Yashodhara Lal is an Author, Coach, Marketer. Mom of Three, Fitness Instructor, Music Lover, Yoga Enthusiast and Transactional-Analysis-Psychotherapist-in-Training. Allsomeness is her venture dedicated to helping people connect with their passions, and to design and live their fullest lives.
So a couple of days ago it was my birthday. You'd think that if you were turning thirty seven, the excitement of the celebration would be more muted than previous years.
You'd be wrong.
First of all, clearly I have the best and most creative team at Genpact - the kids who work with me in CSR and Diversity. About a week prior to my birthday, or maybe more, they'd started planning a visit to an NGO opposite our office, the Desire Society in Suncity for HIV positive kids in Gurgaon. One by one, they started to sneak the plan to me, each one telling me not to tell the others, barely able to contain their excitement and stating they were just telling me to make sure I didn't make other plans. I assured them that I would act surprised, and that given that Vijay was out of town, we had no major plans for the evening.
So between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. we were to go and celebrate with the children. Despite having known about this visit for days, I hadn't got enough detail from any of my team members about the ages of the children - and it was only at about 2 p.m. that I started to enquire what the plan really was. It turned out that the team had contributed to collect several thousand rupees which was being used to sponsor the children's meal for the day, including the treat of non-vegetarian food. I thought that was fantastic and immediately wanted to contribute - except that I only had a couple of hours left to organise anything for them.
I turned to my go-to guy Prashant of Giftark in Nirvana Courtyard. Unlike many toy shop owners who are strangely grumpy, Prashant is a genuinely nice and friendly guy who always has the best idea about what kids will like. It was a busy day for him, but upon my persistent calling, he got on the phone with me and then we immediately started to exchange messages on whatsapp - he shared several options with me for gifts until I finally cried to him 'Prashant, you just pick what you think they will like!' I had told him the kids ages, but we basically settled on these crazy light-up mugs for the younger kids and another set for the older ones - pretty cool, with straws and lids and all. I sent my driver to go and pick up the gifts, telling Prashant not to bother with the wrapping. Being the guy he is, he also happily agreed to give me the stuff on credit, and in fact, threw in a discount, saying 'It's for a cause - I'll do my bit too.'
Safe with the gifts in the car, and only slightly late, I rushed home to pick up Pickle, Papad and Peanut, who also had been looking forward to this unusual celebration for about a week. We were all supposed to perform for the kids, and I took my guitar to accompany Peanut's singing, except that she developed cold feet and I was the one in our family who sang. But I wasn't alone - my team displayed their talents, especially Young Krishna who turned out to be an amazing musician, playing the Djembe and the flute for the kids, getting everyone to dance and sing along. Young Shrutunjaya, we already knew was a fabulous singer, trained in Carnatic music and he did his jugalbandi with Krishna's instrumental capability. The rest of my team clowned around and danced with the kids. But it was the kids and their own performances that really lit up the evening for us.
The two hours passed by in a flash, with cake cutting and stand up comedy and performances and general partying - and my own kids mingled with the others easily, with Pickle especially immediately making new friends. The youngest girl in the house, a little sweetheart of merely two years was feeling unwell and cranky - it was the older kids who carried her around and tried to cheer her up. Thankfully, when she got her hands on the glass handed out as a gift to her, she was delighted and went around showing it to everyone.
I find it hard to describe how I felt. We usually blow money on parties and gifts to celebrate and the pleasure is momentary; but it really lasts when you make a connection like this. I know for a fact I'm going back there to meet the kids - I was really struck by the sense of humour, the desire to express themselves, and the kind of caring and affection that they showed each other as a group - and I'd like to be able to do something for them on an ongoing basis.
My own journey with volunteering on weekends began at the Happy School a couple of years ago; and sadly it's been a while since I went back there. But the impact of that experience has been high - it's what gave me the clarity that I wanted to try my hand at a role where I could make a difference to society and lo and behold - after more than a decade as a marketing professional, here I am leading Corporate Social Responsibility and Gender Diversity globally at a large organization. But the fact is that it tends to get so busy that while there's plenty of interaction with NGO leaders in my job, and much by way of strategic planning and operations at a organizational level - the interaction with actual beneficiaries of these NGOS isn't as high as I'd like it to be, and that's something I'm hoping changes as this year progresses.
All in all - this was an amazing experience, and I actually think if more organizations, including our own, do more to encourage celebrations and team building activities of this nature, we'll start to see more volunteering, more awareness and more connections with the outside world - and that's definitely a good start.
And I know, for one, what it means to have a team that cares - and one that's created a memory that will last for a long, long time. One that deserves to be shared. And therefore, enjoy these few clips!
And hey look - I just discovered this cool Facebook plug-in - it contains the above two videos, and more ;)