A chill had set on the barren Indian landscape bringing relief from the scorching Autumn sun. There were muffled sounds of children being huddled indoors and the occasional lowing of cattle as they settled for the night. All was calm on the dusty, rural road. It was at odds with the mood of my fellow pilgrims. Our coach had broken down and the village elders informed us that the closest garage, restaurants and shops were miles away. We were hungry, fractious, and gave way to rising panic. What were we going to eat?
I dozed off and was woken by my mum who brought me a small plate, piled with steaming, fragrant aubergine, potatoes and tomatoes, that had been cooked over an open fire. It was the most delicious meal I had ever eaten and left me feeling as if I had polished off a three-course meal.
When they heard of our predicament, every household in the village had given a vegetable so that mum and some of the village women could cook a meal. For some families, that had been their intended dinner. They went to bed hungry that night because there was a group of western tourists – one of whom was a pregnant woman – that was hungry and exhausted.
That experience 21 years ago made me realise a few things about community:
- Community transcends geography and blood ties. Your tribe, people, kale – whatever you term them – will always be the people who lift you, feed you (literally and figuratively), and show kindness when you most need it.
- A sense of community is often a way of life. In India, the Sanskrit term Seva, meaning ‘selfless service’ is used. In Africa, it is called Ubuntu. No matter your culture or set of beliefs, the kindness and support rendered is sometimes the bridge between survival or death for the recipient.
- Our sense of belonging is not dependent on symbols – a badge, labels, a distinguished meeting place. If we are trying desperately to be part of a group, we need to ask ourselves what is it that we are really seeking.
- Seva and Ubuntu are not limited to the personal but extend to business too. When I was starting out as an executive coach, I reached out to my more experienced colleagues who gave me invaluable tips on my coaching startup and introduced me to networks and role models that had helped them. Whenever I asked how I could pay them back, I was told to pay it forward. Today, many of those coaches are my coterie.
- The digital age has crossed boundaries, shrunk the planet and made the world a global village. On the occasional morning that I wake up with that phantom ailment called writer’s block, I reach out to my Instagram writing community. When I achieve something small, I shout it out to my Facebook followers because I know my community were with me during my struggle and are rooting for me.
You know who your community is when they have your back irrespective of how much money you earn, where you’re from and who you hang out with. I’m the great grand-daughter of slaves. My ancestors left India about 150 years ago to work in the South African sugar cane plantations.
It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. In my case, I was fortunate to be fed the kindness of three continents.
I hope to instil community spirit and Seva in my British-born daughters. My eldest had a head start as she was fed her first lesson while still in the womb. A community of poverty-stricken villagers in rural India gave up their dinner one evening to feed a pregnant stranger and her coach companions.