"No mobile and wallets remember!" Lahar said to me as we closed to the door. During our volunteering at the Ashram in Ahmedabad, the two of us would often chalk aside some time to set out on W-A-L-Ks. We had managed to do quite a few of them across the city, but this one in particular stood out.
We set out of home around noon that Sunday from our apartment. We held an intention to get to old city. Along the way, we had decided to open our minds and hearts and serve whoever came along the way.
We stepped out on to CG Road, a bustling retail street in the evenings and we watched some of the vendors setting up their wares. We came across Mohanbhai, a belt vendor. He looks at us strangely as we ask what he's doing. We explain how we've set out to help people, and he skeptically allows us to arrange his belts on the mat on the footpath. “There is a system that we must follow!”, he says, “The jazzy ones go to the back - the utilitarian ones out front! Gents to the left, Ladies to the right.”
As we roll up the belts and arrange them on the mats, he opens up. He's telling us about how his first wife passed away, and his second wife is whole-heartedly looking after his kids in the old city. After 45 minutes, we're done and Lahar gestures that we must start heading. We say our goodbyes, but not before Mohanbhai’s run off to buy us Chai! He's back soon and we share some with an old lady who’s curiously been inquiring into what's going on.
We head onwards, and Lahar looks at her watch - it’s close to 1 - and we're getting hungry. “Let's try and fast”, I say, we usually do it one day of the week anyway for Tyaag Nu Tiffin. If we received food, it would be great – but we had decided not to ask.
Soon, we came across the dilapidated old bungalow that we often zoomed past in the car all these days. We went into explore, wondering what it could be. A gentleman pops his head over the window - asking what we're up to. "We're volunteers, looking to walk and serve along the way"
A big smile lights up his face. He calls us around the wall and into his apartment complex. “Come into my house”, he says. Very naturally, we find ourselves a few minutes later sharing a glass of water with him in his living room. His name is Thapa - and works with the State Government. His lifelong dream has been to start a non-profit that can create good! He's looking for people like us to join hands with him! A few conversations later, he asks if we're hungry and insists on taking us to have chaat and we find ourselves at the neighbourhood bhelpuri wala talking about Indian mythology over Sev Puri.
Soon, we walk on, and we pick up a few flowers along the ground. I look across the street and I see this homeless man in absolutely tattered clothes waving at us with bright white teeth. Him we have to meet! :) As we go sit on his park bench, we ask him about his life. He's decided two things in his life - he won't work - and he won't bathe. Food just comes to him from people around. As I start to romanticize with the concept of doing nothing, he looks at a tear in my jeans and then deep into my eyes and says - this, is not for you.. Your fate holds something much larger!
Just then, a rickshaw pulls over - the driver knows about this gentleman and he's amused to see us. We explain that we're serving and offering flowers along the way and we would like to eventually get into old city.
He asks us to get in since he can drop us half way. As i gesture that we have no money - he looks like it was silly of me to even bring it up. Across the city we go - halfway to our intended destination. After he reaches his rickshaw stand, we get off. We pause for a couple minutes, wondering what to do next, when the rickshaw driver comes back. This time an old lady is seated in the rickshaw. Come in he says - we're going to old city! We look at the old lady tentatively and she’s busy making space for us. Off we go, across the bridge and into the old city. Lahar and I have these big smiles on our faces, that are exploding into these uncontrollable peals of loud laughter.
Is this seriously happening? We get off, and it’s no more about us doing, talking or serving. Things just start happening and our hearts overflow. Everywhere we go, people are smiling and offering us things. Along the way, we're fed and hugged. We just wave at vendors, ask them how they're doing and we're offered fruits, snacks - someone wanted to 'gift' me a Bag! Lahar even has a lady decorate her entire left arm with mehndi as she shared her life story with us.
It was hard to explain what we experienced after that point. We stepped into a park nearby to absorb it all. As we picked up a few pieces of trash along our path, we are questioned by a man sitting with his lunch tiffin open on the grass. He is a vet’s assistant he says, and on Sundays he rides around the city on his scooter, serving animals that need help. Our mouths are agape, and ofcourse, he offers us lunch! No thanks we say, but we can't refuse the sweets :)
We bid our goodbyes, and step out - its getting dark and we need to walk all the way to the other part of the city. We step out of the gate, and a rickshaw driver asks me - where we’re headed. “Get in”, he says. And after explaining our situation he gives me the same look we received from the previous driver. All the way back to CG road, we’re still trying to absorbe and we cant believe what just happened.
We stop outside our lane, next to Mohan bhai the belt vendor. he comes running towards us - he usually earns 700-800 Rs a day, but in a couple hours today he had already clocked 1500 Rs. He was ecstatic - he had to buy us dinner! Lahar and I look at each other as we refuse to eat! The uneasiness in our stomachs from all the overeating are a reminder that we need to be careful for what we wish for!
Pandeyji our watchman is strolling by and we gladly offer him our dinner.
We sit back at home and our minds are racing. What if we could live our entire lives like this? Could we trust the generosity in everyone’s hearts and continue on this faith? Is the world really like a mirror- did we see these beautiful people only because we set out with 'beautiful' eyes?
What we did realize was that when we remove the blinkers on our vision, we can open up to miracles all around us. These were regular people, in regular jobs in a regular city. We were regular people in regular clothes. What if we led our lives with intentions, and not 'goals' of getting somewhere? What did it take for all these so called underprivileged people to be so kind and generous in such an organic and effortless way? Whatever it was, it gave us a direction for a lifetime.
Deep gratitude to each and everyone who ended up serving us that day. I hope we all continue to see ourselves as one family.