Zohreh Sadeghi India and Beyond

Aum Pranava Ashram

After almost a week in Bangalore, I finally recovered from my awful Ashram experience. I knew I wanted to try another Ashram but I didn’t know if I was ready yet. I started researching all the Ashrams throughout India but mainly in the south since I was already in the south and a train to the north meant at least 48 hours on the road. I came across Aum Pranava Ashram in Tamil Nadu. It immediately caught my attention since it wasn’t a typical Ashram; it was an orphanage and an old-age home. After looking through their site and reading about them I became interested in volunteering there. I got in touch with the founders and they showed interest in me visiting their Ashram and teaching Yoga and art to the kids.

I took a 10-hour bus from Bangalore to Mangalore and spent couple of days there. I wanted to see one of the universities I had applied for which was only a 2 hour bus ride from Mangalore. There were no hotels anywhere closer than Mangalore so I had no choice but to stay in Mangalore. After I was done in Mangalore I took the train from Mangalore to Trivandrum and then a taxi to go to Ilanji where the Ashram was located. The train ride was an exhausting 12-hour journey, I got to Trivandrum early morning and decided to have breakfast and rest for an hour before getting back on the road. I didn’t have the strength to take the bus to Ilanji, it would take nearly 3 hours on a crowded and extremely hot bus so I decided to pay more money and get a taxi. I arrived at the Ashram around noon. Ilanji is a small city (or village really) located in south of Tamil Nadu right where Kerala and Tamil Nadu meet. I think the altitude is higher than sea level in Ilanji because the climate was extremely nice, it wasn’t too hot and there was a nice cool breeze throughout the day. You could see mountains surrounding the city with many waterfalls that were so close by you could actually see them running down the mountains.

“What an amazing place this is, so simple and so sweet” was my first impression of the Ashram. I was greeted with smiley faces and a cup of Indian tea. Traude who is one of the founders of the Ashram came to greet me. I fell in love with her after speaking with her for a few minutes, anybody would. She’s one of the loveliest human beings I have ever met in my life. She’s a beautiful and tall Austrian woman who has an amazingly calm voice, I love listening to her recite the prayers and tell wonderful stories about her dogs and the children of the Ashram.

I was showed to my room, a small space with a bathroom attached but very clean, dust and dirt free. I quickly memorized the schedule of the Ashram. I arrived around noon and found out lunch was at 1:30. Older children who go to high school get up earlier in the morning at 5 AM, they have Yoga from 5 to 6. Younger kids wake up at 6 and have their Yoga from 6 to 7. Then from 7:30 to 8:30 is prayer time for everyone, 8:30 is breakfast time. After breakfast kids go off to school, each group of kids are registered at different schools, I learned there are about 3 (or maybe 4) different schools kids go to based on their age and their level. Young kids come back to the Ashram at 3 while older kids come back at 4. For older people who are staying at the Ashram, there’s a tea break at 10:30 AM and lunch is served at 1:30 PM. Another tea break for the elderly is at 4:30 which is also snack time for the kids. 6:30 to 7:30 is prayer time and dinner is served at 8:30. Whatever extra time there’s left in the day is dedicated to study and play.

I got to meet all the kids on the first day after they came back from school. They were so excited to see a new face. There were already a few volunteers there when I arrived, Santana from Miami, Thalia from Austria, Mike and his adorable 4-year-old daughter Emily from Missouri. They spent their days with the kids teaching them English, helping them with their homework and playing with them.

I dedicated the 2 weeks I was at the Ashram purely to the children. There were about 62 children at the Ashram. They vary in age from 7 to 16 so some go to Primary school, some Secondary school and some high school. I drove in the school bus with the young children everyday and went to their school. This school was also mainly for the poor kids, for the ones whose parents couldn’t afford to enroll them in an English-medium school (That means a school that teaches mainly in English). I spent my days teaching Yoga and art to the students at school. Dealing with 4th and 5th graders wasn’t as tough as the younger kids but the young kids especially the ones in 1st grade were so adorable. I of course had trouble communicating since none of the kids spoke any English. Couple of the teachers knew some English but still not enough for me to easily communicate with them. It was difficult but I became an expert in sign language and somehow found a way to communicate with the kids, they understood me perfectly and I understood them. To be honest before this experience I was always afraid of kids cause I simply didn’t know how to deal with them but after staying at the Ashram I started appreciating their innocence and simplicity. The only thing these kids wanted from me was love and attention.

All the kids at school became a huge fan of me and actually looked forward to their Yoga and art classes. Well they probably were a huge fan of the idea of me, a foreigner, someone who looked strange and was from another land speaking a strange language who paid so much attention to them. And it did help that I had purchased sheets and sheets of little star stickers to give them if their drawing was nice enough to deserve a star. It didn’t matter how they did cause at the end everybody got a star. They looked forward to receiving their star as if it was the most important thing in their little precious lives. The minute I’d enter the classroom they would yell “Zora Zora star star”.

I tried to fill my time with other activities when I wasn’t with the kids so I visited the towns around the area, went to an awesome waterfall only 5 km from the Ashram and took one of the bicycles at the Ashram one day and explored the neighborhood. But to be honest I was so exhausted at the end of the day that I’d just go to my room and crash. I didn’t even have time to read or check emails while I was at the Ashram. Who knew dealing with children could be so exhausting?

I also became friends with the elderly at the Ashram. I held a Yoga class for them every evening which they enjoyed so much. They laughed and had fun throughout the class and at the end of the class I let them rest in Savasana for 15 minutes, they would really fall asleep and some would start snoring, it was awesome. I also helped the ladies clean herbs and vegetables for cooking. I’d sit there with them on the floor cleaning vegetables and we would have a great conversation, they spoke in Tamil and I nodded and replied in English, the result was always all of us laughing together. It was beautiful, it was amazing how perfectly I understood what they were saying and they understood me. A few of them had knee pain so I massaged their knees with the Ayurvedic oils I had with me. They were so grateful and would offer me their blessings after each treatment.

Once the day arrived for me to leave I was very sad. I felt so heavy and depressed all day. I went around the Ashram taking pictures of everyone that I knew I was going to miss. I got used to the Ashram life, to eating food with the kids after listening to them recite the prayer, to teaching them Yoga, playing with them, laughing with them, letting the girls braid my hair, to spending time with the elderly, to talking with Traude and Vishud (Traude’s husband) during meal time and to the warmth and love I felt all around the Ashram. I know I’ll go back there soon; I want to see those kids all grown up. I don’t remember many of their names, but I’ll never forget their faces and the way they made me feel, warm and fuzzy inside.

(I’ll post pictures soon)


1 Comment

The juxtaposition between this post and the previous one is vast. Clearly, you are in tuned with your intuition on this one. Keep trusting your heart.

Posted by Chad on 9 July 2011 @ 4am

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