Posts Tagged ‘Jayeshbhai Patel’

On my way out the building in the morning, I search my pockets for 5 rupee coins. If I have one, I go to the shop downstairs and buy 5 packets of Gems– an Indian version of M&Ms. There are 3 Gems per packet, giving me 14 chances to make someone smile (there would be 15 but invariably the first Gem ends up in my own mouth!).

On the first day, I gave one each to the two youngs sons of my dhobi (washerman), and to the boy who lives in the makeshift shack in front of my building. Their hands were really dirty so I put them straight into their mouths. I thought for a second about giving them an impromptu lesson in hand-washing, but they are too young to understand Hindi and I haven’t learned enough Kannada to explain properly. Next time I’ll pick up the basics, and use gesturing like Jayeshbhai.

Our receptionist is often a little frazzled by the whirl of traffic coming through the lobby and the troubleshooting in multiple areas simultaneously that she’s often responsible for. I walked up to her and said,

“I have a surprise for you!” Instantly she smiles.

“What is it?”

“Your favorite,” I say, as I give her a whole packet of Gems.

“Hey, how did you know!?” she says with genuine surprise.

I actually didn’t, but I said, “I know everything,” in Hindi, donning my pretend tone of a wise man. Next time I’ll be totally truthful with her, and tell her that I just like seeing her smile, instead of puffing myself up even if in jest.

One of my students figured out how to import computer-generated forms into the Java application on the one specific model of mobile phone he had scoured the city for a full day to find. It was a small but important piece of the project he’s working on, and he was struggling for hours to reach this little breakthrough. He lets out a joyous cheer for himself, with the exclamations of accomplishment, attracting the attention of the other students around him. I roll my chair over and give him a Gem, along with the student sitting next to him. It so easy to add fun and smiles where there is already a smile. Next time I’ll remember to work harder and add some joy where there was gloom before instead of instantly taking the easy path.

A colleague from the foundation comes down the stairs and sees me waiting in the lobby for a meeting with one of the officers.

“You’re just the guy I wanted to talk to!” he says, as he launches into trying recruit me into helping with an upcoming job fair for the Fellows.

Schedules were incompatible, so I apologize and redirect the conversation to more personal topics. This guy has noticeably come a long way from the first night I met him in town, and I call him out on it and compliment him. He’s grateful, somewhat surprised that a relatively distant observer like myself noticed. The conversation takes an even more pleasant detour. Suddenly, I get called away for my meeting. I get up to leave, take a couple of steps, and then turn back.

“Hey! I have something for you.”

I pinch out the last Gem in that packet, and say,

“You just hit a homerun!” before the candy hits his hand. Luckily it was a green gem.

“Do you remember those M&M commercials from the 80s?” I ask.

He gives me a wry smile. Next time I’ll not try to make something small and sweet into something grand and spectacular.

A local Fellow from last year has started a social enterprise in town, and I often spot her walking around from the different sites where her employees are posted, regardless of whether is 6am or 10pm at night.  It took me maybe five attempts of asking before her busy schedule finally enabled us to sit down for lunch with her partner.  On this particular evening, she’s leaving the foundation at the same time I am, and happens to have a meeting at my guest house. I take my chance to escort her back in the dark and the light monsoon rain, holding my umbrella over her head even though my backpack had a laptop in it.  We get more than 80% of the way back before she discovers that I’ve been keeping her dry instead of myself!  (Any my laptop still works!!)

During conversation, I discover that she’s coming to the guest house to be interviewed by a foundation intern on the origins, challenges, and lessons of her fledgling social enterprise.  I launch into a persuasive case into conducting the interview in our common kitchen so I get the benefit of hearing the story as well.  She hasn’t had dinner yet, so I bribe her with the idea of cooking a little more for myself to share with her.  She tells me that the intern is very shy, and may not want to do an interview semi-publicly.  I convince her that its in both of their interests for her to make the request, at the peril of my relentless curiosity forcing them both to answer roughly the same questions twice.  Not sure if I’ve made my case by the time I get to the kitchen, she’s halfway up the second flight of stairs when I offer to bribe them both with one pack of Gems each for conducting the interview in the kitchen.  Five minutes later, they both come down the stairs smiling, and sit down at the table to start the interview.  I throw in my own questions every so often, and enjoy a pleasant dinner conversation over a home-cooked meal afterwards.  Dessert was of course, Gems!  Next time I will remember how much kindness is its own reward, and won’t try and distort that reality by ‘bribing’ people with something meant to be so pure.  Kindness is always a gift, and I will be mindful to not turn it into an exchange.

What I’ve discovered in my Rs. 5 experiment is that this tiny bit of kindness goes a long way in making my own day more joyful– regardless of whatever else may have gone ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Its like the salt in my dal that makes it go from bland to savory– or the sugar in coffee that takes things from bitter to sweet. I’m still not practicing kindness perfectly, and I am making some mistakes along the way, but that doesn’t matter as much as trying in the first place, and watching myself so I can improve.  And I’ve come to feel that though my tiny acts of kindness seem so small and insignificant, its very important that I do them.

Besides, who would have thought that the formula for joy only costs  5 rupee?


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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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There’s an fun little experiment that I’ve been lucky enough to help out with. Its called the Five Bucks Club, wherein a group of friends pool $5/ea to be used in India by Jayeshbhai Patel in micro-philanthropy. Check out the premise and the online diary to read some touching stories that are part of Jayeshbhai’s every day life. Or watch him walk through Gujarat’s largest slum.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

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While feeding the dogs that live on the stairs of my building some milk biscuits, I suddenly notice how healthy and energetic the littlest dog seemed to appear. Two weeks ago, most of his body was covered in mange and to call him sickly would be an understatement. I almost suspected that one day I would come home to find a canine corpse on my climb to the third floor.

Two weeks ago, I was in the thicket of caring for an old man I found dying in the gutter near the railway station. Though I hope to write more on the lessons I learned from this man at another time, today my tale is about one realization in particular. On my second day in the lung diseases ward of the Civil Hospital, it struck me rather powerfully that there was no difference between the man I found and anyone else there. Other patients were equally worthy of compassion as was the under-appreciated staff that, for the most parts, heaps neglect and sometimes abuse on the patients. In fact, I distinctly remember the feeling of not knowing who in particular should receive my attention as I was feeling compassion for them all. This feeling sustained throughout the day, such that I couldn’t help but feel for the dogs that were slumbering on the steps when I returned home late that night. I resolved that I must do something.

On the night of his departure back to the U.S., Virenbhai gave Dharmesh all the packaged American food that was left over in his refrigerator. Not having eaten a proper meal in several days, I only discovered Virenbhai’s gift a few days later on the morning after my compassion realization at the hospital. I cooked up what looked like breaded eggplant, only to discover that it was breaded cheese unfit for my lactose-intolerant stomach. Still, I greedily ate the tasty bread-coating and left the cheese aside, momentarily stumped about what to do with it. Then I remembered the dogs.

Surprisingly, only the smallest dog wanted to eat the cheese. Watching him eat it was a lot of fun, and he instantly became my friend. Over the next few days, he would follow me around enthusiastically and it only took me a couple of lessons to teach him to sit, stay, and come when called. He got more cheese and food over the next few days, but I was not consistent about feeding him by any means. Though I would joke to the people in our building that he was my chela (disciple), I actually got very busy again and began leaving home before he had awaken in the morning and returning long after he had gone to sleep at night. Until today.

As I was enjoying the sight of him and the other dogs finish the biscuits I was feeding them, I suddenly realized that his mange was gone. He looked like a healthy, albeit tiny, normal dog. And then I felt an itch on my bicep. And another on my forearm. Over the last few days, splotchy marks have appeared over right upper arm, my left arm, my stomach, and even one on my face. Lately, I’ve also felt a lot of idiopathic fatigue, coupled with a fair bit of weight loss. There’s reason to believe that I have intestinal worms, and armchair physician that I am, I made a self-diagnosis of ringworm (a fungal infection of the skin that is not actually a worm) in addition to my likely case of intestinal worms.

Right there on the stairs, I started laughing. Several years ago, I told my friend Shruti of some transportation mishaps I had experienced, including the effects of a long-standing curse from the ‘tire gods’. I had been plagued with a seemingly impossible series of parking tickets, speeding tickets, flat tires, nearly missed flights, and assorted bicycle near-misses that would be scary if they weren’t so funny. Shruti listened with such compassion that I almost felt relieved of my bad transportation karma, only to later discover that my transportation woes had in fact actually ended. This would be a wonderful thing, except that Shruti herself then experienced an abrupt onset of an impossible chain of vehicular incidents. In two years, the list is something like 3 stolen cars, 6 accidents, dozens of parking tickets, and almost daily near-misses. We joked about how she had been so compassionate in listening to my transport issues that she traded transportation karma with me, and was now working out my bad karma. It was a joke, but I think we both secretly believed that there was a sliver of truth in it.

Which is why I was laughing on the stairs. The thought that I was working out doggy karma absorbed in a moment of excessive compassion was hilarious. I headed off to the local pharmacy and bought de-worming tablets and anti-fungal cream, still smiling at both the dog’s transformation and my degeneration. For a moment, I was doing some metaphysical math in trying to connect the ripples: Shruti’s compassion freeing me of many burdens such that I could in turn free others of burdens, culminating into a moment where apparently a dog was the last known benefactor. It all made me wonder for a moment about whether it is worthwhile to be compassionate towards a dog if that meant that one might sacrifice something else of value (like one’s own health) or not have that time available to help humans. And then I thought of something Jayeshbhai often says: “Its all God helping God.”

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

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