--by MBJ, posted Jan 14, 2006
When I got a random email from his friend in India, I had a realization ... I was in communication with someone on the other side of the planet! The Butterfly Effect proved that a butterfly in California can cause a hurricane in Japan, but this was much more real. I seized the opportunity and told a friend in India: "Hey, can you give $20 to some random person that might need a break. I'll give you the money when we meet next."
'Experiment: Success' was ... well, you find out.
Sorry to be so tardy in posting this note about the outcome of your "experiment" in connectedness, action, and compassion.
We wound up deviating from the stated ground rules a bit. (In fact, we didn't even recognize that it was your experiment until it was already underway; and if that invalidates it, we'll certainly try again.) But here's the scoop.
The folks we stayed with in Ahmedabad were with us at the internet cafe the night your note proposing the experiment came in, and they wanted to participate. We were going to give your gift of money on our last night in town, before going to dinner. But since things happened to us rather than us happening to things, only one of them, Jai, was there for the event.
Our last afternoon in Ahmedabad, I was sitting with a local volunteer in the shade of a tree at the Gandhi Ashram (atmospheric, no?), when we were approached by two young boys, one of them in tears. Had we seen anyone walking away with a yellow school bag? Apparently, the boys had set their bags down for two seconds and one of them was stolen.
At the far end of the ashram sit two buildings which house Manav Sadhna, an NGO doing wonderful things in Ahmedabad, and its boarding school for orphans and otherwise homeless kids, Ashram Shala. It occured to me that someone might have taken the bag to Ashram Shala, thinking that it belonged to one of the kids there. So I took the boys down to Ashram Shala.
The bag was nowhere to be found, and the folks at Ashram Shala hadn't seen it either. Fortunately, I found Jai playing ball with the Ashram Shala kids; he was able to speak with the boys in Gujarati.
The boy whose bag had gone missing was named Manish. He was eleven years old and in the seventh standard.
First off we tried to calm Manish, who was still sobbing deeply over the loss of his bag. Jai suggested that, if he was worried about losing his notes so late into the semester, perhaps he could xerox the notes of a classmate to study for exams. It turns out that Manish's worries were substantially weightier. Of immediate concern was the beating he figured to receive from his father. The longer term implication, he figured, was that he would be forced to quit school and start working.
We took seriously the threat of the beating, but initially dismissed his latter fear as the product of a distraught child's stress-induced imagination. We formulated a plan. Jai had a motor scooter, I had 1,000 crisp Mohandases (aka rupees; Rs 50 = $1) burning a hole in my pocket, and Manish had something for us to spend them on. Off to the stationary shop! (Incidentally, this was my first time riding three-to-a-scooter -- a quintessential Indian experience, though not up to par with the four-to-a-scooter ride which is the outing of choice for many a family here.)
One school bag, ten text books, eight lined notebooks, one drawing book, one set of drafting instruments, one fountain pen, and one roll of paper to cover the text books (as required by the teachers) later, Jai and I realized why Manish was so afraid of being made to quit school over the loss of his bag. Our shopping spree set us back fully 900 Mohandases! Judging from Manish's none-too-haute-couture look, it seemed a good bet he was not from an affluent family. We have heard many tales of kids being forced to quit school for far less; and for the first time, realized how precarious Manish's situation really was.
We'd soon find out how right that assessment was. The plan was to find Manish's father and mediate a peaceful resolution before any punches were thrown. Manish and his family live in a very poor, dusty, litter-strewn neighborhood, in one of a crumbling block of buildings to the north of the Tekra, which is the largest slum in Gujarat. Or I should say, they live in one room of that building. His father is a psychic (Jai tried to assure Manish that he wouldn't get beaten because his father should have known the bag would be lost a long time ago; or alternatively, that he should be able to tell us who has it; Manish wasn't buying, but at least he had stopped balling by the time he shouldered his new school bag and departed the stationers and may have even cracked a smile, in spite of himself) and his mother earned money by helping to cook and clean at shabby facilities used for weddings in the neighborhood. After scooting around for an hour, unable to find either parent, we took Manish home.
When the chips are down, and there is no parent to be found, sometimes a good neighbor will step in to help. That was the case when we reached Manish's abode. In his father's absence, some hysterical woman from next door was all to ready to turn Manish into Hindu-burger for him -- all at no extra charge. Jai was an awesome diplomat, and a pretty fair security barrier for a guy who weighs 150 pounds on a day he's feeling bloated. But still, it was (as they say) "a process." About ten minutes into the "discussions", with the neighbor still shrieking at the top of her lungs and lunging at Manish with fists clenched, Jai turned to me, smiled, and said, "I'm not sure this is going well." We both laughed out loud at this wonderful assessment of the obvious... and, because our reaction was so bizzare in the circumstances, suddenly the shouting stopped and there was silence. I used the moment to get into the act (why shold Jai have all the fun?). I held up both hands, palms spead toward the floor, and slowly lowered them -- the international symbol for, Let's all take a deep breath and lower the volume on this discussion. Well, almost international. Works in every language but Gujarati, apparently. Jai was soon able to bring the resumption of pandamonium under control, and somehow, by the time we departed the tenament and bid goodby to Manish, his family members, and his dear neighbors, there was peace, harmony, and goodwill toward men (or at least toward Manish and toward us). We received assurances that Manish wold not be beaten -- by anyone -- and we gave assurances that it was no big deal and that we were glad to help.
Oh, one more thing. Manish promised to study his ass off (not sure if I have the translation quite right on this) and get his marks up from 70 to 80. He also promised that, whenever he saw anyone who might be in need of his help, he would offer it, just as we had helped him. As Jai said, "Are you kidding? You want me to explain 'Pay it Forward' in Gujarati?" "No problem," I said, "You are a pro." And he was.
We wish you could have been there to see all this. --Your buddy, Joe Smoe
Addendum to the story: The day after our adventures, Manish and his father, stopped by the Ashram wishing to speak with Mark. He wanted to call Mark and thank him personally, and mentioned that it was most unfortunate how Manish had lost his bag in a ricksaw accident (apparently, Manish not fully convinced he was safe on the home front, had twisted his story around a little bit). I gave Manish a look, and I think for a moment he was unsure of whether I would spill the beans. By this time, Bharatbhai (one of the MS people) was already in deep conversation with our astrologer/father about his new born sons future. I explained to them that the US was a little bit far to call, and expensive. So he wished me to convey his thanks to you. In addition, he assured us that we could all have our palms read as friends, not as customers!
Take the reality behind the story -- and to see how lives were permanently altered-- hopefully for the better -- all because of a drop of good intention and a couple clicks on the ol' keyboard. It's really nothing short of miraculous.
I can pick up a phone, punch in a couple numbers, and make someone get up off the couch in China. Phenomenal. I can type on this silly computer and help save a kid's hide on the other side of the Earth. Unreal. We are all interconnected far more deeply than we realize. I am only just beginning to glimpse how profound, yet simple, it all really is.
Thank you guys so much for this little lesson. I think it's going to take me a while to really understand it, but it's a beginning.