Rishikesh to Guptkashi

Last night I sat at the banks of river Ganga for about an hour. The ashram closes at 10 pm so I had to get back in time. I just stared into the river waters.. I don’t know if I was silently asking the river to bless our journey which was to start in the morning or was just letting go of any anxiety that I had. I came back very peaceful so I guess She listened.

I finished my packing, washed my clothes and slept around 11.
In the morning, we left the ashram around 6:30. I and Pratyush went to get the computer stuff loaded in the sumo and Archana came in another sumo also loaded with vegetables, blankets and pillows, books and sports equipment for children! Joseph ji got breakfast (Upma) packed from the ashram itself. He told Swami ji that there are 5 people and Swami ji packed so much that it lasted us till lunch!

So all packed, it was around 8 am when we left Rishikesh. Stopped for having breakfast at around 10. We reached Rudraprayag around 1 pm. Till Rudraprayag the road is very good.. its a two lane hill highway and we got no traffic on the way.

After Rudraprayag we could see the destruction. What was till now limited to media pics, became a reality. Roads were washed away… bridges lay half broken with nothing on one end. In the river waters down we could see big big heavy machinery like JCBs lying that had been washed away in the floods… houses that were reduced to rubble or some which had huge cracks all over. The BRO has worked hard to get the road open.. at places you are almost two storey below the level of the actual road.. you come down to the banks and go up. When it happened the first time I almost jumped in my seat.. because I could see the road ahead was broken and our driver going straight towards the broken road with no path ahead in sight 🙂 thereafter it became a regular feature… at many places the dirt road was so small that only one way traffic could go at a time so we had to wait for some time.

Despite all this, we were making good time because there was hardly any traffic. Our driver Surender ji told us normally these roads are full of kedar nath and hemkund sahib pilgrim traffic.
From Rudraprayag, Guptkashi is only 40 kms.. but as the roads are pretty bad it took us almost 3 hours to cover that distance.

We reached Archana’s home at 4pm and were greeted with warm smiles and hot daal chawal! 🙂 and an amazing views of the himalayas.

Later we went down to SNC (space for nurturing creativity) school and the moment we stepped in we were engulfed in the laughter of the children… after a few introductions we all sang songs. Later I helped Archana and other staff in the kitchen while Pratyush was totally engaged in playing with the children. 🙂

Really looking forward to work with Archana and her team and play with the children 🙂

Categories: development, education | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Atithi Devo Bhava: A mantra I saw in practice at Seva Cafe

I first wrote this volunteering experience for Volunteer Weekly. But then I had to share it here as well! 🙂

This post combines three of my favorite tasks – cooking, volunteering and writing!

seva cafe logo, living is giving, volunteering at seva cafe, Ahmedabad,Last week I went to Ahmedabad to volunteer in Seva Café. I was introduced to Seva Café almost a year ago during a training in my previous organisation. Since then I have wanted to come back here. Even though Ahmedabad is just a couple of hours away, it still took me almost a year to return.

It is difficult to explain Seva Café – it’s an experiment in ‘Peer to Peer Generosity’ run by volunteers (and a small staff) from diverse backgrounds. At Seva Café, volunteers offer meals to strangers just like they would to guests at home. At the end of your meal your bill reads 0.0. The café runs on gift economy.

Even though I love cooking, I have never cooked for more than 15 people at a go. I wanted to see how it is in big kitchen and so I decided to volunteer for both food preparation and later in waiting, serving and cleaning dishes. It was an amazing experience! I realized the cooks in restaurants must have solid arm muscles because even mixing such quantities and holding such big pans (with food) was a task :D!

volunteering at seva cafe, ahmedabad, seva cafe, india, karma kitchen

The day began with me making tea for everybody. Then Raghu bhai and Raju bhai decided on the menu for the day and we all got busy. Since I was a novice I was mainly peeling and chopping and passing things. Then Bhaskar bhai decided to teach me fried rice and red sauce for pasta. I was all excited! Yeah! I get to cook! 🙂

What followed is something I will always remember.

As soon as a picked up the pan; Bhaskar bhai asked me to look up and read:

“अतिथि देवो भव” [meaning ‘The Guest is God’].

I said okay and I said it loud “अतिथि देवो भव”. He then said – don’t just say it; believe it. Believe it from your heart that the stranger you are cooking for today, is your guest; is like God. Cook like you would cook for God. Leave all the negative emotions that you may have aside; if you had a fight with someone earlier in the day and you are angry; throw that anger out. There is no place for it in this kitchen. Cook with a happy heart; cook with love and its only then that your food will be delicious. He said – there is no technique in cooking a great meal; the only essential ingredient is love. If while cooking you are thinking about any fight you had then those negative emotions are bound to travel to your food also.

The thought was so simple, yet so profound. It’s the reason why no restaurant can match mother’s food. Mom’s make food with love which a restaurant chef rarely remembers to add!

Categories: development, Travel, Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are we stuck in a Prisoner’s Dilemma?

Prisoner’s Dilemma makes an interesting case study because the equilibrium solution (Nash equilibrium) is where both players are worst off.  While it’s in collective interest to cooperate, it’s in individual interest to defect. Read more on Wikipedia or the cartoon at the end of the post explains in just two lines! 🙂

Prisoner's dilemma - Nash Equilibrium

Are we all stuck at the Nash Equilibrium?

A discussion on the draft drug pricing policy 2011 between A and S led to a dialogue on why our government is in huge deficit. S said something which A directly linked to something she had read a long time ago – Prisoner’s dilemma.

The dialogue and the linking was inspired A to share it here and carry on the discussion.

S: … but where will the government bring money from? Our government is already in a huge deficit.

A: But that’s because there are so many poorly managed subsidies.

S: We have subsidies on things like kerosene, diesel, farm electricity which is again for the same common man for whom you are asking for low-cost medicines. So why should you say that subsidies are not required.

A: Well because they are mismanaged. A rich farmer also gets the same subsidy as a poor farmer so the rich becomes richer. There should be means of ensuring that only the needy get the subsidy.

S: How do you do that? A western country subsidy model will not really work in India.

Take for example, in US, diesel for farm vehicles is subsidized. The subsidized diesel comes with red dye and hence called Red Diesel. People come and fill their own tanks – normal vehicles with the non-subsidized diesel and farm vehicles with red diesel.  The Department of Transportation (a.k.a. our RTO) randomly stops vehicles for checking and if any vehicle other than farm vehicle is found to have the red diesel it is fined hefty.

But efficient monitoring of any such subsidy is difficult if not impossible in India. For starters, the ratio of police force to the population is fairly skewed and on top of that police is paid so little that corruption is easily justifiable.

It is in our collective interest to not misuse subsidies, if we have the means we should not use the subsidy but what happens in India is that people pay to get the BPL cards. People pay to get a caste certificate so that they can also use the reservation system.

The gap between the rich and poor is only increasing, so its every man for himself. The rich are busy getting richer, the poor are still in survival mode and the middle class stands divided. We are all looking out for ourselves. When the rich businessman is doing it, why shouldn’t I? I am anyway not making enough money; I don’t have money to give to the government. However if we all pay taxes, we will have better infrastructure and we will all be able to probably make more money. But, as prisoner’s dilemma shows, individually, paying less tax has a higher payout for me.

For our collective good, we should not defect but we seem to be stuck at the Nash Equilibrium where everyone defects. Do the game theorists have any suggestion of pulling us out of this Prisoner’s Dilemma?

Dilbert on Prisoners Dilemma

Dilbert on Prisoners Dilemm


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are just personal opinions. Neither A nor S are economists or management students. They just happen to be interested in their country’s economy and also just happen to know Prisoner’s Dilemma 🙂

More debates and confusions on my mind:

Development – the debate –No approach in development is a clear right or wrong and so often we see opposite approaches for the same ends.

Storytelling for change – It’s important to tell the happy stories so that we don’t lose faith in each other but one bad incident, one negative story takes away the good done by other 99 positive incidents.

Categories: development, education | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

General musing

A guest column in today’s Economic Times left me wondering..  Why is RTI always in news? It’s either the government is trying to introduce reforms in it or it’s not implementing it right; or RTI activists are being threatened. The guest column is a personal view of a professor who is denied information despite repeated appeals to multiple ministries. She shows how vested interests within the government will try and succeed in protecting (hiding) certain information. She suggests reforms to make government officials more accountable and a “major groundswell of pressure from a large coalition of citizens”. The column is her personal view drawn from her own experience of using RTI and obviously being a professor, it would be well researched in terms of gaining information from other’s experience also.. so in no way am I denying that RTI is still not a very transparent system.

There is obviously conflict in the sense that the Act that is supposed to keep the government accountable is actually controlled by the government itself. I think political influence (power relations) is ingrained in our system and trying to fight against it; trying to remove it completely is theoretical.Frankly speaking can we really do away with corruption? Is it always bad? Maybe in a purely black and white world corruption can be put in the black box and branded bad. Do we live in a black and white world? Aren’t there times when corruption actually helped you? We can get into the debate of petty corruption and grand corruption? petty corruption is fine but grand is unacceptable. Just branding corruption into to categories means that we are trying to justify some acts but theoretically they all fall in the black box… Okay I don’t know what I am saying now…and I should stop.

But I think something as strong as the RTI Act will and should always remain in news. RTI makes me proud!

Right to Information Act

RTI cutting corruption or vice-versa?

image from:


Categories: development, LSE | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

My work and my life

When I worked in Texas Instruments, I could switch off the work after leaving office. It was easy to forget office in office. Moreover what I did, did not influence or tried to dictate how I lived.

But working in development sector is different. To begin with its not easy to forget about work after 6pm. In most cases the work affects you as a person; when I go and meet children in orphanages and they cling to me when I am ready to leave asking me to promise that I will come back tomorrow; I cannot forget about it. I cannot let it not influence me as a person. I have always been humbled after visiting the homes. I have always been thankful for what I have and I have stopped complaining for what I do not have. In my day to day life, I have started to waste less, give more, bargain less, trust more. In a way I have let my work dictate my life. It has impacted my choices; I choose to buy from the local vegetable vendor, I choose to buy seasonal, I choose to buy cotton, I choose to buy fair trade, I choose to walk shorter distances.


Should it mean that I am wrong in wanting luxuries in life? Should it mean I feel guilty for wanting Nike shoes, Tommy jeans, BOSE speakers, for having a big car and a driver and etc etc?

Does it?

Should I be guilty?

Some of my colleagues from the NGO, I last worked at, were from the school of thought that yes, it is ‘ethically’ wrong to live a luxurious life when you are working in development sector. That when you see so many people suffering, how can you splurge. So in their opinion, a small car is a necessity but a big car is a luxury; a domestic help is a necessity but a driver is a luxury; shoes are necessity but a big brand is a luxury. They also during the discussion implied that they are a little wary of people who are working in development sector but sport a silk kurta and get down from a big car.

My question would then be where do you draw the line? Should it be between cycle and car or should it between small car and big car? I agree one shouldn’t flaunt luxuries, i respect those who live a minimalist life; but if wearing a branded shoe makes a difference to me, should I be judged for it? A friend told me that an unhappy person can never make another person happy so let me draw that line based on my ethics, don’t judge me; don’t question my intentions and dont mistrust me.

Categories: around us, development, Volunteer, work | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Moon quotes

I don’t know of many people who welcome a Monday morning. In fact, I, and most of my friends, start dreading the Monday morning from Sunday evening itself :o. I think this should be very common, for ‘Monday Morning Blues’ is never out of fashion!

I need inspiration to start work on Monday Morning. That was one of the reasons why I started a Monday morning quotation series on iVolunteer’s facebook page. Whenever I come across an inspiring quote that is somehow related to development, I make a note of it so that I don’t have to look for quotes at the last minute. And definitely not on a Monday morning! For me having that quote ready to share with our followers is the inspiration to start work on Monday! 🙂

So yesterday when I read about Neil Armstrong’s death (May his soul R. I. P.); I knew I should post a quote by him. But I didn’t want to use the “giant leap of mankind” one. It is so common; I wanted to find a quote that not many people would have read earlier so it will be something new… and I found a perfect quote in this one:

It gave the message of not wasting your time and to do something worthwhile (to volunteer!)… though the full quote says “I believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”; the truncated version fits best as an inspiring thought.

Searching for more, I found another one, which I felt was more apt. Without giving any direct gyan, the quote said it all:

It’s not a Neil Armstrong quote, but it reflects the mood which, back in 1969, Apollo 11‘s successful flight created. It’s a quote by James Lovell. James Lovell (Tom Hanks’ character in Apollo 13) flew on Apollo 8 and commanded Apollo 13. The walk on the moon showed that nothing is impossible for mankind! That’s why this is now my favourite moon quote.

What’s your favourite moon quote?

Categories: development, Volunteer, work | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An inclusive RTI Act

I think I’ve already said this in my earlier post that I’m quite proud of India’s Right to Information Act. The Act is true power in the hands of citizens and till now it has been used very effectively, however at times it has also put RTI activist’s at risk. But that hasn’t deterred them. However, as I also wrote in the earlier post, RTI application isn’t very easy.. and a step to increase it’s accessibility was taken earlier when government announced an interactive website and a call center.

In another positive move, recently Tamil Nadu State Information Commission (SIC) took the initiative of responding to Visually handicapped RTI applicants in Braille! This means that the blind no longer need to  depend on others for filing applications and receiving replies. The Tamil Nadu SIC is doing this with the help of the National Institute for the Visually Handicapped. The Institute had earlier also helped the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in translating the RTI Act in Braille. The copies of the Act in Braille may be obtained from their office in Dehradun.

Such initiatives give positive hope! As a friend of mine, Shruti, had said “It’s really good to see so many people doing such good work! makes one hopeful for the country.”

Categories: development, digital living | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Right to Information

I’m quite proud of India’s Right to Information Act. Imagine I can ask the government anything (well almost!) and they have an obligation to respond to my query within a stipulated time frame!

It’s such a big power to citizens to ensure participatory democracy… and undoubtedly a lot of scandals and injustices have been brought forward by people through the exercise of their Right to Information. One of earliest such example that I had read was of MKSS fighting for workers and peasants rights. I was so proud when we were discussing MKSS campaign during one of our class on Governance in LSE. I don’t know of any other country that has such a law. At least no one spoke about any such law in their country that time… and we had representation from at least 30 countries in our class!

There have been a lot of times that I have asked/ told people to use the RTI act to speak up against injustice to them but I could never say it with complete confidence… The reason being I have myself never used this Right. Not that there weren’t time when I wanted to use it, but just because it’s too much of an effort to send an RTI application. First you need to write the application in the given format, the send it via registered post/ speed post and pay the fee of Rs 10 via post office, DD, IPO etc…

So when I read in yesterday’s paper that government is soon planning to launch an interactive website and a call centre for RTI, I was very happy. (I liked it! Tweeted it, facebooked it and the works J)A call center will ease the application process so much; almost everyone has access to a cell phone and RTI is just a phone call away! No more fretting over if I wrote the application correctly or not or about payment options.. They can simply make the phone call to that number expensive…

But then on second thoughts, would making it easier to access, increase its misuse? More prank calls, more people trying to access the call centre for random queries and as a result the genuine ones will suffer… I can just foresee hearing the recorded message “all our RTI executives are busy on other calls…please hold on or call back later.” While it’s a step in right direction, I hope the implementation will be robust enough to ensure accessibility to the rightful applicant.

You can read the official act in almost all official Indian languages at:

The details of the RTI Call centre and Portal Project are available at:

 Image credits:;

Categories: development, digital living, LSE | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Once a volunteer, always a volunteer!

I was searching for cartoons to share with our volunteers, when I stumbled upon this one.. really described what I felt when I had started volunteering.. 🙂 It was a trap.. I fell into it almost 10 years ago and still haven’t managed to come out  and don’t want to either 🙂 Read my story here.

image taken from: (check out the link for many more interesting cartoon strips)

Categories: development, Volunteer | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Journey…

The Lok Mitras

We often wander in search of inspiration and so was our case when we began our journey to Gandhi Ashram. Though there weren’t any expectation, the visit led to some soul searching. It answered some questions we had been struggling with but raised many more.

Over the last two days we met so many inspired people with equally inspiring life stories that it is difficult to write about them all in one post but what we all observed through the stories (or rather the journeys) of those people is the common thread that holds them together. The deep sense of solidarity and the spirit of changing themselves by serving others. A selfish motivation – as described by Nimesh :). Truth, love, joy, compassion, humility, friendship – the Gandhian principles so often forgotten were imbibed by one and all associated with the place. None of the people we met ever talked about changing the world but about changing themselves. “Be the change” is what their kurtas read. They all had at some point of time broke the shackles of their routine life in search for purpose and satisfaction. They had originally come to the ashram for one hour, one day, one project and never left.

Madhusudan came here as a filmmaker with an idea of making a film on manav sadhana for increasing awareness. Little did he know that one interaction with Jayesh bhai and his message of spreading love and greater love would strike such a cord that it has been 7 years since that day and he hasn’t thought of turning back.

The place is a collection of individuals, organisations, groups and ideas working towards one message “Love All Serve All”

Nimesh was running a successful animation firm in Pune when suddenly he realised that while he was successful, he was not content. Today he is enjoying at the ashram engaging with 16 children through the medium of arts and theatre. Madhusudan says he is “mothering” instead of using the word ‘fathering’ the children. Nimesh accepts that he stayed on because he was selfish. He was changing and he liked the change.

Siddhartha and Leher came to the ashram for one day during their journey across India. This was one year ago. Raghu bhai came here because he felt he was becoming a burden on his family due to his disability, but today he is the support of nearly 20 mothers due to his “tyag no tiffin”. He started by sharing his tiffin with an elderly lady and slowly others joined him. Today they fast for one meal every Thursday and the money they save by skipping the one meal is used to provide tiffin to these 20 elderly women.

Rahul an avid photographer strongly believes in the power of images to bring change. He says he is a bit shy in talking to people but he found his purpose when he saw the smile on the kids faces when they get a print of their picture. A lot of us click pictures of kids in slums, in streets or in other public places but how many of us go back and give those pictures to them? Rahul does. He says the families display the pictures on their walls and it is s sense of pride and togetherness for them. He is now working on a project where he would click pictures of at least 100 families and give them the framed photograph.

Like Nilesh bhai, Madhu bhai, Siddharth, Rahul, Leher.. .the place is a buzzing with people moved by love. Deepam aptly says that they stay on because they gain more than what they give.

Everybody I spoke to has a journey I would want to be part of. The place didn’t just inspire, it taught me. Yes, in just two days, it taught the message of humility and gratitude.

To know more about the people and their initiatives go to

Photo credits:

This photo belongs to ‘charityfocus’ on Flickr

Categories: development, Travel, Volunteer | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at