Monday, May 28, 2012

Oneness in the Bay

Yesterday a very special performance took place in Berkeley's historic Zellerbach theater. The Ekatva ("Oneness") tour made their Bay Area stop and treated over 1,100 attendees to a heartfelt performance.

I came early to join the 70+ person crew of volunteers who decorated, checked guests in, greeted, helped back stage, and the rest. Originally the call was for 50-60, but in true SS style 70+ pairs of eager hands arrived to help. I was assigned to ticketing team, but there were enough ticket masters so I ended up helping out with crowd control, which ended up mostly being me welcoming people, chatting, and giving lots of hugs to lots of familiar faces. Just my kind of role.

This event really was a clashing of the worlds. The entirety of the ServiceSpace family and much of the Manav Sadhna family in one place. It was surreal seeing many of the most important people in my life in one place. But it was so much fun. Mark, Yoo-mi, Sri, Shwe, surprise appearance by Maddog, Siddharth and Lahar, introducing my parents the Jayeshbhai and Anarben, re-uniting with Nimo, Jayeshbhai and Pancho in the same vicinity, and so much more. Lots of conversations that went the same way, me explaining to confused friends that I live in India and was here for a visit, not the other way around. Missing Meghna and knowing she would have loved every moment of it. Buddy, you and Reva were very much there in spirit.

A highlight of the volunteering experience was meeting JG and his third-graders from Coronado school in Richmond. The Ekatva children had an incredible interaction at the school a few days earlier. The Coronado kids met them at the school entrance and bowed down head and knees on pavement, performing MC Yogi's *entire* Gandhi rap anthem. At the tearful,wrenching end of their time together, both groups had a mad gifting battle where they frantically tore down posters, opened drawers, and emptied pockets trying to scratch together anything they could to gift and out-gift each other. A group of 50+ showed up from the school to watch the performance. The kids were decked out in "Mindful Life Project" t-shirts and were toting hand-made gift bags they had prepared for each of the Ekatva children, complete with name and photo on front. JG, the teacher of these kids, was a soul brother. He told me that the interaction at the school was a moment he had in his heart and had been preparing for his entire life. He instantly resonated with the Ekatva spirit. He said he will be coming to India, and also wants to start Manav Sadhna in Richmond. I told him he is Manav Sadhna. He got it, he knew it. I must have hugged him 10 times that day. At the end of the show I will not forget seeing his lone silhouette in the dark being the first and last to get up and give an enthusiastic standing ovation.

An important thing to know about this show is that it is not a professional-quality dance performance. These kids have been trained extensively and have done the performance many times, but it is not a technically or aesthetically polished performance. If you are expecting to be blown away by the dance, you will be disappointed. But what you will be blown away by, if you can catch it, is the spirit of the children and the message they are carrying through the performance. As Nimo says in the introduction, one in eight human beings in the world live in a slum. These children represent that huge chunk of humanity. They are ambassadors for all of the people in their community in Ahmedabad and all of the slum children around the world. In that way they are extra-ordinary.

The show must be taken in with that context. Understand where these kids come from and the lives they have on a mundane day-to-day basis, how truly hard and unglamorous and dirty and precarious it is. Then absorb the message of oneness and upliftment and hope they emanate with every step, strut, and smile. The dance on stage with bright lights and costumes is just the surface, the real meaning of this show comes from grasping the story behind the story.

If you do that, you will be truly moved. It was a blessing to have Mom and Dad at the show, and I was so happy to hear their reaction afterwards. Dad was beaming with joy and amazement, Mom said the show had her in tears. The totality of the picture was beautiful and inspiring and vivid in their minds and hearts. At dinner afterwards we happily brainstormed how both can play a role with the children when they come to India next.

I've seen the show many times, one of the things I liked about this performance most was Virenbhai's telling of the personal stories of the Karyakartas ("committed mentors/employees"). If you had the patience to listen, his telling of these people's lives is what this show and Manav Sadhna is all about. Their spirit, commitment, and dedication to selfless service. Of course Virenbhai painted a highly rosy glossy picture. These are all human beings, there are flaws and the stories are not really fairy tales. But the Jagatbhai is Manav Sadhna, Bharat is Manav Sadhna. Bringing their stories into the circle added dimensionality to the experience. After the show I used their stories as an anchor to engage my parents about the meaning of this performance. My Dad got it, he said this show should be archived by the U.S. Government as a "national treasure."

I'm sure there were many such seeds planted in people's hearts that day.


  1. When so many hearts beat as one, beautiful tears are bound to flow. The 3rd graders blow me away!

  2. Than you Neal for sharing. This show truly planted potent seeds in our hearts for inner transformation & outer inspiration to manifest.