Updated: Mar 30
Trying to learn how to spin 'Khadi' Mahatma Gandhi style, was hands down one of the high points of my day at the farm. The sweetest ladies run the day to day operations at the Vinoba Bhave Janamsthan (birthplace) - they're warm, welcoming, perpetually smiling and so humble. They're happy to get any help they can at the ashram at Gagode, Maharashtra, the very house in which the great spiritual revolutionary leader, Vinoba Bhave, was born and where he spent the first ten years of his life. In return for volunteering some time, we were served some nutritious poha and taak (buttermilk) in our work breaks followed by a scrumptious lunch of homegrown rice, dal, bhakri, salad, pickle, and more.
A dear friend of mine, Manisha runs an organisation called eCoexist. One of their projects eCoexist experiences facilitates hands-on learning through organised visits to a few unique spaces. What's different about these visits is that the places we are visiting actually do need help from volunteers - this is in no means a day-off. A few weeks before we visited, the fields full of an abundant Haldi, (Turmeric) crop were harvested by an earlier group of visiting volunteers. After this, the soil lost some of its fertility which needed to be refreshed with cow dung as manure. This is what brought me to the farm. Not the cow dung, but the desire to work with my hands in the soil, and spend a day in the shoes of a farm worker. I came away at the end of the day having done this and a lot more.
On our way to the farm, I had been telling my friends about how I don't drink enough water because I don't feel thirsty. An hour into our work on the farm, I was sweating profusely, parched and ended up drinking almost 2 litres of water before we timed out for lunch. "Man, this is some workout", I had remarked, to which Neela Tai, who is in charge of this centre, had lightheartedly shared that Vinoba used to say "An activity without a meaningful output is called an exercise." This really struck a chord in me. Could I do physical work each day that has the same results as a workout regime? (Stay tuned for more on this line of thought)
I'll admit that before visiting here, Vinoba Bhave had just been a name that had
appeared fleetingly in my school history text books, alongside Mahatma Gandhi's, most likely. Vinoba, spiritually far ahead of his years, was one of Mahatma Gandhi's advisors. Based on the stories Neela Tai and Sarita Tai regaled us with in the afternoon post lunch, I have to say, Vinoba was one cool guy. He knew what he was talking about. What else would you say about the man who said, "Politics and religion are obsolete. The time has come for science and spirituality."
This very basic space has immense potential and can be a venue of amazing growth and learning if you allow it to be. After spending around 7 hours here, I was thrilled at having come away from there having gained perspective, a sense of longing to read more about this revolutionary's work and life, and a desire to return really soon. The followers of Vinobaji's teachings live active, balanced lives where the focus is on doing as much as you can on your own. Washing our dishes after a meal was for me a reminder of the things I take for-granted in my urban life. If you're looking to get out of the city, expand your mind, learn something new, and get some exercise while you're at it, I invite you to reach out to eCoexist. The team there is working hard to put together various such experiences that will benefit the facilitators as well as the participants.