How can the stories be complete without introducing the cast of characters residing at the ashram?
They are a family of four, Papaji, Amma, Dr. Ash and his wife Savi (also an Ayurvedic doctor). A young Ayurvedic doctor, Manisha, who is interning with Dr. A, Kalayani who works here, and currently a 29-year-old Brazilian girl who is studying Ayurveda. Plus of course the patients, not so many in the monsoon season. I can write pages on each character, but will keep the descriptions brief.
Lets begin with Papaji. Papaji is Dr. A’s father, about 5’9, slim, semi balding, wears glasses, and he is the backbone of the place. Dressed in his little lungi and t-shirt, he is always working, always. I have never seen him just sitting with his feet up. From serving us food, to keeping the fire burning under a huge water tank, to going grocery shopping, to helping with the treatments, to kneading the dough and making dosas. He is always smiling and very kind. You can go to him with any operational problem and he very calmly helps you out.
Amma looks like what an amma should look like. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but there are some stereotypes with certain figures, and she totally fits it. She is about 5’4, plump, wears a sari, big bindi on her forehead, big eyes, some gold jewelry, and has her gray hair in a bun. If Papaji is the backbone of the place, she is the heart. This lady cooks, serves and feeds people all day long. From 6.30 a.m. she begins with preparing the concoctions for the treatments, boils medicated water for all of us, starts with breakfast prep, and continues all day long in her little kitchen with no outside help. In their peak season they have about 16-20 resident guests at any given time, and she prepares their treatment potions, cooks and feeds them all on her own.
Savi, Dr. A’s wife, about 32 years old, 5’3, fair, thick wavy hair, pretty, very calm and poised exterior. She teaches Ayurveda in a nearby college a few days a week. Savi is currently off from college and assists everyone with everything. She helps in the kitchen, with the treatments, serving the food, and usually takes care of the meds one is given to eat/drink at the dinner table. I have never seen her lose her cool as she goes about her day, considering that she and all of them share their space with so many outsiders.
Dr. A: Such a sweet man. Very slight build, dark curly hair, Charlie Chaplin moustache, bright eyes, and a soft voice. It is hard to put into words the amount of care he gives to each patient. There is nothing commercial or rushed about the way he approaches the treatment. Patients are given the attention that THEIR body and mind needs, and also the treatment changes based on how you responded to the previous one. It’s a live organic ongoing process, nothing at all generic with short cuts. Dr. A has OPD clinic from 10.30 to 1.00, and 4.00 – 7.00 p.m. Here he treats people from the District; evidently some of them come down from pretty far.
Kalayani, young cleaning woman, about 5’3, dark skinned, petite, hair in a braid. From the moment we disembarked from the taxi, she has been looking after Amar and I in the sweetest possible way. Always smiling, full of energy and cheer, she communicates in a mix of broken Hindi and English. I like to chat with her and get information prior to a treatment, or make general conversation about the ashram and the residents. Yesterday morning, Kalayani came in a little late, her hair was in disarray, and she was not smiling. I immediately knew that she not her usual self, when she did not greet me cheerfully with her usual “Good Morning Priyaji”. Turns out that she is married to an alcoholic wife beater, and he beat her up in front of her little kids the previous night. This woman who works at the ashram from 7.00 a.m. to 8 p.m. every single day, helping people get better, lays the responsibility of her own misfortune at the feet of her bad past life karma.
Manisha, 23 years old, 5’1, cute, chubby, big doe like eyes, soft voice, and shiny long hair. She has completed her 4 years of Ayurvedic medical school and is now finishing up her 1.5 years of internship here. She has a boyfriend in Bangalore (Engineer), parents about 9 hours away, lives in a little cubbyhole of a room here, and does some of the treatments or assists Dr. Ash. Behind her shy exterior, she is very independent and spirited.
Foreign Students: There are always some foreigners studying here usually from Brazil, Australia, or America. Currently there is a Brazilian girl who was on a ‘yatra’ and is now here for a month to study.
Patients: Just yesterday this very sweet tiny little Kannada lady left after 8 days of treatment for her joints. I was curious about her and she was curious about me, but we had no common language. So we sat Kalayani down between us and had a conversation. It was hilarious because Kalayani also speaks broken Hindi/English. In the end however, we knew everything about each other’s families, kids, and health.
There is so much calm and equanimity in this place, time basically stands still. The people are serene because they live such a basic, rustic life so close to nature. I was discussing this with Amar, and wondering how there seems to be no need for friends, socialization, shopping, restaurants, dressing fancy, TV, movies…nothing. All they do all year long is to be in service to others. Their simple home is open to hundreds of people through the year; where with very open hearts they look after, feed and treat everybody. This existence of theirs is magical and pure.