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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..

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