Rupali's HeArt Circles
by Meghna Banker, Aug 8, 2020
Rupali Bhuva, drawing (cropped), 2020
microtip pens, pencils, 8" diameter
Having been part of ServiceSpace as a volunteer since early 2007, I see a constant flow of stories and examples of acts of service and generosity pouring from the several projects that have evolved since its founding some twenty years ago. The initiative of Nipun Mehta and three of his friends in 1999 has attracted over a half-million volunteers who have connected with ServiceSpace around the world. The gestures of service being generated far outstrip any one person’s capacity to keep track of them, although Nipun manages to be in touch with an astonishing number of fellow volunteers.
In this remarkable flowering, a creative visual element has simply appeared spontaneously: improvised mandalas made of found materials appear in the center of circles of sharing, hand-drawn cards and craft items appear in great variety, small touches abound. All are offered without concern for attribution. There’s a joy in this simple freedom to make beauty in small ways that we mostly deny ourselves, not from refusal, but simply from having forgotten the possibility.
In this context, some volunteers have found their way to painting and drawing, while others were already there. One day, looking at a ServiceSpace email feed, a drawing caught my eye. I didn’t know the artist, Rupali Bhuva, but immediately wanted to include her drawing in the upcoming issue. It had been posted by Meghna Banker. Serendipitously, on a recent Zoom call, one of the participants was named Meghna. Was it the same Meghna who posted Rupali’s drawing? Indeed it was. We were soon in contact and she graciously sent me the following back story.— Richard Whittaker
My first experience with the ServiceSpace community was in a Santa Clara [California] Awakin circle that I attended in the fall of 2002. Since then, there’s been no looking back. I’m a full-time volunteer at ServiceSpace and work with an army of volunteers in India around many service projects under Moved By Love, which itself is an initiative of ServiceSpace that allows a more localized context around experiments in generosity and service in India.
Rupali has been a part of the Moved By Love family for the past few years now. She initiated the HeArt Circles where people would first sit in silence for 30 minutes and then take an hour to paint something that called to them in the moment. It’s a way of sharing through art. As a follow up, there would be some time for reflection circles around seeing how what emerged unfolded for them afterwards.
Rupali is actually an art teacher herself. She teaches over 200 kids who are prepping for Elementary and Intermediate Art Exams. These exams are highly honored in the field of art and are mandatory for those who wish to pursue art-related careers past Grade 10.
Meghna reached out to a few SSp volunteers who know Rupali and received some notes of appreciation:
Rupali, the mother: For the past year, Rupali’s family has been in Kota, a north Indian town. They moved there from Mumbai for her daughter’s education. Kota is an education hub. Tens of thousands of teens move in for coaching for the entrance exams of prestigious graduate schools. Most stay in hostels and a few, like the Bhuvas, move into the town to support their child’s education. The classroom study goes on for hours each day. Each day Rupali packed nutritious (and delicious) Indian snacks for her daughter Aarya, but she wouldn’t eat. Most students who stayed in hostels went to a nearby restaurant for a fancy snack and Aarya felt out of place opening her lunchbox and eating traditional recipes. So Rupali called up some of Aarya’s friends and they said that they eat at the cafe because they stay in a hostel, which has practically no good food options. Then the mother in her sprang into action and Rupali started making some fancy preparations that teens love and sending much larger portions. Rupali would also pack several forks so that all Aarya’s friends could enjoy the meal with her. Since then, her friends wait for lunch hour to have their meal of the day—cooked with love, and shared with even more love, by Rupali.
Artist Rupali: Rupali is a passionate artist. She is a well-known art teacher in suburban Mumbai. Her students come from varied backgrounds—from kids and youngsters to adults. At her class, one can always find Rupali surrounded by 15-20 people—some engaged in preparing for competitive exams, others painting on canvases or experimenting with different forms of art—and Rupali joyously attends to each one. Her art classes are not just a way to find expression through art, but also a natural healing process for so many—rebellious teens going through their mood swings, homemakers seeking a change from their daily routine, harried professionals chasing quietude—all come just to experience the space Rupali has woven over the years and soak in her gentle presence. She does not strain to change lives, but it happens one paint brush stroke at a time.
There were weeks when she was unable to conduct her regular HeArt Circle. On one such week, something felt amiss and she decided to try starting her classes with a minute of silence and then share a story before the start of the formal class. The students liked the change so much they requested that she keep the new format. Thus began a different kind of art class.
Parents who enroll their kids in Rupali’s class soon get a sense of that. Their kids change in more ways than one. It’s not unusual for the mothers to meet Rupali, be touched by her deep listening and gentle smile, and then enroll in her art classes themselves.
Rupali’s journey in her own words: It was at the end of 2015 that I met Nipun for the first time. I was at a stage of life when every morning I would wake up and feel that I was not doing anything for society. I felt as if I was living a selfish life and hated myself for it. I tried a few social service activities but I never felt like this is what I want to do! I had many commitments at home. I felt the only thing I have is love for my art students and my own artmaking. I felt I didn’t have the talent to do anything special for society. But that day at the Awakin circle what brought tears to my eyes was the simplicity and compassion I saw in every single person there.
In late 2016, when I met Nipunbhai again at The Integral Space for an educator’s talk, I felt that I’d missed a year of service in my life. A few days later, at an Awakin Talk, I just felt that all one needs is compassion to spread happiness. I need not be very intelligent or doing big things. I can just start with a small thing with something that I already have. I was inspired to go to another retreat with just this small thought of offering myself through my art, but no concrete plan. But then, with the initial push with other SSp volunteers, I started getting ideas on what I could do. They made me feel that I could do something.
That retreat, with such amazing souls around, transformed my small thought of an art studio into the full-fledged HeArt Circles, something that I always wanted to bring to life. It wouldn’t have been possible without the constant and unwavering support from each heart of the group. The first circle was on the 5th of January, 2017. I was surprised as each person sat for 30 minutes of silence without any boredom on their faces. Everyone was excited to paint, and the stories that came up with each painting were really interesting. I was amazed at the simplicity with which everyone put their feelings on canvas. More than anyone else, I learned the biggest lesson of my life—that happiness is in giving. Giving can be anything; just a space in your heart is what has to be given.
After the 2nd circle a week later, I felt true joy, peace and satisfaction—and promised myself I would continue to offer myself to this space. —With love, hugs and smiles, Rupali Bhuva. ■