It’s time to talk about tapas. I’m not referring to the little, Spanish snacks that compliment a good glass of wine and nice company. Nights like that don’t exist here, so before my cravings get the best of me, I’ll take another mental route, one that leads me towards the Sanskrit meaning of tapas, which I’ll define using another culinary allusion: the transformation of an ordinary dish using masala and a lot of agni. It’s the inner fire that makes your body and soul come alive.
Tapas is the deep intrinsic motivation that light up your inner fire—bites of fiery discipline and perseverance that set you aflame. Described by Pantanjali as one of the niyamas in the yoga sutras more than 2,000 years ago and still going strong, a taste of tapas provides endless fuel that keeps your engine going and is an inexhaustible catalyst for transformation.
Be the change you want to see in the world. Initiating real positive transformation lies within; however, this change doesn’t come by itself. Transformation takes time, a lot of tapas and a deep belief that the seed you’re planting will eventually become a flourishing flower, one way or another. You need courageous strength to face challenging life situations and enormous willpower to go through everything that might look impossible. But, what if your eyes are kept closed? How to be the change if you never had a good example?
So, let’s take the other way, the way that is not so clear and structured, which is full of obstacles and impassable—a hell of a bumpy road, stacked with impurities at each hairpin bend that make it impossible to see the shining light at the end of the road. Although it’s the journey itself that matters, having some clue as to whither you journey is essential to stay on that path. You don’t want to be wandering around in a misty haze, hopelessly lost, searching for something indefinable, unable to see the signs that guide you in the right direction.
A lot of children in Deenabandhu are born in this condition—a lack of constructive nurturing in early childhood can leave a lot of scars: low self-esteem, never feeling safe and secure, this insatiable craving for love and at the same time being so scared of it. The little seeds that are planted in this uncultivated soil face disadvantages precluding their grow. Sometimes they look more dead than alive, simply undergoing life as it is, waiting for that day the pilot flame slowly extinguishes and the ashes will be gently blown away.
Sometimes, a stray spark sets a life ablaze.
Avinosh was left alone by his mother on the street when he was four years old. She said she would come back soon to pick him up, but never came. After six years of waiting he gave up. He has learned to trust no one. Deep damage in faith is still determining his behavior: too scared to look you in the eyes, speaking softly, unreachable, cowering each time somebody reaches out to him.
What’s your dream Avinosh? In the blink of an eye some kind of magic trick happens. His whole appearance opens up if he starts to talk about his ambitions: being a doctor, helping other people, returning to Deenabandhu School to take care of all the children who are in need. Proudly he sat up straight in his chair. He looked me in the eyes and smiled. The smouldering fire was being lit. Each breath gives him more powerful oxygen to light up his inner flame. I could almost see the tapas flowing through his veins and his eyes sparked like little stars. We made him the first “student doctor” of school. If the students need any help, Avinosh is there for them. He cleans their wounds and puts plaster wherever he can.
Veenu, a rough teenage girl with a big but wounded heart, wants to become a police agent so that she can beat all the people who have beaten her, especially her uncle who was ruining her life and that of her mother and sister when her father died a couple of years ago. The fire in her eyes doesn’t lie. Hot tapas has obviously overheated her system, lacking the cooling ability to reflect upon its own self. Captured by her own tremendous inner fire, she keeps on burning herself again and again.
Parvati’s flame went out a long time ago. She’s always sad, depressed, feeling sick and doesn’t want to play with other children. She is constantly looking for something or somebody that can make her happy, that can ease the pain of the fact that her mother left her, not being able to take care of the children because of her addictions and mental state of being. She only used her kids for the gain of her own happiness, which meant sending them out on the street to beg for money so she could buy more liquor. Her younger brother Sivanand also has his scars of this childhood, but the big difference is that he makes himself responsible for his own happiness. There is a sharp contrast between suffering and pain, which I haven’t seen so literally taking place until a couple of weeks ago. When he was playing after school some very hot tea was accidentally spilt on his body and caused some nasty wounds. He was in deep pain, but it didn’t hamper him. He didn’t blame the person who did this. He didn’t blame the situation. Yet, it set him even more into flames. He took his responsibility and the day after he went to school. As a strong superhero, he was insisting on making the exams, despite his painful burns. The pain was there, but he didn’t suffer. Parvati is still suffering every day.
Tapas stoke inner embers into flames, fanned by the breath of deep belief. Summoning tapas isn’t difficult if you’re in touch with myriad Hindu gods, but is a big challenge for some to befriend even one god. It’s extremely difficult if you don’t have a good example—i.e., when your parents keep on saying that school is a waste of time—or when you don’t have an example at all.
So at Deenabandhu School we’re building a bonfire together, attempting to ignite the smouldering sparks that live in each one of us, trying to create a big fireplace of role models, positive stimulation and most of all love, being the change we want to see in our own little world. It’s a change that so many parents in the rural villages don’t want to see at all, preventing the cultivation of awareness that is so needed in these parts of India. Strong beliefs are passed over and over again from generation to generation, leaving their children with a desert of infertile soil.
Even though the plant seems to be dead or not growing, there’s still a seed deep down within. Once located and activated, it can reach the sky, using its heavy roots as a coiled spring.