Vasudhaiva kutumbakam means the whole world is one’s family. It is a remarkable phrase from the Maha Upanishad, an ancient Hindu scripture. We come from a culture that teaches us to perceive the entire planet and all its inhabitants as our own kin. And yet, over the years, our outlook has changed. Between pursuing our own goals and taking care of those in our immediate circle, we have little concern for the plight of those who aren’t as privileged as we are.
In times like these, the work of people like Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami becomes crucial in making the world a better place. This couple travels across the country, shares a roof with rural communities and documents their struggles and scarcities. Through Rest of My Family, their social-work-through-art organisation, these youngsters source funds from corporate entities and help the needy. In an interview with Soulveda, Akshatha and Piyush talk about what drives them to live a life of service.
Tell us about your initiative.
Piyush & Akshatha: At the core, we are on a mission to spread awareness about the ill-effects of a paradigm that is built along the lines of selfish competition. Through our documentation and dialogue, we are striving to explore the negative aspects of the capitalistic way of life and, in the process, find alternative modes of community living. An attempt to shift the foundation of our society from selfish-competition to mutual co-operation is at the crux of what drives us.
What is the story behind the initiative? What motivated you to start something like this?
Piyush & Akshatha: Through our initial exploration, self-reflection and the time we spent with various rural and tribal communities of India, we understood that the very foundation of our society breeds indifference and creates a ‘me vs not me’ scenario. Hence, we made a conscious decision to look at the whole of society and their problems as our own. We quit our jobs and started travelling to rural India to document the lives and struggles faced by various communities.
For the first two years, we only documented/wrote about these issues. We felt that by doing so, we would be able to draw people’s attention to these issues and get some organisation to offer help or suggestions. But as time went on, we realised that writing stories alone changed nothing. Hence, we created a working model where we raised awareness about these issues through our photo stories, documentary films etc. on one hand and then followed it up by undertaking development/empowerment projects to support the communities.
Everybody works for a living. But when the work contributes to the society, it becomes immensely gratifying. Can you share your thoughts on this?
Piyush & Akshatha: The key to a happy, satisfying life lies in balancing the selfish with the selfless. Most of us have to work to secure our own livelihood and survival before we can think about the greater good. The problem is that we feel that our responsibilities towards the society are optional. We rarely rise beyond the pursuit of more resources for ourselves.
Honest human connection is the currency of life. The more we connect, the richer we feel. Such a connection is simply not possible for an individual who sees other people as a competitor or a threat to his or her own interests. We have to shed our fears, bring down our walls and embrace everyone we meet to experience true gratification.
“When we do exactly what we want to be doing in life, emotional investment becomes equivalent to passion. In such a life, struggles, challenges and heartbreaking encounters all work to strengthen our resolve rather than weaken it.”