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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..