Manthan Camp on Self-awareness

I drove down to Manthan with two of my batchmates. We were the early ones to arrive on by six in the evening on Friday 22 October 2010. Manthan is located off the Airport road. It is a four acre of greenery so near the city. People started trickling in and by six thirty almost the entire contingent of 28 people were present. A refreshing cup of tea was the beginning of wonderful catering service by Sudha (ex-DCS) and her family that was to last the next 48 hours. From Banjara faculty we had Ali, Raja, Nalini, Asha and Sapna to keep us company.

Ali began with an introductory talk in the canteen (true to Banjara spirit the class can be held anywhere), with a round of introductions by all present, the accommodations were alloted and we were asked to assemble in the class room at seven.

There are dormitory style accommodations in Manthan with six beds in each room. The accommodation are neat and simple. It is the first time that I was seeing fixed beds, in the sense of a stone platform on concrete. Soft cozy beds on the stone cots were wonderful and inviting but I guess very few people slept in the next 48 hours! Boys and girls had different rooms. The common bathrooms and toilets were clean.

Since this is a campus, the class room was a two minute walk from the dormitory. The first class assembled at seven and Ali gave the history of Manthan and an outline of what was to happen over the next two days. The kitchen timings were outlined (Coffee/Tea at seven in the morning followed by breakfast at 8. tea break at 1130 followed by lunch at 1pm. Evening tea again followed by dinner at eight). After dinner classes again at nine till ten thirty eleven!! Unconventional places for classes and more unconventional time for it!

We broke for dinner at eight. Dinner was Chapathi, Aloo kurma, white rice rasam papad curds pickles, Kheer and rounded with Banana. Tasty stuff more importantly served with lots of love and affection.

Class again at nine. Ali introduced the topic of self-awareness. In the beginning we all had given Raja a write up to four questions. They were:

1.Relate to one achievement of your that you cherish most, how did you take it and how did people who are important to you take it?
2.One aspect of your life that was most disturbing. What was the implications of that on your relationship(s) and how did you manage and what do you feel about it now?
3.An angry moment in your life, what was its impact on the other person and you or how did you handle it
4.Introspect an identify a deep fear in you at this stage of life, are you aware of how it originated an how have you thought of handling it?

During the two days each of us were to have a one to one with Raja under the shade of a tree on the four questions while Raja sipped endless cups of coffee. Infact he gave up cups and sipped directly from the flask!

Since 29 of us were there (Mangala was to join us on Saturday morning) we were divided into five groups of six each. Nalini was assigned to one group to make it even. Group leaders were selected but not assigned any task. A bonfire was in the offing for Saturday night with talent show from the students. Shashi volunteered to be the campfire jockey. A live wire of a girl who would end up doing a great job in the time alloted. Purnima offered to be her assistant. The overnight assignment was to give ourselves a nickname/petname. The session ended at eleven in the night.

The class broke up into small groups and people got a chance to know students from other batches. Just chatting, joking and bonding went on past midnight for most students. We hit the bed at around two/three in the morning. Almost everyone was up by six/seven in the morning.

Raja was ready under the tree at seven thirty in the morning! Seema was his first candidate. The breakfast for the day was Rava idly and vada. Bread with butter and jam was also available. The first class was at nine in the open auditorium. The first half hour was a meditation exercise which I missed as I went to have my session with Raja. This would be the norm for everyone. Raja was calling students in the order in which they had submitted their assignment. They would miss the half hour of the class. Next we moved indoors to continue the class room session.

It is always difficult to convey in words the atmosphere, the learning, the sharing, the endless humor and banter that goes in the class on a topic like self awareness. I will just list out the kind of topics that were covered in the two days. Examine your self, The real Power, You, Who are you when on one else is around?Balanced life, De-stressing activities, Change yourself and personal happiness were some of the topics covered. Many questionnaires, much sharing on topics, for instance most important possession, best gifts to oneself, cherished dream etc were something each of us had to share with in the class. Ali took a major portion of the class. Asha and Sapna conducted activities, meditation when Ali took his breaks.

The sub groups that had been formed (six members each) had to come up with a presentation on Self Awareness and present it in the class by three in the afternoon of Sunday. A good portion of the lunch, snack breaks were used by each group for coming up with ideas. Almost everyone felt the time was too short and they would make a mess of it. Shashi in the meanwhile was going around tapping for talent for the campfire in the night.

We had a longish lunch break of two hours to help students catch up with some sleep. Very few slept and by evening most of them had figured out some semblance for their presentation. The evening class for the day concluded at nine thirty and Mahdevappa the son of Kadirappa the care taker of Manthan for the past twenty years lit up a wonderful bonfire. Music was with the help of Ipods, cell phones connected to the portable speaker that Sapna had brought with her. Wonderful atmosphere prevailed around the bonfire for the next three-four hours (You lose the sense of time and place in Manthan). Girls and boys danced with gay abandon. (Nagara from Jab we Met, Kajara re, Bidi Jalai Le were some of the highlights). Lots of leg pulling, Antakshari, Jokes, Games were mixed up in a wonderful medley. Bharath and Farooq from the earlier DCS batch too had joined in for some games from their repertoire. They had earlier spent an hour in the class with us with their sessions of entertaining games. Part of the bonfire party split up at twelve and the rest continued. Sleep again was only for a couple of hours.

Sunday was here. Raja had finished only with 60% of the students by Lunch time. Asha taught the class Willow Tree meditation or Swing meditation to lovely music. Here everyone closes their eyes and swings like a willow in the wind to gentle soothing music. The students loved it so much that she readily consented to an encore in the afternoon. By afternoon everyone had butterflies in the stomach as the presentation was coming up at three. Families who had to come and pick up students were allowed to come by three to watch the presentation. That increased the nervousness for some.
Raja was the judge at the presentation. Each group was called at random and they did an excellent job of presentation of the skits. It was a memorable experience for all and each of the skits were applauded cheerfully. Since Banjara does not believe in ranking all the group leaders were presented with a gift of chocolates. Certificates were distributed to all students by Raja while the family members of some of the students were present and introduced to the class. Manthan ended with a last tea session.

Ended? I don't really know. The lessons, the confessions, the jokes in the class, the spirited joy at the campfire, the tension and fun of the presentations, the cheer and warmth of the faculty as well as the others present on the campus would remain in our mind and hearts for a long time to come. Many would be eagerly looking forward to the next Manthan camp and would have lots of friends when they have to sit with another batch in the DCS classroom.

-- Sreedhar

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