A smile is all it takes to bridge the gap of a hundred miles that lay between 2 hearts, two ages and two cultures..its like that cosmic ray that can light up the darkest corner of the earth .
But a smile also is a veil under which lay secret , untold stories of fear, of sorrow and of feelings too deep to fathom..In such cases a smile creates an aura of an enigma.......
This is what came to my mind as I saw Baje's smiling face . There were stories untold, hidden under that veil of smile and so, with ever passing day my curiosity to know them grew stronger.
Like most Gurkhas, Baje was also paid peanuts for his decade-long service to Her majesty the queen. And so when he returned home post retirement, there was very little cash in his pocket. His monthly pension did not reach him every month and it was back to he hard peasant's life in the mountain, once again. The hardship multiplied when his wife died suddenly. And even as he was overcoming that grief, the elder of his two sons lost a hand in a freak hunting accident . The accident sent the young man over the edge of his wits and he never recovered from that again. He lived in a perpetual stupor, caring for nothing and none.
The younger boystudies in a residential school, away from home.
The house he had been able to built, during his service years, was a good one. It was a 2-stories stone house with 3 spacious rooms. There were 2 words 'Love, Live ' written on he walls, just above the door and there were beautiful creepers growing around he windows.
But it was a house full of hollowness. There were none here with warmth in the heart , nor anyone eager to listen to Baje's stories or share his childlike laughter .
Everyday he would get up before sunrise, regardless of the season or the climate. Then he would cook his meal..a dish of daal-bhat(the concept of breakfast did not exist there) and before 8 he would be in the village nursery where he would be working till midday, when it was time to look after other domestic duties. This included chopping firewood, collecting fodder for cattle, tending to rabbits and ducks in the village community farms. Add to this tilling of the land, sowing seeds, preparing compost and a hundred other odd jobs and what you get is a day where there is barely a minute to laze.
Night, therefore was a welcome relief , but before that he had to finish his dinner, which again could be had only when it was prepared..by himself.
And this is the way life is...12 months ayear. Hard, devoid of rest, and lonely. And yet you find him smiling . He has to fetch for himself every single day , yet he would be happy to be your host, to invite you over his home, to cok a meal for you.
At his age, specially after so many years of service abroad, men think of nothing but living in a cozy home and a life freed of all duties. And yet he would not only happilly carry on his own endless list of duties towards his village, but would happilly offer his services , of course for free, to any visitor like you. He would offer to take you to the mountains, explore the forest, show you the waterfalls, the watermill, the ancient shrines, the crops in the field, pluck flowers for you, and if you are too tired, then he would even offer to carry your bag although he is 74 and you are an able bodied yung person in your early twienties.
His area of work , as I said, is medicinal plants. But he taught me of paper plants and of plants that produce coton-like fibre. He showed me rearing of angora rabbits. He taught of grass that produce powder that folk actors in China used in their make up, to whiten their faces before a performance, of extracting wood that can be burnt like a torch... And of course a hundred myths, legends and folklore.. .
And as if these were not enough, he even found a young man in the village (one of the few who spoke some english) who would be my entertainer, meeting me every evening with his guitar and sing for me.....
And that's my Baje...a grand old, real man....a personification of wisdom..someone I am proud to have known.