All of us at Dost had been working hard to bring the responsive caregiving programme to more than 40,000 low-income parents in India. While we had been working closely with each other, most of us had never met each other in person!
But come 22nd November, we changed that.
Team members from Delhi-NCR, Mumbai and Almora hopped onto a tempo traveller and journeyed to Kesroli Hill Fort in Alwar, Rajasthan - and so the party began. It felt like we had known each other for a long time.
On reaching the resort, we were welcomed with wide-open surroundings where rose-ringed parakeets frequently flew to and fro. At the centre of the fort was a sapphire blue swimming pool, which looked as spellbinding in night light as it did when the sunlight bounced off its surface.
The hungry party feasted on yummy salads, delicious food, followed by several desserts. Most of the meals were at a poolside restaurant called ‘Ranawat Burj’ (meaning ‘tower of the prince’), and so were our meals there… very royal indeed. Our rooms, too, felt princely, built inside the fort, where our balconies opened up to green farming lands.
We assembled at the ‘Suryasth Bagh’ (meaning ‘sunset terrace garden’), ironically after sunset, for some warm-up theatre activities. Soon, we were bouncing in and out of circles, clapping our hands, shouting ‘Zip!’, ‘Zap!’, ‘Zoop!’.
Next, we sat around the poolside to reflect on work wins - our own and organisational - from the year gone by. We ensured that all sessions were authentic - offline and offscreen.
Surrounded by warm night lights, everyone sat by themselves, reliving, smiling and penning their thoughts. The silence was something to be reckoned with. What followed was genuinely celebratory, with members sharing individual accomplishments, meaningful collaborations, inspiration and appreciation.
We, at Dost, believe in succeeding one celebration with another- so that’s what we did. We celebrated one of our own’s birthday with a surprise cake at dinner with enthusiastic but admittedly not-so-great singing.
Every night, after dinner, the team refused to let the day end and continued to play games such as Taboo, Judgement, Codenames, Jenga and Dumb Charades.
On day 2, Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, we gathered at the ‘Bulbul Bagh’, the garden where the bulbuls sing after breakfast. Together, we visualized that we were sitting at our retreat in 2022, a year from now. And thinking about what we could be celebrating then?
While some spoke about their dreams and visions, others brought in pragmatism by reminding us of potential obstacles and resource constraints. This led to some impromptu brainstorming discussions from which several interesting ideas emerged.
We found time in the day to break out into smaller groups. soak in nature, work out, cycle to the fields, swim and play table tennis or billiards. Some of us also got together for team discussions.
The team also went on a short tour of the Fort, led by Mr Ram Narayan from Kesroli, who knew the ins and outs of the Fort and its illustrious past. He guided us through crannies and hidden staircases, patiently answering our questions and even clicked our pictures at vantage points.
We ended the tour at the ‘Suryastha Bagh’, where we witnessed the mesmerising sunset with a cup of tea. One of the team members recited a verse by Mike Royko, which beautifully captured the essence of this moment:
“The sun rolls down
Like a golden tear
As the evening grew nippy, we headed to the ‘Durbar Mahal’ (meaning ‘the royal drawing room’), for a round of lightning talks, i.e. 3-minute rants by each member on an area of passion. The themes ranged from poetry, life through cinema, hustle culture to Indian handloom, development sector trends, and photography. They were enlightening indeed!
On Day 3, Wednesday, 24th November 2021, when the time came to bid farewell, we were not done yet. Our last huddle was super special as everyone wrote and exchanged hand-written notes of appreciation for each other. The smiles around the table were beautiful.
After discussing highlights from our retreat, we started on our return journey - all feeling uplifted and more deeply connected with the consensus that “real-time” beats “zoom-time” hands down!