Project Happiness Introduction

The students have been working extremely hard to prepare for this trip while in the classroom at Mount Madonna School in California. They have beendeveloping ideas for the curriculum on Ethics for the New Millennium since September, emailing theircounterparts at the Tibetan Children’s Village at Dharamsala, working on questions for interviews, and no doubt dreaming about what it will be like to be in India in a culture many times older than ours. What they have not seen are the preparations on this side of the world where my wife Kranti and I have been doing our annual stint at Sri Ram Ashram (home for previously orphaned children and school for the village children of the area) for the past two months. .

From this side with so much help from our friends we have been working on visas for the Nigerians, permits for our film crew, and additional interviews with some of India’s leading figures such at the noted Gandhian and member of the upper house of Parliament, Nirmala Deshpande, and thanks to her an interview with His Excellency the President of India, Abdul Kalam and the top American in India Ambassador David Mulford.

One of the great lessons of The Dalai Lama’s book, Ethics for the New Millennium that is at the core of this project, is that we live in an interconnected world where nothing arises independently. This is exactly the case here. So many friends here have been helping us prepare this experience for the Mount Madonna Students: people like Raman Bhatia, networking to find us help when our friends from Nigeria were having difficulty getting their visas, Vivek Sharma my colleague on the Gandhi Ashram Trust, skillfully following up with the President’s office to secure the interview that Nirmala Deshpande requested from her friend President Abdul Kalam. Every person we asked for support in some way or another has added to the potential of the adventure that our students are about to experience.

After a brief orientation the students have all gone to bed. Tomorrow we will breakfast here at the YWCA in central Delhi, and prepare for our Nirmala Deshpande interview. This tiny woman now in her 70’s was part of one of the most extraordinary projects in Indian history. The chief disciple of Vinoba Bhave who was known as Gandhi’s spiritual heir, Nirmalaji as a young girl joined the Boodhan movement where, after independence Vinoba and his disciples spent 13 years walking through the Indian countryside collecting land and distributing it amongst the landless. Now a member of the Rajya Sabha, Nirmalaji, or Didi, as she is known to her admirers, is a leading proponent of peace between India and Pakistan. We will meet her at the historic Kingsway Camp where Gandhi stayed in the early days of the freedom movement. This beautiful old campus is still home to a small school for the Harijan children who come from the lowest of the casts and who were particularly dear to Mahatma Gandhi. It is Nirmalji’s fond hope to fully restore this national treasure and create an international center dedicated to the Gandhian values and the uplift of all human kind. It is a fitting place to begin our story at this is where the modern nation of India began.

-Ward Mailliard