Nandita Das

Every inspiration counts

  • September 1, 2013

My whole being often longs to be out in the open, away from the city, close to nature and with rooted people. Thankfully, there is no dearth of such places in the country. So every few weeks, I try to escape with my little son to a place more peaceful and conducive for reflection.

Last weekend there was a show of my play in Baroda, so I jumped at the prospect of going to the Vinoba Ashram on the outskirts of the city-a place my maternal Gandhian grandparents used to visit. Recently my mother, too, spent a fortnight there and loved it.

While we could spend only two days, it got me thinking about the kind of place I admire and envy-open spaces, big trees, plants allowed to grow naturally and people who lead a simple life, with a deep sense of purpose.

Often, I have been asked in interviews: who is your inspiration? The expected answer is a solitary famous name, although the reality is far from it. I feel fortunate to have met many people who have inspired me with their simplicity, passion and commitment to make a difference. The Vinoba Ashram, is one such place, where a Gandhian family is “being the change, it wants to see in the world”. A Gandhian couple, now in their 80s, were the founders of this ashram. Their two sons, one a naturopath and the other an advocate of organic farming, now run the place. Their families are also an inherent part of the organisation. The children, mostly home-schooled, have that sensitive and innocent brightness about them, something the mainstream system does not quite nurture. All in all, they are a family with a mission.

I saw the day begin with big stick-brooms being used to clean assigned areas, by people that included the naturopath, Bharatbhai, who for all official purposes, is one of the heads of the ashram. There is no hierarchy and no big deal is made about it. I was told he was an allopathic paediatrician, but his interest in holistic health and frequent visits to his parents’ ashram made him leave the practice to pursue naturopathy. The Nisargopachar Kendra was inspired by the common ideology for healthy living by Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave. I could not resist the temptation to get examined, despite no evident illness. His diagnosis was bang on: “Slow down, you are moving too fast!” Even though my work barely engages me with the city, I knew its pace had impacted my own rhythm.

The older brother, Kapilbhai, started the Jatan Trust to create awareness about the much-needed shift in the agricultural paradigm. To move away from the chemical intensive, resource destructive model that has trapped millions of farmers in debt and distress and to adopt practices that are more sustainable for livelihood and that respect local biodiversity and environment. A Gandhian and a trained plant breeder, Kapilbhai founded Jatan to marry science with conscience. These days he is engaged in galvanising public opinion against the GM technology that is surreptitiously invading the country, without even sufficient debate.

My visit to the ashram reminded me of the two months I spent in Valod, Gujarat. In the first year of my Master’s in Social Work, I decided to spend my summer holidays with a Gandhian organisation that worked with under-privileged children. I have instinctively gravitated towards the Gandhian philosophy, despite the scepticism about its ‘practicality’. The simplicity of the Gandhians, with their unflinching dedication to that idealism, alone is a good enough inspiration. 

It is not the 2nd of October yet, but Gandhi’s ideals of simplicity and sustainability ought to be remembered on far more occasions, especially in today’s India of extremes. For me, the visit to the ashram was not just a reminder that a kinder and simpler world is possible, but that it could also lead to one’s spiritual journey. I came back with a tiny little shift.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11