Skip to main content

My Caux Story

Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar
Ahmedabad, India

We are Caux Scholars
Stories are powerful. Stories make experiences come alive. One of the best means to positive transformation, dialogue and healing can be found in the form of story-telling. This is why, today, I choose to tell a story. This is my Caux story. The story of my time at the Caux Scholars Program (CSP) at Asia Plateau, in Panchgani (India).

Come to think of it and I almost did not make it to the CSP at Asia Plateau (AP). I received an acceptance letter from Jitka-Hromek Vaitla, the program coordinator informing me of my admission to the program with a scholarship in September 2015. After which, I traveled to Australia and New Zealand with family in November only to land up working in a new project upon my return to India in December. Taking out three weeks time for the Caux training was quite a task when I had only just started working on a new project. So, I decided to let this opportunity go. Of course, I was unhappy about it and informed Jitka that I would not be able to make it. It was only on the 12th of December when I was watching a Salman Khan (a popular movie star in India) movie in a theatre hall in Ahmedabad, that I suddenly decided to listen to my inner voice (at that point I did not know I had an inner voice) and sent an email to Jitka telling her I would be joining the program. The next moment was the happiest for me and I knew I had made the right decision. I started packing stuff for Panchgani. I still have no clue about the connection between this sudden revelation and a Salman Khan movie. 

I left Ahmedabad for Panchgani on 19th December in a bus and by the time I reached Surat, I was the only lady passenger in the bus. I made a frantic call to Pravin Nikam (our jolly and ever helpful Caux co-ordinator) and told him I was scared to travel like this. I thought of leaving the bus when it reached Mumbai and joining other scholars who would be travelling to Panchgani the next evening. What a beginning this was to my Caux journey! Nevertheless, I managed to stay in the bus when some ladies boarded it at Surat, I heaved a sigh of relief and finally made it to Panchgani on the 20th at 10.30 in the morning.

Strange faces greeted me when I led myself to the dining hall for lunch. I was hungry and tired. I was introduced to Bibek, Amit and Debanjan (all from India) who had landed at AP a day before. I had forgotten my toothpaste home and we ventured out to a nearby ‘tapri’ (a small tea stall) to buy one for me. At four in the evening, my room-mate for the next twenty days (Abhidha Niphade from Pune) knocked room 604 and I discovered that she too spoke Marathi. All of us who reached AP gathered in the evening for dinner and exchanged numbers and Facebook details. This was the beginning of a roller coaster ride that started on December 20th, 2015 and ended on January 10th, 2016. 

The Caux Scholars program (2015-16), an annual event of The Initiatives of Change (IoFC) selected 14 people from 10 diverse countries around the world and brought them together for an academic training on peace building, conflict resolution and sustainable development. This is only the second batch of the program in India. This training is held at Caux, Switzerland in June every year. When I began this journey, little did I realize, that by the end of these three weeks I would be a part of the Caux family and leaving them would be a difficult task. Participants for this year’s program came from Bangladesh, Burundi, Egypt, Germany, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Ukraine, The United States of America and Zimbabwe. My story is about how these 14 people undertook a journey of personal transformation through reflective learning, story sharing and inter-cultural exchange rooted in empathy, confidence, trust and grassroots experience.
Our sacred space - The Library at AP

Often our culture competency skills leave a lot to be desired for because we are so full of stereotypes and judgements about the ‘other’. This is because we have not met and interacted with the ‘other’. The CSP introduced to me to the existence of 14 different cultural realities all under one roof. As a group, we were exposed to peace building and conflict transformation through the concept and practice of shared living and caring. Lessons about inner governance, conflict analysis, restorative justice, participatory rural appraisal and self-care were imbibed not merely through class room lectures in our sacred space, the library but as lived experiences in the form of games and role plays. Never in my life had I imagined I would meet Niyonzima Protais from Burundi who is struggling for life in a dangerous conflict. I did not understand what an identity crisis can mean to someone until I met Esther Teh and Vika Stepanets from Malaysia and Ukraine respectively. I did not give much thought to the struggles of women from the Middle East until Asmaa Sleem from Egypt sensitized me about it. And how much did I know about my own country? Very little until I learnt about tribal culture from Amit Rana Tirkey and about a unique type of majority-minority conflict in Murshidabad from Bibek Sarkar. I experienced what a refugees goes through when I became one for a role play exercise during the program. I was aware of the significance of self-care as peace builder and an individual, but I did not admit to serious consequences of rushing for everything in life until I wrote a letter to myself about what I am missing in this grind. 

The sessions on ‘Quiet Time’ and the discovery of 'inner voice' where one benefited from the opportunity to introspect and share feelings with a trusted circle of friends was special because though I practice meditation, I never felt the need to pen down my thoughts. Simple activities such as dinner time conversations, playing games together, sharing meals with each other, knocking on each other’s doors to be able to wake up on time for the morning session, the visit to a mountain top or just hanging out during breaks became so much a part of me during the three weeks. Discussion, reflection, writing, sharing, laughter, watching movies, dancing, singing, enjoying the bonfire, playing games or simply admiring the brilliance of our primary facilitators Dr. Ashok and Ms. Florina Xavier worked to build a community of individuals who will stay together despite a thousand divisions.

During those 21 days, that seemed too long in the beginning and too hurried up towards the end, I engaged critically in some prejudices that I had formed over a long time period, reflected on what I was doing to my life, came to appreciate people living in adverse circumstances yet filled with hopes and smiles and came to become more grateful for what I had in life. As someone with firm belief in peace, I learnt about more than 20 varied conflicts simply by interacting with people. I have now come to question my own understanding of conflict and examine it with a positive lens, rather than branding it as completely negative. I have learnt how as peace builders we rely on individual strengths, which is good, but we must also consolidate interdependence and work with everyone, even those who advocate violence. My Caux journey has taught be not to jump to conclusions in conflict situations and be more understanding of why people indulge in violence. It has also strengthened my conviction of working especially with those who believe in extremism, intolerance and exclusion. It is probably a cakewalk to work with those who are convinced by peace, but the challenge is in engaging with those for whom peace is still an illusion, and violence the only way. 

At Caux, I learnt that peace building and community development can go hand in hand. Our visits to villages in the Satara district where I had firsthand opportunity to interact with citizens in rural India brought home the message that peace building work need not be grand and glorious. It can be small scale, humble yet very valuable. My experience of facilitating translation between the villagers and scholar participants offered insights into how language can be such a powerful tool to connect with people around you. Innovation that is grounded in local knowledge, is low cost and is owned by people is very crucial to social and political change.

My Caux story also includes learning from the scholars themselves through presentations made on a conflict that they experienced – at personal, social, cultural and political levels. It is also about washing dishes together at the AP kitchen and tidying up the dining hall as a part of service. It is also about late night chatting and listening to songs that were played in the room next to mine. The Caux journey was special since I was away from home for a long time and it was Christmas and New Year that I was going to miss with my family. But while in Panchgani, I attended midnight mass in a Church for the first time in my life, sang carols and played the role of Secret Santa for an unknown person. I danced to death on New Year ’s Eve to the tunes of Hindi and English songs to welcome it with my new family. To add to the fun, I also played football! I learnt how easy yet how difficult it is to share what one has gone through in life, how sharing with a trusted circle of friends reinstates your belief in dealing with adversity. I learnt how stories in a ‘peace circle’, both sad and humorous can connect people together, to share grief and joy. I learnt how each one of us had a powerful story to tell, a story that had played its part in shaping the world as we see it today.

This Caux journey is just the beginning for a group of motivated people from different parts of the world, connected by a shared belief in peace, justice and non-violence. We may fall short of resolving all conflicts that we face in our communities, in our countries, but we have committed ourselves to the struggle for peace. We know it is not going to be an easy one; there will be times when we will be tired and may feel like giving up. I believe that during such times we will remember and seek inspiration from our days together at Panchgani. However difficult a time we may face, we will be ‘all right’ and raring to go, fully aware that in each corner of the world there is a Caux scholar cum friend with whom we promised to strive to make this world a more peaceful place to live in. 

*If you feel you want to attend the Caux Scholars Program that happens in December every year, please visit


Popular posts from this blog

To Be or Not to Be ... Natsamrat

How often do you get to watch a movie that is not just a three hour entertainment package delivered to you on screen, but more than that? A movie that is a lived experience for its audience. I watched one such movie recently. Of late, the Marathi movie industry has been producing some excellent stuff, with innovative story lines and bold characters. Director Mahesh Manjrekar has been at the forefront of this cinematic revolution. Anytime, I venture in to watch a Marathi movie, my expectations automatically turn sky high because Marathi cinema, over the past few years has actually spoilt its viewers for choice. Last week I watched the Nana Patekar starrer Natasamrat which means 'King of the theatre scene'. Through its trailers and subject, one feels that Natsamrat is a typically serious, art-oriented movie. And that it is. But deep inside, the movie offers a very enchanting story of an old man who once reigned the theatre scene in Maharashtra. With this, it offers ample life le…

Revisiting wounded souls in Pinjar

Film Review – Pinjar (The Skeleton) – 2003

Director: Chandra Prakash Dwivedi

Cast:Urmila Matondkar (Puro/Hamida), Manoj Bajpai (Rashid), Sanjay Suri (Ramchand), Kulbhushan Kharbanda (Mohanlal), Lillete Dubey (Mrs. Mohanlal), Sandali Sinha (Lajjo), Isha Koppikar (Rajjo), Priyanshu Chatterjee (Trilok)
Based on Amrita Pritam’s Punjabi novel “PINJAR” Violent bloodbath, massacres of scores of human beings and refugee exodus were the most powerful symbols of the partition of the Indian sub-continent. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi’s film Pinjar represents the pain of the partition which engulfed three communities of India – the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The film is also the story of a family, essentially the journey of the daughter of the family – Puro (UrmilaMatondkar in a major role) and her transformation to Hamida, her loss of identity and her agony. Pinjar is set in 1946 which marked the pre-partition era. Even before the country was divided into two parts, communal rage had spread all over an…

How can the Indian 'right' do it 'right'?

The political atmosphere in the country is visibly charged up after the turn of events in Karnataka last week after the declaration of results. Though there were predictions of a hung assembly in the state, the expected results which saw the BJP fall short of merely 8 seats from a clean majority, took the nation by surprise. What unleashed thereafter was a drama that no one was quite ready for. Things are only heating up for the General Elections 2019 and social media is full of advice on what and how the 'right' side of the political spectrum can prepare to face for what appears to be a mammoth task in front of them -winning the magic number of 272 seats in the Lok Sabha. The political discourse now is bereft of all decency and morality since 2019 is now a war that each side wants to win desperately. However, what transpired in Karnataka is being seen by many as a warning sign for the BJP to not take 2019 for granted. Tons and tons of advice poured in for the right-wing on T…