Posts Tagged ‘Nipun Mehta’

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 was a hit series a while ago called ‘24’ which captured 24 hours in the riveting life of some secret agent played by Kiefer Sutherland.  Now in India for just over 24 hours, I feel like the last 24 hours in my life have been like watching something like a ‘service 24’ worthy of the small screen.  I might be rambling on in this post, but every moment back has been simultaneously surreal, too-real, and thrilling… and so I’ve got to capture it before it dims into ‘normalcy’.

Not expecting anyone to meet me at the airport in Ahmedabad, the combination of my suitcases coming out late and a trip to the currency exchange counter makes me one of the last people out of the terminal.  Unable to find a ‘prepaid taxi’ counter, I walk out of the airport door expecting to hire a cab or richshaw to take me to Virenbhai’s house.  Instead, Sirishbhai and Bhikha are standing there smiling, joking about how they were just about to give up on me and leave.  It’s quite late, and I’m touched that they went through all the effort of bringing car to fetch me at this hour.  Sirishbhai pretends like he stays up this late all the time, but I can tell he’s tired.  Bhikha says he would have come alone, but Sirishbhai didn’t think I’d remember who he was.  Though we’ve seen each other from afar around the ashram, our one an only real conversation was almost a year ago when some friends set out an a walk for good.  Sirishbhai certainly didn’t know that our one five-minute conversation emblazoned Bhikha into my mind forever as he shared the tragic story of his sister’s life and untimely death, forging a bond where he allowed me to briefly share his pain and lighten his suffering while growing a tiny bit in compassion.

Over a cool glass of water at Virenbhai’s, he shares the story of one of Manav Sadhna’s latest programs.  About two months ago, an old lady approached him in the slum.  She hadn’t eaten for two and a half days.  They immediately began shuffling to get her some food, but she said that she didn’t want any.  She was worried about her son at home, who hadn’t eaten for a week.  Her son is blind, and they soon learn that she too has become recently blind as her cataracts reached full maturity.  Working as a ragpicker on perhaps 40 Rs. a day (~$1 US) [though even that would be an impressive for a nearly blind old woman], she finally became unable to continue with her only source of income.  No income means no food, neither for herself nor her blind son.  Virenbhai assures her that something will be done about her eyesight and her son’s, and manages to calm her enough to accept food.  In the upcoming days, they arrange for her to be seen by an ophthalmologist who confirms her cataracts and quickly sets a date for surgery.  As they were thinking about the logistics of taking her to the hospital, they realize that there are probably many others in the slums that could use the services of any eye doctor and who could fill up the other 9 seats in the Qualis when they take her for her surgery.  They put out some feelers and are flooded by the response.  Since then, they’ve been running weekly shuttles to the eye hospital.  The mass response and the need to do some pre-sorting of patients gave rise to an eye camp.  That’s where we’re headed in the morning, but that night I spent sending a few emails, gathering a few phone numbers, and meditating before a few hours sleep.

We’re out the door by 9 a.m. to catch a rickshaw to the slum.  Though I know about the on-going construction of Manav Sadhna’s community center in the slum, I’m not expecting the space to be as drastically transformed as it is.  Previously made entirely of a mud-cow dung mixture pasted over uncemented bricks, it’s now a much larger open space rapidly being enclosed by fly-ash bricks cemented around steel frames.  The bricks represent one solution to the omni-present pollution problem in Ahmedabad.  They’re composed primarily of fly-ash from the local power plant and designed to be an eco-friendly option to prior disposal techniques.  As I take my small gasp of surprise at how quickly this space has been transformed, I’m glad to be touching the bricks and not breathing them.

Over the next few hours, I catch up on the last few months with Kamleshbhai, Jayeshbhai, Anarben, Sunil, Jagatbhai and some of the Manav Sadhna kids.  I learn about yet another new experimental program having arisen from the compassionate spirit that informs and fine-tunes Manav Sadhna’s organic, dynamically optimized response to the problems of the slum.  Alcoholism runs rampant amongst the men here.  As the latest effort in a long string of interventions designed to reduce alcoholism here, Manav Sadhna set up a day to honor five men who were sober for coming on four years.  Placing feelers out into the community, Manav Sadhna arranged for the chief guests at the celebration to be about fifty alcoholics from the slum who were interested in quitting.  In parallel, Virenbhai had met with another NGO in Ahmedabad that works exclusively on the problem of addiction and, after reviewing their program and meeting their staff, made arrangements for admittance of five men into the 30-day sobriety program.  From the celebration, five of the worst young drunks interested in quitting were chosen to be part of the program.  Though they would be the most difficult to work with, they would also have the highest inspirational value for the slum community and the other alcoholics in the area, unleashing the collective imagination about the possibilities sobriety.  These men are five days into their 30-day program, and we plan to visit them just before lunch.

Virenbhai and I also have longer conversation about an Indicorps fellowship I’ve been trying to get off the ground: GIS (graphical information systems) mapping of the slum using high-school aged slum children.  Based on some very current contexts for Manav Sadhna, I’m finally able to convey more thoroughly how such a tool will enable a more effective deployment of the organization’s limited resources, facilitate the acquisition of more resources for targeted programs in the slum, make more effective use of the time and expertise of the large numbers of international volunteers, and most importantly, give a young platoon of kids the skills, experience, and motivation to emerge as life-long leaders within their own communities who are adept making change with minimal outside initiative.  Virenbhai’s concern is that it may be a step away from the sort of organic responsiveness that makes Manav Sadhna what it is, but is also much closer to being convinced that it’s a very useful and potentially powerful project.  It seems as though the final pieces of what’s needed to officially launch this as a 3-organization Indicorps fellowship are coming together.

After screening 80 people in the eye camp, we pick up family members of the admittees and head to the addiction program’s facility.  We learn that four out of five of our admittees seem dramatically improved after 4 days, but one, Raju, has been acting up and disturbing other residents.  We spend about 40 minutes talking to him and others.  One guy drives a pedal rickshaw for a living and pulls in about 80 Rs a day, 25 to 50 of which would go into alcohol.  Of all five there, he seems to be the most clear-eyed and visibly transformed in such a short span.  Raju, on the other hand, is mildly sedated after having kept everyone up all night.  Apparently, his withdrawal was causing hallucinations that lead to disruptive and semi-violent behavior in the night.  The staff had to strap him down and inject a sedative, bruising his ego and adding greater fuel to his desire to leave and get drunk.  Virenbhai gives him a motivational talk, but I can tell he wants a hug and a compassionate shoulder to cry on.  A we leave, I give him a couple pats on the chest and hug his head as I too give him my words of encouragement.  Its clear he needs more though, and so we call Jayeshbhai as we’re leaving to see if he can make it by for a visit as well.

Over lunch, Virenbhai and I have more discussions about my machinations and micro-developments to find a way to do what he’s done: spend half his time in the States and half his time in India.  We also strategize around ways to include more people into something like this.  Two good friends call from the States, and I find myself no longer surprised by how the exact people I’m thinking of seem to connect at a seemingly coincidental moment.  I got to briefly chat with Rish, who inspired me years ago by his own leap into service in India and his consistent involvement since, and Gaurav, who constantly surprises me with the leaps he makes everyday.  I can’t even count my blessings, and know enough to not event try.

Mid-afternoon, Bhikha swings by with the car to pick me up.  We pick up Jayeshbhai and head over to the addiction facility.  Watching Jayeshbhai with those men was pure magic.  I have so much to learn from that man.  As I listen in on the small circle he’s formed with them on the floor, it seems that as much as he’s talking to them and talking about himself, he’s also talking to me about me.  It seemed that they were all feeling this exact same way.  As I’m marveling at what’s unfolding before me, I think of the beauty of the breadth of Jayeshbhai’s connectivity, equally inclusive of endless lists of who’s who in service, business, and politics while no less inclusive and powerfully present in a circle of drunks from the slum.  Just as I catch myself thinking he’s connected at the ‘top’, as in heavy-hitters from many arenas, and the ‘bottom’ in the form of the outcasts and pariahs of the slums, it occurs to me that the ‘top’ is really a connection to Source, and that informs and empowers all other connectivity.  Coincidentally (or not), Jayeshbhai blurts out just then:

“Do you believe in God?”

“We can’t see or know God, but we see you.  I take you to be my God.”

“Yes.  So much help.  Such sweet sweet words like flowers come from your mouth and lift my spirit.  I believe in you,” adds another as he reaches to touch Jayeshbhai’s feet.

“Its not right to touch my feet,” says Jayeshbhai as he catches the man’s hands.
“What happens when you put a bit of yogurt in milk?  In time it all turns to yogurt, doesn’t it?  Just like that we’re all like milk, the same milk, and we need that small bit of goodness in the yogurt to begin changing for the better,” continues Jayeshbhai.  He goes on talk about how in doing a little bit of goodness for each other we’re all putting a bit of yogurt into the milk bowl of the world and slowly creating more yogurt in all our lives.  How the connectivity and continuity of small things he’s done for them are the result of small things others have done for him, and how the time will soon come for them to pay forward goodness in the spirit of uplifting all.  Unscripted, unplanned, spontaneous and from the heart, they’re all touched and invigorated with a great sense of being part of something large and wondrous in the task of ridding themselves of alcoholism.  We spent five minutes in silent prayer that God gives them the strength to change themselves so that others might be changed.  Anarben calls as we’re leaving, speaks to Raju, and immediately sits to add her own prayer to ours as she gets off the phone.  As we depart, they’re all markedly affected by the 15 minutes Jayeshbhai spent with them, and Raju steels his resolve to fight through this transition.

We were then off to Baroda.  Nipun’s cousin Jayal just got married and was having a wedding reception that evening.  My attendance was a surprise as I had made no plans to meet up or be present at any event, despite hearing a little bit about the newlyweds.  Approaching slowly in the elaborately prepared garden in which the reception was being held, Jayeshbhai, Bhikha, and I were observing Nipun from afar.  Even from a distance, it was clear how much he was giving to the people he was talking to, in of course a lively, pumped-up way.  He seemed nominally surprised as he caught sight of us and I could immediately tell that despite the high level of energy he was putting out, his body was tired.  His voice was hoarse, his eyes red and droopy, but his enthusiasm undiminished.  I immediately forgot my own jet-lag.  Later, beginning over dinner and continuing on the ride back to Baroda, I shared the story of how Nipun has consistently inspired me from afar prior to me even meeting him and continuing well beyond that.  True to form, Nipun had found time to come over and spend some time with us during a dinner presentation, and even then given me a great deal to think about over a short conversation.

Jayeshbhai and I spoke about the source of sustainability on the ride back to Ahmedabad as my consciousness was collapsing under jet-lag-induced exhaustion.  I fell asleep somewhere early on, but had to share the story of my first 24 hours in India after watching Virenbhai, Jayeshbhai, and Nipun put out such tireless energy in a day that’s not so unusual for them.  Besides, I reasoned, its only 2:30pm PST!

(migrated from my original Livejournal post).

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One thing that I’ve realized in my travels is that places don’t do a thing for me. There are few man-made
sights that blow me away (though natural beauty still stops me quite often). I don’t get excited about sight-seeing or touring. Visualizing it in my head is just as satisfying as seeing with my eyes, and its a helluva lot easier.

That being said, spending time in Madurai has been very special, and only promises to get better with each passing day.  This place is ground-zero for everything Aravind, and visiting is the fulfillment of wish born three years ago.

When I first read about Dr. V back in the February 2001 issue of Fast Company, I almost fell over in my seat. Stunned doesn’t quite capture it. This man’s story was incredible, and what he stood for presented the answer to so many problems that the world faces. His life is a challenge to every person– if he could overcome so much to accomplish the impossible, what about the rest of us who have far fewer obstacles and much more reasonable dreams? More over, his life compels you to take a hard look at
your dreams and question whether they’re worthy of your precious time on earth.

As Dr. V would say, “Intelligence and ability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful.”

At the time I read the article, I was a peon at the California Healthcare Foundation. Though my work wasn’t stimulating, I felt as though the universe had come through for me once again by placing me there. Given my all my pre-med education and subsequent rebellion against the American medical establishment, being at the foundation felt like a second chance to use that interest and background in a new way. Dr. V’s story was the spark that blazed the trail for the path I was about to tread. Developing the complimentary and alternative medicine project was inspired by Dr. V, and his attainment of the impossible was the impetus for the dive off the deep end (which now might be a recurrent quirk of my personality) that followed.

Few know that I’ve actually carried that Fast Company article with me, literally, for over three years. First, it was a continual inspiration and my form of hero worship. Second, it was a motivator par-exellence. Third, I could easily copy it and give it to anybody and everybody for whom I thought it would be relevant. Clearly, I thought it was highly relevant to a lot of different kinds of people, as I must have copied that thing several hundred times over the years.

Back then, I thought that I must do something for this man who has done so much for so many. Didn’t know what, though honestly, I think that even if my life were spent sweeping the floor of a place like Aravind, I would die with a smile on my face.

In many ways, Dr. V also brought me to Charityfocus, though it was something I had heard about years before Aravind, and similarly wish to explore more deeply. The story goes that one day I called Nipun Mehta, whom I had only met once before, and asked him to help me guide another newly-made friend in choosing a South Asian NGO to donate over a million dollars to. Ironically, Charityfocus operates on an almost zero-dollar budget, and doesn’t want or need money, so it might seem a tad surprising that Nipun dropped his plans that day to help me and some random rich stranger out. Of course, it’s not at all surprising if you know anything about Nipun, but that’s a subject for another day. The upshot of this story is that I could only think of one South Asian NGO that I wouldn’t think twice about giving $1.5M to– Aravind,
and I told this friend as much. Nipun is of course much more knowledgeable and way more well-connected than me, so the hope was that he had more suggestions. Later that day, when I mentioned Aravind again, Nipun told me that he knows Dr. V, and though I already gave Nipun and CF a lot of credit after my first encounter, knowing Dr. V impressed me more than anything else I knew about CF to that point. I knew that any organization that was linked to Aravind would be one of uncommon and extraordinary character, and would be a place where I could develop all those wonderful qualities I saw in Dr. V which I hope to possess
some day. I knew then that I had to make CF a bigger part of my life.

Anyways, here I am in Madurai. What’s interesting is that you’d think I would want to spend tons of time with Dr. V since he’s had such an incredible impact on my life, though we had not even been in the same room until he visited CF. The reality is that I actually feel like I wouldn’t want him to waste a single moment talking to the likes of me. Not only do I wish to serve his vision in some tangible way, but also
serve by not taking up any of his precious time– time that he was so willing to generously spend with me while I was in Pondicherry.

That first day in Pondy, before “Chief” was leaving the hospital, he stopped by and said to the hospital manager, “Find out his field. He may be able to help us.” I probably can’t “help”, but I know that I can serve. And I know that my service to Dr. V’s vision won’t stop with my departure from here.

If you read this, and asked, “Who is Dr. V?”, buy a copy of Infinite Vision.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

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