My experiences with GRAVIS and India

In India, it is not uncommon to hear the saying ‘Guest is God’. This maxim is repeated free from exaggeration and self-importance. In fact, its truth resides in a lived prioritization of others over self. An American studying in India from September to December, I have witnessed host after host put aside their own comfort to accommodate a guest. The generosity extended to me while staying at the GRAVIS headquarters in Jodhpur seems to be founded less in showmanship than in a real concern for my wellbeing.

In a week, I will return to America not only with stories of India’s vibrancy in hand, but with lasting impressions of morality in India. Americans, socialized in a fiercely individualistic way, could learn some lessons about selflessness from Indian folks. I am aware of a near constant self-absorption that goes on inside of myself. While I’m sure that Indians, as humans, are similarly entrapped by a of preoccupation with self, many people I meet here seem to be able to escape their busy heads, at least for long enough to be friendly with me. The sincerity and friendliness shown to me are attractive qualities; they are ones I hope to embody.

During my stay at GRAVIS Jodhpur, I have felt a genuine attention to my needs. Even when discussing payment for my stay, GRAVIS staff are flexible about amounts and encourage me to give only as much as I can comfortably offer. GRAVIS’ altruistic mission seems to ignore profiteering altogether. Despite this, GRAVIS has the overhead to arrange room & board alongside transportation at what must be subsidized cost.

The notoriety of GRAVIS’ work is evidenced by several young interns who have applied and been accepted to semester long internships with the NGO. GRAVIS is not trying to recruit new members this way; instead, they are just giving youth exposure to the important programs that GRAVIS runs. My stay coincides with the stay of two foreign students who are both enrolled in master’s degree programs in Finland. The student union at their university in Finland has a partnership with GRAVIS that has been ongoing for 20+ years. It is impressive to see how far-reaching the influence of GRAVIS is.

Today, the interventions of GRAVIS seem well received within areas of operation. This has not always been the case, however. For the past two weeks, I was stationed at a GRAVIS training center in Jelu-Gagadi, about 60 kilometers from Jodhpur proper. This site, being the first seat of GRAVIS operations, was burnt down while it was still in its infancy. Even then, L.C Tyagi did not demand punishment for the arsonists. GRAVIS work with socially disadvantaged people continued; this resulted in further agitation from members of higher castes. Given its turbulent early years, GRAVIS’ spatial coverage and respected role in the Thar today is even more impressive.

Thank you to all the GRAVIS staff for exemplifying hospitality, altruism, and compassion. I am humbled by these things which are so easily discerned in all of you.

Pentti Hanlon

Dickinson College, USA; SIT: Jaipur

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