Where does spirituality lead us?
The question begets an inward journey. However, one needs to define spirituality first. Wikipedia says “spirituality may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity, personal growth, or blissful experience.”
This definition leaves me dumb struck and confused. How can one define what is a meaningful activity, personal growth or blissful experience? What may be meaningful to one may lack meaning to another. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. A jihadi sees great meaning in scarifying his life against those who in his eyes have corrupted the ideals of Islam. This may be a way to reach Allah. However, another person may see this as an act of terror. For the rapist, an act of forceful sex brings a positive experience, a fulfillment of sexual desires. For the person who is on the receiving end, it is heinous and traumatizing. Hence one can deduce that spirituality is an individual process/experience. It is very difficult to define spirituality. That makes it even more difficult to define where it leads us.
In an attempt to answer the question, I am sharing a true and personal story. 10 of us were traveling on a road trip to Ladakh in August 2015. We had decided to halt at Jispa instead of Sarchu while travelling from Manali to Leh. Sarchu is closer to Leh, but the altitude is higher. The journey from Jispa to Leh is a good 16 hours and we left Jispa at 5am. 13 hours into the journey, at around 6pm, we were close to our destination. We were ~2hours or 70 kms away from Leh. An unforeseen incident occurred. A landslide had occurred barely 2 kms away after crossing a small village called Miru. The road for about 100 meters had been eroded owing to a massive fall of rocks. On one side of the road was the river and on the other side was the massive zanskar range of mountains. And there lay our destiny. The 100 meters of road that ceased to exist.
We were amongst the first 30/40 people who reached there. Our very experienced local driver, Jackieji quickly assessed the situation. He knew that this would take a while and hence spoke to a local villager who took us in. We were 10 people, 7 girls and 3 guys from Mumbai with an average age of 27. And we were fortunate to get 10 feet by 9 feet room. That’s 90 feet for 10 people or roughly 9 feet per person. Add luggage. There was no ventilation, electricity or mobile network. There was obviously no bed, just some old, worn out, damp mattresses. Imagine a bunch of urban 27 year olds who are subject to relativeluxury being put in such a spot.
And that is how our odyssey began. What followed over the next 3 days was in hindsight – divinity. But obviously it did not seem so at that point of time. The house belonged to a lady called Ang Mo.
Ang Mo was an old lady with several wrinkles on her face. Her age though unknown seems way above 70 years. Her face was soft yet hard. You could sense the shyness and grace in her beautiful old eyes. Her face had the character of warmth and niceness despite having lived a tough life. She did not speak English. She lived in poverty.
She tried to comfort us with all that she had in the form of the old mattresses. We were thirsty as our mineral water was over. There was nothing in the village and obviously no place to buy mineral water. The only way to drink water was through a hand pump a few meters outside her house.
She escorted us and showed us around. There was no bathroom and we had to resort to mother nature. She had another room that was also occupied in no time. She could see the fatigue and hunger and hence cooked us a warm meal. She landed up cooking for almost 40 people who were stuck.
By the nighttime 100+ people had got stuck at this point. There were barely 4 houses in this small village of Miru. We felt very fortunate when we heard that people slept in trucks, down by the road and in their vehicles the entire night. Atleast we could lie down. The sky looked beautiful that night and there was beauty in the morning.
The situation had worsened the next day with no help in sight. Ang Mo and the other villagers were more than generous in feeding us. However an unprecedented wave of people stuck meant that the food supplies in the entire village were exhausted. We were hungry. She was hungry. And it started to rain in the chilly weather. Ang Mo had no umbrella and barely any footwear for protection. Even despite these adversities, she always wore a smile.
Over the course of the next few days almost 700-1000 people were stuck. There was a lot of work a part of this group did. It was basically to try and repair the road by throwing rocks in the river. Maybe it could become walk worthy to cross over somehow. Some even tried to cross the mountain. That was a dangerous affair. Our volunteering efforts were supported by the border road organization (BRO). There was a JCB ferrying stones and doing its best. Somehow after 3 days and 2 nights we walked pass. The water was obstructed and a fragmented rock formed pathway was made through the water. We walked with our luggage in our hands. I had a heavy heart as I walked away from Miru.
Those 3 days and 2 nights left a deep impression in our hearts. Ang Mo left a deep impression. She has a heart of gold – she exhausted her supplies (that would hopefully get replenished after 15 days), welcomed us (& others), comforted us. She tried to communicate with us despite her language barrier. There was something about her presence that made you feel so comfortable. And all this after having lived a hard life with limited resources and very less finances. Her husband had passed away. Her son worked in some city. She lived almost alone. There was little she communicated with the handful of fellow villagers. It is difficult to imagine life even today in some of our villages.
Ang Mo, is an unsung hero. She and the other thousand of people who reside in Ladakh are warm and helpful. She/they exemplifies humanity and compassion. Ang Mo was so grateful when we left behind some of our woolen socks, warm clothes and umbrella. She was very thankful after we paid her. She did not have expectations of being paid a hefty amount anyways. She kept repeating one word more than several times. That word was “Jiju”. The word translates to the urdu word “meherbani”. Its difficult to translate the meaning of the word meherbani to English given its depth. As I attempt to define meherbani, it is a combination of being humane, congenial, sympathetic, disposed to do good to, benevolent, courteous, gracious, kind, compassionate, considerate, helpful and kindly affectionate.
Ang Mo had great compassion and love for another human being irrespective of their gender, age, race or religion. She had a sense of “jiju” all along. And maybe that is where spirituality should lead us – into being “jiju”!
Please note: If you feel like sending any supplies (food, clothing, shoes, old umbrella’s, blankets), Ang Mo’s address is: Nawang Phuntsog, Block No 194/02, House name – Conpo Meroo, village miru, Leh Ladakh (Kharu). I would be grateful! She can’t be reached on telephone. I live in the hope that the Indian Post delivers it to this address. I am not sure though. To Ang Mo and several thousand other unsung hero’s – “jiju” forever.
Written by Aejas Lakhani, toured Leh Ladakh in August 2015.