Home from Home in Haryana

I was expecting Street Wisdom in a village outside Delhi to be extraordinary. But I am a stranger, looking at India though an outsider’s eyes. It’s hard not see even the most mundane Indian street as cinematic and exotic. But what about the wonderful group of professional coaches and facilitators I was introducing to the experience for the first time? They are from India. Would they find their own backyard so magical?

I certainly felt like a stranger, leading the tune up phase in front of some lock up garages on the roadside at Karnki. A temple on the left, cars and trucks beeping madly and a cow ambling past. (Thanks to you Sriram and Abhi for helping me with the facilitation. You’re natural street wizards!)

It turned out my Indian colleagues also felt like outsiders. This is a poor area where the challenges of daily life are hard to imagine.  Truly, I think we all felt like strangers. And what made the experience extraordinary to so many was how welcome the residents, shopkeepers and street sweepers made everyone feel. In the sharing, participants swapped stories of how initial reserve (“are you from the government?…are you doing a survey?”) gave way to welcome, generosity and genuine conversations. They sat us down, gave us chai, invited us into their shops and dwellings. Curiosity begets curiosity it seems.

Everyone had their own answers to their personal questions, of course, but there was a shared theme of gratitude for the many small ways the locals had made us feel at home. There was also a shared desire to connect like this with our fellow humans more often.

And for me? I didn’t officially go on Street Wisdom. But it had come to me. Remember those garages where I chose – quite by chance – to do the tune up? While I was standing there, waiting for the explorers to return, an old man appeared. He rolled a rickety office chair up to me and gestured for me to sit. I smiled and mimed ‘no thank you’, thinking it would be an imposition. He mimed “a cup of chai?”. Again, I did the polite thing, the Englishman not wanting to outstay my welcome. He looked directly into my eyes for a long time, smiled and bowed. Before he cycled off with his rickshaw piled high with rice bags, he said something incomprehensible to Abdi in the local dialect. I did pick up one word – raj – which didn’t make me feel any more at home.  Colonial memories, I thought. Ouch.

But it wasn’t until we returned to the hotel for the Sharing that I understood. The old man had told Abhi that centuries ago, in a previous life, the tall man with the umbrella (me) had been the king – the Raja – of this district. That’s why he was offering me a throne and some refreshment.  The Raja had returned and he wanted to welcome me home.  A profound quiet settled on the room.  I was lost for words.

So, not such a stranger after all…

12 thoughts on “Home from Home in Haryana

  1. Thank You David, For introducing me to this wonderful process.

    I discovered during the street wisdom experience that I remain aloof and disconnected and do not allow people to enter my world, even those who took some interest and asked what was going on. They asked are you and guys with you doing a govt survey, would you be submitting a report to higher ups? Are you guys doing an advertisement for Bisleri (intrigued by the water bottle that each one of us was carrying?

    To every question, I gave vague responses and had the tendency to quickly move away.

    My worst response was to a person during the ‘quest stage’, when he asked, ‘what are you doing?’. There, instead of asking my question and engaging in a dialogue to find the answer to my ‘Quest Question’ (How can I contribute to making the world a better place?), I said, ‘nothing’, then moved away. Big learning as I reflected, How would I get an answer, if I don’t even ask a question?
    Will be genuine and open next time …..
    Soon will try out Street Wisdom’ again with a bunch of friends ….

    • I am touched by the openness of your comment. It is hard to see how closed we become. But noticing that is the start of the opening. Go well, my friend. Adventure awaits!

  2. Dear David…
    As one of the Participants it was a beautiful experience ..to say the least. I am still unpacking it… I have walked (not these) but many streets before..obviously..and somehow the context of tuning or “be willing to be coached by their responses (your gentle instruction) shifted my listening . I was offered ‘Free’ tea on two occasions, fresh tomatoes and green peas and some coconut.. I was taken care of by strangers.
    I was able to see sides and shades of people who otherwise I could have judgements about. What popped out loud of clear was the Humanness and a sense of being equal .
    In the end I am left with two realisations:
    1. There are NO strangers in the world..only friends we haven’t met
    2. Not all those who wander are lost.

    Thank you…

  3. David,
    I once read a poem which ended with these 2 lines,
    ‘You cannot change the way the world looks
    Until you change the way you see.’
    I feel this is what happened to a lot of us who were walking the typical Indian streets we thought we knew so well 🙂
    Thank you for helping us bring the streets back with us.

    • David,
      Loved the process. amazing stuff happened to me. whilst I was with my question and waiting for answers from the street . Curiously enough a young boy tugged at my hand and asked if he can teach me welding. Of course I went along and learnt how to ‘weld’ The boy taught me the fine nuances of welding. I realise I was holding the blow torch too tightly . asked me to hold it gently and boy! did it create sparks. ‘Gentleness’ when working with ‘hard’.
      Just when I was done with this, someone else ask me if I would like to learn to cut glass. I happily went along and learnt how to cut glass.I was holding the cutter very gently worried I would break the glass. Instead I was taught to grip the cutter very tightly use strength to cut something as delicate as glass. ‘Toughness’ when working with ‘fragile’.
      I seemed to have created a little audience for myself who cheered’Madamji seekh gayi” – Madam has learnt , everytime I got it right. And they continued to say it till’ I GOT IT’
      Can the street get any more obvious? I ASK A QUESTION, I’M TAUGHT NEW WAYS AND THEN REMINDED I HAVE LEARNT .

    • As a friend of mine once said; ‘you can change the world or you can change the way you see the world – and one is much easier than the other’. Thank you for your comments and your participation. Stay in touch. And do keep exploring with Street Wisdom.

  4. Dear David
    I just wrote a small piece on this experience with street wisdom on my facebook page.
    The Sweeperwomen of Sohna
    I met Hemlata, Renu and Rajwanti on a dusty road at the village of Sohna in Gurgaon. I was on a quest as a part of Mckinsey Facilitator offsite to acquire some ‘street wisdom’. The women were moving resolutely, dragging their brooms behind them,raking up small clouds of dust. Their faces were covered by the duppata, only the eyes were visible.Somehow we started talking. They had heard of Swachh Bharat, they said. Yes, things are cleaner now. They had been recently employed by a contractor to clean some parts of the district. ‘ That is great,” I said.Rajwanti, the bolder one of the trio spoke up-‘ We haven’t been paid for the last two months. We were promised 7000 Rs but we haven’t got it yet.’ ‘ I have 4 daughters,’ confessed Hemlata. ‘ Who will look after them?.’ ‘Are you with the government?’They looked at me hopefully. I wondered if they wanted money. I wondered if I should take down their contact details. I wondered if I should complain to someone. I wondered if it would make any difference.’ I will take a photo,’ I mumbled rather ineffectually. They posed for a picture and we moved on to our two very different worlds.

    As a writer of fiction, I create stories but this experience made me alive to the real stories all around us. As I engaged with the people on the street and heard their stories, they became a part of me and I ,a small part of their narrative.
    I find myself more curious and open , looking at signboards and billboards for answers :-))

    • These street sweepers have staying in my mind. Unsung heroes/heroines. Real dignity in the face of difficulty. I wish we could help more. Stay open and see what other encounters the street sends you. The world seems to enjoy your attention 😉

  5. Thank you for reflecting and holding us. For a long time I have felt that the work of leadership has been wrongly coined. It’s about being human. Perhaps that is not corporate enough…

    Althought as simple as it sounds, just so diametrically hard it is. And your powerful connection to it in our family conversation will remain with me forever. You gave me strength to let go and continue being more human.

    You were and are the wise man. I pray and hope that you continue to touch the hearts and soul’s of millions. What a gift you are in this world ! May you be blessed with a billion blessings. 🙏

    I am shocked and disturbed by the events that unfolded in London. Is there any further proof for the need for humanness.

    I hope that everyone there is slowly finding ways to connect and be resilient through these events.

    Thank you for visiting us. I will be taking your work of street wisdom further for sure…

    You and all of our time together will remain with me forever…

    • Thanks for your thoughts, comments and blessings. London is radiantly sunny today. And, unfortunate though last week’s events were, it reminds us to be thankful we’re alive. And that democracy is too. I am moved by your message and would like to stay in touch and see what else emerges down the street of life…

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