At Great Lakes, it is part of the course on Intelligently Interacting With Others to do a Karma-Yoga project. In essence, it is social service. Karma – means Action, Yoga – Meditation (well, a crude definition). So it is “Meditation through action”, in raw terms. But is it? Well, that’s what it says…
Every group (consisting of 4-5 members) is required to put in atleast 3 hours of field work every week working with the people from the under privileged section of society. When Prof. Venkat told us about the Karma-Yoga project most of us were unhappy about it. Not that its not important (I’ve been part of CSR activities in the companies I’ve worked in), but, I mean, we don’t have 2 hours to spare from the grind here at Great Lakes, and now we are to put in 3 hours for this? To top it all, no two groups were to be associated with the same target group (same NGO). Bohuth naa insafi Hai Yeh…
Reluctantly all of us searched far and wide (actually as close to the college as possible so as to waste the least time in transportation etc.) to figure out an NGO that we could be associated with. After a few hiccups, my group finally got attached to Puthiyadhor. The NGO works with children of day labourers and launders of the Besant Nagar area of Chennai. They study in classes 1 to 12th.
Its a Govt. run community center where the children come to play, mingle, learn etc during the vacation time and during school time it serves as a tuition center to teach the children. Mind, its a Govt. run community center. So it is a luxury to have a working fan there. But all that does is to circulate the hot and humid air already present what with the ventilation being next to non-existent.
From having interacted with some other NGOs for the Karma-Yoga project, we had built up a mental picture that while NGOs were sincere in their approach to help the needy, they had gotten bogged down from innumerous requests from groups like us who come in for small periods of time. So much so that they viewed us with suspicion and contempt. And they said they would dictate the kind of work we do. But at Puthiyadhor it was very different indeed. It is run by mainly two people – Mr. Balaji and Mr. Vinod. They welcomed us and told us we have complete freedom in what we contribute as long as it benefits the children there.
The first day we met a few of the children too. They took us around showing us the presentations that they had made using chart paper (They were presenting facts and figures of each state in India each day). The children showed no qualms in interacting with us and after feeling content that we had chosen the right place, we returned after spending close to 2 hours there. It was pretty stressful that day and by the time I got back, I had a splitting headache and was wondering how I would cope for the next 18 weeks of this. (I get these splitting headaches if im out in the heat for a little while)
And then this week happened. As planned, we reached Puthiyadhor at 3 PM after class on sunday. But boy, were we in for a surprise. The children had been practicing some cinematic dance all these days and they decided to put a show for us!!! Ofcourse, all play and no work makes our project a failure. Hence we sat with them and taught them a bit of English, math etc. To interested parties, we taught Hindi and Chinese too!! Well, for me it was kinda like learning with them.
I was surprised at the grasping power shown by some of them. Some of the children go to English medium schools!! There is a boy called Mahesh who is in 8th standard. He is one of the brightest there and he laps up any new information that we give. He is he most fluent of them in English too. Infact I would go to the extent of saying that he is almost at par with many of the children who go to private schools. Anyway, after about 2 hours or so, we sat down to enjoy the show they had put up for us. And they did put up a very good show.
Now, why do I find it so important to sit and write this stuff at 3AM on a Monday morning? Well, coz I thoroughly enjoyed myself today. For the record, today saw one of the highest temperatures for the year in Chennai. On top of that I had 4 research papers to read for the Empirical study lecture class and 185 pages of Financial accounting to account for and a Chinese oral test and one a chapter on Binomial and Poisson theorem for statistics and an assignment for Macro Economics apart from the innumerous pdfs to read for my empirical study plus prepare a detailed synopsis of my empirical study which I have to send to my potential guide today, social psychology chapters to read with exams round the corner… The list is endless.
And yet, the whole time I was there with the children I never thought of all this. I was… Free… Not worries, no hassles… And wonder of wonders, no headache either!!! Karma-Yoga seems to be achieving just that for me. Mediation through Action. And that’s not all. Each of us is learning something new from them too. As I mentioned before, I learned Hindi and Chinese with them and I’m learning Tamil from them. My teammates have had similar experiences too.
So to sum up the experience I, who was initially reluctant at doing the Karma-Yoga project, am a changed man. So much so that I’m actually looking forward to going there, being with the kids and spending time with them.
Class of 2009
A few pictures