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!

3 thoughts on “Himalayan Pilgrimage part II: Sambhaavnaa

  1. Hello anuja, it’s absolute joy to read what felt there in dharmalaya… I’m also from Pune and studying at ACOA,camp in fo.yr. of architecture.
    If I want to do an internship in dharmalaya the way we have to do it in 5th for 4 months, is it possible to do so? If yes then when should I apply? and how much money you had to spend approximately in your stay at Dharamshala ( just to have a rough idea)?

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