As unbelievable as it is to imagine, the air in Ahmedabad is worse than Bangalore. The city has earned the unfortunate distinction of possessing the worst air pollution in all of India. Numerous smoke stacks strewn about the city bellow sulphurous smoke that burns every exposed mucous membrane on my body, including my lips. The electricity almost never goes out in Ahmedabad, thanks to the abundant coal-burning power plants and a 3-reactor nuclear power plant. In a moment of pain and weakness,
it was almost a relief to see the huge reactor cylinders through the brown-grey air, forgetful of the dire consequences that nuclear energy invites. Luckily, I didn’t have to go far to find the fresh air I was seeking. I found it at Manav Sadhana.
Situated inside Gandhi Ashram on the banks of the Sabarmati river, Manav Sadhana is an organization that many would compare to oxygen. I find myself choked up many times during the pictoral history that Gaurav gives me through the stories of the lives of the slum children who have been touched by the organization’s work. Gaurav insists that Manav Sadhana has as many “failures” as “successes” in the children it’s tried to reach. Yet in a place of such hope, such striving, a word like “failure” is as sacreligous as it is meaningless.
One so-called “failure” is a soft-spoken light brown-eyed boy who offers to shine my dusty chappals for a rupee during my first visit to ashram grounds. At least a half-dozen people have been trying to convince him to go to school for the last two years, to no avail. Instead, he tries to earn a few rupees
off every newcomer to the ashram by offering to shine their shoes. Gaurav affectionately holds the kid as he walks along with us, trying to plant the seed of desire for school yet again in between his repeated requests to clean my chappals. In the year-plus that Gaurav has been here, he hasn’t stopped trying to convince this kid to go to school. He won’t be the last to try. And where people don’t stop trying, there is no such thing as failure.
If I could have only spoken without my voice quivering, I would have reminded Gaurav that we were only a few feet from the room where a 40 kg, bald, toothless, loin-cloth-clad man toppled the mightiest empire in the world. Manav Sadhana is heir to the legacy of the Mahatma, of satyagraha, where the power of peace and love move the world bit by bit. One kid at a time.