In the book, The Unmistakable Touch of Grace, Cheryl Richardson states, “Every event we experience and every person we meet has been put in our path for a reason. When we awaken to this fundamental truth, we begin to understand that a benevolent force of energy is available to guide and direct our lives. I call this energy the unmistakable touch of grace.” So, there I was sitting on the cushions in the Gramshree store next to Seva Cafe and when I opened my eyes there was Arvind sitting cross-legged across from me.
I had not planned to meet Arvind. Before we journeyed to India, I had heard a story from Gaurav Parnami, a former volunteer at Manav Sadhna. A story that left a lasting impression. It caused me to pause and reflect on the topics of honesty and integrity. It made me wonder if I would have made the same choice under the same circumstances.
This is the true story related to me:
Gaurav starts with, â€œAt Manav Sadhna we talk a lot about the Gandhian principles of honesty, truth and non-violence and here is a boy who showed me he already had figured out how to do it well.” This is a boy Gaurav says he will never forget. Gaurav came to Manav Sadhna to help, to teach but according to Gaurav, in the end it was really Arvind who taught him.
There is a young boy in India, about 15 years of age, named Arvind, who lives in the slum section of Ahmedabad. Arvind is the sole support of his family, his father died of alcoholism and his mother is unable to work, so Arvind supports his mother, his two brothers and himself. At the young age of fifteen, he is the head of his household. He rises early in the morning and first walks four or five kilometers to fetch and bring back water. His house does not have running water. He then leaves to shines shoes, which he does until six in the evening. He returns to his home, perhaps eating dinner, if there is food. Then for the next three or four hours he returns to his second job of ragpicking, a job of scrounging through the trash on the streets collecting recyclable paper and plastics. For these eleven hours of work, he earns about 40 rupees a day, equivalent to about one American dollar, and on this dollar a day he must live. Somewhere in between all of this responsibility, he fits in time to attend Manav Sadhna’s Street Child program so he can learn to read and write.
One evening, while digging through the trash, outside a jewelry story Arvind finds a box. He opens the box and inside discovers seven or eight valuable silver coins. Now here is a boy with daily earnings of a dollar or less, who has found a box with coins worth at least 100 times what he would normally earn in one day. So, one might think Arvind would be very tempted to keep it. He does not know who the owner is and his family could use the money to buy food and fuel. In this case, this is not what he chooses to do. Arvind can not sleep most of the night. He is thinking of how to find a way to return these coins instead. Inside the box is also a letter but Arvind, at this point and time, could not read the letter. The next morning he decides to take the letter, along with the box, to a friend who can read it to him. His friend tells him there is a name and address on the letter. Arvind insists the right thing to do is to return the box to the owner, after all, it is not his, and it belongs to someone else. So he and his friend go to the address on the letter and tell the owner they have found his box. In return the owner is so astounded at his honesty, he gratefully gives Arvind a 500 rupee reward.
At the end of our first week in Ahmedabad, Lanie and I were invited by Jayesh bhai to go to dinner at Seva Cafe with himself, his wife Anar ben and few of their friends. Jayesh drove us over. On the way there, I casually mentioned the story Gaurav had told us of a boy he met while in Ahmedabad. Unbeknownst to me, by chance, Arvind was also at Seva Cafe when we arrived. Several times a week he stops by the cafe to pick up recyclables but this is usually late at night, at closing time. This evening Arvind was at the cafe much earlier than usual. Jayesh bhai is the founder of Manav Sadhna. Running this non-profit is portion of his day but more importantly, he connects people. When this coincidence presented itself, he asked Arvind, without my noticing, to sit on the cushions in the back. He then asked me to close my eyes and led me back to the cushions. He asked me to sit down and then told me I could open my eyes. With my eyes wide open he questioned if I knew who was sitting in front of me. I do not think I had seen a picture of Arvind before but somehow I knew it was him. He had a warm, inviting smile on his face. I cannot speak Gujrati and Arvind cannot speak English but somehow we communicated.
After this wonderful surprise, we chatted for a bit and then we invited Arvind and his two friends to dine with us. They accepted eagerly. I learned later, it was the first time that the three of them had ate at a sit down restaurant but they were so polite and displayed such perfect table manners I would have never known. In our small group of diners was a Tibetan monk, an emissary of the Dalai Lama. He was a pleasure to speak with, but I found it to be an equal pleasurable to have Arvind and his friends sharing this meal with us. During the course of the meal I related Arvind’s story of honesty to the monk and he listened carefully, impressed by this young boy’s actions. I look back on this evening knowing it was a “touch of grace.” I still find myself reflecting on what this moment truly meant.
Photo credit: Gaurav Parnami