Life has taught Jamuna Rangachari that doing good selflessly can spread love and happiness, to say nothing of the unexpected blessings showered upon us by the Universe
Most of us live life from a defensive standpoint. We first ensure safety precautions before embarking on any work or project. We give plenty of instructions to our daughters if they are travelling alone and get anxious if we are unable to contact them due to any reason. We picture the worst-case scenario and start praying to God to ensure their safe return. We have little faith in the goodness and nobility of people and believe, without a doubt, that the world is an evil place. But if the world has to become a better place, isn’t the onus on us to make it happen? The problem is that we feel that our good actions alone cannot make a difference in society. Our faith in the ripple effect created by our one good act is minuscule. Hence, when the former editor-in-chief of Life Positive, Suma Varughese, wrote a Facebook post about the power of goodness, I was forced to think.
She said, “I like to write about the power of goodness as often as I can because I am often confronted by people who believe themselves to be powerless in the face of the many evils throttling our present society. They do not believe that their own actions, feeble as they may be, can influence society in any way. But, to them, I say, who else is there? If we can do the right thing in our own lives, who knows how we might inspire and transform the world? Almost all great movements and reformations were led by one man. Gandhiji was just one man. So was Buddha. Or Jesus Christ. Look at the enduring influence that these three souls have been able to command, not just in their lifetime but up to the present moment.
“Even if we cannot influence anybody else and even if we live and die without making the slightest impact on the collective consciousness, is one life of unbroken virtue a small thing? What joy we will earn if we live with a perfectly peaceful conscience! What blessings we will reap from the Universe, even if they were unwanted and unsought, simply because we will have lived in unfaltering allegiance to the laws of life!”
Heroes Of Humanity
Always a votary of selflessness and compassion, apparently, her post was inspired by a conversation she had had with Usef Patel, the banquet manager of the hotel where she holds her writing workshops in Mumbai. She says, “Last Sunday, after my workshop, I was telling Usef how wonderful it was that they seemed to be doing well. Usef responded, “It is because we don’t cheat anyone, Madam.”
When Suma enquired more about his claim, she discovered that Usef was as good as his word. Apparently, that very Sunday, two of his biggest training rooms (which can be opened up into one large room) had been given to a group of 65 people. Unfortunately, the organiser called him to say that the facilitator of the session had missed his flight from Malaysia to Mumbai and, therefore, they had to call off the workshop. He apprehensively asked Usef if they would have to pay any cancellation charges. Usef told him that since he himself must have undergone a financial loss, it would not be fair to charge him anything. The client gratefully signed off.
The Universe was obviously listening. Guess what! One group of 25 people almost overnight swelled to 85 people, and the two large training rooms could be put to use! “Usef’s compassion actually boosted the company’s profits,” Suma exclaims.
This made me consider writing about the power of goodness once more for Life Positive. No matter how many times it is discussed, one cannot discount its repeat value, as society needs to be reminded of it time and again.
Chitra Jha (an author, healer, and a workshop leader) tells us about her experience with a young boy at a homestay in Shillong. When she had hung her washed clothes for drying and it began to rain, he not only took the clothes to dry in his verandah but also ironed them before bringing them to her.
Having travelled a lot, she avers, “When I see goodness in people, I feel great joy in my heart, and blessings pour out. I feel I may have done something good to receive such goodness. These simple gestures make me want to do more good and spread the joys of goodness. To me, the power of goodness lies in its organic proliferation.”
Certainly, the spread of goodness needs to be organic for it to be sustainable.
In my own case, when both my children were going to primary school, their schedules were such that my son had to wait for me to pick him up from the school bus stand, while I went to pick up my daughter. An elderly Sikh gentleman who lived nearby asked me to send my son to his house till I returned as he could not bear to see my young son waiting in the scorching Delhi heat. I was touched by his kindness and formed a lasting friendship with him and his family members.
Now, this may seem foolish to someone who believes that we should be wary of strangers. While I do feel that caution is important, my personal experience tells me that people are essentially good and kind, so one should not be paranoid of anyone, including strangers. Strangers become friends only when both are open to each other. For goodness to spread, openness is essential.
One foolproof way to know if one is doing the right thing by trusting a stranger is to feel the first feeling that comes up when a stranger suggests something. If the first flash, the first instinct (not thought), is of fear, do not go ahead. But if the first feeling is a good one, you can trust that stranger.
Remembering To Do Good
We all need to also remember that we need to do as much good as we can. In school, we all were taught to be good to our fellow human beings: assist a senior citizen to cross the road, feed an animal, nurse the wounded, help the needy, and so on. Many of us, unfortunately, forget doing so in the rigmarole of life. However, there are some, like Rushabh Turakhia, who are different. A diamond merchant by profession, he has also taken up another role in life. He is the founder of the philanthropic movement ‘Your Turn Now,’ which is based on doing an act of kindness and then passing on a card with ‘Your Turn Now’ written on it to the beneficiaries, asking them to do something good for the next person they meet. He is clear that he must play a role in making the world a better place to live in— one good deed at a time.
Grandson of renowned philanthropist Shri Balachand Turakhia, Rushabh grew up seeing the respect that the mention of his grandfather evoked in people in his hometown. This conditioned his mind towards doing social service in his college days.
However, it was the movie Pay It Forward (starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, released in 2000) that finally sowed the seeds of ‘Your Turn Now’ in Rushabh’s mind.
“An average human brain receives 60,000 new thoughts in a day. But how many of those do we actually process? Thankfully, ‘Your Turn Now’ was one of the freak ideas that I actually acted upon. And the turnaround of the idea into implementation was super-quick. Within three weeks, the idea had taken the physical shape of a card, and I sent out my first lot in December 2009,” reminisces Rushabh about the beginnings of his journey.
‘Your Turn Now’ is a reform to kindle the kindness that lies within all of us. It not only makes people more thoughtful, compassionate, kind, and generous but also makes them more aware of the world around them. When any individual gets that little taste of kindness from you, you give them a ‘Your Turn Now’ card that says that now it’s their turn to touch someone’s heart or make them smile. And these random acts trigger a chain of kind acts.
When Rushabh started out, his modest aim was to reach an annual number of 5,000 cards. Which is why the 25,000 cards distributed within the first year had him astounded and re-affirmed his faith in his concept and the inherent goodness of human beings. “Today,” he proudly acknowledges, “about 1,90,000 cards are doing the rounds of the planet in over 38 countries.”
He shares the experience of a lady in an Ola cab in Mumbai. She was greeted by the cab driver with a smile, and within a few minutes, they were conversing about daily life like the Mumbai heat, rains, and roads. He shared about his life in Gujarat, from food to festivities, and she heard it all. She sensed he was a bit hungry as well as thirsty. “Unfortunately, I had nothing in my bag to offer,” she says. His water bottle too was empty. “I asked him to stop and let me buy some water, but he refused.”
“Sometimes, one needs to fib to do the right thing,” she says. As they were about to reach her destination, luckily, she spotted a supermarket. She requested him to stop, saying she needed to pick up something urgently. He smiled and told her to come back fast. She quickly went in, bought him a bottle of water, a packet of ready-mixed bhel and biscuits. Once she reached her destination, after paying up, she offered the water, bhel and biscuits to him and told him about the ‘Your Turn Now’ (Ab Aapki Baari) movement. Tears rolled down his eyes as he started the engine and left.
Like the journey of any other social entrepreneur, Rushabh’s journey hasn’t been as smooth as his cheerful voice would have us believe. Keeping a full-time job while managing to squeeze in 4–5 hours every day towards ‘Your Turn Now’ can’t be an easy task. “Especially, if I have to go out for sessions with schools or clubs, I try and do that early in the morning or late in the evening. Thankfully, my wife and son have been extremely supportive in the journey of ‘Your Turn Now’.”
He says that he dreams of a day when he would no longer need to print ‘Your Turn Now’ cards anymore because that would mean doing good deeds has sunk into the DNA of mankind.
Communal Harmony Through Acts Of Kindness
In all areas of life, when people remember that everyone is a child of God, there is, always, only the desire to help which surfaces and never any fanaticism, even when this prevails in others.
For Vikas Khanna, Ramzan is a special time of the year. The Amritsar-born Indian-American restaurateur has made it a point to observe a one-day fast during the holy month for the last 26 years. It’s his way of expressing his gratitude to a Muslim family that had saved him from a rampaging mob during the 1992 Mumbai riots. He had been trying to find them ever since.
His search finally came to an end in 2018. In an interview with actor Anupam Kher, last year, the chef recalled the incident that shaped him as a person earlier. In November 1992, Khanna (then a trainee, working in the kitchens of Hotel Sheraton Sea Rock) was just completing his shift when he heard of communal violence gripping Mumbai. As the news spread, hotel staffers were barred from venturing outside.
A while later, somebody said that many people had died in a massive fire in Ghatkopar. This spurred him to throw aside his apron and set out in search of his brother, who lived there. On his way, Khanna chanced upon a Muslim family that warned him of rioters in the area. “I told them that my brother was in Ghatkopar, and I didn’t know how to get there. They urged me to come into their house because there was violence raging everywhere,” he said.
However, somebody had seen Khanna enter their residence. In no time, a mob arrived at their doorstep and began asking about him. His benefactors claimed that he was their son—a Muslim. The mob left, but a scared Khanna stayed with them for the next one-and-a-half days. The family also sent somebody to check on his brother in Ghatkopar, who turned out to be safe.
Khanna lost touch with the family in the years that followed, but the incident left a deep imprint on his heart. Since then, he has made it a point to fast for a day during Ramzan, praying for the strangers who helped him in his hour of need.
Another such incident happened in Srinagar during the curfew of 2016. At first glance, Zubeda Begum and her husband look like another desperate family trying to fend for itself in the troubled summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.
The city was racked by deadly protests following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in a gun battle with security forces.
Across the river Jhelum, a Hindu family, that of Diwanchand Pandit, had run out of food because of heavy restrictions on public movement. “She (the mother) called me in the morning, saying her family needed food supplies” recounted Zubeda Begum, who knew they had an ailing grandmother staying with them. With no transport around, the couple chose to walk with a sackful of food to Jawahar Nagar. According to the couple, the risk and effort of the long walk were compensated for by the warmth they received after arriving at the doorstep of Diwanchand Pandit’s house in Jawahar Nagar.
Zubeda’s heartwarming story is a perfect example of how humanity prevails, even in times of adversity.
Saviours Of Humanity
There seem to be a lot of debates nowadays about NGOs and their efficacy, source of funds, and so on. Here again, I can vouch for the fact that there are some wonderful NGOs, and the Universe ensures that their work continues. I would like to share the story of a remarkable human being who became who he is today because of the support provided by many people whom he calls angels, including those in an NGO.
Amin Sheikh from Mumbai was five years old when he ran away from home. He just could not take the beating of his stepfather and the eight-to-ten-hour work shifts in a tea shop. He learnt to survive on the streets of Mumbai by eating out of the garbage and robbing people. He ended up mostly at the railway station(s) and went through a lot of difficulties. He recounts,“ By the age of eight, there was no tragedy on earth that I had not lived through.”
At that time, a kind nun by the name of Sister Seraphin tried to take him to Sneha Sadan, an orphanage for street children. He had no idea what she was trying to do but assumed the worst. After hours of explanations, he finally relented and came to Sneha Sadan.
For the first time in his life, he felt cared for. There, he learnt what it meant to have a place one can call ‘home’ and people one can call ‘family.’
After several odd jobs, he worked with the late Eustace Fernandes, a renowned advertising artist, most famous for creating the ‘Amul Girl.’ Amin became not just his man Friday but almost a son. Fernandes even took him to Barcelona on a visit. There, Amin noticed how people use a café as a space to bond and interact.
In 2003, Eustace bought him a second-hand car, and he started running his own cab company with it. One day, a British woman told him that she had been in a lot of cabs but none showed her around the way he did. She went back to London and wrote a fantastic piece on him on the Internet, which went viral. Many foreigners who came later specifically asked for Amin to drive them around. His business prospered, and he bought another car.
In his personal life too, he evolved. He knew he had to forgive his mother in order to rise above the blame game. Understanding that she too was a victim of circumstances, he nobly bought her a house in 2006 and bridged their bond.
From experience, he knew that apart from issues of food and clothing, living on the streets could be lonely. He dreamt of opening a space in Mumbai where people could meet and bond, like he had seen them do at the café in Barcelona.
Amin continued his work as a tour guide but kept thinking about his café. In 2010, he met Marta Miquel, a doctor from Spain, who had published a book to raise funds for a hospital she wished to set up in Orissa. “Even though she went back to Spain, she kept in touch with me via Skype,” says Amin. He was impressed by her commitment to her dream of building the hospital and the unique way she raised funds for it. It inspired him to write a book himself.
Life is Life, I am Because of You is his autobiography, based on his life as a street child, the people who rescued him, his struggles, and how he became the success that he is now.
“I wrote it myself, and once I finished it, Dilip D’Souza, a journalist and author, did the grammar and spelling corrections,” he says. Many others pitched in to make the cover design, page design, and sketches. He finally published the book in 2012. The book is now a great success and has been translated into eight languages. The sale of his book made him realise his long-cherished dream of opening his café, From Bombay to Barcelona, in Mumbai.
He still has challenges in running and maintaining his café, but knowing him, I, for one, am certain he shall always be able to overcome them.
Just as I was finishing the task of asking people to relate their experiences, I received a wonderful forward on my mobile, as if the Universe had indeed been listening to me:
I am a mother of three (ages 14, 12, 3) and have recently completed my college degree. The last project of the term for my Sociology class was called ‘Smile.’ We were asked to go out and smile at three people and document their reactions.
Soon after we were assigned the project, my husband, youngest son, and I went out to McDonald’s one crisp March morning. It was just our way of sharing special playtime with our son. We were standing in line, waiting to be served, when all of a sudden, everyone around us began to back away and then, even my husband did so. I did not move an inch; an overwhelming feeling of panic welled up inside of me as I turned to see why they had moved. As I turned around, I smelled a horrible ‘dirty body’ smell, and there, standing behind me, were two poor homeless men. As I looked down at the short gentleman, close to me, he was ‘smiling.’ His beautiful sky-blue eyes were full of God’s Light as he searched for acceptance.
He said “Good day” as he counted the few coins he had been clutching. The second man fumbled with his hands as he stood behind his friend. I realised the second man was mentally challenged and the blue-eyed gentleman was his salvation. I held my tears as I stood there with them. The young lady at the counter asked him what they wanted. He said, “Coffee is all, Miss” because that was all they could afford. (If they wanted to sit in the restaurant and warm up, they had to buy something. He just wanted to be warm).
I smiled and asked the young lady behind the counter to give me two more breakfast meals on a separate tray. I then walked around the corner to the table that the men had chosen as a resting spot. I put the tray on the table and laid my hand on the blue-eyed gentleman’s cold hand. He looked up at me, with tears in his eyes, and said, “Thank you.” I leaned over, patted his hand, and said, “I did not do this for you. God is here working through me to give you hope.”
I started to cry as I walked away to join my husband and son. When I sat down, my husband smiled at me and said, “That is why God gave you to me, Honey, to give me hope.” We held hands for a moment and at that time, we knew that only because of the Grace that we had been given were we able to give.
Her lecturer read out her experience to everyone in the class and most were extremely moved by this.
She ends by saying,
“In my own way, I had touched the people at McDonald’s, my husband, son, instructor, and every soul that shared the classroom on the last night I spent as a college student. I graduated with one of the biggest lessons I would ever learn: unconditional acceptance and love for all.”
We all are meant to love each other, and this is where goodness steps in automatically. When we are open to both giving and receiving goodness, the Universe sends us miracles and makes us spread miracles all the time. Life is a series of miracles, after all.
Toolkit Of Goodness
• Be open to friendship.
• Treat everyone as a human being, without any other tags attached to them.
• Spread love and kindness.
• Think of all the acts of goodness which you can do to be a player in the goodness of life.
• Accept and be grateful for the acts of goodness that the Universe is sending us all the time.
In an age where many people are deriding the efficacy of goodness, I am happy to be working amidst people who believe in just the opposite. By so believing, I have indeed attracted a lot of good people in my life, whether one calls it the Law of Attraction, the Secret, or the ancient law of karma. This indeed is applicable to all of us in the journey of our lives.
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