Keep the mood playful (Day 29 of Brianna at OASiS)

Public Garden in Pondi
Public Garden in Pondi

Today, I wrote seven thousand words.  I saw an elephant but did not have my camera. I laughed loudly in a “silent zone” (I didn’t know it at the time!).

I was the note taker for the workshop. We were in the same space as the first workshop, but Pradeep had all the tables and chairs removed. We sat on the floor: professors, on-the-ground implementers, runners of entreprise incubators and the Canadian girl taking notes.

“Boy, was she typing fast.” You say. “Exactly. It’s like you were there!” I say.

After introductions, we were hypnotized. We had to turn around and face the wall. A strange voice that sounded suspiciously like Pradeep walked us through a four-step visualization. We were ‘creatures’ crawling, falling, swimming and then flying through different worlds.

What happened next? The workshop. I won’t tell you about what we talked about because I’m falling asleep as I write this. I will tell you about a few things Pradeep did to keep the mood playful. Presenters of different segments had to “walk people through” their presentation. That is, they had to propose a silly walk and everyone had to do two laps of the room before they could begin. It worked well.

It was another day of meeting fascinating people. I finally got a chance to talk to Sumheda, the conference organizer. She’s a recent addition to the ashram, and in her previous life she was a student of design, spaces and social innovation. We had so much to talk about!

I also got to hear the story of someone who is starting a ‘proto village’ – he has lived in a rural village for the past two years, not taking any money besides what he can make. With labour from friends, he’s been able to build a farm of innovations – from biogas plants to vermicomposting (I think) and  by literally showing people in the village what else is possible; living out the change he wants to see, he is making a huge difference. People are willing to try out these ideas once they have seen them with their own eyes.

My friends Gourav and Mahendra from Seoni are here too! Mahendra told me that his wife learned how to twist her hair like mine (i.e., copy the only hairstyle I know how to do). I was glad to hear that I am leaving some kind of legacy in India. I have instructed several women on how I do my hair. (“Your ‘brush’ with fame?” you say. “Stop making bad jokes on my behalf. You’re tired!” you say.)

After a large dinner and a walk on the beach, Pradeep and I had a talk about the workshop and then broached the subject of my last day being tomorrow. Well, to be honest, Pradeep has been bringing it up all day and telling me all the fun things he will be doing in the days after I leave. It’s a targeted campaign to get me to ‘lose’ my tickets. But, as I was telling him tonight, as much as I would love to stay and learn more, I am so EXCITED about coming back and really giving all I have to the McMaster Social Innovation Lab.

Suddenly things seem so much more possible and instead of dreading September, I am welcoming it, feeling grateful (like I should have felt from the beginning) to have gotten this chance from McMaster to try a large-scale social experiment. I’ve seen so many examples of people and projects that challenged my sense of the possible, and perhaps more importantly challenged my belief that you have to sacrifice your own joy to bring joy to others. I’ve been convinced that only by loving your work can you do the work you’re really capable of.

I’ve seen these lessons in practice, in my experiences here, in Pradeep’s life and now in the stories of the social entrepreneurs and innovators, the spiritualists and professors, and even HP representatives I’ve met at Pondicherry.

“It was such a perfect ending to all this.” I told Pradeep. “And none of it was planned. Everything fell into place.”

“You’re a damned lucky girl,” he agreed.

Now, I am also a damned tired girl, so to sleep I will go!

“NOT SO FAST.” You yell at me, shaking me so I wake up again.


Oh, I suppose I can’t. Well, I was walking down the street and there was an elephant beside a temple. It was chained to the wall. It had some decorative powder on its face and ears. I was closer to it than I have been to any elephant. It could have reached out and grabbed me with its trunk. For a moment I was in awe. Then, I started wondering about what its life was like and I felt a little sad. I hoped that it wasn’t just cooped up there all day for people to look at. Later on that night, when I walked by the street again, it was gone. To where, I’m not sure.

“Thank you.” You say, in a soft voice, but I am already asleep.

“I’ll let the laughing in a silent place one go, just for you.” You say. What kindness you show me!

Brianna Smrke, who has been working with the SiG@Waterloo simulation team, is visiting the OaSiS Social Innovations Laboratory in Bhopal, India. She is blogging about her experiences at downwithvowelswhich you can also follow here at


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