Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From Wharton to Wadaj: Understanding through Compassion

Statistics show that 34% of Indians still defecate in the open. It’s quite possible that that number could be much higher – which means that anywhere between 400-500mn Indians fall in this category. As a child in the city of Mumbai, I would often see these instances of open defecation, and immediately be repulsed by it. ‘This must be stopped!’ ‘This is wrong!’ - were my thoughts most often. But on the 17th of July, 2012, these thoughts were transformed – into something beuautiful.
The day happened to be our dear friend Nimesh’s 34th birthday. This Wharton Business School graduate decided to celebrate the occasion by visiting the slums of Wadaj, opposite the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. A few of us volunteers – Jesal from Singapore, Suresh who runs rural sanitation programs with the Nandini Van, Jayeshbhai, Gopal Dada, Lahar and I had decided to experience human waste scavenging – a practice that keeps our streets clean of human faeces even today. 95% of these scavengers still belong to the lowest caste – and are often victims of untouchability.
Armed with a few shovels, a rake and a scraper we walked towards some of the bushes in the slum community that houses close to 100,000 people. The idea was to collect some of the human waste and place it into pits that we had dug so as to generate compost. We thought this compost could be shared with some of our friends.
We soon got to work, first sprinkling the faeces with earth. As I would bend down, I noticed there was the repulsion again – fuelled further when we encountered swarms of flies and worms under partly degraded deposits. But as we battled our way through the bushes, the thorns that pricked us reminded us of what people really had to go through. Clearly – this form of defecation is not what someone chose. Most women would have to wait until nightfall, or go deep into the thorny bushes to defecate in private. Immediately, I was filled with sense of compassion, and every question and resentment felt like it was washed away. As we continued clearing the area, I found myself moving away from the noise in my mind towards a deeper space within. Through compassion came a sense of understanding towards the situation – and I stopped trying to ‘fix’ the problem but began working with it.  After we had filled a few pits with the waste to create compost, one of the volunteers arranged a few leaves and rocks in a circle and Gopal Dada ended our usual moment of silence with a beautiful song.
As I sat in meditation during our ‘Seva at Home’ later that day, I was constantly experiencing visual images of the flies and maggots we saw earlier. I’m not sure what ‘impact’ we would have created. I am certain people would return to the area over the next few days to leave behind waste again. But what we carried away with us far more powerful – it catalysed us all further into this journey of service. The simple process of enveloping human waste in soil can create compost that is more fertile than any other animal or vegetable waste.  Similarly, compassion in our hearts can transform the most negative and repulsive thoughts into an understanding that answers most of our questions. Perhaps the key lies in not rejecting these thoughts or classifying them as negative but in transforming them into beautiful fruits by working with them.
A few weeks later, we hope to gift the compost with some of our friends at Seva Café. We hope that we would be able to share this story and transformation we experienced with them J
~ Love All, Share All ~

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