On Friday we went up to school early to speak to some of the kids at Sri Ram Ashram. The kids were in groups of about 2-3, while we were all on our own devices. After getting settled, we split up into breakout rooms to have some discussions with the kids. The group I was in spent a lot of time focusing on what we do everyday, and after all the kids in my group spoke, it became clear just how much work they have. They spend most of their time each week working and studying, and they get almost no free time, even on the weekends. That’s something we take for granted here. I was super impressed with the stuff they do. They were also very curious about our lives and some of the activities we do, and they also quizzed us on our memory of their names. This was something we struggled with, but it definitely made us bond with them and now I will not forget their names at all. To Neha, Madhu, Parama, and Kiran: I hope you guys are staying healthy and safe, and I hope to meet you in person one day.
You grow up hearing about the transcendent experience everyone has after seeing Sri Ram Ashram. It’s this wonderful place connected to Mount Madonna’s history; it’s shrouded in mystery and excitement. I’m here to say that it’s every bit as magical as everyone says, and the people are just as powerful.
I have to admit, I was a little unsure about how the process would go. Interviewing via Zoom is one thing, but socializing and forming connections was another thing entirely. I know for a lot of kids, “breakout rooms” is a terrifying phrase that brings about long, awkward silences and scratchy audio due to Wi-Fi issues, but I was excited for the opportunity to chat one on one. While I will confess that my experience may not have been void of Zoom lags and delays, I can say confidently that there was no silence in sight.
Paired along with Corey, we joined 5 bright young ladies for an exciting conversation that ranged anywhere from the subjects we were taking, to the parties we attended, to the places we wanted to travel—tours of Santa Cruz were promised to all the girls! I couldn’t help but be totally infatuated with their bright energy and bubbling curiosity. They were kind, and sweet, and happy, and beautiful! They were people who, despite the limited interaction we had together, seemed like close friends.
Our time together went by too fast, and in all honesty I could’ve stayed and talked with them all day about anything and everything. While my experience of the Sri Ram Ashram was different in almost every way from the stories I grew up hearing, the interactions stayed true, filled with wonderful people from a wonderful place.
Over the years growing up at Mount Madonna School, I have heard so much about Sri Ram Ashram. Even though I have never been there myself, I have grown up hearing stories of the ashram. It is like the children at the ashram are siblings as we both share a founding father, Babaji. I have sat through many assemblies listening to high school seniors share their adventures at the ashram and how that experience made them think about life differently. Knowing that I would have the opportunity to visit it as part of my senior high school year was one that I looked forward to and couldn’t wait until that day came. However, COVID decided to interfere with plans for a trip to India, and my long-held dream to visit the ashram and meet the children there was swept away. But, as with any negative twist in life, it is what you make out of it, and our school stepped up to this challenge and found a way for us to still connect with our distant siblings at the ashram, without leaving our campus.
Early Friday morning, we had the incredible opportunity to meet and speak with some of the kids from the Sri Ram Ashram. Each senior went in pairs to an assigned breakout room with some of the children from the Ashram. I was paired with my fellow senior Sarah Vince and a group of beautiful girls from the ashram. Most of these girls were the same age as Sarah and me, so it was easy to relate to them and find things to talk about.
We jumped right in and started asking and talking away. Within minutes, it felt like we had known each other for years and this was just another catch-up session. It was so easy and comfortable to talk to these young women. Not only were they well-spoken, but their energy radiated through the computer and I felt like I could talk for hours.
One particular moment that really touched me was when we started talking about favorite artists/songs and their faces lit up. They knew all of the same songs that I love to sing along with and we started talking about our favorites. The next thing I knew, the girls started singing their favorite songs, and then all of us were singing on zoom. Keep in mind, I have never liked singing much but because of their joy and the fact that every time I would sing they would cheer me on, I just kept singing and loved every minute of it. The girls had beautiful singing voices and were not afraid to sing loud and shine. They also started singing in Hindi and shared the songs they sing at the ashram. It was like I was experiencing the ashram and their culture at that very moment.
Singing then turned to dance as they started showing us new dances they learned at school or dances from music videos that they taught themself. They insisted on teaching Sarah and me their dances. For the rest of the breakout room, we were up out of our seats and being instructed on our dance moves. I was not expecting this zoom call to literally transport me into their culture. Seeing them dance and hearing them sing brought so much joy and love to my heart. It was the best morning I have experienced in a long, long time. It was the perfect way to end our virtual India journey. It wasn’t the trip to the ashram I had dreamed about for years, but it was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. In the end, meeting these kids and talking to everyone we interviewed over the course of the week made me realize just how much I do want to travel to India one day, and will.