The Silent Soldier
Gurjas Chahal’s encounter with a selfless soul enriches her life with the wisdom of humility and noble service
We meet wonderful souls at the most unexpected of places. I had seen one such person working at the lakeside, all busy uprooting weeds with bare hands, removing watercress in armfuls, watering the plants dotting the lakeshore, and working with full sincerity all by himself. A wizened face, worn-out, nondescript clothes, swarthy body, and muddy flip-flops—all suggesting he was some gardener appointed by the lake authorities.
Good deed for the day
One day, after a five-kilometre walk on the tracks around the lake, I paced down to my usual spot by a tree to do some physical exercises. At some distance from me, a group of men were crowding together around a patch, planting a sapling. I noticed there were many more young saplings with them for sowing. It looked as if they were carrying out some plantation drive. One of them invited me to join them in planting a sapling with my own hands and feel the pride. When I had done it, somebody suggested that mere planting was not enough; I must come to see it atleast once a week. I agreed.
Routine brings peace of mind
On the very next day, I was eager to see how my plant was shaping up. Its bed was dry. I looked around for something to pour water with. Near the lake by the big banyan tree, lay an old paint bucket which could be put to use. The gardener was working nearby. I guessed it was his. “Can I take the bucket for a while,” I asked, “for watering my plant there?” “Your plant?” he said in surprise. I told him about the plantation drive, of which I had been made a part of, the day before. He smiled and let me take the bucket. Taking water from the lake, I watered not only my plant but many others around it. The work gave me a lot of peace, and this became a daily routine for me.
Slowly, the gardener and I got talking. He was not just any gardener. He was a respectable senior citizen, ex-employee of Engineers India Limited, who had been appointed by the government, even after retirement, to provide consultancy for another ten years. He was a widely travelled man, father of four girls, three of whom were married and settled in the US, and one was working for the BBC World. He spoke perfect English and Hindi, laden with a Bengali accent. He had been working at the lake for the past thirty years. Why, despite being so well placed in life, did he work like a labourer? He replied that working with plants and water gave him a lot of physical exercise, and this helped in keeping his sugar levels low. To me, this appeared to be only an overt reason.
Work for work’s sake
As time went by and my visits to the lake became almost regular, I noticed that his efforts were tireless. He would carry armfuls of watercress from the deep water to the shore for hours on end, without any fear of snakebites or slipping on the lake floor. This could not be just to reduce sugar levels. And then, one day, the facts were revealed casually. Somebody asked him, “Dada, what is the point in clearing the lake? Look, the wind has blown in beds and beds of weeds again from the Trilokpuri end.” Dada replied calmly, “God is giving me more work.” Sometimes, he would reply to people’s similar concerns by saying, “It’s not about finishing the work. It’s about going on doing it.”
His thoughts on the issue of work, remind me of my late father. He used to narrate an incident from the life of Baba Bulleh Shah. Once someone asked Bulleh Shah, “Bulleha, what is God?” At that time Baba Bulleh Shah was standing in a water-filled paddy field and uprooting plants from one side and sowing them on his other side. BullehShah replied, ‘Itthonchukkiyateyuttheylaya’ (uproot from here and sow over there).
All sorts of people visit the lake. Some encourage Dada by words like ‘Good work’ or ‘Keep it up.’ Some discourage him in a downright ugly way. Once a man said, ‘Dada, is it your father’s lake that you slog like this?’ Dada was hurt but he kept smiling. The next day, Dada narrated this incident to me and others who had gathered around. A sense of outrage filled me, and I thought if I had been there, I would have replied to the foolish man: ‘Yes, the lake is indeed Dada’s father’s lake. It is your father’s lake too, only if you recognise Him.’ God is everyone’s father, and we all are His children.
One act of selfless service to Nature invites others to follow the lead. Dada’s godly work is a source of inspiration for others. A person working as a software engineer in Gurgaon comes to the lakeside to help him in shifting mounds of weeds to places far off from the shore. He does it with his bare hands, unmindful of his clothes getting soiled or shoes getting wet. One housemaid, after finishing her chores in three to four houses, comes to broom the place on her own volition. Nobody pays her for this. People will bring leftover food from home to spread it over the dyke, frequently visited by crows, stray dogs, and chipmunks for food and water.
There’s no provision of implements from the authorities. Dada gets his own knife and bucket. Many of his knives have been stolen from the lakeside. A minute of careless abandonment of the implement, and it is gone forever. Nobody has stolen his bucket though, probably because it can’t be pocketed and run off with.
His work is a source of inspiration for me and all others who have even an iota of God element in them. My attachment with Dada’s calling is only a year old, but working at the lakeside, I have discovered the panacea against stress. No matter how hard the previous day has been, an early morning working with the plants—mending their beds, watering them, and talking to them in slow whispers (as if they were listening to me)—relieves me of all thoughts, thereby refreshing me and filling me with a lot of peace and serenity.
Lesson well learnt
Besides the above, I learnt a big lesson in practical humility from Dada, for which I shall always remain indebted to him. One day, a guy came by the lakeshore walking his dog. Though it was a prohibited area for walking pet animals, the man insisted on having his way. It was all very well till his dog decided to squat down for pooping. Dada objected by shouting that the dog should be taken far away by the dustbin near the gate so that this place could remain clean for the morning walkers. At this, the man barked back with nasty words. Dada also replied in the same tone, admonishing him. “And what happened after that?” I asked. The man did not listen, and Dada had to lift the poop in the cup of his palms for throwing it in the dustbin by the gate.
I learnt the very important lesson that one must speak one’s mind on seeing the ills in our surroundings but then, in the very next moment, become humble enough to right the wrongs, no matter how much humbling of the ego is required. Dada teaches through his actions, rather than words.
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