Here are some post-trip reflections from the seniors of Mount Madonna School on their experience of the Karuna Project
Unlike many others, India did not “change” my life. Instead, and in my opinion more importantly, India broadened my perspective of the world we live in. India is a culture with a rich history, tradition, and people. The people of India are some of the kindest, most genuine people I have had the pleasure to meet. They shower you in love with the first hello, and treat you as if you are family even as you get to know each other.
As a story teller, I have learned that you must first experience a story before telling it. And, as a writer, I often feel this itch for stories of exploration and adventure. However, I have had trouble writing about a hero who leaves his home and jumps into the unknown to find out what’s out there. After India, I finally feel my thoughts flow through my pencil with these stories. And, I am very grateful to be able to finally call myself an adventurer.
Upon stepping out of the airport in New Delhi, I immediately noticed how different everything was. Cars and motorbikes zip by missing you by mere inches. It’s scary, and new at first, but it only takes a few minutes to adjust. On the first day, our first stop was Jama Masjid, one of the largest Mosques in India, placed in the heart of Old Delhi. It’s an extravagant piece of architecture, and beautiful too. Being there, and at the Golden Temple in Amritsar made me realize how much cultural diversity there is in India. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and many other faiths are able to live together harmoniously. Everyone I met seemed to not care about race or religion. This was one of the things about India that truly surprised me. Another thing that I noticed was how friendly everyone is. Many people came up to me to ask me where I was from and what I was doing in India. They weren’t asking to be rude, they were simply curious about us. From the very beginning, I felt welcomed in India. On the first day, riding around Old Delhi on the rickshaws, I noticed how different a culture and country India is from the United States. However, even though India is like nothing I had ever experienced, I didn’t feel out of place. I still felt at home.
Nine years ago I was welcomed into a family on the other side of the world, and I was struck this visit by the amount of love I received the minute I returned. The fact is, from the minute I got there to the minute I left, I was surrounded by people who saw me as much of a part of their family as my sisters do. Transitioning into ashram life was incredibly easy and the awkward warming up phase that I expected from the kids never arrived. I felt like one of the kids, especially when Rajpal and Shubham, two of my closest friends from nine years ago, came home from college to see me. To say the least, love was abundant at the ashram. In many ways the ashram made the trip for me. It reminded me of why I was in India.
The children at the ashram taught me what love is. Love is as easy as pushing a child on a swing set, or counting the different colors of flowers that twirl under our feet. Love is a feeling that should come easily, and exist at its greatest between the palms of two intertwined hands. Love does not need time to grow and be harvested in the chest of others, it can occur in an instant. Love is the way my infant being fit perfectly in the arms of my mother when she first held me. A touch that cracked our hearts in half in order to be pieced back together with the jumbled pieces of each other’s existence. Dr. Kshama Metre told us that all you need to make a change in yourself and others is love. The children of the ashram revealed to me what love really means and Dr. Metre showed me how love is the pathway to successful living. After being shown the pathway to success, I had to ask myself what success meant to me. Yet, this was an answer I have always kept with me, happiness. My trip to India did not show me what I wanted in my life, I’ve always known what I wanted. India showed me how to get where I wanted. First with the understanding of what love is, and that love is the key to my happiness.
Although it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite part of the trip, one of the most memorable times for me was at Sri Ram Ashram. I was a little nervous to go to the ashram because I’m not a naturally outgoing person. We were told that at the ashram we would have a lot of time to play with the kids and just relax. I was scared that I would retreat to my introverted self and stick to my friends, or even worse just hide in my room rather than go outside and spend time with the kids. However, when we arrived all of the kids were so welcoming that you didn’t need to be an extrovert to make friends immediately. They were so easy to bond with and I found myself pushing one, two, and sometimes even three kids on the swings during our down time.
Not only was the ashram one of the most fun parts of the trip, it was one of the few places we went where we had time to really stop, take in, and reflect on everything that was happening. Rather than being on the move and thinking about where we were going next, we could really reflect on everything we had done and experienced so far on the trip.
It is difficult to put into words what the India trip meant for me, mostly because I’m not one hundred percent sure yet. But when people ask me what I got out of the trip the best answer I can give them is that I the need to go back. There’s this strange feeling about being in India that I can’t describe and can’t compare to anything else, you just know that you have to come back.
Sanjana taught me to love unconditionally; her young age and lack of English were not obstructions to our connection. We both simply saw past the barriers and formed a connection through our shared humanity. To me, this was a miracle; I experienced how much could be exchanged without any form of verbal communication. From Rajpal I learned the value of diligence. He was able to brave the difficult and monotonous Indian education system. After speaking with Rajpal I learned of how many offers he was receiving for hotel management positions, which were only on the table because of his unwavering diligence and discipline. Finally, from Mahesh I learned how I can be an older brother. This young boy acted phenomenally as an older brother, and he had quite a few younger brothers under his care. Mahesh was at the age where he could hang out with the older boys, yet he chose to make sure the younger ones were playing safely. The responsibility that I noticed in his character will serve to improve my own experience as an older brother since my brother Julian is often in need of guidance.
My mindset has definitely changed since before the trip, and some of my values have shifted toward less selfish goals. So all in all, the trip was beneficial and worthwhile, and I will miss enjoying India with my class. I do believe that their presence made the trip even better, and I will miss them as we move on with our lives.
Something I had anticipated being ready for were the villages of the Pardada Pardadi girls. “You’ve seen pictures, and you’ll be ready for anything that surprises you.” I regretted telling myself this as we walked through their homes, hand in hand. It wasn’t the houses themselves, or the circumstances these sweet and bright girls were living in; it was the other people in the villages. More specifically, how they watched us, and their curiosity about why we were there, and what we were doing. I didn’t feel real. I felt like someone on a TV being observed. I didn’t feel like they were mad, or annoyed, or grateful that we were there, just aware. I felt the most conspicuous I had ever felt in my life. It wasn’t an uncomfortable feeling, but it was new. Every time I recall this memory, an image comes to mind. The same image every time. We were leaving the villages, about to get on the bus to back to the school. I boarded the bus and sat down on the solar heated seats, glancing out the window one more time before we left. I saw a girl, who must have been close to 5 or 6 years old. She wore a long green shirt and matching baggy green pants. Her hand was covering her mouth, biting her fingers. There was no expression on her face, she just simply watched. After a few seconds, her mother called for her and she returned to what they were doing before, now acting like there wasn’t a huge bus of people right in front of their home.
Now that we’ve returned from India I am feeling the weight of my experiences resting on my shoulders. In the short amount of time we were there I grew exponentially, learning about connecting with others, diversity, acceptance, and happiness. Before leaving for the trip I had this vision in my head of what I would see and how I would react. I thought that while being surrounded by such immense poverty I would feel deeply remorseful for those who lived with less than I have, but I found myself abandoning those judgements when I saw how happy the people were. In the village I visited while at Pardada Pardadi School, I saw a family of 5 that lived in a single room. Despite having so little they greeted us all with huge smiles and beamed with pride at what they had. This gave me a deeper understanding of the fact that material objects are not the key to making ourselves happier. The two families were so full of love for each other and that’s all they needed to make their tiny space feel like a palace.
The girls at Pardada Pardadi showed me that connecting with people doesn’t require the same language. The girls would talk to me with every last ounce of their English knowledge and when that ran out it never stopped us from interacting. I think that the value of a smile is greatly underestimated. Humans are social beings. We want social connections made through interaction and we want someone who is capable of treating us kindly and with respect. A smile can reveal the kindness that often hides behind our closed off outward facades. My point is that happiness is a choice and many people choose not to make a conscious decision to be happy. After seeing what struggling really looks like, it is much easier for me to choose positivity and bliss each day.
On our last day, during Samvaad, multiple people asked me if I had any expectations about India before coming. I said that I didn’t, partially because I couldn’t think of anything at that moment and partially because I didn’t want to sound like I was one of those people who believes all the stereotypes. In retrospect, I can remember one thing that I was expecting and that was the crowds. I anticipated that literally every single street that we would walk down would be flooded with people all together on their own missions forming one singular mass. Surprisingly, I never once felt endangered or overcrowded… not that I’m complaining.
One of the most unexpected things that happened on this trip, that seriously put some stuff into perspective for me, was when I hand washed my clothes at the ashram. Things like laundromats and washing machines are honestly such luxuries and some people have to scrub the dirt out of their clothes every day. I had seen this practice many times in movies and pictures, but never experienced it firsthand. To my surprise it was one of the most eye-opening things that happened on that trip. There were hardships. There were annoyances. There were spectacles. There were delights. There was sickness and health and improvements and laughter and crying, every emotion and experience, good and bad. I don’t want to forget one second of the India trip.
Being in India felt so natural to me. I did not feel a culture shock; I do not really know why. I felt a culture shock coming home though. The first week home I kept talking about things and doing things and wondering why these things had been my whole world. India just made everything bigger and clearer. It feels like living in two worlds at once, which is hard sometimes. I think, most importantly, I have been inspired to do more with the opportunities I get. Rinchen Khando showed me that what I want to do in life, which is art, can still be influential, especially politically. I had forgotten that any form of art is still media and still has an impact. Just being around the people in India inspired me to work harder and be more compassionate. Everyone there seems to care about each other. Life is a community challenge, not an individual battle. When people drive in India, they drive just however they need to, to get where they’re going. If there is a problem and someone gets stuck, everyone around and available, helps. Getting a bus to pass a taxi on a tiny two lane road on the side of the Himalayas, where one lane is half blocked by sleeping cows, is no one’s fault. But it is everyone’s task because nothing will happen alone.
I am thankful to my parents for sending me to a school that provides us with unique experiences that help mould us into be more open minded and accepting people. Being able to meet so many great and influential people has had a positive impact on me. I was especially inspired by the people we met in India. We got to see a completely different culture and way of life, but at the same time got to see that we are not that different. I cannot express in words how amazing the people we met were. From the children at Sri Ram Ashram to the influential adults we met in Dharamsala I was taught new lessons that I plan to carry with me throughout the rest of my life. I am so glad that I am still talking to my friend, Renu, from Pardada Pardadi and that we connected so well even though I was only there for two days. It’s not a common thing to make such good friends so quickly and I was able to do this on multiple occasions in India. At the ashram I made friends with a little girl named Puja. She barely knew any English so it was difficult to communicate with her but I was still able to befriend her and connect with Pooja. And even at the Samvaad I made friends that I am still talking with today. There we had even less time to connect with the students but I am still talking to them. This trip really taught me how it doesn’t matter your age, language, economic status, or culture because we are all the same in our hearts and want a friend.