…And behold, service was joy

Remove the ‘I’ and infuse the we. Madhav Vidhyapith probably wouldn’t function without their efforts of every person there. In a normal school. The teachers do their jobs, the students study but most of the labour work is done by the appropriate staff. The difference here? We shall see…

Picture1Life was Service

Sewakarya is the minimum 1 hour for the kids to do their daily Sewa activities. I’ll give a brief list of what this involves:

  • Cleaning – every classroom, office, bedroom, bathroom, the dining area, the kitchen, the roads outside, picking up every leaf from the floor.
  • Gardening – de-weeding, nurturing certain plants, watering plants,
  • Kitchen duties – cutting veg, cleaning rice grains, serving everyone food, and washing up the big pots
  • Farming
  • Cleaning the Gaushalla (cowshed)

What is very interesting to see the level of devotion they all put into this hour. Whether they think this is a chore, or that this just a daily routine, they just get on with it. But this daily training is what bring the correct attitude of Sewa into their minds. Not the one off Sewa Day event that many of us are used to, but an in general, daily action.

I acted…

It was difficult for me to get involved with any of this work,

Sewa

primarily because the children didn’t let me. I’d pick up a brush and they’d clean any mess up before I start. At first, I thought this was likely to be because they treated me as a guest (although in my mind, this is my home and I am not a guest). But then it was suggested that as most teachers do not actively participate, in the eyes of the children, I should not either.

It took a few weeks of ‘pestering’ and cleaning my room before they got the opportunity, but I’m glad I can get of with the work they do. All this work is something that is fixed into their timetable. We’re so used to a life of going to work, eating and resting. We may just about manage to get our housework done, but what about those around us. Do we think to water the plants, clean the environment around us, or look after out place of worship? By adding a small item into our daily routine, we to can perform our sevak acts.

Life was Joy

I have had the most amazing experience of working in a farm. And what fun it is. It is monsoon season. This weather is perfect for growing rice. After a few steps in the knee-high mud, we started planting rice crops. It was hilarious! – simply because I have never done this before. The kids seemed to fall in the mud and have some casual mud fights. I am pleased/embarrased to announce that I fell face first in the mud twice.

We also worked tirelessly at cutting grass twice the size of

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myself. Half of us must cut the grass and the rest carry it to the Gaushala. 3 hours of constant walking with a heavy load on our backs. My feet were killing, so imagine the how these 13/14 year old kids must feel if they have to do it regularly. It is extremely difficult to not complain at this point. Some time passed and the children’s motivations hit an all time low. But an idea kicked in…why didn’t I think of this before! – we created a chain to pass on the crops. It system worked…for a little while anyway.

Now this is just some of the sewa acts the children will perform. I’ve understood that it’s simply fact that a sevak mindset is being engraved into the kids. Sewa is what everyone should do. Have a think. What can your organisation, society or family do to make Sewa a daily thought and act?

Pranaam and Namaste!

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

A Simple Busy Life of Satisfaction

Remove all your luxuries. Think about it. What do I have? Take away your phones, your TV, your washing machines, your hot showers, your morning alarms, your washing machine, your childhood toys, and all the time you have to relax. How would you feel?

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The Excitement Has Begun

So, I have arrived at Madhav Vidhyapith, in Kakadkui. Just to remind you, Madhav Vidhyapith is a boarding school for the tribal farming community with 350 children, who would not otherwise have access to education. It was quite a bumpy journey. We snaked through the forest greens, looking for anything that even resembled a school. Nothing. We passed village after village, went over bump after bump, getting more and more anxious. And when we finally saw it, there is onPSX_20180721_225216ly one word I can say about how this place looks. Beautiful.

Madhav Vidhyapith isn’t just any old school. It has got everything it needs on site. Literally everything. Classrooms, fresh clean water, farms, cows, to electricity, WiFi and surprisingly (considering I’m practically in the middle of nowhere) strong phone signal.

The nearest town is about 12km away. The nearest city is almost 2 hours away. So I may be slightly more isolated than what I am used to. After a tour of the site, the first unusual experience occurred. There was a fairly long snake on the road. It was only about 5 metres from the place I was about to sleep. They ended up killing the it with a bamboo stick. What felt weirder – the snake near my room, or it being killed? I let it pass as a one off.

 

Dincharya (The Daily Timetable)

The children’s timetable is extremely strict, and its a long day. I fit in with the timetable quite easily and the teachers wePSX_20180721_152036re very helpful; the kids pretty much just to laughed around me. 

Now I’m going to begin to describe the timetable. For some of you it may be a shock to see this. But this is the timetable the children must follow daily (except Sunday).

 

Monday – Saturday

04:45 – 06:00                     Pratah Vidhi

(YES, 4:45) It’s time for the kids to wake up. And most are already up at this point! In this time, all 375 kids must be up, shower and wash their clothes.

06:00 – 07:15                     Pratahsmaran

Early morning prayers begin and the straight after, self-study. Normally the kids would do Yogasana at this time, but during the lovely monsoon, it gets replaced with studying.

07:15 – 08:00                     Seva Karya

This is one of the things I found unique. Everyone is split into groups to do all the chores, such as serving food, cleaning the venue, the Gaushala, the Mandir etc.

08:00 – 09:00                     Alpahar

After that long morning session, breakfast time.

09:00 – 12:00                     School

School consist of prayers, geet and studies which include maths, English, science, Gujarati, Hindi, Social Science, Economics, computing and much more!

12:00 – 14:45                     Bhojan (Dinner) and Relax

Very simple food for them. No chips or burgers. Or even any Indian ‘luxuries’ such as Pav Bhaji!

14:45 – 17:00                     School once more!

17:45 – 18:45                     Shakha

This is their time to relax and have fun. For those who do not know, shakha consist of activities such as Yoga, Self Defence etc. followed by some learning activities and games.

19:00 – 21:00                     Bhojan (Dinner) and relax

21:00 – 21:45                     Self-Study time

As if they don’t do enough, they must do further studying.

21:45                                     Milk and Bed

And in less than 7 hours later, they are up and getting ready for another day.

And on the Seventh Day…

Sunday is a ‘rest day’. Well not really. There is no

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Kho kho session – they’re better than me!

 school, and morning prayers start an hour later. This gives time for those with long hair to wash their hair. But their day still includes Sewa, reading, playing, and some time to some farming work. What a week! 

 

Why a ‘Simple Busy Life’?

We live a life where we have so much. Yet, are we thoroughly satisfied with what we have? We always want more. That extra piece of cake, or the latest appliance. Only the other day, the children got some snacks from their parents (I will expand on this another day). They were so happy about this, that they won’t eat it in one go, but instead save it for the next few weeks.

They get tired. That’s a given considering the timetable. But the kids will use every minute of their free time to enjoy themselves. In the above Kho Kho picture, you may see some girls are wearing a white uniform. They used 10 minutes of free time in-between studies to play, without worrying about the risk of slipping and staining their whites. There is so much more to learn from these kids, and I look forward to sharing this with you. But for now…

 

Pranaam and Namaste!

Beliefs, Expectations and Reality

Location Update:

After a very nervy flight, I have finally arrived in Mumbai. I tend to love plane journeys, but once we hit the Mumbai monsoon clouds, I’ll leave it simple – the plane ‘fell’ (for a few seconds at least). Maybe I shouldn’t have watched that programme about planes breaking down the day before I flew out…but anyways, I’ve made it! Within an hour, there were three distinct observations which made me realise I was actually here: the smell of the humidity, the complete disregard for queuing, and that lovely crowd of people outside the airport, all waiting for the arriving passengers.

This isn’t my first time coming to Bharat on my own. So witnessing these so-called ‘problems’ in Bharat such as no queuing and lack of manners simply brush off my rather dodgy shoulders and it was rather satisfying to see this. And of course, what happens soon as I step outside – the enjoyable monsoon rain. After all the sunshine we have been blessed with in Manchester, it was a pleasure to see this to. Due to monsoon season approaching, I’m not sure if the locals will look forward to the flooding and the loss of their beloved mango season.

Thoughts for food…

As my internship has not yet started, I though I’d answer some questions I have been asked recently.

“Am I ready?”

When I got asked this, immediately, my answers were, my clothes are packed and I have packed enough Odomos (mosquito repellent for those who don’t know). Yes, I probably have everything I need, possibly too much. And alongside my Odomos, I also have mosquito repellent incense sticks! But, am I mentally prepared? I have had lots of preparation time, I have the support of all the previous interns and coordinators and I have the support of my family and friends, both now and to be. So is it possible to be mentally under prepared? We shall soon find out…

“What do you expect from this experience?”

I’m sure most of you are watching or keeping track of the World Cup. To all us English fans – we have always come into major tournaments thinking we are going to do well. In fact, we expect England to do well, whether that’s because we have some highly rated players, our passion for the game, or that we just haven’t succeeded in a very long time. Then there comes the disappointment, the pain, the anger for not achieving, and as a result, it creates further pressure of wanting to achieve.

If there is anything the Orientation Days have taught me, it is to not go into my project with an expectation. You could argue that this is what sewa is anyway – to not even have the thought of wanting anything in return (easier said than done!). I shall live in the present and do what can be done in the 6 weeks that I have.

“What changes do you think will happen after 6 weeks?

An individual change can be very quick. I could say I will practice Yoga every morning from now on, and that change will happen, at least for the short-term. But making a change that affects lots of other people will, of course, take more time and it would be more difficult. I can always have the belief that the project will continue to run successfully, with or without my help. Having the belief for the success of a community is what raises the spirit within a community.

In reality, no matter who we are or what project we have, we many not even achieve anything! We might go to a different country, have our opinions, think of a change, and attempt to execute it. But our input may not make any difference, just as we have been told by previous interns. That may be for cultural reasons, the mentality of the people, orGandalf even because those that live there, enjoy their way of life and change isn’t required. So who knows? Maybe I might change, maybe I may help the lives of others, maybe nothing will happen , or maybe I’ll be, as Gandalf puts it, “…the small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains”.

So my project will be starting very soon! I’m very much looking forward to this experience and I look forward to sharing this experience with you. Keep a lookout for my next blog, but for now…

Pranaam and Namaste!

Fears and Challenges – The development within

We have all been asked, “What do you fear?”. My reply to this would be, “I do30571162_2066314873646637_8807834277384290304_nn’t think I fear anything, but I will go to extreme lengths to avoid the tasks I dislike”. Orientation Day 2 was one of those days I had to throw myself into the fishing net. It has been quite a long time since my last blog. After weeks of coursework, revision and exams, I am now feeling very refreshed, and happy to start my blogs once again. But before I tell you the stories of the day, I have some very pleasant news for you all.

The Big News!

It’s about time I updated you on my plans for this exciting summer. I am pleased to announce that I will be spending 6 weeks at Maanav Vidyapeeth, located in Kakadkui, Gujarat. Maanav Vidyapeeth is a boarding school for the tribal farming community with 350 children, who would not otherwise have access to education. This school provides a value-based education, whilst allowing the children to maintain the essential skills required within the farming communities.

A pleasant early start

The day started with another fresh drive down to Warwick. We kept ourselves busy in conversations and ‘going over’ the book ‘Sadhana of Service’ with Vipashaben. When we arrived, once again, we all engaged ourselves with catching up with other interns and our mentors.

Reading between the lines – Modern perspectives

Every one of you will have had the experience of speaking before thinking. For example when we recite shloks (~songs/verses) from our scriptures, do we really know what we’re saying? When we read a literal translation of a shlok, do we really understand it? To help us think deeper30414672_2064940903784034_609104874574970880_n, we are guided by Avnishji, to get a deeper understanding of our texts. From analysing certain verses in our scriptures, we asked ourselves how we can be a positive effect in society. We concluded that if we all have compassion, gratitude and understand the difference between Shreya (~righteous) and Preya (~the pleasurable), society would be filled with peace love and happiness.

Public Speaking, or public portraying

Ahh, public speaking, the one thing, as mentioned before, a really detest. M30221811_2064941040450687_5140393906994675712_naybe I just underestimate my abilities towards it. The activity Sumitji coordinated were the first steps towards any public speech. He made us realise how to present yourselves, how to approach the audience and what our emotions should read to the audience. As I have previously mentioned, articulating myself is one things I have really struggled with f30221685_2064940857117372_1882239958291316736_nor many years. But I can already see my general body language has much improved, and little things like the pace of my speeches has really developed. There’s a long way to go, so we shall see the development over the next few months.

Actions and behaviours – how to ‘do good’

Sanskaar – many of us have heard of it, used it and applied it in our daily lives, whether we are aware of it or not. We tend to think of sanskaar as good values to be broadcasted towards society. But, as always, it goes a bit deeper than that. The National Hindu Students’ Forum Sanskaar Coordinator and a previous intern, Vipashaben, lead the next session on sanskaar and sewa. After a couple of interesting perspectives, we began to understand that sanskaar is more than just values.

Sanskaar falls into three categories: memory, habit and addiction. So, we began to explore these using analogies. For example, by eating an apple instead of a sweet, would have a much better effect on you mentally and could, on a larger scale, could help become more conscious towards healthy eating. But we must consider bad habits or addiction. We can say bad habits are ‘bad sanskaars’, because our actions and behaviours can be a reflection of this.

How does this link to sewa? The way we think, has a very strong correlation with our behaviours and actions. So, if we have the positive mindset of wanting to care for the environment or being compassionate towards others in society etc, our actions will naturally change. These are the steps towards truely understanding Sewa. Our mindset must be positive, to carry out positive work.

Write a story, not an essay

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I must say, studying mathematics doesn’t involve very much academic writing. The blogs are possibly the most writing I’ve done since GCSE’s/A-Levels! So naturally, writing isn’t really ‘my thing’. We had the pleasure of being a part of Viduben’s workshop about creative writing. Vidhuben, also known as BananaSharma, helped us to once again become aware of the techniques we can use to really express ourselves in out blogs.

Simple things like alliteration, onomatopoeia etc. definitely brought out the inner child within me. I have grown quite fond of the way children speak, how they think and just in general, their creativity. It may be more challenging for us to get to that level again, but something I’d love to do once again! Some techniques, such as the ‘Six Word Story’, are what you will see more of in future blogs!

Overall…

Orientation Day 2 has helped me realise how to push myself with what I find the most difficult. But it really has helped me academically and socially! The beauty of this day was that no matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement. Practising is key to conquering challenges. Writing blogs, throwing myself in front of an audience may be daunting at first, but it will really help me in future.

Pranaam and Namaste!

The Pre-Adventure – Orientation Day 1

Any journey begins with preparation. For a holiday, packing is necessary, along with knowing what to do there. The orientation days are not about telling us what and where our project will be. The days are necessary to get an insight into why we are doing this; gain ideas about how to transform our dreams to reality; to focus on our self-development, so we are ready for our future challenges.

Although the orientation day may have been a few weeks ago, I believe every activity we have had to prepare us for this adventure should be mentioned. It is important for you to know what we had to do to prepare ourselves for this challenge. The orientation day will be split into two blog entries, to highlight how important each activity was for us.

Just another early morning…

The early mornings are one of the many things I expect to have to go through this summer. My day started with a fresh, typically raining 5am in Manchester. It was an interesting drive down to Warwick, with a nice variety of music, including bhajans, Lord of the Rings (my personal preference) and a Vinod Mistry classic, Bohemian Rhapsody.

In my zone…

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When we all arrived, it all kicked off with mingling, icebreakers, analysing everyone’s likes, dislikes and opinions. After a brief introduction by Avanishji Thakrar, the excitement started. The day began with a little bit of Yogasāna by Anandji Parekh, founder of Hot Yoga, Nottingham. For those who know me, Yog is one of my passions. Not just practising the āsanas(~ postures)/ dhyān (~ meditation), but also reading into the deeper philosophies of Yog. Anandji helped kick the day off by making us feel relaxed and energised. I’m just glad I was at the back of the class, so no one could see my flexibility! Anandji, then discussed how he started off Hot Yoga, his inspirations, motivations, the challenges and the push-backs he had to face.

The visions outside of my zone…

This is where the preparations really started. We were joined by Sumitji Sharma, founder of Spread Wisdom UK. The activity started with us having to share with everyone, ‘What are we grateful for?’ I decided to pick my phone. We, as humans, are

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extremely dependent on phones. We spend hours upon hours on our mobile devices every day. It could for a variety of purposes: business, social, or simply to create memories.

We were then asked to close our eyes to do a bit of self-reflection. To understand the meaning of gratitude and realise how we can be more grateful in our daily lives. It’s easy to think we should be grateful for the things we own. By reflecting and discussing further, we took a step back and began to take the first few baby steps of changing our perception of gratitude. Once we started to let go of the ‘I’, the ego, we start to see a whole new level of appreciation. Respect towards our body, our organs, or lives and committment towards helping to build a strong, loving society are some general ways we believed we can show gratitude.

Definitely outside of my comfort zone!

To conclude this half of the day, we’ll move onto food – sort of. Our next talk was by Jayeshji Mistry, founder of ‘Suitable for Carnivores’, a new plant-based, vegan catering business. Now eating food (vegan friendly!) is something I 100% enjoy. However, my cooking expertise isn’t something I’d put on my CV. Thankfully, the talk wasn’t entirely on food.

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Time management and organisation was a key topic of his talk. It taught us how we should aim to put every minute in our day to good use. Jayeshji told us about his daily timetable: wake up, work, eat, relax etc. But, this wasn’t something he found enjoyable. As a result, he wanted to change to this. But to do this he had to make a change to himself. This included a strict routine which includes the infamous ‘morning cardio’, and using a lot of free time toward building up his catering business. Although this routine required severe discipline, pain and sacrifice, success was achieved in the end.

We created out own daily timetables. I’ll be honest with mine. It involves watching TV episodes in the morning, a lot of procrastination whilst studying at university, and a ‘well-deserved’ chill session in the evening. This is where I came to two conclusions. 1) I spend too much time procrastinating. 2) If I juggle my time around, there will be so much time for me to do something I enjoy. To conclude, I came to 3 goals:

  • Have a more structured morning routine – i.e. stay away from my phone and do something useful!
  • Procrastinate less whilst studying – i.e. again keep my phone away from me
  • Make use of my evenings for reading (not maths related/podcasting etc.)

More importantly29026195_2051111675166957_8472475268043243520_o though, I ask you all to keep track of how I’m doing, where I can improve, and make 3 challenges on how you can change yourself!

After this, we got around to having a delicious lunch made by, yes you guessed, Jayeshji Mistry. Our mouth was watering, our stomach was rumbling, calling for the food to be put on our biodegradable plates.

 

Decisions: Making the correct choice

There are two important things about being in university. The studying (of course!) and the ‘student life’. Our primary goal of university is to come out with a degree, a good grade to be precise. And yet, each one of us have a need, a desire to meet as many people as we can, build on social relationships, and fill every space in this new chapter in our life. But there comes a dilemma. What decisions are the ‘right’ decisions. We were joined by Sachin Nandha, to communicate how we should go about our minute to minute dilemmas.

It is easy for us to avoid work, to chill, or sleep. But is that the right thing to do. There comes a point where we must take a step back and analyse our situation. In this scenario, the correct right choice we should make when is to prioritise studying. This is what’s known as ‘Shreya’. This is what helps us develop and flourish more. But in general, we also want to fulfil our desires and pleasures – ‘Preya’. It is what feels is what feels good. It’s not necessarily the wrong choice, but the path we travel down in life should not be dictated by our desires.

We are all victims of this endless cycle of cause and effect. Every decision we make will create more paths. To succeed and flourish in what we enjoy, the correct decisions need to be made today, at this very minute. But, we all have senses, thoughts, emotions and desires. It is acceptable to do the things that gives us pleasure. Making the ‘correct’ decision should not be a burden and it shouldn’t inhibit us. Therefore, we should create the right balance of Shreya and Preya in our daily lives.

Socialism, Capitalism, or the third way

This isn’t my first talk on Integral Humanism. In fact, the last time  went to a talk on this topic was by the very same speaker, Chandrakantji Sharma. There are two needs in this world. A need for the society to be strong, as well as a need to fulfil put desires and materials. Just in the last few hundred years, we have seen lots of philosophical and political change, such as, communism, socialism, capitalism etc. These philosophies may be ideal for the individual within a society, but what about the society as a whole. Integral Humanism was put forth by Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, which recognises that in order to provide a life of dignity, the need of balancing individuals and society is key.

It was a very long day. The plan originally was to simply knock out during the road ahead. But each of us seemed to have learned something and taken something out of this day. So instead of sleeping, further discussions occured for the next few hours. Overall, I am starting to understand what it required of me on this journey I will go on, and how I can impove myself to gain further knowledge and give back to society.

Pranaam

My Journey: An Introduction!

Namaste!

My name is Harshik Joshi and I am studying Mathematics at The University of Manchester. This summer, I have been given the amazing opportunity to go on a 6-week unpaid internship to Bhārat (India), as part of an initiative launched by Youth for Sewa. Keep a track of the next big adventure of my life, for you to see what I see, experience what I experience, and learn what I learn.

Sewa and ‘Youth for Sewa’

Sewa loosely means Selfless Service. Although the perception of Sewa is simply charity work, it has a deeper underlying value of forming relationships with those one is serving. Sewa doesn’t necessarily just involve giving money, but also putting your body, your mind and your time out for others with no expectation in return.yfs-logo

Youth for Sewa is an initiative launched by Sewa UK which provides  opportunities for young dynamic individuals to challenge themselves, their perceptions and beliefs, for the benefit of underprivileged communities. From the simple yet challenging acts of service, interns successfully transform themselves, empower themselves and helps them flourish as individuals.

Questions I asked myself…

Before applying, I had to ask myself a few questions to see whether I wanted to put my physical, mental and spiritual strengths to test. Here are some questions I reflected upon, and more questions will be answered as more blogs are posted.

“Why Bharat?”

My family, friends, education, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (UK) and National Hindu Students’ Forum, all play a huge part in my life. By taking just a small step back, it’s obvious to me that my Hindu/Indian origins make me who I am. It gives me pride. It gives me purpose. This opportunity will allow me to give something back to my Mātrubhoomi (~Motherland). But, this is not where I stop. Whatever I learn will be used to be a strong influence in society in the UK and the wider world.

“Why not just go on holiday?”

The answer is very simple for me. I think, I have always known this answer, but my reflection let my understand exactly why. The age group of about 18-30 I think is the ideal age for:

  1. Self Development

This is the age range of all our BIG changes (e.g. University, Jobs etc). Yes, we will be given an opportunity to serve society. As a corollary (I had to throw a mathematical term in here somewhere), we can develop ourselves – something that runs parallel to how we naturally progress as individuals in life.

2. Making a change!

A lot of people may not agree what I have to say about this. As a student, I’m beginning to realise we have a ridiculous amount of ‘free time’’, due to our bad decisions (see next blog for more insight!) The basic way to say this is: yes, I believe we should use some of that time to chill, socialise etc. But we should put some time in our day to help others, put a plan in action and BE THE CHANGE!

Why is my blog called ‘Awakening the Ᾱtmā (~Soul)’?

This experience will help me understand the deeper meaning of Sewa. I shouldn’t just help those in need, but also provide service because I enjoy helping others. This is the truer form of Sewa. It is this that will develop me into a better person, enable me to form a whole new sense of purpose. It will awaken me to know who I am, what I am in the busy world, and what must I do to be a strong, positive influence in society.

 

Dhanyavād and Namaste!