Thursday, April 26, 2012


Dear Aum,

I met you at your home when you were 5. You're probably much older when you're reading this. I thought I'd write about what you were like back then so you could see how you've changed and how you've stayed the same. Some things about you were good, other things were areas of improvement.

You were a very mischievous boy. You could see it in your eyes. Playfulness or terror, depending on your perspective. You're full of energy, always jumping around and yelling stuff. It's fun to see what you will do or think of next. You went to a school for a short time and your teacher told your parents you were the kid in the class that would never be still, always running from class to class and person to person playing and occasionally causing ruckus. Social butterfly/class clown. Your parents took you out of the school but you visited some time later and when you came in the entire class stopped what they were doing and gave you a standing ovation. "What are you guys doing, clapping for ME?" you laughed mischievously.

One of the best things about you is you have a very active imagination. You're quite creative. At one point we were driving in the car together and were talking about mangoes. You said you loved the taste of mangoes. I asked you to describe the taste. You thought for a minute and explained it this way: Cats chase mice and eat them. They love to eat mice. The same taste that cats have for mice, that's the taste of mangoes to me.

I celebrated my birthday at your house. We had bought chocolate cake as a special treat, and you were so excited about it. You kept singing Happy Birthday Neil PATEL (with emphasis on PATEL)! at the top of your lungs, trying to fast-forward to the point where we eat the cake. Here's you singing and then imagining the whole thing playing out ending with you hogging down piece after piece of cake:

When we sang for real, you sang with all the fervor of an evangelical in a church choir. Then you reached for the cake. Your Appa implored you to give the first piece to me rather than dig in yourself. Everyone was watching and laughing to see what you would do. You held that piece of cake in your hand with this heavy psychological dilemma playing out right in front of us. Your hand was moving the cake toward your mouth, but your good judgement was directing it toward me. The struggle continued on with everyone laughing in suspense. Finally you succumbed to temptation and gobbled the cake. Later you described the ordeal this way: detachment is usually my companion, but in this instance I asked my detachment to go off and sit in a corner and warm himself with a fire, so I could eat this cake in peace.

You are obsessed with Ben10, a cartoon where a boy has a special watch that lets him invoke the 10 avatars. You talk about Ben10 all the time and always want to go on Youtube and watch Ben10 clips. You have two Ben10 watches, one which shoots out plastic chips to kill the enemy. As I predicted, you started with 4 chips and lost all of them within a day. When you run around, your let your legs flail around wildly, like Ben10. The Ben10 obsession has also led to your interest in violence. You are really into guns and knives. Your Appa gave you a lesson on how a gun works and you kept quizzing yourself afterward on all the components. We got you a plastic gada and you walked around the house smacking people as hard as you could in the face and back. Also you are really into boxing, you have a good stance but you throw only one kind of punch: haymaker. This is all a typical phase for a boy your age, so don't sweat it. If you haven't already, I suggest you learn about non-violence and see if you resonate with it as well.

You live on a farm, which I think has a lot to do with your healthy imagination. On the farm the world is your classroom and you are your own teacher. There are very few limits to what you can learn and do, your mindset is rooted in limitlessness as opposed to constraints (4-wall classroom, textbooks, memorizing chalkboards). Also your parents have taken a unique approach to your education: They don't teach as much as guide your self-discovery. There are no agendas in your lesson plan, it is open-ended and based on where you take it. Your Appa begins "lessons" by having conversations with you where rather than you asking questions and him answering, he asks you questions to push your knowledge further. When you asked about whether Ben10 was real or not, rather than directly answering, he asked you some questions. Ben10 is where? On TV. What is TV? This screen. Now what is the difference between things on this screen and us? The things on the screen are two-dimensional, we are 3D. So what does that mean for Ben10? He is 2D real, but not 3D real. Appa is an usher helping you to your seat; you are the producer of the movie. Your Amma described your present development this way in an email:

As I see his current phase, it is a little bit like the ugly duckling. He has the necessary compassion in his heart and intelligence in the mind but the sheer speed of his body and the freedom in the environment makes him a rebel that wants to keep on pushing boundaries just to discover where they are and if they even exist. Many of the outcomes are clumsy but every time, he seems to learn something. And that is really all that matters to us. And all this can be worked into a seemingly normal every day life only because he is surrounded by people he understands.

Being in a relatively secluded environment has instilled some important cultural values in you. You are very helpful around the farm, it has become instinct. We were hauling heavy sacks of organic turmeric up on the roof to dry, and you were trying your darndest to help out. Even though the sacks were too heavy for you, you helped in other ways like spreading out the crop on the roof. Your Appa told me a story about when there was some hard farm work activity happening, and a neighbor had come over to help. The neighbor noticed that you had, without anyone asking, started running along the cart doing an "Aum version" of the work. Appa says there is always an Aum version of any work they are doing that you participate in. In the evenings, you know your parents usually sit to meditate. So though you're a typically rowdy boy and you are not ready to meditate yourself, you spend that hour being quiet and out of the way. Appa told me you even drag him to the cushion sometimes in the evening to make sure he sits before he sleeps. It all shows you have imbibed the culture of the farm and your family.

Speaking of your parents, you should be grateful that you have such great ones. Both have truckloads of patience with you, which you demand. I saw your Amma perform an incredible bit of parenting while we were there. She and I were in the back area packing up seeds to bring to farmer friends in Ahmedabad. It was delicate work, but you kept ramming into it and interrupting. Your Amma bore the brunt of your pent up energy. You kept climbing on her and ruffling her, lightly punching her and pulling her hair. You were just being all-around annoying. Typically a parent would respond by admonishment and/or punishment, but at least dispatch-ment. Leave me alone and let me finish this work Aum! But your mother saw beyond the symptom and tried to get to the root of the problem. With huge heaps of calmness and compassion, she asked you, "What's wrong Aum? Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are we not giving you enough attention? What can I do for you?" You didn't answer and kept annoying and hitting. So she took it up a notch. She put down the seeds and started caressing and kissing you! Giving you a heavy dose of love. It was awe-inspiring to witness.

Your parents love you very much, but they are a bit hesitant to say that you are anything more than just a normal playful kid. I don't know if you are particularly "special", but I have been around a fair amount of kids and find you to be unique in many ways. Here is how I described you to your parents, after spending a few days with you:

Every child is by nature curious, playful, energetic, creative. That energy is like a flame that burns inside each of them. And they mostly only differ by the intensity of that flame, some have it burning more brightly than others. But with Aum, I feel that it's not so much that his flame burns especially bright, it's that the fuel source of his flame is entirely of a different quality.

Stay burning different, my friend.


  1. Talk about a letter to treasure for a lifetime! Neil this is an inspired epistle on many different levels :) Thank you for putting into such articulate words the flame that you witnessed. And thank you Aum and his two special stewards for their light.

  2. wow, bro :-)

    very touching that you wrote this!

  3. Hey Neil! I'm really enjoying your blog and started reading your posts to the girls. We are so proud of the amazing and inspiring work you are doing!!!
    - Sejal

  4. You've written both a beautiful time capsule for Aum and a treasure chest for all of us who have not witnessed him at this age. Grateful for this intimate snapshot into the experiment of his being, becoming...

  5. That is MY rockstarr Aumiieee !
    What a boy ! Loved reading this note and cherishing my memories of Aumie. Thank you for penning him down so beautifully!

    That is MY rockstar Aumiee :)

  6. very warm greetings
    Ragu, Nisha and Aum,many people thinking about"
    alternate life"a modern way of living(Original life of rural Indians-without today's Hi-Tech),but few take a 'U'Turn LIKE YOU .once i had visited navadharshanam near Bangalore (,i met people like you,and one Mr. Senthil Kumar Gopalan - Managing Trustee ( we have invited to one of our Rotary seminor.And i had a chance to interact with Dr. Narayana Reddy is a prize-winning organic farmer (who made the transition from conventional agriculture in 1980)( is visitors' day at Narayan Reddy's farm. This 5-hectare farm is a half-hour drive from the city of Bangalore, in southern India.

    What makes this farm so special? Why do people - some from very far away - want to visit it?

    Reddy grows the same kinds of crops that his neighbours do: coconuts, fruits, vegetables, mulberry, finger millet, and rice. Also, like many other farmers in the area, he keeps dairy cows and rears silkworms.

    Why is Reddy's farm special?

    What makes Reddy's farm special are the methods he uses. His goal is to make his farm self-sufficient. He and his family grow or make nearly everything they need. They try out new ways of doing things, to see if they can do the tasks faster or better or at a lower cost.

    Sometimes they find that the old methods still work best. And they are always willing to share what they have learned.

    Reddy's father began cultivating the land more than 20 years ago. He used chemical fertilizers and pesticides because that was the modern way. At first this worked well. But after a few years, he found he was losing money. The chemicals were not always available. They were expensive. Crop yields were decreasing. What's more, the soil was deteriorating.

    So Reddy decided to use different farming methods. He knew about the old, traditional ways of cultivation. He felt that if he combined the best of the traditional methods with modern technology, he could improve his farm. And that is just what he did.

    Mr.Sundaraman sathyamangalam-organic farmer-9842724778
    098420 48317

    to day i have opened my mail -A NEWS FROM Daily,
    The 'Greener Grass on This Side' Farm