Posts Tagged ‘Anjali Desai’

When music video geniuses Shivraj & Aparna of WildKumar go to Ahmedabad with their cameras, you know something beautiful is going to happen.  In January of 2008, they shot this recently released video featuring many Manav Sadhna superstars, complete with their signature ring lights glowing in their eyes.

Those who have been to MS will quickly catch Bharat, Jignesh, Upendra, Kiran, Sandeep, Anjali, Parvati, Raghu, Bhaskar, Shirish bhai, and Jagat bhai prominently featured in the first 2 minutes.


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There was a time in my life when I thought I would never get married.  When most people make that choice, its usually because they are too afraid of commitment.  In my case, it was the opposite.  I wanted a partner in the cultivation of unconditional love, and after a few experiments in college and after, I concluded that most are not really interested in living that concept. And so I didn’t think it would be possible to find someone whose commitment ran as deeply as mine, and that marriage would be a costly distraction in the spiritual mission of making myself a more loving, happy, and serviceful person.

On May 2nd, 2009, I officially proved myself wrong and finally married my dearest, deepest friend, Asha Patel.

The planning of our marriage seemed like a protracted negotiation between the requirements of traditional culture stemming from our parents wishes, and our desire for something small, simple, and deeply meaningful. Turns out we took the middle path!  🙂

I found myself repeatedly overwhelmed with the love and beauty that was coming at us leading up to our wedding, and even more moved by everyone whose love was pouring out on the day of the wedding itself. Yogesh uncle converted his home into my surrogate home for the precursor ceremonies and starting location for the groom’s procession. I was resistant to riding a horse, so Hemin gave me 300 horses through his sportscar!  John flew in as a surprise, and was such an incredible nose-defender (don’t ask) that the priest told me to let Asha’s mom pull my nose as a freebie to make her feel better  🙂  Dinesh & Paresh uncle took charge of so many small pieces, including a major one through muscling the heavy stage around in our massive backyard tent!  Another uncle forgot a suit on the west coast, and through the heroics of the anonymous usual suspects, Raj had it on a plane to the east coast within 90 minutes!

As gifts to our guests in attendance, our friend Emmanuel from the Global Oneness Project sent a big box of DVDs of inspiring films and our dear friend Ankur offered box of his book on his personal re-tracing of Gandhi’s Dandi Yatra.  We gave every guest a DVD of stories of people who have shaped our lives, and Nipun & the HelpOthers.org crew kicked in a ton of Smile Cards (and small gifts with big love) to facilitate all the forward ripples.  Many friends not in physical attendance offered spiritual attendance by meditating during our ceremony. At least a hundred even did random acts of kindness, and through Sukh & Raju’s coordination, the stories were captured to a website so the ripples could continue!

Seema and Seth went a step further in conspiracy with Christine Bulaoro and beautifully printed out all of these acts of kindness, and spent the morning hand-folding them into tent cards to share with everyone at the reception!

Out of their own goodness, and perhaps to offset some of the paper we used (!), Uma & Sriram had a 1000 trees planted in a village near Bangalore! Anjali and some Manav Sadhna heroes cleaned an entire street in the holy town of Rishikesh. Vandana from Pune sent her daughter Keya on her behalf as the smiling emissary, though we felt like so many of our friends from India were smiling through her.  Nature also seemed to conspire: there was solid rain every day before and after our wedding, but the morning of the actual ceremony only saw very light sprinkles which quickly subsided.  The sun even came out super brightly just as Asha got carried in!


The list goes on & on… Carpools to the events were spontaneously coordinated, extra guests effortlessly accommodated, crowd-sourced marriage advice books lovingly compiled, and so many seeds (literally & figuratively) were offered and planted to bring in the day. And it was all so fitting, because when you decide to make your marriage about the cultivation of unconditional love, you implicitly understand that its a lifelong (perhaps longer!) project in changing yourself to increasingly bring more goodness in the world.  What better gift could there be than the offering of so many people’s goodness on that day?

Even before the marriage, but most definitely after, we are so deeply aware of the necessity of a harmonious community of friends and well-wishers to aid us on our lifelong partnership together. As a reminder to these co-creators of our journey as well as ourselves, each table had the vows that spontaneously coalesced late one night after reading and reflecting on sets of similar vows by people we deeply respect and trust. Our vows read as follows:

We live in a materially finite world, and have potentially unlimited material wants.  Every physical thing we consume is something that is denied another fellow human.  Do you vow to grow in simplicity, reducing your wants so that others may satisfy their needs?

Pleasure can be an intoxicating labyrinth, numbing our awareness and derailing our sense of sacred purpose in this world with its flickering satisfactions.  Pleasure can also be beautiful, and can sweeten life in big and small ways.  Do you vow to enjoy the pleasures life offers you without chasing them, while growing into more subtle, expansive and enduring joy?

Money, power and fame can become their own ends, robbing us of our sense of interconnectedness, indebtedness and obligation to serve a higher purpose.  Do you vow recognize your stewardship of whatever money/power/fame comes into your life, and to only accumulate it as a trustee for the greater good or a higher calling?

Love is a force that binds us together and makes our worlds go round.  But the attraction of love can also pull us increasingly closer into each others’ orbits, denying us its expression in other forms in every other department of life.  Do you vow to grow your love, and increasingly free it from all its conditions so that you may eventually express love unconditionally for all?

Our words have the power to inspire and to propel each other forward.  With our speech, we can build trust, elevate dialogue and create a foundation of harmony in our home.  Do you vow to grow in noble speech that uplifts & inspires, builds trust, and aligns your words with your thoughts and actions?

There is a knowing beyond the mind that is not rooted in facts or histories.  Do you vow to grow in cohesion and integrity so that your intuitions are the stuff of inspiration rather than the product of whim and fancy?  Do you vow to support one another’s intuitions, even when your own facts and perception may not agree?

There is an order and a nature to the inscrutable complexity of cause and effect converging and rippling at every moment.  Do you vow to surrender to the mysterious ways of the universe, trusting the inevitability of change, even in difficult times?  Do you vow to cultivate gratefulness for the precious moments you will share together, even at the end of your lives when it may come time to part?

As we grow into deeper fulfillment of our sacred vows, we ride on the shoulders of so many incredible friends, teachers, mentors, and guides who have made it possible for us to come this far. In turn, we offer ourselves to back to them, as well as all our yet-unknown friends that we’ll meet together on the journey. The spirit was perhaps best encapsulated by Yaniv’s gift to us in the form of a daily prayer for the continued deepening of our individual and collective unfoldment.

Oh, and those interested can check out our pictures here.

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Anjali and I decided on an early arrival in the tekra to spend the morning with twelve-year-old Jayshree and her ten-year-old sister Bharti. I walk from a dirt road to tar road, to catch a rickshaw to the ashram where Anarben drives us to the edge of the slum.


…the first meditative breath of the day; an ascension from dirt road beneath my feet to A/C in my face and Bollywood film-songs chiming sweetly in my ears.

They live on the far end of the slum near a mighty stream of greenish black sewage. The ‘river’ has carved its own mini canyon to serve as natural barrier that prevents the slum from expanding into the open areas beyond. If she were a goddess like the deified Yamuna or Ganga rivers (or any Indian river for that matter), her name would be Gandha, or ‘stink’.

We’re in a hurry so we hop into a rickshaw and let it take us as far as it can before the passageways narrow beyond where we may sensibly putter. We descend on foot over semi-paved paths of irregular broken tiles onto completely unpaved paths that grow increasingly muddy from the mystery liquid that tekrites cast out their front doors or let seep from cracks and holes in their dwellings. By the time we reach Bharti & Jayshree’s place, the ground is beyond soggy and the air dense with flies.

I’m unfazed… now more at home in slums than I am in shopping malls.


…descending from first class luxury into third world poverty.

Bharti & Jayshree’s father Chelabhai contracted a debilitating infection while ragpicking, no doubt from a bacterial infection of his blood. The deadly combination of inevitable persistent filth upon inevitable persistent wounds claim many lives, but ragpickers are nearly non-entities and few count the dead among those who never lived. Chelabhai escaped the infection alive, but is now a paralyzed mute, a ‘mouth with no hands’ as Larry Brilliant might paraphrase. Chelabhai’s wife Babi has destroyed the cartilage in her hips through the combination of a pregnancy injury, and jaundice medication consumed while fighting hepatitis. She too is almost completely disabled.

The family and the neighbors greet us warmly and offer us tea morning tea amidst the exchanged pleasantries. I ride completely on the coattails of the goodwill and rapport Anjali has built with this family but am mostly short on words as I soak in the realities of their life.

Bharti & Jayshree had dropped out of school and become ragpickers to support their family. Seva Café bought the family a one month supply of food to alleviate the extreme pressure of a hand-to-mouth existence and to allow the girls to go to school. An imperfect solution, it buys time and hope until the next miracle.

The sisters still ragpick for 2 hours each morning, earning Rs. 35 collectively for recyclables that get sold for nearly Rs. 400 at the plant. One of my projects in India has been to organize a ragpicker women’s society that increases income and provides needed services while reducing the rampant exploitation in their lives. Today is my hands-on day, where I learn exactly what it is like to ragpick.

After a couple of sips of their nearly milkless, probably sugar-free, weak, watery tea, Bharti & Jayshree sling their sacks over their shoulders as the four of us head out of the slum.


…a breath that seems fuller than it actually is as we retrace our steps from extreme slum poverty to ‘normal’ slum poverty and on to normal Indian streets.

I over-eagerly start gathering plastic and paper only to be chastised by Bharti. This isn’t their territory, and they risk getting beaten or worse for picking up anything around here. Instead, we catch a city bus to another part of town, paying a Rs. 4 fare that eats significantly into their take-home pay on days where the likes of Anjali or myself aren’t around to bear the cost.


… a short breath onto the streets of Ahmedabad. They’re cleaner than when I left them 7 months ago, the result of a horde of sweepers hired by the municipal corporation to descend upon the thoroughfares in the mornings. Still, there’s plenty of material for us to gather and we busily go at it as we walk the path that these girls travel daily.


… the fumes of the busy road through a filter of detachment. We have a job to do, and from where I’m standing, it feels like noble work. Cleaning The World. The cleaner streets mask the more subtle cleaning that’s happening inside (or perhaps it’s the dust and grime that is masking that). Picking up the little scraps of trouble that society forgot about and accepting the burden for those transgressions personally. Carrying them as far as we can, and trying to convert those mistakes into fresh opportunities for ‘getting it right’. Putting sweat and toil into work that all will share the benefits of equally, even at the risk of our own welfare.


… back to nuts-and-bolts. I suddenly think of myself. The frequency and method with which I’m picking up trash has a good chance of giving me sore back muscles over the next couple hours. I decide to switch pick method to be more squat intensive and bend-free. I imagine my thighs becoming significantly more toned over a couple days of doing this work, thanking the energy bar & almonds I had for breakfast. My eyes look up to see that Jayshree has gone ahead quite a distance. Things suddenly fall back into perspective. She doesn’t have high-energy food for breakfast when she knows she’s ragpicking, or any other day for that matter. Her muscles can only break themselves down to fuel their own work, leaving her sore, tired, and under-developed at best. People do this everyday. Every damn day. For years. Til their bodies break.


… to step it up. If these girls aren’t better off for having me around for the morning, I’m just a tourist. I notice the girls skipping things that are onesies and twosies—single or double pieces of trash that aren’t worth the bend. I resolve that the path I walk should be left as pristine as possible as a result of my presence, almost immediately noticing how much of an egotistical sentiment that is (as if my very presence should cleanse and sanctify) but rationalize that its still a useful reality to try and create. I step up the pace, pulling ahead of Bharti on a parallel path and clearing it while also capturing what she leaves behind on her path. The simple redundancy of the work allows my mind to settle into a serene stillness. I didn’t arrive with any mental resistance to overcome for this work, so it never seemed distasteful or bad to me, but as the peace descended it became a joy and a privilege to do.


… bubbles of joy into the world to be carried on the winds of grace to an anonymous recipient, under whose nose they burst at the opportune moment. Indeed, under the influence of effervescent joy, it’s easy to powerfully feel that the spectrum of realities experienced by humanity have no objective or intrinsic character beyond the ethereal and distorted reflections in the ruffled waters of their unstill minds. Still, its dangerous to trivialize the tumult, pain, and suffering that the world swims in. Especially when one’s own deepest stillness remains a rare treat that’s savored in the way a blind pig does when it chances upon a truffle.


… with deeper awareness to try to peer beyond and beneath the peace. I recognize that I am clinging to my joy, wanting to explore what’s deeper without letting go of what’s in my hand. Trying to have my cake and eat it too. The grip tightens reflexively, choking the peaceful flow. How sad and paradoxical it is that as I cling to comfort, certainty, and security, they slowly slip between my fingers and leave me empty-handed. How much have I not done for want of comfort, certainty, and security?


… a silent prayer through my lips… that I may not forsake good deeds for chasing things that can’t be caught. That I have the wisdom to see the Highest Good and the energy to align myself with It. Easier prayed than done.

We’re crossing from the main road to enter into a building society. Not previously aware of attracting any undue attention, I now notice several small groups of people clearly staring at Anjali and myself as we scour for trash with two ragged slum girls. One man is along the path we must cross, looking straight at me and showing no signs of budging.


… a deep breath to be ready for the conversation about to happen.

“What are you doing?”

“Collecting trash,” I say with a smile.

“Yes, but you?”

“Yes, me.”


“The road is dirty,” I say, as if he’s a silly man for overlooking that obvious fact.

He stares blankly and blinks in disbelief. Twice.

“We’ve thrown so much trash everywhere,” I continue.

“That’s true…” he concedes with a hint of shame.

“And so many children like these small girls spend their whole lives picking up our trash.”

“That’s also true…” he says with a glimmer of recognition in his eyes.

“They can’t go to school, they get sick, they get hurt. Their lives are so difficult. I thought I would make their lives a little easier today,” I say as I spot a plastic water pouch near his feet and grab for it. From even a short distance, it would have looked like I was bending to touch his feet. As I straighten up, I catch a shocked look on his face which makes it seem that he too thinks I bent to touch his feet. I decide that that might be the best way to end it, so I start walking away, stopping to pick up some more water pouches not ten feet from him.

“But are you with some organization?”
“No, just with my friend. And those two girls,” waving in the general direction of Jayshree and Bharti who are out of sight around the corner.

“I want to do something to improve these people’s situation. So I came today to work and understand. Then when I figure out how to move forward, there will be power behind my action and weight behind my words,” I continue. This answer seems more complete, and registers a smile on his face. The look in his eyes tells me that he’s understood. Action before words. Experience before knowledge.


… a small sigh of relief. One person understood. Maybe he won’t throw trash on the street today. Ok, at least not for the next hour or two.

I enter the concrete courtyard of what looks like an abandoned building society. The pavement has severe cracks in it and the walls are loaded with trash. Anjali, Bharti, and Jayshree are already busy sorting through what looks like a major score to me. As I come close, I see how there have been many fires lit here to reduce the amount of trash to a manageable amount. Its clearly failed. And made the task of finding recyclable items more difficult.

Squatting next to Bharti, I start sifting through the charred scraps. Bharti’s fingers outpace mine 10 to 1 despite my best effort to accelerate. She also tries to take the sack from me, which now weighs about 15 pounds. She probably weighs like 60 so I tell her that if she carries the sack, then I’ll have to carry her or else Anjali will think I’m a wimp. Bharti doesn’t find that nearly as funny as I had hoped, letting a sheepish smile that seems to say, “Yeah, you are a wimp.” She bounds off to the next heap of charred waste and I squat back down digesting the humble pie served by a 10 year old girl.

Minutes later, they all are nearing a spot where they’ll exit the courtyard. I move into the opposite corner, eyeing what looks like tons of unburned paper for the taking.

“Hey, there’s lots of stuff over here. Come back,” I yell.

Just as I’m moving through waste nearly six inches deep, I think of what might happen if there is broken glass in this pile. Just then, I feel glass break under my sandals.

“Hey, be careful if you come here. There’s glass,” I yell out again.

I take another step and crush a tube light under my foot.

“Don’t come here. There’s too much glass,” I yell out again. Their flimsy rubber flip-flops would have been easily pierced by the step I just made. The dangerous reality of this work hits home once again. Such a flip-flop-piercing cut would render them unable to earn, and thus eat for probably more than a week. That’s if an infection occurring in parallel didn’t do something worse.

“That’s why we didn’t take any of that stuff,” yells Jayshree.

I take another step, this time crushing massive numbers of tube lights, almost driving a shard of glass into the side of my foot.


… except in a sudden gasp.

Millimeters from a horrible, bloody situation, I gingerly crunch my way out of the minefield, thankful to have earned no scars with which to remember this experience.


… in relief.

I think of the other possible experiences I’ve been spared so far and probe my fears. As yet, the waste has been totally dry. I recognize that I would be significantly more disturbed to have to sort for recyclables through wet-waste. Yuck!! It certainly smells more than anything else and feels like it dirties you more thoroughly and seriously than dry stuff. My mind seizes on that prospect and it keeps repeating in my head, no less disgusting with each iteration. The girls have found a spot where they play house, and though I’m outwardly observing and marginally participating, I’m inwardly resisting the images of pure fetid muck now flashing through my mind.


… to be prepared for what the universe might just deliver.

We continue along our path, coming to a spot where the brick fence dead ends. We have to climb around a t-junction that sits some 25 feet above a road underpass in order to get two the next spot where we need to go. Jayshree and Bharti are over and across like pros. Anjali goes next, carefully climbing across and making it look pretty easy. Now it’s wimpy Rahul’s turn.


…and then


…for good measure. Savor this breath like it’s your last. It just might be.

For someone my size, lankiness, and clumsiness, crossing this small, awkward space is a much more difficult task. My sandals don’t help. I think of how this is yet another major hazard of their work, and wonder if anyone has ever fallen off this spot, deciding to look down before I can catch myself. Bad move… Vertigo. I thrust forward and stumble over the edge, landing in two feet of garbage.

This space is clearly used as a universal dumping ground. The girls don’t do much sifting here, telling us that we won’t find so much here. We go a few paces forward and then stop. The girls wait by the railroad tracks, telling us that they can’t cross until 9am. We wait for a train to go by roughly 5 minutes before 9, and then cross the tracks onto a small residential lane.

Jayshree starts claiming that her and Bharti need to carry the bags now, because if their ‘dada’ sees them without the bags, they’ll get in trouble. Apparently he lives around here. Just as Bharti is adding her own protest to Jayshree’s, she lets out a mirthful little outburst upon spotting a municipal trash cart. The two of them run forward and start rummaging through the waste. It mixed—wet and dry.

The universe manifested that disturbing thought that was reverberating in my mind. Dis-gus-ting. I try putting my hand in to grab something, but cringe the moment my hand feels moistures. I’m too revolted to do it myself, and hold the bag open while the girls dig and sift with remarkable efficiency. Adding significantly to the weight of the sack after a few minutes, we move on.

Along the path, we come across several men loitering around a public water receptacle. Bharti rinses the stainless steel cup bolted to the receptacle and drink some water. I suppose if you drink slum water, you can drink anything. Anjali and I use it to wash our now blackened hands, and continue along to our destination.

We end up at a corner where we empty our sacks into a much larger sack that was half full and waiting there for us. Our sacks weigh about 25 – 30 pounds each at this point, perhaps half of Bharti’s body weight. Since it would be nearly impossible for them to transport these sacks back to the slum, they load a much larger sack here, for which they pay a cycle rickshaw driver 10 Rs to transport back to their home. That’s a significant portion of their daily take, and I wonder whether there is additional loss due to the pedal rickshaw driver selling off some of the recyclables himself. Wouldn’t surprise me, as exploitation seems to rule most aspects of their lives.

Relieving ourselves of our burdens, Anjali decides to take the girls out to breakfast. I have an 11 o’clock meeting to attend, so I zip back home for a quick shower.


…and scrub the dirt off my body. The girls don’t get that chance so often. Somehow, cleaning myself feels a little more selfish than cleaning the streets and I think of how there seems to be something saintly about the unappreciated, silent service they provide to society. Sitting there on my plastic stool, I recognize how much gratitude I owe the countless ragpickers across the city for doing a necessary but unpleasant task, and feel as though I spent the morning with semi-saints in who taught me a new form of meditation.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post.)

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