I didn’t expect to cry when I was leaving Pune after only two days, but I couldn’t help myself. I was so sad to leave because I was so happy to be there. It was one of those experiences I know I’ll never forget.
I went to Pune with a friend of mine who was connected with an organization called Maher, which cares for people who have nowhere else to go. They provide schooling for children, shelter for abused women, job training, health care, food, support groups, and take care of all of their basic needs. But even more than that, Maher provides community and support for everyone who enters, including volunteers and visitors. I was not there nearly long enough, and I wish I could have stayed a lot longer, but even in the short time I was there I was overwhelmed with the joy of Maher. Everywhere we visited they sang their famous welcome song, gave us flowers, and always called us “friends.” I am in awe of the amazing work that the staff and volunteers are doing, and the incredibly joyful spirit of the community. And nowhere was this better shown than in Mr. Gaus.
Gaus, who met the friend I traveled with while he was in the US, seemed to be the living embodiment of the joy of Maher. Everywhere we went he was taking pictures, making people laugh, making fun of how much I said “though,” and singing jingle bells at the top of his lungs. He was one of the happiest people I have ever met and an absolute joy to be around. He was so careful to make sure everyone felt loved and included, and he was happiest when he was making other people laugh. When we were leaving Pune, he bought tickets at the train station and I asked him why. He said he needed a ticket to get onto the platform. I said, “you’re coming with us to the platform?” and in the sweetest most matter-of-fact tone he said “yes of course!” At which point I began to tear up. He was so genuine and kind, and it never occurred to him not to be with us until the last possible moment he could. In fact he actually got on our train before it left and pretended he was coming with us. As I’m sitting here on the train typing up this post, I really wish he had. It’s impossible to be sad around Mr. Gaus, or as he likes to say “for every problem there is only one solution: Mr. Gaus.”
While Gaus may have taken Maher hospitality to the next level, I felt the same love from everyone there. The children were raised by the entire community, and grew up surrounded by so many people who love them. Everyone treated one another with kindness and respect, and the whole atmosphere of the community was so peaceful. Whenever I was introduced to someone at the house, their name was followed by a compliment of something they were very good at and proud of. You could tell how highly everyone valued each person there, and they made sure everyone knew that they were valuable. And everywhere I saw signs saying “love is our religion,” and posters with all of the symbols of the major religions (plus a question mark for any others that may exist) above the inscription “is God so small to be contained by one religion.” Everyone is welcome at Maher, and they give a welcome like nowhere else. As I was leaving, one of the long-term volunteers told me I’d be back. She said “Maher has a way of doing that to people.”
So as I’m on my way back to Hyderabad, I just keep repeating the saying “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” and remembering everything that happened on this wonderful, wild weekend. And in the back of my mind I keep wondering if it is over, as my new friend’s parting words ring in my ears, and the pictures of everyone I met this weekend remind me of all the reasons I have to come back to Maher and to come back to India.