“What are stories but a way of helping us see the world and each other better.”
I heard this in one of Pavi’s talk on giftivism and wondering at the simplicity yet the deep meaning of it 🙂
I was part of one such story telling session (it was actually a class on upnishads at Shivananda ashram). When I was going for the class, I was a little apprehensive. I thought it will all be in Sanskrit and most is going to go over my head! But I still went because a friend had asked me to, and I can’t thank him enough. 🙂 And it’s so wonderful that this is the story that started my journey of travelling solo in the mountains and afterwards…
Gopi ji (the Vedanta professor) was talking on renunciation. And he said nothing but share this beautiful story.
Once upon a time there was a kingdom which had a unique way of choosing its king. The ministers will let go of the royal elephant with a garland in the kingdom. The person to whomsoever the elephant puts the garland on is chosen to be the next king. It is taken to be a divine decision by all in the kingdom. Continue reading →
29/09/2013 Shivanand Ashram, Uttarkashi; 3pm
We were walking from Uttarkashi to Ganeshpur after listening to Col. Ajay where he shared with us few glimpses of the first few days of the floods.
Joseph ji has friends in all corners of the country and he wanted to introduce us to them, so we set out on a walking tour of Uttarkashi. As we were walking, we first crossed the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple. We went in for a quick darshan. Now, Uttarkashi is the abode of gods so temples are a regular sight. We soon came across Omkareshwar temple. The temple had a huge peepul tree in its compound. Since it was afternoon and the sun was very hot, we thought of taking a short break here. Pratyush sat inside the temple, I sat under the tree and Joseph ji, who it seems never needs a break, went down to the banks of river Ganga. There he saw an old lady and after asking her permission called both of us to meet her. I would refer to her as amma from here on.
Amma lived in a tiny room on the steps that went down to Ganga. As soon as we came, she put out a blanket on the ledge outside her room for us to sit, while she sat down. She asked us if we have had food. Even though we told her repeatedly that we’ve had food she insisted on making some lunch for us. “Sab kuchch hai, daal hai, chaawal hai, aata hai. Tum bolo main abhi bana doongi” (There is everything – pulses, rice, flour. You tell me and I will quickly make lunch) 🙂
I was thinking how we get so worried whenever there are unexpected guests at home and here was a lady who had little for herself and is eager to share it all with 3 strangers who just showed up at her door. Such unconditional love!
She obviously won’t have it that we not eat anything and gave me a biscuit packet. I couldn’t refuse it. It was a gift of love. She again asked “kya khaoge” and this time Pratyush replied “maaji gyan khayenge. Thodi baatein sunaiye” (we want knowledge. Tell us something).
Then she started sharing her life with us. Her pilgrimage to the mountains, her travels and stays at different ashrams. She had a smile that reached her eyes and her eyes were sparkling. For the last 40 years she has been living in the room waiting for the time when Ganga ji will take her away.
In between she looked at me and said “tu yahin mere pass ruk jaa” (you come and stay with me) and I sat down with her and I was remembering my grandmother so much. And I addressed her as amma. She held my hands and she started talking about how I should not worry about troubles that come in life because happiness does not come without struggles. And that only when there are struggles will we get closer to God. It was as if she was looking inside me.
She only spoke Garhwali but I could understand everything. It was like she was talking to our hearts. I had one of my most intimate conversations with a stranger, with her.
We went to meet her again the day after and as we were leaving she said fondly “aate rehna” (keep coming).
I am leaving from uttarkashi today and I dont know when I will be back but I say to her “amma I will try”.
Today morning I woke up and went down to get some hot water… Nandini was there and she asked did we sleep well and how was our day yesterday. I said it was great. And I am looking forward to today. She said only one thing that time “everyday is a new day over here”.
Today was our first full day here in Khumera village (8 kms above Guptkashi). They say the day starts and ends early in the mountains. When we slept at 10pm last night, Archana said it was late. I had thought I will wake up early. I first woke up at 3:15am. Saw the time and slept again and then I woke up only at 6:15! 🙂 Last night it was raining heavily so we had stayed back in school. We went up to Archana’s fathers home (500 mts up the mountain but going up it feels much longer 🙂 ), got our bags and moved permanently in the school.
The morning started with hot water with tulsi leaves. That has replaced my chai! (And pratyush is very happy about that 🙂 ) after that was the safai (cleaning) time. Everyone then cleaned the entire school. They have lunch at 10am here. The food responsibility is distributed amongst the didis for each day. I just helped in that.
Then I did an english story reading session with the children. Archana had bought big fairy tales books from rishikesh and the kids were very excited with the pictures 🙂 so we all sat in a circle and every child would read one sentence and then tell the meaning of the sentence. Its amazing how eager these children are to read. if one got a shorter sentence to read he/she would become very sad… quite contrary to our normal school where, except for few, most would run away from reading.
With the little ones I did some drawing and coloring. And then again went to help in the kitchen. This was the first time I was cooking chapatti on a chulha (firewood stove). At first I was just flattening the dough into rounds and then putting on the tava but later I started cooking them. And I found an all new respect for the girls… on the chulha, the hand that presses on the chapatti gets hot as its right on top of the flame and the legs that are so close to the burning wood below, get hot… and the girls do it twice a day every day all their lives! During the first few months after the floods there was no gas, no electricity anywhere in the villages and chulha was the only means to cook food.
After lunch, the children have classes till 3 pm. During day time the sun had come out and it was the perfect time for us to bring more stuff that we had left in the room they have on top. there were two computers that Archana had bought from Rishikesh and also some Ayurvedic medicines and health supplements that a doctor from Kerela had sent. We got the stuff… Earlier I was holding the packet with both my hands in front and walking down the hill. The girls then said “didi aise to aap thak jaoge, sar pe rakh lo” (didi you will get tired like this, carry the packet on your head). At first I wasn’t sure but then I thought lets just try and it indeed was an easier way to carry load up and down a hill! 🙂 we then fixed the computer and installed their drivers and had it running! I have never had more excitement in setting up a comp 🙂
Later we sat with Archana and her team to listen to their journey and also how best we can serve here. Our idea was that we can always take classes for children and they are excited about new teachers but if they had any organisational challenges that they think we can contribute in.
For most of the evening I was just mesmerised listening to their journey. They also shared about the relief work they have been doing. Walking up the mountains taking 90% risks to their lives just to ensure villages up have food available! Ensuring that everyone was tended to! And while the elder didis were busy in relief work the little children were running their school themselves.. studying at the time of classes and cleaning and cooking! I would have to write another post on SNC itself soon. Tomorrow we are planning to go up in the villages and interact with people there.
At the end I was thinking there is so much I can learn from them! And wondering what can I possibly help them in?
Tomorrow is another day.
Last night I sat at the banks of river Ganga for about an hour. The ashram closes at 10 pm so I had to get back in time. I just stared into the river waters.. I don’t know if I was silently asking the river to bless our journey which was to start in the morning or was just letting go of any anxiety that I had. I came back very peaceful so I guess She listened.
I finished my packing, washed my clothes and slept around 11.
In the morning, we left the ashram around 6:30. I and Pratyush went to get the computer stuff loaded in the sumo and Archana came in another sumo also loaded with vegetables, blankets and pillows, books and sports equipment for children! Joseph ji got breakfast (Upma) packed from the ashram itself. He told Swami ji that there are 5 people and Swami ji packed so much that it lasted us till lunch!
So all packed, it was around 8 am when we left Rishikesh. Stopped for having breakfast at around 10. We reached Rudraprayag around 1 pm. Till Rudraprayag the road is very good.. its a two lane hill highway and we got no traffic on the way.
After Rudraprayag we could see the destruction. What was till now limited to media pics, became a reality. Roads were washed away… bridges lay half broken with nothing on one end. In the river waters down we could see big big heavy machinery like JCBs lying that had been washed away in the floods… houses that were reduced to rubble or some which had huge cracks all over. The BRO has worked hard to get the road open.. at places you are almost two storey below the level of the actual road.. you come down to the banks and go up. When it happened the first time I almost jumped in my seat.. because I could see the road ahead was broken and our driver going straight towards the broken road with no path ahead in sight 🙂 thereafter it became a regular feature… at many places the dirt road was so small that only one way traffic could go at a time so we had to wait for some time.
Despite all this, we were making good time because there was hardly any traffic. Our driver Surender ji told us normally these roads are full of kedar nath and hemkund sahib pilgrim traffic.
From Rudraprayag, Guptkashi is only 40 kms.. but as the roads are pretty bad it took us almost 3 hours to cover that distance.
We reached Archana’s home at 4pm and were greeted with warm smiles and hot daal chawal! 🙂 and an amazing views of the himalayas.
Later we went down to SNC (space for nurturing creativity) school and the moment we stepped in we were engulfed in the laughter of the children… after a few introductions we all sang songs. Later I helped Archana and other staff in the kitchen while Pratyush was totally engaged in playing with the children. 🙂
Really looking forward to work with Archana and her team and play with the children 🙂