Leading through a crisis – Webinar 1

I was fortunate to attend a webinar hosted by Grassroots Research and Advocacy Movement (GRAAM). The webinar was anchored by Ramesh Venkataraman and the main speaker was Dr R Balasubramaniam, (fondly called as RB sir or Dr Balu), Founder of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) and GRAAM.

Dr Balu opened his talk with a few points:

  • This is the mother of all crisis as it is a global pandemic (and not restricted to a region, state, country or a group of countries)
  • This crisis has shown the fragilities of a global economy
  • This crisis has shown the interconnectedness of all of us

Dr Balu shared a few points to ponder:

  • How can we as humankind cope and endure this crisis?
  • How leadership has succeeded and failed in various countries?

Dr Balu shared his understanding on leadership:

  • While classic definition of leadership could be ‘having/exercising authority’ or ‘setting a vision’ and so on, in the current context, leadership could be defined as an activity to mobilize a group of people to solve a crisis
  • Leadership is also the ability to define/construct reality as close to reality as possible and taking actions based on it

Dr Balu in his own style narrated the following points:

  • The only certainty we have is the certainty of our own experience, expertise and knowledge
  • Deciding what to do, but also deciding what NOT to do in a crisis is important
  • We need to be dispassionate and detach ourselves from the fruits of our action
  • Put people first (nationwide lockdown announcement), deal with the consequences later (scarcity of food, economic disruption)

Dr Balu further elaborated on how a leader should respond or act:

  • Communicate the problem, personalize the communication, demonstrate love and compassion, show your intent and make your presence felt
  • Learn to adapt / Be ready to change your beliefs
  • Experience should inform you and not influence you, otherwise, you will face rigidity
  • Work with allies and build a coalition. You can’t do it alone
  • Coming to terms or accepting your vulnerabilities and insecurities. Acceptance gives you that freedom to seek support and ask for help
  • Exhibit the inner strength
  • Leadership is about creating 1000s of leaders.
  • Crisis leadership is the courage to experiment. It is learning to say ‘I don’t know. Please help me’

I learnt the difference between Collaboration and Cooperation. We use this so loosely in the corporate world:

  • Collaboration: supporting each other to reach a common goal
  • Cooperation: supporting each other to reach their respective individual goal

To a question about how NGOs need to adapt, Dr Balu responded that today CSR is responding to the current need of supporting communities to battle the COVID pandemic. NGOs will need to hybridize in the future to the DNA of the public sector and for-profit mindset of private sector

To a question about how NGOs should respond to a situation where they have to scale down their operations, Dr Balu responded that when NGOs might lose some funding in the future, they should share that information with the community, be transparent and open. Don’t see community as beneficiary, but partners in progress. Together, they explore a solution with the communities, which will happen when we see them as partners and not beneficiary or receiver

Some more answers from Dr Balu for other questions :

  • All narratives (GDP, Ease of doing business) are based on ‘wealth creation. ‘Soulful economies’ should be the new narrative
  • We know of the triple bottom line 3Ps – People, Planet and Profit. In future, we should have the Quadruple P – People, Planet, Profit and Peace. We need to push for ‘peaceful coexistence’

Thanks Dr Balu for the amazing insights as always. Delighted!

Walkwithin2019-Experiences-Valedictory day

RB sir handing over the certificate and the mementoes.
Certificates handed over to 27 participants, who completed the entire walk of 7 days. Due to the sad demise of HH Sri Vishvesha Tirtha Swamiji of Pejawar Mutt, the valedictory function was kept low key.
Selfie with the one and only RB sir (Dr R Balasubramaniam, founder of SVYM and GRAAM)
Near Mysore bus stand, as I depart from Mysore to return to Bangalore after 9 days in Mysore. Loved the city of Mysore for its cultural ethos and less people with less traffic 🙂
A press release that summarises the walkwithin2019 initiative

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Read the next post in the Walkwithin2019 blog post here

Walkwithin2019 – A visual treat

View of the Outer ring road, Mysore beside the V-LEAD campus (the Leadership Institute run under the aegis of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement – SVYM)
Sometimes during the walk, the road feels never ending. Particularly when not many people in sight. The extend of land area that we saw over 7 days put things into perspective. Breaks myths around the unimaginable scale of our earth.
Given the dietary needs of human beings, this lone tree serves as a reminder of how we need more and more land to ensure food security for all of us. But as a result, are we losing forest cover?
It was a nice sight to see the tree break the pattern of farming. Looks like the farmer at the far end is cultivating paddy, whilst the farmer at the near end is cultivating something else.
Lot of small canals ensure water availability for cultivation
Evening sun setting marking an end on one of the days
Guess it was cabbage grown amidst the coconut trees. Various intercropping efforts were evident with most farmers.
This frame seems to show that the sun is partnering with the clouds to shower their blessings on the farmers working nearby
Sun peeping through the clouds to uniquely light up the frame.
A fisherman practicing his trade on one of the canals
Evening sun setting with a wonderful view of river Kapila.
Implementation of drip irrigation in a farm
Lucky to have paid a visit to the Nanjangud temple. I was pleasantly surprised to see the scale of the temple and the devotees thronging even at 7:30 pm. There was a very large collection of idols that are centuries old in various shapes and sizes. The depiction of various mythological characters is a treat to behold. I wonder why this temple is not on the tourist circuit of Mysore. The tourism department should seriously consider improving the guides and related infrastructure.
River Kapila in all glory. Happy to see abundant water.
Whilst we were setting ourselves up to watch the annular solar eclipse, these two fishermen was minding their own business rowing their coracle in the river Kapila. We handed over a pair of solar eclipse glasses and encouraged them to see the eclipse.
The sprawling campus of the educational institutions run by the Suttur mutt, where 4000 students from various states in India receive education.

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Read the first post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Walkwithin2019-Experiences-Day 7

Today was the last day of our walk and there was a tinge of sadness in the air that the walk was coming to an end and we will be bidding goodbye to the village environs.

Wider roads and motor traffic (particularly lorries, buses and cars) started appearing on the roads as we started approaching Mysore city in the last leg of the walk.
We then stretched our legs on the lawn and were served with fresh water melon juice with some ragi snacks made by the tribal women supported by SVYM.
On similar lines as the donation of Indian rupees 2.5 lakhs handed over to the Chiguru ashrama at the start of the walk, we also handed over a donation of Indian rupees 2.5 lakhs to the Palliative care center run by SVYM in Mysore.
Press release summarising the final day.

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Read the next post in the Walkwithin2019 blog post here

Walkwithin2019-Experiences-Day 6

Yoga at Suttur mutt

At some point in the afternoon around 3 pm, I was accosted by a physically disabled person who was riding a scooter. When he slowed down and seemed to take an interest in why I was walking on the road, I explained to him the purpose of our walk. It seems he was a cattle trader and had taken a loan to buy the scooter so that it is possible to go to the cattle fairs in other villages. As we were talking, an ice cream vendor passed by in the opposite direction. He waved his hand to stop the ice candy/cream vendor and requesting me to take an ice candy/cream since it was mid afternoon. Coincidentally Dr Balu just walked by and suggested that we avoid the ice candy/cream as it might cause throat irritation due to eating the same in the hot conditions. How nice of the cattle trader to offer us!

Happy that the day is coming to an end, as I had 6 bandages due to bruises and blisters on my feet thanks to the woodlands shoes and the bathroom slippers that I was wearing. At some points during the walk, I had to walk barefoot to avoid the pain due to the bruises. #VforVictory #Mindoverbody

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

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Walkwithin2019-Experiences-Day 5

Livelihood was the theme for Day 5 (December 26, 2019). We were oriented to observe the different livelihoods practiced by the rural population. Whilst Agriculture was the theme yesterday, we were asked to think how Agriculture as a livelihood needs the supporting livelihood options to be in place, like the agency/shop selling pesticides, the group of people from Tamil Nadu who bring in the mechanised farm produce extractors, the people who make and maintain farming implements and so on. We had to thus open our minds to other livelihoods which may be secondary in nature but are very much required for sustenance of the rural population.

Today was the day of the Annular solar eclipse. Group posing with our solar eclipse glasses.
Solar eclipse captured by a photographer who walked with us.
Thanks to the incredible planning by the organising team, all of us were able to catch the solar eclipse from the banks of the river Kapila.
We also saw a group of people who seemed to be from North India, who were selling and repairing farming implements.
An allied livelihood option without which Agriculture will be difficult to practice
This was an interesting nugget of information we heard from a fellow walker. This is a nomadic tribe who move from village to village every few days. During their stay in a village, they often identify a large tract of farm land and negotiate with the owner for their stay. They always move around with a herd of sheep which they rear. The sheep dung is apparently very fertile for the land and helps in the cultivation process, for which the farmer has to pay the tribe. The women folk in the tribe knit wooden wear and clothes which they sell in the village.
We stopped at a school in Hulimavu village for a sumptuous lunch. The lunch menu used to be a special rice (puliyogare or pulao or tomato rice) and curd rice. Quite often, a sweet in the form of a payasa or banana was offered. It was quite incredible that such simple lunch used to be heavenly. Maybe it was the love and affection of the villagers who prepared and served us amidst our walk.
Some friendly banter with the farmers. Some farmers were not happy with the various schemes launched by the government such as the free rice scheme. When they are used to eating ragi (foxtail millets), why is the government thrusting rice on them, quipped a farmer. Another farmer chimed in that the government should implement Prohibition.
Breaks such as this in the bus shelter was heavenly as it got a chance to interact impromptu with the village folks as well as gave us the opportunity to savour the fresh lemon juice served by the kind villagers.
Dehusking their produce (beans) on the road itself is a common sight found across many villages. Traditionally they used to do it in their farm lands, but due to reduced land holdings, they are left with no option but to do it on the roads.
Every day was a delight thanks to all the walkers who came from varied walks of life. Whilst a few were students, others were from the corporate sector, whilst a few others were from the social sector. Their life experiences, their way of looking at things is something I cherish from the conversations.
The older generation lamented that the youth are not supporting Agriculture and told us that the youth preferred jobs in the city due to the lure of quick daily wages in occupations such as electrician, plumber and masonry work. Youth have no interest nor the inclination to know the finer aspects of agriculture.
Our night halt on Day 6 was at the serene environs of the Suttur mutt on the banks of the Kapila river and we were fortunate to witness students performing their evening year. There are approximately 4000 students studying in the institution which is run very professionally by administrative and support staff. The teaching is managed by approximately 200 teachers. We saw many students from as far as some of the North East Indian states studying here. The students had very good dorm facilities and all the educational expenses were covered by the mutt.
Finally we ended with a reflection session, of the day that has gone by

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Read the next post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Walkwithin 2019-Experiences-Day 4

Before I dwell into Day 4, one of the nice aspects of the Walkwithin program was the daily yoga and meditation sessions first thing in the morning, almost in sync with the rising sun. This elevated our energy levels and reduced the body pains to a great extent.

Pranayaama in progress

An interesting start to today’s walk was a visit to one of the temples visited by Sri Ramanuja acharya on his revered padayatra. We visited the ancient Varadarajaswamy temple in Hulahalli village. I hope the tourism department will establish some kind of a circuit to traverse the sites visited and blessed by the acharya.

Agriculture was the theme of Day 4 (December 25, 2019). Naturally, since our walk was traversing the various villages, this was the most interesting theme in the entire walk and we were able to absorb glimpses of agriculture being the major source of livelihood. We were oriented to ponder over the problems farmers faced, their risk they took, their farming practices, whether the next generation is continuing this livelihood form etc.,

One of the farmers who spoke today mentioned various aspects of farming:

  • Villages in and around Mysore have adequate water from Cauvery, Kapila and its tributaries
  • Some farmers who have slightly bigger tracts of land have pump sets with some of them practicing drip irrigation
  • 9 out of 10 farmers are practicing cultivation with pesticides, owing to the inherent risks involved in organic farming
  • Many farmers use Jeevanamrutha in addition to pesticides. Many farmers shared concern of availability of labour, but farmers who have bigger tracts of land use machines for padding extraction (see video)
  • All of them continue to be part of the food chain, where they grow, but it is the mill owners who take the Paddy husk produce for processing into rice grains
  • Depending on the quality of the paddy, they are lucky to get a price which is more than the input cost. They seem to rely on multi-cropping to counter the ups and downs of prices controlled by the mill owners and middlemen
Amount of paddy husk extracted from probably 1/5th of an acre
A grain of paddy husk (brown rice)

Some farmers had sold their land owing to certain loans they wanted to clear. So land holding became very small or reduced to zero. In certain cases, they had no land left. So when the other farmers had work in their farms, they used to work in other’s farms or go to nearby towns for daily wage work. One positive aspect is that the villagers have stopped taking loans from the traditional money lenders, but have started to opt for loans from cooperative societies or self help groups. Loans are taken to rear sheep and cows.

We stopped for lunch at Mobbahalli. Before lunch was being organised, we were fed with litres of extremely delicious butter milk and we gulped it down without hesitation. Magically, our appetite had increased manifold!
As we proceeded on our walk towards Nanjangud town for our night halt on Day 4, I met this young at heart woman Sarojamma. I asked her why she is working at this age. She replied ‘As long as god gives me strength, I will work and I will support my family’. We felt humbled and clicked her photo even as she was struggling to open her eyes in the afternoon sun. The infinite crinkles on her face belied the struggles she must have overcome in her life.
We saw many more instances of older ladies involved in work and hardly ever sitting idle.
As we were walking, at some places we were stopped by the farmers who were dehusking their produce (beans) on the road itself. Notice the car going over the beans. As more and more vehicles move around and the sun dries the beans, the seeds pop-out, which the farmers laboriously sweep and clean. Here is a farming family, who stopped me to enquire about the purpose of our walk. One of the men in the group was apparently working in the water board (BWSSB) in Bangalore and is retired. He spends a few months in the village at the farm of his relative and helps them. The husband of this lady encouraged me to take this selfie.
We finally reached Nanjangud town, we were welcomed into the Suttur kalyana mantapa (run by the Suttur mutt).
After we freshened up, we were invited for savouring the energy filled black chana lightly spiced with green chillies, coriander and coconut. We devoured quite a bit and downed it with ragi malt. The kitchen staff seemed quite content to serve to our heart’s content and kept on insisting we eat more.

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Read the next post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Walkwithin2019-Experiences-Day 3

Alcoholism was the theme of Day 3 (December 24, 2019). We were oriented to ponder over the ill-effects of Alcoholism, how does it affect families and communities, whether it is a major issue or is it a lifestyle habit, is it possible for the government to announce Prohibition (ban on alcohol) etc,?

Once the orientation was completed, we were divided into 3 groups as usual. The intention of forming new groups each day was to enable interaction amongst the 50+ participants. One such interaction among the newly formed group before we started the walk.

Tagging along with a farmer who was taking his cows to a nearby farm land, ensured that I could cover some walking distance without realising the hot sunny morning.

Around 11:30 am, we reached the Anganwaadi of Ahalya village. We saw about 10 children in the Anganwaadi, but the village seemed unusually deserted with only one or two women near their houses. The lady who manages the kitchen in the Anganwaadi welcomed us and we were also joined by a young lady who prepared lemon juice for us. We engaged in some song singing along with the small children. There was a government school operating nearby, but some of us couldn’t go there due to lack of time.

Shortly after refreshing ourselves, we thanked the caretakers in the Anganwaadi and started interacting with the villagers. Few men we met admitted that they drank occasionally and in private. Few women we spoke to confided that menfolk in their house drink alcohol, but it is not available in the village. So the menfolk drink it in the nearby villages which are 3-5 kilometres away. However, they seemed to be okay with it, as long as the menfolk are not draining away their income too much and maintain their sanity. They were particularly happy that menfolk do not create scene in the community or beat the womenfolk. We felt that the women have resigned to the fact that it is a way of life for the men to drink occasionally. When we questioned whether the regular drinking is reducing their income and consequently their savings, the womenfolk mentioned that the men cannot sleep without drinking alcohol as they do strenuous jobs in farming, masonry, carpentry etc.,

We then saw a small corner shop selling items of daily use and provisions. Seeing that it is a middle aged lady, our curiosity grew and stuck up a conversation with her. What we listened to, inspired us a lot.

Her name is Susheelamma. She got married to a man from Ahalya village and gave birth to two children. However a few years into the marriage, her husband turned alcoholic. He used to kick her out of the house and she would spend the night outside the house on several occasions. He also wasn’t earning anything and lying idle all day. She sent both her sons to her mother’s place to ensure that their children didn’t suffer from lack of education. At times, she contemplated suicide but after thinking about her kids future, she got the courage and conviction to fight back all the adverse conditions of life. Looking at them, she also got the courage and provided the much needed enthusiasm and support for her children to complete their education. One of them had finished MSc and another MCom. Few years ago, she pushed her husband to go to the alcohol de-addiction center and thankfully 4 years ago, her husband quit alcohol and she took a loan of Rs. 25,000/- to set up the shop she runs today. Her husband has also set up a cycle puncture shop during the day and runs a chat shop in the evening. She recalled her struggle with us, but is content with the change in her husband and happy that her sons are well educated and settled. Both the children were very good in studies, with the elder son having completed MSc and got a job in Nanjangud industrial town while the younger daughter is now pursuing final year MCom. Her life story is truly motivational and her determination to see changes in her family irrespective of all the adverse conditions in life is a lesson to learn for all of us. We always tend to lose our focus if things are not going in our path, and get demotivated.

Interaction at the shop run by Susheelamma
Susheelamma in her shop, smiling at the troubles in her past. She has taught us that despite all the odds in life, how we should fight for what we believe. Kudos to the will power and tenacity of Susheelamma.
Anybody and everybody was willing to talk to us. Thanks to the SVYM and GRAAM team who planned the route, we were able to rest our sore feet at the sit-out of the village houses we passed by.
Around 3:30 pm, when we reached a particular village, we were welcome into a house and offered payasa and loads of butter milk. After we had these to our heart’s content, we learnt how the women had formed a self help group which offers loans to deserving families among the group to tide over any financial crisis or promote some kind of small business that they intend to set-up. They were proud to state that their repayment rate was 100%. However, it seemed that they were more into collecting and disbursing money, but whether it increased the economic prosperity or enabled better standard of living was not exactly understood.
Interactions with children in the village enlivened the whole experience. I used the opportunity to quiz the children on subtraction, multiplication. This was the magic needed for children to open up and ask me questions about my name, where I came from and what I am doing in their village. Every child was inquisitive and ever smiling. Hope all of them get the right education and support from the community.
The walk also helped us to savour quiet moments in contemplation, thereby we were also able to experience the sights, sounds, smell of rural Bharat. As the shadows grew longer, we were looking forward to end the day but also looking for a new day of inspirations from rural Bharat.

Our halt for the night of Day 3 was the village of Hulahalli, which we reached around 5:30 pm. The plan was to stay in the Hulahalli school. Knowing that a large group of city dwellers were coming to their village, the school children had stayed back in the school to welcome us. Since the day light was still available, we engaged the children in some games.

However, unaware to us, a problem had cropped up. Our contact in the village who had offered to organise us night accommodation and dinner in a few houses/village homes was untraceable. He had gone incommunicado since the afternoon and nobody in the village could guide her on his whereabouts. After half an hour of encountering this problem, the organising team was quickly able to arrange alternate accommodation and dinner at another school in the village of Jaipura about 3 kilometres away. Thanks to the police station at Jaipura for taking us along in their vehicle, apart from the tempo traveller available at our disposal making a few trips to ensure everybody reached the school at Jaipura. Kudos to the organising team who resolved the problem on the fly. Thankfully this was the only instance where things did not go as per plan.

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Read the next post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Walkwithin2019-Experiences-Day 2

Urbanisation was the theme of Day 2 (December 23, 2019). We were oriented to ponder over how urbanisation impacts rural India, does their lifestyle and culture change, will they aspire more, what are the positives and negatives that rural India experiences etc.,

We were split into 3 groups. My group was assigned to visit Nagartahalli village. We went to the house of the gram panchayat president, who was a lady. Her family had 5 members. The younger son drives a cab in Mysore. The elder son had studied until Grade 10. He joined an ITI course (vocational training program), but dropped out since he couldn’t make new friends. He helps his father in the flower selling business. He later got married and his wife had recently delivered a baby and his aim in life was to see that his children should get good education. I could sense that somewhere deep down, it is his way of repenting for his lack of formal education. He added ‘I saw urban Mysore, I wanted to make my house better’, when I asked him ‘how come his house looks modern’. The lady who is the president of the gram panchayat is a grandmother at 40. Early marriage of girls when they reach 15-16 years seems to be the norm. Her husband is a flower seller and trades in Mysore. Whilst the family seems to have accepted the love marriage proposition of her son, it was possible only because he loved a girl within the family. Worth noting here is the practice of marriage within the family in the rural communities, which again seems to be the norm. 

Her husband came a little later and suddenly she left the living area where we were all seated and disappeared into the bedroom. We asked him why she went inside and he proudly said that it is the tradition followed in the family.

Raitho annodato sukhina bhava“. His point was that people should respect military, but also respect farmers. He made an interesting request asking us whether this slogan can be announced in cinema theaters like how the national anthem is played before the movie starts in most theatres?

On the topic of Urbanisation, he remarked that improvement in Education and development is good. Facilities are improving but trust deficit exists, everywhere it is lies and nobody trusts anybody. Son lies to the mother, community lies to each other, people lie to the government and government lies to the community. He made a point that culture of family and society should improve. 

We sauntered onto an adjacent street where we met a young lady who said her age was 25 and she is the daughter in law of the house. She wouldn’t let us in, because her in laws weren’t there. She mentioned that she got married 10 years ago. We also learnt that a child is admitted to school into Grade 1, if a child is able to touch his/her left ear with his/her right hand. Very shocking to us was the fact that this family and about 10 families living in this street didn’t have toilets, although some space is provided for. Everyone goes to relieve themselves early in the morning to an open area slightly far from their home. It was shocking because the adjacent street had toilet facilities in their homes.

Reflection:

Urbanisation is the reality, but can we have compassionate and inclusive urbanisation

Can we prepare urban communities for the impending urbanisation that they have to face?

Rural communities don’t seem to let go of their traditions and customs. Whilst some of them needs to change, how can some of it such as respecting people and being ever ready to offer something to strangers not change in the face of urbanisation?

We also heard from the other group of walkers that in their interactions, they found that some farmers had sold their full or part land holding to the residential layouts created by private firms. Since the village was about 20 kilometres from Mysore, their land holding is under constant threat from real estate businesses. Some farmers had received a lot of money which they used to clear off their loans, get some marriage done in the family, reconstructed their home to a modern modern set-up and so on. But in the process, many seem to have exhausted the money that they received from the sale of their land. Now they don’t have land to farm and end up doing farm jobs on somebody else’s land. Their children seems to have taken to masonry, carpentry, driving jobs in Mysore city and nearby towns.

Walking in good company. We proceeded on our walk to our final stop for Day 2 which was planned at Kergalli village.

On the way at D Salundi village, we met a farmer who seemed to be taking a small break from his farm duties. With every single villager, we did not have to figure out some ‘ice breaker conversations’. Everybody was so easy to talk to. They just start talking about what they are growing, how they market their produce and so on. So whilst we were conversing, a couple of us in the group were eyeing the tamarind tree and making wild jumps to get to the fruit. Seeing this, the frail farmer ran up the tree, climbed about 12 feet in the blink of an eye, plucked the fruit and offered it to us. What he said then, left us dumbstruck. He said ‘Sorry, I don’t have any vegetables to offer. Please accept the tamarind fruit‘. We requested the farmer for a photo and he gladly accepted.

Day 2 – press release

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Read the next post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here

Walkwithin2019-Experiences-Day 1

After the customary sapling plantation was done at the hands of the Deputy Chief Minister, he joined the president of the Ramakrishna Math in flagging off the walk.

Some press releases of this program.

Once the walk was flagged off, all the participants enthusiastically started the walk and we passed by the Hebbal Industrial area of Mysore which houses several technology companies including Softvision, a Cognizant company and Infosys.

Softvision, a Cognizant company
Beautiful and royal exterior of Infosys, Mysore

As a pre-requisite to joining the walk, each participant had to make a donation of Indian rupees 10,000/- in the spirit to Daana (donation). The proceeds thus collected would be donated to two deserving institutions in Mysore. One such institution was Chiguru ashrama (run under the aegis of Janaseva trust), which takes care of mentally challenged and destitute women. During the first leg of the walk on Day 1, the participants proceeded to Chigura ashrama.

At Chiguru ashrama, we met an inspiring young couple Sushma and her husband Ravi. Sushma completed her social work degree from the University of Mysore. At a very young age, she started to take care of a few women who were abandoned. Slowly the people under her care increased. When she decided to get married about 2 years ago, one of her conditions to the groom Ravi was that she should be allowed to continue taking care of the mentally ill and destitute women and he would also build a larger house of take care of them. Currently, they take care of 26 women found abandoned in the railway station and bus stand. A few of them are quite aged and had nobody to take care of them. I had the good fortune to spend a few precious moments with an old lady who had an omnipresent smile on her face in spite of all that she had go through after being abandoned by her family. She looked like 85. I asked her age and she answered as 99. With a twinkle in her eye, she mentioned she will celebrate her 100 years shortly. She seemed to love the chicken curry that was served yesterday.

Watch this video to know more about Chiguru ashrama

After the initial conversations, all the walkers enjoyed some badam milk and snacks were relished. Whilst sipping badam milk, their notice board caught everybody’s attention.

Translation:
If you can experience your pain, it means you are alive.
If you can experience others pain, it means you are human.

Reflection: What is it, that inspires Sushma at the young age of 25, decide to take care of mentally ill and destitute women?

Before bidding goodbye, we handed over part of the donation proceeds worth Indian rupees 2.5 lakhs to Chiguru ashrama. If you wish to support Sushma and Ravi in taking care of destitute women, please consider making a donation. Call them at: (91) 95906 30366 or (91) 78993 73102.

Thanks to the interactions with Sushma and Ravi, our inspiration was sky high. We proceeded to the village of Belawaadi and stopped at the Belawaadi school, where the gram panchayat president had organised lunch for us. The gram panchayat president who was a lady came to thank us for stopping by in Belawaadi. We were dumbstruck at their simplicity and hospitality, for we needed to thank her for providing us with lunch and here she was thanking us for coming to her village.

This was the first lunch in the village as part of the walk and the Chitranna (Lemon rice), Mosaranna (Curd rice) and banana was heavenly. I am sure everybody including yours truly gobbled up twice our usual intake.

Water and Sanitation was the theme of today’s walk. After the heavy lunch, we reluctantly got our minds back to the intent of the walk. We were guided to start interacting with the villagers on this topic. We could see abundant water in the village. Majority of the houses had tap water but supply was restricted to once in 3 days or once in 5 days. Outside many houses, we could see plastic drums and earthen/stone pots filled to the brim with water. We saw many houses had toilets which they claimed to be using. When we sought to know about water for drinking and cooking purposes, they mentioned that there are several Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants set-up in the village. The gram panchayat had set-up a couple of them which opens for a few hours in the morning and in the evening. It costs Indian rupees 2 for a can (25 litres) of water. There were also some individuals who had set-up RO plants privately and it costs Indian rupees 5 for a can (25 litres) of water. The private plants were open throughout the day and we observed a few people coming on their 2 wheelers, inserting the coin payment and collecting the water.

As we were thinking about what we saw, we saw two elderly men sitting outside their home and we engaged them in conversations. One of them quickly rose to his feet and told us that he wants to show us the lake in his village. After a brisk walk of 10 minutes, down winding mud paths, what was presented to us shocked us. We did see a lake, but half of the lake was filled with sewage. Apparently a few years ago, the government had executed a project to lay sewage pipes from individual houses which was supposed to be routed to a sewage treatment plant that would treat the sewage and release the treated sewage to the lake. However, the contractor closed the project after the sewage pipes were laid, but there was no sign of the sewage treatment plant. So all the sewage ended up being let out into the lake. The elderly men was lamenting how there are some bore wells close to the vicinity of the lake and some people use the water for various purposes.

Reflection: Is it so tough to develop empathy? What made the contractor close the project, knowing very well that his incomplete work will foist a grave problem on the village of Belawaadi? Don’t we (some of us as city dwellers) develop the same apathy towards others and our problems in general?

Day 1 – press release

We continued our walk towards Kergalli and reached the community hall of Kergalli to retire for the night. Before dinner was served, again thanks to some benevolent people in the village, we had the opportunity to share our experiences and reflect on our feelings during the walk today. This was the first night halt during our walk. It was also the first night where we had the basic zamkhaana (a thick cloth of about 8 feet by 10 feet used for seating a group of people) and a yoga mat as my mattress. In sync with the snoring of the fellow walkers and in order to rest the sore feet, I drifted away to sleep.

Read the previous post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here.

Read the next post in the Walkwithin2019 blog series here.