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Re-Birth In India: Experience at Gandhi's Ashram

“Dai (elder brother in Nepali), you know I thought I had done everything in life. I have a wife, two children, and have done many odd jobs. I have been active in politics and also in social service. I have done everything,” Astaman said.

“I had thought that there is nothing for me anymore and would some how live this life for my children,” he continued.

“But in these last few days, I have realized that I am so young and the world is full of possibilities, I have to learn so much and there is a lot can do.”

“This is my re-birth dai,” he concluded.

It had only been three days in India with us.

Astman is young. Only at 23 years of age, he has become a father of two. He dropped out of school after fifth grade because there was no school beyond that in the village and his family couldn’t afford to send him to another school. “The choice was either for me to study or let my siblings,” recalled.

Nine of us of Sarvodaya Nepal, including Astaman, had been to Sevagram in India at Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram. In middle of India, Sevegram is small village where Gandhi had decided to settle in 1936 to promote his rural development programs. He had wanted to live among the people to ‘uplift’ their conditions. After more than seven decades, Sevagram ashram remains an attraction to students, tourists and seekers.

Our team was in India at the behest of Prasad ji, International Training Co-ordinator of Sarva Seva Sangh, apex Gandhian Institution in India. We were there to learn and deepen Gandhian thoughts and philosophy as we begin to undertake Gandhian ideals into action in Nepal. To get to Sevagram, we had taken an overnight bus from Kathmandu to Bhairawa, a town in Nepal by Indian border. Then, we booked a Indian SUV to get to Gorakhpur, about 3 hours journey. Our journey to Sevagram was more than 24 hours by train from Gorakhpur. For many this deep into India (and outside of Nepal) and train ride was the first.

For a week in Sevagram we got to see the Ashram and its environment. The kutis (huts) that Gandhi, his wife and several of his disciple use remain intact and well persevered. Many residents of ashrams follow a daily routine that includes prayers at 5 am, work at the farm (3 hours daily), prayers, study and light meals – three times a day at 7:30, 11 and 5 pm. The meal prepared with locally grown grains, vegetables and cow milk were amazingly delicious.

Along with Prasad ji, we learnt from several other Gandhian scholars about the current state of the world, the impact of globalization, neo-colonilism and relevance of Gandhian ideals in today’s world. We saw several rural and small enterprises, some vibrant and some at the verge of collapse, that still embody Gandhian ideals of local self-reliance. We visited research centers and universities building small scale technology to support rural life.

It was a week full of learning.

However, for most the learning came from being at Sevagram and seeing how Gandhi lived. His small hut made of mud, stone, and wood. Apparently Gandhi had asked that huts be built only with local materials. His slipper, and the serenity of environment, and many people who continue to strive for an ideal.

A week later in Kathmandu,

“I understood that violence is not just about killing, it’s about an attitude,” “I have been a lot less angrier at my students,” Ramesh, another team member and a school, added recently at a reflection session.

“Every time I see products on the shop, I am now more aware that they are not just simply goods but vehicle of exploitations,” Rameshwar added.

In many ways each of the nine people who travelled were affected deep inside.

Rebirth in small ways.

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