Posts Tagged 'Service'

Remembering Ishwarbhai Patel

Ishwarbhai Patel

Ishwarbhai Patel was the role model to my role models. Today, on the first anniversary of his death, we remember him fondly.

In a country where ritual hygiene is sacrosanct and actual hygiene is observed mostly in the breach, Ishwarbhai devoted his life to the rational, hygienic management of human waste. Recipient of India’s Padma Shri for distinguished service to the country, among many other national and international awards, Ishwarbhai’s greatness and achievements were certainly widely admired. But, true to his modesty and good humor, he got more pleasure from his more humble nickname, “Mr. Toilet”.

Ishwarbhai was as matter-of-fact as could be about all matters of human waste. Within the first five minutes of the first time we met, he advised me how much my average daily dump weighed in grams – I forget the number – and added that it was likely more dense than the average Indian feces, because the Western diet includes more refined and processed foods. This was typical conversation, and there was nothing casual about it. It was part of Ishwarbhai’s mission. Having made sanitation his life’s work, he could hardly afford to be abashed in discussing these things. Moreover, he understood that the polite refusal of most people to talk about human waste entailed a pernicious complicity in the epidemic of debilitating and frequently lethal diarrheal diseases in India. “How can we solve a problem people are too embarrassed to talk about sensibly?” he complained.

Continue reading ‘Remembering Ishwarbhai Patel’

Understanding the Gift Economy

Iconic Tiffany's Box with Question Mark

I received an interesting assignment a couple weeks ago: write an explanation of the gift economy. Since the request came from my dear friend Nipun Mehta, to whom I can refuse nothing, I agreed; but I knew from the outset how challenging this seemingly straightforward task would be. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously observed about pornography, some things are easy to recognize and yet quite difficult to define.

The essay, now completed, is included in a new online reference, The Dictionary of Ethical Politics, a joint project of Resurgence and openDemocracy.

Continue reading ‘Understanding the Gift Economy’

All’s Well in the Kosmos

Kosmos, Fall/Winter 2009

I may have been writing squat on my blog recently, but at least others have been publishing my wheezes. My short (damn 450 word limt!) profile of CharityFocus appears in the Fall/Winter edition of Kosmos, a journal of waviness, crunchiness, and all things in between.

Here’s a PDF of the piece, for those of you who don’t already know the wonders of CF.

Continue reading ‘All’s Well in the Kosmos’

Edmund Hillary

Edmund Hillary

The passing of Edmond Hillary makes us pause to consider what it means to live a great and worthy life.

The deed for which he became famous is the apotheosis of personal achievement. The first ascent of the world’s highest peak – with his partner Tenzing Norgay, for whom my nephew is named – demonstrated courage, intelligence, technical skill, physical endurance, mental discipline, boldness, creativity, teamwork, and the joy of adventure. If Everest is a universal metaphor, so too was its conquest.

And yet, the magic of Edmund Hillary was not his great ascent; it was that he understood that his climb to the summit of Everest was an event, but that his life was an enduring process. It was a life given to the service of others. It was a life of simplicity and modesty almost inconceivable in an age where men and women climb mountains, real and metaphorical, to wrap themselves in glory society so eagerly accords.

I loved Edmund Hillary as much as a person could possibly love someone they’d never met. I am sad that we have lost such a fine teacher.

Jayesh Patel, Superstar!

Jayesh and Anar Patel

In October of 2005, I wrote a short profile of my friends Jayesh and Anar Patel, husband-and-wife and two-thirds of the founding triumvirate of the extraordinary Ahmedabad-based NGO, Manav Sadhna. Two years later, that small essay has received nearly 400 viewings and still averages nearly three hits per week.

Small wonder. Jayesh-bhai and Anar-ben are perhaps the loveliest, most optimistic, and broadly inspiring people I know. This is no small distinction, given that I am in the habit of collecting friends who answer to the general description “lovely, optimistic, and inspiring.”

Now, a group of filmmakers calling themselves the “Global Oneness Project” have created a beautiful portrait of Jayesh-bhai and his philosophy in a new video called “Living Service.”

Continue reading ‘Jayesh Patel, Superstar!’

Seva Cafe on YouTube

seva-cafe-logo.jpg

It is a restaurant like no other, a shimmering oasis of the gift-economy in the heartless desert of the market economy. Diners pay what they want, from the heart, so that someone else may in the future enjoy the experience they are having; their food has already been paid for in advance, and they will recieve no tally at the meal’s end. It is a place where the volunteers who run the place, and patrons who dine there, share in contemplation — and the direct cultivation — of service, compassion, and giving. It is Ahmedabad’s Seva Cafe.
Continue reading ‘Seva Cafe on YouTube’

Kolkata

kolkata3.JPG

It has been more than four years since I was last in Kolkata, a city I recall with extreme fondness from my first visit. There are, indeed, many good reason to love Kolkata. The name of one of them is Rosalie Giffoniello, and in 2002 we had come to Kolkata specifically to meet her.

Rosalie runs an NGO called Empower the Children, which addresses developmental, educational, nutritional, and shelter needs for some of Kolkata’s most vulnerable children – the physically and mentally disabled and the economically disadvantaged. For two weeks in the fall of 2002, we worked with her in orphanages and non-formal schools during the days, and helped her with capacity-building late into the nights. For five blessed days, the West Indies came to Kolkata’s fabled Eden Gardens Cricket Grounds for a test against India, and each of those afternoons, our butts were in the stands for the two afternoon sessions – a brief respite from our work, which also taught us a fair amount about Indian popular culture.

So for the past four years I have been telling people, “Kolkata has a reputation as a shit-hole, but really, it is a wonderful city.”

How disappointing, then, to turn up here and discover that, indeed, Kolkata is a shit-hole after all.
Continue reading ‘Kolkata’


Blasts from the Past

Man Up!
Man up you pussy!

... because the idiocy of manliness is an evergreen topic.

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Talking Turkey
how to cook a perfect turkey in half the time

... because Canada and the US will celebrate their Thanksgiving holidays and, regrettably and preventably, not 1-cook-in-10 will serve a decent turkey.

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Filial Piety Awareness Day
Kaki Tusler, Mother's Day Celebrant

... because everyday is Mother's Day.

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America Dreaming Small
American Dream

... because the American Dream seems but a distant memory, given the country's dominant ethos of small-mindedness.

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Serenity and Gratitude to Bring in the New Year
New Year's Eve at Tibetan Pavillion

... to remind us that not every mix of Tibetans and Western spiritual seekers has to be nauseating.

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Incredible Vision
Infinite Vision

... to celebrate the new edition of Infinite Vision published in India.

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Expelliarmus! Harry Potter and the Path to Gandhian Nonviolence
Expelliarmus, Potter, Gandhi, Nonviolence

... reprised because military strategy seems more cruel and less effective than ever -- and certainly there is a better way.

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India Going Nowhere Fast
Nano in Flames

... because cars are ruining Pondicherry, where I live. How badly are they fucking up your Indian town?

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Understanding the Gift Economy
Gift Economy Explained

... reprinted because more-and-more people seem want to understand the gift economy. (Yeah!)

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