Finding Gandhi
By Kelsey Timmerman

A search for the Good Person Equation leads to Gandhi's apartment in Mumbai.

Gandhi Shrine

Nothing in the neighborhood was of note. The buildings were faded white and uniform. It wasn't leafy. It wasn't grand. It wasn't gated. There wasn't a sign with an arrow that read: "Guru this way!"

"Oh, I see it. I'm here," I said into my phone. I had arrived but hadn't realized it.

"Ask at the shop and they'll tell you where my apartment is." I hung up.

"I'm looking for Gandhi."

A guy from the store walked me to a staircase outside the building.

Bombay Social ClubI was sweaty. The ride in one of India's classic black and yellow taxis from my room at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, where a grown man in a child's sailor suit saluted me when I left, took 90 minutes. Gandhi, seen as the father of the nation, led India to independence from the British in 1947. Yet in 1958 the Yacht Club still did not welcome Indian members. The irony of my accommodation and destination were not lost on me.

At the top of the steps there was a wooden "Gandhi" sign. The door was open and the room was crowded.

"Kelsey!" Tushar Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi's great-grandson, stood and shook my hand. Picture Gandhi and now picture the opposite. That is Tushar. He's a big guy. His hand made mine feel small. He introduced me to his audience, members of the Free Tibet movement.

Two men sitting on a couch adjacent to Tushar's chair stood and gave me their seat. They stood next to a chocolate cake that sat on a stool at the edge of the circle of people. There was one piece left.

With my arrival, the meeting came to an end and the conversation focused on the cake.

"Please take the cake," Tushar said. "I'm not supposed to eat it. If it stays here I will be in trouble." I assumed he'd be in trouble with his wife.

Tushar motioned to the youngest of the group, a woman, maybe 19. He talked about how it was important to enjoy such luxuries while you are young and healthy. He said that he used to enjoy and everyone said he shouldn't. And then he got diabetes and couldn't.

The guru's message: Eat all the sweets before you get diabetes.

Or perhaps: Different times in your life produce different opportunities; take advantage of them while you can.

That's the thing about gurus. If you are seeking wisdom, you'll find it even when it's just a man wishing he could still eat cake. If we sought wisdom in the words of everyone we met, I wonder how differently we'd interact with the world. Maybe we'd go mad.

They packed up the cake and still there was more talking about the cake: How to box it up, why it needs to go. Like a full 90 seconds more of cake talk.

Before they left, the young woman who Gandhi really wanted to eat the cake stood before him awkwardly. I wasn't sure what was about to happen.

"No," Gandhi said. "Please you don't have to."

She was going to ignore him.

"Please there is no need," he pleaded. "Don't kiss my feet."

She really had to fight the urge.

She must really love cake, I thought.

They left and it was just me and Gandhi.

Searching for Wisdom in India

Mahatma GandhiThere was a Gandhi shrine in the corner of the room consisting of multiple busts and statues of the famous figure all necklaced with woven cotton thread. This was one of those times I was a little uncomfortable and wished I would've at least prepared some questions. I was really not sure how to talk about the journey I was on research my third book, Where Am I Giving? A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference.

I'm exploring giving and generosity and how to be good. Seems a little Pollyannaish and intangible.

"I've been to the slums of Cambodia and Kenya, where it is hell on earth with burning trash," I said. "I've met a slave in West Africa. I feel like this stuff drives me to want to make a difference, but I'm not always sure how. I feel desperate to make an impact. I'm open to suggestions or wisdoms."

"I'm not much of a wise person," Tushar said. "But the basic ideology of making a difference . . . I may be of some help."

"Do you feel any of that angst to try to give?" I asked.

"I do experience that, not in myself because I'm fortunate to be associated with a lot of good work . . . We should give until it hurts."

"Give until it hurts." It's a quote from Mother Teresa in her address to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. February 3rd 1994:

I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.

But even Mother Teresa, a saint and Nobel Prize winner, wasn't inoculated from criticism of how she gave. Some accused her of not giving enough painkillers or medical treatment to the poor, sick, and dying in her more than 500 missions around the world, so their hurt was greater than if they had received proper care.

"Philanthropy is not only about giving money,"Tushar said. "It's about giving ability, giving time. Not all of us can give money. But if we give our ability, our talent and our time, even that is as important."

I dumped on him about motivation, my desperation to make a difference, and trying to figure out what I need to do to do enough. I told him about my fear of contentment. I started to treat him like a guru.

Mumbai taxis

The Minimum Viable Giving Equation

"I'm 38 now," I said, stumbling for the words. "I have a career. I've got two kids. Our life is fairly busy. We live where we always wanted to live and there is a part of me that wants to become complacent, but then to have the experiences I've had that complacency scares me. I feel like I . . . like people want to know, 'Here's how much you should give, plus here's how much you should volunteer, equals you are a good person.' You know some kind of good person equation?"

Tushar was concerned about a sort of Good Person Equation in India, a law that required corporations to give. In 2013 India became the first country in the world with such a law. Companies with net profits of $830,000 or more over the previous three years had to give 2% of their net profits to causes promoting education, health, sustainability, gender equality, and poverty reduction. Tushar said it makes companies complacent, as if their level of giving is enough. They are doing only what's required.

"So that the ideology of giving until it hurts," Tushar said, "has been completely killed by this sense of giving as much as is required, even when you have the ability to do more. This has actually harmed the cause of benevolence."

Continue to Page 2

Read this article online at: Finding Gandhi

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2019. All rights reserved.

Also in this issue:

Books from the Author:

Buy Where Am I Giving: A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon UK

Buy Where Am I Eating?: An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy with Discussion Questions and a Guide to Going "Glocal" at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon UK

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