"What happens next? We don't really know. There are people who think they know the answer. I'm not one of them. My view is, we don't understand very much about human beings or human affairs, so anything that would be done has to be experimentally tried, but I think there are some leading ideas that make some good sense." ~ Noam Chomsky
"We accept, without judgment, the inability or unwillingness of those entrusted with social improvement to translate their mandate into effective action. We believe that social change has to be organic, and cannot be thrust on a people. We believe that the individual contains the multitudes, and that all it takes is one individual to initiate the process of change. We believe in the collective wisdom and power of a people to determine and implement what is best for them. We believe that all we need is love, and the willingness to express that love through tangible action." ~ Ancient Punjagutta saying
|An Escher graphic that makes total sense to me now|
Most conversations with people I meet for the first time commence with “so what do you do?” It took me a while to get there, but now I usually answer with “I write.” Invariably, this is met with some puzzlement, usually with undertones of “another misfit crackpot,” and grudgingly followed up with “so what do you write about?” It took me a while to get there too, but now I have it down pat. “I write to encourage people to simplify their lives, quit their jobs, follow their heart and start saving the world.” The conversation usually quickly moves on to other topics. Sometimes, it is the last time I have a conversation with that person. No offense to anyone, myself included, and yes, I totally understand.
It has been through writing about “saving the world” that I began to see that to most people, seeking the essential, living in the spirit and leading a simple life is a task, a project, something to be put on your to-do list. Burning yourself out trying to amass wealth and possessions, indulging in mindless entertainment, or keeping up appearances comes much more effortlessly. Refusing to reflect on the consequences of our actions seems natural, while connecting with the universal spirit calls for a web search or joining a meditation group.
Also through writing, which I do primarily on my blogs, I discovered a whole world of people who are tirelessly working to “save the world,” usually anonymously and against great resistance. This resistance is not just from rigid mindsets but also from lack of resources, support, funds, and understanding. This discovery is what led to the interesting experiment called SoCh.
SoCh was born out of a conversation with my friend, Nivedita, who runs a publishing house (but refuses to publish me, again totally understandable) with whom I have partnered a few initiatives for writers, poets, and bloggers. We were sharing our amazement at the work being done by people we were meeting as we went about trying to promote the creative arts as a way to stop feeding destructive forces. After a couple of discussions, we decided to go ahead with our idea and see what happens. The idea was simple and open-ended – put together a group of change-makers and connect them with an audience of interested people. Get the change-makers to speak about what they do and the how and why of it, and then let them interact with the audience. Armed with this basic outline, we set out by shortlisting some of the incredible work being done by people we knew. Then we created an event page on Facebook and started telling people about it.
|Nivedita with "The Folder"|
The speakers we chose were a diverse mix, thereby eliminating any chance of giving the event a theme. Anju Khemani agreed to speak about the Deaf and her work with them. Amit Deshwal said he would speak about his work with Center for Learning, an incredible experiment lying somewhere between unschooling and democratic education. Rakesh Dubbudu came forward to speak about his work as an RTI activist. Rajeshwari agreed instantly to speak about her work with match-making and companionship for senior citizens through Thodu Needa (roughly meaning shadowlike-companionship). Chandrasekhar said he would share his experience teaching photography to blind students. And Nayantara Nanda Kumar agreed to speak about her journey of creating Our Sacred Space, a completely environment-friendly space in the heart of Secunderabad. Each of these projects can be the subject of many posts, and I will leave it to you to discover their work.
|L to R, Nayantara Nanda Kumar, Chandrasekhar, Madhavi, Subho, Gangadhar (Babul Films) Pandey|
The first challenge was the lack of an acceptable definition. We were deluged with questions. What was SoCh? Was it an NGO? Why were we doing this? What was our call to action, asked some. Were we raising funds? Was it a PR exercise for the speakers and their projects? We stayed away from answering these questions primarily because we did not have an answer. We did not even have a clearly defined outcome beyond the conviction that when two souls connect, good stuff happens.
As the days progressed, we realized that we were not equipped in our personal capacities to fund the project. Though Nayantara of Our Sacred Space came forward to host the event at her center for promoting the classical and folk arts, we still needed money to fund printing, equipment, rain protection, refreshments, etc. Initially, we pooled in funds from our personal ventures, Nivasini Publishers and Blend Of Tea, but after a point, we were stretched again. That was when Career Analytics graciously stepped in to help out.
|Anju Khemani of Drama Association for the Deaf|
The only promotion done for this event, scheduled for a Saturday evening in the middle of the entire bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh ruckus, was through word of mouth and the Facebook event page. We printed and prepared 60 conference folders and ordered refreshments for 75 people. We thought it would be nice if about 50 people showed up. As we were putting up banners and laying out chairs on the mystically sunny monsoon afternoon of the event, we began to hear about traffic snarls resulting from caved in roads, protests against the division of the state, and celebrations for the new state in the pipeline. We went about setting the place up (if you are in Hyderabad/Secunderabad and have not visited Our Sacred Space, you do not know what you are missing) and hoped for the best.
|discarded chairs bought from a tent house being repaired for the event|
As people started trickling in and filling up the chairs, we heaved a sigh of relief, only to be gripped by anxiety at how the event would pan out. After all, all we had was a diverse lineup of speakers and no predefined agenda. Would people make sense of what was going on? Would they stick around after refreshments were served? The speakers began speaking, and the magic started unfolding. We had over 120 people across the evening, filling up all the seating with many sitting on the mud floors and steps of Our Sacred Space, some on ledges while several others hung out at the doors and the gates. The interactive questions and answers sessions were quickly hijacked and turned into a discussion among the audience and the speakers. The event was scheduled to end at 7 but went on till 8.30 and the people just hung on. As the evening progressed, we had to hurriedly arrange for additional lighting and mosquito protection, as the dialog continued. Even after the event was formally closed and the refreshment counters closed, there were clusters of people at the gate and at the parking lot, discussing their projects and ideas.
|the audience hanging on to every word of the discussions late into the evening|
Why did Nivedita and I do this? What did we achieve? Who were these people who came for the event, and why, and what did they take back? We do not know, and it does not really matter. A fresh batch of seeds has been planted, and they will flourish as they are nurtured. We are already coordinating requests for donating and volunteering with the projects featured in this episode, and support for future episodes of SoCh. We are fortunate to have been able to meet and connect with many of the attendees, each of whom, it turns out, is doing some incredible work or the other. In spite of the fuzzy, idealistic, almost anarchic nature of this project, we are flooded with love and good wishes. For all of this, we thank you and request that we be kept in your thoughts as we plod on.
|Robin and Marion|
SoCh is not an organization, not a “sporting association” or an NGO, not an event. It is a belief in the inherent wisdom of people to do what is right and necessary. SoCh is the spirit of true community, one that is focused on empowering its members to become all that they were meant to become. SoCh is the honey in your butternut crunch icecream. We are already in the process of giving shape to the next episode of SoCh in Hyderabad. SoCh, like all good things, does not belong to anyone, and we strongly encourage you to power your own SoCh – wherever you are. And if you invite us, the icecream is on us.
While the event did not have a defined call to action, in the spirit of "good" blogging, this post does. Here are some things you can do to take the idea of SoCh forward.
1. Contribute to or volunteer with the projects that were featured.
2. Volunteer to speak at future episodes of SoCh about your contribution to social change.
3. Suggest and connect us with speakers for future episodes of SoCh.
4. Volunteer to help out with putting future episodes of SoCh together.
5. Organize similar events in your neck of the woods, and of course, you can call them SoCh.
6. Write and speak about SoCh and/or the featured speakers and projects in your social network.
7. Connect us with resources and sponsors to take care of logistics for future episodes of SoCh.