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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Baje, Wishdom Personified(2)

A smile is all it takes to bridge the gap of a hundred miles that lay between 2 hearts, two ages and two cultures..its like that cosmic ray that can light up the darkest corner of the earth .

But a smile also is a veil under which lay secret , untold stories of fear, of sorrow and of feelings too deep to fathom..In such cases a smile creates an aura of an enigma.......


This is what came to my mind as I saw Baje's smiling face . There were stories untold, hidden under that veil of smile and so, with ever passing day my curiosity to know them grew stronger.

Like most Gurkhas, Baje was also paid peanuts for his decade-long service to Her majesty the queen. And so when he returned home post retirement, there was very little cash in his pocket. His monthly pension did not reach him every month and it was back to he hard peasant's life in the mountain, once again. The hardship multiplied when his wife died suddenly. And even as he was overcoming that grief, the elder of his two sons lost a hand in a freak hunting accident . The accident sent the young man over the edge of his wits and he never recovered from that again. He lived in a perpetual stupor, caring for nothing and none.

The younger boystudies in a residential school, away from home.


The house he had been able to built, during his service years, was a good one. It was a 2-stories stone house with 3 spacious rooms. There were 2 words 'Love, Live ' written on he walls, just above the door and there were beautiful creepers growing around he windows.


But it was a house full of hollowness. There were none here with warmth in the heart , nor anyone eager to listen to Baje's stories or share his childlike laughter .

Everyday he would get up before sunrise, regardless of the season or the climate. Then he would cook his meal..a dish of daal-bhat(the concept of breakfast did not exist there) and before 8 he would be in the village nursery where he would be working till midday, when it was time to look after other domestic duties. This included chopping firewood, collecting fodder for cattle, tending to rabbits and ducks in the village community farms. Add to this tilling of the land, sowing seeds, preparing compost and a hundred other odd jobs and what you get is a day where there is barely a minute to laze.


Night, therefore was a welcome relief , but before that he had to finish his dinner, which again could be had only when it was prepared..by himself.


And this is the way life is...12 months ayear. Hard, devoid of rest, and lonely. And yet you find him smiling . He has to fetch for himself every single day , yet he would be happy to be your host, to invite you over his home, to cok a meal for you.

At his age, specially after so many years of service abroad, men think of nothing but living in a cozy home and a life freed of all duties. And yet he would not only happilly carry on his own endless list of duties towards his village, but would happilly offer his services , of course for free, to any visitor like you. He would offer to take you to the mountains, explore the forest, show you the waterfalls, the watermill, the ancient shrines, the crops in the field, pluck flowers for you, and if you are too tired, then he would even offer to carry your bag although he is 74 and you are an able bodied yung person in your early twienties.


His area of work , as I said, is medicinal plants. But he taught me of paper plants and of plants that produce coton-like fibre. He showed me rearing of angora rabbits. He taught of grass that produce powder that folk actors in China used in their make up, to whiten their faces before a performance, of extracting wood that can be burnt like a torch... And of course a hundred myths, legends and folklore.. .

And as if these were not enough, he even found a young man in the village (one of the few who spoke some english) who would be my entertainer, meeting me every evening with his guitar and sing for me.....


And that's my Baje...a grand old, real man....a personification of wisdom..someone I am proud to have known.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Baje, Wishdom Personified(2)

A smile is all it takes to bridge the gap of a hundred miles that lay between 2 hearts, two ages and two cultures..its like that cosmic ray that can light up the darkest corner of the earth .
But a smile also is a veil under which lay secret , untold stories of fear, of sorrow and of feelings too deep to fathom..In such cases a smile creates an aura of an enigma.......

This is what came to my mind as I saw Baje's smiling face . There were stories untold, hidden under that veil of smile and so, with ever passing day my curiosity to know them grew stronger..

Like most Gurkhas, Baje was also paid peanuts for his decade-long service to Her majesty the queen. And so when he returned home post retirement, there was very little cash in his pocket. His monthly pension did not reach him every month and it was back to he hard peasant's life in the mountain, once again.
The hardship multiplied when his wife died suddenly. And even as he was overcoming that grief, the elder of his two sons lost a hand in a freak hunting accident . The accident sent the young man over the edge of his wits and he never recovered from that again. He lived in a perpetual stupor, caring for nothing and none..

The younger boystudies in a residential school, away from home...


The house he had been able to built, during his service years, was a good one. It was a 2-stories stone house with 3 spacious rooms. There were 2 words 'Love, Live ' written on he walls, just above the door and there were beautiful creepers growing around he windows. But it was a house full of hollowness. There were none here with warmth in the heart , nor anyone eager to listen to Baje's stories or share his childlike laughter ..

Everyday he would get up before sunrise, regardless of the season or the climate. Then he would cook his meal..a dish of daal-bhat(the concept of breakfast did not exist there) and before 8 he would be in the village nursery where he would be working till midday, when it was time to look after other domestic duties. This included chopping firewood, collecting fodder for cattle, tending to rabbits and ducks in the village community farms. Add to this tilling of the land, sowing seeds, preparing compost and a hundred other odd jobs and what you get is a day where there is barely a minute to laze. Night, therefore was a welcome relief , but before that he had to finish his dinner, which again could be had only when it was prepared..by himself.

And this is the way life is...12 months ayear. Hard, devoid of rest, and lonely.

And yet you find him smiling . He has to fetch for himself every single day , yet he would be happy to be your host, to invite you over his home, to cok a meal for you.

At his age, specially after so many years of service abroad, men think of nothing but living in a cozy home and a life freed of all duties. And yet he would not only happilly carry on his own endless list of duties towards his village, but would happilly offer his services , of course for free, to any visitor like you.

He would offer to take you to the mountains, explore the forest, show you the waterfalls, the watermill, the ancient shrines, the crops in the field, pluck flowers for you, and if you are too tired, then he would even offer to carry your bag although he is 74 and you are an able bodied yung person in your early twienties..

His area of work , as I said, is medicinal plants. But he taught me of paper plants and of plants that produce coton-like fibre. He showed me rearing of angora rabbits. He taught of grass that produce powder that folk actors in China used in their make up, to whiten their faces before a performance, of extracting wood that can be burnt like a torch... And of course a hundred myths, legends and folklore..

And as if these were not enough, he even found a young man in the village (one of the few who spoke some english) who would be my entertainer, meeting me every evening with his guitar and sing for me.....

And that's my Baje...a grand old, real man....a personification of wisdom..someone I am proud to have known.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Baje: Wisdom personified

He is 74 and lives in a village called Nangi in the hill district of Myagdhi in Nepal.
Like many of his fellow elders, he too is a former Gurkha who once served in the British Army.


My first meeting with him was quite nondescript. I was walking around, trying to see the village where I was to be a volunteer for a fortnight, offering my services towards community development. Along my way I met and was greeted by ever-smiling villagers. He was one of them. Someone had introduced him as Mote, the nursery man.
Like everyone else in that mountain village, he too had a face so full of smiles, you would be tempted to think it never had a reason to be sad or cry. His 74 years of age notwithstanding, the man woke up every day at break of the dawn and cooked ‘daal-bhat’ the only meal of the day over wooden stove in a tiny log hut. At eight in the morning he would be at the village nursery, set up by a non government organization trying to conserve the rare and vanishing Himalayan plants. Here they were growing plants, most of them of high medicinal values and have these planted back in different areas of the mountain. And Mote was the custodian of the nursery.

As a volunteer I could choose my area of contribution and it did not take me long to
Choose the nursery for the simple reason of learning about medicinal plants, something that I always had an interest in. And soon I realized, couldn’t have made a better decision, because I couldn’t have found a better person than Mote to work with. Because he was and continues to be, someone who could make each day of yours a day with a little difference.

However, the first few days though enriching for me, also brought in a little frustration. The reason—Mote wouldn’t, just would not allow me to get my hands ‘dirty’ with cow dung or mud. He would just want me to sit at a safe distance and watch while he did went about the job. So there I was- watching him looking into the germination of the seedlings, filling the plastic bags with soil, planting saplings in them, watering them , covering them with sheet of bamboo and so on….

However, soon I found out his weakness: a great ability of story telling. And soon he was absorbing me in the net of that magical web of stories….. a web I had not experienced since my granny died… Now, here, in this strange mountain village I heard this old man tell me endless stories again…of this village, of his people, of his youth, of his days as a Gurkha, of England, of Malaysia, Hong Kong…the places that he had been to.
Perched on a stone , in turn , I too told him of my childhood, my fascination for people and cultures…..

It was this exchange of stories that gradually started drawing us closer. Soon Mote dropped his resistance and let me come down and give him a hand in the work. And even before I could express my gratefulness, one morning he told me to call him’Baje’ which meant grandfather.

And that moment, right there, with the morning frost still thick all around us, with the wintry chill still in the air he was let me straight into his world and his life and we became related to each other.

That morning I got the grandfather I had never had and had always been longing for.

After this things moved rather rapidly. Under Baje’s supervision I learnt of medicinal plants and how to grow them. And once our working hours were over, Baje would head towards the mountain, into the forest, with me trotting behind. Every few second he would stop, to show me a new plant, a new tree, rare and ancient and tell me about its utility, as well as the legends that encircled it.

Deeper in the forest and we would find tiny shrine-like structures, which were actually tombs of Buddhist lamas. Interestingly, Baje had a story on each of those tombs and thus he would make everything, living or dead, appear significant, enchanting.

Often during these walks and during these long hours of story telling we would burst into laughter. It felt as though we were two children, standing at two corners of life, fascinated with the world around us and thrilled with the idea of being a part of it…………..

To be Continued..

Monday, July 02, 2007

When I met Bravery..2

He was 23, an age when a man lives alone only during the dead hours of night, when sleep comes invading his senses. But this young man was living here by himself. 7 days a week. 12 months an year.

In the high mountains distance is not counted in kilometers, but in the number of steep climbing hours. And it would take at least 7 such hours for him just to find a single person to whom he could say ‘namaste’!

So from sunrise to sundown, the man spent his day as he was…. Alone.

And so went the cycle of seasons…..
In January….when the morning lay safely wrapped in the blanket of cold fog , he woke up alone to brave it …and at night when the whiteness of moonlight at night would blend seamlessly with the deadly white of the snow, he went to bed alone.

And so summer came, rhododendrons bloomed, and young men and women gathered by brooks to celebrate.. but on this hill this young adult , so devoid of company, remained just so…devoid of company

The silence would , however , be broken sometimes. By the chirping of birds. But in this winter, they were rare to sight . And yes there was a herd of yaks…..something that the young man was committed to take care of. The herd belonged to people, living in different villages and the young man was looking after it.


But why did he choose this life? The first reason, as I just mentioned, was to serve his people. The yaks were kept on that hill because it was considered very steep and , according to villagers, safe. The herd would not stray and therefore, be safe from falling prey to leopards and other predators. But another reason is that a small group of Americans were trying to connect that remote part of the world through Internet. They chose this hill which was the highest and decided that it could be a good place for setting up a signal tower(which actually was an antenna tied on top of a tall pine tree). Strange it might sound, but this young man was the only person they could find to guard that tower and take care of it.

Or, in both cases, nobody else could be found . Nobody else was ready to stand the loneliness.

Now, the Internet tower did not need your attention unless a storm gathered. So it was just tending the yaks. In fact even that wasn’t much of a job either as all that he had to do was letting the animals out in morning and letting them at the end of the day. In between these two there was a huge mass of time which flowed as slowly as a huge stone would . You wake up. Wash. Chop firewood. Make a fire. Cook, Eat. Take a nap. And even after that it would seem, time had hardly moved.

When I told this story to a friend on my way back home, he said.. if I were there, I would either go insane , or be a failed poet

Well Gham.. the young man , certainly did not go either way. He was sane, smiling, hospitable, friendly and as if these are not enough, very, very loving. His face lit up when we met, but that was not because he was meeting a girl, but because he was meeting someone he could talk to. And so he went ….cooking, caring, fussing all over the place, all the while maintaining a beautiful shy smile…

So insane he didn’t become. But bad poet? Well once we finished dinner, he took out his guitar….something he described as his lifeline and music started flowing. It was haunting. It was cheerful. It lifted u now among the clouds….next moment it filled you with a sense of solitude too difficult to explain.

But it was only music.. there were no words. For some strange reason he would not sing . Not even half a song. Not even a single line. Maybe he was keeping them up…storing them until the day they would pour out too. Disappointed I sure was , but took it as a reason to be back someday….to hear him singing.. hear him putting his stories in lyrics.

However, he did tell me some of his stories. His stories were simple. Elderly parents. Friends. A village home…far, far down.. far, far away. Memories of years flown far , far away…
He answered my questions. Did he feel lonely? He did. Did not he long for company? He did. Did he not long to wake up and see someone.. just anyone in his hut? He did. Did not he feel like sharing his space with someone? Talking? Holdng hands? Feeling the touch of another warm hand in his hands? Smiling at someone and seeeing that someone smiling back? Shyness ruled, but yes he did

Then why was he still here? Why was he not getting away, running away, go to another place.... egt another life.... get a girlfriend...get married?

The answer was short. Because if he left, there would be no one else to be here. To fill the empty place.

Empty place. Vacuum. A strait of endless, agonizing solitude.
Better that
than letting his people down.

Perhaps this is what called madness. Perhaps this young man was insane after all
Or
Perhaps this is what was heroism.
An act of bravery. Bravery at its purest best.

You could choose your pick. I have chosen mine. I go with the later one.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

When I met Bravery 1 (Looking back…..memories of Tibet)

Sun was setting behind Dhaulagiri.

…… a sudden decision
Because a while ego there it was, burning happily up, among the harmless mounds of floating , until the air turned suddenly cold, sending a shiver down my spine.

And almost immediately the air grew heavy-- with the scent of logta, the paper plant and with an impeccable silence.
And also a dash of possibility……….

Walking among a field of tall, dry grass
I suddenly found the going tough. The light became less generous , and there were loose rocks, under the grass bed testing my steps, challenging them with uncertainty. But no matter how trying the going got, go I had to .

Because I was going to have a date. A date with bravery.


It was the beginning of January. And I was wandering around in Mushtang.. the districts that divided Nepal from Tibet. Or binds them together, as the people there feel.

It was cold, as it usually is. It was misty, as it always is. It was peaceful, as one would expect it to be.
I was walking through forest land, following the narrow track taken only by woodcutters and occasionally by traveling traders or ‘ghumanta vyaparis’ as they are called. I was, therefore an oddity ..and yet I didn’t quite feel like one. I felt completely at ease and at home.

My destination was a hill. Isolated. Tall. Quiet. And almost uninhabited ..except for one man. And that man.. that solo dweller on the isolated hill in Upper Mushtang was the one I was going to meet and going to spend the night with. Literally.

Sun or no sun, sunrise or sunset….I had a reason to be euphoric.


To be continued…..