Practice trying new things (Brianna’s last OASiS post, Day 31)

Shibani and PiyuliShibani and Piyuli

Today, as I walked off of my plane and into the Delhi airport, Prashant was waiting for me. If you remember, about a month ago he was the same person who welcomed me to India. He works for the airport hotel. Now that I think of it, I probably didn’t mention his name on the blog. He just happened to be on shift again when I was arriving. A nice little coincidence.

It was a bit like groundhog day; as if the whole month hadn’t happened. I made the same mistakes trying to get through security and into the hotel. My room looks the same. And yet, of course, so many things are different.

I said goodbye to so many people today! Most of the workshop attendees were still there, and they were all piling onto a bus to go to Auroville. They would get a guided tour of a couple interesting projects or companies of Aurovillians (the spelling of that makes me happy). One is someone who repurposes old newspaper. Another is trying to bring back lost traditional instruments. I’m sure they will have a wonderful day. I don’t possibly know, though, how it could compare to six hours of sitting in automobiles and airplanes!

“Har har.” You manage to muster. Thank you.

Last night, Shibani, Piyush and Piyuli arrived in Pondi after a 33 hour train ride. We went out for dinner together and they tried to convince me to stay for a few more days. Shibani had brought me a gift from the Old Bhopal market; a forest-green traditional purse. She also gave me cake.

In the morning, we went for a walk on the beach, then rushed to the ashram dining hall for breakfast. It was my first time eating there and I was glad we were able to fit in in before I left. Most of the food is made from ingredients grown on ashram farms. The food itself is very simple. Almost like ‘Continental food’ in Indian food clothing. I had incredibly fresh yogurt (they call it curd here), some faintly sweet pressed rice, bread and a banana. The bananas here are much smaller and more tart than what I would get at home. Again, I am pretty sure that what I ate could probably have fed a family of four. The food tasted pure. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Then, our group (workshop attendees) walked over to Vijay Bhai’s residence (he’s the director of the ashram; I long-quoted him yesterday) for some parting words. We got to meet two pretty incredible people (“Or were they incredibly pretty?” you ask, interested). One ran a community-based palliative care network in Kolkata and the other was also involved in palliative care, but now had branched out to responsible tourism (making sure that traveler’s experiences are authentic, bring good to the community and aren’t disastrous for the environment).  More “mad guys”, as Pradeep would put it. “You should leave India and all these crazy people while you still can. They might change you for good.” Gourav advised me. Pradeep was calling me pugli last night, which means crazy girl, so I think his advice may have come too late.

Case in point: on the flight, I was bored. I was also feeling nauseous. (“When do you not feel nauseous?” you observe.) Then, I looked down at my magazine and decided to weave things with it. I pulled out the pages, folded them up and made a little coaster and pencil holder. The flight attendant was very excited by all this. She made me explain to her exactly how to do it. I ended up giving her the pencil holder as a gift. I can always make another one. Goodness knows I’ll have enough time on planes in the next few days.

Now, I wasn’t working just from the top of my head – a few months ago, I looked up how to make coasters out of magazines. But, the basket-weaving type pencil holder was new. And it was also new for me to try to make something on a plane. It was good practice and I’m trying to keep practicing.

“Practicing what?” you ask.

Practicing thinking differently. It’s a skill and just like French, I could lose it. “Keep testing yourself. Keep trying new things.” Pradeep told me. “And if you feel yourself sliding back into a box, let me know.”

There’s something else I want to tell you. A few weeks into my stay in Bhopal, we had dal (lentil soup) with coconut as part of our lunch. The next day, Pradeep gave me a pencil holder.

“I don’t see the connection.” You say.

The pencil holder was made out of….

“Coconut!” you realize.

Exactly. The shell, to be exact. Now, I practically committed a felony. I did not write about it. And Pradeep has not let me forget about it ever since.

Oh, I have to tell you about the organic farm, don’t I?

“I suppose you do.” You say. “This post is very out of order. Trying to keep it fresh?”

“Anything for you.” I say.

And anyways, the organic farm story ties into the coconut story. Don’t worry.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to a 53 acre organic farm owned by the ashram and run by a very happy farmer named Baburan. What’s interesting about the farm is that it is not only organic farming that is practiced, but natural farming and conscious farming. What that means is that they don’t use pesticides, try to enhance natural process rather than subvert them (i.e. adding microbes to the soil using fermented cow dung) and appreciate the consciousness of every single plant on the farm. If they are going to cut a branch off of a tree, the day before, they will tell the tree so that it can pull its energy back from the branch. Now, that may sound strange to read, but Baburan’s love for these plants was clearly genuine. We sampled fresh guava and papaya, a lemonade made with hibiscus flowers and a leaf that freshened your mouth better than any toothpaste or gum I’ve ever tried. We also tried sugar cane. Baburan (suddenly I have the sense that I’m remembering his name wrong) just broke off a stalk and distributed it among us.

We were on this jungle farm for three hours and barely covered five hundred metres. There was so much for him to tell us.

As we were leaving, I was watching the ground and saw, partly covered in the dirt, a coconut shell.

“I think I know where this is going.” You say.

I cleaned some of the dirt off of it and saw that it had been whittled into a surprised-looking face, much like the coconut half Pradeep gave me. Then, I stole it. I added a few details with marker and gave it to OASiS. Now, both Social Innovation Labs will have coconut pencil holders ;)

Tomorrow, I will be in Belgium, not India. Tonight really is my last night here… “for 2013.” That’s what I told Piyuli and Piyush, I know I’ll be back. Hopefully soon!

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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