abadphoto1_2We were confident that we could hit the streets cleaning and would generate all kinds of excitement and good will, but at the same time, there existed the question of how much of a contribution would we really be making. Sure, the excitement would be fun and might inspire some people. Who really knows the effect it might have? But perhaps also this wave of excitement would soon die down and leave things more or less back the way they were beforehand.

We wondered what we could do specifically that might help to bring change that was more lasting in nature. For instance, picking up trash off the streets is good and sends a message to people that littering the streets may not be the way to go, but with an absence of garbage bins, people really have no other choice. Therefore, to install garbage bins at the same time as picking up trash might generate the awareness while also modeling a lasting habit.

We thought about what some of these changes may be, and the more we thought and the more we researched, we found that indeed Ahmedabad had plenty of issues, that the people of Ahmedabad shared many common dreams for their city, and that most of the concerns had solutions in sight – solutions that seemed attainable.

We originally planned on spending only two weeks out on the street, but when we found that Ahmedabad was divided into 43 wards, our challenge multiplied many-fold as we decided to spend one day and night in each ward.

We spoke with many of the leaders and thinkers of Ahmedabad, and were receiving good feedback.

  • Ishwar Patel, founder of the Environmental Sanitation Intitute and a respected leader in low-cost sanitation solutions, suggested we take a slow and methodical approach, researching everything thoroughly for many months before starting.
  • Yatin Pandya, a world renowned architect from Ahmedabad, thought that our efforts would be better spent focusing on a single project or area and not moving about. He later offered us a solution toward the dust problems of Ahmedabad as well.
  • The student volunteer group NSS offered us 500 volunteers a day, but only starting in late July.
  • A government official in charge of 600 schools in Ahmedabad (I never caught his name) was moved by our proposal to clean public toilets and said that he was going to initiate a program in all 600 schools where the teachers and the students would clean the bathrooms and engage in an educational program about sanitation. He himself, a powerful man, vowed to also get in there and clean as well. Already we were having some effects and hadn’t even started.
  • As we debated how we would get to and from the wards to our home to clean up during the afternoons, we concluded that a CNG rickshaw would be ideal as it would bring attention to a pollution solution, and we fantasized about getting one donated, painted like the Indian flag. And we were actually able to secure this.

lightbulbideaThe more we looked into the issues, the more we found. What about community harmony after the riots that had taken place here? What about street school for all the kids who weren’t able to attend school? What about planting trees and creating parks? What about street litter bins, trash collection, and city composting?

And the more we looked at these problem areas, the more solutions we found in sight. It seemed as if so much was possible. We didn’t think it was feasible for us to solve them all, but we were hoping to at least tap into these issues during our days by engaging in activities that would at least bring attention to the issues and solutions, and if we were able to work with local NGOs, we could help generate energy, support and volunteers for their causes, and they could continue on after we left.

As our projected start date became closer, we started to wonder if we were really ready. The potential was so extraordinary, but our infrastructure was nonexistent. For instance, after several weeks of looking, we still hadn’t found a map of the wards. It looked like we would be going out and not effectively being able to tap into any of these issues.

Based on the fact that we were about to head out during the hottest time of the year when:

  1. People would be least likely to join us,
  2. Schools were closed – (a great opportunity for outreach)
  3. People’s tempers were at their shortest
  4. Sickness was at its highest (I had been really sick and the risk of sickness shutting us down seemed almost 100%)
  5. We weren’t going to be able to use the NSS volunteers
  6. Many people would be away on vacation
  7. We weren’t ready on most fronts

It just seemed like we were about to make a mistake by starting now. The decision to pull back and wait was a really difficult one. It made a lot of sense, but the amount of focus and determination we had channeled into this would all have to be derailed. The risk of having this all turn into a nice fantasy instead of an incredible adventure would skyrocket. Should we or shouldn’t we? It was a hard choice, but we opted to wait, for better or worse.

The biggest problem in waiting was that the monsoon would come and how long would we have to wait until it became feasible to begin? Perhaps until September. Now we would have plenty of time to plan, but would our motivation and clarity still remain as strong? Time alone would tell.

During this time, I reflected on my own nature and recognized that in my life I have had some of the most spectacular dreams and visions ever imagined – plans that had been worked out into the minutest of detail – ideas realistic and revolutionary – ideas that could bring radical change to the world. Great blueprints were developed over and over and over. Occasionally a plan or two might manifest as reality, but more often than not they remained as dreams, with the challenge of not-enough-self-to-go-around too often winning the day.

gandhi_1Was I again repeating the same mistake? Perhaps. But just like the name of this blog, “to be true,” whether or not these dreams manifest, the dreaming itself has been the greatest gift that I was able to give at the time. The mapping out of beautiful plans has been an expression of full engagement in the world, to the best of my abilities, and this time included, I am doing my best to give all that I can.

For some time now, it has been clear to me that the difference in success and failure is largely due the circumstances and the times. Had Gandhi walked in a slightly different time, perhaps he would have just been a highly ethical lawyer. Had Bill Gates been born in a period of physical might, perhaps he would have amounted to very little. Had a homeless woman been born into a spiritual climate, perhaps she would have become an extraordinary yogini.

Our effects are not always ours to choose, but perhaps it is in being true to ourselves, come rich or come poor, where we will find the most genuine measure of our own success. Within this space of self-honesty, both tragedy and joy are just equal sense adventures to be witnessed and experienced. No matter the ups and downs, the common element – being true – by its very nature, is in harmony with the highest and is therefore a constant source of well-being.