Learning to SMILE: Entering The Bubble Called The “5th Space”

Posted on February 28, 2013 in Specials

By Pooja Malhotra:

As Osho says, “The whole process of society is a kind of hypnosis; it conditions you to be this or that.”

Traditionally young people’s lives revolve around family, friends, career and leisure — the four spaces that make up their universe. They exist in their little cocoons and are distraught to find themselves; struggling to find answers to questions like ‘Who am I’, “What is the purpose of my life’….

Ayesha's In-Turn-Ship Journey

On the same note, Ayesha Adalakha, a student of Philosophy Honors, St. Stephens College, Delhi University says, “Till early December, 2012, I was in utter confusion. I felt completely lost in terms of what I was doing, what I wanted to do, who I used to be, who I had become and who I wanted to be. I had been told multiple times that I won’t find absolute answers anywhere. Studying philosophy in college had only strengthened my belief that nobody really knew what our purpose here was. This broke my spirit to such an extent that I didn’t find meaning or joy in anything I did. I didn’t feel engaged with my work, with my friends, not even with myself. This distance, though comforting, was pushing me into a passive state. But the energy, passion and drive I was accustomed to before this wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what. This discord hampered my decision making ability. Everything was slipping out of my hands. I was tolerating things I wouldn’t earlier, I was behaving like a character from someone else’s book, I wasn’t making any efforts to prioritize my needs, I was losing my temper all the time which made me melancholic, I was letting insignificant things become huge problems, I wasn’t thinking or feeling and was turning into exactly what I hated. I needed to stop. I needed a pause. I needed to smile!”

Is it possible for young people to expand their horizon and come out of their little cocoons and see the world from a broader perspective? Can young people develop a psycho social world view, which not only facilitates their self exploration but also enriches their relationships in the other four spaces?
The answer lies in creating a 5th Space — a space which augments their world view beyond the typical four space, beyond the received wisdom…beyond the ‘hypnosis’…

Ayesha found her answers in SMILE (Students Mobilization Initiative for Learning through Exposure), a national program which was started by the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGCSS) and supported by Misereor. The Delhi Chapter of SMILE is being successfully conducted by Pravah, as a part of its initiatives to create and develop 5th Space for young people. The first step to embark on the SMILE journey is-Inward Bound. It invites campus youth to embark on an exciting process of self exploration during which they get to know themselves better, confront and accept their multiple identities and find ways to connect with the larger world. Inward bound tents are set up on different campuses and serve as magnets attracting students from varied backgrounds to begin their journey of participation.

Volunteers at work ...collecting and piling up salt..near Manthan , Rajasthan during the 4th Orientation Camp for SMILE Inturnships

The SMILE in-turn-ship seemed to cater to my needs to the tee- To do something worthwhile, while learning about yourself. It seemed just like the sort of adventure that would break this cycle. Knowing that earlier I would never give up on such an opportunity, further plummeted my resolve to go for this- to remind myself of what I used to love. Little did I know that I would get so much out of this adventure”, Ayesha adds.

The next step in the SMILE journey involves inviting young people to lead and co-facilitate monthly youth addas, wherein young people meet and interact with each other, explore new avenues, organize events, exchange ideas and have fun. These experiences enable young people to begin to look at conflicts in their lives positively and at a deeper level, connect their learning to larger social conflicts in society. Once young people have travelled from ‘Me’ to ‘We’, its time they choose exposure opportunities with rural, hinterland communities and organizations or movements as well as NGOs.

As a part of her SMILE in-turn-ship program, Ayesha joined Hum Kisaan sangathan, a movement started in a small village near Jhiri, Jhalawar District, Rajasthan. Her project primarily revolved around teaching children – English, history, Hindi and science classes. She also conducted yoga and dance classes and choreographed a piece on Vande Mataram. She also got an exposure to the handloom business, worked the handloom, and organized their produce and designed garments and accessories with the cloth that would be sold in cities. Further, she helped the women with sanitation and added to their collection of embroidery designs.

Describing her journey, Ayesha says, “My journey had everything a fantastic adventure should. Right from when I saw my fellow Smilers at the bus station to when I got back home. When I met the group as we proceeded to the Orientation Camp before SMILE, at the bus depot, I knew I was in for something completely new. Our group was hugely varied in every sense you can imagine.”

Initially, Ayesha felt that she wasn’t there to make friends. She wanted to be alone, do a little thinking, and sit in a corner with coffee….But throughout the camp she had to work together with her group. She felt a little constrained because couldn’t communicate in English since a lot of her mates weren’t very comfortable with it; she had no choice but to translate everything in Hindi. At first, she found this to be frustratingly hard because she was unable to find the perfect words… but it got better with practice. In fact, she soon realized that just a change in language helped her to understand her feelings at a much deeper level.

Sharing her experience with other students in the group Ayesha says, “All the sessions conducted at the Orientation Camp before SMILE were amazing. The others in the group didn’t take them as seriously, which angered me at times, but I learnt to make me it special for myself. Every discussion, every talk, every exercise gave me something to think about. Although I had already read of a lot of what was being said, I still managed to extract new levels of meaning from everything that was being conveyed. When everyone shared their experiences and learning from life, it not only created an environment of trust and understanding, but it also helped me feel like I wasn’t the only one with demons in my head and skeletons in my closet. It made me feel slightly more normal and hugely grateful for my situation in comparison to everyone else’s.”

Her search for her SMILE was not exactly like what she had expected, yet it was the beginning of finding the answers she was looking for. “What I expected and what I got wasn’t entirely in sync. The first few days were all about getting used to the environment. I met so many children that I had to consciously make mental tabs for their names. The people I met and the conversations I had were enlightening. They were not at all like the stories or movies; they were not at all like the archetypes I had in my head. They were far from hostile. Everyone was as intrigued as I was; they were incredibly inviting and had treasure chests of experiences to draw from. One of the first conversations I had was with a man called Gopal who worked in the handloom business. He asked me what the meaning of my name was, and I explained to him that it meant paradise in Persian. He then asked me if I was Muslim. That got us talking about religion and faith. During the course of this conversation, Gopal said some of things that we talk about in my philosophy class in college! I expected ‘everyone’ to be orthodox and biased in terms of caste, class and faith, but he said some unbelievably profound things. He said a man is what he thinks (Descartes), he said that religion was only a way of life and God was everywhere (Kabir), he said free will and destiny go together and you are what you make of your circumstances. He said superstitions were a fatalist’s explanation to failure and ascribing fate to situations was only ONE way of explaining the unexplained. He also said that facts were like mathematical truths- those that would be valid irrespective of time and space (Leibniz) I remember this so explicitly because these are some of the conclusions that I arrived at after studying some the greatest thinkers- out of books. And here was a man who hadn’t even heard of these thinkers and had arrived to similar conclusions by learning from life”, she says.

Ayesha was now looking at things from a fresh perspective.

“This is exactly what Pravah has thrown us into- a reminder of an experience that all that we needed to know, and all that there was to know could be learnt in the best way possible from Life itself. The rest of the internship was spent with this knowledge. I was 19 when I left for the internship, spent my birthday in the internship itself and came back a 20 year old. The internship addressed everything – family, education, drugs, relationships, friends and the self. Pravah had taught me about learning from life, I automatically went about experimenting with the tools I had now. I put words to practice and made every action count.

I have never felt so full of life. I was in complete awareness of what I was doing, how I was feeling and why I was feeling it. It was refreshingly free and gave me immense happiness. I felt like I was in a bubble of special energy that I never wanted to burst and would therefore have to protect.

Only then did I realize that this very bubble that was referred to as the 5th Space”, she says.

In conclusion, having a 5th space other than the traditional four spaces doesn’t take away… but only GIVES. The 5th space, though beautiful in itself is like the oil that lubricates between the other four spaces and keeps the other four independent spaces run smoothly too.

“In making others smile, I got my smile back. The line between the in-turn-ship and post in-turn-ship blurred and today I can proudly say that for me, the other four spaces are thriving only because of this new space that was created”, she adds.

Life is not qualified by speaking fluent English or wearing branded clothes or leading a rich lifestyle; it is in fact measured by the number of faces who smile when they hear your name!