The no-frills invitation arrived via e-mail: Nipun Mehta invites you to India to participate in the Gandhi 3.0 retreat. About 50 “love warriors,” so the idea went, would meet on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday in his ashram in Ahmedabad. “This is not a networking retreat for managers and leaders; the idea is not to further empower the already empowered. On the contrary, we hope to unite people in the goal to leave old structures behind, and to shape a new collective force together.” In other words, visionary business leaders, grassroots organizers and change-makers were invited to join forces on a spiritual plain, with the aim to conceive radical and innovative solutions for the problems of our time—through inner transformation.
Arrival in Ahmedabad. While clearly off the beaten tourist tracks, India’s fifth-largest city boasts a fascinating history: After returning from South Africa in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi settled here and founded Harijan Ashram on the shore of the Sabarmati River. It was in Ahmedabad that he started the peaceful salt march against the British colonial power. A century later, so the organizers hoped, the city would be the starting point of a new collective movement to sweep the world in a wave of slow but steady change.
Welcome Home. We are picked up at the airport by Rahoul, one of the many volunteers participating in the Gandhi 3.0 event. “Welcome home!” he greets us, and it is not long before we know and feel what he meant. The ashram is located on the fringes of the sprawling city, which, while home to millions, has an almost rural feel to it. Cows are a ubiquitous presence, and the roads are bumpy and often unpaved. We pass through a large gate and enter the ashram premises, a beautiful facility comprising several houses amidst a tropical garden. We have arrived.
A Strange and yet Familiar World. In the early afternoon, we gather for the first welcome round. Despite the fact that most of us are strangers to each other, there is a palpable sense of familiarity. Some of us lounge comfortably on big pillows on the floor, while others sit on cozy chairs. Chants and recitals of inter-religious prayers from all over the world set the tone, and after a few minutes of the ensuing silence that follows, Nipun addresses the group. In his opening words, he acknowledges the diversity of this round, in which some participants have arrived on private jets, while others do not even have bank accounts to their names. The goal is eye-level conversation among all. Then, he asks the first question: Can you recall an unusual situation that changed the course of your life? In the case of Gandhi himself, one such igniting moment would have been the incident when he was thrown out of a train in South Africa. Gandhi refused to accept such discrimination, and went on to fight for civil rights for the rest of his life. A journey through many such stories begins, touching, sober, emotional and often contemplative. Everything is possible, every story is given space, every voice is heard. If asked, most participants would answer: “I don’t exactly know why I’m here.” And neither do we. The group is made up of people from a wide range of backgrounds, including a Silicon Valley billionaire, a CIA agent and a Mexican shaman. Representatives of various faiths are present, as are atheists and agnostics. “Can you recall an unusual situation that changed the course of your life?” It seems that everyone in this diverse group can, and the question is answered with several personal stories, all of which illustrate how significant a mark unforeseeable coincidences can leave on individual biographies. Every single story is given its space.