Speaker: Ravi Gulati

Recently, as part of the Awakin Talks series, we had Ravi Gulati, the founder of revolutionary peer to peer learning space Manzil, in conversation with Prof. Anil Gupta. The call was hosted by Sachi Maniar. Below is the transcript of the call. You can also watch or listen to the recording of this conversation here.

Sachi: Namaste ! Good morning. And Good evening if people are joining from out of India, My name is Sachi Maniar and I'm really excited to be your host for today's Awakin Talks.  The purpose of these Awakin Talks is to share stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life who inspire us to live in a more service oriented way. And behind each of these calls is an entire team of service-based volunteers whose invisible work allows us to hold this space. Today our special guest is Ravi Gulati, and in conversation with him is Professor Anil Gupta, two amazing people who I am also very much inspired by.

And thank you everyone for joining the call. So let us begin, with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into this space and be present to the conversation. Thank you again for joining our call today.

Welcome back! Again thank you for joining the call.  Before we begin, the conversation, I just quickly will explain the format of today's call.  We will be in conversation for 90 minutes. The conversation will be moderated by Professor Anil Gupta for one hour. And in the last 30 minutes, we will invite questions from anyone in the audience, who'd like to ask any questions to Ravi Bhaiya . You can submit your questions in the comment section, on our webcast form or on our live stream, or you can just email your questions to ask at ServiceSpace dot org that is ask, ask@servicespace.org.

So with that, without wasting much time, I'd like to introduce first, Professor Anil Gupta and then Ravi Bhaiya. So Professor Anil Gupta is a name that you just hear and you know him and a lot of people know him, but he may not know that a lot of people know him,  For us young people, we know him through the honeybee network and,  the Shod  Yatra,  which has always been a dream to be a part of for me. He is a visiting faculty at, IIM  Ahmadabad  and IIT Bombay,  has started many innovative courses like Shod Yatra,  and, you know, basically interested in  Frugal rural innovations,  he's also a Padmashree  Awardee and,  regarded as a pioneer in the field of grass roots innovations . So, thank you Sir for accepting our invitation and, you know, being once again, ready to ask very tough questions to Ravi Bhaiya. We are looking forward to it. 

Ravi Gulati who I fondly call Ravi Bhaiya is the co-founder and he calls himself the chief executive volunteer of Manzil which is a Delhi based organization. Manzil  was started in Khan Market in 1998. And, after completing his  education at IIM  Ahmedabad, he decided to take the path less travelled and start a learning community for children where right now there are over 20,000 children who are in the Alumni  Network alone of Manzil. Apart from that, there are so many organizations, so many ripples that are spawned off Manzil,  So many social entrepreneurship initiatives, which you can read all about on the Intro page of Awakin Talks website, as well as that of Manzil.

But I'm going to share a little bit of a personal intro. So anyone who's been to Manzil knows Manzil  is not an organization. It's a community. And to me, it's not a destination, but a place where a lot of young people got a lot of rest, a place where they could reflect, they could ask questions, they could be confused you know. And whether you were a part of Manzil or not, Manzil always remained, that space, that very sacred space for young people, including me.  And although my time with Manzil has been very short, it always felt like I was coming home  

similarly Ravi Bhaiya himself is not a person alone, not just a mentor, not just; you know what we want to box him. as he's an experience.  I live in Mumbai, so, every time I was in Delhi, it was almost like I had to meet him just because I know he would say something, he would do something which will just forward my journey,  and helped me with all the things that I was seeking. Our conversation, even, it was just two hours it would not just be in his home. It would be eating Parathas, It would be in the Lodhi garden. It would be coming back. So, he’s a full surprise package that he’s so open, so, amazing that it is almost, you know, impossible to miss him in Delhi.

And for me, it's a very, very big honor to be the host of this call today. So, thank you so much everyone. And thank Ravi Bhaiya you once again for accepting our invitation to speak today. With this, and without wasting much time, I'll hand it over to the Professor Anil Gupta  to do all that you do always. So thank you so much.

Anil Gupta: I thank you so much Sachi  I thank you. You know, I'm looking at the painting behind Ravi and there is a ship there now. Ships are not meant to anchor on the shore. They are meant to move around and Ravi has been moving around. He was never a settled person. I have known him as a student and I will ask him Ravi where, you know, you define Manzil as not a destination, but a journey. And how did your journey begin? What was the moment  which sort of increased your degree of uneasiness and you said, all right, this is the moment I was waiting for. And now I take off the ship sails into the unknown waters, and that's the beauty of the painting behind you.

Ravi Gulati:

And I want to follow the ship and,  you have played a major role in that. Let me just start,  with the sort of foundation. I think family plays a major role, in ways that we don't even realize at the time I it's, it kind of builds the soil, which is now ready for the seed, then that can sprout.

And,  for me, both my parents,  have been  huge influences.  And then I have this special sister older than me, seven years older, mentally challenged people would say, but,  in many ways, quite astute emotionally you've met her, you know her, and Sachi has met her . It's different. And what her coming into our family did was also kind of unsettling.

I think we see any family, where there is a special child, it changes things. And I think that's an important  thing that sets that soil from the time I sort of gained consciousness and the little boy,  just to get an, a " hosh sambhala".  I saw that both my parents were out to work, but one was bringing in money. The other was not, but their work was equally important to them. And I think somewhere, this idea that work has to be de-linked from what you're earning out of. It's kind of a price, but that's not value. And we always make that contusion, that price is value.  And so that came in, I didn't even realize, but it kind of seeped in,  into me.

And,  the other thing I don't know why, but it bothered me from childhood was a thing inequality around me and how, you know people have different starting lines. So if you say capitalism is a merit-based system, then why don't you have the same starting line? Why, why do we have the, you know, the system of inheritance at all?

Those are the questions that bothered me. Those are the questions I would not have the courage to talk about. As a child,  I was, shy. My best friends didn't know what was going on in my mind. I was very introverted, a lot of introspection, but all introverted. And then I was, you know, like,  upper middle class, just looking at career because that's what the family was saying. Do well, get into a good thing. And you will.

Anil Gupta: In the dorms, the student must have been making fun of you then sometime they must have been cutting jokes at your cost.

Ravi Gulati: ( Laughs) Yeah, I think,  by the time I came to IIM Ahmedabad,  I had learnt.  Some of the other things to be a little charming, I think. So I started to learn to play the guitar because they made fun of my guttering because I was very slow and I would, you know,  stop in the middle of a song to change chords. So I started to learn to play the guitar. Of course, they made fun of my guitaring because I was very slow and I would stop in the middle of a song to change chords. But, I think that was not so much of an issue. They saw me as different, I think.

Anil Gupta: So when did the chord of your life change, as it would while playing a guitar? When did you stop music and say, 'Look, now I've changed chords.'

Ravi Gulati: Okay. That was a combination of two things. So one senior of mine, in IIM Ahmedabad - Shobhana Madhavan -  I was very impressed by her knowledge; vast knowledge of things. So I would chat with her all the time and ask her questions and marvel at the things she would show me. And, for the first time I learned about the existence of NGOs.

So this is way back in 1990 and in my upbringing this had never come to my exposure. I'd never heard about it. And she was actually looking for a final placement in an NGO, again, unheard of at that time. I mean, very rarely would people do that. You were helping her, sir, in figuring that out. When I heard about the kind of work she would do, I questioned her.

What are you going to do, really, actually? And when she told me, I said, 'Are there such jobs? Do they exist?' That's great. I could get to travel. I could do something about this thing in my head, this bee in my bonnet that there's inequality in the world whereas you have all the privilege.

So I could do something about that, and I could also make a living. So all of this would be taken care of...This is great! And why should I wait one year?! You know, you're a senior of mine - why should I wait one year? I have summer training coming up, which is mandatory. Why don't I get summer training in an NGO? I'll get to taste it, test the waters; it's a 2 month thing. I landed up at your doorstep "Bin/Bing 13",  the famous office of yours. I landed up there. I was actually a little nervous. It was very impulsive, un-thought through decision of mine. Let me not say impulsive, because there was a lot in my childhood that had prepared me for it, but it was untested, totally untested.

And I was half-ready - actually, I would say 80% ready for a really tough grilling from you. And it was a really pleasant surprise - the trust and belief in me that I encountered that day that I experienced that day, where all you did was - you just laid out many different options of NGOs. Now for me, that was - it's the way people say "Indian Food" - somebody who lives abroad may say "Indian Food", but when they come to India, they realize there's no such thing as "Indian Food". There's so much diversity. I had exactly the same feeling, that there's so much, so much! And how do I pick? I want to do all of this - a young person, just 21 years old. I wanted to taste everything. How do I do that? I had to pick something – in those days, the Tehri dam controversy was a big one. It was in the papers, so I'd heard something about it. You had mentioned ecological struggles and I asked you to explain a bit more. Then, when you did, I just picked that. I still very vividly recall - you just turned back to the phone and called up the head of IGSSS, Mr. Adi Patel, and you spoke to him right then and there. 'I'm going to send my students and I'm going to tell my placement office, we're going to organize all that. And he's coming.'. And I landed up in Delhi, in a program in IGSSS, which usually happens in the summer vacation. So I landed there one month in advance, the orientation program was going to happen one month later. The people on the ground who were to manage me, had no clue how to handle me. And they threw me into the deep end. I landed up in this region called 'Ghaar Kshetra' in the foothills of the Shivalik, where there was a struggle going on around minor forest produce - things that we had studied with you and had studied `before a little bit, but they were really real for me there. And I think that one month there and the one month in Odisha that I spent -those two months - were a huge influence on my life, which is why I've now become a big advocate of being thrown in the deep end of the pool at the age of 20 or 21. And take that one year off and really get exposed to things which, we think we are exposed to because we are reading about it in books, but it's very, very different. The map is not the terrain.

Anil Gupta: You hadn't thought about Manzil - it just happened, isn't it? That's what happened.

Ravi Gulati: Yeah. So the two months of travel -  I thought that was my real learning. I thought I needed to travel more. With a country like India, it probably takes a few lifetimes to see and to experience everything. So I actually spent about three, four years just traveling. So a lot of people think there's no gap between the two and I did it to start Manzil. That's not how it happened. I worked eight months in Canada and that was also part of the travel bug. So why not see - if I was getting an opportunity - why not see other cultures, other parts, but over there, one thing that bothered me all the time was that though I've come halfway around the world to travel, I've not seen my own country.

It's a little absurd. So one of the things that were, again, working on me was - I'm going to save money - because I was working there - and use that money to go back and travel and not have to work, in order to earn, so that I could be free. And that's what I did for about three, four months. In that time, I came across a book 'Fukuoka, One Straw Revolution' - That suddenly hit me as the right way to live. So I started dreaming of being a farmer. I actually started working on that, and in the middle, my father got unwell.

Anil Gupta: Anyway, you have been a farmer. You have been farming souls, not seeds. And you have been sowing seeds of amazing ideas. Sachi is just one of them, but there are many seeds that you have sown. So which was the first seed you sowed?

Ravi Gulati: I don't know. I was just responding to what was happening to me. So while I was planning to move to the mountains to start farming, these two boys came to my mother. They didn't even come to me. And why was my mothBecause she was known in the neighborhood as someone who's always ready to help people, Always. And for her, there's no such thing as a 'stranger' or 'someone I know'. She would meet somebody at the bus stop, come home and start calling people up and I'd ask her what she was doing. She would say, 'Some person needs a job. I'm looking for a job for them.' So she would call up - I don't know how many people - to get a job. And sometimes that person wouldn't even show up. We say 'mudda'ii sust gavaah chust' [a saying used on the occasion when the concerned person shows little interest in the matter while others are very keen] with my mother that's true all the time - she's always ahead of the person she's trying to help. 

So these two children came looking for help in Math and she couldn't help them with Class 8 Math.  I happened to be in Delhi at the time, so she said 'Why don't you help them? They need help, and you should.' I was happy to help, but I realized that they didn't really know the basics. They were in the eighth grade somehow. I don't know how. They didn't understand what things like negative numbers were. And then I gave them another test, which was not from the textbook - it had other things, because Math had always been a subject that I had fun with, learned a lot outside of the school work as well.

I saw that some things that people usually found hard to understand, these kids understood very easily. So that was a strange kind of juxtaposition that they're pretty smart, mathematically-minded. And yet they don't know simple things. Clearly, the institutions that they attended didn't do justice to them, maybe they didn't teach it properly. I got excited about doing that because of my loyalty to Math, not so much to the children at that time. I believe that anybody can learn Math. It's so simple and you don't have to practice. People would say you have to practice to do Math and you don't have to practice. You just have to get the logic. 

And so I said, 'I'll help you, you're going to fail in your exam, for sure'.  Because the exam was a month later. We are going to start with grade 3 work, while they were in grade 8, but I can't be disloyal to Math and just do paint job on a crumbling wall. My heart, you know, my Zamir, my conscience won't allow that.

So I tried to discourage them and then asked them to go to someone else who would help them pass. I actually give credit to Hemant, the boy, who said "No, Bhaiya, we'll learn from you. He said it so confidently at 12 years of age. I often wondered, after that - how could he be so confident when I told him that he's definitely going to fail?

And what I figured out is that, we struck a chord. There was a relationship that got built and I've come to the firm conclusion now that teaching content comes later. The first thing between a teacher and a student is a relationship. If there is a connection, if there is a bond, there'll be things flowing both ways. A lot of unpredictable things as well. So we have to focus and like Fukuoka also said in that book, growing crops is tending to the soil, not tending to the crops. You just have to tend to the soil. So we have to tend to our relationships. That's my learning and it really started from there.

They were learning Math and they brought their friends, but the friends came in at different times. I started with BODMAS because I thought that was very basic. They didn't have a clue about why they should multiply first - sometimes they would multiply first, sometimes they would add first and get different answers and then not be able to figure out why that was happening. So I talked of conventions and got them ready for that. But then somebody new would come and I'd think, 'Okay, I'll do BODMAS again.' And then Hemant protested, 'What is this? We are not moving forward. You're always doing the same thing.'

So I said, 'You're right, but we also have to take care of the new person who's come. We can't leave him behind. So, why don't you teach?' And Hemant said, 'No, I can't teach.'

'But you just said, you understood it. That's why you want me to move forward.'

'I've understood it. But I can't teach!'

'Wait a minute, if you understood it and you can't teach it, maybe it's not complete understanding. Well, try at least. I'm there; nothing will go wrong.'

And that also sowed this... So what I'm saying is that the ideas came just from responding to that situation in a very living, organic, sahaj [spontaneous] way.

Anil Gupta: You never had teachers, actually, you developed the system where seniors taught the juniors, isn't it? I mean, I remember that for a long time, that was the case.

Ravi Gulati: Yeah. Also at that time I had this very strong anti-money kind of a way.

Anil Gupta: Ravi, you were also teaching something else, you know, when I have been to your place with the students around, I noticed that they could touch, feel disturb anything in your place. I mean, there was nothing out of bound for these students. There was no space in the house, which they could not intrude into. Be it almirahs, be it the place over the trunk, be it near the sofa, be it the dining tables or in the room where they could and they wanted to play music and  your beds are lying there and they could just write over them. Small kid will just play with them. So how did you dissolve this, and I'm sure Sonia has played a role because I found her vying for attention at the same time when you are paying attention to them. So she would sometimes complain, but then children developed a very good rapport with her.

So you have dissolved the space between private and public and to that extent you are my ideal, because I couldn't do as much as you have done. You could really make children in your home, feel that this home belonged to them. The kitchen belonged to them. They could go and do anything, and your mother, I must say, of course have played a role, but if you had been a little hesitant, she wouldn't have possibly imposed her views on you. So how did that happen? It didn't happen in one day, I'm sure. But how did it happen?

Ravi Gulati: I have always, you know, grown up in a house like that. So I remember distinctly as a child,  some elder would come to our house. My father would give his bed up, and sleep on the ground. My father would sleep there.  So we never had private spaces. I never had a room to myself and we would always,  you know, shift around and everything was open for everyone. In fact, the person who cooked for us was with us for 40 years, and then the whole house was left on him. Everything was open, nothing was locked.

Anil Gupta: So this is something I think it came to me as a virasat/inheritance,

Ravi Gulati: It was very natural for me as well to continue that. I don't think I thought much about it. Of course I agree, Sonia played a role. Sonia's role is that she really doesn't have a conception of like who's in my intimate circle and who's not. That kind of thing doesn't exist for her, and what are the relations? And she has no idea of social hierarchy at all. The watchmen would know when I get married and a new watchman would come, would also get that information because everybody is a role. So I think that's, yes, that happened in our house, but that, I would give all the credit to what came before me, and it just seeped into me also.

Anil Gupta: So the reason I'm saying this is that Manzil was not teaching or is not teaching even today, just the skills. That would be gross undervaluation or underestimation of its potential. He is also teaching life values and values are not taught, they are lived. Can you go get some more illustrations about when different dilemmas arose and somehow, you know, they were bailed out before the students and they could somehow internalize them and maybe they advised you sometimes.

Ravi Gulati: Yeah, there were difficulties running this from home. You know, there was a time in a small house, there'd be like 50 kids at any time, at any point of time. And,  while Sonia, my sister can be very affectionate, very caring. She can also be, no, I want to do this. And, and this is,  you know, don't come here and don't talk to this person because she's a little jealous. All of that also happens. So what we were doing, it was all out in the open, like you said, it's all out in the open. What we were doing is managing the situation without placing somebody at a higher level. So not just because it's my sister, in any case, often I saw my, my students would actually give her at a little higher level because for being special and therefore  they had that empathy and that understanding that it's all right. And she was also older. Right? All of that would happen. I would try to make it equal there that, you know, impartiality,

Anil Gupta: You think that the special needs children ought to be integrated with the normal classes?

Ravi Gulati: I think I would advise that. Yes. And I think that's also the thinking now. I think it has come a full circle from putting them separately in special sections to now integrating them. And I'm very happy for that. It's very challenging. It's not easy. And we see that in my house Sonia is not as challenging as some of them can be. You know, when we look and compare, but, I think it's important. It slows people down. It slows what you're trying to do, but I think we are just worshiping speed unnecessarily in human society.

Anil Gupta: Tell us about some of the students of your early batches. What have they done in life and the ones who you are proud of? I'm sure you're proud of all of them, but I mean, you know, we all play this game. We always played that we are fair to everybody and yet they're our favorites. So you are one of my favorites. So I'm sure there are some who will be our favorites. And I think, let us be open about it. I mean, maybe they touched your heart, maybe the questioned you harder, maybe they defied you more, for whatever reason.

Ravi Gulati: I have a big bias towards people who choose to do things for social groups and at a sort of personal cost, which is eventually not a personal cost because it's much more enriching.

I think the people who, you know, spend a lot of time earning money, dedicate or allocate a lot of time earning money are people who actually are the ones who are sacrificing a lot and not, not people like me who don't think about that so much.  So I have, I have a partiality towards that. So students of mine who set up, who either work in nonprofits or who set up a nonprofit, many of them have now,  or who have chosen even in a for-profit something that is really meaningful, and you know,  build their lives around that.

Anil Gupta: I heard a band at your place, you know, tell us, tell me about that. I was so happy. So it is such an enchanting memory of them all playing their own thing and, you know,  at one time your mother also joined and, you know, she probably sang something or whatever, tell me about that band. And there was more than one band that came up.

Ravi Gulati: By now, about 10 bands have come up.

Anil Gupta: Tell us about that.

Ravi Gulati: Yeah. So the story goes back to, you know, when we did,  when I started classes in Math, like I shared, and then,  very soon I realized that one of the things that these children don't,  are feeling, you know, sort of feel under-confident is when they're surrounded by people who speak very fluently in English and they start to feel inferior.

And,  so I said, you know, we can't beat them, I'd seen all my life, you know, we are not going to really move into Indian languages. So I said, why don't you learn English and also not leave your language? But you should be at an equal footing with everyone. So we started spoken English classes when I bought my first computer, which was just a year or two years after the boys came.

I said, why don't you learn from that? So this is how it progressed. But at one point, they said, Bhaiya (brother) we have subjects. We have difficulties in subjects, like Geography, History, we can't remember things, can't remember dates, so please help us there. By now I knew enough that, you know, all this,  memorizing and passing exams, that's not learning.

That's, you know, we spend so much time getting these degrees, but I was not at all excited about that. I said, you'll figure that out, but I don't want to spend more time on it. What do you want to learn? Let's look at that. Let's bring that. And surprisingly, the thing that we came up with, we want to learn music and now I think it's not so surprising.

It's you  know, we are a very musical society, who else creates a game like Antakshari? I don't think anyone in the world has done that and everybody knows it. So, their thing was, we want to learn music, now there's nobody to teach music. But one thing I, you know, kind of my response to that was you all know different things, you know different songs. Why don't we at least come together, set a time and space is my house, but just a corner you decide where you want to be, and set a time and let's meet regularly. If we do that, then we'll teach each other and we'll all increase our learning without having an external teacher. So they started doing that.

Then something very interesting happened. You know, how serendipity works.  There was somebody who invited me to talk to a class of Psychology students in LSI College. So I went, and when I talked to them, one girl came to me who'd passed, who had completed last year, graduated a year before, and she said, I'm very interested in looking at NGOs and I would like to visit.

So I called her to my English class, and these students were there in the English class. And by now they had become, you know, very confident and they would talk to anybody at an equal sort of level. So they started questioning her back. Didi (elder sister) what do you do in your life, well she, she explained, and then she said, they also asked, what else do you do?

So she said, I 'm learning classical music. So they were like, we want to learn music. Can you come and teach us? And she said, but I'm learning myself. I can't really teach. Does that ring a bell, sir?

Anil Gupta: Exactly, exactly.

Ravi Gulati: Hemant was there in that session, and he told her, he said, what's your problem? When do you have your class? Every Wednesday? Then you come every Thursday and teach us whatever you learn on Wednesday.

Anil Gupta: And you went back into the process. And if you understand that you can teach and all of that dialogue got repeated, oh my God! Wow.

Ravi Gulati: She was like, I never thought of it like that. And sure! I'd love to do that. She came for a whole year, every Thursday and they learnt a lot from that. And they went up a level and then more people wanted to learn and become teachers. And so it's an open community. We invite everybody.

Prof. Anil Gupta: Tell me about the first disc that they cut. There was a disc that they cut which I remember. Tell me about that.

Ravi Gulati: The first song that came out, the first city magazine which I think is closed now, heard them in a performance at 'Habitat' and they were very impressed. They were coming up with a CD of 10 upcoming bands from Delhi. And they asked me if they could give us a song and we put it on that CD and we'll distribute it.

And I said we don't have the money because we were running 'Manzil' without money at that time. We didn't have the money to record the song professionally. They were so keen to have us that we were the only band they said they would pay for, but they have to include them. And they have that song. It's a beautiful song. 'Jeetenge baazi ek din' written by that first group. It eventually called itself  'Ekam Satyam. Hemant was part of it.

And a beautiful tune composed by them and sung by them.

Anil Gupta: And there was one more that they did?

Ravi Gulati: Yeah. After that, it started a series. Neeraj Arya's Kabir band has its CD and Manzil Mystics has its CD. Many things have come out after that, but that was the first one that made people think that we can also do this.

It's not that we go somewhere else and look at a band and say, "Wow! What great music!". We can play that music provided we have the opportunity. And the role models were all inside Manzil. So we have today,  at any given time, we have about a hundred guitarists available for us anytime.

And,  all of them started with this one student who was an 'Ekam Satyam' Band winner, who was the teacher. And then started the series of teachers where his student became a teacher and then his student became a teacher. This has been going on like that even now. It's been 23 years until next generation takes over and it's beautiful to see.

Prof. Anil Gupta: So that must have been very satisfying to you that you had them with you and then you made them perform publicly. Even Sonia performed publicly one season. Tell us a little bit about that. I'm very touched by that performance. And so, I think it was part of Manzil in some sense of the term because she got confidence by looking at these kids and isn't it?

Ravi Gulati: I think Sonia's confidence gives people confidence. <laughs here>. I would give credit to my mother for the amount of confidence she has. We'll be in a big hall and somebody has done something, with thousands of people in the hall and when asked if any questions from the audience and Sonia's hand would go up first.

Anil Gupta: Laughs.

Ravi Gulati: Laughs. Like, all of us would think, is my question.

Anil Gupta: And, what she may ask you might not know!

Ravi Gulati: But there is something connected to special children there.

Anil Gupta.: Tell us about that. And you explained to me that one-act performance, where she shared her predicaments, her experiences, her feelings in a very subtle way. I mean, I think that must have been one of the most cathartic moment for all of you. So tell us a little bit about that because I think society will appreciate that. Especially people think so much about themselves and about the world around them. I think that just tell us a little bit about it.

Ravi Gulati: Yeah. So I would give credit to Walter Peter, who is now actually based in Ahmedabad sir.

Prof. Anil Gupta: He has been in touch with me. And in fact, he teaches music to people all around. That's what he does.

Ravi Gulati: Yeah. He's an old friend and he would come home. My place of meeting everybody was my home. And, he does theatre. So Sonia has this habit of whoever comes, work with me, and do theatre with me. If you make a film, make a film about me. If you write a book, write a book on me.

That's her level of confidence. So it was really her pestering Peter to do some play with her, he eventually had to give in. He would always say, yeah, I will do it one day soon Sonia didi. I will do it someday. But eventually, he had to. And he and Vibha Chibber, a friend of his, did it.  And eventually Vibha Chibber took it over. She worked with Sonia. I remember she used to go to my Aunt’s house because she wanted this time alone and not be in front of everyone while she was practicing. It was a process theatre kind of thing. So a lot of it was based on dialogue with Sonia and Vibha Chibber, dialoguing with each other. Vibha was asking a lot of questions and Sonia would give the answers.

And with that, she sort of developed a script from what Sonia herself shared from her own life and her own predicaments. What bothers her? What makes her happy? What is her aspiration dream? Her comparison with other friends in a special and non-special way. All of that came out in that script. Of course, the script was put together by Vibha because Sonia gave all that raw material, but it had to be put in a form that would work theatrically.

Then another problem came up, Sonia would forget her lines and say something else. And in the play, there was some, suspense elements, suddenly some punch line would come. But if she would say that at the wrong time, that would all go, it would not really work.  So there had to be a solution to that. And we had one of our students Aneesh, an early student, who was interested in theatre, who has gone on to become a theatre teacher in a very good school now and married to somebody who is also in theatre. But Aneesh was very young then, maybe 15 years old.  And Aneesh was given a role in that.  It was supposed to be a solo play, but he had a role of being on stage and suddenly asking, like sitting on a desk behind, he would ask a question of Sonia. Didi tell us about that, and kind of prod her further there.  As a theatrical technique, it really worked well.  What happened was that she really had surprise on her face, when she was answering.

Anil Gupta:   Tell us, tell us a sentence, if you recall some things, something that moved you that day.

Ravi Gulati:    So, in the story, she talks about a friend, who, unlike Sonia, has some physical, visible, handicaps as well, right hand, right leg, don't work fully, but this friend of hers,  was physically  perfect. Nobody could make out. And the family got her married. I would say, unfortunately, one big thing of Indian society is shaadi hono chahiye. Wo nahi hui to complete nahin hai  (But for marriage, life is not complete). 

She had been gotten married and, there are expectations.  Again, sometimes the expectations are not very sensitive expectations, given the person that's coming, and that marriage didn't work out. And, she had to come back to her parent's home, really distressing and the atmosphere in the house, at a failed marriage is also very bad. So one is, that we must marry and then when it doesn't work out, then we have to, all our life, sort of, brood over it and create that bad environment. So, Sonia had these, sort of, mixed feelings about that. She was jealous because Sonia still, till today, she is  almost 60 years old, but till today, she perks up on the mention of marriage and that's why she likes to inform everyone that I've gotten married late.  So, she loves to tell people because marriage has become a big thing for her as well. 

So, she was jealous, and she brings that out into the play. She talks about her friend getting married. In fact, the play starts with her wearing all the sort of womanly stuff. It is a bit stereotyped, as well, at points, of the chudees (bangles) and covering the head and all that. And I want to get married -- and she's actually just dreaming that part. That's not something that has actually happened. And she's jealous of a friend, who her parents have married off. She complains to my mother -- meri shaadi kyon nahin karai? (Why did you not get me married?), but later as the story of that girl progresses and she finds out almost at the end that that girl has come back to her home, and what she is she facing there.

Actually, that girl is no more. I mean, that girl, woman, she is no more. But in the story, it was done a little early, that she is gone. It is a strange feeling she has that is difficult to even express in words, it was coming in the emotion because she really got into a character, which is actually hers, not a new character, of how does she feel about the person who was her best friend, but she was jealous about her having gotten married and she didn't get married. And at the same time, now that marriage has failed, it is her best friend who is suffering, but she got that marriage experience, that she didn't get. It is a very mixed feeling, if you can imagine. And I can't describe it, but it was in her face. And, for me it was a whole play, actually. I wouldn't just take that moment, the way it progressed and how Sonia did it. I broke down when the family was called on stage. I'm still getting that feeling now, the same feeling...

Anil Gupta: Ravi, this is very intense, I wanted you to be in this mood of samvedna . Samvedna of Sonia is actually samvedna, in some sense, metaphorically speaking, of Manzil. Samvedna , that your family has  imbued you with, and   you have imbued  that samvedna,  sam means  equal and vedna  means pain.  When somebody else's pain bothers you as much as that person feels, it, doesn’t remain that person's pain, It becomes your pain, isn’t it? I have met many of your students. And to what extent and how satisfied you are in imbedding this samvedna in your students. And can you recall some examples where they have, so to say, gone beyond your expectations.?

Ravi Gulati:  There are many, I think the basic thing of how they are always ready to share their learning and people are always ready to become teachers. Sometimes they have to fight at home.  Unfortunately, enough, in our   Indian families these days, there’s this sort of a binary that exists, that it's time for you to learn why you are bothering to teach. You should be learning right now, not seeing that, how teaching helps the person himself, and sometimes the children fight to be able to teach at Manzil, to share their knowledge and being able to set aside that insecurity that again comes, seeps in from our culture generally, that the people you're teaching may get ahead of you and why are you doing that? Why are you creating competition for yourself? I mean, look at the bands themselves, in a way they're competing with each other for the same pie, but there is that caring for each other that is, I think,, generally  overall higher than what we see around us. So, it is there a lot. For that, I think there's something that really makes me happy and proud.

Specific instances have been, even when you start a band, you are thinking about what can you do for others? I look at Neeraj also. He's always looking at what bands can he help. And he's been talking about how he'd like to support them and comes forward to help Manzil Mystics here.

Mystics come forward to help Mantash which is the latest band that has come out.  Manzil Mystics has started a whole program of learning through music in government schools. The people who started it, co founded it, all Manzilians. They did not have a chance to learn music in their school, which is the government schools in, in Delhi. And they had their empathy that, we got a chance to learn at Manzil, can we take it to children in our school? So, they started going to school.

 Now schools are more interested in what will come out of it. So, they developed something called learning through music. So, at Life skills, one of the founders is a Nurse.  And so, she brought in the whole idea for girls:  menstruation, reproductive health questions around that. How can you do that through music? So Vibhor is the kind of thing they have created. It is a non-profit now, separate from Manzil. I am really proud to say their budget is, I think, five times bigger than Manzil’s and so many people are involved, so much music. They produce good music. The latest is a song called Umeed hai.  I wish I could play, I'm sure we'll find it on YouTube. 

Anil Gupta: Neha or Sachi can you put it out just for a minute, if you can play it after this conversation or after this particular moment, because I think if you talk, but we can't play music, what is the point talking about? We are talking about this experience, that feeling. So please find out Umeed Hai, for us.

Ravi Gulati: Anuraag can get it for you. If you have his number, just check with him.

Anil Gupta: Sachi, she should search for it.  She is your student; she cannot fail her teacher. So, tell us then what happened? So, they go to school and teach.

Ravi Gulati: There's a regular schedule, there are a few schools that they've selected, and they go and work with them. Now, in fact, they're involved in making a bus, a moving   studio, recording studio, as well as the performance space . It is happening right now as we talk,

Anil Gupta::  First of its kind, which came to my mind. Is there anything of this kind before?

Ravi Gulati: I don’t think so

Anil Gupta: I mean, I am supposed to know a lot, but I have not heard of it. So, this is beautiful. Isn't it? This will be beautiful. Yes. So can you play this. So please play for us for a minute and then we will talk further. We should celebrate. This is spirit of music and education and inclusion, all the three in such a beautiful manner. So, let's hear.

Song: Lyrics:

Jo ho raha so ho gaya,

Ab kuch naye sikhate  hain,

Ham the ke jaise jail mein

Azadion ke khwab hain

Ab na ho koi zuda, ab na ho koi Khafa

Ummed hai  umeed hai

 Song: Meaning:

What has happened has happened. Now we have to teach something new, as if we were in a jail, now  there are dreams of freedom. Now nobody should be separate, now nobody should be angry, this is our hope and wish.

Anil Gupta: Wonderful.  It has energized me so much, Ravi. I can't explain it to you. I know I didn't warn you before, but spontaneity, you began with the word sahaj bhav. And that is what I wanted all of us to experience at this moment. Please tell us more about this effort now.

Ravi Gulati: So, it’s a strange feeling watching this video, because I'm a six-month-old father and I'm a grandfather as well. These are all children that Manzil Mystics works with. And in fact, they auditioned a large number of children from the Government school system here in Delhi and auditioned them, and from them this Delhi Choir has come out and they've written the song. These kids have written songs.  Manzil Mystics is a beautiful format for getting people to write songs. You know, it's not fully put together by them, but the thoughts and ideas and the sentiments, even the words are collected from  groups.

Anil Gupta: If you want to be part of this music, you will have to come and live on the street for a while because only those kids can be part of the music. So, try learning, living on the streets and be an ordinary person, and then feel that field, because you can't bring this music otherwise. I mean, how can you bring this music out? It's not something like a one-act play; they are  being very authentic and the way they were resonating and they were creating this. I mean, I think this, you're also telling us that Samvedna has to be lived through. I mean, you cannot just bring it out by choreographing it. I mean, film graphic, film cinematographers, and try to do that. But I think this music is much more authentic, because it is by the kids who have to have hope. So, how many such bands are there who are participating in education? Do they go to school by fixing some time with the teacher? Or how do they organize it?

Ravi Gulati: So, it's fixing up with the system. So, it is working, there is a DMC system right now. They're trying to do it with DOE, which is the Delhi Government system, and the bus will go there.

Anil Gupta: How have they bought the Bus? Have they fund raised?

Ravi Gulati:  Yes, there is a fundraiser, they fundraise for it. And it is in fact from SBI Caps that they have just got a big project.

Anil Gupta: Thank you SBI Caps for the support for these kids, because we really appreciate such gestures of supporting young kids and young people who are trying to chart out new paths. Thank you. And you are proud that they have got five-times your budget. How many such enterprises, social or cultural are there?  One thing which I have always felt, I want to divert a little bit of the subject -- many times people talk about social enterprises, and they have this notion, and I think it is much more dominant in the west, but also in India, that social enterprise is something where you recover the cost. These kids are not recovering the cost of performance from the kids in this school. Isn’t it?  Somebody else is paying and there is no less entrepreneurial spirit in that. So, I would like you to just reflect on such enterprises where the users, the people who benefit from the service don't pay for it.

Ravi Gulati: So, it's a mix that has come out of Manzil. There are for- profits and nonprofits both. We also don't get into this debate of for-profit or non-profit, So, we have about nine of them right now. In fact, they come together on something called the Entrepreneur Cell for which I have to thank my batch mate Sridhar, because he recognized this, working in private equity. He recognized them. So Sridhar Sethuraman has been a huge supporter of Manzil. It’s been 20 years since he got in touch with me.

Anil Gupta: I'm sure  that he's listening to this and he sent mail and I'll be able to talk on Tuesday. So, I'm sure that I would ask him this question. Yes, you are the battery charging station.

 Ravi Gulati: I guess so!

Anil Gupta: Because today there is a great void in the life of many people. Pandemic caused a lot of people to live in their houses for a long time, last year. And at that moment, now that there's a slight unlocking process, unlocking is not, should also lead to unleashing of creative potential. And I think you are just at that right moment, the cusp,  where people must now, recognize all of the pain that society has gone through.

Anil Gupta: You know, there's no family where somebody has not parted company with them.  With so much pain in the society, and with  so many people not finding it easy to have composure, what do you think,  this music or your students can do to help overcome this collective pathos?

Ravi Gulati:  I don't know this, but the thought is, just how much they can reach out. That's the only limit. But again, that's really not a limit because as you see new bands will get formed and when we get more people even more bands will get formed. Somehow society has to find ways that this gets supported.  I would say Manzil Mystics is really good at fundraising, but this is not the same with all the organizations that are coming out. It's challenging and it's not easy. For example, we're doing a project right now with  MSD at Michael and Susan Dell Foundation in which we are making along with Manzil Mystics, a lab where this kind of music can be created in house and we don't need to go to a studio or hire a studio and people can get trained and even get work and jobs. What I'm seeing is that we just had an interaction and an employee engagement program with them because they funded it. Now, that was a great meeting place, a confluence of two very different worlds that don't meet normally, unless  somebody creates that. And I think that kind of bringing together would enrich both the lives because there are resources here that can help this idea thrive. And there is the enrichment and a very intangible benefit, by fulfilling a kind of stuff here that you cannot buy with money. And if we can see the intangible benefits and create more such platforms and not just at the small scale like we have done here, but everywhere. I think we really don't need some central theme to make it and to expand it. 

Anil Gupta: Maybe you have either created or,  supported or,  in some sense, have spawned several such platforms in social space. Isn't it? Music for example. This is one aspect of Manzil as well, but there are many other things that Manzil does. Can you explain a little bit more?

Ravi Gulati: Interestingly, most of the enterprise that I've covered at Manzil revolves around the arts and the first one, which was about eight years ago was an all women group, not planned like that, and that's Quilling. It's called Craftkari. You have this beautiful craft that they do and all those girls are now doing it. Quilling is basically a paper craft where the strips of paper are rolled to create art.

Anil Gupta: Maybe Sachi  you can find something on the internet and show us how this craft is carried out. . Yeah. Sachi you need to work hard on it because people must see that craft and they know that we haven't written the script. We are just trying to flow in a very honest and authentic manner where I think we can enjoy. So while Sachi is trying to obtain some information, Ravi, tell us a little bit figuratively about what is this enterprise doing?

Ravi Gulati: So they make these paper products about 40 different products by using this very old craft called Quilling. The beautiful thing is that they're extremely aesthetic and more importantly, it’s changed the equations at home. And now this happens with any household, when women start to go out and work and bring money home and that’s the beautiful part there. Then there is a Dance Kabila, which is working with dance forms.  Dance is something I had a resistance to initially

Anil Gupta: Oh yeah, you had mentioned it, and now tell me about your resistance to dance. How did the kids overcome your resistance?  I like to know about this because I think this world is good because of these pebbles and even a person like Ravi can dominate some time.

Ravi Gulati:  Oh yeah I have this bias that dance is just shaking your body and it is not so meaningful. Music is different because there are lyrics and there are deep words and all that. So I had this boy called Azad who had learned dance somewhere else and he really wanted to start a dance class at Manzil. Ok we will go to that later as my wife has already got the quill.

Anil Gupta: Ok let me see how it is made. Neha  please  come in the front. Why are you showing it from the side? I can't see and I need to see and to understand this. Thank you Sachi I can see this rolling pin  but how did they make this? Neha please come in the front and bring Alaya also with you in the front.

That’s wonderful. I can see Alaya smiling. I can see her picking up something and finding her own roll. She seems to be so assertive. She wants to hold something in her hand.

Ravi Gulati: So let me show you the piece in my hand.  Is it visible?  This is all made of paper, and all these are strips of paper that have been rolled to form this little flower and it is just pasted on a plastic sheet or glass. When placed inside two glasses, it becomes a coaster. They've got some 40 different products like that. This one is not as very intricate. But they can make really intricate ones

Anil Gupta: Ok, so this is Quilling. I learned something new today. I had seen some other forms of paperwork, but not this kind. So where does it originate from?

Ravi Gulati: It’s an ancient art form and I don't think it's from India. We learned it in Calcutta.  We'd gone on a trip there and we learned from some people there. And then,  we had the longest term volunteer we've had for 10 years named Sangeeta  She had just come in that time 10 years ago and said she’d like to volunteer and was willing to do it. And it was just at that time that these girls had learned Quilling and Sangeeta managed to take it forward. These little sparks are needed. I think all I do is keep giving sparks here and there and see what lights up, the fuel is already there. So the spark I gave was that coming from a family with this sort of background, Sangeeta had a lot of aesthetic sense.

Anil Gupta: Sachi you take over now. I will never get tired of asking questions and Sachi after he explained about the craft  you should take a minute to ask Ravi how the students overcame the resistance to dance

 Ravi Gulati: So, I told her about this group of girls who have just learned the craft and asked her “Why don't you work with them and create something out of it because you also have that sense of aesthetics.” And then this business emerged out of that. For a year or so it worked under Manzil, but then I encouraged them to have their own organization and be independent and organize in whatever form they wanted. That is the way Craftkari got formed into a partnership. And in fact, Niraj from Kabir Cafe, had a role to play in that when Quilling was taking shape.

Anil Gupta: You have now to tell us about how your dance and in fact we would like you to dance for us. 

Ravi Gulati: So I was just sharing the story of how dance came in. I had this resistance and this bias against dance. And as I'd had said Azad had learned somewhere a little bit and he wanted to teach at Manzil, and he said why can we not start dance classes here. And I said, but what will that lead to? How will that help?  Children need jobs when they grow up. I gave all kinds of reasons for not starting dance classes and, kept discouraging him. He kept talking to me about it and I kept discouraging. So we were both really adamant. It didn't move for a few months, but what moved me was something actually outside of Manzil. The Ted Talks were then just coming up . TEDx was still not there. These talks were all online and I happened to see this Ted talk by Ken Robinson called “How schools kill creativity” Really funny one, if you haven't seen it, I would recommend all of you to watch, it really is profound as well. It’s got some really great ideas. It takes up the example of dance and he compares it with (Sorry professor!) professors. He talks about intelligence and knowledge as beyond just cognitive in the head, but, that of the body as well. And for me, for the first time I realized what a bias I was carrying. So I opened it up with Azad and I give him credit that he never stopped, he never gave up. He just kept coming back to me again and again after 15 days, 20 days again, and starts talking about it. He really tested my patience, I would say, but that was good because, eventually we started, and it was a big hit. It is still a big hit.  It has classes that people really come through.

I have a different opinion of dance now.  After seeing what children have done, in Manzil.  So, Dance Kabila is one enterprise that has come out of Manzil, there is a travel company that has come out of Manzil, Delhi by Locals.  What makes me proud is, Pradeep   started a Manzil-like space in the Sanjay van slums near Okhla, because he found this very helpful, this kind of an experience in Manzil, so that he can reach out to more people, so let me start something there. That is called Learning by Delhi Locals together.  There is Filmart which makes films, very sensitive, by people who put it together, led by Lalit.  They are making some really beautiful films, in fact, they now work for each other. So, one beautiful film for Manzil Mystics   has been made by Lalit, Filmart. There are a lot of real nice synergies that are coming up here. So, there's Art Bucket, which does graphic design, and they are supporting each other. It is really nice to see all this and how this grows. That is all.

Sachi:  Thank you so much, sir. Thank you Bhaiya.  I think one hour is too short and even one and half hours are too short too. I feel like we have not even touched the tip of your journey.  There is so much more left, but I think when you were mentioning all of these different initiatives that children and Manzil Alumni have started, one thing that I'm also thinking is how, it's almost like, how a banyan tree grows and then it grows in multiple places and still everything is very much connected to the source. And I think that's what is to me, about Manzil is that everyone is still much connected to the source.  We have a lot of questions pouring in and more to come. So, anyone who has questions for Ravi Bhaiya, you can email to ask@servicespace.org or put it on the comments section of the webcast form or the live stream page.

So Bhaiya , till more questions come in,  there have been a few questions which have been related to your journey of unlearning,  so one is , your unlearning from being a part of Indian Institute of Management, and then now starting an NGO and like  sir, also touched upon it that,  people must have thought many things about you, but that confusion and how did you deal with that confusion of,  being in a structured environment, talking about money. I am sure most of your friends would have picked up really big, high paying jobs.  How did you get to this place where you said it was okay and I will keep following this path? And there are also many questions that have come up, which is regarding your relationship with money. So, both those things if you can share it.

Ravi:   Yeah. I think from childhood, this different family that I experienced, with Sonia being there, my mother amongst all the women of that age, my Chachi, Mausi, nobody went to work.  They were all home makers, while as my mother went out to work. I got comfortable with this being different and yet being part of a group.  I didn't have to conform to belong. I could belong without confirming. It would be different. That  helped me. So, for me, money was not something I wanted to, like build my life around, a name for, it was something that was different for me.

Once I heard the story and I really liked the analogy there. It takes petrol, like gasoline to run a car, that’s what it feeds off.  The car burns petrol, you fill petrol, and it burns petrol. That is how it moves. But what you do with the car, is decided by the person who is driving it and that person doesn't eat petrol. It is not petrol that runs that person. Something else runs that person. So, then there is this thing of our consciousness or soul, whatever, there's something else that feeds it. The money is required for the body and soul to be together and running. So, we have to figure that out to really be happy.

And, for me that was, that was part of the journey. At one time I thought if I had money, I could just travel and that would just feed my soul. But when I read the book by Fukuoka  I felt I would become a farmer and  that  would feed my soul. And then when the children came, I knew this would feed my soul and that that kept feeding my soul. So, money became just a zariya, just an instrument to allow that to happen. And therefore, I don't think I ever had that sort of comparison confusion. I just needed a path forward to be able to do what I wanted to do in that game. Thanks to those two months in my summer training. And then it just kept opening out after that.

 I do want to share two things from that summer that I think really  formed me further, because the question was also about unlearning. So one of the things that happened to me, during that summer was, people were, obviously they could see I was not local, not from the village.  So, they were interested, everybody’s interested in what are you doing here? How come you are here? I told them I have come to learn , and they asked what you do in the city. So, I'm studying. What class are you studying? So, my thing was I’m studying in M A. I thought they would not understand an MBA, but at that time in 1990 people said, what is M A.  In our village we count it as 1, 2, and 3. So can you tell us like that ? And I was like, let me do a quick mental math. I'm in class sixteen. And they were like 16, what is there to study so much. That was one experience I had early on. And then they could also see, I had a lot of questions about things that I have seen around. And then a typical question was what is growing in the field. And that's a stupid question. If you see it from their point of view, somebody who has  never been to school will be able to identify the crop. Here is a person who is studying in class 16 and he doesn’t know that and they must've found it strange. I also realized that there are  a lot of things out there that I had no knowledge about.

For example, I realized how something we always learn as, something that was good for everyone, like the nationalization of forests in, I think 1951, just independent India did that, but how that created havoc, in the lives of people, who had customary, but unreturned rights over forest produce. And they were suddenly deprived of their source of earning, which was what had happened in that Ghat Chetra. And a market had come in its place, which is really brutal about people's livelihoods. They would be selling just grass or a wild grass called bhabhar, the prices would go up so much that people needed to buy it, to make this rope. That was what their economy was dependent on, the people I was staying with.

There were a lot of new learnings there. I realized one thing that you cannot learn everything in books. In fact, the books can mislead you and you have got to go out there and experience. Mark Twain's words rang true, and it has this lovely quote that says, “never let school interfere with your education”. I thought my school interfered a lot with my education, I became open for the first time to learn from people with supposedly less knowledge than me, because they did not study so much and did not go to such pedigree institutions. And I think this healthy skepticism around degrees and the pedigrees, I think came from there and now I am open to learning anywhere, from anybody, without looking through the lens of, because people get different opportunities to learn. Not everybody gets the opportunities that I got. That is one big take away from that.

The other big takeaway was I lost fear of what will happen in the future, because I saw that actually it doesn't take so much to survive, to live. There are all these notions in the head. I must have this. I must have that. And that really helped me to make those choices.

Sachi: If I think of just myself and how many times, a restless me has   come to you, asking kya karen, paise kahan se kamayen how money should be earned from, how should it happen, all of those things. And your constant, even in terms of ideas, your constant approach has been “do it and see it for yourself because unless you do it, you won't know”. And that is something that I have heard, you tell me. One other question that's coming up, which is asked by Himanshu  Gupta , is that  what is your message to the youth regarding their own livelihood,  sustenance  while being in the social sector, like a lot of us have a problem, like, or this dilemma, shall we take care of the family and the needs of the family, or shall we do what our heart says, which is the social work and how do we marry  both? What would be your advice to young people?

Ravi Gulati: We have to meet needs.  Needs, have a tendency to sort of creep. There is a creeping problem. And we start talking about calling other things also as needs. So what is that need? The more boundaries there are, the better. So, the eight months I worked in Canada, I saved up like crazy.  I was saving seventy to eighty percent of my salary every month. I had saved, by the end of those eight months, more money than people had saved in ten years.

And there is no boast around there. It is just that you cut where you cut. Why do you do that? Because you're living here, that doesn't work anymore. But my thought was, no, it works.  Why does it work? Because I am going to use this money back in India. So, if I save those forty dollars in my bus pass and instead cycle to work, which is what I started doing after three months, that forty dollars converts into much more money in India and that will help me. That is how I saved seventy to eighty percent. And that money that I earned in eight months lasted me eight years when I came back.

Because again, I stretched it and spent less, because you can do a lot with less money. You just have to get more creative, and creativity is all around us. Look at the people around us. There is a huge inspiration. I was just telling my wife recently, which percentage bracket do we belong to, in terms of our income, in India? So I said, guess where we belong and we belong in the top one   percent.  And what that person had shared, was middle-class, what people would call middle-class, they actually are upper class in India. Our notion of middle-class is all wonky. We probably don't realize the extent in this country. Like the bottom twenty percent, the average income is Rs seven thousand a month.  If it's above a lakh or something a month, or say, one lakh seventy thousand, it's already in the top one percent. So, everybody who's listening to this would be in the top ten percent. So, we can be really creative about money. This is one thing I would say, gives freedom to everyone. People think if we have money, we have freedom. I beg to differ because your needs turning into aspiration, material aspirations, will catch up and whatever amount you earn is just things, just outside your balloon, of what you can buy, exists. And that will say, I just need a little bit more. I do not have enough.  So, there is no freedom in earning more. The freedom is in really being very ruthless. And what do I need? Do I need it? No. Do I need it? No.  Keep cutting it out. And that gives you freedom and then you can make those choices.

Now that is one part of it. The other part of it, if you look at the nonprofit sector, professionally, it is possible, much more possible today, than it was earlier. And there are many other ways of earning as well.  I worked  as a volunteer with Creatnet  Education. That's built around, the whole thing is built around the idea that you spend X amount of time earning, but you give one day in a week volunteering. And we are working with a thousand Delhi Government schools with only one employee. The NGO does no fundraising. There are some funds required for that one employee salary, but there's only one employee. Everybody else is a volunteer donor. So, there are many different ways you can create it. There are skills you learn that would be useful to earn in one context and can be given, without looking at money as the payoff, in another context, that is what volunteers also do. So, there is, a lot of ways you can do it. I would say, cut your needs and be more creative.

Sachi: There is another question which is related, it’s not exactly related to this, it says, can you talk a bit about how your thought process about scale in social work has evolved?  You come from a highly educated background, and you have all the skills to be strategic and scale Manzil. So why are you not doing that?

Ravi Gulati:  I think in the beginning, I was defensive about us remaining small. And I would talk about the depth, and you cannot do both, and those kinds of things. Since the question is about how it evolved so I am taking on that journey, but over time I realized that that defensiveness is not required. It's more to do with my nature, swabhav. And I would really say, people often do this  thinking of, this is how it should be done, as if we are some outside force, that is looking at us also and it’s a  kind of neutral thing, but  we are all human beings with limits, with dispositions, with tendencies, with strengths, some things which are not our strengths.

And I think if we do what we are meant for, our nature, and we are good at that, then in any way, it keeps you alive and it's the best you can offer.   One of the reasons I have not been able to scale is I see so much improvement that needs to be done in what I am already doing. And I cannot  think of adding when that improvement is pending. So, I’m just grasping for time. How do I do it? But in a very beautiful way and there's a third part that I'll come to.  In a beautiful way there is this scaling, which is more than nature, like which is the scaling of the seeds.  No one plant grows to be a super plant covering the entire planet, but at one point it stops, and it seeds something else. And those seeds grow and they seed more. And there is no limit to how much, as one of my inspirations, this is a person called Visheswar Dutt Saklani, who is no more and just passed away a few years ago. But for sixty years he single-handedly planted trees, in and around his village, in Uttarakhand.  Lakhs of trees are growing because of him in the whole forest. He used to always say that   if all the Chana (Gram) from the world had vanished, and if somebody found just one seed of gram and planted it, very soon, it will be a fistful of gram. And then planted that, in a very short time, it would be feeding the world again. So, there is that nature model of scale. I think I am more attuned to that and which is what I'm seeing happening in Manzil as well. That is all I can say.

Sachi:  Beautiful Bhaiya. It is interesting also because I have seen you work with so many principles. And that was a scale model and yet not a scale model and seeing Manzil, which is just like a forest in some ways, like it keeps growing, and it grows in different ways. You don't have to define anything. And it is just that Sahajta that the Professor Gupta spoke about, is very much present.

I think we might have time for one or two more questions.  Sanchi Chandana asks, Manzil is   a community and not just a classroom, looking forward, what are your personal practices and social practices, tools, techniques to work through conflict internal and outside.

Ravi Gulati: There are always many perspectives to anything. And as humans, as conditioning, we are conditioned to automatically react in one way.  Each one may be different, but we have these automatic conditionings.. And when we look at conflict, both internal and external, we have to slow down and suspend our favored way of looking at it,  the view that we have, to be able to see other views, and not be in a hurry to decide, which is the right one, because each one of them may have different amounts of truth. It's a practice that I unconsciously had earlier on, and it was also very rudimentary, but as I got more exposed to people, talking about it, writing about it, about different perspectives, I have also consciously tried to cultivate. So how else can I see the situation? And this applies to both internal and external conflict. So, I think if we can slow it down and go deeper and find, very often, it is the same common humanity, expressing itself in different forms. And I am talking about external conflict. Both of them want the same thing, but they have a different view or belief about how the world works and that has come from both their conditioning. So, if we can talk about it, human beings are also very good, and when  we can really listen to each other, then we can find resonance with what the other person is saying. Both can find resonance, and something will get resolved there.  Often it gets resolved. It just takes more time. It is worth putting in that time.

I think one of the things we do, as a society, is just put the conflicts under the carpet and it starts from childhood. If a teacher comes and two children are fighting then no, no, don't fight. It's not good to fight. Stop fighting.  Stop fighting, ab haath milao.  We will  shake hands and become friends again. And if they  do that gesture, just the outward behavior, the teacher says fine, very well, and goes. And we did not even go into the underlying reason for the conflict. So, is it going to get over? It is a bit like coming into a room, which smells like some rat has died there. So, it smells bad, and you just do a room freshener and say, okay, problem solved. You have to get that dead rat out. You have to go look for it. I think that's what has been my practice, and I help people do that. People want to do it. People don't do it because they don't see, it's not part of their  learning. And I see opportunities for that all around me all the time. 

Sachi: Beautiful, there are so many questions. And I am just l trying to figure out which one to ask next. But one question that I had, and this is something you wanted to speak about in this talk also, is your connection with children. And, whether, because you spoke also about an example of the children, like, are we listening to the children? What are they saying? And there is something around that, that   you were interested in sharing about also. So, what is an advice that you would like to give people, adults, in terms of listening to children or understanding children? 

Ravi Gulati: The first thing I think, we, as a society, are too caught up in the idea that children shouldn't make wrong decisions, because that could harm them. It's out of our love. We want to protect them. Now what is a wrong decision, who defines what is wrong? Well, again, it's very easy to say, I’m an adult, I know what's good for the children, so they should just obey.  And I'll tell them what to do and they will obey, that would be good for them. But there is a very big danger in that, the danger of not becoming responsible and when I talk of this, I’ve heard it and I'm sure you heard it as well. Somebody would say, a parent would say, my child is so responsible. He is so obedient.  To me, that strikes as a complete contradiction. How can obedience be a sign of responsibility? It can't, they are opposites. And then I think of the Nuremberg trials where officer, after officer of the Nazi army, the German army, of that time, they were really surprised why these trials were even happening and they were getting up and saying, but we were following orders, obeying.  We have a chain of command in the army. We were obeying   orders. So, what if we killed 6 million Jews? We were following orders. We did nothing wrong. Now, if following orders, this is their way of saying we are not responsible for what happened. How can you blame us? We were only following orders and that is what happens here as well.

I have heard some people say they will go for arranged marriage and I've actually heard these words. They may fall in love, and they'll have all that. But they are young people. We go for the arranged marriage eventually. Why? Because marriage is a gamble anyway, love marriage or arranged marriage. If something goes wrong, then in arranged marriage, at least I will say, well, you are to be blamed.  You are to be blamed, parents. You chose the girl for me. If its love   marriage, they'll say you are responsible. You chose the girl.  So, we want to evade responsibility there as well. So let children make decisions.   They may not have good judgment, but as the saying goes, good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. So don't try to short circuit the process. 

Sachi: It's interesting.    In childcare institutions, we always say that.  You want these children, who may have committed offenses, to go out as responsible citizens, but you are not giving them any responsibility in the institution, to actually do that, very much in line with what you're saying. And I totally agree. It’s an agency definitely. So maybe,
I think, we can bring Vipin in. Vipin is here with us.  He is here to sing the song. Vipin is a Manzil student, has a long association since 2005 with Manzil and he is a songwriter, composer, artist, actor, so many things. Vipin is also someone who's giving back in so many ways, because he used to come to the Dongri Children's home, every Sunday, to work with the children I work with. And so, to me, this was like a great way to bring Vipin in.  Vipin, can you turn on your video and, please sing for us today and then we can, go back to Ravi Bhaiya 

Ravi Gulati:   I can see Sachi, you have been up to mischief behind my back, getting Vipin here.

Vipin:  Sachi ne mujhe bataya ki ye aapka  favourite hai , mujhe nahin pata tha .( Sachi told me it was your favourite, I didn’t know it .)

Song Lyrics: 

Inaka Bhed Bata Mere Avadhoo

Achchhee Karanee Kar Le Too

Daalee Phool Jagat Ke Maahee

Jahaan Dekha Vahaan Too Ka Too

Choron Ke Sang Choree Karata

Badamaashon Mein Bhedo Too

Choree Karake Too Bhag Jaave

Pakadane Vaala Too Ka Too

Haathee Mein Haathee Ban Baitho

Cheentee Mein Hain Chhoto Too

Hoy Mahaavat Oopar Baithe

Haankan Vaala Too Ka Too

Daata Ke Sang Daata Ban Jaave

Bhikhaaree Mein Bhedon Too

Mangto Hokar Maangan Laage

Dene Vaala Too Ka Too

Nar Naaree Mein Ek Viraaje

Do Duniya Mein Dise Kyoon

Baalak Hokar Rovan Laage

Rakhan Vaala Too Ka Too ,


Do you see the difference, o wise one, always engage in good deeds, ,be it flowers or branches, in this whole world ,wherever I look, I see you .

With thieves you become a thief, you are in scoundrels too, you are the one who robs and runs, the cop who nabs is also you, only you.

As an elephant, you become huge and, in an ant, you are tiny, as a mahout, you sit on top and the driver is you, only you

With givers you become a giver, you are among the paupers too! As a beggar you go begging, the donor too is you, only you!

In man and woman only "the one" resides, who in this world could call them two , as a child, you start to cry ,The care-taker is also you, only you

Ravi Gulati: Thank you, It’s a beautiful bhajan from Malwa. 

Vipin: Thank you for inviting me,

Sachi:  Vipin is one person, if I ask him at the middle of the night, he would come out to help children in the community. And that’s a vision of Manzil and it is fully reflected in him, and he has never said no to me. Vipin is a witness to the vision of Manzil, thank you Vipin. The Community is so big, the tree is so big, it will not be good if we only bring one. So now I will invite Neeraj. That is the second surprise. Neeraj, please turn on your Video. 

Neeraj:  Namaste everyone, Namaste Ravi Bhaiya, Professor sir, thank you for inviting me. I am at present with Nature and fittingly Manzil is a huge tree, so many seeds like me, Vipin and so many have come out of it.  So many groups have come out of it like Manzil Mystics, Dance Kabila and Kabir Café, which I am doing at present. Whatever we are doing today, Ravi Bhaiya, Professor sir, you all have been  instrumental in making us do that. The seeds of growth you have sown, and whenever I am in a problem I would  come to Ravi Bhaiya. Thank you so much Sachi. Now I am going to play a Bhajan, which has come out of our Kabir Café , where we are trying to create a few songs. 


Kyon Bhatke baahar, Thaaro ram thare hridya mein, baahar kyon bhatke, 

Aisa Aisa Heerala Ghat Maan Kaheeye

Jauharee Bina Heera Kaun Parakhe 

(Why are you searching outside , What are you searching outside, as the lord, your Ram, the higher self is within you.. There are so many gems lying in the World, but it only the Knower, the gold purifier, who can recognise these gems)

Neeraj: Next Lines are for you Ravi Bhaiya, we have a lock on our hearts, and you and Anil sir  help us open that lock. 

Aisa Aisa Kivaad Hivade Par Jadiya

Guru Bina Taala Kaun Khole ?

Thaaro Raam Hraday Mein, Baahar Kyon Bhatake?

Tharo Kabir hriday ma, tharo Manzil hriday mein, baahar kyon bhatke.

(We have put locks on the doors of our hearts , who else, but a Guru can open these locks and make us enter our hearts,. Who else but Kabir, but Manzil can open our hearts and get us a glimpse of our true selves.  Why are you searching outside, when what you are searching is lying within your hearts.)

Neeraj: Thank you Ravi Bhaiya.  Whatever I am today, is what you and Manzil helped me become. I stay in a different city, so I have not been able to keep in touch. Like they say that you only remember god when in trouble, you do not remember God when things  are going well, same way we remember you when we are in trouble . Ravi bhaiya, I will be more in touch, Thank you for this opportunity. 

Sachi: Amazing, thank you so much Niraj. Thank you. Vipin, for coming and singing , and  it is a way of paying it forward. So, thank you so much. We are already eight minute over , so I don't want to wait too long, Ravi Bhaiya , any final, final closing thoughts from your end.   Professor Anil, from your end, anything, that we would like to close the session with?

Anil Gupta: I think the sprouts that we have seen, Vipin, Niraj and all the others that have come today are a testimony to the creative potential that Manzil has unleashed. And I think that there's a lesson in the manual for everybody who wants to participate in the Services Space, who wants to participate in the space where samvedna leads to,  sprouting. So, when Ravi said there is so much creativity around, I think that is the manifesto, this is the manifestation, when so many kids coming from such difficult backgrounds in the childhood and the social context, have become torchbearers of this philosophy of sharing, caring and endearing.

Ravi Gulati:  I just want to say that I have received, multiplied, I don't know, how many times, whatever I have offered. And so, my one learning from life is that whatever you value, just offer it. And it's what Buddha would call it a wise selfishness.  So, this distinction, binary, we have of selflessness and selfishness, doesn't work.  It is too over simplified.  In fact, if we really get deeper, then we'll find that what we give away, is actually not giving away. It comes multiplied many times. It normally enriches your life.

Anil Gupta:  Idam Na mama, meaning This is not mine, who am I to give it? It’s a Vedic thought.  So, you had wonderful thought.  Who are we to give, we don’t own it, It was yours and we gave it back to you.

Sachi:   The last question I would like to ask is on behalf of Service Space, how can the Service Space community support the work you do, your journey, or anything else that you feel we can support in any way?

Ravi Gulati: I think we just need to multiply a thought and its experience. Just a thought will be just too many words . And, the more we can, I was talking about creating these platforms, that people in Service Space are already doing it, but maybe we can come up with ideas to do it in ways that Service Space is not doing it, but in my experience, works well.

In any case, we are trying to do nature's way of expansion.  I'm not interested in growing Manzil as an organization, but I'm interested in growing Manzil as an idea, and whatever I've learned, I'm happy to offer that to anyone and share.  Sridhar Sethuraman brought in recently, an organization in Bombay, much bigger than us, but they're interested in taking some of our learnings and sort of weaving it into their work. I would be very happy to do that. And if Service Space can help with that, taking the idea and experiences forward, not just the bare idea, I think that we will be doing work for ourselves, not for someone else, but ourselves as a larger whole.

Sachi: Much expected answer, sir. Thank you so much.  Just for taking out this time, being here. Thank you, audience. Everyone who is listening, Niraj, Vipin. If it's okay, if we just close with a minute of silence,

Ravi Gulati:  I am grateful to Anil sir, Sachi, you said he's going to ask me tough questions. He did the grilling he didn't do at that time. He is doing now, and I’m really happy. I'm really grateful sir that you consented to come to talk to me and really enjoyed, doing that and also Sachi you, because it’s three generations.  I learned so much from Sir and then you say, you've learnt from me, so that's something that I've found beautiful.  It's a really nice experience to me.  Thank you all and everybody behind the scenes, who nobody sees, Thank you Rohit and Rahul, who organized this. Thank you so much.

Anil Gupta:   And Sonia and your mother.

Sachi: Thank you everyone. So, we just close with a minute of silence. Thank you.