Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seva Cafe in Your Backyard!

For those of you that have been fortunate enough to visit Manav Sadhna's Ahmadabad based Seva Cafe on CG road - You know the feeling of excitement you get when you get off that tiny gray elevator on the fourth floor and immediately your ears are greeted with the strumming of the elegant sitar and the rhythmic beats of the tabla. As the fresh aroma of incense tickles your nose, quickly a sense of happiness overcomes any other feelings you may have at that moment. With your first step into the cafe, love is overwhelmingly poured in your direction as you are greeted at the door and seated with compassion under the open night skies. A meal is served to you by the various smiling volunteers of all ages and colors, and at the end of the night, you get no bill for the food you just ate - Rather you are free to give what you feel you would like to offer paying it forward for the next guest, as someone did before you.

Side note on the Seva Cafe philosophy: The cafe is an experiment in the shared joy that comes from humble giving and selfless service. The wholesome meals served there are cooked and served by volunteers and offered to the guests as genuine gifts, paid for in full by the previous guest. As more participate in the joy of giving, the more the cafe thrives. It begins with a single gift given and received, only to multiply and grow the chain of kindness and care (See for more info).

The tour team had a beautiful idea to bring this concept to the IFF school to show their appreciation for bringing us into their homes and showering us with endless love that helped make our first show so beautiful. Jayeshbhai coordinated a meeting the night before and everyone began volunteering for tasks - Everything from a kitchen staff, to the decoration team, to a bhajans group, and a greeting crew. It was amazing to see so many people so anxious to help serve others - Selflessly.

The Seva day started at 6:30am as I joined the kitchen crew to begin cooking up the feast. Nainabhen, our lady in charge of the delicious meal, headed the team in the kitchen and worked her magic on the massive gas grills making her favorite specialty, handvo. It was my first time cooking (or assisting cooking) and trying this Gujarati specialty and boy would it have been terribly difficult to let me down just by seeing all the loved she poured into the masalas (spices)!

Outside the aromatic kitchen, Jagatbhai and Rahulbhai had done an amazing job lighting up the cafeteria with flowers on every table and beautiful arrangements of petals that covered the room in colors. Nilamdidi and Sheetalbhaiya had begun to fill the room with the sound of their serene voices singing beautiful bhajans. The ambiance was set, and everyone was in the mood of service as the kids rushed out of their rooms to join the cafeteria team and help greet their new brothers and sisters. They had a late night making cards out of colorful construction paper saying thanks to their
new family, and now were ready to serve before eating anything themselves.

Breakfast time was around the corner and as I was running out to change my clothes for the morning, I bumped into our very own...Gandhi ji! I would bet, if Sureshbhai was a little shorter, folks who were lucky enough to ever meet the real Mahatma Gandhi, would not be able to tell the difference! He was a hit star that morning working the Charka and blessing kids with his heartfelt smile. It was a touching site to see!

The IFF kids and staff (including the whole kitchen team) were seated, fed, and their plates were taken upon finishing, and washed by the Manav Sadhna team. Some teachers joined Nilamdidi and together they sang the most beautiful songs we could ever imagine. Everyone was in the spirit of love, service and giving - And it was a kodak camera moment to capture those smiles!

The idea of Seva Cafe can spring anywhere there is a desire to give and serve selflessly - Jayeshbhai and the team brought the idea to the IFF school and each person in the room could feel the happiness in giving. This can happen anywhere and anytime as long as there is selfless love present - It is our challenge to make it a reality even where we may least expect it.

Its Showtime!! (Karjat)

Imagine an outdoor theater nested in the serenity of one of nature's most breathtaking scenes coated with vivid mountains, lush green grass, tall slender palm trees and combined with the laughter of hundreds of beautiful innocent children all around - Our show that had not even begun yet, was already a memorable success!

The Karjat theater amplified the values that IFF carried throughout their entire school as the circular back wall displayed a fantastic arrangement of the many wonders of the world. As I walked around counting the wonders I had actually been fortunate enough to go visit, gratitude filled my heart for being blessed with those opportunities. Though tough to admit, the Taj Mahal had not made my list, yet...I was sure to cross it off just a few weeks later! Below the wonders of the world, the stone walls were covered with a unique painting style called, Warli.

Side Note: Warli art was derived from the Warli people who were indigenous Indians that were evicted from their villages by the British and ended up living in the outskirts of main cities or in the fringes of forests. Even today they continue to carry a painting tradition stretching back to 3000 BCE using rudimentary graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle, and a square. These shapes were derived from the sun/moon, mountains and trees to tell stories about hunting, fishing, farming, festivals and dances. It is found all over India and exemplifies gratitude in simplicity and tradition.

Seats were packed with friends arriving from all parts of the India from Pune, to Bombay, to Ahmadabad to Karjat itself. The crowd was getting ready to see a performance that most did not even realize might change their lives forever.

Fifteen minutes of colorful innocence by the talented IFF students opened our show that night wowing the audience with their performance on the many elements of the world and a their own unique message of unity and love. With little to no practice, it was a flawless transition into the 90 minute dance/drama performed by our MS kids - Symbolic of there truly being no difference in all the children that were spreading a message on stage that day.

While the awe-striking performance that night left the audience speechless - I was lucky enough to take the backstage seat. Between the frantic costume changes and prop placements, if I could have had a video camera to record what was going on backstage, it would be a box office hit in no time. As Nimeshbhai often says, this tour is not about a production going around the world - But rather, even more importantly, a beautiful journey that is being embarked on to touch each of these children's lives and further plant a seed in all those that came in contact with them or anyone on the team. Backstage was no less a beautiful spectacle of kids helping each other, kids hugging each other, kids singing and dancing even off stage, kids truly happy and in love with each other. You could feel the energy - They were not performing an act of unity, love and oneness, they were truly living examples of it.

What's even better is that we took that love after the show and started our own Garba party on stage with lights, dhols, laughter, and the Bye Bye song (Gujarati traditional song - Pardon the ignorance!) AND...Silly string! Can you think of a better way to end the night?! :)

Thanks to the Karjat IFF team that helped us put on one of the most memorable performances to kick off our tour!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Learning B-Boy Dancing!

Rohan, a friend from Houston, was teaching the kids b-boy dancing today. Man, all the kids were so into it!! Was amazing!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A small gift as token of love from IFF family, Karjat

As we bade a heartfelt farewell to India First Foundation Family at Karjaat,Jamuna, an Integral member of IFFS gifted Ekatva a beautiful letter.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Swagat (Greeting)!

Arriving at our first tour city was no less than being greeted for a wedding...
After travelling 12 hours by train and 3 hours by bus, we finally stumbled off our rough leather seats, as our ears rang with the
sounds of dhol, cymbals, and drums played by the most adorable students from the hostel that would be our home for the next 4 days of our tour. The kids grabbed our bags from our hands as they applied tikka (a red powder) to our foreheads - a special swagat (greeting) for our arrival.

India First Foundation (IFF) boarding school was built about 2 years ago with the same pillars of love, humility, oneness, and the desire to serve that uphold Manav Sadhna today. The place was lush with greenery and fauna surrounded by picturesque mountains in a remote city about 3 hours from Bombay know as Karjat.

Each detail of the campus was designed with the kid's optimal learning environment in mind. From the detailed art on the walls of the buildings, to the listeded ingredients and nutritional value of food cooked in the canteen (which was the best cafeteria food I have ever had by the way!), to the map of the world with the spice route noted - We were in awe of the school.

Despite these beautiful amenities, the IFF kids and staff truly practiced their instilled values of oneness as they took in each new stranger with love and invited us into their homes and shared their beds. In a matter of a few hours, our kids were no where to be found as they were fully immersed in the company of their new friends. If we got lucky enough to catch a glimpse of any of the children with their new buddies, each child ensured he or she stopped what they were playing to say, "Pranam" (A respectful greeting to elders). They were walking examples of the fantastic values IFF teaches.

You know is something right when it is so easy for two different worlds to come together in a matter of minutes and immediately feel like one big family! Our Co-Founder, Jayeshbhai, is a trustee of the IFF school and his life is an example of goodness in human form. He is the glue of IFF and Manav Sadhna and this first night in Karjat only reinforced his widespread effect on any world he touches. Life in this world is like that in a dream - Love, happiness, and humility in one spot - Truly heaven on earth.