avalanche of love and affection that was poured on us, as we accompanied Jayesh bhai as he went door to door to say hello to the folks of Ludiya village.
There were so many heart-warming moments as each person claimed Jayesh bhai as his own. The kids would come running tomeet him and hug him, the grannies would lovingly caress his cheeks asking about his well-being and the men would approach him asking for guidance to resolve their local issues. The younger women too would greet Jayeshbhai with affection like sisters demanding why he had come home after so long. This in a community where the women are still in purdah, and not allowed to meet or talk to any men apart from those in their family.In the one day that we spent in the village we were offered dozens of chai and an equal number of dinner invites. Destiny had us dine with the families of two middle aged jovial brothers named Mangu and Hira whose homes were totally destroyed in the earthquake. As we sat listening to the powerful stories of hope and resilience that these simple folks had shown in rebuilding their homes and lives, I found a myself getting in touch with a deep reservoir of hope and courage within myself too. After a wonderful home-cooked meal of ultra local vegetables, fresh butter and bajra rotis, we sat chatting on the cots under a million star sky.
There was something very magical about the evening as my heart was filled with so much joy seeing this flow of Maitri (loving kindness) coming our way. Felt so humbled and blessed to be receiving so much love, knowing I had done nothing to deserve it. My heart starting singing a beautiful doha by Kabir “Sadhu bhuka bhaav ka, dhan ka bhuka nahi. Jo sadhu dhan ka bhuka phire, wo sadhu, sadhu naahi” alongside the Beatles “All we need is love, love is all we need”
And then a moment of grace descended as everyone fell silent in mid-conversation about some village affairs to look up at the beautiful full moon. Mangu, our host tearfully looked deep into Jayesh bhai’s eyes and quietly said “I think of you atleast two to three times everyday. You have given me more love than even my parents. I owe you my all.”
I felt the beginning of a tear as Jayesh bhai smilingly reciprocated by enveloping Mangu in a hug, and I could feel the vibrations of this field of love emanating from this embrace. Was a blessed moment that I will feel grateful to have witnessed.
The desert is an incredibly poetic landscape and evokes hidden parts of my being. I feel an incredible sense of surrender and awe at the majesty of the sands stretching as far as the eyes can see. Reminded of a beautiful Sufi parable that says “A river entering a desert cannot pass the sands by rushing through it. The river needs to completely surrender to the desert, and in that surrendering, the river waters become rain clouds that will eventually pour down at the destination.”
As we go for a full moon night walk in the vast uncharted landscape of the white sands of Rann of Kutch, I find my inner journey too is in an uncharted new territory. Feeling overwhelmed by this insight, I sink to my knees in a state of surrender and pray for guidance on how to walk in these unknown lands, both inner and outer. A faint still voice emanates from my heart whispering
Dhundhla jaayein jo manzilein
Ik pal ko tu nazar jhuka
Jhuk jaaye sar jahan wahin
Milta hai rab ka raasta
Teri kismat tu badal de
Rakh himmat bas chal de
Tere saathi mere kadmon ke hain nishaan
Tu na jaane aas pass hai khuda
(When the path ahead is unclear, just for a moment lower your gaze. Wherever you look down and lower the head (drop the ego), you will find the way “home”. Change your destiny by finding some courage and just start walking. God's footprints will be your companions. You have no idea how close God is to you.)
Speaking ofJayeshbhai, he was the MVP of the trip. At the risk of piling on hero worship, I want to record some of the things I observed about him as we spent a few days together. He is very observant, especially sensitive to moments of beauty. We were in the car in deep conversation and he stopped to point out a distant flock of birds where one was white while the others were dark. Another time we were driving by a rest stop where a couple busloads of univorm-clad school girls were drinking water. He saw one plastic cup blowing in the sand as we drove by at full speed. He had the car stop to pick it up and engage with the girls in a teachable moment.
He moves effortlessly between social activists to powerful politicians to business moguls to village folks. He is absolutely the same simple loving soul in all contexts. He is totally comfortable in his own skin, and doesn't pander to anyone. However powerful or famous, he introduces all seven of us with each of our back-stories as if we are the dignitaries. His conversations acknowledge the darkness but are mainly concerned with the light, the good in each human being; highlighting each of their higher selves. Inevitably, the person melts and smiles warmly; “Jayeshbhai, anything for you”.
During one meeting with villagers who were disputing the government over wild land being turned over for tourism and development, during a tense moment he shared from the heart. He asked everyone to be in silence, then offered personal stories to respond less with head and more with heart. I was especially touched when he emotionally shared how this vistaar of Kutch was very special to him as he spent a year doing rehabilitation after the earthquake. The experience changed his life and gave him an opportunity for service, for which he is forever connected and indebted to this land and its people. He was careful to acknowledge not the logical arguments, but the glint in the eye and determination of the farmers who were telling their stories.
It was a treasure of a trip. Read More
"Welcome to Maitri Space", the volunteers in Abhiyan welcomed us with showers of rose petals and warm embraces, it all felt like a dream and my heart opened tremendously during the circle of sharing as most of them shared how a moved by retreat had transformed their lives. The maitri circles we had imagined seemed in reality here. It was a great opportunity for us to see the ripples of our retreats and experience the extension of global family. Choked with tears we all felt immensely grateful for this noble friendship.
Experience of Rann Utsav in the full moon was breathtaking. I was carrying my video camera and found a renewed sense of enthusiasm as I captured what unfolded naturally. I will be making a short film from this trip, without a script, knowing that a story chooses us, allowing it to flow and let it emerge through us.
If I had to share 3 things I learnt, briefly it will be:
1. Every moment is an opportunity to connect with others and yourself, through small practices of care.
2. The vastness of desert taught me patience and the full moon invited me to shine my brightest light.
3. Trust your intuition, there's an arrangement in life and every moment is interconnected with a grand design of our existence.
I have stopped looking for extraordinary experiences, each moment could be sacred with our awareness and in the end all that matters is our presence.