Gandhi needs no introduction. Our parents had studied about Gandhi in their schools, which we also did, our children are learning about Gandhi and so will our future generations. But I wonder how many of us have been dared to walk on the path shown by Gandhi. But there are people, not creating hype or publicity, neither have they had degrees from prestigious Indian Institutes of Management or Indian Institutes of Technology, yet they have been following the paths of Gandhi in the true spirit. In every steps of the path, there are obstructions, sometimes even severe blocks, but they are soldiers with a determination to work towards selfless services to humankind.
A couple of days ago, I was introduced to Jaldip Thakar over phone through Jayeshbhai. I had been briefed about him by Jayeshbhai, though met in person only two days before at the time of writing this.
As I parked the car outside the village Pedhamali after a drive of 90 km from Ahmedabad under the shadow of a huge banyan tree, the first sight was a group of younger village kids, all assembled outside a house. Soon a young man in his late 20s came out from the house to greet me. He was no other than Jaldipbhai. Clad in a simple khadi made half pant and a banyan (he is the second person I have ever met in my life with such a simple attire, the other person was Dr. Prakash Amte, late Baba Amte’s younger son). I was warmly greeted inside, a house with a large hall, attached with a kitchen, a storeroom and a toilet, but with minimal gadgets, only that are necessary for a simple living were kept nicely at their appropriate spaces.
After I was formally introduced, I revealed the purpose of my visit, “I want to contribute on children’s education in the village”. Jaldipbhai gently replied: “it is a good idea. But in the process of teaching you may become their student”. The discussion then shifted to the socio-economic condition of people and the communities living in the village. A majority of villagers belong to the scheduled caste, Bhangi and are financially poor. The village is located in a bad land formed by loess, a compact soil that was formed about 7,000 years ago while the desert sand dunes were becoming stabilized. As the land is not suitable for agriculture, most of the villagers work as daily labourers. Since the summer vacation was on, most of the children between ages 10-15 had gone with their parents to work in the distant fields. On the topic of child labour, Jaldipbhai has a different view. He does not believe that acquiring new skills on farming or other forms of labour that are harmless can be labelled as child labour. However, he clarified, children working in small teashops or restaurants, where they don’t get due respect and their self esteem are often threatened are against children’s rights.
By the time we had reached further close, I politely asked about his personal journey. 7 years back. When he was a student of Gujarat Vidyapith in Ahmedabad, an institution established by Gandhi himself, he was already contemplating a lot to walk on the Gandhian path. In the Vidyapith, there was a provision, students who wished to work in villages on Gandhian ideology they would receive a stipend of Rs. 5000 every month for a period of two years. The financial help boosted Jaldipbhai’s moral. For a period of a few months he put himself on a trial, through changing habits from urban to rural and from complex living to simple living. He started wearing khadi, a pair of simple sandals, eating food that devoid of all intoxicated elements including potato, onion and garlic, and giving up drinking tea, coffee and all other organic products. To earn the mutual trust he had to be one among the villagers where he desired to live and serve.
There was resistance from home. But he convinced his parents. He would not need any financial help, but also he would not able give them back anything in material. However, parents are parents as they always care for the wellness of their children. Till now, they provide Jaldipbhai’s and his wife Sonalben’s yearly ration. In the backyard of his house Jaldipbhai has also created a small farm where he grows vegetables organically. This sustains them for a period of two-three months in a year.
In the initial year, there were great difficulties. There was no place to stay. As time moved, he was given the present house, which was once used to be a government quarter. It was in a dilapidated condition. About a lakh and quarter rupees was spent to make it habitable.
We left his house after an hour and headed towards the heart of the village. On the way, we met a few fellow villagers, and it was heart warming experience watching his every interaction, how he has established personal touch. Someone’s cow had given birth to a calf and what did he do with the first milk, an elderly woman’s requirement of a passport size photo for availing the old age pension, some one’s return from the nearest town, was the purpose met, and so on. It was also surprising, once the conversation was over, he was gently moving to another house, compassionate yet detached, which I hear from Goenkaji everyday while meditating Vipasana.
After spending about an hour in the village, we headed through the loess to a cliff on the edge of river Sabarmati for the river view. Though I had a desire to go to the river bed, but judging my tiredness in the scorching heat he advised not to go. On the way of returning home, Jaldipbhai shared information about a few welfare projects being carried out in the village under his mentorship, one such is the forming of a mahila mandal (a women’s union) for milk collection. All these small acts over a period of time have strengthened the bond between him and the fellow villagers which have now started showing visible impacts.
I left Pedhamali after a simple lunch with a full of insights on paths of Gandhi, which no history textbooks or classroom teachers could ever provide me. As I contemplate now on my brief observation at Pedhamali it seems my perspective on history learning is going to shift radically from textbook learning to actually doing small services to humanity.