Sadhana Devi and I shifted last month to Gurgaon from Pune after being away since 2008. In our absence, the Ananda center/ ashram went through significant changes, making our return like coming back to a different place. Even Delhi seems to have changed for the better but my guess is that these transformations are more an outward projection of what has happened within me. I’ve changed. Our time in Pune, living in our own apartment, finding our way in a strange new city, working in the village with all the attendant challenges and making a new set of friends gave both Sadhana Devi and me a broader understanding of India and, perhaps, of ourselves. For that, I’m grateful. I was a little sad to leave Pune but now that I’m in Gurgaon, I realize this is a better place for us to serve and I like it.
When the Westerners were here, we had at our disposal a large crew of volunteers willing to do whatever was necessary to plant seeds of Ananda’s work in India. On top of volunteering, they also paid for room and board, giving a tremendous boost to the ashram. Small businesses and outreach programs were started, a legal and financial structure put into place and we learned the ropes of living in a foreign land, but it was always with an intention of one day turning the work over to local devotees, replacing foreigners with locals. Little by little, this has happened much in the same way as it did in Italy.
The same is true for our group in Noida on the other side of Delhi, led by Mr. Gupta and his family. Since we left, they’ve grown into a strong Ananda Center with their own space in the basement of a residence in a quiet neighborhood, more central to where their members live than before. There, a solid core of devotees participates regularly with only occasional teaching help from those of us in Gurgaon. Most of the programs are presented by local teachers who have graduated from our Teacher Training Course. In central Delhi, Daya and Keshava lead weekly satsangs and classes in rented classroom space.
1. It was imperative to trim costs, scrutinize all items and eliminate waste. The most significant decision was to give up Shanti House, our guest facility. This was painful and much debated but it was draining us.
2. The Center increased its monthly income through raised rents, businesses paying for space and services previously provided free, and by the staff offering many more classes at higher rates. None of these were painless.
4. Finally and most importantly, a new, energetic program of “Supporting Membership” was initiated to attract local devotees willing to support the Center. From a base of zero in early 2010, we now have over 30 Gurgaon Supporters who make significant monthly donations to keep the Center functioning. An important element of this campaign was greater personal contact with members and the establishment of a sense that the Ananda Center is now theirs.
Ananda's work in the NCR still has a long way to go and we recognize our ability to reach people beyond the NCR has declined. We simply don’t have the teachers, time or funds to travel and host programs beyond our local area. The disciples in Pune do a good job in their city and travel to Mumbai and Bangalore, but there is much, much more we could do had we the necessary resources. For the moment, our focus in the NCR is to stablize our foundation by building a larger core of Supporting Members. In time, this should allow us to hire one or two local staff to free up
As I mentioned, the possibility of Swamiji selling Guru Kripa is in the air. He is scheduled to return to India after the monsoon and I expect he'll make a final decision then. It’s a very nice house and has the blessings of Swamiji’s years there, so some would like to see it preserved in the Ananda work. On the other hand, it represents a considerable asset that might be put to better use elsewhere. The house serves the Gurgaon group as an extra classroom, a meeting venue and as a place for guests. Of course, it also is where Swamiji, his staff and Nayaswamis Dharmadas and Nirmala stay when they are here. If it is sold, we'll be sad but at the same time, it may open the door for us to relocate to a building of our own rather than continuing to rent the present ashram house. With Guru Kripa in our possession, it’s difficult to consider moving but once those ties are broken, we might be able to do something “more and better” if we can rally our local support to help us. When one door closes, another opens.