Awakin Talks » Gaus Sayyad, Maitreyee Gehlot & Karan Shah » Transcript
Gaus Sayyad, Maitreyee Gehlot & Karan Shah : Youth - Be the Change
Guest: Gaus Sayyad, Maitreyee Gehlot
Host: Rohit Rajgarhia
Moderator: Karan Shah
Rohit: Good morning and good evening. My name is Rohit and I'll be your host for today’s Awakin Talk. Welcome and thank you for joining us. Awakin Talks is a space where we host conversations with individuals whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Talks are an all-volunteer-run offering of ServiceSpace, a global platform founded on the simple principle that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. So thank you for joining us!
And that is exactly the theme, which we want to explore today with two people representing a very special community, which is 'youth'. And the theme which we are going to talk about today is 'youth and be the change'. As we always do, we will start our talk with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves in the present moment. And I'll invite, after the minute of silence, we'll have Rahul open the silence with a song. And then we'll just jump into the call of the day. Thank you again.
Rahul: Good morning to everyone. I would like to offer a song which talks about the youthful energy and it's a call to the youthful energy in all of us. This is something I learned in my childhood and it stays with me ever since. Rahul sings "galat mat kadam utao, soch kar chalo, vichaar kar chalo; raah ki museebaton ko paar kar chalo, pyaar kar chalo..."
Rohit: Beautiful! Thank you so much, Rahul, for starting on this perfect note of addressing the youth of the world, of ‘soch kar chalo’, which is ‘think before you act’. And ‘vichaar kar chalo’, which is ‘discern before you act’ and ‘pyaar kar chalo’, which is ‘lead with compassion and lead with love’. Thank you.
And before I hand it over to Karan who is going to be our moderator for the day, engaging our two very special guests, Maitreyee and Gaus, I just would like to brief you about the call flow. So Karan will introduce the theme and take over the call and engage in a conversation, a dialogue, with Gaus and Maitreyee. And at the top of the hour, we'll roll into a Q and A with the audience. So all of you who are watching this talk live, you can also post a question or a comment for our young speakers today and our young moderator today. And you can do that via the live stream by posting a question or a comment in the comment box below, in the website itself. Or you can email email@example.com.
With that, I would like to move forward to introduce Karan. So Karan is someone whom I've had the good fortune of working with very closely, over the last couple of months. He is one of the core volunteers of Awakin Talks, who is behind Awakin Talks. And it was not long before when he graduated from Pennsylvania State University in mechanical engineering and mathematics. And since then he has been holding this question -- what is the purpose of my life? And that question has led him to various places, including silent meditation retreats for 10 days, and including trips to different parts of India, exploring volunteering with various nonprofits throughout the country. And then it has also brought people like us in touch with Karan. As I said, he is a very active volunteer with Service Space, as well as ‘Moved by Love’, which is its Indian ecosystem. And most of the people who have met Karan, what profoundly strikes them about Karan is that despite being so young, I think he is 24 right now, is his focus on listening, his listening skills really stand out. And the thought provoking questions which he will ask you, which often adults are now scared of him -- to hear those questions, deep, meaningful questions about life. So very, very happy to have you, Karan to moderate the discussion and we'd like to give it over to you to carry on the rest of the discussion. Thank you!
Karan: Thank you, Rohit, so much, for those kind words. I don't know if I can live up to them! I guess, yeah, I'm really happy to be moderating today and very excited to have two wonderful guests today with us, two wonderful panelists talking on the youth panel. So the theme, as Rohit shared, is youth being the change. And we all know that the present times are quite uncertain times. And there's a load of questions and a lot of youthful energy. And I intend to just bring out some of those and shine light on the different youth who are doing a great job, and also the questions they hold, the situations they face in life, and seeing things through their lens.
So I'm excited to introduce you to both our speakers today. Starting with Maitreyee Gehlot. So Maitreyee is a very dynamic person, who on one end is creating self-learning spaces through an organization called ‘Asmakam’, which she co founded along with her mother. And on the other side, she herself is doing a degree in psychology online, from the University of Chicago. So the first year she attended college in person. And then she decided that no, I want to go back and I want to work with the kids and help them with a self-learning process. So she was ready to drop out, but the college gave her an offer of doing the course during the degree online.
And so now she does both. She's in Indore, working with kids and creating these self-learning spaces and simultaneously doing a degree online. She herself has attended regular school as well as experienced home learning. She says she is an introvert, but can switch into a mode where she can talk to strangers, whenever she needs to, which from personal experience, I find it very difficult, so that's something I really look up to. And yeah, in her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and listening to music -- so those are some of her hobbies. So really excited to have Maitreyee today.
And also the other person joining us is Gaus. When he was about seven years old, he was taken into Maher by Sister, Lucy. Maher, the world calls it an orphanage, but Gaus calls it ‘a family with a thousand siblings’. So Gaus always had a deep desire for learning and he went on to complete his schooling graduation, and eventually got an MBA in 2016.
There's a very fascinating background story about his MBA. So when he was a kid, there was a volunteer who came from abroad and Gaus was really fascinated by his attire, his shirt, his coat, and above all that tie. So he really wanted it. So he went up to the volunteer and he asked him, how can I get it? And apparently the foreigner said, “You should do an MBA!” And here we are today, and Gaus has done an MBA and he's in his white shirt. That’s where we are today! After a lot of success -- doing an MBA degree, working in the US and achieving many awards, representing India in conferences and so on and so forth, Gaus has returned back to his home, back to Maher. And he's now working at Maher, about which he says that he has found his divine mission.
So really excited to have both of you join us. It's a pleasure to be moderating this call and have you on Awakin Talks. So, knowing about you both briefly and knowing your personal journeys, there's just so much, so many questions that come up and so much that I would like to know more about both of you. So maybe we can jump straight into questions. So just to start off, both of you have had a very interesting and unique childhood. Maybe Maitreyee, we can start with you. Were there specific people or moments in your childhood that have influenced you heavily? Like, can you share a story or an incident?
Maitreyee: I think, just throughout my life, my mom has been an amazing influence. Just the way she lived and how she was so super independent and always very, very open to experiments and taking risks. Living Life to the fullest. And I think just seeing her live that way, especially being a woman.. She was never afraid to travel alone. She traveled on planes and buses and whatever. She went alone and she never thought, “Oh my God, I'm a woman. I need a man with me. Or how can I travel alone?” And just seeing her live so fearlessly, even in a society where as women, we have to be afraid.
I think she gave me the inspiration and the confidence to sort of follow in her footsteps. So I think definitely she has been the biggest influence in my life. She was also the one who sort of pushed for both me and my brother to be unschooled. And, that's been such a milestone in my journey, as a youth, as an individual. So, I think her (my mother), and, and then as a situation, what has been influential is this whole unschooling and self-learning journey.
Karan: That's great. It's really interesting to know that. Most of us have our parents as role models, but to actually see them live in such a way and the whole process of unschooling that you're talking about. That's just wonderful. I guess Gaus again, what have been some of your incidents, or people in your childhood who have greatly influenced you?
Gaus: Thanks Karan and thank you Maitreyee for sharing that. Actually, childhood is the best part of my life. I always say that. When I was a child, I was always thinking, “Oh my gosh, why God has chosen this life for me? So much struggle”, but I feel like that was a blessing for me, like Karan has shared. Where I'm sitting right now, it's my family. I came here when I was seven.
So if I share my story of childhood, I always feel so energetic, because when I was like five years old, my father was paralysed and he was sick and we were staying on the street. We were a poor family. And, one day I just saw children going to school, and I got very attracted to white shirts. The attraction was so much that I followed them. I didn't know where they were going, and what is the process? Because I never thought I would go to school, because my mom and dad, they both are illiterate and we never had this culture of going to school. But when I saw this big building, I thought, “Oh my God, it's so big.” And I just went inside. I don’t know where I got so much courage from childhood but I just went inside and sat. The teacher was very good and she was teaching something on the board, and I didn't know any language then. It was a mix-up -- between Hindi that I spoke with my family, and here it was Marathi at school.
So I didn't know anything, but I was so happy to see the white shirts and school bags. All of a sudden the teacher said “Oh, you go and get your white shirt” and I didn’t understand. I just ran and asked my mom. My mother was the only breadwinner for my family. You know, she was going to the rich families and she was washing dishes, floors. And she said that we will buy. She never said no, but even after one month I didn't get any shirt.
I remember when we went to the shop. We walked 13 kilometers from my village and we went to this beautiful big shop. And, we went inside, my mother said white shirt, and this man showed a white shirt and the price was Rs 300, whereas my mother had only Rs 25. That was heartbreaking for me, although she said she would buy it again.
But when I came to my house -- we were staying near the street and somebody advised me that I must work for the family. “You are like five years old, you go do something.” And then I started working. I got my first job washing cars, and every single day, for two years, I worked. And also I was working in the wayside restaurants called ‘Tapri’. And then I started working there at night. The condition was that I was getting some kachoris, samosas, vada-pav, and all the remaining food I was taking for my family. That was the one time meal for me and my family.
And the journey was good. I was enjoying washing cars, but one day the Divine had sent me this beautiful angel in my life, Sister Lucy Kurien. It seems somebody had told her about me and she just came to my house that night. She asked me the question whether I wanted to go to school. That question changed my entire life.
And you know, I was boomeranged! I went back two years and I remembered, “Oh my gosh, I went to school for two years and I had this dream to go to school. But I literally forgot it.” Then she took me literally. And she said, you know, “Come with me.” And she told my mother that he needs to go to school and I'm taking him with me. And, you know, from the streets, the boy just came here, the same place where I'm sitting. That's why I'm taking this call from here today!
And, this was a palace for me, you know? Just seeing the bulb, you know, behind me? Like I was in a palace or something, I don't know! I was feeling so rich. I was feeling like a king. And when I got my white shirt. I was out, I was crying and I didn't take out that white shirt for seven days. I still remember! And then Sister Lucy didi gave me my pencil, my bag and the Colgate toothpaste.
I want to tell you this story, because this is a funny childhood story. I remember when she gave me the Colgate toothbrush and paste... I was thinking in my mind when I was in the streets that only rich people use the Colgate toothbrush and paste. When I got it, for two hours, I was brushing my teeth like crazy. And I was eating the paste, because I was feeling so happy! And then she taught me how to apply the paste, how to brush. That's how I went to school and life started. Sister Lucy motivated me. Oh my gosh! I never thought that -- I am born in Muslim family. I was a street child. And I never thought I would get this honor, and this place where I am sitting right now…And then I started my schooling.
And my childhood, I always feel like it's a blessing, Karan. There are so many stories...And you know, I grew up in an orphanage, of course, I never call it an orphanage. I always call it my family, but I feel like it's just a blessing and the Divine has appointed me for this, this mission, so I feel so blessed. Thank you!
Karan: Oh, that's a powerful story. Thank you so much for sharing that. Coming back to Maitreyee, can you share about the work you do at Asmakam and the whole process of homeschooling and learning as you find it?.
Maitreyee: So I will start with my own self-learning journey, sharing a bit about that. So I went to school till eighth (standard) and I think it was the summer after the eighth class, when my mom and dad sat me down and asked me, "What if we don't send you to school from next year on?" And like any kid, and I've seen very few kids who actually enjoy going to school so much, and I was an introvert also. So I was very happy. I was like, if my parents had actually thought -- at that time, I thought I was very smart and I was like -- What were they thinking?! I said to myself, "If they're stupid enough to do this, I'm going to take advantage." So I was like, yeah, I'm ready.
And I think in the first one year, I don't think I did anything. Now when it comes to it, I tell people, you know, I've cooked, I've traveled, and this journey has been so amazing, but I think the first year largely consisted of me reading books and sleeping late, and watching movies and doing absolutely nothing at all. No learning, no nothing. I think even in that year, there were a lot of things that subconsciously I've picked up and learnt, and kudos to my parents for letting me do that. I think they also knew after coming out of such a very conventional system, where eight hours in the day, you are told what to do and how to do it, I think it's very hard to then go ahead and get all this freedom and then you don't actually know what to do with it. You're also just so tired of this whole conventional system that the first reflex is to always rebel against it.
So, that is sort of how it started and I think very very slowly, also because I saw that both my parents, they always tried to create a learning environment in the house. With them, it was never that we're adults, and we've graduated from IIT and all, so now, what do we need to learn? So they were always very, very willing. My mom used to watch TED talks and constantly be exploring and researching and learning, and I think a lot of that just rubbed off on the two of us. So she'd be watching TED talks and we'd be doing something in the corner and our ears would pick up something interesting and we'd go and watch along with her. I think what happened gradually is that by just seeing our parents learning, actively participating, actively creating, actively doing so much creative stuff, we also started doing that.
We started exploring our own self and what we like and I started exploring cooking. My dad is an amazing cook and he loves cooking, and I think that sort of transfers down to me as well. I love being in the kitchen. So I started experimenting with that, trying out new things, learning from the internet, learning new recipes, baking, cooking. Anything that I like to eat, I'd try out. Because I was in Indore and especially after moving from the US, a lot of the things that I liked eating wouldn't be available in Indore, so that (cooking it myself) was the only option. If you want to eat something, then you have to cook it yourself. So it started out that way. I was always very interested in history and mythology so I started slowly learning about that as well.
We have always been a family that's been big on travel. My mother believes that travel is the biggest teacher, so we learned a lot through traveling. She would take us everywhere with her and we'd meet a lot of interesting people. And I think at that time it always felt like, "Why is she dragging us everywhere? I don't want to be here. And I just want to go home and scroll through my phone or read my book." But, I think, just her taking us along and involving us with everything, even though we weren't very actively engaged at that time, because we didn't want to be, but I think subconsciously it gave us a lot to learn.
Then, once I turned 17-18 (years old), I also wanted to explore college and how that looks like. So I decided to apply to a lot of universities in the US, because they're generally very flexible with a homeschooler or unschooled students. So then I applied to four or five universities and then I got into New York University and University of Chicago, and then I sort of ended up going to the University of Chicago. I was there for a year and after which I realised that, even though I did enjoy what I was learning (and I am still pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Science in Psychology), which was very interesting, and yet I realised that I don't want to spend four years doing just this.
So then (I wondered) what are the other options? I said, okay, let me just drop out and come back to India and we were all already working on another startup -- a food related startup called CotFoo which is like an Air-BnB for home-made food. So (I said to myself) "Let's work on that and then if I still feel like I want to go ahead and continue (the college), I'll re-apply and come back to the University". I went to my guidance counsellor there, and I told her, "I'm thinking of dropping out and going back." And she's like, “Wait, have you thought about this thoroughly?” And I'm like, “Yeah!”. And then she said- "Okay, let's do one thing, let me talk to my boss and let's figure something out. Maybe you can do it through distance learning." So that's what happened where they said, don't dropout and do it through distance learning and we'll set it up for you. So right now that's where I am at.
And working with Asmakam. Asmakam (asmakam.org) is sort of a five minute walk away from our house and it was sort of a place where me and my brother used to go and it's a very beautiful place in nature. We had this sort of a rudimentary structure where all books and everything was. That was a space where we go and explore nature and take in whatever learning came up. Then my parents and especially my mom had the idea that - “Why am I just doing this for my kids? Why can't I open it up for anyone who wants to be there?” That's also where the name Asmakam comes from -- the place isn't a one person's or one family's, and it's for everyone. So Asmakam means "ours" in Sanskrit. So the idea was how can we create this very inclusive space that belongs to everyone, and then also sort of facilitate self-learning in kids and youth and anyone basically?
So, yeah, that's what we're doing right now. We are also trying to create an online learning platform called Self Learning Cafe, which will be like a Google, an all inclusive space for unschoolers and also parents and all who are also interested in knowing more about homeschooling, unschooling and want to be on that journey. So that is how we can guide them.
We're also working on this gap year for youth right now, which is sort of an alternative to higher education. So instead of spending four years in a university, if we can give the youth one year where they're also learning hard skills plus getting a chance to explore themselves as well and take time for themselves and learning life skills like growing your own food or how to be more sustainable, how to be more self-reliant. So we were working on a program for that. There was a one-month pilot that was supposed to happen in June, but unfortunately due to COVID, that couldn't go down. So now we're thinking of doing an online version of that sometime in the next two months. So, all of this wonderful stuff is going on right now at Asmakam.
Karan: Oh, wow. That's very interesting. It's nice to see the difference between Gaus and Maitreyee where Gaus wanted to go to school and did not have a chance, and then eventually got to, and Maitreyee on the other hand was going to a school and then decided to explore other options. It's beautiful!
Maitreyee, as a follow-up on that, I have a question - so what are some things that you'll learn from the kids or the parents that you'll support at Asmakam? What has been your learning journey through that?
Maitreyee: Yeah, I think definitely there's a lot to learn from kids. Anytime and all-the-time that I work with them, there's always (something to learn). It's not as if I am facilitating something for them, I think it's always been the opposite for me. They've facilitated my learning journey more than I think I facilitated theirs in any way. They are just so curious about everything and I think this active zeal they have to learn and explore and be so hands-on with stuff, I mean, it's just absolutely wonderful to learn from them.
So, I remember, if you look at Darwin's theory of evolution - it basically says that every subsequent generation is smarter than the next. So already kids are smarter than we are. So I don't know how much they learn from us, but we can learn a lot from them. So I think we just need to be very open to that.
Karan: That's wonderful. I like that statement -- "The next generation is better than the previous one” -- we being youths. [Laughter] So, thank you for sharing that. Thank you so much.
Gaus, you mentioned that you have come back to Maher to work, and that you feel like you belong at home there. So, what do you currently do at Maher? Can you share a little on that?
Gaus: Yeah, thank you, Karan. Thanks, Maitreyee. Amazing! So just now Rahul has commented, such beautiful words -- "from no school to school, and from school to no school". So, it's really good. But, Karan, I think ‘blessings’, when I see my journey. When I came to Maher, I had this feeling - “Oh my gosh, I have so many -- I was carrying so many wounds, of course, you know?” And I was sad. But then I saw the children that were starting to come in to Maher, they had worse stories than mine. And then it feels like, “Oh my gosh, there is so much going on in this world.” So from childhood, we are getting this - in Marathi we call it “from mother's teaching," you know?
And I see everything -- my hero, my mentor, my guru, my mother, my father, everything in one person. And it's Sister Lucy Kurien, and we call her Didi. So, I have this story from when I was, I think, 10. She (Sister Lucy) started Maher in 1997. We had this culture of praying, every morning, every night, we do pray. We pray for humanity. We pray for the world, this is something Sister Lucy has given us; such great values. All of us Maher children -- whether we are in Maher or somewhere else, we always do pray to the Divine.
And that's how I still remember that incident. Some fundamentalists came. She's a Christian, right? If you see my journey, it's really interesting. She's a Christian. I am a Muslim. I was born in a Muslim family. At the time, when I came to Maher, I didn't know I was Muslim. I didn't know. I really didn't understand what religion means to me. But for me, as a child, I just knew hunger, you know? [Bhookh hi mere liye sab kuch tha]. Hunger was all I could feel/think about. And when I got food, I felt, "Okay, I am happy!" I was really happy when I got my school and everything.
Afterwards, one day, some fundamentalist people came to Maher. They tried to, of course, they tried to kill Sister Lucy. They just came with this mindset. On the same day, we were praying. These people came in, and in Maher we always say [Atithi Devo Bhava] "Guests are equivalent to God". And so, we were praying, "Oh, this Uncle has come. Please bless them. Bless their families." Sister Lucy came with a big smile and she greeted them, and they changed their minds!
They had come with the thought that she's converting all children to Christianity and we didn't know any meaning of Christianity. If you see, my background is [Sarva dharma sambhava] "All (religions) paths to the truth are equally respected." And we followed that in Maher. This story and these values are stuck in my head from childhood.
So, then, when I did my MBA, during my NSS programme (National Service Scheme), I went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. I don't feel like it was a successful journey, but I always say that it's a journey, during which I really learnt. I was remembering, at every step, the people and Sister Lucy, who always taught me that you should become the reason for somebody's happiness, somebody's smile.
That was the statement from childhood. It was always in my mind, my heart, and that's how this journey has started. Suddenly, when you're grown up, like when I did my MBA, then - Okay, you did your MBA? Now you need to find a job; you need to go to the real world. So Maher is the magic. We always called Maher as "MOM", you know, the Magic of Maher. When you go to the real world, oh my gosh! Sometimes, (you will laugh, Karan or Maitreyee), it was like a zombie world for me because I had never stepped out.
But of course, when I traveled to the US, Europe, Africa, I learned a lot. I was with Sister Lucy, and I learned lots of things. How to talk to people, how your smile can affect people and how you can be the difference, you know? Like how can you inspire people easily? And I learned that thing. And when I came to the real world, that was a real challenge for me.
Why am I telling this story? Because this story can only -- well, I'm only one voice, but this can be a voice for the millions and thousands of children on this planet, or in India or in Maharashtra or anywhere in this world. Because when I'm from an orphanage, I came out and I bought an apartment. First I rented an apartment and they threw me out, within months, from two apartments, just saying to me that it’s because I'm a Muslim. And I was shocked, I was really shocked, but that inspired me to buy my own apartment.
And then I realized that there is so much more love needed in this world. And we have to pray for all these people, people who need, really need this love and compassion. And all which I learned from, the values I learned from Maher, from Sister Lucy, and that I decided that they will remain my values, to not be changed, and don't become a zombie with them! All people are good in this world, but we need to wear that lens and that is very important.
So when I went out, I travelled the world. And I, of course, got a beautiful opportunity in New York, New Jersey, from PamTen Company, and Chaya Pamula, she's one of my mentors. And, I did my internship there and afterwards I got the same company in Hyderabad, so I got a job in Hyderabad. So I worked there for two years, but there was something inside me that was, like, okay, I'm working in the company, I’m making good money but then I was sleepless. I don't know why I am sleepless! And then I started visiting schools and then I was inspiring students. I think I visited more than five hundred schools within those two years and that was a really big milestone. And I don't know, I was just asking Divine every single day, just show me the way, what I want to do.
I really believe in my meditation and prayer, and then the answer came that -- Gaus, now it's time, now it's a calling to come back. And then, I travelled in Jagruti train yatra. So I travelled through India. I travelled to each and every state, and then I decided to come back to Maher. It's really funny like when you have grown up here and this calling comes to you from Divine and you are joining back, with the helping hand and as an older sibling. Like everyone sees you as a role model, everyone sees you as like a hero and it comes with a responsibility again, and I feel so blessed that I have so many siblings and this beautiful responsibility along with my mother, Sister Lucy Kurien.
And I feel like it's not a job! Of course, when I was in the company I used to feel , it's my time, I need to go to work at 12 o'clock and come back at nine. But here, it's not a job. It's a mission. It's really a vision for humanity, because somebody made a difference in my life. And now I am making a difference in somebody's life. That is making me feel inspired every single day. And, that's really helping me to heal myself. Every time I say my story, I feel like I'm healing. And now what I'm doing in Maher, like, I don't need to do anything special in Maher. But of course, Sister Lucy has set up this beautiful project. Of course, now I came back with an MBA degree -- it's funny, and of course, on degrees, like Maitreyee, you can explain better than me! Of course I'm very passionate about schools, colleges, because that was what I saw.
And when I came to Maher, when somebody is smiling because of you and you just go and pat their back and say, “Hey, you're looking good.” And I always say Nipun Bhaiya, he is my inspiration, and always he says “pay it forward.” And now it's time to pay forward. I'm not giving back, but I'm paying forward, that which I have received -- this kindness and this love, which I have received from Sister Lucy and the Maher family, so now I'm paying forward for the next generation and current generation.
I'm working as an HR, I'm just taking care of operations and human resources. But also I am handling the youth programs like we are having, so now it's a Covid situation, but we have so many programs, so like dealing with a thousand children. And of course we have a good team, we have a good staff, good house mothers. But more than work, Karan, I feel like I'm here, I'm back for a mission and back for the betterment of the world. And that is very important for me especially, and for each and every child in Maher .
And now of course we started homeschooling here. I mean, nobody is a teacher in Maher. We don't have any professionals as a teacher, Maitreyee, but YouTube and Google is the best guru for us. And when you have a will, there is a way, we always say that. And Sister, Lucy, always says, “When you have a love in your heart, you can do anything, you can achieve anything in this world.” And that's the thing -- I have achieved more than fifty mothers in my life. I have so many mothers. I have so many siblings. What do I need more of?
So, I think that's a blessing, Karan, and that's the mission. I am taking it forward, like when we are picking up homeless people, homeless men and women, like mentally disturbed women, mentally challenged, which I learned from Sister Lucy, from childhood. And so now I'm not hesitant, I am surrendered to this work. And the children -- like literally our staff, our people would pick them from the dustbin, from anywhere. But now we know every life matters and every single story can make the difference. So, I think that's the mission now!
Karan: Thank you so much for sharing Gaus. And it’s wonderful. I just wanted to remind the audience that you all can be sending your questions in and we'll be getting to those a little later, but you all can keep sending your questions in for Gaus and Maitreyee, as the talk goes on. You all can do it either through the event page, the Livestream page, the chat box, or you can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So thank you so much for sharing these stories, Gaus and Maitreyee. And one question that comes up is, we all have our own blind spots while we are doing our work and we are going ahead and working through our journeys. So how do you try to be mindful of them, how do you know, and what keeps it in check, your mind or the blind spots? Whoever would like to go first, Gaus or Maitreyee.
Gaus: Yes. Oh, I can go first. For me, I think meditation, because I always believe in silence and the answers are within you. Nobody needs to tell you, because as you've grown up, you know what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, But I believe the values, which I learned, in meditation, because when we are doing Vipassana…. The first Vipassana that I did for 10 days, I don't know what I did! But the next two times, I realized that this is not only sitting. This is a really big challenge to understand yourself within, not outside. So I don't need to change the world. I need to change myself and that can change the world.
That is very important. And I always get answers in my prayers and that really helps me to think and take the decisions. And then again, the decisions are bad or good, that is not --- when we implement, if there comes some bad impressions, then it is giving me learnings. And if it happens good, which is making it successful, for that particular program or that event... So I am always mindful of what I'm thinking, what I'm seeing. So, I am always careful with that.
Karan: Thank you for sharing. Maitreyee, do you have any thoughts? Do you have any blind spots and how do you keep them in check?
Maitreyee: Yes, I think and I am really resonating with your thoughts, Gaus. I think also for me, just keeping your ears and your mind and your heart open to different perspectives and listening to them. I think a lot of the time, even with -- just till eight, I went to school. I think a lot of that, I'm also still going through a lot of un-conditioning there. And, a lot of the time, it's very simple, and the simplest thing to do is listening, to what people need.
I think, especially working at Asmakam, especially when we are working with kids, a lot of the time, kids will tell you what they need, and all you have to do is just listen and be open to accepting it, and also that I don't know, as much as I think I do. So just making sure. And I think, also just traveling and meeting a lot of different people. I think that also gives you a lot of different perspectives and sort of opens your eyes and clears up your blind spot a lot.
Karan: Interesting, so one thing that comes up. You talk about this un-conditioning and unlearning. So what are some of the specific aspects that you particularly think of, that you are un-conditioning? Where do you want to go back from the institutional schooling that you, yourself went through?
Maitreyee: I think it is, especially through the first year of my college, we had done this, I had done this course on human anthropology. And it sort of, took us, like, how we further evolved into Homo sapiens and the most fundamental things today. And the thing that I sort of picked up from that, is that humans have always been very curious and very open to learning and all the great inventions and everything, that we need today to function, has come from this curiosity and this innate thing to learn and explore.
And I think as we are born, we are born as self- learners. When you look at a kid, you don't have to teach a baby how to walk or how to talk. They pick it up, they observe the people around them and you never have to sit the kid down and say, “Ek pair ko age karo, ek pair rakho, ek pair peeche karo and aise chalte hain.” This is how you walk. They just do it. They pick it up and they do it. I don't think no parent has ever taught their kid, “Ok, beta A bolo” etc.
I think these things are a part of the conditioning we go through, and I don’t think you need someone else to learn. And I think that was the biggest un-conditioning that when you don't have someone, some teacher who's telling you, “This is what you have to learn, and this is how you have to do it.” I think that that's the biggest un-conditioning that I went through. That this notion that I need someone else to learn or to actually be successful or whatever, to be on my journey. And, I realized, I have the whole wide world open to you and you don't need an institution and four walls, to teach other things that you already know. So, I think that was the biggest un-conditioning or un-learning that happened.
Karan: Interesting. I think as you say that we have the whole world to learn from specially with the internet coming in and everything being on the web and I think I resonate a lot on that. Thank you so much for sharing that.
So, you know, all of us very often feel these roadblocks or difficult situations and tough times and Maitreyee, you shared that during your first one year, it wasn't necessarily a smooth transition where there was a lot of, the whole thing was very unstructured, but you would love to sleep and watch TV and movies. So, how was your experience with that and how did it start to gradually shift? Are there specific moments or people that brought those shifts for you, during that one year of transition?
Maitreyee: So, like I mentioned in the beginning, I was very happy doing nothing. But I think innately, we all have this inherent drive in us to create and to learn. And I think somewhere that took over. I think, however many years I spent in school, somewhere that had been repressed, and it took some time to come to the surface. So it was very hard because even though I was very content doing whatever I was doing, doing nothing, but still, it always felt like I was just moving listlessly, and purposelessly through life. And I'm not doing anything! And guilt would also creep in, because as a society, it's also been very conditioned upon us, that you have to be productive, twenty four seven; this whole notion of productivity, is a big, big thing. So also to come away from that, is a form of un-conditioning, and that it's also OK and perfectly fine to do nothing. I think these days, the world we are living in, when living in it, it's actually better to do nothing than to pretend to do something, because a lot of the times there are some things that we do that end up harming society and the environment.
And like I mentioned, my parents were always actively learning and also exposing us to a lot of different things. I think that was something wonderful that they did. They never imposed anything on us -- you have to learn this, or go to this class or go to that class. But they always made sure that they were exposing us to everything. Sports and dance and art. And I think somewhere in all of that exposure, I picked up a few things that I realised I didn't mind doing. And then this, "I don't mind doing" turned into, "Okay, I actually love doing this, and it's actually really fun for me and it doesn't feel like work or study". I think that was a transition that sort of happened. And then I think having this knowing at that time, that me or my brother, what it was that we enjoy doing, or what it was that we'd be good at -- so they also sort of gently, very gently, pushing us towards that, also helped.
Karan: An interesting point you are bringing out. Maybe doing nothing is better than doing something when that something is not really good and is harming others. That does come up sometimes, but then I think I'm overthinking. Thank you for bringing that up.
So Gaus, even you throughout your journey, have faced many difficult times, many difficult situations, and worked through them. So you have come up a long way. So when you look around, what is something that still kind of breaks your heart? When you look around...
Gaus: Oh, what breaks my heart. Of course, when we see the situation outside and the thinking process, of course the spirituality is needed so much. We in India, we are the best country in the world! I traveled everywhere in the world. I feel so proud to be Indian. I present my culture.
But when I experienced some situations where I feel, "Oh my gosh, how can they do this?" Like when I was in Maher and when we were going to school, people thought we were Christians. They thought Sister Lucy converted us. And they're stopping us and saying, "Hey Anthony!" And we don't know any names. So honestly, like they are just, they are randomly taking any name and they're talking about us, and they're making fun of us. And we don't know anything, and we are coming to Sister Lucy and asking her, "What is this?" And then she started realising that (this was happening); she's so innocent, she didn't have any idea about it. But I see that situation still today...
Because if you know where I'm sitting, it's Vadhu, and like a few years before, a fight happened. The next village to ours -- it's a national issue. And that fight was very huge. So I feel like we are really missing humanity. That really breaks my heart. Still we are finding people on the streets, homeless. When people are coming to us and they're telling us these stories, old people, they are saying, "I have my son, he's in the US, or my son is a doctor in Australia." Of course it really breaks my heart. It's not my… it would break anybody's heart.
And again, but what makes me happy? When they come to Maher and when they start living their life, we always say "rising to new life in Maher.” And I'm not telling you about Maher alone. I'm really grateful to all the organizations in the world who are really making an impact in somebody's life. And people are good in this world. We need to believe it! We need to be very positive. If I see the dark side, I will be in the dark side for the whole of my life. So I always need to find the light and light comes from within.
And I feel that hurts me a lot, which happens... Now it's a corona situation. When we see people, Karan, when people are walking, taking their two babies, three babies, like a family walking a thousand miles. They don't have any food. When we interact with them, it breaks the heart. They don't have homes, they don't have food, they don't have any shelter. And when I see the children still washing cars on the street, it breaks my heart. But I have hope -- there is such a great light, that one day, we will all together... -- that's why this “youth, be the change” and that’s today's topic -- so I always feel like we, that single story, we are always responsible for each other. So that keeps me going. That's helping me to move on. With the positive way, the positive attitude, and with so much energy.
Karan: Thank you so much for sharing that. As you say, a lot of it is like 'beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder." So it's like what lens we see the world with. And I think that's a very important thing because I often find myself stuck in that whole negative cycle. And then as you say, it's me keeping myself in the dark. And it takes that attitude to see the positive. So that's I think really important. Thank you for sharing that.
So we’d like to move to the audience questions after this one closing question. What do you think today's youth can do to serve the present times, while being anchored in their values? Again, either one of you can go first and whoever feels called. I can repeat the question.."what do you think today's youth can do to serve the present times, while being anchored in values?"
Maitreyee: I think just being more mindful towards the direction we are headed in, as humans in the world. Just being more mindful and aware of that. And already, I think, as youth especially, right, we will interact with, we're already more progressive and more open-minded and more open to exploring different ways and going out of the conventional capitalistic society that we live in today. More and more youth are being more mindful about that already. So I think just continuing to do that in whatever small ways that we can. I think that is what we can do.
Gaus: Can I add something? When I came to the real world and this is the world that everyone is living in. We, all human beings, made this world beautiful for each other, but how can we make it more beautiful with our values? But sometimes I always feel because I'm grown up in Maher, I always talk about values. But people coming from the normal family, mom, dad, two children, they ask, "Gaus, what is values?" And they just ask me that question!
But you know what? I always feel like it's a really great role for today's youth. Everyone is a youth. Youth is everyone with a heart. I can't say -- like my Sister Lucy, if you see, today, we started a zoom call at like four thirty in the morning and she's ready before me. So we all are youth! And I feel that what we are passing to this generation, to each other, and we are all stacking into the competition. Like I'm earning this money, or I am earning today. So the competition, we are chasing. We don't have time to sit down and have time for myself, just be me and understand what you're thinking or what you're talking, or what you need.
So I feel like saying, "Stop, you need a full stop somewhere. Okay? Run, run, run. But not every time! " All our youth -- like I did (that), that's why I always feel like I did the same bit. But I feel like I have this attraction, a good attraction -- like when you have positive thinking, you have a positive way to see life, no matter how many disasters you have faced, no matter how many difficulties you're facing, it will come. Your attitude and your behavior and your values make you strong in the storm.
Like till today, in this Corona situation, of course. It's really hard to see what's happening outside because every, every day we're just seeing the deaths, every day we are just seeing sickness, every day we are just seeing uneasiness -- what is happening in this world? What I think is it's time to -- and the Divine is giving us an opportunity to realize that, okay… -- see now we are sitting in three different locations, but we are connected. Start loving each other. That is the answer to all questions.
Karan: Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that. So we'll move to the audience question, a lot of questions are coming in, so maybe we can try to be deep, but brief. So the first question is coming from Mohan from Hyderabad. He says: are you saying that self discovery is a way out for a purposeful living? And anyone who feels called can take a question.
Gaus: Can you repeat the question?
Karan: Sure, sure. So Mohan asked, are you saying that self discovery is a way out for a purposeful living? So he has not specifically asked one of y'all, so maybe whoever feels called, one of y'all can take this question.
Gaus: Yeah. If I'm not wrong, I think it's Mohan uncle from Hyderabad. Namaste uncle. He's one of my good mentors and yes, the answer is yes. Self discovery. It is the key. but you need to understand that you will not get it easily. You know, till today, I don't know how Siddhartha became Gautam Budhha.
But it's really neat to understand yourself. And I would say yes, the answer is yes. What I see in my life. I always discovered myself. I never went outside to see what I can learn from others. Of course I see outisde. But I always thought that how can I implement that? Is it good for me? Of course you know, when I'm young, when I tease someone, I feel happy when he feels sad! But one thing we need to understand is that what I'm doing is good for me and him. So that goodness is coming from both sides. So I think that that is a really good question and a Self discovery is the answer to your success in this journey.
Karan: Thank you so much Gaus. The next question is coming from Nipun from Surat, and he asks, does your education degree add to the work you do? Or do you think that it is a hindrance to your current work?
Gaus: Is this for me or for Maitreyee?
Karan: He hasn't mentioned. So whoever feels called.
Gaus: Maitreyee, you want to go?
Maitreyee: I mean, I don't know, I think it's a bit of both. What I'm learning while doing a degree, yes, it does help me because I'm doing psychology. So it does, it does help understanding and working with children and with people in general. But on the other hand, sometimes, it also comes in the way. Right now, I'm studying and working also. So sometimes, you know, whatever the assignments I have to complete or the studying that I have to do comes in between the work that I'm doing.
Karan: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. The next question we have is for you Maitreyee, from Smita from Mumbai, and she asks: what role do you think parents and grandparents can play in dealing with a smart and smarter generation?
Maitreyee: So I think whenever we have sessions with parents at asmakam one thing that I always try to tell parents and teachers and whoever plays any sort of role in a child's life, I think it should be as a facilitator. So however you can make their journey easy, I think that is all we can do.
A lot of the time, I think we sort of impose on them and try to steer them in one way or the other. But like I said and y'all said, smart and smarter generation, so they already know what's good for them and what they need. All we sort of need to do is be there for them when they stumble to catch them, if they need that, and to see how we can make their journey easier.
Karan: Great. Thank you for sharing that. Next question is coming in from Mumbai, from Kapil, and he asks, how do you begin the journey of being self-responsible and more mindful? What are the first steps? So again, whoever feels called can answer.
Gaus: I can. So can you repeat the question? How I…?
Karan: How do you begin the journey of self responsibility and being more mindful?
Gaus: It's a funny question, actually. Of course, we don't understand how we begin. But now I realize that, okay, this is happening. So if you ask me when I started and how I started, I don't know. But what I did, what helped me to start this, which is like I said before -- morning meditation, like gratefulness. If you are grateful for what you have in your life, I think that is the key to everything.
So, this has always helped, you know -- I’ve used this in my entir life, till today. The first meal I have received from my home, like white rice and daal, from that, till today, I eat with gratitude for each and everything I have received. I'm always grateful. And when you are grateful, yeah, of course you are mindful, like you're praying for that person or what is the sacrifice behind it. So I feel like you're praying, you're meditating and the gratefulness, you have to be always grateful. I think that's a tool and that is the practice.
Karan: Thank you. I have a lot of questions coming in and we may not get to all of those, but we'll surely build on those after the call. So for now the next question, a very interesting question coming up, and I really resonate with this question -- Does caring about values or caring about others affect your ability to meet your own goals? In other words, how do your qualities affect you in the world now? This is a question by Akshay. So yeah, I think I also run into that question for myself. So it'd be great to know what you think.
Gaus: You wanna go Maitreyee?
Maitreyee: Yeah, sure. I think definitely, this has also been a question that I have sort of dealt with. Especially you know, identifying as an empath also, I think there's always been this inherent need to take care of others and look out for others. And, I also just saw that somewhere there is a fine line that you have to draw because oftentimes when you want to be there for others a lot, a lot of the times, when it is coming as a hindrance to you, it acts as, you can't even be there for them fully and care for them in the way you want to, and then somewhere it's also hindering your own growth.
So I think also just knowing where to draw that line and saying that, at this point in time, I think I need to focus on my own growth so that I can continue to care for others in the way that I want to and be there for them in the way that they need -- so yeah, it's very, very fine balance. And I'm still struggling with it. I don't, I still struggle with where I need to draw the line and where I need to draw back and where I need to go in. But yeah…
Karan: So just a follow up from my end. Are there any specific markers that, you know, you have that help you in at least laying that balance? Like I'm sure, as you said that you're also struggling but are there any specific things you look out for, or how do you kind of identify where that line is?
Maitreyee: I think one thing that has helped me is being more mindful about where my energy is at and, well sort of also just a feeling in the body, if someone is reaching out, and if I am not feeling very comfortable in my body being there for them also, or, you know, whatever, in whatever way they need. Like being more attuned and mindful to that also, I think it just helps a lot.
Karan: Alright. Thank you. Thank you. That's a very good point. Something that would help me and I'm sure a lot of others out there.
So, we would like to go into an interesting round, if we may. We'll just do a rapid fire round. I’ll throw some words at you, and whatever comes up if you can share one or two words, whatever is coming up...
So maybe this we can do one after the other or, maybe every time Gaus goes first and then Maitreyee.
Joy. Just share one or two words. Or a sentence. Whatever comes up when you hear this one word.
Gaus: OK. What did you say?
Gaus: Joy? Life!
Maitreyee: Being with kids
Maitreyee: Self Learning
Gaus: To the world
Maitreyee: To others and to oneself, also
Maitreyee: Not at all!
Karan: OK! I think we can close this round right there.
One question very relevant for today's time that’s coming up is: “How have you changed during or due to this pandemic?” And the broader question is... Maybe we can get to that first. Anyone either one of you feels quite...?
Gaus: I can share my experience during this pandemic, Karan. If you ask me, I was in my transition. You know, from my technology world to finding for myself, what I need and want to do. I was really praying. Every day was a new day for me.And suddenly, I got into a small bike accident, and I got my collarbone fractured. The doctor told me I needed bedrest. When I got bed rest, the next day, I saw the news that lockdown was happening.
So the entire world was in the home -- not just me, so I was not getting sad. After one month I was okay. I was resting, and after my rest, I just came out. Life was very different when I came back to Maher (Sighs deeply).
Of course, we got the pass and we are going to the office with Sister Lucy. When we saw thousands of people walking back...It was really hard. They were without food, without shoes, without chappals...Actually, it makes us all cry, everyone.
Then we started this humanity kitchen. Of course we fed more than 25,000 people. What inspired me... One day, a little girl from Maher, she came- and every day our staff, our children, our youth has to go- they are feeding migrant workers. She came and she said in Marathi: “Dada, I will not have today's food. We'll give it to them.” So, (marvels) you don't need anything to make anyone happy, like this girl! I still remember this incident. When she said “ I will give my only meal of the day to these people”. That's changing everything. That made me cry. And of course, when all people are losing their jobs, in the middle class and now we are giving them a grocery kit, people are helping us.... and now we are helping people.
Then I realized, Karan -- you know this Corona virus came into this world to give us this message: “Keep humanity alive.” We are made for each other. Not only after marriage, you know we have to stay...(saat zindagi sath rehna hai. Nahin!). We all have to take care of each other. That touched me very deeply, and of course I learned compassion. I learned the real meaning of love in this pandemic. It has made me transform myself, and think more about others and think about me: “If I am safe, I can make everyone safe” So that has made me more responsible. So, I always see the light from the darkness, from the other side of darkness.
Karan: Thank you for bringing that perspective, and everything. Maitreyee... the pandemic?
Maitreyee: A lot of my plans I had for 2020 went down the drain. I was supposed to backpack for two months in Europe and then this whole one month gap year piloting was supposed to happen. Lots of exciting things. And I think at the beginning, I was very disappointed. I thought: “Oh my God, who knows when things will get better?” You know, all my plans were destroyed. (life barbaad ho gayi hai ek saal tak).
But I think I realized a lot of the things, the luxuries that we have now made essential for our lives (in Hindi -- even without these things, life is going along well). It's nice. I think as a family also, we've always been on the move, always, you know, new projects, doing new stuff, being very busy.
We were still very, very busy in the lock down, with a lot of online stuff, but, I think we also got a chance to sort of slow down and just spend time with each other more. So I think my mom always uses this word- the difference between contact and connection. So I think before the pandemic, we were in contact. We lived together, doing a lot of stuff together, doing projects together. We're always in contact, yet, for the past. I think two years, we haven't actually gotten the chance to slow down and connect as a family and actually fit together and be with each other. So I think that was something that was very wonderful that happened. I think it gave us all a chance to sort of slow down and realize what are the things that are actually essential. What are the luxuries that we've made out to be essential? So that was one really nice realization that I had, during this pandemic.
Karan: Oh, really interesting. Thank you for sharing. So we have a very interesting final question coming up from our audience, from Rohit, and he asks: “Who am I? “ I know we are talking about self discovery, the process of this self discovery. So, “Who am I?” How did that resonate with you? What comes up?
Gaus: Who am I? I feel like Simba. I just am feeling, I love “The Lion King” and there is a question “Who am I?” I feel like I'm the instrument of the divine. I'm here to just spread happiness and to be of service to humanity.
Karan: Thank You.
Maitreyee: I think this is a question that I'm still very much discovering. Who am I? I think a lot of the time, we relate who we are to what we do and what we like, the people we've met, and how they've shaped us. But I think even when all of that falls away, I'm still trying to discover inherently, who am I without, without anyone else. Without the things that I'm doing or whatever I'm studying. I don't know the answer to it yet. It’s in process.
Rohit: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing. So I'd like to invite you for any closing comments.
Gaus: Closing comments? I don't want to finish this call, Karan!
A closing comment: If I say. I can see that, when I see Maitreyee’s work, and her energy and you and all the people who are listening to me, all people in this world, we are all having a story. We all live our story and we all are the heroes and heroines in our real life stories. So I feel like a single story can change the world.
And I think: Be that change. We have to be that change. You don't need to find outside...what is inside. Of course, Gandhi-ji said that. And I always feel like we all are having these powerful stories. We have to be grateful. We have to be thankful. I am thankful for everyone, for today's call. I'm thankful for each and every person from Sister, Lucy, from my mother who gave me both my teachers, my siblings, my staff, and each and every person in this world who is praying for me. And for, for each and every one. So I feel like we have to be grateful. And yes! We can! we can help each other, and we can change. We have to change. Thank You.
Rohit: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah, I think a great topic.
Maitreyee: Great topic: Be the change. Like Gaus also said, I think we're all youth at heart, so it doesn't have anything to do with age. It has to do with your heart and your energy.
So I think also being the change, just us as human beings, I think living the way we're living, in trying to live in a more mindful way is already contributing and that's the way we can change.
We don’t have to make big leaps and do, you know, great. I think, you know, Gandhi Ji, people who are larger than life....Whenever we think of how can we change or how can we, you know, create change in the world? I think somewhere, this always stops someone like me. We can’t be Gandhi, we can't be Martin Luther King Jr., so how can we do this? And I think just, just trying to live our lives in a different and more mindful way, all the changes. If all of us started doing that, we're already changing the world.
I don't know who said it, but you know the saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Being the change that we want in the world, will change the world.
Karan: Thank you so much. Thank you, especially, I think that's very interesting how the theme topic is coming out in the closing comments, but I guess all of us can resonate in that spirit right now, you know, after this call. Thank you so much. And that was, as you mentioned, like we are not really wanting to close this call! So we'll continue this journey and this conversation offline.
So this is the beginning of, yes, this is the beginning of a new connection. A deep connection. So even the audience will take this tradition forward. So if you have any further questions or comments or anything, feel free to keep them coming and email us, and then, we definitely get in touch with Gaus and Maitreyee, and get back to you on these.
I would like to thank everyone joining on this call. Thanks to all the volunteers at the back end-there's a lot of hands visibly and invisibly doing a lot of work. Thank you for joining us and sharing your journeys. sharing out of wisdom with us. Thank you so much. I invite everyone to join in a minute of silence. We'll end the call with a minute of silence.
Matireyee: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Rohit: Thank you everyone for joining us today. I hope all of you all have a great Sunday there. Thank you so much. Thank you for listening.
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