Saturday, November 14, 2009
The story of a Boy named Tashi and his donkey Goba
I am a weaver. I weave stories of distant lands, forbidden worlds, mystic mountains, of people not seen or heard, of human stories that by far exceed our wildest imaginations and of course stories of sheer stupidity. Funny and hilarious, absurd and unbelievable mostly. The characters are people like you and those I meet during my travels, the threads are the collective experience that I gather from each one of you and the colors come from your dreams and wishes. And I weave them all together to make up my stories. Nothing is original; they have only been arranged in an original form and design. There is absolutely nothing that any of us can ever discover, design or relate in original that has not already been told or designed by someone somewhere somehow. As a story weaver my only role is to bring these collective people and experiences together at one place in a lucid manner.
During my story telling sessions I am often asked to relate my life-and-death stories. Moments from where I should not have emerged alive, death defying acrobatics that no sane man should indulge in. Somehow my audiences, especially young kids love these tales. Starting my blog was a way of bringing these stories to a wider audience across the globe. I am sure by now most of you have had enough of my impossible tales. Hence today for all of you I bring a simple story. The story of a little boy named Tashi and his little doe-eyed donkey Goba. This story is as timeless as it is boundless, it could have happened anywhere to anyone, hence I won’t mention the time period neither the place. Suffice it to say that it happened in one of the remotest and least known valleys in the Spiti region of Indian Himalaya. A place so remote and unknown that this village where Tashi lives does not even have a name outside the valley. With the present day roads permeating deep within the Himalaya, it will take you nearly four days of back breaking trail tramping to even get the first glimpse of Tashi’s village. When I landed up there it had taken me more than ten and I had reached there only because I had lost my way and had no maps to guide me by. Thank god for that, else I wouldn’t have discovered Tashi and his wonderful world.
I am not sure why and my mom can’t explain it either but I have a habit of finding myself often where, by design, I am not supposed to be. I often get lost, forget my trails and stumble upon places that did not exist in my world before. Let us all now go back and live the story.
Post an eclectic expedition in Ladakh I bid my team goodbye and haul my bag on my back and head up towards a snow filled horizon that propels me to find out what lies beyond. Even if it is the end of the world, I wish to find out for myself. My friends and local members caution me that there is no way in that direction and nothing but sheer mountains, immobile and impenetrate-able in every sense of the word. There is a better way or rather the only way around that ridge if I took a detour of three days and one even volunteers to come along. I shoo them away like children. This is my dream, this is my horizon and this is the only way I am going to experience it – alone. They each hug me fondly, muttering once again, if they are going to see this crazy friend of theirs in future. I assure them of such an incident and take off.
On the second day I study the map more intently and am delighted to find that the map does not show anything on either side of the snow horizon save steep mountain faces, deep gorges, stumbling and tumbling rivulets and frozen ice lines. Hmmmm…. I go for a while. I have food for five days and all the time in the world. I shove my map right at the bottom of my backpack and plunge right into the stream that stands between me and my horizon. The freezing water shoots through my brain and thoughts like a knife. I mutter and chatter and shiver and race to the other side. Dry my feet and off I go once again. However solid or impassable a land looks I have consistently discovered that nature always leaves a fissure, an exit and entry point somewhere if one would look long and hard enough. As if nature wanted us to discover them but not without toil. So I enter a narrow gorge and start climbing along the bone chilling wind and the tumbling mass of foaming water. At places the water is frozen and suspended into thin air. Even a light hearted tap might dislodge them. I keep away from them, only marveling at the supernal sculptures. When wind and water gets working believe me they produce the greatest of architectures. With every passing day I go deeper and higher towards my horizon without any let up anywhere. My food rapidly depleting has me pondering. I start collecting roots from the ground. Soon I am above the permafrost and I melt ice carefully rationing my fuel like a miser. The roots taste nice. Thoughts and dreams assail my sleep. I am coherent yet not sure if I should be where I am. But by the time such sense and sensibility reaches my mind I am way beyond the point of no return. Descending the sharp arêtes and sheer faces I had left behind would now be suicidal. I do not have a rope long enough to rappel. I have always seen that following the unknown path is better than a known one since in the former you may or may not fail while in the latter you know that you will. So I whistle, I smile, I follow the clouds, chase the ravens and continue.
The reducing ration brings home the point that once again by my own doing I am reaching a place where it is exciting to be but not necessarily an ideal one. With every passing day my horizon looms larger and closer. Sixth day onwards I am trudging through knee-deep snow, clawing and grumbling every inch up towards the ridge top. I don’t think of what could lie beyond. It doesn’t matter anymore. I have nowhere else to go. Constant action keeps me warm and excited not allowing any rationality to sink in; which is good.
In life it is best to be insane and completely out of mind at times only then can you and do you start experiencing beyond the obvious. I am now in that solid state of existence. I look but don’t see, I experience but do not feel, I ask questions but do not answer, I pray but to no god that I know of, I climb and grip my ice tools with all might but don’t know where and how they hold me to ground. I am not delirious though. I sense everything with heightened awareness. I know that I am completely alone and at the mercy of my mountains and I know I am totally helpless to do anything about it and it doesn’t bother me at all. I am living out of my mind. Amazing feeling. And then, I cover the few hundred yards to the top of the ridge. Finally I stand right on top of the horizon that had been enticing me over the past month. What I see beyond and below take my breath away for more reasons than one.
On the other side, the mountain ridge goes down like a shiny slider covered with ice and snow. It seems interminable as it disappears amidst a band of truant clouds. Far beyond and below the clouds a tiny spidery river runs out and far ahead by its side I see few houses nestled on the sheer mountain face. My eyes sparkle and my heart jumps with joy since I know that neither this rivulet nor this village is marked in any map. I also serenade since I know I am at the verge of a whole new world. Though the remaining sense in my benumbed brain asks me how the hell am I going to go down to the rivulet? There seems absolutely no pathway or trail anywhere. Then after a moment of rest I realize that the only part of physics that I ever grasped in my school must come to my rescue. The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. An absolutely straightforward and life-changing idea. I decide to simply slide down the face like a giant slider. I take off my crampons; grip my ice axe hard, lean back into the slope and take off.
As the wind blows through my brain, I feel liberated like a luger (a luge champion). I speed off towards certain doom as my body accelerates beyond control. My ice axe barely touches the ice as the hard surface provides no purchase to the steel tips. I panic, I scream, I fear and then I am happy as I realize that these must surely be my last moments on earth and I have every right to enjoy them to the fullest. I have no idea how the slope will span out. I might just tumble off across a sheer drop or the ice runs into rock and I would be a base jumper for a very short spell of my uneventful life.
As I keep sliding down with rapidity approaching the speed of photons I realize that along with hopelessness I am full of hope too, of a death so quick and adrenalin-filled that I will only realize I am dead much later than the eventuality… which is a good thing. But like they (who exactly?) say; every good thing that begins must end one way or the other. So finally I am airborne, flying through air like a mistimed arrow towards eternity. I am falling like a Vanuatu native in the GOL ritual. My trousers and jackets are torn beyond repair. I land and then roll and fly again. I glissade, I hear bones breaking within. I can’t make myself stop. After what seems forever I again take a leap and finally drop like a dead stone into a massive heap of snow that more than cushioning my fall, gulps me within its bowels like a giant pterodactyl. I take a deep breath and finally lose consciousness.
When I open my eyes a little boy is peering deep into mine. With his cherubic smile he must be the son of Cupid I figure and I had reached heaven for certain. He shakes me around and pinches my nose… that hurts. I groan and he laughs and someone else makes a strange sound as well. I twist my neck painfully to find a four-footed creature staring into my eyes with equal intent, with its jaws bared in a laughter of utmost mirth. My eyes slowly focus to realize that it is a black donkey openly laughing at my misdemeanor. I marvel at God’s ingenuity… even in heaven the beast of burden is used. But I hurt all over, and the dead are beyond physical discomfort or so I have been told.
I try to sit up but to no avail. My entire body waist down is paralyzed. My head spins. There’s no sign of my bag, or ice tools. My hand is bleeding and my head throbs. The boy and his donkey watch me without concern. They find it amusing and so do I. It is amusing since by then I realize that I am still alive. The boy touches my face and asks my name in his local dialect that I can speak. He then introduces me to his friend and companion Goba. Tashi gets Goba on his stomach and drags me on top of the saddle. My body screams out in pain. I stare back at the mammoth face that I had just come down and the avalanche path my body had chartered. There is absolutely no hope of finding any of my belongings. Have I lost everything I ask myself but then realize that I had just found my everything. I position myself half supine; half hanging on Goba and with a gentle push to his rump from Tashi the caravan of three begin their journey.
How did Tashi find me and what happened thereafter is a long story that can fill up a three hour long movie. Suffice to mention that I stayed with Tashi, Goba and their village for the next fortnight recovering strength and gaining friends like never before. The entire village of 80 adopted me like a long lost son. They are among the hardiest, poorest and most generous people I have seen anywhere in the world. As I learned and lived each day with these kind people I learned of their tribulations and turmoil, their simple dreams broke my heart many times over. I had compassion for them and empathy but no resources to do anything about it. Tashi wanted to study, his friend Tondup wanted to touch the stars while his father dreamt of a day when he will not have to travel for four hours each day to fetch a bucket of water in the winters. They touched my life and transformed me forever while I sat there and kept on pondering what could I do for them.
You will be happy to know that Tashi does not ride his donkey all day long any more. He goes to a respectable school, is proud of his books, uniform, teachers and his friends. He wants to change the world; his world, his mountains. Goba is happy munching fodder and helping his father tilt the fields and of course to give me a ride whenever I visit him. Tashi’s father now gets water in winters all the time. Tondup has a telescope on his roof from where he tells his friends the difference between a galaxy and a star and also asks them to make a wish every time a comet checker across his horizon. How did these happen; you might ask?
I have been lecturing on Himalaya and the outdoors for a long time both within India and many countries across the world. Along with lecturing I have also been conducting workshops on outdoor and wilderness survival, life changing lessons from the outdoors etc. At some point I realized that people were willing to pay and listen me spin my tales and read what I write. This meant an additional source of income, which I really did not need. So I came up with my vision of ‘Resource Redistribution’.
Throughout my life as I coursed from one corner of our world to another I have been overwhelmed and inundated by human kindness, generosity, friendship and selfless gestures from so many specially from those who had so little. They opened doors for me in the darkest of nights at places where I knew none and was completely lost and hopeless. These people shared with me not only their meager resources, food, home, life but they shared their dreams and wishes.
Believe me dreams and wishes are not subjected to an individual’s education, social status, wealth or upbringing. My heart bled and brimmed with joy amidst all such people and I vowed to do something if I could one day. I don’t believe in mere words, though the power of communication cannot be undermined, but I believe in action. If I can do something I will do it, at whatever scale I can, and if I can’t then I will generate support for the same among my peers and if I fail in even that then I will just keep my mouth shut and continue with my efforts even when failure is certain. I am happy even if I manage to turn the certainty of failure to that of uncertainty. After having failed miserably to garner support and strength for these kind people from the mountains I calculated what I could do. I am not a wealthy man (in our normal sense of the word) by any stretch of imagination yet I do earn a steady income, so I started off by giving away half of my monthly income in providing education, medical healthcare and sustenance to few scattered families. From this humble and very insignificant beginning I managed to provide home and education to nearly a dozen kids from orphanages across the country.
When I realized that people would pay to listen to my tales, I pegged my lecturing fee at a price that most of you would find surprising perhaps. Along with that I adopted four of the remotest, poorest and little known villages from across the length of Himalaya, since I could not reach out to all I decided to start from the bottom of the ladder. With the aim that whatever I earned from my talks, workshops, books, articles, etc would go towards the betterment of these villages in terms of providing education, healthcare, infrastructural developments (water, power, road, etc). I did this alone and still do it alone. As my circle outside grew, I requested my learned friends from across the globe to come and spend a month, a week of their precious time in my villages, bringing hope and dreams to these people. Doctors, educators, artists, scientists, etc came and stayed with the villagers. To these wonderful and amazing people I could offer nothing for their generosity, time and humanitarian gestures, except airfare, full boarding and lodging expenses, for which again I paid from my earnings from my talks, lectures etc.
Therefore whenever you come and share a part of my journey you help a child from some of the remotest and least known parts of the world go to school and dream big. You also provide water, solar energy to one more family, which further reduces their dependence on wood cutting and depleting their natural surroundings. I am a simple humble man just one individual who believes in the power of one and the power of all. Today Tashi is a topper in his school and is about to go to high school. He wishes to be a doctor and treat his people for free, he wishes to see the world, he wishes to meet the American President, he wishes to end all wars. His dreams are way too big for his small head and little dancing eyes but he can dream and he wish because people like you at some point of time decided to share my journey.
So join my journey, help another Tashi to dream big and change the world. If any of you belong to a corporate or a school or a brand or wherever doing whatever and wish to make a change by simply sharing my voyage then do let me know. I am willing and available to travel anywhere to any audience under any climatic conditions and share my stories and journey, even if it is in a marriage or birthday party. If you know of others who would like to share a journey with me then do pass this on. I also climb for a cause. So if you would want me to climb some impossible and dangerous mountains or ski to some godforsaken places and carry the message home to people for a just cause do let me know.
I love sharing my journeys with terminally ill people, children, poor people, etc and these I do for my own pleasure, so do let me know if you know any such place or organization where I can tell my stories.
I am not an investment banker, neither a social entrepreneur or business setup consultant so I can’t give you ideas to make millions or how to get you into the Forbes list. I am neither a scientist nor a software developer neither a techie geek or nerd and I can’t do anything to change your world more than it already is by natural process of selection and elimination.
I am not a medical man or a firefighter and I really can’t save lives more than any of you.
I am a simple story teller, a traveler without destination, a believer in the goodness of humanity and mankind and a dreamer with a firm faith that together we can and we will change the world. By sharing my journey, even if it is only over a span of an hour or a day, if nothing else I can definitely promise you a journey that you did not imagine possible and by far more thrilling and nail biting than any Hollywood bestseller.
I don’t believe in one-way charity acts, which then becomes a desperate plea to which people can only sympathize and nothing more. Feel good factor of having done something good for the sheer pleasure of doing so is absurd. There has to be an exchange, a give and take in everything. A way that benefits both the giver and the receiver. Hence I never seek to raise money by donations. I offer my stories, my life lessons, other takeaways, my journeys without sermonizing anything at all. Pure fun and joy is all that I bring to you. I hang from impossible places, I run the risk of dying so that you may gasp and sit at the edge of your seat and find a reason to laugh and smile.
Remember always when you hear me speak and share my journey, that by simply doing so you are helping yet another family (who do not really seek anything from anyone) dream and wish big. The world can only change from the grass root and only you can make that happen. I am only a resource re-distributor.
Thank you for hearing my story and sharing my journey this far. I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep. Goodbye and god bless. See you all on top