Vancouver charity Seva brings the gift of sight to Nepal’s poor

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

By Shannon Melnyk, Special to the Sunday Province

Bajura Nepal 2013 Dan Singh Kadhka led by son

Dan Singh Kadhka being led by his son after cataract surgery

BAJURA, NEPAL — “I feel like a dog. My wife treats me like a dog.”

Dan Singh Kadhka is an 80-year-old blind man who lives more than 12,000 kilometres away from B.C.

But his life is about to change largely due to a Vancouver-based organization dedicated to reaching the unreachable.

From a global perspective, Kadhka is considered the poorest of the poor. The forgotten. He has been living a life of abject dependence since losing his sight five years ago.

He sits in the dark in one of the most isolated, impoverished villages on the planet. He lives in Bajura, Nepal, a stunning but unforgiving landscape he has not seen for five years.

Kadhka learned that some eye doctors were coming for a special visit. So he decided to make the perilous, four-hour journey on foot from his home in a neighbouring village to the village of Martadi, with only his memory and his stick to guide him.

He’s in the tiny, dusty one-room home of his third son, describing what it’s like to have bilateral cataracts. His left eye is inoperable due to an injury to the lens left too late. For his right eye, surgery will offer some hope. He has been unable to farm and is cared for by his wife, Nanda. He admits wanting to die but also hints at some optimism.

“What if I die, it’s fine,” he says. “But I want to see.”

The visitors he’s hoping can help him have been travelling for three days. Their 1,120-kilometre journey from Kathmandu, over treacherous elevations and rocky, motion-sickness-inducing roads, ends with a 20-km hike and a laborious climb up a mountain in unfathomable heat.

Elation prevails over exhaustion as the crew reaches the top and wades through a goat stampede and curious villagers to reach the site that will mark a historical accomplishment.

LIFE-CHANGING FOR BAJURA

On this day in May, Vancouver-based Seva Canada has arrived in the western district of Bajura to open a primary eye-care centre and hold a surgical camp that will be life-changing for an entire community.

“Let’s get to work,” chirps a tireless Penny Lyons, Seva’s executive director. Lyons has spent the last seven years travelling back and forth from Vancouver to remote locations in 11 countries.

For Seva, a small Canadian NGO that has been working more than 30 years to eradicate preventive blindness in Nepal, Bajura holds much significance: It’s the last region in the country without access to eye care.

In a matter of days, the inauguration of the centre will mean Seva, its donors and the people of Nepal will realize their longtime dream to establish a primary eye-care facility in every region of the country.

Over the next 72 hours, Seva will oversee a small team that includes two Nepali surgeons and a handful of support staff who will screen almost 800 villagers.

Bajura line-up for registration at the eye camp

Bajura line-up for registration at the eye camp

By 6 a.m. on the day after the team’s arrival, patients line up for registration. By the afternoon, 43 of them, including many who have been blind for years, will receive dramatic yet simple cataract surgeries that will restore their sight by the next day.

Kadhka is asked what he will want to see when his sight is restored.

“Everybody,” he says with a smile.

Ninety per cent of the blind live in low-income countries such as Nepal, where 16 per cent of the population suffers from eye disease.

NEPAL BLINDNESS INCREASING

Blindness is increasing in Nepal at an alarming rate, mostly caused by cataracts, followed by trachoma, glaucoma and simple infections.

Poor sight is synonymous with poverty, a debilitating cycle especially tragic as most cases are preventable and curable.

Seva (Sanskrit for “selfless service”) focuses on eye care because it has a profound and immediate impact on relieving suffering, enabling children to go to school and adults to work, breaking poverty cycles and creating a ripple effect for the future of families of the developing world.

“A $50 donation essentially covers one cataract surgery — that’s a huge bang for your buck when you consider how many lives one surgery changes”, says Lyons.

“The impact is immeasurable. The patients have their lives back, their caregivers have their lives back. It gives families a chance in an otherwise dismal set of circumstances, especially in these remote communities . . . these people have nothing.”

A solvable crisis

A big part of what Seva has learned is that when communities are as remote and poor as Bajura, the key to preventing and treating eye disease is access. Poverty has prevented most of these people from being able to make the two-day journey to the closest eye centre.

Located in the Seti zone of Nepal, Bajura offers stunning landscapes but an unforgiving way of life. It has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country, and HIV in almost every household. Conditions are so difficult, most men in Bajura make the long trek to India for months at a time to find work.

A mudslide in the area claims two lives shortly before Seva arrives. Not long after the centre opens, the bodies of three children are carried through the village after mushrooms foraged for a meal turn out to be poisonous.

Early deaths are a given here. The average life expectancy is 50 years.

Vancouver’s Dr. Ken Bassett roams the grounds looking in the eyes of children and discussing cases with the Nepali doctors. Bassett has been Seva’s program manager for 15 years. He is also a University of B.C. professor of medicine and director of a research program in international and epidemiologic ophthalmology.

He says if the support continues for the Seva model of care, the suffering of people like Kadhka will one day disappear.

“The measure of success is preventing versus treating. As a result of permanent primary eye-care centres, it will be a rare sight to come across these people who have suffered blindness for years,” says Dr. Bassett.

“You don’t see Canadians blind from cataracts. It’s all about access, and we’re a facilitator, funder and catalyst for local partners who know where the needs are and can retain professionals in these remote areas.

“We aren’t an NGO that swoops in, does some surgery and leaves.

“The research and the work Seva has done shows that a long-term investment in local programs with an emphasis on training is everything when it comes to creating a sustainable model that works.”

Patients sit outside a primitive stone building that has been turned into a sterile operating room, waiting for their turn.

Inside, two single beds are pushed together and four pre-op patients lie horizontally.

Two surgical beds are only steps away, where Dr. Bidya Prasad Pant, an ophthalmologist and director of a Seva partner hospital, methodically accomplishes 43 of the 64 total procedures in a matter of hours.

Pant, 49, is a Seva living legend. He has conducted a whopping 100,000 cataract surgeries in his lifetime — many in eye camp settings in remote areas without a hospital.

Dr. Pant with cataract patient after a successful operation

Dr. Pant with a cataract patient after a successful operation

A SEVA LIVING LEGEND

It’s an even more impressive number given that the low complication rates of these surgeries are comparable to, if not better than, those performed in Canadian hospitals.

Pant has been able to accomplish so much thanks to the Seva model.

In addition to donations, funds for the surgeries come from patients who can afford to pay, which helps to cover the primary eye care and surgeries of those who can’t pay.

Bandaged hopefuls wait patiently

Kadhka emerges from surgery with a bandage and a glimmer of hope. His son carries him home for some rest before his bandage is removed the next day.

Bajura Nepal 2013 Dan Singh Kadhka namaste

Dan Singh Kadhka thanking the team

In less than 24 hours, a sea of bandaged hopefuls sits patiently on the grass waiting for the big reveal. One by one, their bandages are taken off and expressions of wonder take hold. They’re each issued antibiotics and sunglasses to wear temporarily.

All of the surgeries are successful and Kadhka is overcome with emotion. This time he walks home on his own two feet, accompanied by his son, and reflects on the possibilities of what is instantly a new life.

He says he’ll be happy to see his wife and is overwhelmed to be able to see his son. To the people of Seva he says: “If there was a God he would have opened my eyes before, but it is you who have opened my eyes.”

Despite Seva’s inroads, many Canadians have not heard of the little NGO on a massive mission. The organization goes about its campaigns quietly, but Bassett says they’re willing to get a little louder in order to continue their work.

“I guess we’re typically Canadian”, he muses. “We want the partners to get the glory.”

Even in a world where 284 million people have visual impairment, Bassett says we could see the eradication of preventable and treatable blindness within 10 years if capabilities and resources were utilized to their full potential. The benefits would trickle down and create more economically independent nations, he says.

PROGRAM SPREADS TO TIBET, INDIA, MALAWI AND OTHERS

The model that began in Nepal so many years ago is also underway in Tibet, India, Malawi, Guatemala and many other countries.

It’s the same model that’s been lauded by the international humanitarian community. Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, admires Seva’s sprit of innovation.

“They aren’t afraid to try something that no one has ever tried before,” he has said.

As far as promoting awareness and encouraging more Canadians to contribute, Bassett says: “It’s really important. We just haven’t had time. We’re so busy and there’s so much to do.”

A volunteer’s empowering vision

“Pure addiction” is how Nanaimo-based ophthalmologist Dr. Marty Spencer describes his work as a Seva volunteer.

The award-winning surgeon has been training doctors in seven developing countries and creating innovative eye care techniques since the early 1980s.

Seva Canada credits Spencer as one of the first doctors in the world to set up eye camps in remote areas and with pioneering sutureless cataract techniques and surgical instruments that could be used in remote, challenging environments.

Spencer also played a key role in the creation of Aurolab, a non-profit manufacturing facility in India that enables low-cost production of intraocular lenses, making surgery affordable in poor countries and transforming the way eye surgery is done in the developing world.

Of the recent accomplishment in Bajura, Spencer says he is incredibly proud of Seva’s partnerships in Nepal, where he got his start with the non-profit.

“That country is so close to my heart,” Spencer says.

One of the most emotional moments he experienced during one of his many visits was the reaction of a blind mother who was able to see her two-year-old for the first time.

“She said, ‘You have given me divine sight,’” recalls Spencer. “The work we are able to do is that inspiring, all of the time.”

EQUAL CARE FOR GIRLS AND WOMEN

Little girl in Bajura, Nepal

Two-thirds of the world’s blind are women and girls, but they’re only treated half as often as men and boys

It’s a staggering inequity that was revealed by a UBC international study over a decade ago that included Seva’s Dr. Ken Bassett as a lead author at the B.C. Centre for Epidemiologic & International Ophthalmology.

After the study’s findings, Seva Canada made it a priority to help close the gap.

“Most eye programs in the world were unaware of this bias and surprised by this finding”, says Bassett. “They simply looked at the total numbers. We taught them all to go back and look at their numbers again. As a result, the eye care world changed to focus on women.”

Bassett asserts gender inequity in eye care reflects the vast overall inequities for women in most of the world. Cultural and economic barriers that prevent women and girls from receiving eye surgery include issues such as costs and the inability to travel.

He notes, however, that the most profound factor is a lack of access to knowledge. As a result, Seva and their partners focus heavily on advocacy, tailoring outreach programs to women and targeting women’s community groups for education and assistance.

SEVA CANADA’S ROOTS

Vancouver-based Seva Canada evolved out of the Seva Foundation, a U.S. grassroots movement in the 1970s that was inspired by the World Health Organization’s successful campaign to eradicate smallpox.

In 1978, Dr. Larry Brilliant and his wife Girija Brilliant, who had participated in the smallpox drive, convened a conference of friends and colleagues — including the curious cross-section of the Grateful Dead’s Wavy Gravy, contemporary spiritual figure Ram Dass, and the World Health Organization’s Dr. Nicole Grasset — to determine their next goal.

Dr. Grasset introduced the group to Dr. G. Venkataswami, a retired eye surgeon in India whose vision was to make cataract surgery as “ubiquitous as McDonalds,” and therefore affordable to the poor.

So began the Seva Foundation, which works with global partners to operate its sight program.

Vancouverites Alan Morinis and Bev Spring, who were among the Seva Foundation’s board members, decided to develop support for Seva’s work in Canada and engaged Canadian government support and funding.

Seva Canada was incorporated in 1982.

Today, Seva’s Vancouver operations are comprised of five staff members, 13 board members, three honourable patrons and 13 regular volunteers.

Seva Canada receives more than 50 per cent of its funding from individual and corporate donations; 12 per cent comes from the Canadian government; 10 per cent from foundations and grants and the rest from fundraising events and donations of equipment.

© Copyright (c) The Province

Seva Canada turns 30 and celebrates giving the power of sight to over 3 million people

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Seva Canada turned 30 on April 6!  Since 1982, Seva Canada has restored sight and prevented blindness in the developing world, giving the power of sight to over 3 million of the world’s poorest people. But what makes Seva different and effective is its unique approach to international development, empowering the people and communities where it works.

“Seva has grown over the past three decades as a force for good.  As an innovative technical adviser, funder, and friend. Seva is helping to develop some of the strongest eye care programs in the world.” - Larry Brilliant, Seva Founder; President, Skoll Global Threats Fund.

“For 30 years, Seva Canada has supported innovation and been a catalyst for change,” says Dr. Ken Bassett, Seva’s Program Director.  Over 200 million people could see tomorrow if they had access to glasses or cataract surgery. These are staggering numbers,” says Dr. Bassett. “Imagine 6x the population of Canada and every man, woman and child are blind or have severe low vision.”

Seva focuses on achieving long-term change to improve the lives of individuals and their community now and in the future. “Success to Seva comes when foreign intervention is not needed at all. It involves a lot of planning, coordination with local partners, and ongoing research. With development, the goal is to build local capacity and sustainability through training local doctors and providing technology and supplies  so that the work continues on an on-going basis even after Seva is no longer involved,” said Penny Lyons, Executive Director of Seva Canada.

While the challenge is great, Seva has a tremendous record of success, such as principle partner Aravind Eye Care System in India. Thirty years ago, Aravind started with 11 beds and now it is the world’s largest eye care program performing 250,000 cataract surgeries per year. Aravind demonstrated how cost recovery could be turned into financial self-sufficiency by pioneering a model of high volume, high quality care in which fees charged to those who can afford them subsidizes free or low-cost care for those who cannot. Seva now adapts this successful model for its programs in other countries around the world.

Seva’s innovative sustainability model of enabling communities to care for their own now and in the future through the transfer of knowledge and support means that when someone donates $1 to a program its value is actually much greater. Imagine planting a seed.  The seed grows into a tree that then seeds other trees, then a forest, all from the same dollar donation. That $1 helps provide eye care in the present and in the future, it keeps on working for the individual and the community.

Seva was founded by an eclectic group of professors, health professionals, members of the Centers for Disease Control and activists including; Dr. Larry Brilliant, one of the World Health Organization members who successfully eradicated smallpox in India and current president of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, spiritual teacher Ram Dass, and American entertainer and peace activist Wavy Gravy. The first sizable donation to help Seva in India and do a survey of blindness in Nepal came from the then unknown technology genius Steve Jobs.

Seva in the beginning

Seva 30 years ago

Seva Canada could not have achieved what it has over the last 30 years without the dedication and support from passionate donors and committed partner. So let’s celebrate together on April 26th!

Come and celebrate Seva Canada’s 30 years of restoring sight and preventing blindness in the developing world with Beyond the Darkness, a photo exhibition by international award-winning photographer Larry Louie.  The exhibition takes place from April 23 – May 12, 2012 at the HSBC Pendulum Gallery, 885 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC. For full event details and information on how to RSVP to the reception on April 26 from 6-8pm visit http://www.seva.ca/anniversaryevents.htm or contact admin@seva.ca

From Merlin to Flesh Gordon: An Interview with Wavy Gravy

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Interview By Dale Rangzen on December 15, 2011

DR: Hey Wavy! Thanks for taking my call. How are you?

Wavy: Semi-spectacular!

DR: That’s the best we can hope for, isn’t it? My kids have been watching Saint Misbehavin’ at night before bed. I put it on the other day and I wasn’t sure what they’d think and I kept saying “I can turn it off if you like,” but they loved it. They’ve watched it lots of times and my oldest daughter wants to work at your Camp Winnarainbow when she’s older.

Wavy: Ahhh, no kidding. You know that when people ask me what my greatest legacy is, I always have to say the kids who have come out of Winnarainbow. I’ve been doing the camps for 35 years now.

Wavy Gravy in Saint Misbehavin' : The Wavy Gravy Movie

Saint Misbehavin' : The Wavy Gravy Movie

DR: How did that start?

Wavy: It was serendipity. You know that coincidence is a miracle that God doesn’t take credit for. My wife asked me to babysit our son – who was seven years old at that time – while she attended a sufi camp – that being her spiritual lineage. It was out in the Mendocino among the redwoods. I had noticed that many parents there had brought their kids, and that sometimes meant that they couldn’t attend meditations. So, I said, “Give me the kids and I’ll keep them busy.” A few other parents – one who was a juggler, another who was a film director – helped me keep the kids involved. It started to take off and we ran our first camp at the Hermitage at the Lama Foundation. That’s of course the place where Ram Dass wrote “Be Here Now”, which was the spiritual Bible of the sixties. We discovered that we really enjoyed doing it and the kids seemed to enjoy us. We moved the whole scheme to another campsite a few miles away and found that the kids really enjoyed their own personal liberation and it made it easier for the parents to attend their meditations. So, it’s evolved to the point where we have 700 kids every summer at camp. We take 150 at a time for seven weeks over the summer. We have a week of camp for adults now too and it’s grown to the point where people come from all over the world. Last year, after the nuclear accident in Japan, we had a whole group fly from over there seeking higher ground at Winnarainbow.

DR: It’s become a truly legendary camp. Both of my kids would do anything to attend.

Wavy: Well, in the early days we did camps at the Lama Foundation and we did one on the east coast at the Omega Foundation. Eventually, the Hog Farm found some permanent land.

DR: How did you know when you’d found the right place?

Wavy: I went into this oak grove and in my imagination I immediately envisioned a circle of teepees. We found a way to purchase the land and I moved onto it with a part of my extended family. I live in Berkeley during the rest of the year, but for the camp season I live five miles outside of Laytonville. It’s a pretty little town, but if you blink, you’ll miss it.

DR: A lot of things, the best things in life are like that. It gets more mysterious as it goes along, doesn’t it?

Wavy: It is all a mystery to me – the adventure of life. My adventure started out when my parents were living in Princeton, New Jersey. I remember, one of my earliest memories, was when my father was away in Venezuela working as an architect. I was five years old and my mother had put me out in the yard for my morning airing when this guy with a shock of white hair comes walking by. He asked my mother if he could walk me around the block; now in those days, that was not such a shocking proposition. The thing I absolutely remember from that walk was how funny that old guy smelled. Do you know who he was?

DR: No idea.

Wavy: Albert Einstein!

DR: No… *beep*.

Wavy: Absolutely true. Now, everybody who I’ve told this to has asked me what we talked about and I have no idea. The only thing I remember is that he smelled like nobody else I’d ever met – or met since. Now, my nose is open and I’m waiting to finally get the chance to say to somebody “You smell just like Albert Einstein!”

DR: Now, that’s a one liner seventy years in the making!

Wavy: Indeed! Still waiting to use it! Well, at seventeen and a half years of age, my parents divorced and I had no idea of how I’d make it to college without any support. A high school advisor told me that the GI bill for the Korean war was going to be cut off in ten days, so it was a good time to volunteer for the army and have my college paid for.

DR: Wavy, it’s impossible to picture you in the army.

Wavy: Yeah, but I volunteered for the draft in the army. Hard to believe, but true. Mostly, I painted murals and decorated day rooms for the military. Here’s a funny story. So, usually, I cleaned my paint brush on my uniform which rapidly turned every colour except for khaki. One day, I was on the parade ground at Fort Dix and a general drove by in his jeep. Suddenly, it screamed to a halt and the general asked me, “What army are you in, soldier!” I answered in a tiny voice, “Yours sir!” He looked me up and down and drove off. I think I eventually ended up decorating his basement.

DR: What happened after you got out of the army?

Wavy: After the service, I went to Boston University and attended the amazing theatre school there. We were located on St. Bethel Street in a big ancient gargoyle-covered building. A lot of the greatest directors in America came by there. My main occupation was crewing in the costumes department. That lasted for a while, but a lot of the teachers in the theatre department were there because of the McCarthy era blackballs. When that passed, they all quit and went back to New York to practice their craft. They took me with them. While I was there I read about jazz and poetry readings in San Francisco and the whole scene that was growing there. I thought I could do that and got my first gig in the basement of a bar in Boston called Pebble in the Rock. After a while, my partner and I hitched into Maine and started a coffee house there. A little later on, that ended and I went to New York again to study at the Neighbourhood Playhouse and I started to do readings at the coffee houses in Greenwich Village. I ended up as the poetry and entertainment director at The Gaslight, which was the premiere venue for the scene in those days.

DR: So many people got their start there.

Wavy: People would line up around the block to look at the beatniks they had heard frequented the place. After each reading, people would throw money into a hat. It was great at first, but it got tedious after a couple of years. The poems weren’t coming out of me quickly, so in between poems I started to talk a lot about the weird day I’d had. Then one night, a guy came in and said skip the poems and talk about your weird day and you’ll be a hit. So, I was sent around country doing my stand-up thing and I opened for John Coltrane; The lonious Monk; Peter, Paul and Mary. Big acts at the time. When I was at The Gaslight, I was organizing hootenannies and this young guy named Bob Dylan walked in.

DR: Did you realize he had something special right away?

Wavy: Oh yeah. He came in and asked, “Do you mind if I play tonight?” and you know, I was so accustomed to the ‘moon, june, spoon,’ rhyme schemes of the folk scene and he came up with some very fresh images. “Hard rain” was written on my typewriter. But, I remember first hearing “Visions of Joanna” with its “ghosts of electricity” images and it was like nothing we’d ever heard before.

DR: There’s a scene in the film where we’re told that you told your wife to be – Jahanara – that you didn’t think you’d live for very long. Are you surprised that you’re still live and kicking?

Wavy: Oh yeah, I didn’t think I’d make forty. Those were turbulent times. I was tap dancing on the edge all of the time. I was certainly ready to do anything to stop the genocide in Southeast Asia. There were times I’d go to a protest and they were taking me out of the window of the bus in a full body cast. Even like that, there’d be cops blowing whistles and encircling me and like I was being given a penalty in a hockey game. It was a truly raucous situation I lived in for years.

DR: Truly! It’s quite a transition from a poet and a stand up raconteur to a political agitator and finally a clown. How did all of that come about?

Wavy: I discovered that when I was dressed as a clown, policemen wouldn’t hit me. So, when I went to the Republican convention in Kansas in 1976, I bought every red clown nose in the States and put them on the resistors. Nobody got hurt. One of my favourite memories was when – in the early days of the Hog Farm – we took a baby pig on the bus to remind us of our humble beginnings. We decided to run that pig for president in 1968, declaring it the first black and white candidate!

DR: That’s hilarious. I wanted to ask you this. I was just down at the Furthur concerts in Eugene. It had been a few years since I’d gone into deep hippie territory and I was amazed at the power and vibrancy of the scene. Why do you think this culture has had such lasting power?

Wavy: As for Furthur, there is a love affair between the band and the audience, that is so palpable you can almost see it. The band creates a groove and tosses it out, the audience wash themselves in it, and this great invisible ball of love goes back and forth. It’s like Ravi Shankar says: music elevates people beyond the slings and arrows of outrageous day-to- day-life and lifts them to a spiritual place.

DR: What kind of hippie legacy have the hippies left?

Wavy: You can see it in the creative imagination of the Occupy movement. It’s Hippie know-how at work. We know how to go into an area and exist. We know how to maintain life support in difficult situations. I see the legacy in the Burning Man in the desert. I went there and it absolutely blew my mind. I’ve been going to Rainbow gatherings for many years. It’s where hippies go to reconnect with each other, share stories and crafts. We’re talking 8 to 9000 people in pristine forests.

Hippies are all over the place. With Burning man, it’s even more elaborate. They’re committed to bringing out everything, every coffee grain they bring in. It all has to be carried out. Going to Burning Man was like somebody plugged in a Rainbow gathering. It was like flying out of Merlin and into Flesh Gordon.

 DR: Enough said. One of the most fascinating aspects of the new movie about you is how it portrays your forty-year-plus experiment in communal living. Can we talk about how the Hog Farm – which has got to be one of the oldest functioning communes in North America – and how it started?

Wavy: It was serendipitous. After a bunch of stuff went on, Mrs. Gravy and I decided to move out of LA into the country and we moved to a little sleepy bucolic – oh God so beautiful town in the hinterlands – but only forty five minutes from Hollywood by the freeway in Semlin, California. We had this little cabin.

DR: How cool is that!

Wavy: So cool as to be frozen solid and glacial. We got this call from the Pranksters that Life magazine was going to shoot a cover on psychedelica and they wished for us to join them in a cover shot with the Pranksters and the Grateful Dead. We were honoured to drive into Hollywood to do this and while we were all posing for the cover, Ken Babbs stole the bus and took off to join Kesey who was on the lam in Mexico. So, in our little one bedroom cabin my wife and I ended up with thirty-five house guests. It was very chummy. We had a garage and a chicken coop where, needless to say, people were living. The landlord came by and said you can’t have that many people living in a one bedroom cabin and you’re evicted. Once again – in the land of kitchen synchronicity about an hour and a half later a neighbor drove by who said “Old Sol up on the mountain had a stroke and he needs someone to slop up them hogs!” So, we were given a mountain top with a house on it rent-free if we would tend these fifty hogs the size of a Davenport steer! They were enormous. We would feed them slop every day at sunset, but because we heard that about forty eight farmers a year were devoured by their livestock we always fed them in groups of two. On Saturday evenings, we would attend the mega music concerts at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles which was the premiere venue for bands like the Dead and the Airplane, the Rolling Stones and Cream and all of those bands. We had a travelling light show called The Single Winged Turquoise Bird and I got to climb on a microphone and do energy games with the audience at band breaks. Then, on Sundays, pretty much all of Southern California was invited to join us at our mountaintop for free celebrations. Each Sunday was a different theme. I remember kite Sunday during which there was no wind, which was kind of a bummer. Then, when the sun went down, the thermal energy shifted and then, well, you couldn’t tell if someone was flying a kite or whether they were just putting you on! It was really cool. We had a Hog Farm country fair with a kissing booth, a contest to see who could stay under water the longest, a pie eating contest and all that kind of stuff. Tiny Tim came up once and we built a theatre for him out of nothing – with benches and a stage. You know, if you get a few hundred people moving rocks with shovels and you can do just about anything.

DR: You’ve been through lots of incarnations with the Hog Farm over the last four decades or so. Are some of the original members still there? How has it all evolved?

Wavy: Yes, we have some of the original people. The amazing thing is that we’re still together.

DR: Was it a long trip to actually settle there? I know you were on the road for years.

Wavy: Yes, we were. One Christmas, a couple of the people who were mechanics bought us a white school bus to drive around. Shortly after that, we secured a gig working for Columbia Pictures in a film called Skidoo which was Otto Preminger’s …movie starring Groucho Marx as God and Jackie Gleason and Carol Channing. It’s available now on DVD and it’s pretty amazing if you think about it.

DR: I have a hard time imagining what it would be like living on a bus for seven years. Lots of people start endeavors like this, but they don’t stick to it like you did and still do. Are you someone who doesn’t need much privacy or personal space?

Wavy: After the bus trial, everything else seemed enormous. On the bus, we had these benches that would open up to double beds at night. Inside the benches were our footlockers where we had our personal space. We had overhead space also, so there was a pretty good amount of storage. Live on a sailboat and you’ll have a little less room than you had.

DR: I’m thinking of the film where some of the adult children who grew up at Hog Farm talk about have 25 mothers and fathers. That’s an amazing social experiment that you pioneered. I’m not sure if you realize that or if it’s sunk in. You live differently than most other people.

Wavy: Hold on now! First of all, if you look at a book called Intentional Communities, you’ll discover that there are more people living on communes now than there ever were in the sixties. A lot of people come together because they want a nice big house and stuff and they can’t afford it on their own. So, they get three or four other families together and they rent a big house. It all seems to come together around the refrigerator and the kitchen. And, if they can do group meals and take turns cooking, there’s a lot of blessings there. That seems to be the way it gets started. Then, we all had different jobs and we do again. There was a while before we hit the road that we all had the same job and then traveling on the road and doing the shows was amazingly unifying.

DR: I bet.

Wavy: In some respects, I really miss that but I don’t have the physical wherewithal that I could hold up in that kind of vector. I think you need to be in your twenties or thirties to pull that off.

DR: I’m out of that range, too. I used to be able to fall asleep anywhere – the baggage department of an Indian train – but those days seem far behind now. Lots more aches and pains.

Wavy: There’s no telling what’s going to happen. I could certainly exist nicely on a big rock and roll bus with a lot of people lugging my shit around if all I had to do is sit down in front of a microphone. That may still happen. Michelle (Esrick – the film’s director) wants to do that. Who knows? We’ll take the film and show it to folks from college to college and that sounds like a very interesting way to activate some young people.

DR: Far out.

Wavy: That’s in the fantasy vector at this moment.

DR: To me, that’s part of the great legacy created by this film. It has this model of living in the Hog Farm and it’s captured so beautifully. It’s there for young people to see.

Wavy: It’s also very much in both of my books. Like I say, there’s an enormous amount of communities out there and some of them are looking for more recruits. Some teams need to get together and try it. Everybody has a circle of friends.

DR: I have lived communally in a cabin on the mountains outside Vancouver, but I am still attracted to privacy and personal space.

Wavy: Well, at the ranch dwelling scene, some places are more condensed than others. Mr. and Mrs. Gravy for the first time ever have a two room structure – one on top of the other – and the bedroom is upstairs. Downstairs, is a tiny kitchen. We have a cookhouse on the property where most meals are held. We do Thanksgiving at the ranch and we do Christmas at the Bay area and some form of New Year’s. Though we don’t do the Grateful Dead New Year’s anymore. I’ve been working a lot with the Animal Liberation Orchestra for New Year’s. I’m happy to make a few extra bucks because mostly I do Camp Winnarainbow as my full time thing. There is an organic farm run by an Irish woman named Irene who does incredible stuff and she just put in a full orchard. Also, on the property is a business called In Tents and they make fireproof teepees and awnings. These are made by a woman who lives here named Georgie Chase.

DR: In Tents!

Wavy: Yeah, I made up that name. I’ve become very good at the short dash. Also, a fellow named Evan has an environmental business on the property and he talks about this amazing vision we had called Earth People’s Park that involves buying back the earth and giving it away. We actually purchased 500 acres of land in Northern Vermont and then the Feds after twenty years tried to seize it and we ended up having to turn it into a state park. This idea is what I call the last left hand turn in America. If you set up an office and you get people to mail in five or ten dollars a month and then you can take the money and buy back more land across the country and then leave it. These places would be way stations that would belong to everybody. In an altered state, I got an incredible buzz around that idea. It’s off the charts. That’s a spark that more young people are going to have to take up and run with. So, there’s a lot to do.

DR: No kidding!

Wavy: These things along with the Seva Foundation occupy most of my life. I organize those concerts and put them together for them. The biggest one we did was actually in Toronto, Canada. It featured the Grateful Dead and The Band. It was an absolutely memorable night and we raised a quarter of a million dollars for our work with Seva curing blindness in India and Nepal.

Wavy Gravy and David Crosby

Wavy Gravy and David Crosby

DR: I remember some great Seva concerts in Vancouver with Bob Weir, Rick Danko and Jorma Kaukokken amongst others.

Wavy: Yes, we’re planning another. I’m in deep conversation with Elvis Costello about it, but his dad has gotten very sick. Bruce Cockburn and I are also talking about it. He played at our ranch and is now living in the Bay area. We do some wonderful shows on the property for about six or seven thousand people. The one to catch is called The Kate Wolf Memorial Festival, which we’ve done for many years. It’s pretty much an acoustic show and it’s as sweet and swell as anything you can imagine. That takes place during the kid’s camp so I zoom back and forth. We also broadcast the show in the immediate area, so everybody working on the farthest peripheries of the show are able to hear the main stage from the place they’re volunteering. If they ever do another Woodstock, I’ll do that. I’m there for Michael (Lang – the promoter of the Woodstock concerts) I’ve been to all three Woodstocks. I tell people that the first one made me famous and the other ones got me paid.

DR: Was it at the first Woodstock that you realized hippies could create an alternate way of doing things that could succeed or rival what was done outside in the ‘straight’ world?

Wavy: That’s why they got us to Woodstock. We’d been driving around the country and holding these open celebrations and they thought that we could be useful. We were startled when we came out of our chartered aircraft from New Mexico and we discovered that they’d made us security. That was a jaw dropper. We didn’t realize the impact we had until we were halfway across the Southwest going into Texas for the Texas Pop Festival. It began to sink in – the impact of our association with the Woodstock Festival. My God! We’re still getting feedback from that.

DR: Well, it all could have turned out so differently. There was such a hysterical element surrounding the culture at that point.

Wavy: So, I imagine if I can make it until 2019, it’s going to be interesting. They’ll really pull out all of the stops for the 50th anniversary celebration of Woodstock. It was crazy when it was thirty years old; it’ll be strictly nuts if they do a fiftieth. Eternity now! That’s my slogan! Eternity now! Here I go!

DR: Happy trails Wavy!

 

Vanity Fair Q&A with Wavy Gravy on his 75th birthday

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

By Eric Spitznagel, Vanity Fair
May 19, 2011

wavygravy-main.jpgIf you’re in the northern California area this weekend, be prepared—most of the state is going to smell like patchouli and Baby Boomer tears. Wavy Gravy is turning 75, and he’s celebrating with a “Birthday Boogie” on Saturday at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California, just across the bridge from San Francisco. There’ll be performances by surviving members of the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, and more aging hippies than you’ve probably seen outside of a History Channel documentary.

If you can’t make it, there’s a second celebration on May 27th at New York’s Beacon Theatre, with guests like Dr. John, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle, and David Crosby. Two bicoastal all-star jams may seem a little excessive for a guy that most people remember, if they remember him at all, as a former Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor.

But Gravy’s made plenty of contributions to popular culture that don’t involve caramel or cashews. Among other things, he traveled the country with the Merry Pranksters, mentored Lenny Bruce, emceed all three Woodstock music festivals, and loaned a typewriter to Bob Dylan to write “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

And that barely scratches the surface of his remarkable life. I called Gravy at his home in Berkeley, an 11-bedroom “hippie Hyannisport” (his words) that he shares with a dog and whomever knocks.

Eric Spitznagel: You’ll be 75 on Sunday. Did you think you’d make it this long?

Wavy Gravy: I didn’t think I’d make 30.

Most of the legends of 60s activism—Jerry Rubin, Huey P. Newton, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg—have died off. Does it get lonely being the last hippie standing?

Well, I always think of what Hunter S. Thompson said: “When the going gets weird, the weird turns pro.”

Meaning what? If you make it to 75, you’re a professional?

I think so. Wiser people than I have said that if knew they were going to last this long, they would’ve taken better care of themselves. I just finished another spinal surgery, but I can still hobble from place to place.

What’s the secret to your longevity?

I’ve been married to the same woman for forty years, and whenever people ask us how we managed to stay married for so long, we usually say as one voice, “What’s the secret? Don’t get divorced!”

So the secret to a long life is don’t die?

Right. Just keep fogging mirrors. That’s the best advice I can give you.

You’ve got two birthday bashes coming up, one of them this weekend. For a guy who hobbles everywhere, that seems like an awful lot.

Well the second one, in New York, is a sit-down show. The one this weekend is more of a dance. It’s at the Craneway Pavilion, where they used to make jeeps and tanks during World War II. We’re going to bring a different vibe to it. Nothing at my party is going to be about war. And all the money we raise is gonna be used to help blind people not bump into stuff.

And how does that work exactly?

It’s my foundation, which I helped start back in 1978. We’re going to help orchestrate over three million sight-seeing operations in Asia and Africa.

Is this foundation called Helping Blind People Not Bump Into Stuff?

It’s the Seva Foundation. But I like your name better.

To read the full interview visit Vanity Fair’s website.

Week 47: Music and Seva from the Grateful Dead to Guyuto Monks

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

It’s 47 weeks to Seva Canada‘s 30th Anniversary. As part of our countdown campaign to the anniversary, Random Acts of Seva, we thought we’d highlight the incredible generosity of musicians to our mission of restoring sight and preventing blindness in the developing world.

For three decades, musicians in the US and Canada have performed benefit concerts and raised both funds and friends for Seva.

3rd eyeball poster the grateful dead and the band

3rd Eyeball Poster for the Seva Concert with the Grateful Dead and the Band

Some of the musicians who have supported Seva with their music include the Grateful Dead (Bob Weir who is  on Seva Foundation’s Advisory Circle), John Trudell, Ani DiFranco, Jackson Browne, Phil and Friends, Ratdog, Ben Harper, Mickey Hart, Crosby Stills and Nash, The Band, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Leftover Salmon, Bruce Hornsby, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joan Baez, Kate Wolf, Dr. John, the Guyuto Monks, Box Set, Joan Osborne, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Hot Tuna, Kris Kristofferson, Odetta, Maria Muldaur, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and many more.

This month, on May 14 in San Francisco and on May 27th in New York City there will be two big benefit concerts for Seva to celebrate Wavy Gravy’s 75th birthday.

Here in Vancouver we are grateful for the generosity of three local musicians in the last few months:

Pepe Danza who donated music for two of our new videos

Nathen Aswell who gives Seva Canada a percentage of his CD sales and concert revenues

Amir O’Loughlin who regularly hosts kirtan for Seva’s sight programs

Thank you to all musicians who have brought sight over the years.

Learn how you can help Seva fight childhood blindness and bring eye care to adults and children in the developing world.

Wavy Gravy 75th birthday this week

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Wavy Gravy photoOn Sunday May 15, Wavy Gravy will turn 75.

There will be celebrations across North America including two big fundraising concerts for Seva in San Francisco and New York City.

Wavy Gravy co-founded Seva (a Sanskrit word for “service to humankind”) in 1978 with spiritual leader Ram Dass and public health expert Larry Brilliant to fight preventable and curable blindness in Asia and Africa.

Wavy Gravy is a 1960s icon who famously announced to the crowd at Woodstock, “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.”  He’s been compared to a cross between Harpo Marx and Mother Teresa.

Wavy will celebrate this weekend with a public “Birthday Boogie” on May 14 at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California. It will feature a Who’s Who of the Bay Area music scene including Bob Weir and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish, Henry Kaiser, Ace of Cups, and Narada Michael Walden. (You can get more details and tickets to Wavy Gavy’s birthday concert at http://www.seva.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Wavy_Gravy_Craneway)

Wavy Gravy, who describes himself as “an activist clown and former frozen dessert” – a reference to Ben & Jerry’s naming a flavor after him – was born Hugh Romney on May 15, 1936, in East Greenbush, N.Y. Soon afterward his family moved to Princeton, N.J., where one of his neighbors was a kindly old man named Albert Einstein, who took him on daily walks around the block.

“I was only 5, but I still remember that shock of white hair that predated Don King by half a century, the twinkle in his eye, his sneakers with no logo, and, especially, the way he smelled.

“I’ve never smelled anything like it since; but if I ever do, I’m going to walk up to the guy and say, ‘Hey man, you smell like Albert Einstein!’ ”

Flash forward 20 years to Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, where he found a job as poetry director at the Gaslight Cafe.

He shared a room above the cafe with a fledgling songwriter from Minnesota named Bob Dylan, who wrote the first draft of  A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall on an old manual typewriter in that room.

One of the cafe’s steady customers was Marlene Dietrich, who gave him a book of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke.

“I still have the book, but I still haven’t read the poems,” he confesses.

At about this time he embarked on a career as a monologuist, opening shows for John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Peter, Paul & Mary.

His manager was stand-up comic Lenny Bruce, who gave him a new stage name: Al Dente. Bruce also gave him a yarmulke sewn inside a cowboy hat that once belonged to silent movie star Tom Mix “so I could say, ‘Howdy, Goyim!’ ”

In 1965, when he and his wife, Jahanara (then called Bonnie Jean), were living in a one-room cabin outside Los Angeles with about 40 friends, including fellow ice cream flavor and Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, they all posed for a Life magazine cover photo.

“The landlord freaked out and evicted us, but the next day a neighbor came by and said, ‘Old Saul up on the mountain had a stroke, and they need somebody to slop them hogs!’ So we were given the mountain top rent-free if we would take care of about 60 hogs the size of Davenports.”

And so the Hog Farm was born. Eventually, the Hog Farm moved north to Black Oak Ranch in Laytonville, which boasts a lake — Lake Veronica — with a raft named George and a 350-foot water slide from Marine World.

In 1969 the Hog Farmers were hired by the promoters of the Woodstock Music Festival to build fire trails around the festival grounds.

“But we convinced them to let us set up a free kitchen, too. When we got to JFK airport a bunch of reporters were there to meet us, and they told us we had been chosen to provide the security, too. I said, ‘My God! They made us the cops?’ ”

By the time the festival was over, Wavy — or as he was still known, Hugh Romney — had become the MC.

A few weeks later, he was performing similar tasks at the Texas Pop Festival, where the great bluesman B.B. King dubbed him “Wavy Gravy.” And Wavy Gravy he has remained ever since — except in the pages of the New York Times, which refers to him as “Mr. Gravy.”

The Hog Farmers later took the free kitchen concept international working in Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet amid floods and war. In 1978, Seva Foundation (www.seva.org) was formed to fight blindness in the developing world. Seva Canada (www.seva.ca)was formed 4 years later in 1982 and the two Seva’s work as sister organizations.

Last May, Wavy Gravy celebrated his 74th birthday in Vancouver, BC at the DOXA Film Festival where the documentary Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie played to a sold-out crowd of over 500 people. As Wavy Gravy walked into the cinema in all his tie-dyed glory, the crowd burst into a spontaneous and spirited “Happy Birthday”.

Happy birthday, Wavy Gravy, and thank you for a lifetime of service to humanity!

New York Times Review of Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie

Friday, December 10th, 2010

The Hippie Serving Peace and Breakfast

By STEPHEN HOLDEN, New York Times, December 7 2010

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. A portly, bearded, 74-year-old hippie clown, born Hugh Nanton Romney but better known as Wavy Gravy, he has been sending ripples of good will that have gently lapped around the fringes of American culture for more than 50 years. The subject of Michelle Esrick’s doting documentary portrait, “Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie,” he is first seen practicing his morning prayers at his home in the Berkeley branch of the rural California commune known as the Hog Farm.

“May all beings have shelter; may all beings have food,” he intones before an altar crowded with iconography, both holy and comical. “Bless this day as it transpires and help me be the best Wavy Gravy I can muster.”

Given his nickname by B. B. King at the Texas International Pop Festival in 1969, Wavy Gravy, who physically resembles an older, shaggier Robin Williams, is the real thing: an authentic unreconstructed hippie idealist living the communal life, doing good works and advocating peace, love, and laughter, in the guise of a clown. The movie looks back to his roots as a Greenwich Village poet, traveling monologuist and, among numerous projects, organizer of the Phantom Cabaret with Tiny Tim and Moondog.

Along the way he forged connections with everyone who was anyone in the 1960s counterculture, including Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey and the Grateful Dead. He is lauded by Odetta, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt.

In 1965 Mr. Romney married Bonnie Jean Beecher, who later became Jahanara Romney and has been his wife for 45 years. The film’s most voluble commentator, Ms. Romney exudes an earthy warmth and steadiness. She calls her husband a hero, and “Saint Misbehavin’ ” offers nothing to dispute her words. Its only dark side is its mention of the painful spinal fusions he has undergone as a result of beatings by the police at antiwar demonstrations. He belatedly discovered that a clown costume served as protection, because the police didn’t want to be photographed harassing a clown.

The person who emerges is a man who has long transcended rancorous political debate by embodying a holy fool. Since the mid-’70s he has run a Nobody for President campaign on the Birthday Party ticket. Traveling with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, he wore a jester’s cap. The Hog Farm became a touring hippie caravan invited to provide security at the first Woodstock festival, where the group ran a free kitchen that provided breakfast for thousands.

We meet his cheerful son, Howdy Do-Good Gravy Tomahawk Truckstop Romney, later changed to Jordan, who was born on the seat of a Greyhound bus.

We also visit Camp Winnarainbow, a place teaching circus arts to children, which he founded with his wife. The movie follows him and his close friend Dr. Larry Brilliant on a trip to Asia, where, under the auspices of the Seva Foundation, a charitable organization supported partly by benefit rock concerts, the poor of Nepal receive medical treatment with an emphasis on sight-restorative cataract surgery.

As you watch Mr. Romney delight Asian children by playing a kazoo and blowing bubbles, you see exactly the person described by the satirist Paul Krassner as “the illegitimate son of Harpo Marx and Mother Teresa.” Make of it what you will: like its subject, “Saint Misbehavin’ ” is an unabashed love letter to the world that defies the cynicism of our age.

Directed by Michelle Esrick; director of photography, Daniel B. Gold; edited by Karen K. H. Sim; music by Emory Joseph; produced by Ms. Esrick and David Becker; released by Ripple Effect Films and Argot Pictures. At the IFC Center, 323 Avenue of the Americas, at Third Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is not rated.

Vancouver bookshop celebrates 40 years of spirituality

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Ownner started business with $1,500 and a few boxes of books

By Cheryl Rossi, Staff writer
Vancouver Courier
December 7, 2010
Back in 1972, Banyen Books and Sound on West Fourth Avenue first offered books about yoga and meditation.

Forty years ago, books on yoga, spirituality and meditation were hard to find in Vancouver.

Four decades on, Banyen Books and Sound classifies books in 300 subject sections in its nearly 5,000-square-foot store on West Fourth Avenue at Dunbar.

The bright space with its arched entrances to different sections, wide aisles, subtle scent of incense and strains of classical music buzzed with shoppers Friday afternoon.

The bookshop that Kolin Lymworth started at age 21 with $1,500 and about 10 boxes of books is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a fundraiser, Dec. 9.

Lymworth, who grew up in Kerrisdale, gravitated to Kitsilano in 1966, like the other young hippies and “seekers” of that time. Ground zero was Fourth and Burrard, he said, the site of two grassy lots where they did “a lot of hanging out.”

Lymworth initially stocked a corner of the Golden Lotus Restaurant and Natural Food Store at Fourth and Bayswater with books about natural foods back in 1969. He travelled to India for six months, asked everyone to recommend their favourite books and visited a co-operatively owned wholesaler of books in Berkeley, Calif. to buy his first stock.

He remembers ordering 150 copies of Be Here Now, a book about spirituality, yoga and meditation by Western spirituality teacher and yogi Ram Dass.

“It launched the whole generation of spiritual seeking and discovery and practicing meditation, being interested in healing arts. The entire little tiny store was all in blue because it had a bright blue cover,” Lymworth said. “And that was just the beginning.”

Hippies of the day flocked to the store, but it’s not just aging baby boomers buying Banyen’s books these days, he said.

“The many different aspects of personal growth and healing potential have really just become normal, like this is our life, rather than some special, esoteric or weird thing,” Lymworth said.

Lymworth concedes sales have decreased over the last three years. But the Vancouver institution has owned its own building since 2003, its fifth location after various stops on Fourth and West Broadway, and Lymworth hopes Banyen will serve as an oasis and resource for decades to come.

“We’re always suffering from just anxiety to the anguish of the heart in so many ways,” he said. “The need for clarity and loving kindness, it’s a perennial need.”

To celebrate 40 years, Banyen is holding an anniversary party and fundraiser for Seva Canada at The Ridge.

Ram Dass will participate via Skype while Rameshwar Das, the co-author of Dass’s latest book, Be Love Now, will discuss and sign the book.

The Ridge will also screen Saint Misbehavin,’ an award-winning documentary about Wavy Gravy, the poet, psychedelic explorer and activist clown who’s famous for offering 400,000 people breakfast in bed at Woodstock.

Dass and Gravy both helped found Seva. Lymworth recalls designing a poster in the early 1980s for the Canadian iteration of the organization that helps restore sight and prevent blindness in the developing world.

“For $15 you could help a person see,” Lymworth said. “To me it’s a good charity.”

The party starts at 7 p.m. For more information, see festivalcinemas.ca.

crossi@vancourier.com

© Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier

Banyen Books 40th Anniversary Party Featuring Wavy Gravy film and Ram Dass live dialogue link

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Wavy Gravy Seva founderOn Thursday December 9th, Banyen Books will hold a 40th birthday celebration at the Ridge Theatre with a special live “skype-in” with Ram Dass from Maui, a new short film of Ram Dass, a rare screening of Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie and a book signing of Ram Dass’s new book Be Love Now by its co-author Rameshwar Das.

Banyen Books, the spiritual book and music store at 3608 West 4th Avenue, is a West Coast institution. With typical compassion, Banyen Books’ owner, Kolin Lymworth, is turning the celebration into a fundraising benefit for Seva Canada’s sight restoration and blindness prevention programs in the developing world.

Be Love Now / Saint Misbehavin’ will be a one-of-a-kind evening celebrating spiritual activist heroes past and present who show us how we can enjoy life while making a difference with our actions. Both Wavy and Ram Dass are deeply seasoned, huge-hearted “teachers” helping us to open our own hearts more fully,” says Lymworth.

The evening is a unique opportunity to connect with Ram Dass, author of the seminal book Be Here Now, who lives in Hawaii and was debilitated by a stroke in 1997. Before he was named Ram Dass by his Indian guru, he was known as Dr. Richard Alpert, an eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr.Timothy Leary. Ram Dass will “skype-in” live from Maui.

Saint Misbehavin’ is an award-winning new full-length documentary film about Wavy Gravy (born Hugh Romney), a lifelong activist described as “the illegitimate son of Harpo Marx and Mother Teresa, conceived one starry night on a spiritual whoopie cushion.”

Christened Wavy Gravy by none other than blues legend B.B. King, Wavy’s adventures have included traveling with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters in the infamous psychedelic bus. He was truly immortalized when he took to the stage at Woodstock, offering 400,000 people “breakfast in bed.”

Seva was founded over 30 years ago by a group of eminent doctors and visionaries, among them Ram Dass, Wavy Gravy and Dr Larry Brilliant.

THURSDAY, DEC. 9, 2010 ~ 7pm   $20
Ridge Theatre, 16th & Arbutus
Tickets at Banyen 604-737-8858, the Ridge box office and on-line at festivalcinemas.ca

Press release: Banyen Books 40th Anniversary Party
Featuring Wavy Gravy film and Ram Dass live dialogue link

Wavy Gravy and Saint Misbehavin’

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Wavy Gravy celebrated his 74th birthday in Vancouver on May 15. Wavy came to Vancouver on a two-day visit with his wife Jahanara and Michelle Esrick, director of Saint Misbehavin’: The Wavy Gravy Movie.

Wavy Gravy, one of Seva’s founders, was in Vancouver for the special screening of the documentary about him, Saint Misbehavin’ — the closing film at this year’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival.

Described as “the illegitimate son of Harpo Marx and Mother Theresa, conceived one starry night on a spiritual whoopie cushion,” Wavy began life as Hugh Romney, a beat poet who played in the same coffee houses as Bob Dylan. Christened Wavy Gravy by none other than blues legend B.B. King, Wavy’s adventures included traveling around with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters in the infamous psychedelic bus. He was truly immortalized when he took to the stage of the Woodstock Festival and promised 400,000 people “breakfast in bed.”

At the screening in Vancouver, the 600-person audience burst into a spontaneous and exuberant version of Happy Birthday, followed by loud applause. Clearly everyone was thrilled that Wavy Gravy and Jahanara were there and the screening was followed by a length Q&A session.

Here’s a photo of Seva board member, Dr. Martin Spencer, and Seva staff Paula Ford presenting Wavy Gravy with a Coast Salish talking stick as a birthday present from Seva Canada.

Wavy Gravy receiving his birthday present from Seva Canada