Back to ‘Reality’

Namaste!

Just over a week ago my sewa safar in Bhārat with Samatol Foundation came to an end. My last blog post was 2 weeks ago, and since then I was still involved in the office, doing preparation for the Samaroop (send-off ceremony).

As mentioned my task was to create detailed and informative posters to hang up in the domes at the campsite, that would allow the parents and visitors to gain a depper understanding into the reasons children run away, the law in place to support them, and the work that Samatol does. The Samaroop ceremony was on Saturday 25th August, and the week leading up to that was very hectic in the office. I had many tasks assigned to me, which were all at loose ends, and so it was a matter of bringing all these loose ends together, in time for the Samaroop, and in time for everything to be proofed and printed.

The Samaroop!

The Samaroop was an incredibly unique experience, and one that I will cherish forever. Some of you may have caught it on the Facebook live stream I set up, or watched the recorded video after, however in short, the day was a send-off for most of the children who had been at the campsite for approximately 45 days. This was their time to be reunited with their parents and working from the office during the work I saw the immense amount of preparatory work that went into this. The karyakartas a few weeks prior to this event, began to find details for the children’s parents, so that they could be contacted in a suitable amount of time, so that they could arrive at the Samaroop in a timely manner, or soon thereafter. At the Samaroop around half of the children were reunited with their parents, and the other half’s parents were going to come a few days later due to travel time. At this event, was the showcase of the sangeet I had been teaching the children for the past 6 weeks, along with a dance, and I can definitely say that the I was immensely proud of the children for their performance!

This day was quite obviously emotional, as I cannot imagine being away from my parents for that long as that age and seeing the reaction of some of the children was truly heart-touching. Furthermore speaking to some parents, and other visitors was a great experience as I was able to understand both points of view, and some of the family backgrounds were extremely eye-opening, as to how ‘sheltered’ my life in the UK is. The day was so incredible that it is actually quite hard to express in words, hence why I shared more photos on the Instagram blog, and below, as seeing it will encapsulate all the feeling I had of the day.

Camp – Office – Field

During my final week, I spent some time in the office, but also requested to have some experience on the station doing fieldwork (i.e. actively finding children). This was because I had thus far had experience at the office, and at the campsite, however I wanted to see where it all began, so that my cycle would be complete. My experience at the station was also very unique, and my first observation of it was… oh my gosh… there’s a lot of walking involved! For this I am incredibly inspired by the karykartas who do this work on a daily basis. The station I was based at was Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) and this was one of the oldest stations in Bhārat. It was formerly known as the Victoria Terminus during the British Raj, where Queen Victoria was the presiding monarch over the nation, and this evident in the architecture of the station, reminding me fondly of the UK. As this is one of the busiest stations in Bhārat, and one of the most popular as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the station is kept very clean, which was something that was very different to most stations in Bhārat, which are dusty, dirty and unkept. Although we did not find a child the days I went, it was nevertheless sa valuable opportunity to see the process ‘hypothetically’.

The Insider’s Insight

Also, for a week between my last 2 weeks, I had the opportunity to stay with a host family to experience that aspect of this process too. This was an amazing experience, and I would recommend anyone to do this if they get the opportunity. Naturally this may seem daunting however, the host family I was assigned to was so lovely, and made me feel so welcome into their family, that I felt incredibly comfortable staying with them. I even had the opportunity to meet their family who has come from Chennai, and the chance to take part in a Ganpati Puja they had held at the house, which really was the cherry on top!

Seeing all the work done by the karyakartas at the campsite, office and on the stations, really makes me very proud to be Indian and to say that my nation has such great individuals who do this sort of work. Whilst there have been many inspiring people I have met along the way, there are way too many to name and give introductions about, however they have all in their own unique ways, developed me as a person, and for that I am incredibly thankful. Also, it has truly opened my eyes to the realities of the world, as in the UK most of us live a very privileged life in comparison, and so seeing and experienced the other side to it has been very humbling. This experience has been unlike any other I have had to date, and will have in the future, and being able to perform sewa and serve others in Bhārat has been incredible!

 

Quotes of the Blog:

‘No act of kindness, no matter how small is wasted’ – Aesop

‘ I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy’ – Rabindranath Tagore

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Experience it All, It’s Never Too Late!

Namaste!

My fourth week has recently finished, and I am now a few days into my fifth week. It really is crazy to think that I have been here for over a month! It feels as though I only arrived a week or two ago!

15th August… What’s The Significance?

This week has generally been similar to my last couple of weeks… I have been based in the office during weekdays, and then spent my weekends at the camp. However, last Wednesday was 15th August, Independence Day (Swatantrata Diwas) for Bhārat, and was definitely a day I will remember, and cherish forever! For those of you following my Instagram blog to, you would’ve seen the photos along with the rather long description, explaining how my day went, however for those of you who haven’t (although it’s not too late, you can still follow my journey!) I’ll explain it briefly now. Being born and brought up in London, I have never experienced an actual ‘celebration’ or flag hoisting on 15th August, as it just is a thing in the UK. I shared this story with some kaaryakartas in the office, and so I was invited to accompany them to the camp, where there was going to a celebration for it. The day definitely made me feel more connected to my roots in Bhārat and there was a strange feeling of pride in being Indian when the flag was hoisted, and the national anthem was sung!

Significant or Not?

Also it gave us all time to pause and reflect on the significance of the day. It was more than merely just a bank holiday, more than just time off work and school, more than just extra time to spend with family. Thousands prior to us had fought, and laid down their lives for the country, so that we can now say today that Bhārat is a free nation. This is reflected in the three colours of the Indian flag, which has its own deep meaning. Therefore, this moment of reflection as to how far we have come since the end of the British Raj, and a moment to remember those who had sacrificed their lives fighting for the independence which we may pay little heed to today, is one that ought to be remembered, and never forgotten.

To make the day extra special, I was given the honour of hoisting the flag, considering I had never even known what happened on this day, prior to last week. An interesting and quite heart touching paradox is that on that day on one hand there was someone present who is Indian, but has been born, brought up and educated in the UK, who has never experienced this celebration. On the other hand, there are the children who have all been born and brought up in Bhārat but have little to possibly no educational background, and who have rarely experienced this celebration, yet many of whom used to sell the Tiranga flag on the streets of India. The unification of these two groups of people, coming together to celebrate this occasion together, and sharing their experiences and knowledge! Experiencing something likje this definitely made me feel more connected with my motherland, and gave me the realization that Bhārat is not just a holiday destination for us, it is our home!

Introduction to… Satishji!

As I mentioned earlier I have had more of an opportunity to interact with other karyakartas and find out their journey into social work whilst working in the office. One individual I have met, is called Satishji. He has studied Psychology, and has a background in the medical field of social work. He has over 20 years experience in the field, and is very knowledgeable on many matters, one of them being yoga! Prior to working for Samatol he used to be involved with a variety of NGO’s that deal with the transgender community, HIV/AIDS awareness and support, sexual education provision and working within hospitals doing social work. However, what struck me most about Satishji is his personality! I felt very comfortable with him and we chatted extensively, as my first meeting with him was on my first day, as he accompanied me to drop me to the camp. Two weekends ago when I visited the camp, he was also there, and we both chatted profusely about what we had been up to in the past 2 weeks. He is just such a down-to-earth person that he made my initial anxiety vanish immediately. Similarly, watching him interact with the children at the camp was amazing! His patience, natural ability to communicate to children at their level and just seeing how much he cares about these children, was inspiring and admirable.

He has been doing social work for pretty much his whole working life, and when I asked him why, his response was remarkable. He said, if I am going to work, I want satisfaction from the work I do, and I love the idea of helping others. It’s my way of giving back to the community, but I also get satisfaction from doing such work! On this point, this is a very common response from a lot of the kaaryakartas here… they do the work that they do as they want to see positive change in this field, and feel a sense of satisfaction from helping such people.

That’s all for now folks, stay tuned for the next blog to hear about my penultimate week, and some more insights into the amazing people I have, kaaryakartas and the children alike!

Link to my Instagram blog:  https://www.instagram.com/saagarssewasafar/.

 

Quotes of the Blog:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

“Citizenship consists in service of the country” – Jawaharlal Nehru

Two Worlds, One Large Disparity…

Namaste!

So my third week at Samatol has come to an end, and I am now over halfway through my project… I know time really does fly by! As I mentioned in my last blog, I have had to leave the camp, and alternate arrangements have now been sought. I will now be splitting my week between working in the office, and accompanying the karyakartas (the workers) to the stations, to identify children in need of help. On the weekends I will be visiting the camp, to spend some time with the children!

Becoming a Local…

Working in the office has been interesting, as although there isn’t a great deal to do, I have had numerous opportunities to interact with various karyakartas, and find out their journey that had led them to work in such a field, which I will share in the next blog. I have also been allocated my own project in the office, Blog which is to conduct some preparatory work for the Samaroop karyakram, which is the send-off ceremony for the children that will be held on 25th August. Vijayji has asked me to create some informative posters, detailing the work that Samatol do, what the law is regarding the care and protection of children, and what the parent’s should be doing. Whilst to some this may sound like a chore, in fact for me, I’m enjoying it as it brings in my legal background. Researching the law behind runaway children is particularly interesting, and it naturally makes me compare and contrast it to the situation we have in the UK. However, in this process I have slowly begun transitioning as a local, even though everyone here, without me saying a word, can tell that I’m not from this neck of the woods!

Traveling to the office via the local trains each day, and travelling to the camps via trains, local buses and jeeps, has been a real experience, and is one I most certainly won’t forget, particularly the jeeps. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to experience the London Underground during rush hour, after seeing rush hour in Bhārat, you’ll immediately stop complaining about the tube. Not only are the platforms full of people, there is no concept of being civil and ‘allowing passengers off the train first, before boarding’. Here it is every man for themselves, quite literally, and watching people barge past each other as they burst out of the train, is both comedic, but also frightening in the sense that it would not take long for anyone to get injured, pick pocketed, etc in this mayhem. But anyways, back to the beloved jeeps… so, jeeps here are large cars that generally operate from large stations transporting people to other large cities, that aren’t accessible by trains. What they do, is to maximize time, space and money, is they cram as many people that can fit into these cars, and so you spend a fair part of the journey in very close contact to people around you, with a pungent stench of sweat and more from everyone’s body heat in these cars… however it is all part of the experience!

However, with that all being said, I’ve definitely noticed one thing in common with all modes of public transport in Bhārat: a focus on functionality. Whilst obviously the trains here cannot be compared to the London Underground or Virgin Trains and the buses aren’t your typical double-decker red, London buses, there is little focus on aesthetics, unlike London/UK. Here the bare metal is exposed, there isn’t coatings of varnish and paint on them, as what’s the point? This was quite refreshing as whilst it appealing to the eyes to make public transport aesthetic, here it is all about does it do the job it is supposed to do? If so, then leave it be!

Two Worlds, One Large Disparity!

On that note, of comparing and contrasting, when I left the camp, I went to live with relatives in Mumbai. Seeing 8 year old children at the camp, and then coming home to see my 8 year old nephew was a moment that I will remember. Why? It was at this moment that I was actually able to directly compare and contrast the differences between the two children, neither good nor bad, but just the differences were present. There was a stark contrast between the two, in their attitudes, appearances, education (both formal and informal) and it was just a moment of reflection on my experience so far. I’m not saying at all that the children at the camp are not smart or as developed or other negative connotation, but seeing my nephew of the same age, you could see the benefits of having a proper education, stable family situation. However on the flip side, the children at the camp whilst they may not have had a formal education, they are very educated in other skills and trades, unlike city children. Furthermore, as some as them are less fortunate than others, you can see that they are a lot more appreciative of everything that they get, and are not part of the throw-away lifestyle, some of us know too well!

Whilst visiting the camp this weekend, I decided to take some chocolate biscuits with me for the children as a small gift. Seeing their reactions upon receiving something that is so common for many of us, and seeing how grateful and appreciative they were of it, was something I will never forget, and was something I wasn’t particularly expecting either. Whilst the monetary value of the biscuits was around £3, which is basically a meal deal, that all of us wouldn’t think twice about spending, the children’s reaction was just priceless, and got me thinking about how different my life is, and that we should all be a lot more grateful for all that is bestowed upon us!

That’s all for now folks, but stay tuned for the next blog, which will contain some more personal insights, and an update of my time in Bhārat!

Also, I have an Instagram blog too, which I definitely recommend you checking out, if you haven’t already, as it documents my journey in Bhārat through photos! The link is: https://www.instagram.com/saagarssewasafar/.

 

 

Quote of the Blog:

“Hunger and thirst ends for one who eats and drinks. Anger calms when the right result is achieved. But even by conquering and enjoying all the directions of the world, a person does not find any end to his greed”. 

Srimad Bhagavata Purana (7.15.20)

From Graduation to Samatol Foundation!

Namaste!

It’s been a while since my last blog so here’s some updates of what I’ve been up to since. With the hustle and bustle and buzz of graduation still ringing in my ears, I caught my flight to Mumbai a week ago on Friday. To be perfectly honest as the week leading up to flying out to Bhārat was so hectic I didn’t really have a chance to think about my trip, and even on the flight I spent my time listening to music, looking at graduation photos and catching up on my Bollywood movies. Only until I landed and smelt that distinct fragrance of India, was when it hit me that I was here, ready to begin my Sewa safar.

Touchdown in India

I was received at the airport by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member, who accompanied me to the Kaaryalay that I was going to stay in for the first weekend before being transferred to the campsite. Upon arriving and speaking to Rameshji he ran through my itinerary for my trip and gave me some further detail on the camp I was going to visit in the next few days. He also advised me that I may have packed way too much, and advised I take less things with me. As that weekend was planned to be a chill weekend I went to stay with family for the remainder of the weekend, so that I could offload some of my baggage, and have the opportunity to buy a few things I had forgotten.

The Man Behind it All

On Monday I met Vijayji Jadav who is the founder and head of Samatol Foundation. Speaking to him was quite reassuring and he too gave me some further insight into the work I’d be doing at the campsite. He also gave me a background of himself and how he has dedicated his life to Sewa and social work, to help others which was very inspiring. From the office in Thane, he arranged for someone to take me to the campsite, which was in a place called Murbad. Once we got off the highway, we drove for a good 20 minute on unpaved road, away from all the noise, and so it is safe to say it was literally in the middle of nowhere. But upon arriving at the camp, there was a completely different atmosphere there, possibly because it was situated in a serene, rural place, a refreshing difference from the urban setting most of us are used to.

Sewa. Sangeet. Stuck-In-The-Mud?

Thereafter during the remainder of the week I began Sewa journey and began teaching the children Sangeet (music and singing) which went down really well. I also took some Khel session and taught them some British games like Stuk-In-The-Mud, Tag and wheelbarrow races. I joined in with other sessions the Karyakartas took such as basic Hindi/Marathi lessons, counselling and therapy session. Of course, being India, cricket was on the agenda daily without fail!

What I found somewhat difficult during the week was getting used to not having a fixed timetable and the day being somewhat flexible. Here’s a rough timetable of what each day looked like:

6am: Wake Up
6.15-7.15am: Morning Yogāsana, Practice of Prathanas
7.30-8.45am: Cleaning the Site – bathrooms, floors, outdoor areas, etc.
9-9.30am: Breakfast
9.30-12.45pm : ‘Flexible Time’
1-4pm: Lunch and Nap Time
4-5pm : Play time – mostly cricket!
5-8pm: ‘Flexible Time’
8-9pm: Meeting, Jyot or TV time
9-10pm: Dinner
10pm: Bedtime

Flexibility is Key

So whilst there was a fairly structured timetable on paper this could vary depending on if any visitors or Vijayji came to the camp. With regards to ‘Flexible time’ as this is a camp, it is not as formal and rigid as a school. Therefore, in these periods was when activities occurred whether they be creative and artistic, or an introduction to formal education by teaching them the Hindi/Marathi alphabet, or various Khel’s and sports. It was in these periods where I also seized moments to teach the children harmonium and geet/gaana (singing) which they thoroughly enjoyed. The evening session prior to dinner was either a meeting, jyot or TV time. The meeting would consist of the children being given a vishay (topic) for example why they shouldn’t get involved with intoxicating substances, or the type of character traits they should possess, and so on, and would then be asked to speak briefly on that topic after being given some time to think. Their answered would be noted down by a karyakarta who would review these to see how deeply and with how much reflection on their own lives, these children were thinking. Jyot, coming from the Sanskrit work of ‘Jyoti’ means ‘brightness’, ‘divine light’, and this activity involved the children getting in touch with a ‘divine light’. The children would sit in a circle with a candle in the middle, and would use this period as a form of dhyān (meditation). However, this would be guided by a karyakarta who would guide the children on what to focus on, whether that be to reflect on why they shouldn’t have run away from home or reflection on how they should want to improve themselves going forward.

Due issues with my eczema and asthma, I have had to leave the camp for a few days, and am currently in the process of making alternate arrangements to continue my Sewa project. However the past week at the camp has really opened my eyes, to some of the realities in the world. In the UK we are very sheltered from these harsh truths and to see and experience them has been very inspirational. Seeing how these children are still satisfied with the smallest things and are appreciative of what they have was definitely thought provoking, and the interest some of them have show in gaining as much as they can from their experience at the camp is remarkable.

Quote of the Blog:

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth” – Muhammad Ali

 

 

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Say It… Loud and Proud – Orientation Day 2

Namaste!

The Big Update!

Since my last post, I have been allocated the project and organisation I will be working with whilst in Bhārat. The organisation is called the Samatol Foundation, located in Thane/Mumbai. Over 600 run-away children arrive daily at Mumbai’s railway stations, some as young as 9 come in the hope of finding fame and work. Samatol works to provide these children with a safe environment to live, school and receive counselling with the aim of re-uniting them with their families.

Orientation Day 2

The remainder of this blog will focus on the second orientation day, which took place on Saturday 7th April, giving me the opportunity to re-visit the delights of the University of Warwick. The day for me began slightly differently to the last one, in that I had company on this trip! The journey still consisted of Bhajans and Garba, but also with some interesting conversation of the book ‘Sadhana of Service’ we were asked to read, along with sharing practices of the Hindu and Jain traditions. Upon arriving in Coventry, it was lovely to see all the fellow interns again, along with the YFS Team, and the workshop leaders. After catching up with one another briefly, we all split off into groups to begin the first session.

Dharma and Sewa

The day was structured around the theme of developing ‘Sewa Bhaav’, i.e. developing a sevak mindset in our daily lives. To understand this we first has to begin with the concept of Dharma, which Hitenji Rabadia began the session on. There are various meaning that can be loosely ascribed to Dharma within the Indian religions. Some may describe it as a ‘duty’ which can change during our lifetimes; other’s may describe it as a ‘supreme path’ or ‘divine teachings’. However, a definition I particularly like of Dharma is ‘the moral order of the universe and a code of living that embodies the fundamental principles of law, religion, and duty that governs all reality’. This is beautiful in that in encompasses everything and nothing simultaneously – what I mean by this is that it is a rather broad definition allowing everyone to identify with an element of it and describe that as their Dharma.

Dharma, is also about being at peace with oneself and other’s and the famous quote by Lao Tzu, sums this up perfectly: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” 

Leading on from this, Avnishji Thakrar followed with a session on looking at quotes from scriptures, where our task was to decipher, discuss and decide. First, we had to decipher, and understand the quote; second, we discussed out thoughts on its meaning; third, we had to decide whether we agree or disagree with the quote and/or its meaning. I particularly enjoyed this session, as I analysing language is something I do day-to-day studying law and putting this ‘skill’ in the context of Hinduism was quite interesting. It was also intriguing to see what meaning the others read and how that complimented or contrasted my views.  

‘Sewa’ and ‘Charity’ must be distinguished from one another, as charity implies a hierarchy between the ‘charitable person’ and the organisation/people they are helping, and that they should be thankful to us. Sewa, however, is the opposite way around where there is no hierarchy as such, and we as the sevaks, should be thankful to those we are serving as we in this sense able to keep in touch with our dharma, become better people, and some may even view it as a form of worship!

Say It… Loud and Proud!

After a short coffee (or tea, if you’re feeling adventurous) break, we welcomed Sumitji Sharma for a workshop on public speaking. If that name sounds familiar, it is – we were fortunate to have Sumitji conduct a workshop on gratitude in the previous orientation day. The session began by a group discussion to indicate where everyone stood on public speaking. Views were split, with some being fairly comfortable to others being less confident, and I was somewhat in between. We then progressed to kick-starting the public speaking, and in turns we each had to stand up and say a statement. The focus of this was more on confidence but also body language, to ensure we were grounded to the floor as a tree to its roots.

To JAM or not JAM? That is the question!

We then progressed to Just A Minute (JAM) sessions, where have to speak for a minute on a impromptu topic or object. Now you may be thinking ‘that’s so easy, talking for a minute is nothing’, but you’d be wrong, just as I was. Although I have never particularly shirked public speaking, and babbling about nothing is my speciality (as some of you may know!), on the spot speaking for a minute is quite difficult. I think I managed about 30 seconds before I burst out laughing, and this exercise was useful and something we can all do in our spare time. Being able to articulate your points succinctly is a useful skill, and something I will need to have in abundance to make it as an aspiring solicitor.

Jester or Gesture?

Unfortunately, out of Sumitji’s collection of objects he didn’t bring any eccentric hats, and we’re well out of the Renaissance tradition, so we had to settle for some knowledge on hand gestures, instead of colourful entertainment. We were taught a series of hand gestures, ways to start a speech and other body language tips for public speaking. These were to assist us in making our speeches powerful, interesting, engaging, and perhaps comedic too, but not a joke. It was interesting to see how simple hand gestures we may inadvertently use can be used purposefully to give emphasis.  

We then began constructing our own speeches and this session was particularly helpful as although I regularly teach and lead workshops, presenting to school students, as I know the area I am speaking about it, it is rather effortless. However, being able to speak about an impromptu topic with only a few minutes to prepare for it, is a whole other ball game, and is something I would like to work on.

Culture, Values and Traditions = Sanskār?

After the lunch break, the next session was led by Vipashaji, a YFS intern from last year, on Sanskār and Sewa. Sanskār like Dharma, has variations in meaning across the Indian religions. The discussion started with peoples’ own perceptions and some common ideas included values, beliefs, traditions and even courtesies/pleasantries. Broadly in Hinduism it can be defined as “the putting together of or accomplishing of” something (i.e. the rites of passage), but also it can be a “mental impression or a recollection”. The latter was a view that Suraj Ji put forward, and that there are 3 categories these fall into: memory, habit and addiction. This was an interesting view and one I had not really thought about, as generally I always associated sanskār to positive attributes, and lack thereof would be perceived as negative. Further, for each of us establishing the relationship of sanskār and sewa, was slightly different depending on how we viewed sanskār and sewa respectively. This was rather refreshing, as having differing opinions on a topic is much more interesting, and those that are able to understand other’s views can always learn from them and vice versa.

 “Walking into the dark without a source of light”

The last workshop of the day was delivered by Vidhu Sharma, aka BananaSharma. Her workshop was focused on creative writing and presenting too, for that matter. Again, this was another workshop I felt I connected with from my academic background, but also on a personal interest. We began with a few exercises to express creativity, and how we can break ‘moulds’, similarly applicable to creative writing – we don’t have to express our thoughts so literally, but instead can use a variety of literary devices to express these. My favourite exercise out of all the ones we did, was one in which we had to think of a fear we have and describe this through the use of literary devices we knew of. This was then presented to the group, who were to guess the fear. I

I may as well disclose what mine was… it makes me feel as though I am ‘walking into the dark without a source of light’. Phasmophobia – a fear of the supernatural and the genre of horror. However, I would describe my fear as a fear of the ‘negative-supernatural’, as there are specific areas of the supernatural I fear from. Overall, this session was particularly useful and made me nostalgic of GCSE and A-Level English, and I hope to use what I learnt in future blog posts.

But the overall second orientation training day, was fun and informative. I learnt quite a lot of new things, and developed on my existing knowledge, along with developing practical skills of public speaking and creative writing, that I will definitely put to good use in the future.

Quotes  of the Blog:

sarvam priyabhyupagatam dharmam ahur manishinah pasyaitam lakshanad desham dharmadharme yudhishthira” – Mahabharat (12.251.24) 

‘The wise say that dharma is whatever is based on love for all beings. This is the characteristic mark that distinguishes dharma from adharma, Yudhishthira’.

“Public Speaking is the art of diluting a two-minute idea with a two-hour vocabulary” – Evan Esar.

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GRAT(eful)-(att)ITUDE?

Namaste!

Gratitude. Define It.

A word deriving from Latin ‘gratus’ meaning pleasing or thankful. To think that one of the most non-selfish emotions or feelings, is simply expressed in 3 syllables (grat-i-tude) is phenomenal. This word clearly means a great deal yet is so scarcely expressed. It can be described as the quality of being thankful and appreciative, and therefore could also be viewed as a portmanteau (the process of merging two words into one) of grateful and attitude, i.e. grat-itude!

 Whilst I could ramble on about the linguistics of the word (and clearly studying Law for 3 years along with A-Level English has made me a linguistic geek!), what do we actually mean by gratitude? How is it expressed in day to day life, if at all?

Explain It. 

Note, that gratitude is rather subjective. There is no objective standard against which gratitude can be measured, or lack thereof. It comes from within, and as individuals we all may be grateful for different things. Quite commonly, it is a buzzword, triggering responses of gratitude for family, friends, material objects, and so on. However, at my recent YFS training day this was the theme of Sumitji Sharma’s discussion. He proposed a view that why are we not immediately grateful for a heart or a brain?

We have not done anyt

hing substantially to earn or deserve these organs, and the irony is these (along with other organs) are what keep up alive. Although we are blessed with these, we often disregard its impor

tance and the gratitude we should have towards it. The disclaimer here is that I’m not proposing to change your response in relation to what you are grateful for, as it is personal, however it is definitely something to reflect upon.

What am I grateful for?

It is perfectly natural to be grateful for a 50” Samsung Smart TV, or the iPhone X however these are material objects, and quite frankly our lives would still go on without these. However, without a brain as the central organ for the nervous system controlling most of our activities, or a heart to ensure we have blood circulating around our body, our lives would cease to exist. This is the key distinction.

During the discussion I recall being grateful for a number of things: my family, friends, being able to live a com

fortable lifestyle, health, being educated, having a job and family support allowing me to buy ‘luxury’ items such as smartphones, computers and even gold (as some of you may know, this one is quite important to me!). However, by the end of the discussion I had felt my horizons had broadened in viewing gratitude as a sentiment, and a ‘hierarchy’ of things one should grateful for. I envisage this as a pyramidal structure with organs, the body, good health, warm food, clean water, a home, etc towards the top, and then material objects towards the bottom.  

Perspective is crucial.

Often despite having all these basic things for living a ‘comfortable’ life, we still have ‘bad days’. Why? What don’t we have? This is an issue of perspective and it depends whether one focuses on the positive, which often stems from gratitude (i.e. I am living, I have a roof over my head, I have food in my stomach) or the negative (i.e. someone spoke to me rude

ly, I got drenched in the rain and my hair is ruined, etc). This links perfectly to the quote of the blog, stated at the end of the article!

Practice It.

Why do we not express gratitude more then? As a generalisation it is probably safe to say that we are all grateful for our lives and the people and things that are in it, as listed above. However, why do we not express this more? This lack of expression occurs across both genders, and therefore is not connected with the stereotype that men shouldn’t show emotion as that emasculates them (let the record show that I do not agree with this stereotype at all!). A theory I have is vulnerability, and the general view that if you share emotions you are more vulnerable, which is not necessarily a negative thing at all. Linked to this is pe

rhaps the idea of ahaṃkāra (ego). As humans, it is human nature to perhaps be proud of certain things, achievements, etc, and often without realising, these can manifest into ego. I think we have all fallen victim to this at time, and will probably continue to, however if we aim to reduce or eradicate this, then these factors will not stand in the way of us expressing our gratitude.  

For example, with family members, how often do we thank our parents for all that they have done and provided for us? Or our friends for being there when you needed them the most? In the family sphere, we often find it ‘weird’ to engage in common pleasantries and courtesies that we would happily engage in, with a complete stranger (e.g. holding open a door/saying thank you for that act). Again, the idea that relationships do not define the parameters of gratitude is something that was explored in the discussion, and that there is no ‘mo

del’ form of gratitude, it varies among situations and people.

In the western world we are largely guilty to possessing a rather materialistic side to ‘gratitude’, which is not necessarily bad either. For example, being grateful for the fact that you have a bed, a warm duvet, pillows, etc are all forms of material gratitude but again for a homeless person this would probably mean the world to them. Whilst material gratitude in the form of gadgets, eating in fancy restaurants, etc, is in a different realm, and may perhaps be one of the areas that would slot into the base of the gratitude hierarchy pyramid. The balance as Jim Rohn states is to ‘learn to be thankful for what you already have, while you pursue all that you want’.

What’s sewa got to do with gratitude?

Whilst I think we all ar

e truly grateful for what we have, expression is the largest hinderance. Often once you are able to openly admit something and share that emotion, you grow as a person. This is the moral underpinning of sewa; appreciating and being grateful for all that you have, and striving to help others, without any expectation of a reward. This is something I am learning through my journey with YFS, and it is something that can make us all better people.

Quotes of the Blog: 

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it, is like wrapping a present and not giving it” – William Arthur Ward.

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some” – Charles Dickens.

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The Training Begins – Orientation Day 1!

 

Namaste!

The excitement begins! As I alluded to in my introductory blog, YFS is the only initiative of this kind that provides its interns training to prepare them mentally, emotionally and physically for the amazing journey ahead of them.

The First Orientation Day

The first of the three orientation days was last Sunday (11th March), and my day began at 6am, I know, early right? Setting off at 7am, I envisioned my 2-hour drive to the University of Warwick ahead of me, with some rather beautiful stretches of the M1 and M45. Fortunately, I was driving alone, therefore I could blast my Garba and Bhajan tunes to max, and belt the lyrics out, to get me off to a positive and energetic day! I arrived at my destination shortly after 9am, and met a few familiar faces, but also had the opportunity to meet some new faces, and it was nice to be able to finally put a face to the name!

The first activity of the day was an ice-breaker, and we were to partner up with someone whom we did not know. We were given paper with questions on them that we had to discuss in pairs, and then we rotated around. Some questions within this were quite thought-provoking and began to set a tone for the day… a positive one to be precise!

To yoga or not to yoga? That is the question!

We began with some yogāsana, led by Anandji Parekh, founder of Hot Yoga Nottingham. To be perfectly honest, I have never really been into yoga and therefore this came as a slight shock. However, in a later discussion in the day (which I will mention soon), I realised the reason for why I did not like it or want to like it. However, that being said, it did bring a rather peaceful and calm start to the day, and I began to experience the benefits of yoga.

Gratitude: what are we grateful for?  

Thereafter, Sumitji Sharma, founder of Spread Wisdom UK, gave us an insightful discussion on gratitude. Whilst we all generally understood what it meant literally, it was the application and the self-reflection for what we are grateful for that was most powerful in this session. I have had the pleasure of being part of other sessions by Sumitji, and often it is the most obvious things that we forget about. It takes just one person to point our focus into the right direction, which is exactly what Sumitji did.

No one else can change you, but yourself. 

The next talk was presented by Jayeshji Mistry, founder of Suitable for Carnivores, a new plant-based, vegan bespoke catering business. His talk focused on productivity and making the most out of the hours in the day. He explained to us his routine into having a full-time job, and launching his own enterprise, and how he structured his day to do both. We were asked to make a timeline of our typical day, and having this visually, on paper, made me realise how much potential I have to improve in certain hobbies, simply by repurposing some of my ‘chill-time’ with some ‘productive chill-time’. This definitely put things into perspective, and it was quite motivating to see a success story of this model.

After a morning of inspiring discussions and deep thoughts, you could hear the stomachs rumbling and the mouth’s watering, as Jayeshji has provided a vegan lunch for us all to tuck into, which was extremely delicious to say the least!

Shreya vs. Preya in decision making. 

Following lunch, we were given a talk and discussion by Sachinji Nandha, founder of Vichaar Manthan, on ‘Shreya’ versus ‘Preya’. This simply means things which are good/pleasant versus those that feel good/pleasant, respectively. This was an extremely interesting discussion, and from past experience of listening to Sachinji, the perspective and view he sheds on such topics of conversation are particularly intriguing. This discussion made me realise about the mechanics of decision making, and that we should try to implement this Shreya versus Preya concept when making decisions, as it removes moral judgements. He also highlighted the notion of capacity and dharma, and that there is a string of causality which is a pattern that can diminish or flourish or capacity. This links with the issue I have with yoga: whilst intellectually I know there are plentiful benefits associated with doing yoga regularly, psychologically I have not convinced myself there is a purpose to do this, and therefore have limited my capacity, which I am working on increasing.

Communism? Capitalism? Integral Humanism? 

The final talk we had of the day was delivered by Chandrakantji Sharma, a pracharik of HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh), on Integral Humanism, as a counter philosophy to Communism and Capitalism, the two main philosophies that have dominated in the last 100 years. This philosophy dictates that one must consider both the short and long-term implications of our actions, and that quite literally ‘every little does help!’.

Final Thoughts.

The day ended with concluding remarks, but also required each of the six interns for 2018 to come up with three things that they were going to change in their daily life to reach a goal or goals. Mine were to implement yoga into my daily routine, to reduce the time I spend procrastinating or putting off tasks, and to implement 20-30 minutes of harmonium practice every day to improve my skill.

Overall, the day, although long, was extremely satisfying, inspirational and thought-provoking, and began to initiate the ‘sevak mindset’ within myself, and I look forward to the next orientation day!

Quote of the Blog: ‘You can change all things for the better, when you change yourself for the better’ – Jim Rohn. 

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Introductory Post

Namaste and welcome to my blog, ‘Saagar’s Sewa Safar’!

As the name may give away, I’m Saagar, a 3rd Year Law Student at the University of Sheffield. This summer I have been incredibly fortunate to have been selected to go on a 6-week internship to Bhārat (India), as part of an initiative launched by Youth for Sewa.

What is Youth for Sewa?

I’ve had to steal the words from their website, as it could not be anymore aptly summarised than being ‘an unpaid summer internship initiative led by Sewa UK to connect young dynamic individuals from diverse backgrounds with NGOs in rural India’.

What is Sewa?

Sewa is a universal concept, which is essentially performing an act or acts or kindness, with no expectation of a reward as a result. In Sanskrit, it can also be taken to mean ‘selfless service’ and is an integral aspect of a range of Indian cultures, and traditions/religions including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

Safar?

Safar, is a Gujarati word, to mean ‘journey or trip’, and therefore the name of this blog is quite fitting for this project. Whilst the triple alliteration was aimed to add a touch of creativity (which I severely lack in!), it also summarises the aim of this blog. The name basically translates to ‘Saagar’s journey of Sewa’, which will be the focus of my entries. I will be tracking my progress on this amazing journey in the months leading up to the project, during the project, and reflecting upon my experiences after.

Why?

Many of you may be wondering: why India, why YFS, or even why bother at all? Coming from an Indian heritage, although I have visited India on numerous occasions, it was from a holiday perspective. This is a prime opportunity for me to get back in touch with my motherland and make a change in my life. I chose YFS as I was made aware of it through NHSF (UK), an organisation I am affiliated with. I thought aligning the experience with Hindu values would be a best of both worlds combination and also as they are the only organisation to offer training beforehand to prepare its interns. Lastly, why bother? – this is probably best answered by the quote below: 

Quote of the Blog: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ – Mahatma Gandhi.

This quote in its entirety depicts my vision and purpose of wanting to go to India and embrace this experience, as I believe I don’t think I will have found myself until I have had this experience!

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