It was 11.30 in the night. The fog swirled around us, blanketing everything. Visibility (what visibility?) was reduced to probably 10 feet. And Sunil, our most capable driver, was concentrating driving on the narrow, narrow roads, perched high above the ground.
Satyendra kept calling up, trying to find directions. Yes, we were trying to find our way to the Ashram, in a foggy dark night, with directions being given over the mobile phone. We couldn’t see anything in front of us, leave alone make out turnings, little pagdandis, left or right. Satyendra was certain we would find the Ashram, while I was equally certain we wouldn’t. Doubts crowded in my head, while John happily gurgled at the back, the edges of his anxiety firmly blunted by a good drink.
And while we were looking around for the lanes and bye-lanes of the given directions, Satyendra carried on with his commentary on the side … we were crossing Bangaon, he said. Bangaon is a most unusual village. In deep, remote Bihar. Almost all the IAS officers of Bihar and some of the best bureaucrats spread out in India came from this village. Don’t ask why. But this village was blessed by Maa Saraswati.
Finally we found the 2 electric poles, standing side-by-side. I mean, where else would you find two poles standing side-by-side ??? We stopped. Totally, hopelessly lost. Stay put, said Rajendra Jha, I will come and get you. And we waited and finally we saw a bobbing, pale torchlight !! Saved !!
We made our way into the Ashram, pretty much dark, a lone small LED lamp battling valiantly against the dark. And Baba came out from inside the depths of some cavernous room. They proposed to put on the generator. They clanked around, under the pale light of the torch, while I sat inside that cavernous room, shivering and trying to keep warm. And finally, after 15-20 mins of energetic clanking, loud discussions, we were told there was no fuel !! So we went to sleep. A very comfortable bed indeed, in their training centre. A mosquito net. Many blankets. And we all slept, warm as bugs.
Morning revealed to us, what, thankfully, the night did not reveal. These two men, the guardians of the Ashram, were ancient !! One at least 70 while the other over 85 !! These two were staying alone in this remote ashram ????
But they were no ordinary men. They were people who had walked side-by-side with Vinoba Bhave during his Bhoodan Movement, had worked alongside Gandhiji during his satyagraha. They regaled us with memories and incidents of the Bhoodan movement and satyagraha. Real, live experiences, no history book chapters were these. And they had done some wonderful work with rain-water harvesting – the megh-jal abhiyan – the rain-water campaign.
And they were so generous, so so wonderfully hospitable. Baba (yes, the 85 year old), was spry and could leap across steps to quickly serve hot rotis before we could even finish the word. Old, did I say ? Think again.
And the generator? It did start, with a good drink of a litre of petrol. We needed it to charge our cameras – modern day, equipment, which gasped their death, at fading batteries. Huh.