Shammi Nanda’s healing journey made him look at the toxic nature of negative emotions. He discovered that despite eating the healthiest food his illnesses prevailed, they were directly related to his emotional state. His passion for creating a world where one can collaborate with connection and effectiveness led to the birth of Ahimsagram. Founded two years ago, the organisation experiments with different approaches to collaborative governance, exploring Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and Sociocracy. He has now moved his focus to working through Holacracy at Ahimsagram. He is also closely connected to various sustainability movements and ecological communities all over India. Ritika Parwal, a member of Ahimsagram, shares her experience and welcomes us into a new conceptual world.
Having been connected to Shammi and Ahimsagram through social media, I already had a deep sense of belonging and appreciation of the work they were doing. When I was in Jaipur, serendipity led me to Ahimsagram, and I have enjoyed contributing to this wonderful place ever since and also witnessed my healing happening gradually.
An ideal abode
The openness, selflessness, and the giving values this place embodies along with encouraging everyone to take care of their needs is a rare gift. When I see people around me looking at the world with aloofness, materialism, greed, lack of empathy, and exploiting nature, it is very unsettling. But at the same time, when I am at Ahimsagram, I get a sense of peace within me, making me feel like I am part of building solutions.
Ahimsagram is my idea of an ideal world where we are connected to each other, honour everyone’s need, believe in sharing, are sustainable and ethical in our everyday lives, and are able to show support and empathy when needed.
Most of the team members are women, and conscious efforts are made to create a safe and encouraging environment for them so that they can connect with their inherent abilities while supporting the purpose of the organisation. This not only transforms their lives in Ahimsagram but also determines how they express themselves in their personal lives, at their homes and on the street.
Commitment to sustainability
The one value which I highly appreciate and can connect with is how deeply this place is rooted in sustainability. We have been composting all our wet waste for the last four years and also have our own terrace garden. The utensils are washed with ash and not by any detergent loaded with chemicals. We make our own bio enzyme to clean the floor and toilets and also use solar energy at times to cook.
We hold our commitment to the environment paramount, and though we have been struggling to make enough revenue, it doesn’t deter us. We avoid plastic and unsustainable packing of our products and largely source organic products, vegetables, and fruits that haven’t polluted the environment while being produced. And though financial wealth could be a challenge, the trust and social wealth we enjoy from the larger community and how they come together to support us when needed is what makes us continue and believe in the power of community.
There is a sense of dignity of labour, and no work is small or big but just a matter of skills and prioritisation at the moment. And strangely, I enjoy doing all kinds of work including washing dishes, cleaning, content writing, graphic designing, taking care of the finances, business development, and cooking some of the most amazing healthy food in the city.
Ahimsagram also runs an unlearning cafe that serves vegan, gluten-free, and white sugar-free food, and hosts vegan potlucks every week as well as community lunches from Monday to Saturday. To promote gift culture, we also host ‘Pay as you wish’ every Wednesday. It’s a space that makes us reflect through self-connection or conversation with others about our patterns which may be life-constraining. We learn to transform them in very concrete ways through peer support and imbibing the culture and practices of this place. Our cooking is inspired by The Health Awareness Center and the teachings of Dr Vijaya Venkat.
Love for the little ones
We are a pet-friendly and kid-friendly space and want to lessen the speciesism divide and be gentle to all beings. When children come to play, instead of constantly saying ‘No’ to them, we begin to remove glass articles to make it a safe space for kids. The point is we constantly change the context we live in to empower each other!
I enjoy seeing the love and care for neighbourhood dogs here. We made beds for them to rest in winters and kept water for them. Also, when Puchi (an adopted pet of our team members Aakanksha and Arvind) came to stay with us, we created a safe and loving space for him.
It is intriguing to see Saransh waiting for Sara (an abandoned cow) to feed her every day and quench her thirst for water. He showers her with warm, caring strokes around her neck.
Inspiring collaboration and nonviolence
Ahimsagram was founded by Shammi Nanda in 2016 when he decided to settle in Jaipur after travelling widely in India and abroad. Having been a part of various communities like Auroville, Shikshantar, and others, Shammi says that, “The thought of creating Ahimsagram was born when I wondered - How do we live as an integral part of the Universe, where we are part of the whole cosmos and are in harmony with ourselves and other living beings including Humans?”
The purpose is to create a world of individual empowerment with collective abundance, while also living, learning, and sharing Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and organising life with sustainable practices. Shammi, also a Nonviolent Communication coach, adds that, “We are using food as one of the mediums to meet this intention because the food that we consume is connected with the Universe and it becomes part of the body. Through this medium we can nurture the Nonviolent world by the choices we make—how the food is grown while taking care of Mother earth.”
As we hold NVC dear to us, we try our best to look for solutions where everyone’s needs matter and have a space to be heard. We do ethical businesses which are sustainable, collaborative, and take care of our needs while adding value to the world around us.
According to Gandhi, Ahimsa is nothing but love, and love is that energy which cleanses your inner life and uplifts you. Such love perpetuates noble feelings like benevolence, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, kindness, and sympathy.
Since we are inspired by Nonviolence, we also want to create a world where we can collaborate for a shared purpose and deliver effectively. And for that we have chosen Holacracy as our governance system which observes an organisation as an organism rather than mechanism which can repair itself for every day challenges, making it easy for us to be resilient and agile, while allowing us to create a prototype of self-evolutionary process which can scale our experiment to bring large scale change in society.
At Ahimsagram, there isn’t any fear of making mistakes and we encourage creativity. It is because of the energy of this space that I got confidence and experimented with food, started expressing my thoughts in words, and came out of my guilt and trauma. Also, this article is the outcome of the encouragement and trust that I have received to help me weave my thoughts and feelings and introduce Ahimsagram to all you dear people.
I haven’t so far seen any place which holds diversity so beautifully and treats everyone with love and care. It is my safe space where I can be vulnerable and trust that people around me will hold me together and show empathy.
Creating a space for everyone
After living for three decades with the societal convention which strongly advocates living as per norms and working according to set deadlines (study till a certain age, qualify and get a degree, get married and have kids, respect the rules and don’t question them), it was liberating to find my voice and have the courage to move aside from what wasn’t working for me and create a life that matches my purpose of being part of a world that has equal respect for every voice and equal space for everyone without judgments. Be kind to all and believe in sharing rather than hoarding.
It was extremely calming and awe-inspiring for me to see our meetings and discussions happening in circles and how it allowed everyone to have a space to share their thoughts and voice their concerns.
Having lived in a competitive environment, we have learned to express our opinions strongly over others, through mad arguments in debates where we get an adrenaline rush while cutting someone’s space and put forth our thoughts. We are always in a reactive state rather than a receiving one.
While being part of our circles, I have seen people—who were earlier not used to speaking or weren’t even aware that they could also speak or say ‘No’—express themselves freely.
Tulsiji, who joined us a month ago, has so far in her life never even realised that she has the power to make choices or think about her life. She wouldn’t speak initially but has started opening up now and is actively participating in the discussions. She communicates her choice of work and what she would enjoy doing, like learning new dishes.
Sonia, another team member, was very naive earlier (to the extent of putting a mixer grinder in the water tub to wash it), but with support and encouragement, she has now learned to carry out her work with the help of technology: she uses the phone and the Internet to look for recipes and also writes them down. Her transformation and confidence are thrilling!
Rooted in reality
We operate out of a bungalow and most of the team members live collaboratively while practicing self-management, Holacracy. We are an open space, and many volunteers and interns come to learn about self-management, vegan food and experience our way of working and living.
We do have conflicts and differences within the team and see it as a gift. It gives us the scope to look at challenges and unmet needs with nonviolent communication, rather than hiding them under the carpet. It allows us to make things better and create space for mutual growth.
There is a lot of unlearning that needs to happen for me personally, where I no longer fear fights and disagreements and avoid them. I have been saying ‘Yes’ to everything, pleasing everyone, and prioritising everyone’s needs over mine all my life. I now sense how dangerous it has been to my growth and life so far. But I am learning to fight with the right ways and tools, see things beyond blame games, and look for solutions rather than avoiding reality. I have realised that I should also learn to make requests with clarity and have difficult conversations, and yet be respectful and ready to hear a ‘No.’
I am extremely thankful to the Universe for connecting me to Ahimsagram. I love coming to this place every day, and it doesn’t feel like work but a natural extension of my daily rhythm. It has given me access to connect with like-minded people and the courage to see things differently and manifest possibilities that resonate with the purpose of my life.
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