Expanding to Zero

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Musings on India Youth Jam Diaries

The India Youth Jam 2015 participants (Jamily) at Tapovan Ashram, Udaipur, RJ [Photo: Ragesh/Nachiketa]


No more deep breaths or some morning circle check-ins, smiles and greetings to some lesser known but special faces. No more early morning climbs to witness the rising sun and wake others up. No more tagaris, pots, evening dishes or the scary emotional turmoil that strengthened the core. Apparently, jam is over. I signed off with the statement – “I’m back in my zombie life” that has little to do with emotions. But, hey wait! I was asked to carry jam back home with me and keep along wherever I go. Earmarked by “drink water”, ”take a deep breathe and leave it with a sigh” and “look around in the eyes of people and feel the love”, there’s no end to what India Youth Jam taught. What Youth Jam delivered was no powerpoint presentations decorated with references, animations or computer codes but the stillness in its purity – of mind and of soul. When mind is still, the truth gets her chance to be heard in the purity of the silence.

A clear March sky was mushrooming puffs of clouds as I was gazing a frog under floating leaves in swimming pool. Relaxing on its shallower length, I stretched while others were busy filling the mud-pots (matkas); not from the swimming pool of course. Moths and insects were braving their instincts for many days now and their dead bodies on surface could easily be ignored; that now I considered a part of landscape. Visible ripples on surface of water owing to strong winds from the West on a warm-humid day – you need not be a certified meteorologist to claim ‘witch’s brew is at work and thunderstorms are coming over dinner’.

I was at Tapovan. Tapovan Ashram. A privately owned handcrafted heaven in the middle of barren abyss in mighty outskirts of romantic city of Udaipur in South of western state of Rajasthan that has all the bragging rights for preserving India’s cultural heritage. Beautifully decorated by organic farm, coconut trees, palm trees, banana trees, mango trees, this trees and that trees and over 20 rare varieties of medicinal herbs and countless shrubs, Dr. R. C. Mehta conceived this child over twenty years ago when there used to be a thorny cactus. Now, people flock in from distant places daily to choose off multiple varieties of plants they would like grow in their backyards from where Dr Mehta works and lives with his wife. Some of the plants and trees are so rare that they are found nowhere else in whole of Rajasthan. To add to its charm, Tapovan Ashram is the main administrative campus of, one of its kind, Swaraj University that takes pride in her students (khojis) and award no degrees. It’s astonishing how uncomplicated and simple life gets, when we keep things really simple. May be that’s where begins the definition of communal living.

Tapovan Ashram hails of a common kitchen producing negligible waste, a double dining hall, dormitories for stay, small yet fascinating library with percussion instruments, meditation hall (Om Hall – my favorite place), swimming pool, cow shed, endless supply of herbs, a huge segmented concave mirror for cooking using solar power and the three excessively playful dogs. The back door opens to a raw village trail that leads to (now tarred) mines via lakes, where you are free to take a dip with buffaloes almost every morning. The same lake moistens the thirst of the big cats – leopards in summer, who travel across the hills in wee hours. Did I say ‘h-word’?

Surrounded from all the four directions with picture perfect hills, some peaking to 3000 feet, Tapovan is a paradise for a runner with an itch of going real steep and sloppy on some of the roughest-loose terrains hills have to offer. I will never forget those early morning and late evening runs to the top of almost all nearby peaks to witness the redness of rising/setting sun and soak the beauty of majestic Udaipur from a kilometer high in the air. By now, I had forgotten how city smoke smelled or how a bus/truck horn sound; what day/date it was or what cricket was being played on section of the other hemisphere or importantly, how the abnormal city food tasted.

In a nutshell, it’s sacred space for many and I was the newest addition to the endless list.

So, Froggie – the frog (as named by Ayesha) jumped and got on top of the leaf. I was standing still on the same edge facing the sun that was a few more degrees away from getting on my head. What awaited in a few minutes was shramdan where all Jam participants would get an opportunity to be a part of community and serve Tapovan in more ways than many.

“Gaurav, Jump! Save’im” whispered a voice from the mud-structure on my left. “Come on, get in” repeated Sreechand while assisting others in filling the pots. Sleepless from past two nights, I looked, smiled and ignored the words. Sreechand repeated his words with a grin as I continued to smile and looked back at the frog.

Suddenly, Froggie disappeared with splash of water from the other end. My eyelids twitched as I lifted my head towards the splash gently rubbing the edge of my right index finger with the tip of the thumb of my right hand. My eyes crashed into those of a charming young lady, in her early 20s, who was standing on the other side and was probably waiting for my response. She was trying to bring something closer to the edge, I didn’t know what. A moth it was, stuck in water, waiting for his breathes to cease. “To jump or not to jump” was the question in my head when evoked a giant splash as she jumped in water to swim across the distance to hold the moth and release it in air to embrace the beauty of almighty. And then she saved another one. I stood still, pupils dilated, facial muscles relaxed. While lips got distant allowing shortened breathes through mouth, goosebumps were visible on my arms. I looked at her in amaze. I was startled as she walked away, back to her room, without looking back wearing a smile hard to forget. That was a striking moment.

Just two days ago I had realized my feelings for the world in the sacred circle – so much of anger, fear and sorrow was there that diminished the expanse of my wishes. The wishing well was still lying somewhere in the campus while I was still engrossed in a thought “who am I?” How powerful that one moment of silence was; how resilient was the thought to trigger the awakening of conscience. Was I overreacting? Or, was I amidst of a beginning of transformation? Was I ready for a transformation? Was I open enough to trust people around me?  I paused and looked at my reflection in the water. If the virtual world was real, I was looking at my clone. “Would I accept him?” I asked myself. I was going everywhere in that moment. Self-doubt is as self-centered as self-inflation. Bill Plotkin in one of his works defined, “your obligation is to reach as deeply as you can and offer your unique and authentic gifts as bravely and beautifully as you’re able.”

I came to Tapovan with a thought of freedom of expression and mining deep in my life. I knew, if anything could stop me from  achieving that, it was just me. I was my only enemy.  I wanted the whole share of what Roy helped me smell the other night, the life. My whole life. In the meeting with self, I was looking in the skies, singing deep to the heart, writing proses, painting an old creamy canvas to express the suffering and understand where was I. There was sadness, silent in its purity. And it was mine. Osho once said, “It is coming because you are alone. It is giving you a chance to go deeper into your aloneness. Rather than jumping from one shallow happiness to another shallow happiness and wasting your life, it is better to use sadness as a means for meditation. Witness it. It is a friend! It opens the door of your eternal aloneness.” It was beginning of finding out what was in me, what I like, what I love to do, what makes me happy-sad-angry-excited, who is dear to me? It’s delusive to look back in past and savour what I have gained in those tiny bits of successes (if any) and what lost in gallons without notice, which got even more artistic when realized that “I didn’t even realize.”

Over a thousand and a half words down in this writing, I’m not sure if I made any sense as yet. I’m not a student of philosophy or literature or social sciences, but I’m someone who has been engrossed in logics and reasoning throughout his life, questioning everything – nature, god, processes, people, animals; and things begin to get ugly when I question even ‘love’. I’m known, socially, as a runner, as mountaineer, as a counselor, as a motivational speaker and sometimes as an upcoming meteorologist (just two months away). Someone mentally so strong that he may conquer almost anything. I used to feel immortal at times (funny, I still do). Running came to me over 8 years ago and I was taken by surprise. It was an addiction. What addicted was the adrenaline rush of strong winds striking on my face while gasping for air in my lungs. Faster I went, stronger was the crash of winds.

Given my physical stature, I was never a fast runner. Short, weak, uneven. And now I began to realize, may be the same structure triggered me to run mammoth 21,097 meters of distance on road without any training in order to prove, I was more than just this fragile body. I was wandering and I was lost, once; then twice and then thrice. The late childhood spent in fear of rejections, denials and disparagement, finally breathed in the wilderness. I’d crossed an invisible line. I felt as if I’ve come to a place I never thought I’d have to come to. But, I was there. How? It really didn’t matter. Getting lost in jungles in lap of nature was the new pathway I had found to connect with a soul, that was mine.

The solitude of mountains was always appealing. I saw them as jigsaw puzzle. The more different you are to the greater depths, the stronger you bond. I was short and they were tall. I was weak and they were really strong. I used to cry in silence when hurt and they bludgeoned the clouds to bring enormous rains. I didn’t know to swim and they were the source of rivers. I was from hot and cruel jungle of Delhi, they had the cool and soothing deodars for the eternal nutrition. The love story was beautiful and pure as a sacred premonition. But, then I‘m afraid of heights. I might have controlled a mad elephant; might have shut the mouth of the crocodile; rode the lion and played with the cobra; I might’ve wandered through the universe incognito and might’ve walked in water and lived in the amazonian wild. But, what mattered was control of the mind.

During the session ‘river of life’, I was asked to paint what was life. And then in a later session, I was asked to imagine a world I want to see full of bliss of that life. During the process, when I was still digging hard through my insights of what, how and why, I was bombarded with a question that was nowhere near the sight. “What makes you so connected with nature?” asked the secret angel, who had just saved the two lives. I was perplexed and disorganized but then with all my wit I answered, “it’s a tough one, please give me a while”.

The moment made me recall the first night I spent in jungle without a tent in Pune’s Plus Valley with snakes piled near my bed with little scope of making a survive. There all that could sail me through was the trust. The trust in the faith and determination to get out unharmed off the exile. The stronger I trusted my faith, the stronger got the trust on the nature. The more I doubted myself, more the components of world got against me. Whenever I feel I’m a bit lost, I run away deep into the wilderness to find the strength and gaze deep in my eyes. The connection of security, affection, love and homage, I didn’t know how to describe, so I thought better let it go and neither she turned back after that while.

This was not the end of anxiety, but beginning of a transformation that was worthwhile. When last morning all the “jamily” members left, then began the tryst between myself and the journey of my life. While I began to know the pathways to connect with the inner sight, the secret angel suggested “talk with the nature, she always listens to the plights”. Those were the last words I caught from there and went in the lap of nature again, to find the answers to the questions that were unclear but way too bright. All efforts at self-transformation challenge us to engage in an on-going, critical self-examination and reflection about the foresight. The blissful eternal silence to find the answers to these questions demands commitment and a lot more courage, fire and deep awareness of “I”.  This individual commitment, when coupled with engagement in collective discussion, provides a space for critical feedback which strengthens the efforts to change and make ourselves anew, stronger and full of light.

The long journey has just begun and I think I have enough fuel to walk for days and nights. Once I get the answers I’ll return to the sacred Tapovan to see the angels and face the critical sight. I have began to trust the people as committed in the final circle. Taking care of myself with ample sleep has still been the concern while I’m typing this at 2 in midnight. Although, I’m still wearing the bracelet that shows the love and warmth, however, loneliness often creeps in as I’m still miles away from home and seek a hug to break even the last string of disdain.

The jam is neither over, nor is the tryst of life. I once wanted a shoulder or may be just a tap on back to tell me “dude, you’re fine”. But I’m glad I found a vision and enormous helping arms to lead my way chasing the dark light. The more I trust myself, the more I grow. More the trust grows, taller the spirit gets. Higher the spirit goes, more grounded the soul dives. Deeper dives the soul, still higher gets my flight.


~Gaurav Madan, India Youth Jam 2015

PS: Dedicated to all my loving Jamily members, Tapovan Ashram and majestic Swaraj University.

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[…] I stand there in silence, absorbing all the energy, feeling light as feather as I recall the moments from Udaipur. I’m feeling […]

[…] conversation with few of his friends that was quickly followed by the maiden visit to Udaipur for India Youth Jam at Tapovan Ashram, home of Swaraj […]

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