Living on love and fresh air – our journey across India

It’s been over 4 years since The Goodwill Tribe has been a part of our lives. 4 years of learning, experimenting, smiling and smiling, beautiful connections and just experiencing so much love. Through The Goodwill Tribe we have connected with incredible human beings in different parts of India and the world, who have taken on the responsibility to lead The Goodwill Tribe chapters in their cities and host monthly events. For the first time ever, we (Sonia and Chandni) set out on a 14-day tour across 7 cities in India to visit some of these amazing people. To sum it up, for 14 days we experienced what it’s like to live on love and fresh air, honestly!

Day 1 and 2: Hyderabad

It’s a unique story in Hyderabad. We’re working with a café and restaurant that wishes to permeate its walls with the warmth of human connection. It’s amazing to sit down with business owners and hear them say, “It works, human connection works.” They are willing to give us the room to experiment, willing to strip away the usual parameters of success (no. of people, total bill value) and allow us to create wholesome and rich experiences of connection. They intuitively understand that being a space that is authentically rooting for connection will in time affect their bottom line, and we are just so kicked to find a partner who is this progressive!

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That evening we hosted a Letter Earthlings event. It was the second time in Hyderabad that we were doing something like this and it felt like the response is getting warmer each time 🙂 People enthusiastically wrote one letter after another, illustrating their letters beautifully. 

The most powerful part of this evening was when we in a circle, shared stories of kindness that we’d experienced. Sonia shared that when she was travelling in a taxi in Dubai once, she’d felt drawn to talk to her driver and genuinely ask him how he was doing. The conversation that followed remains one that she will never forget and at the end of the drive, he refused to take any money from her sharing that in 10 years, no customer had ever listened to him like that. Tanya shared a story of the generosity of a shop keeper on one of her travels. She was carefully looking for a gift for a dear friend of hers. When, after a lot of hunting, she finally picked one the shop keeper refused to charge her for it, saying he was moved by her intention to find the perfect gift for her friend. Alex shared a powerful story of a stranger who saved his life. Years ago when he was just a little over 1 year old and travelling on a train with his family, he’d crawled away, got lost and somehow made his way out of the train and on to the tracks. This stranger heard him wailing from under the train and climbed down to fetch him and return him to his distressed Mum! What a powerful story. Anusha, a coffee loverrrr shared how a barista at a coffee shop in an airport had snuck her a free drink when she didn’t have money in the right currency to pay for it. Apurva shared the story of how a stranger in a new city had travelled in the tram with her and her family, in a direction opposite to where he had to go, just to show them the way. Nayonika was once in situation where she had to give a training to a very intimidating crowd of people. She was going to be alone in the room with all of these strangers, when a colleague of hers that she barely knew chose to stick around and be there in the background to support. When she later asked him why, he said he could see she needed someone to calm her nerves. Spriha shared this beautiful and simple story of greeting a security guard at a mall with a wide smile, making him feel so seen, he was almost stunned! It was a beautiful reminder of the power of little acts of kindness and how they go a long way. Its always amazing to be a part of these circles of sharing and listen to the stories. We can’t wait to witness more magic at TOS Cafe & Cocktails!

Day 3: Nagpur

How can we capture what happened here! There are no words and it makes us want to go backwards or at least share our last moment in Nagpur first. Sonia and I were sitting on the train, waiting to depart from Nagpur and Mandar and Himanshu were standing outside our window. We were all just smiling at each other in silence, words not capable of expressing all that we wanted to share. In the air around us, you could feel the feeling of hearts that had truly connected, hearts that had seen each other, smiled at each other and were bowing down in absolute respect and admiration of each other. To think we’d only just met 36 hours before this moment. 

We arrived in Nagpur at the crack of dawn to be greeted by Mandar and Prerna who had woken up way before their usual time, and rode on their bikes in the crisp cold to greet us at the bus stand. They took us on their bikes to Apoorva’s home, Apoorva and her family had so generously offered to host us. We were ushered straight up to the room and made very comfortable and told to rest a little to be prepped for the exciting day that was awaiting us. Our intention of this trip was to really just connect with everyone, but the folks in Nagpur had gone above and beyond to make sure that we did, but while soaking in all that we could in their city. The day started in this place called The Breakfast Story (that really deserves its own blog article!) where we started to get to know a few of the awesome people that host Goodwill Tribe events in Nagpur.

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To give you a little context, there is a team of 40 volunteers (enthu cutlets, as they call themselves) in Nagpur who come together to create and host events that inspire compassion and human connection in their city. Mandar takes responsibility to hold it all together, but does so in the most gentle and empowering way! Most of the people in this group of 40 were strangers only a few months ago, but if you watch them now you’d think they’ve been best friends their whole life. There is such comfort and ease among them all. A kind of comradery that comes from doing something meaningful together, in a space of no judgement, where everyone is encouraged to tap into their gifts and inner love.

In the early evening, we had a chance to visit the post office which is among India’s oldest post offices. A lot of us picked up post cards and sat around to write them. The rest of the evening was spent trying out all kinds of yummy delightful snacks. It started with samosas, kachoris, moved on to chaat, and ended with pav bhajji. Boy were we full – full in our tummies and full in our hearts to be receiving such warmth from people we were meeting for the first time. At the restaurant, we decided to pay for a table where a Mum and her 9-year-old daughter were dining. We went to the counter, covered their bill, left them a little card and asked the owner to not tell them who had paid for them. But as many time happens, the owner ended up pointing us out with a big smile, and Mandar, with his warm smile, went to the lady to explain what had happened. Her face lit up with gratitude, and left her teary eyed and what was even more amazing was the expression on her daughter’s face! Beautiful ending to an extraordinary day.

Day 4: Nagpur 

If you asked us what we were on the trip to do, we’d smile and say, “we don’t really know, we’re just here to connect, whatever happens from that will happen”. Not a very concrete answer some would think. What is the expected outcome, how do you justify the time, effort, resources going into the trip. Fair questions that we see the value of. We’ve however come to experience that the answers to these questions are often hard to limit to a few ideas. Coming together to deepen compassion and kindness has ripple effects that go beyond what we will ever know. We’ve been operating in this mode of flow, where we have strong intentions, where we bring our genuine selves into all conversations and activities and where we open the field up to learning together, from each other. And so this is what we did at our sessions in all cities, the first one being in Nagpur.

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We were to gather with the volunteers in a local park and we got there a little earlier to setup. There happened to be little children playing in the park who were very curious to know what we were up to with our colourful marigold flowers. We invited them to create a little design on the grass and in that way be a little part of our circle. All the volunteers arrived by around 10.30 am and we all sat together in this circle of sharing. The first part of the circle was to share our motivations, stories and learnings from being on this journey to spread more compassion and connection. The depth of the reflections were just elevating. Aishwarya shared that her vision with her life was just to be of service in the world, to soak in life and give it all she’s got, whilst always looking for ways to improve the lives of others. Taking steps to do this was enabling her to express her own truth. Mandar shared about his return to Nagpur and the dullness he felt in the city. He decided to do something to create the experiences that he would have liked to have here and that was the start to everything! Together with his team of volunteers, they’ve hosted 5 powerful events in human connection. He’s watched friends and strangers come together, many of them straight out of very difficult phases, to do extraordinary things. He’s watched how being a part of this community on the shared mission to spread smiles has been so empowering for all of them. His heart now fills with gratitude as he watches his circle of now close friends feeling empowered by their efforts to light up the lives of others. Another Aishwarya shared a story of how she participated in a 21-day kindness challenge. Each day she’d felt so much joy, as though the day was complete and she’d really made the most of it. She decided then that why stop there, why not make being kind a way of life! Prerna shared with tears about her journey, how she’d always been a fighter, an optimist, never willing to be brought down by all the inevitable challenges. In the recent years, through the wisdom and support of noble friends she realised that it was harmful to carry all the burdens of life, constantly rising above them, without first meeting them in the eye. She realised it was okay to not be okay. From then on, she’s tried her best to truly be there for others who needed some support. Her share helped surface some powerful themes that were the centre of the next part of the session – the power of safe spaces, how can we be the kind of people that let others just be themselves, how can we be connected so deeply that we are always supporting each other (visibly and invisibly).

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Here we shared one of our favourite stories about Oak trees. After hurricane Katrina, in the aftermath of all the destruction, the only thing that was left were the Oak trees. When this was looked into, it was found that the roots of the Oak trees travel miles and miles under the surface entwining with each other, holding each other so strong, that even when everything was destroyed, they stood tall. This was inspiration for our next session – how can we connect with each other through our roots? Really get to know each other’s stories, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, fears, with no judgement. And so we divided ourselves into groups of 3 or 4 people and each had our own little sharing circle. A whole hour later, everyone was still completely immersed in deeply sharing the stories of their lives and really listening to each other, without any judgement, with open minds and hearts. There was laughter and tears at the same time as each one of us opened up. It was beautiful to witness. 

We then broke for lunch, a hearty meal that Mandar’s mum had single-handedly prepared for all 25 of us!! And soaked in the moment as Rushabh serenaded us with his amazing voice and skills on the guitar. It was one of those moments you want to live on repeat for awhile 🙂

After lunch, we reconvened to share our reflections on the breakout circles. Some common themes that came up were – we had all felt safe to share our stories with no fear of judgement, we are so much like each other and in many instances, we felt as though we could completely connect to what the other was going through. It was a reminder that these kinds of conversations are so important, they are part of the process of wrapping our roots together in support.

We then ended the session with a reminder of the power of small acts of kindness, and how they can ripple into the world. Gowri shared a really touching story. Outside her home, some construction work is under way and the people working there live there in a makeshift setup. There is a young boy who often runs around, scantily clad and he’s befriended a litter of puppies that have just been born to a street dog. She’s been watching him share the little food that he gets with the puppies, and even bring them some scrap cloth as a blanket. Rushabh shared a powerful story of the security guard who worked at his school. When he first performed on stage, he was ridiculed not only by his classmates but also by his teachers. As he walked off stage completely dejected, this guard who was new in school called out to him and congratulated him for performing, he told him that it was a good performance and amazing that he’d put himself out there. He encouraged him not to pay any attention to the people who’d made fun of him but instead to be determined to keep trying. It’s a moment that Rushabh, now a successful musician, has not been able to forget. There were so many stories, we could go on forever 🙂 It was such a powerful experience to sit in that circle and listen to all these moments of goodness. 

We then broke out into action. We were going to hit the streets of Nagpur with our favourite event, ‘Kindness Confetti’, where we go out and do random acts of kindness for people. So we made boards that read positive messages with the help of the little kids who were still hanging around. And off we went to the centre of the city, 25 volunteers on a mission to spread smiles 🙂

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We were then chauffeured to Apoorva’s home to grab our luggage, and then off to the railway station to catch our train to our next stop, Mumbai. On the way, we had a surprise pit stop, to get hugs (and a box of hot aloo parathas) from a bunch of volunteers who wanted to wish us a final goodbye. Overwhelming moments of deep love is all we’ll say. And then we were on the train, smiling in silence, acknowledging the magic that we’d never truly be able to share. Moments like this have to experienced.

It’s difficult to make a list of the ripple effects in those 2 days as we will never really know (and perhaps its not even our business to really know). But here are a few reflections that have come up. A volunteer shared that she now truly understood why she was doing all that she was doing with The Goodwill Tribe. Mandar shared that before the day, they were a great team, but after the day they felt like family (we thought they looked like family right from the start =P). In Nagpur there is a waiting list of people wanting to join the volunteer team, and we see why, it’s a team of love warriors. Its difficult to include so many people but what they’ve decided to do is every last weekend of the month this whole bunch of people which comes up to 90 people (!) are going to hit the streets with random acts of kindness. Ripples of that, well we can only begin to imagine and smile. We experienced absolute love and warmth from people we’ve never interacted with before. It was a visceral experience of what we know is possible – when people come together with love in their heart, magic happens. 

Day 5: Mumbai

We did Mumbai, Mumbai style, a quick hustle, in and out in less than 12 hours. We went straight to Shreya’s place (Shreya and Grafleen lead the Mumbai chapter of The Goodwill Tribe) where her parents had so generously prepared an absolutely delightful breakfast for us. We intended to spend the day there, parked on the cushions by the window with the view of the sea and ample trees. Such a lovely space for the sharing of stories 🙂

It was a small and intimate circle of the 4 of us girls, with Shreya’s parents joining us for the first part of it. They shared their take on compassion and kindness and the importance of these values in our lives. It’s always great to hear the wisdom of our elders. All 6 of us shared a few moments of meditation together and then Uncle and Aunty left us to do our thing.

Shreya and Grafleen shared about their experiences hosting events in Mumbai. The city had managed to really surprise them in some instances – once close to 100 people showed up at an event where they’d only expected around 20, forcing them to hustle to hold it all together. (Proud of you two!). Both of them had been drawn to this cause largely because of the charm of Letter Earthlings, where we hand write letters of love to strangers. In fact both of them had written to us during the same week close a year ago and got on board on the same day. It’s amazing how these things work! They shared that during their second meeting, they’d really spent quality time with each other, having conversations that surprised the both of them. They’d been able to share parts of their lives with each other that they don’t usually talk about. It’s always amazing to see the richness and depth of connections that come from doing something meaningful together.

When we were sharing stories of kindness, Shreya shared one from a trip she’s been on. She noticed the goodness in the staff member that had been taking care of her during the trip and made the effort to hand write a letter of appreciation to the hotel specially highlighting all that this person had gone over and above to do. This act of kindness had a ripple effect with her letter being circulated all across the chain of this hotel, as an example of exemplary service. And the person she’d highlighted received a promotion! They are actually still in touch. Another reminder that no act of kindness is ever wasted 🙂IMG-20180114-WA0018

The day was a simple and a quiet one, one that allowed us to get to know these two lovely women a little better and we are grateful for it. We exchanged hugs, smiles and parted ways, with us onward to our next adventure in Goa!

Day 6 : Goa

Our first evening in Goa was so special. Madhu and Andy (the two beautiful girls who hold it all together in Goa), had picked out a quaint little café nestled in a maze of alleys (a part of Goa we’d never experienced!), for us to meet the rest of the volunteers. We sat together along this beautiful cobblestone path, sharing stories of our journey with compassion and kindness. Andy had brought a ‘bowl’ of fun questions to break the ice. (Though we must say in these circles, the warmth felt just melts all of the ice away – as it did even in this one).

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Shilju shared his stories of always being someone who people would come to for advice and support. Chitra, the very young Math professor, reminisced how warm an act of kindness had once made her feel. She recognises the power of acts of kindness and wishes to pay them forward. Kaavya with her lovely smile re iterated Chitras reflections. Leeander took us deeper, revealing snippets of her life and how art had always been her channel for self expression. Reuben touched the surface of all that he is doing to support other people. He’s been a part of so many initiatives and organisations aimed at better mental health and more human connection. We think he’s found a way to include more than 24 hours in his day!

Swathi shared that she was initially sceptical about doing kind things for strangers, but her experience after the Kindness Confetti event had turned it around. Shivam brought so much with his ability to really listen to everyone. And of course Andy and Madhu (especially) had tons of stories to share.

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Just as were wrapping up, a server from inside the café came around serving us all snacks. We were all wondering who had gone and ordered this, only to discover that the owner of the café had decided to gift them to us. She had no idea who we were or what we were doing, but just chose to be generous. It’s amazing to experience these moments! 

Day 7: Goa

The next afternoon, a few of us gathered at a café to keep the sharing of stories and learnings going. Our favourite story of the oak trees set the tone, opening the circle to sharing about our lives and the experiences that defined us. We were so moved by how open everyone was, sharing about the challenges in their lives that had taken them to rock bottom and how they had then made their way out of these black holes. When we open like this with each other, it allows us to glimpse a little into each others hearts and honour each other for who we are and why we’ve become the people we are. Connection like this is so rich in compassion and respect and we long for people in the world to connect with each other in this manner and offer a safe space to do so.

After this beautiful circle, we’d planned to hit the streets with random acts of kindness and spread some smiles. And so we whipped some boards with happy messages and quotes on sticky notes and went along our way! It was so much fun watching passerbys light up as they encountered us, and leaving happy notes on the windshields of all the cars we passed. A great channel to express all the gratitude and goodness we were feeling!

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The evening was young and we were in Goa, so of course we hit the beach and went to a karaoke place where we sang old classics and laughed into the night. What a blessing to have friends everywhere we go. Imagine…. the world can really be like this! 🙂

Day 8 : Goa

This extra day was a gift we had given ourselves to just wind down and soak in everything that had happened so far. We did meet Greg, a mentor and a rockstar who is working relentlessly to create products that inspire kindness, cooperation and collaboration among children. He’s released a game called Acting Kindly, that makes being kind super interactive and fun for kids. In fact he has just launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the money to get the cards out to schools in India. Do check it out 🙂

And then we said farewell to Goa, and boarded the bus for another overnight journey to Pune (back home for Chandni).

Day 9: Pune

By the time we got to Pune, both of us had taken a bit off a beating from all the travel and used this day to recuperate at home and enjoy the goodness of a home cooked meal, courtesy Chandni’s folks.

We met Pournima, Madhura and Ajinkiya (a good old friend and GWT supporter!) for breakfast. We’ve already in the past had the good fortune of spending quality time with these human beings and so the morning was more about catching up. We listened in to snippets of their lives, and just were left amazed at how brave, and humbling both their journeys are. We were carrying a lot if inspiration from the journey so far and now plan to act on that in Pune and perhaps inspire a well connected community here too! 

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Day 10 and 11: Delhi

Delhi was that part of the trip where nothing really goes according to the plan haha. And that too is essential to a trip! Our flight from Pune was delayed by 3 hours and that took away half the day and Chandni began to feel quite ill. But nevertheless, the evening was ours to meet old friends and explore the city.

We met the tribe in Delhi the next morning and it was a very small and intimate circle with 2 local rockstars, Abhishek and Shreya.

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The dynamic in each city was quite different and in Delhi our learnings were fascinating. Abhishek and Shreya together run an initiative called Those in Need. They are working to connect NGOs with volunteers, giving NGOs the support they require and making volunteerism an easy reality for people all over the city! So, these two human beings are already very kicked and pro-active about social change. They also tie up with other initiatives to bring events related to human connection to their city and this is how and why they now run The Goodwill Tribe in Delhi. 

An important part of the circles we hosted was the sharing of our learnings over the last 4 plus years of experimenting with The Goodwill Tribe. 5 key learnings that we’ve been sharing are:

  1. The power of emergence
  2. The power of human connection
  3. A shift from leadership to laddership
  4. The power of multiple forms of capital
  5. The power of small acts of compassion, kindness and love

What was absolutely amazing was the realisation that Shreya and Abhishek have walked a very similar path in their experiments with Those in Need. They too just set out on this path with a strong intention, but not too much of a solid plan, but things began to shape themselves in ways they could not even imagine (Emergence). Through all their experiences, they’ve grown to realise that what creates the impact is the little moments when two people connect (human connection and small acts). Shreya was sharing stories of her growth through her involvement with Those in Need. Being a dancer, in the first year she was very pumped about this event ‘Dance for kindness’ that they hosted. She was very out there, in the front, teaching people, leading the performance, and really leading from the limelight. Over the years she’s realised a gentle shift within herself, where she finds she’d rather be in the background, watching people dance, watching them grow in confidence, watching them grow in compassion and lead gently and quietly from the ‘back of the room’ (Laddership – leaders who exist to empower others, by holding the ladder for them to rise). Those in Need have also been tapping into the power of multiple forms of capital in their journey so far. 

It’s amazing to connect with so many people who are creating social change in this bottom up way, valuing the small and subtle shifts that can actually trigger large scale change!

After a lovely tour of the city with Shreya and Abhishek, we prepped to leave for our last destination – Jaipur!

Day 12, 13 and 14: Jaipur

It was a bit strange to realise we were at the last stop of this trip, felt like it had all gone by so quickly, yet as though so much life had been packed into our days. We stayed with Rachna, and had a chance to soak in her inspiring story of entrepreneurship. We were lucky to get to spend some time with her lovely brother Lokesh, an 18-year-old, radiant with wisdom and compassion. After a bit of a rest and a yum home cooked breakfast, we headed out to meet Anuj, who runs GWT events with Rachna and Chirag.

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We chanced upon meeting the folks from Contree, a very inspiring initiative that is working to engage every-day people in projects that contribute to their local environment and community. It was beautiful to hear Rohit the founder, speak about his vision with Contree. He shared about wanting to create a platform where everyone can very easily be empowered by their ability to create change in their local community. A grand intention, expressed with no inkling of self-interest. It’s so powerful to see this growing presence of leaders who are being the best they can be, in order to uplift everyone else. At the moment they’ve kicked off a project where they clean up dirty spots in Jaipur and give these areas an face life through street art.

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We then made our way to the café where we were gathering with the community for a round of Kindness Confetti. Kindness Confetti is an event where we go out on to the streets and do random acts of kindness to make people smile. So, we take boards that read positive messages, give hi5s, give HUGS. It was the first time this was being done in Jaipur and wow it went so well! We divided ourselves into smaller groups and went out on our missions. In the sharing circle in the end, a lot of people shared that the experience had started with them feeling lots of inhibition and then as they reached out and gave (and received) that first hug, their inhibition just faded. It was an absolute hugging festival or what Sonia would call, ‘LOVE-BOMB’. Chirag, one of our most fearless warriors of love actually got lifted off the ground in a bear hug that made his day. It was great to hear everyone’s stories and watch everyone’s smiles. How lucky we are that we get to land up in a new city and connect with people through warm hugs!

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Kindness Confetti caught the attention of Radio Mirchi and 2 days later we were invited into the studio to share about The Goodwill Tribe. The RJ was a lively, passionate 21 year old who was blown away by the idea of free-hugs. We had SUCH a great time, chatting away and having a good time right before and after he interviewed us. The good vibes were almost palpable. The team at Radio Mirchi were so inspired that they went on to do another Free Hugs event with us in February!

And that was that, it was time to go home 🙂

Through this journey we witnessed the beauty of communities that are connected around values of kindness, compassion and authenticity. It really was a powerful experience of what we have always believed is possible. Through these deep and value rich connections, it felt like people were being empowered to express the best of themselves, to feel safe and honoured for who they are and to pour pure love and goodness into the world. What if all of us had connections like this in our lives? What if all of us had the opportunity and space to come together to spread love? What would our communities, our culture look like? The possibilities are limitless and beautiful. The question that we sit with now, is how can we inspire this spirit of compassionate connection in communities all over the world ? How can we dream big and yet remain rooted in the power of the small? How can we do our best to foster the ripples of this movement? And a very exciting question – what are the possibilities when we bring all of these beautiful, crazy, fun, kind and compassionate human beings together? (And how soon can we do this =D)

 

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