This year, I fine-tuned the program to increase the out-door activities, introduced games as fillers when we wait at the adventure venues, prepared a new talk that links happiness, goals and awareness. The time allocated for the entertainment program from each group is increased to 20 minutes by spreading it over 4 days. It makes the program truly integral with components of Yoga and Pranayaama to kick-start the day, adventure activities like rock climbing, bouldering, scrambling, rappelling, river-crossing, trekking, hill climbing and paragliding, fun activities like sight-seeing and shopping in the beautiful city of Nainital, entertainment like the campfire programs by the students and innovative games, and personal growth sessions. This a 4 credit course and the students form groups of 9-10 and submit a reflection essay and prepare a presentation with pictures and videos. I would like to keep improving the program to make it more meaningful and enjoyable to the participants and hence more satisfying and fulfilling to me.
Prof. Srinivas Gunta has brought forth a very effective system of planning and this made the program easier to implement – the process of forming groups early, opting for the program group wise, making reservations etc now help in making the program more enjoyable. The students from Mumbai campus also joined the Himalaya program this year. There was one glitch when the Ashram changed the dates without consulting us. This throws the whole program out of gear. Thanks to Tara Didi, this was resolved and the program was brought back on rails.
Bright sun shine greeted us on 20th October. The lush green verdure of Himalayas in golden shine with the bracing mountain air is an experience that uplifts me at all levels of my being. The greenery is even more stunning this year as the rains were abundant. We were very fortunate because the rains abated only on 16th, just in time for our program. Actually, the heart beat in the foothills is determined by the sunshine and we are acutely made aware that we live in the solar system. Sun shine makes life shine in the mountains.
When I arrived at Van Nivas, the scene appeared to be one of utter confusion. About 160 people were having breakfast – a group of 160 teenagers who were all abuzz with excitement as they were leaving within the hour and a study group of about sixty senior citizens who were finding their way amidst the milling mass of the youngsters. And our group of about 110 started arriving. Amidst all this chaotic confusion, Jayanto and his small but extremely efficient team were quietly working – serving breakfast, cleaning the dormitories, arranging the linen and answering questions from everyone. There is a lot to learn from this exemplary team of people and they are one of the main reasons why I love to be here year after year. The scene calmed down once the teenagers left and our batch unpacked and settled down. The faculty member for the Nainital program is Prof. Siddhartha Rastogi. I am very fortunate that I get to work with and make friends with a different faculty member very year. The class representative is one of the most important person as he hold the program together by coordinating amongst the students, faculty and the Ashram team. The class representative plays a key role in organizing the optional programs. Navdeep brought forth excellent organizational capabilities, efficiency and enthusiasm and made this IDL a joyful experience for all. It was a pleasure meeting him and working with him. We discussed the program with Jayanto and made a couple of last minute changes and the introduction session was held promptly as planned , to kick start the program followed by the first IDL session. The group had their first outdoor experience when they trekked to Land’s End in the evening and we were very lucky that the sun peeped out of the clouds for about 10 minutes, filling the green valley with a golden glow. The sky was kaleidoscopic when the sun went behind the clouds. The trek itself was very nice though we had to move slowly due to the slippery nature of the ye-to-dry ground.
The first of the adventure events was to do with rocks and boulders and caves. For most of the students, it was first-even experience to try out scrambling, bouldering and rock climbing. They were thrilled with the adventure and were exhilarated when they could transcend their imaginary limits and fears. Playing games while waiting for the turn is a good idea and was well received by the students. I am also very happy and satisfied that the leanings and the takeaways that the students shared. The next set of activities was even more enjoyable to the students. They loved the thrilling experience of paragliding and the exhilarating experience of conquering Naina peak and get a glimpse of the infiniteness of the snow-clad Himalayan mountain range. Those who could not participate in either of the programs went to Mukteshwar and Prof. Rastogi went along with them. I understand that this was not very enjoyable because many suffered from motion sickness and the time they could spend in Mukteshwar was too short. In any case, there is not much to see in Mukteshwar in a one day trip. I need to think of something else for the next year, preferably closer. We had a 12 km trek to Kanchi on the 4th day and rappelling and river crossing on the last day. Add to this Yoga and Pranayama in the mornings and three class room sessions that touched upon perception, awareness, happiness, choice, attention and intention, the program morphs into “Integral Development Lab”. Next year, I want to introduce integrity and responsibility as topics to be touched upon in IDL.
One of the things that I started in the first IDL is to give prizes (along with the IIM Faculty) to the best group and the students who volunteer to coordinate the program. It is in that context that I go to Modern Book Shop to buy books and had a very brief but transformational meeting with Mr Vimal in November 2012. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor but as far as I could see, he was not suffering from it. He said that he was enjoying every breath he was taking and he is grateful for every breath. I was hoping to meet him but felt sad to know that he passed away. Abhimanyu, his son is helping his mother to run the family business. He is an engineering graduate in IT and is planning a start-up as well. The brief meeting with Mr. Vimal made a strong connection with this family. I wish them all the very best.
On my walk to the town, I met a young man. He was swishing around a sling used to carry weights in the mountain region. I asked him for directions to the town and he not only pointed the way but said that he would walk with me. His name is Sinha and he came from Nepal with a truck bringing house hold goods. We chatted for about 15-20 minutes. I enjoyed talking to him and walking with him. Even though his Hindi is generously smeared with Nepalese, it was good enough for us to connect with each other and experience that we are all one and we have the same concerns as humans.
For me, Nalinji is synonymous with Van Nivas. He is a scholar of classical music and is a very erudite person. His eyes are always dancing with good humor and he has a smile like the smile I have seen in the pictures of the Mother. It is a pleasure and privilege to talk to him. Unfortunately, the program this year is so packed that I could have only brief meetings with him but even those brief meetings are highly inspiring. He is 76 now and told me that his eye sight is deteriorating. He mentioned that he takes one hour to walk from the city. When I said I took 45 minutes he said that he is more used to the walk. A simple remark behind which is there is so much kindness and goodwill to make me feel good.
Jayanto and his team never cease to maze and inspire me. It is a team of all-rounders. They conduct the adventure sports events like scrambling, rock climbing, rappelling etc and are quite good at instructing the students, motivating them, ensuring safety etc. They also help in cooking the meals, serving the food, cleaning the kitchen and various places, buying the rations, connecting the audio system - you name it and they do it. They do it with so much attention and enthusiasm. Their work culture and work ethic is very akin to the Japanese. Like the Japanese they are very conscious of “total quality”. Jayanto trains them and manages the team and the Ashram so efficiently. There is a lot to learn from this team. What is surprising to me is that there is a significant turnover but the efficiency remains the same. Jayanto also knows first-aid, acupressure and homeopathy and was very effective in dealing with injuries and episodes of breathlessness etc.
I was using corn caps to get rid of a couple of corns. In theory, the corns are supposed to disappear in 6 days, but it actually took 2months! My walking was disrupted and I gained about 4 kg of weight. I put on shoes for the first time in Nainital after more than two months. The extra weight and being out of walking regimen made me a tortoise in the long trek.
One of the goals of IDL is to challenge the limits. Transcending the limits is very transformational experience that makes one aware of the inner resources and gives a glimpse of who we are. I see this in the eyes of the participants many a time and witnessing those moments is one of the rewards of IDL for me. The most inspirational sources are people (like Paramveer last year) who have known conditions or physically challenged and they consistently transcend their limits. This IDL had its share of people whom I would remember for being sources of inspiration with their extraordinary participation, indomitable spirit and zest for life.. Deepti, who has multiple medical conditions, is always effervescent and participated in every event. Mrinal is diagnosed with a slipped disc but he was there in every event. Sneha, who has uneven legs, participated in every event except the 12 km trek to Knachi. I salute them and feel happy and grateful for the inspiration they provided. Witnessing such never-say-die spirit to transcend limitations is a major reward for me.
This year, I had also the pleasure of getting to know Prof. Siddhartha Rastogi. It was easy to work with him and we could spontaneously mesh as a team and I enjoyed working together. He is multi-faceted personality – he is an avid bird watcher, nature lover, music enthusiast and a poet. I am happy and grateful that a warm friendship has sprung up between us and I am sure that it will grow with time.
The joy of working together with Siddhartha was enhanced by the excellence and meticulous coordination brought forth by Navdeep, the student class representative. He is so meticulous and very effective that we did not need even a single meeting with the groups and group leaders. Navdeep was ably assisted by the specific event coordinators, group leaders and the other two coordinators. Most of the students participated with enthusiasm and maintained a state of high spiritedness with responsibility, manifesting the aims and goals of IDL through their participation.