Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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Random Acts of Love

Preeyanka ShahBy Preeyanka Shah
[Preeyanka Shah is a 2005 Westborough High School graduate and a 2009 Duke Universiy graduate.  She is currently on a Fellowship with Indicorps serving at Adharshila Learning Centre in a remote village in southwest MP in India. To read her previous article in this series - Wheats and Grains, click here].

On the third day of our orientation, two other fellows and I were wandering through old Ahmedabad, a labyrinth of teetering, centuries-old buildings and crooked, narrow streets overflowing with scooters, pedestrians and hawkers selling just about everything.

Part of our mission that day was to commit a random act of non-transactional kindness, a task that appeared simple enough at first glance.  We decided to look out for individuals that looked particularly destitute and pathetic, people clearly in need of a random act of kindness in our opinion.  Yet, this task proved to be the most challenging of the day.  In the end, we walked over to the Swaminarayan Temple, a landmark sure to attract plenty of elderly people, perfect recipients for our random act.

At the intersection before the temple, we bought a small strand of yellow flowers from a flower seller.  She was a small, wizened lady in a tattered sari with a small pile of flowers sitting on only a mat at the curb.  As we crossed the street, I inhaled deeply enjoying the scent of the flowers that I had just purchased.  On the other side, we caught her eye as she beckoned for us to return which we promptly but confusedly did.  The flower seller handed me a garland of jasmine flowers and told me, “I saw you smelling the flowers.  Take these flowers as well, they are much more fragrant.” At the time, I was taken aback.  She refused any additional payment for the gift.  While I had spent an hour scheming about how to commit a random act of kindness, a poor flower seller had acted in a split second.  I spent the whole day beaming; the aroma of the jasmine flower tucked behind my ear a constant reminder of the love that a stranger had showed me that day.

Looking back, I realize that it never mattered that the benefactor of this random act of kindness was a flower seller and that the recipient, me, was a well-off American although I found it remarkable at the time.  Such distinctions are materialistic and the beauty of a random act of kindness is in the emotions that it elicits.  The flower seller had seen something she could do to brighten my day and acted upon it. 

On the other hand, in my conspiring, I had forgotten the underlying drive behind what we see as random acts of kindness; love.  In focusing our efforts on the action, we had forgotten the emotion behind the act.  A random act of kindness cannot be about a single act that we commit as our daily good deed.  It’s about noticing something we can do for someone to brighten their day without asking for anything in return.

It doesn’t matter if the random act of kindness (or a random act of love as I'd like to believe) consists of carrying four liters of kerosene down a country road for an old lady or buying the stressed out stranger in line behind you at the coffee shop a free cup of coffee.  In fact it could be as little as a warm smile that cheers up another person who will then radiate it out to others creating more warmth in the world.  All I ask is that in your actions, you are driven by love. 

By this point you probably think I'm crazy; advocating random acts of love without asking for anything in return.  I recommend you try it.  Be observant of what's around you.  Is there something you can do to uplift someone for even a moment?  What are you waiting for?  The smallest things can make the biggest changes in our lives.  Commit a random act of love.

[For more information about Indicorps, or if you are interested in applying for the August 2010 Fellowship, please visit The deadline for applications is March 1st, 2010]