Loveleen and I have made a short getaway in the direction of Punjab and Haryana to visit family. Since it’s quite a distance from Ahmedabad, we thought it would make sense to combine the visits with a little something else. There are so many enticing places to visit in that general vicinity.

Loveleen has taken a tough road in choosing to be with me. I would so much love to show her the world. There are so many fun things I’d like to do with her. We’ve had many special adventures, but more often than not, I spend most my time working around the clock, usually doing unpaid service work. Because of this, we’re almost always on a short leash and on a tight budget. We manage to love our lives a lot, but there are real sacrifices. This time as well, I’m not here on vacation, but this excursion seemed like a great opportunity to squeeze in just a little extra something.

We decided to go to McLeod Ganj, near Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan government in exile. This is a place we’ve both always wanted to see and the Dalai Lama is in town, giving some talks.

Since we began focusing our attention in Ahmedabad, Mark and I have talked about our various choices on many occasions. At the moment, life has granted us some incredible freedom and rare opportunities. We could be exploring the Mediterranean, hammocking on Bora Bora, or even traversing the great Himalayas, where our spirits could soar and the water and air are still relatively pure. Heck, we could even be walking it in the countryside with Guri and Nipun. As special as it is and as well as it has treated us, we can think of thousands of places we would probably rather be than in the hot, polluted city of Ahmedabad. Why we have committed ourselves to working there is an interesting topic, but we have.

indiapollutionThe Gandhi Ashram is a symbolic place because it represents many of the best hopes for India and the world that Gandhiji embodied. If you go to the Gandhi Ashram today, behind it, you will find the Sabarmati River, now famed to be one of the most polluted rivers in all of India; in front of it, you will see the Ramapir No Tekra, which is known to be the largest slum in Gujarat; and if you take a deep breath there, you will inhale the worst air pollution in all of India. The riots that took place in this city recently also make it one of the most politically volatile areas of India. Simply put, this is a highly symbolic and appropriate place to set up shop.

It’s also a place in transition with great possibilities. Right within the Gandhi Ashram, Manav Sadhna runs a beautiful-spirited nonprofit, working mostly with the children and women of the slums. And to its right, is the Environmental Sanitation Institute, offering low-cost solutions to the sanitation problems in India and other developing regions. Ahmedabad is full of heroes and forward thinking people working to make a difference.

Ever since we’ve been there, Mark and I have been battling the pollution. Being vegan can be one of the healthiest of decision, but here, we’ve had a hard time finding the healthy foods and dietary alternatives to stay strong and vital. We’ve both lost a lot of weight and struggle daily to stay well. I think it’s very likely that the pollution will continue to take a lasting toll on our health, likely removing real time off of both of our lives.

So why exactly are we staying?

tekra01_1We are there precisely because of the pollution and poverty, and because of the various other areas calling out for attention. We could ignore them and go away to our cushy homes or to Bora Bora, or we can take it as a challenge to rise up and try to find the Bora Bora within and present it as an offering. Whether or not we have much of an effect will remain to be seen, but this is an intentional exercise in developing our own capacities to play with the world around us.

Ultimately, we are here to give. In the end, service is a choice that one makes because it is more gratifying to give of oneself than it is to be seeking and taking. As pleasant in comparison as Bora Bora might sound, that choice for us lacks depth and would ultimately come up short, failing to answer a deeper call within – to address the cries of the world and give in a way that matters.

I am truly grateful to have this opportunity to serve, and I’m also grateful for a little breather. Mark knows himself well enough and decided not to come with us, largely because he knows that once he leaves and gets a taste of what else is out there, there is no way he will come back. I know I can drag myself back at will and will likely return a bit stronger having ventured away for perspective, better food, and for some slightly cleaner air. But just slightly.