My Month in Mulki

What I learnt when I was supposed to be learning how to surf

Chapter 5: Sincerity

Volunteering is a different kind of experience. For those familiar with concepts of Game Theory, a lot of interesting situations tend to arise. Theoretically, the situations arise regardless of whether one is aware of the mathematical concepts behind them, but I guess I’m enough of a nerd to enjoy viewing these kinds of scenarios through theoretical lenses.

In the case of Mulki at least, us volunteers don’t specifically have duties assigned to us. The overall attitude is a lot more informal. There are the volunteers, and there are the duties. Everything beyond that is left to us to figure out.

What tends to happen in scenarios like this, is that all the people involved will search for a balance, where they are performing as little of their duties as possible, without triggerring the management or the rest of the volunteers. So each person tries to get by with the minimum possible effort.

Along with this, a kind of social hierarchy emerges. One where there is a person at the bottom. And that person is the one who is doing the majortity of the work, picking up all the excess slack. And nobody wants to be that person. So when trying to find your balance, that is another invisible pressure that starts being applied. Don’t do so much work that the others start taking advantage of you, and make you into some kind of greater fool.

This whole scenario tends to become cyclic in nature. People all do their duties, and then slowly as time passes, people to less and less, and subconsciously socially pressure others into doing lesser as well, until we reach a tipping point where something is not done, and we are all told off. Then people go back to doing their fair share of the duties, and the cycle starts again.

One day, I decided that I don’t want to be a part of this cycle anymore. I was tired of all the games that were being played. I hadn’t even realised when I had started playing them, and why I had become so involved in all of it. It just was something that everyone seems to slip into. Some kind of unspoken social agreement, that this is how things work here. And maybe it was time to get out of that.

So then I just took the call that I am not going to shirk the duties any more. If it meant picking up all the extra slack, then I was going to do that, and if it meant being the greater fool, well that was just a role that I would have to embrace.

Suddenly, I just felt a lot more at ease with myself. There was no more unspoken negotiations on who would be doing a task. If I was present, it would probably be me. All my stress and anxiety was released. I had not realised just how much playing this invisible game had affected me. So I suddenly found that I was enjoying myself a lot more, and just being at peace.

The wierdest thing is that most of the duties weren’t even unpleasant. One of the duties was leading kayaking sessions around the backwater regions. I loved the kayaking. I don’t even know why I was trying to escape out of that particular one, but it just seemed to be the case.

Another major duty was serving food. At first glance, it is not the most exciting or glamorous task. It meant waiting in the dining room throughout the entirety of the meal hours, and to some extent, losing some of your available free time. But since I had decided that I would be attacking this task with sincerity as well, I just dove in, and saw the real benefits sink in.

One of the most unique things about Mulki was just the sheer variety of guests. They came from various parts of the country and from several unique backgrounds. While there was your standard smattering of software and management folk, there was also a whole other spectrum available as well. There were artists, architects, personal trainers, and CEOs. It really felt that a certain section of my whole generation was represented here.

The dining room was the one place where everyone would actually come and spend some time together. This was the place where the most simulating conversations were happening. It took a while for me to realise, but every meal seemed to be a unique gathering of people representing a unique set of viewpoints. So while serving food, if I bothered to take the extra effort to stimulate some conversation, it generally resulted in incredible learning opportunities. Suddenly the free time that I felt I was losing became one of the highlights of my day.

Taking this similar mindset to all the other tasks it led to me actively making the most of all the opportunities that I was being presented with. Speaking to guests and making them feel at ease when they took part in activities often led to me learning a lot more than I otherwise would have.

Over time, I learnt how to read the tide, how it affected the river mouth, and got to know which areas to avoid in low tide, so that our kayaks do not get beached. I learnt how to keep large groups of people bunched together, even when there are the overenthusiastic, the struggling and the instagrammers. I learnt how to hande a father whose kids' kayaks kept getting stuck, and how to ensure that he doesn’t get stuck as well. Learnings across fields and verticals, but still earned through a dedication to do my job well.

There is a concept called Karma Yoga. It exists across several religions with several names, but the core idea remains the same. It says that the purest forms of prayer is doing your assigned tasks with complete sincerity.

I really felt that this was one of the most meaningful learnings that I got from my entire month. The more sincerity and devotion I showed to the tasks that I had taken up, the more I seemed to be getting out of them. There is something spiritual about giving your best to your task, with no expectations in mind. Sometimes you get very tangible benefits, other times it’s just a clear conscience and a good nights sleep. So every task that I took up, I managed to get something meaningful out of it.

Except peeling potatoes. I don’t think I can romanticize peeling potatoes.

Lesson 5:

Whenever you are given a task, whatever it may be, if you intend to do it, do it with a complete sense of sincerity, and without any expectations. That will give you the best results, whatever they may be.

As recalled by Samarth Hattangady | List of Chapters