Thanksgiving in Attappadi

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that celebrates the survival of the Pilgrims (early European settlers of the North American continent). They had landed clueless in a strange land, halfway across the world from their origins and it was only through the generosity of their Native American neighbours that they could learn the skills, and be given the sustenance to thrive in this new environment. The Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to a joint feast and that is commemorated by the current holiday of Thanksgiving, when a festive meal of traditional dishes is shared with family and friends and all give thanks for their blessings.

This year I was in Attappadi for Thanksgiving, a mostly tribal area in Kerala on the Tamil Nadu border in the famed Nilgiri mountains. It is a land of spectacular natural beauty and poverty and misery as well. A place that has been in the news for all the wrong reasons: infant mortality, malnutrition, addiction and acute poverty. This is also the place that Amma began her early outreach to uplift the disadvantaged. Many of the children who live in Amrita Niketan, Amma’s orphanage and boarding school for disadvantaged children, came from here and still do.

I was travelling with a diverse group from Amritapuri. There were students from Amrita Sanjeevani, the service group from Amrita University, staff from Amrita Niketan, a videographer for the Villages project, a fellow worker from Create, the research lab where I work, and a couple others who are involved in co-ordinating various charitable projects. On Thanksgiving and for 3 days thereafter, the team was involved in handing out clothing, some nutritional supplements and other things to anyone who looked in need along the roadside and in remote villages. Amrita Sanjeevani had held a drive to collect needed things for the Attappadi residents and they were being helped to distribute them by the team, who know this area well. The Niktan staff would be staying on until Sunday where a reunion of those who had attended the Niketan would be held to mark the Silver Jubilee of Amma’s work here and Sanjeevani would launch AYUDH, Amma’s youth group in Attappaddy.

As we were engaged in doing what we could to help these people, Amma was on her way to Rome to sign the Declaration against modern slavery. The declaration underlined that modern slavery, in terms of human trafficking, forced labour and prostitution, organ trafficking, and any relationship that fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity, is a crime against humanity. Before my eyes, I saw victims of exactly the social evils that Amma and Pope Francis were out to rescue. I could see how very difficult it is, particularly for tribal people and especially for women, to live dignified lives in the current environment. I could also see that Amma and her people are determined to change that.

The comparison between the Adivasi population of Attappadi and the Native Americans of my own country was not lost on me. Both were the early inhabitants of their domains. Both were good stewards of the land, did not have the concept of land ownership and had no role in global warming! Both were historically exploited mercilessly by dominant groups and bear the scars of that exploitation to this day by being at the bottom of their nation’s population in terms of wealth, health and education. So this Thanksgiving day, it was a sort of cross continental give back for me to play some small part in helping these sweet and simple people.

Among the memorable experiences of the first two days were meeting Kali-amma, a former student of the Niketan. She had sung and danced with Amma back in the days when Amma joined the tribal children who always did their traditional dance when visiting the ashram. I had seen her singing and dancing when she was a young girl many times. Now, she is the mother of two and her house served as a clothing distribution point for her village.

We drove to far off villages and distributed clothes wherever we saw people gathered. The bus even screeched to a halt if we saw someone walking on the roadside poorly dressed. When groups of children were spotted near their schools, the bus halted and out we jumped with clothes and pens and pencils. Some of the roads we travelled hardly could be called a road, but somehow we did not slide over into a ravine or get stuck. The skillful drivers of our bus and jeep were also former students of Amrita Niketan, now grown up and competent men, who normally have other jobs, but had volunteered to drive as their contribution to this effort.

We saw a number of electric fences to deter elephants, which are a major danger here and mett an old man with a broken leg from an encounter with an elephant near his home, so we could see the need for some kind of a deterrent. The people in this area face many dangers from wildlife and have difficulty cultivating crops in some areas due to elephant incursions.

At the end of the first two days, we had emptied half the bus after long and exhausting days driving deep into the towering, mist shrouded mountains. But everyone was energized and buzzing with ideas about more that Amma’s people could do to help the people we had met. Knowing that Amma was in Rome speaking about the very people we were trying to help was very moving. I was immensely thankful to have had the chance to be with this group and unutterably thankful to Amma for giving me the most joyful Thanksgiving of my life. I even saw a couple of large turkeys, still alive, of course.

– Rta S.

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Guru, The Alchemist

Ma, obsessed with pride,
I could barely bear Thy chide;
Yet Thy motherly grace flowed so mild,
When I was lost in sensual life so wild.

Ma, obsessed with avarice,
I could barely hear Thy advice;
Leaving me to suffer an’ bear,
To learn the lesson, ‘tis to forbear.

Ma, obsessed with animosity,
I could barely be up an’ obey;
Thy kindliest words of love and service,
Ma, forgive Thy child, bestial an’ rebellious.

Ma, bless me to remove all my defects,
As I chant Thy names, infinite an’ endless;
Only Thou knowst what’s good an’ beneficent,
Verily Thou art omniscient an’ truly th’ Alchemist.

– Sridhar

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Amrita SeRVe in Kolkata

Kalinagar is a small village about 25kms South of Kolkata. A typical Bengal village that can be reached only by walk or a two wheeler, or with the special grace of a three wheeled auto riksha driver.

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Miles before the village, as you take the right turn from the tarmac road you get to pass through the narrow strip of road with water bodies on either side. You ride on the boiled and drying paddy spreads on the cemented stretch of road. Innumerable water bodies in which flourish algae, hyacinths as well as ducks and fish; in which are sailing uncountable paper plates!

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AmritaServe has reached out tailoring courses to the women of the village and Ammachi Labs has reached out its beautician technician course for the young girls. Scores of women have already benefitted from the courses, and many more are eager for more activities from the Ashram.

Br. Vijayamrita Chaitanya has with the support of the Kolkata devotees arranged an Amalabharatam Campaign on the fourth Sunday of November in which villagers were educated about the need for cleanliness for their own good.

– Sandhya

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Most Beautiful One

Oh! What a beautiful smile is yours
Which removes all our agony
Oh! What beautiful eyes are yours
Which joins us in our sorrow and joy
Oh! What a beautiful face is yours
Which dispels the darkness within us
Oh! What a beautiful walk is yours
Which is so majestic
Oh! What a beautiful feet is yours
Which is worshiped by all
Oh! Most beautiful one! Oh Amma!
I surrender at your feet
Let your smile make all the universe happy and peaceful……

- Pavitra. B

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What did you decide about selling tobacco?

Dharmendar Singh of Hadiabad villager was quick to pick up Amma’s Teachings.
He was dissuaded from selling tobacco in the tiny village, and soon he became dissuaded. He stopped it the same day, in Amma’s Name.

Amma’s children from Amritapuri were in Hadiabad, the village by the Mushar tol (Mushars are a community who are in dire need of evolution) in Ratanpur village of Ara-Bhojpur district of Bihar State. And we went round the village speaking about Amrita SeRve- the team Amma sends to serve the villagers in order to make them self reliant. This was my second visit here. Till date I had visited a few tiny shops of the village that sell groceries, soap and such toiletries. They also have had beedis and cigarettes. We tell the villagers about the bad effects of tobacco on human lungs and on family’s economy and so on. Normally we get people who agree with the facts we tell. When requested to take steps to save the village from its evils, normally we only get sarcastic or helpless smiles.

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But Dharmendar’s is a different case.

“Bhayya, do you sell tobacco and jarda and such things?” that morning we spoke to him who was at the counter.

“Tobacco, yes. Not the other things,” said he with his no-expression face.
“Good, but you know what bad effects the village will suffer…”
“Even if one shop doesn’t sell, the smokers will buy from elsewhere,” said he.
“True, Bhayya. But even if one shop doesn’t sell it will be one strong effort towards the good of the village. Everything begins from one only, you see.”
“Okay, okay,” said he that morning. I didn’t expect much because I assumed from his no-expression face that he has no feelings.

The same evening we were to be the guests for dinner in their house. Most of us –guests and hosts-were women. He didn’t not show up. As we were leaving, I looked into his shop at the front of the house, and asked casually, “Bhayya, what did you decide about selling tobacco?”
In his unique un-dramatic manner he said, “I gave them up.”
“What? Are you not selling them from tomorrow, then?”
“I gave them up today itself.”
Oh, Amma! Here is a child of Yours!

– Sandhya

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Thank you Amrita

After successful medical camps in Nathipora, Zurimanz and Kulhama, the next medical camp was held at Lankreshi-pora. This village was badly hit with recent floods in kashmir. When our team entered primary school (were we had planned to conduct the medical camp), we saw that the school building was badly damaged and the children were sitting on ground – The classrooms without roofs.

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As we interacted with locals and the staff of school, there were lots of horrifying stories to hear. We started distributing medicines and supplements. Another adjoining school kids also came, We distributed health supplements and all essential medicines to everyone who was in need, This was the first medical camp held after floods in this village.

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We were amazed to see the discipline amongst the kids. They were quite thrilled to receive the health supplements. Some of them were addressing Amma as Amrita after seeing Amma’s picture on the banner. Some of them started writing on their boards “Amrita Thank You” and “Thank You Amrita Institute”. We had quite a many touching moments on this medical camp. Adults from the village told us about their plight but they expressed happiness that at least some one has come to care for them thankfulness towards Amma and AIMS for conducting the medical camp.

 

– Amit

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Posted in Disaster Relief1 Comment

Mere Guruvadi Vani at Hof Herrenberg

Amma graciously consented to inaugurate the new hall at her German ashram, Hof Herrenberg. The hall was a converted training ring for horses and part of the floor remains dirt for the horses to continue to use. But a wooden balcony and temporary flooring for the dirt ring will make a venue for 2000 people and Amma’s programs can be held here in the future. Despite the fact that there was not even 24 hours between the last Devi Bhava of the Europe tour and Amma’s flight to immediately begin her program at her San Ramon, USA program, Amma wanted to see everyone and serve dinner. She looked fresh and happy and this 61 year old who did all the real “work” during the six week tour looked far better than some of the tour staff who were decidedly drooping.
She was seated in front of a huge glass picture window on a slightly raised platform. Outside we could see outlines of the trees that on November 17th were still amazingly green. The children clustered around her chair and I noticed little 4 year old Aikyam sheparding a two year old close to Amma. When Aikyam had appeared on the scene, he had been warmly welcomed by the path breaker for little kids, Siddarth, who showed no signs of jealousy and took care of him and showed him the ropes like a big brother. Aikyam clearly had learned the lesson and he welcomed the newest little boy. It was really inspiring and a little humbling to see the open hearted maturity and sharing nature of these tykes. May we all emulate them!
Amma asked for questions and a woman asked her whether mantra japa can remove sorrow. Amma asked what kind of sorrow the questioner was referring to and then began discussing the role of the mind in creating sorrow and the power of forgiveness to remove it. She said now we try to get over painful events in the past by getting even. Someone needs to be forgiving or the cycle will never end. Then it was time to serve dinner and Amma passed plates with a delicious dinner of pasta, broccoli, potatoes and desert. After dinner, in a festive ending for the inauguration, Amma sang three songs. “Unni Ganapatiye,” certainly an auspicious choice for an inauguration, and the highly Vedantic “Mano Buddhyahamkara”, ending with “Mere Guruvan di Vani”, her theme song for this year. At the end of the last bhajan, there was a sweet silence and a peaceful meditative moment before Amma swept us all into her heart and slowly made her way out of the hall.
For most, that was the last glimpse of Amma on the Etour, but a few of us had one more chance at 5am the next morning, when Amma left for America. In addition, to the hilltop structures, the German ashram is also comprised of two small, very charming adjacent houses at the bottom of the hill, linked by a garden path. Amma was staying in one and a few of us flying out the next day in the other. A little before 5, a few of us discreetly gathered in the garden along Amma’s path. The world was completely hushed and not even a hint of dawn yet coloured the sky. It was if even the birds did not want to disturb Amma by singing and the leaves held to the branches to avoid swishing on the walkway. The door of the house opened and bags were brought out, Amma’s car pulled up on the street above the house. Then a bit of movement around the door and Amma came striding down the walkway, looking fresh as a daisy. Would she acknowledge that group waiting in the shadows? After all, she had given us all so much already. But she did stop, say a word, touch a face or a hand and even after she entered the car kept looking out the window at us, until finally only two red tail lights glowed in the dark and disappeared. Nature seemed to breathe a sigh with us as Amma left the European continent and flew toward North America.
Rita S
Europe Yatra, 2014

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