Pushkar beyond tourism, Holi and souls of passage
Picture 1: Jeetu, Trine and Rahul with the kids at the camp site
When Trine shared the reasons of her frequent visits to India with me, for once my body felt like a temple and mind like a monk. I was numb while listening to her Pushkar Project. Sitting at the rooftop restaurant in Jaisalmer with an Old Monk bottle and three glasses (for Jeetu, Trine and I), I said that what she is doing is simply incredible and recommended to carry on with same spirit independently. It was a bit of insult for me as well. A woman from Denmark, who first visited India as a tourist and stayed back as a philanthropist, is helping poor kids by giving them free education and day to day stuff… truly speaking I couldn’t take it. What am I doing being an Indian? Smoking, drinking, partying and touring around? ‘Naah…’ I couldn’t resist it.
Five years back, when I was pursuing my post graduation, I had visited some of the villages in Haryana like Bahin in Palwal district, Ramri in Jind district and Ghasola in Bhiwani district. I was doing a project with my batch mates on- literacy level of the slum. As usual at that time I considered the project just an act of MBA score and hence gave fake promises to those families living beyond nadir. On the other hand, I have seen some of my friends also taking up such projects in and around Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore BUT for some reasons they failed. May be they couldn’t finance OR may be they lost their patience OR may be due to political reasons. Whatever it is I appreciate that they tried at least.
I will say that Trine and her Pushkar Project is an opportunity for me to keep myself happy by making others happier. I don’t belong to a rich family but I am a son to two good people who gave me birth. For 27 years, I couldn’t make them proud of anything. Neither was I a good student nor was I a well – behaved son. I only spend a lot on buying clothes according to the changing trend. After meeting Trine, I made up my mind… at least there should be one good reason that my parents should be proud of me.
“Jai Ho”, a bollywood flick, was an utter flop. I watched that movie after returning from Jaisalmer. The movie aired one simple message, ‘help three and ask them individually to help three more and this way you can change the world’. After uploading these quoted words as my facebook status, one of my friends commented, ‘watch Pay It Forward’,… and so I did.It also passed on the same message. All together, I was then jumbled with thoughts. I don’t earn lakhs in a month like my other friends, I don’t save much after spending on all necessary and unnecessary stuff and I still worry about month end. But something was knocking my heart than worrying about my pocket. I don’t know what, but I decided to join hands with Trine and told her that I’ll be travelling to Pushkar to educate those poor kids free of cost and time to time I will buy them stationeries, books and clothes. Let me see how further I can proceed with it. But I need to start now.
I proposed the project to a few of my colleagues asking them to join hands with me and told them that they need to visit Pushkar at their own cost and educate the poor kids, buy them stationeries and books time to time. I needed 8 persons according to my plan. 5 clicked and I was happy. My second visit to Pushkar (the first one was like a tourist a year back) was with one of my colleagues Rahul Srivastava during the auspicious occasion of Holi, 2014.
Our main focus was on saving on our expenses possibly through economic lodging and spending the rest on the kids. Rahul too agreed to the idea. ‘Ow!’ That was a knockout rail journey in the night. After playing pre-Holi on Saturday evening with my colleagues, the 10 hour overnight journey to Ajmer in a General Coach was a terrible mistake. Rahul was sitting on the floor, at one of the doors, like a cornered mouse and I was standing like a dancing idol that we usually see on ancient artworks. Although… I managed to find a place to lay my back for couple of hours. ‘Naah… don’t think that I got a berth. But I knocked my brain to make some place on the rack where luggages were kept disorderly.’ Lucky we were that the train was on time and we reached Ajmer leaving behind our sleep, buttock and waist at hell.
Picture 2: The journey in a General Class Compartment
The city of Ajmer features the same tranquility and glory as it reflected to me a year back. Ajmer glares the divine rays of Islam breaking through the colonial walls. Beyond Ajmer Sharif, known as Dargah Sharif, the city on the foot of the Aravali mountains and spreading around the Ana Sagar Lake so beautifully, spic and span and yet quaint… is a blend of modern and traditional experience. The road to Pushkar goes along the scenic lake until merging with the highway after taking a right turn. Rahul was sleeping throughout the bus journey to Pushkar and I was busy capturing varying landscapes… passing and snaking through the Aravali mountains. The panoramic view of the Ajmer city from a point on the route was a surprising sight and that was amazing.
The bus came to a halt approximately after an hour. Pushkar… ah! The quaint clamour! How could I brief a city as sacred as Pushkar? Well… just when I stepped out of the bus… I got the answer, I stepped on a cowdung. Even this didn’t nark me much since I started finding everything HOLY here! ‘I think the trip is going to shower with blesses.’ I foreboded looking at Rahul, who was laughing at my feet mould in muck.
It was about 8 in the morning and I called up Trine, who came to receive us from the bus stop. Her welcome was with a warm hug… smiling and cute face and of course, SLEEPY EYES. ‘Aw… I’m not at all sorry to wake you up so early in the morning… how are you doing?’
‘Hmm… you should be sorry…’ she twitted with a smile again and continued, ‘I’m good.’
I like her soft voice, which simply goes with her graceful nature. She is a holotype of refined people with refined taste. ‘Finally we meet again… by the way, he is Rahul and he is also keen to be a part of your Pushkar Project.’
Trine was staying at Priya Guest House, which is say a minute walk towards the Pushkar Stadium from the bus stop… but unfortunately we didn’t get a room there and so had to look for some other option. The hunt continued for further 20 minutes till we came across Hotel Heaven with a board outside quoting “Cheap and Budget Hotel”. We got a double bed room at 200 even when there was tourist rush in Pushkar because of Holi. The room was worth paying 500 but thanks to our hard negotiation.
A pandemic outbreak of inhumanity!! Yes, it is! Even the metropolitan cities of India are suffering with such disease. ‘How it started… whether it was once an act of differentiating human classes OR simply few lives were ignored being humans? Where they came from? How did they survive? What was their future supposedly? What was their role in the society?’ Many such questions popped in my mind when I saw the Pushkar Project picture right in front of my eyes. However, the bright side of it brought tears. I thought lives were dull here but No… their hospitality simply won my heart. The children were playful, sensible and honest.
[Picture 3: Panoramic View of the campsite]
The slum includes more or less 30 families and each tent is squeezed with more than 6 people. The shanty area is a part of the Pushkar Mela ground, which is close to the Pushkar Stadium, and during thePushkar Camel Festival these people shift to some other locality nearby. Their life from my eyes… is hard but when one of them asked me in English, ‘would you like to have tea?’… I was speechless saying just, ‘Yes!’ I thought over… ‘So, this is what Trine is doing here for months… bringing out the fighter (with an intellect) in these neglected lives’.
‘Who is she?’ I asked Trine.
‘She is Jeetu’s elder sister…’
In the meantime, I acquainted Lucie Elizabeth, a German woman who is also helping Trine financially as well as fighting to form the Pushkar Project, an NGO. On the other hand Alan Cesarano, an English vagabond, whom I met at Trine’s hotel before leaving for the camp site, was making a documentary on it.
[Picture 4: Lucie with the kids]
‘Your project seems to be in good hands,’ I said to Trine.
‘Ya! Hopefully. I’m just praying that it soon turns out to be an NGO. Things will be better.’
We were sitting in front of one of the tents, having tea… chalking out plans for the day. Trine asked me, ‘ Rik what do you think? How are the kids?’ I wasn’t able to answer then as I was simply spending some mirthful time with them rather going deep into their minds… their knowledge and skills.
I intentionally asked them, ‘Can you sing our national anthem?’ I could have asked that in Hindi too… But the children proved themselves an incredible sign of faithful Indians. They even know the second stanza of our national anthem, which most of the literate Indians don’t know.
‘Trine, it’s not going to be difficult. These kids will give their best to see the better side of their lives… umm, when am I going to start the class?’
‘Yes… we will move out from here shortly. The school is on the other side of the road.’ She replied.
[Picture 5: A glimpse of the school]
My mom was once a primary school teacher and four to five times I got a chance to attend the lectures that she used to give to the third standard students. What I learnt from her e was that, to be a good teacher one should have dedication and love towards children. Acting patiently also plays a key role.
[Picture 6: Me with the kids on the way to the school]
My first day of teaching experience… was in Pushkar. My subjects were geography, craft and physical education, whereas Rahul’s subjects were Hindi and history. I was worried… from where to start and how to start. I wrote the letter “I” on the board and asked the children to read it out.
“I” for INK… they uttered together.
‘Very Good. Aab yeh kya hai? [Now what is this?]’ I asked them after writing the letter “N”.
“N” for NOSE… then again “D” for DOG followed by “I” for INK again and lastly “A” for APPLE.
I caught them where they lacked, but since it was just an introductory class of geography I preferred to stick to them and think alike.
‘Toh bachho… INK-NOSE-DOG-INK-APPLE… yeh sab kuch mila ke INDIA hota hai. [Kids… INK-NOSE-DOG-INK-APPLE… adding all it is INDIA] Aur INDIA kya hai? [What is India?]’
‘INDIA hamara desh hai’ they all uttered together.
Ah! For a moment I felt proud of myself to be a successful teacher… BUT a long way to go.
I wrote the letter “C” and they uttered as expected, “C” for CAT followed by “O” for ORANGE, “U” for UMBRELLA, “N” for NOSE again, “T” for TOE, “R” for RAT and “Y” for YELLOW. I followed the same strategy to write “RAJASTHAN”, then “STATE”, “PUSHKAR” and lastly “VILLAGE”. I wasn’t expecting 100% but that day my intentions were to aware them that there are words other than A for Apple, B for Ball, C for Cat and so on. Though, it took four hours to teach them, “India hamara desh hai, Rajasthan hamara rajya hai aur Pushkar hamara gaon hai [India is our country, Rajasthan is our state and Pushkar is our village.]… I was happy that out of 15 students… 9 of them said it correctly and 2 of them also said it in English.
It wasn’t a bitter experience but I got hold of their minds… how to polish them.
In the mean time, I also had some nostalgic moments. I saw my nursery days back again… with eyes full of dreams, mind full of pranks and copies full of scrabbles. I wondered that how our teachers used to keep control of their patience. Even they punished us… but that day I came to know that our teachers never liked to punish us. I was literally feeling bad that day when I punished three of them….asking them to lie down on the floor. Anyways, after lunch I gave them a yoga session and thereafter, Rahul proceeded with the introductory class on Hindi.
[Picture 7: The kids learning yoga at the school]
I heard about how Holi is celebrated in Pushkar during my last year visit. I came to cover the Pushkar Camel Festival in the month of November. At that time I had made up my mind that I will be visiting Pushkar at the time of Holi 2014, then again during the Pushkar Camel Festival 2014. So I was totally charged up to play with colours after such a nostalgic afternoon with kids. Travellers from all around the world are aware that the quaint town of Pushkar is popular for the oldest Brahma Temple… but after my visit to Pushkar I discovered that the town pulls in for its lovely surroundings, lovely people and tradition.
[Picture 8: A glimpse of one of the ghats]
The evening, after the class, Rahul and I headed towards the Varah Ghat, which is one of the popular ghats out of 52 ghats along the Pushkar Lake. Varah Ghat is the place where Holi in Pushkar is celebrated every year at its grandeur. The bonfire that evening was the main attraction followed by Dandia. Even foreign tourists participated in the celebration… with drum beats, sticks and steps… these foreign tourists, mostly Europeans, seem to hook every tunes and tinges of Indian culture. They stay back not only to visit heritage or other destinations BUT to seek everything. I met an American woman named Abigail that evening who came to India August last year with a month visa but she had to extend her visa twice as she fell in love with India cultural hues.
[Picture 9: Me with Abigail on the eve of Holi @ Varah Ghat, Pushkar]
Another major highlight on the eve of Holi was a tall Australian guy with spiky hair who was pied with various colours and taking snaps with all the people around him.
[Picture 10: An Australian tourist celebrating Holi @ Varah Ghat, Pushkar]
The following morning, I woke up by the clamour of the people playing with colours outside. ‘Ah! It’s Holi and I will be playing after 3 years.’ I was simply waiting to be a part of the excitement to come. I kicked Rahul to wake him up. After having tea and light breakfast, we headed to the campsite to start our Holi celebration in Pushkar with the kids. We bought four different colours of “Gulal” or “Abir” OR “SCENTED POWDER”, a spray and deep coloured powder that we rub with water and apply it on others’ face. Trine bought few ‘pichkaris’, variety of colours and ‘Gulal for the kids’.
[Picture 11: Jeetu, Me, Trine and Rahul with the kids on the day of Holi]
Thereafter, Rahul, Jeetu, Trine and I headed straight to Varah Ghat to seek the awaited moment under the cloud of pink, red, blue, green, purple and yellow. The ambiance was more than just colours.
[Picture 12: The crowd @ Varah Ghat on the day of Holi]
It was crowded… white people turned out multi-coloured… and the DJ music beat the pulses of several colourful hippies. Men were half nude and so were Rahul and I… where I was left with one of the sleeves of my T-Shirt.….R.I.P. my T-Shirt… somewhere was hanging on the wire that was holding hundreds of dead T-Shirts, vests and shirts.
[Picture 13: T-shirts hanging over the wire @ Varah Ghat]