Himalayan Pilgrimage part II: Sambhaavnaa

Himalayan Pilgrimage part I: Dharmalaya

The second leg of this pilgrimage moves from rugged hill top to a lovely playful stream-side village of Kandbadi, nestled in the valley. The campus of Sambhaavna Institute has drastically different flavor from dharmalaya, although much similar in the elementary philosophy behind its creation. Sambhaavnaa, a possibility, is an institute for training social activists.

An institutional campus entirely built in earth is one of its kind and stands as a flawless answer to those who think of earth construction as raw or crude way of building. Its suave and formal spaces are encased in adobe walls with a humble cow dung plaster finish, making a bold statement out of deliberate simplicity.

We, a bunch of interns were to spend two weeks there, the last two weeks of its construction schedule, to participate in final finishing and completion of the buildings. During this time we did various tasks in carpentry, landscaping, brick masonry and painting-polishing. Apart from the assigned tasks we were also free to dapple in other construction tasks that were being carried out around us.

The local pahadi workers were very warm and instructive. Having participated in Didi’s exceptional work culture, most of them had a bright, hopeful confidence. In case of women workers, it was mixed with certain amount of humble timidity. Somehow it made them glow. Their images are etched permanently in my mind…like some kind of inspiring visual…

For once in my life I was taking initiative to open a dialogue with them. Surprising to myself, I was not distant and antisocial! I loved talking to the women, while I mixed cow dung plasters with them and they perfected my plastering skills, quite ruthlessly!

“Hold your brush confidently, with a firm grip” Saroj didi would instruct, “When you are uncertain about yourself, it shows in your plastering stroke.” She would watch me work, with her eyes narrowed and eyebrows scrunched, until I got it right, and then she would bless me with her dazzling smile!

The women would tease me and laugh with me! They even tried to teach me a pahadi folk song about how goddess Parvati got angry with Shiva and how he eventually convinced her to come back home!

They knew our differences and were astonishingly broadminded when it came to accepting me as one of their own! Late at night, I would sit on the kitchen floor with them, sharing chocolates after dinner, and they would ask me about my home, my family…and we used to wonder together, about our futures, under those warm kitchen lights.

I am not certain about how to define a family, but with them, I felt peacefully at home. I would like to think of the pahadi women as my family….

On the other hand, pahadi men were very closed and distant initially. It was a hard task to bring the senior masons to open up and share their wisdom. During my brick masonry schedule, they started me off as an unskilled worker, instructing me to pass the bricks and pans of fresh mixed mortar. After accepting that I was not going to get bored and walk away, they promoted me as the mason’s assistant. I would hand him the measuring tape, plumb or a spade as and when he needed it, without giving him a moment to ask for things! The old man, Jhonduji, was pleased by the end and allowed me to take his spade. I finished one course of the brick jali, all by myself, while he stood behind me, smoking his beedi, instructing me to correct the alignment of bricks, merely by his practiced visual judgment. Later we did several courses together and then he stopped,

“Just like us, old men, the masonry too needs rest, child.” He said with a smirk hidden away in his mustaches,

“The mortar in lower courses is weak right now. It will not take the weight of too many courses on top.”I nodded like an obedient student while he spoke on,

“Today we stop brickwork here and resume it tomorrow, when the lower courses will have had ample setting time.” I bade him good night and walked away, wondering how much more could the old man teach me, if I had months and years to work as his assistant!

But I had just one more day with Jhonduji and we spent it together, working and laughing over silly things. Now that I was one of his construction gang, he would not hesitate to sing in a hoarse voice, some pahadi folk song about naughty Krishna and his mates!

That evening I walked back from work, with bright eyes and flushed cheeks, happy and not a bit tired, absolutely certain that I belonged there. Standing on a cliff, overlooking a noisy, bubbling stream deep down in the gorge, glowing in moonlight, like a streak of molten silver… Wind in my face and rustling patch of pine trees behind me, I acknowledged to myself, that everything I had been struggling for was pointed at reaching that evening… earned after a day of doing things that meant a great deal to me!

Since then, I have rarely lost that exalted state of mind…. I keep opting for a life that leads to such moments at an exponentially increasing frequency! It is a hard life, and highly uncertain… but every bit worth living, just so that I can stand at the cliff and laugh out to the sky and to the earth…. Laugh in wild happiness and acceptance!

The last step of this internship was spent with Didi, an experience that gave me an insight into another course of life… a choice to live up to my values and virtues….. It gave me a chance to retrospect my life and know what I truly wanted from my life…

That one week of time is too precious and I have decided to not publish it now.

To sum the internship up, what I learned there about architecture and construction is no doubt, valuable, but this awakening is a priceless treasure to me…. It keeps me humble at heart, aware that I only know so much…. it nudges me to learn more, to experience more, to be more open minded and accepting… to be more sensitive and responsible…. Leading to many more moments of awakening!

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The Mantra….

Why don’t we take a minute to just pause from our busy life and look at it? Look at the life we are living and ask ourselves, why do we do whatever that we are doing?
“Why…really…?” I asked myself and that one question changed my life, put me through hell… and brought me to the heaven…. The roller coaster ride of life is getting crazier day by day, but this is how that started.
Once upon a time I was a normal person, staying at home, studying in an architecture school aspiring to be a successful architect and earn a lot of money by doing that…. Now have no home. I build, and am not sure about the definition of a “successful architect”. I do not make much money, to be honest, I do not make any money…. So I must definitely not be successful. It saves me the trouble of living up to the tiara of success. It leaves me free to experiment and fail and regain my bearing, and most importantly, to learn things through that chaos!
How did that happen…. Well, years ago, I met a guru. He gave me a mantra. The mantra was not a statement, but a question,
“Why?” he asked… and left me with that.
Since then, I have lived with that mantra, and it has pulled me out of numb rut of dumb ordinary life…. It continues to awaken me, because he said, being awakened is not a steady state to be reached once and for all…. it is the most dynamic state of presence. The mantra takes away dark grays of indecision and uncertainty from my actions, sifts out the irrelevant and leaves me with a tranquil clarity and joy of doing things.
The mantra also puts me through the torture of knowing that I know nothing! It keeps me uncomfortably aware of the ambiguity in me…. of all other questions and unsolved mysteries…. Yet I ask “why” to myself every day, and find myself not knowing the answer sometimes. Then I have to stop, take a breath and think to myself. Sometimes I have to change my path, or sometimes if I find the answer, move ahead with greater conviction than before.
I am now equipped to break and remain free from my own inhibitions, well, most of the times! I am free in that sense… and owe my freedom, my changed life to the guru…. The one who, I am quite uncertain if truly exists or not… now, that is some question nibbling at my brain all through the nights….
I pray sometimes, “Let him exist” and sometimes I dread, “what if he really does exist?!” Maybe it shouldn’t matter to me. I have my magic mantra… and I have moved on in life, decided not to go looking for this shady character of my imagination.

P.S. All the characters in this blog, shady or cool, are of course born out of the author’s imagination simply to prove her stubborn point. Any resemblance to real life persons will naturally exist in readers imagination. So better throw the factual chaff and explore the magic mantra….