Sitting in the courtyard with a crowd of innocently-blank 3 to 5 year-olds during snack time, I find myself struggling to connect to the kids mostly because of my own inhibitions. I usually don’t have problems with kids at all, but I wasn’t sure about how to behave around these kids (still under the illusion that they might be fundamentally different). I decide to join in something that they understand very well– food. Initially reluctantly to eat the yellow, amorphous pellets that are their meal, I grab a handful and sloppily stuff it into my mouth. A few kids giggle as I make funny faces while chewing. And then…. yummmmm! These pellets are tasty stuff! Immediately, I think of Krishnan and the day I rode along with him after eating a serving of the food he was about to deliver to Madurai’s homeless. The tomato rice from that meal was the best tomato rice I’ve ever eaten. Suddenly I realize that in both the case of the red rice and the yellow pellets, the food was only the side-dish.
Love was the main course, and it makes everything after it taste better.
Ek pal ka jeena, phir to hai jaana
One moment of life, then it’s time to leave
Its my first visit to Ramapir-no-tekro, one of the largest slums in the world with a population of over 120,000. I’m standing in front of a room full of 7-12 year old boys and girls who have dropped out of school. Manav Sadhana has organized an “informal school” inside the slum where the kids find a safe atmosphere to play and learn enough keep them from falling too far behind. Today is apparently song day, and I’ve just been drafted to sing in front of these kids. Ek pal ka jeena is the first song that came to mind, and almost instantly the kids start loudly singing along to the popular Hindi song.
In mid-song, I’m flooded with a wave of gratefulness. First, because I didn’t know the rest of the words to the song and was rescued by the kids in that department. But mostly because they accept nothing less than that which comes from the heart, and remind me that there’s a language that transcends words.
Later in the courtyard, a kid name Nilesh, who can only pronounce his name as “Leelesh” because of two missing front teeth and a non-descript speech imediment, tags me “it” in a clamorous game of tag that I’m playing with 20 of my newest best friends. As I’m running around, chasing and being chased, I wonder about who’s learned more this day– me or them. One moment of life, then its time to leave. What a moment it would be if we only spoke in that language that has no words.
On the edge of “the tekro” is a colony where the descendants of India’s freedom fighters live. Suddenly it strikes me that while this colony is relatively litter-free, its dirtier than the “slum” that I have just come from. Manav Sadhana has made safai, cleaning, the first activity it undertakes before it does anything else. The attitude has penetrated so deeply into Ramapir-no-tekro that its cleaner than the area inhabited by the descendants of Gandhians!
It was Wednesday evening, and in his short time at Gandhi Ashram and Manav Sadhana, Nipun left a legacy of Wednesday meditation. As the only CF’er present, I’m drafted as meditation “leader”. The followers include Anarben, a founder of Manav Sadhana who struck me as saintly from the first moment I saw her, Roopal Shah, a founder of Indicorps, whose projects and fellows have made my heart soar since they started a few years ago, and over a dozen other people who have spent the better part of their life serving others with love. During meditation, I think about how unworthy I am to lead discussion for a crowd of such luminaries.
Later, I realize that they all simply did what they always do– lift a person beyond the realm of their own possibilities. That’s true leadership.