Dec 8th Awakin Talk at Mumbai
The opportunity to hold an Awakin gathering at our home in suburban Mumbai presented itself silently around a week before it actually happened. The first response was the feeling of being blessed. Having been a part of the Moved By Love (MBL) family, we had spoken a lot about MBL and Awakin to our friends and acquaintances. My friends know of the weekly Awakin emails that I often forward to them, my constant recommendation of Walking Pilgrimage / MBL blog stories, and our repeated trips to Ahmedabad for various "Head, Hand, Heart" retreats and such. That said, we had not imagined that an Awakin would happen at our place… and here it was!
On second thoughts, the cues were right there –Dec 8th was a Mangalwar (Hindi for Tuesday), literally the day of goodness and sacredness. Incidentally, Tuesdays are special at our home. My mother – a hobby singer of devotional bhajans - has been offering singing lessons, an hour and half each Tuesday in the spirit of giftivism for the last 23 years. Her community of ladies – named Madhur Milan (Sanskrit for Melodious Union) - enthusiastically welcomed the idea of meditating an hour in Nipunbhai’s presence. Last few months, my wife Kinnari too has been engaging with kids the age of my son Agastya, a couple hours each Tuesday, with the sole purpose of building deep bonds with the kids – all in MBL style! She too does it in the spirit of offering. Both the Madhur Milan and the kids’ worlds were to converge for this Awakin.
As the day got closer, the concerns around logistics of the event (what if more people RSVP than we can handle, menu for dinner?, how to welcome, decorate etc) gave way to some lovely spontaneous arrangements as things automatically fell in place. Several people offered to help cook for over 60 people who had RSVPed… so the theplas and dhoklas arrived from 2-3 homes, the dessert was lovingly offered by Darpan and Drishti’s mother and the rest was cooked at home. The creative ladies of Madhur Milan came straight from their weekly Tuesday class and decorated the building entrance and stairs with lovely floral rangolis. Signages about the Awakin, and even a poster announcing our guest speaker's talk were put up in the building lobby. Some 60+ handwritten cards with chosen quotes were made over 3-4 days and Jignasha made a ‘Pick one’ box so that participants could carry back these quotes as a gift from this evening.
The Awakin team’s entry to the building was really a sight - Madhur Milan ladies welcoming Nipun, Sachi, and Smita-ben traditionally, applying a teeka, blowing a conch, and singing ‘Shubh mangal ho,’ a song taught to them by Arundada! As it turned out, the people gathered for this Awakin were mostly elderly and Gujarati-speaking, as against the rather youthful English-speaking group that we were used to in this space. So, with that last minute revision – and we were all set to have the first Gujarati Awakin Talk by Nipun this part of the country. :)
We entered the silence hour. Most people present had never sat for one full hour in silence ever - several had dropped out of the programme because of that very reason – but the gentle power of the sangha did the magic. The silence ended with Tera Mangal Ho song, and after a quick introduction of the speaker and the ServiceSpace/MBL ecosystem, Nipun took the mic. He spoke about the interplay of ‘Give Receive and Dance,’ and with his soft fervor, drove home the power of the human heart. Stories -- from their walking pilgrimage (Udeshi kaka), stories of cascading generosity from those present in the room (Shraddha, and her sister), of Gandhiji exhorting the freedom seekers to connect with their oppressors in the field of love and of so many other unsung generosity warriors -- gently made way to the hearts of the listeners, and resurfaced as their eyes moistened. The talk was followed by Q&A and dinner, where the Awakin participants engaged in an extended Q&A. Many were overflowing with gratitude, and one of the participants, Sarla Aunty was spontaneously moved to offer our speaker the gift of a shawl. :)
The effects from the Awakin continued to ripple out in the days following it. Sarla aunty called us up a day later saying that she was moved by the Awakin to offer her unoccupied apartment and food-grains to whoever volunteered to cook for the homeless of the locality. A childhood friend and a life-coach, Bhaavin Shah blogged about his Awakin experience (A Paragon of Generosity) and vowed to practice the principles he learnt. An attendee who had queried about how to get more involved in the local projects, showed up to volunteer that very weekend for the Sunday Fundays at the Children’s remand home at Umerkhedi, a weekly event that is anchored, among others, by Sachi and Homie.
Closer home, a few days after Awakin, Kinnari gathered courage to offer her first no-holds-barred smile to a stranger on the street, and was rewarded by a generous smile in response. My father Bhupat, who runs an old age home in Navi Mumbai, felt inspired to serve meals to the elderly during lunch hour, along with the entire managing staff. Not used to seeing the Trustees offer their help to the kitchen contract staff, one of the elderly broke down into tears of gratitude as he witnessed this little act of kindness. On another day, seeing a motorist uncharacteristically helping out a pedestrian on an otherwise chaotic street, he spontaneously offered the motorist a Smile Card, inspiring a smile in return!
These were some tip-of-the-iceberg ripples that surfaced, though I am sure there were many more which caused a tender shift within. I recalled that as we were preparing for the Awakin, I was apprehensive about how a group of people, most of whom had probably never been in silence for an hour, would resonate with the concept. Turns out, I hugely underestimated the ability of the human heart – which unfailingly responds to the call of its brethren.