Between Guri and God
Apr 26, 2005"If God gave you a choice between God and Guri, what would you pick?" she asks me, straight up. Whooa. Almost 200 twenty-something -- guys on the left, girls on the right -- are anxiously awaiting my response.
Of course, this part of a series of pretty awesome serious of questions from farming school college students, whom we have known barely for an hour: "Why come all the way to India to serve? What inspired you to start in this journey? What challenges have you faced while walking? What have you learned about India from staying in the villages? How did two people from different religions get married? If you parents didn't give you permission to come on this pad-yatra, would you still go? Do you see the same response to service in India, as in America?
Wow. Three hours ago, we walked into this place not knowing a single person, not having any agenda.Couple hours ago, Udeshi-kaka came to drop us to off to Mangal Bharati. He was worried that we didn't know anyone and that perhaps he could help since he was local. Yet right as we were a block from this farming-school campus, two people were waiting for us. Courtesy of the beyond-fiber-optics network of India, they had heard we were coming. Not only that, chief of the school came from another town to meet us and they arranged for one talk with all the staff and another for all the college students who weren't yet on their summer vacation.
We go with the flow, considering that none of this is by our design anyhow.
As instructed, we walk out to a tree. Huge rows of twenty-somethings, are all seated in silence. Guys on one side, girls on the other. While everyone is seated on a tarp, under the tree shade, we get to be on cushioned benches. Guri and I exchange glances, a bit nervous if we will live up to the expectations.
And then, baam. We are just given the stage with an almost "ok, now talk" instruction. Given our broken Hindi and Gujarati skills, it's not so easy to make a fool of yourselves either. But we manage. :)
By the end of the hour, we are in deep doo-doo with their heavy questions. So we launch a counter-offensive of our own: What is your greatest obstacle to serve? What the most inspiring Hindi movie you have seen? Who are you role models? How do you stay away from negative influences?
Guri, of course, is the ringer on our team. Anytime she says anything, I mean anything, there's an applause! I fake a jealous look, and everyone cracks up. It's part deep philosophy, part comedy, and all inspiring.
Time runs out. But the kids want more.
At night, we arrange for another session. The next day, another. Next night, another. Students would come to our rooms, they would wait outside if we are talking to school administrators to personally introduce us to their friends who weren't at the talks. Guri's fan club brings her all kinds of things from hand-made boquets to peacock feather "lucky charms" to hand-plucked fruits.
At night, couple of the school thugs came to meet with me too. They said that they wanted to ask questions earlier but all the school administrators are always looking to frame them, so they all stayed quite. But afterwards, they had come to touch my feet but I told 'em that they could only do that if I could touch theirs. So then, we hugged. :)
Under the full moon night, we chat honestly. My attitude is pretty clear: I don't really care if you change or not; I'm just offering suggestions from my experience and I'm trying to learn from you. They tell me that all the teachers are afraid of the boys, that no one really studies and most students have a very uninspiring education in college. But they have no choice. Most of them will grow up to be farmers and barely survive. About 90% of them chew tobacco, 70% of them drink, and they all generally wreak havoc on campus. Having hobbies, like playing a musicial instrument, is out of the question since they can't afford it. Doing service, similarly, is a tough because they are barely trying to survive.
"Nipunbhai, you won't believe it, but no one has ever sat with us like this. We have never met someone like you," one of the leader in the group says.
I share my thoughts on karma, seva, and awakening a deeper strength within themselves. One of them says that he doesn't have much, but before he dies he wants to donate his eyes to the needy. Another talks about how much sacrifice his parents have made to get him there, and he really cares to take them out of it. I tell a third one, who seems to the class comedian, about Patch Adams.
One guy comes and says: "I have been drinking since 8th grade, everyday. For you, I'm going to stop drinking from this Poonam day." I said, "Good. Try. At least think of me, everytime you drink." "No, no, Nipunbhai, I'm done. Never. I won't drink again."
These guys are inspired and deep down inside me, I want to give them an opportunity to serve. Then it struck me.
"Hey guys, do you remember I told you about this guy in Ranchopura who kept me at his house in Ranchodpura?" I ask them. They nod, so I explain further: "Well, he has very little food in his house. Can you figure a way out to anonymously drop off some grains to his place? I mean, no one can know about this conversation. You have to figure out who he is, where he stays, and buy some grains and drop it off." They are tuned into the challenge. I reach out to my back pocket and take out my wallet. "I'm gonna give you all the money that's in my wallet." I do a little prayer with a kind wish for Udeshikaka, and these kids. I place one hundred rupee note and two 2 rupee coins on the lawn. "This will be food money that your bhabhi and I are sacrificing, so make sure you do this with your full heart." Pumped-up, they say: "Nipunbhai, don't worry about a thing. We have our ways to figure out his contact information, in ways that no one finds out. We will do it, we will do it first thing tomorrow morning."
Just by being there, sharing our presence, and giving with everything at our disposal, magic happens. None of these guys knew about our history, what we done, or what we are set out to do. It didn't matter. They just saw fellow pilgrims who were geniunely extending their arm for a handshake of hearts.
In small groups, people would come up to us and offer us poems, kind words, and just comments: "From today, we are all your sisters and brothers." "We will never forget you." "When I grow older, I will start an effort to serve others and when I do, I will first think of you." "I wish that you live a hundred years and serve and inspire others, and that both of you stay together for a long long time." "All of us guys want to come and drop you off to the Dabhoi, 20 kms away." "We have never met anyone like you." "Please come back." "Wherever you go, our hearts will always be with you."
It's 10PM, students have exams tomorrow, but they don't want to let us go. Since this is their last chance to meet with us, dozens and dozens of kids surround us under a tree, to get "autographs". I tell them that I would sign with an embeded wish: that they serve, and that they experience 'God'.
Oh, and "What if God asked me to pick between God and Guri?" Nice try, but wrong question. God doesn't divide. God and Guri are the same, just as we are all one.