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DEADLY DUO - Men on a mission

Times of India - 12 April 2005
Lekha Menon

Two young Americans are in Gujarat, along with their friends, cleaning streets, spreading awareness about sanitation and bringing a smile on poor men's faces.

“I left behind my wife, dog and cat, gave up business opportunities... in fact, everything... to do this,” says John Silliphant. ‘This' means traversing through the dirt and dust of Indian villages, cleaning up trash, singing bhajans, doing garba with villagers and spreading awareness about sanitation. Seated next to him is Mark Peters, sharing similar sentiments. “I had to give up a lot too,” he says. “But what I have got back from India is indescribable.”

Nope. They are not your typical tourists in search of instant nirvana in exotic India. John and Mark, both Americans, are in Ahmedabad for a different purpose: They want to spread the message of love, peace and inspire others to do something for the community. And how do they plan to achieve this? By undertaking sanitation projects, literally cleaning the streets and connecting with people. The duo were part of a group of similar ‘inspired' individuals, who recently undertook a padyatra of a different kind — they went to villages near Kabirwad, spent nearly a fortnight with the residents and did all possible seva.

Mark Peters
Mark Peters

“There was always this itch to do something more. I have been to India twice, in 1996 and 1998. And when this opportunity came up, I didn't think twice,” says Mark, an entrepreneur who left his business to come down. He entrusted his partner to manage the business in his absence and backpacked to Gujarat. Isn't his career suffering? “So what? Business opportunities come and go,” he says coolly.

John's story is even stranger. Inspired by a similar ‘itch' he decided to come to India. But there were dilemmas galore. He was in the field of construction, working with topnotch architects with a great future ahead. Then there was the question of leaving his career, his beloved wife and pets behind. “But it had to be done,” he says. “The village tour was a tremendous experience.” However, Mark had no such doubts. “My family always knew I was crazy!” he quips.

John Silliphant
John Silliphant

Now that they are here, the duo want to use their talent in every possible way. For instance, one of John's projects back home was a children's book he wrote under the alias of ‘Uncle Sillyhead III'. “But when Jayeshbhai of Manav Sadhna saw it, he felt it should be translated into Gujarati,” he says. The book just been published and the philanthropist has decided to donate his royalties towards free books for underprivileged children.

Mark has some interesting ideas too. “It's a rough plan as of now, but we intend to spend a day in different wards of Ahmedabad. Actually sanitation is just an excuse, the real reason is to connect with people. Maybe it can create a ripple effect and bring them all together.”

So if you find two foreigners playing the Good Samaritan on Ahmedabad's streets, don't be surprised. It's just Uncle Sillyhead and “weirdo” Mark (as he calls himself) out to “heal the world."

  hearts It may be long before the law of love will be recognised in international affairs. The machineries of government stand between and hide the hearts of one people from those of another. -- M.K. Gandhi