Volume 5 - Issue 11
CREATING A LAND OF LOVE …
Naya Bazaar Kustha Ashram lies some distance away from the township of ‘steel city’ Rourkela, in Orissa, a state in North East India. ‘Kustha’, in Oriya (the language of the state) means leprosy. In this colony, amid rundown mud thatched houses, live around 300 people, labeled as lepers and permanent outcasts by society and made to suffer a life of ostracism, poverty and neglect.
This was the case, a few years ago, but not true anymore. Now, this area has turned into a land of love which can turn even the most stone-hearted individual into a ‘Mother Teresa’ or a ‘Mahatma Gandhi’. The turnaround brought about in this despised-by-all settlement by the Sai workers of this region is most stunning and stands as testimony to the power of Pure Love that Bhagavan Baba is. To start with, the Sai volunteers did not call them ‘lepers’. They explain:
“We never call them as lepers, but as ‘Narayanas’ (embodiments of God). We don't have to remind them about their grim existence and future by using a word and name that reminds them of their disease - but a name that reminds them and us too about their real nature – divinity.”
In this article too, we will use this word “Narayana” while we share with you this touching story of a group of people most wish to forget. Vivekananda Sahoo, a former student of Bhagavan’s University, who hails from this state of Orissa, gives us this moving account:
The Drought of Love
Akin to Naya Bazaar (mentioned above), there are four more colonies in and around Rourkela – Durgapur, OMP Backyard, Tarkura and Sector-6. Each accommodates around 250-300 Narayanas. This western part of Orissa has the maximum number of Narayanas in the state, particularly in the Sundergarh District.
On any evening, one can - if he/she has the courage - make one’s way through the muddy track that leads to Naya Bazaar Leprosy Colony and find Shanti decorating the idol of Sri Rama with champa flowers (Michelia Champaca) in the local temple for the evening bhajan. You can see her next putting a beautiful garland of jasmine and marigold flowers around a photograph of Bhagavan Baba; her eyes now brimming with tears. Under the photo is etched the words: "Why fear when I am here?"
After the bhajans, she may tell you how Swami has transformed her life from a curse to a blessing. With tears flowing down her cheeks she narrates how in her adolescence she was diagnosed with leprosy. Her family members were frightened that they too would contract the disease and therefore kept her in confinement, in a room at the edge of the village. "For the first few weeks I kept crying, and asking, ‘Why me?’”, says Shanthi. After six months in isolation she was taken away to a clinic and has not seen her family since. “I felt forsaken by my own family but this was my fate and I had none to blame.” The disease robbed sensation in her right foot; it became so damaged that eventually it had to be amputated. While she was being treated she met her husband - also marked for life by leprosy.
Shanti’s story is only representative of the hundreds in the colony. In fact, her tale finds an echo with all the other 250 odd inmates. They are all social outcastes, treated with scorn by one and all. Even if cured by medication, they remain socially ostracized. Once infected with leprosy, the sufferer is soon forsaken by all family members and friends. Leprosy is contagious, and as the disease slowly eats away their hands and feet, Narayanas are forced out of society.
They can not find work and often end up begging to survive, and living in substandard colonies. The social rejection is, in fact, so great that even when many are cured of their deadly disease, they end up living in isolated settlements. Those affected are forced to live and die a forgotten and humiliating life. Though the people’s affected body parts have no physical pain, their lives are punctuated with a deep emotional pain. The stigma that attaches to them is worse than watching body parts like the tips of the nose, fingers and toes just disappear.
In such pathetic circumstances nearly 300 families live at the colony. They survive on a meager government pension which many supplement with weaving. But their main occupation is begging. Many of the disabled who stand outside the temples and at road junctions in Rourkela carry the marks of leprosy. One man, who has lost several fingers, said that he rarely leaves the colony because people outside are too hostile.
Forlorn, devastated and without any hope of improving their lot, they live in colonies which are rarely visited by outsiders. Shunned by the government and society, the Narayanas often find consolation in vices like drinking and drugs.
The Force Called ‘Pure Love’
It was the year 1985, when the climate in the colony began to undergo a radical change. Inspired by the Pure Love of their Master, Bhagavan Baba, a group of spirited Sai youth had ventured into this so called ‘god forsaken’ area to sow the seeds of Divine Love. Determined to serve the residents of the colony, they found within themselves the necessary love and patient endurance to achieve their purpose - virtues which they attribute to a Strength beyond their own. Thus, a story of reaching out against almost insurmountable odds, portraying the indomitable human spirit, began to be played out – all according to the Divine Director’s plan.
The first task that the youth undertook was to warm the hearts of the colony residents, which had dried up with the pain of many cruel years. Every evening the Sai Youth would share their time and goodwill, looking into their eyes, listening to them, and inspiring them with comforting words. At first the reaction was that of suspicion and mild hostility, but the youth persisted in their efforts.
Slowly, the youth gained their trust and achieved the first challenge of instilling respect and self-worth in the hearts of these abandoned souls. Beautiful things happen when we regain the buoyancy of our human spirit. The Narayanas, who were bereft of the hope of being loved by anyone, found warm eyes, understanding hearts and empathetic smiles. Their hearts, frozen from a lifetime of neglect, now began to warm up. They were unable to fathom how the Sai Youth were so different from others in the world outside.
They wanted to know what goaded them to display such selfless love and concern. The Seva dals, at this point, realized that mere words would not suffice. They gently waited for the language of love, so beautiful and profound, to convey the sweetness and power of the Cosmic Heart that was beating behind all their actions, and one day it happened – the wall broke and tears flowed copiously.
Gopal, an elderly man who had been in the colony for more than 30 years, through tear stained cheeks, said, "This is the first time someone has spoken to me with so much of love and respect, my son!" Many of the Narayanas were still unable to think through the reason why the Sevadals, brimming with the fountain of youth, would abandon their free evenings to spend time with them. They wanted to know more about the Youth and their motivation.
What unfolded next changed them forever. By way of explanation, the youth sang a song about ‘Love walking on Two Feet’ - a phenomenon called Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, and about the rays of His Love reaching out to millions all over the world. On hearing the greatest love story etched in history between man and God, the Narayanas found someone who could redeem their lives. They listened with rapt attention and fervent hearts about this miracle of love. Tears rolled from their eyes, just like the way a seed which is sown in the soil sprouts when the first shower of rain drenches the earth.
Unbounded Selfless Service
In a bid to normalise the leprosy sufferers’ lives, the Sai youth began to attract other people's attention to the Narayanas’ plight and worked to improve the standing of the colony members in society. They had to battle against the prejudice that Narayanas are afflicted for the sins they committed in previous lives. The youth were never tired of convincing people that showing love towards another human being is the most powerful way to receive the blessings of God.
Apart from the change that it brought in the lives of the Narayanas, the impact that this seva had on the Sai Youth is tremendous. After working with these Narayanas in close quarters they know that to have a ‘normal’ body is nothing short of a miracle and some of the experiences they have had doing this service is simply extraordinary.
One concerns a young man who was cleaning the wounds of the Narayanas in dedicated and heartfelt service. After some time, he started to feel the sensation in his right hand was slowly decreasing and becoming numb - an early sign of leprosy! Incredibly, a calm resignation took him over, as he felt this happened while serving those so much in need. He simply prayed to Bhagavan to give him enough strength to carry on serving. Miraculously all the symptoms vanished! It is now ten years since this happened and he is still serving the Narayanas with tremendous zeal and love! The way the Lord takes care of His workers is unimaginable.
Another sevadal volunteer describing his motivation for working at the colony, says, "I choose to work for them because child Narayanas are the most unfortunate, uncared-for lot in our society; deprived of everything for no fault of their own. Born of infected parents, they lose what little they have right in the beginning – from education to entertainment. Leprosy is not hereditary, but the healthy children of leprosy patients are compelled to spend their life in unhygienic and filthy conditions. They are deprived of all physical, social, educational, vocational and cultural development.”
Over a period of time, five leprosy colonies, housing about 2000 residents were adopted in this loving way by the Sai Organisation. They started with Bal vikas classes for the children, then expanding into bhajans, Narayana seva, and other activities. There are also Medical and sadhana camps organized here.
With Love, All Is Possible
The Samithi distributes artificial limbs to people who have lost them due to leprosy on a day known as "Disabled Day”. Once a month the Medical Camp provides an opportunity for cleaning and dressing of the Narayanas’ wounds by doctors and local Sai youth volunteers. The stench coming from the wounds is sometimes unbearable, and it requires every ounce of a person's determination to carry out the task. The volunteers and doctors also identify patients who need further medical attention and refer them to the relevant hospitals and specialists.
One such Narayana, lets call him Jai, was complaining of severe stomach pain. On investigation, it was discovered that he had a tumor in his stomach. The Sai volunteers took Jai to a private hospital where the doctors recommended an immediate operation. The operation would cost Rs. 20,000 and another equal amount would be needed for the post-operative care and medication. The volunteers struggled to collect the amount from among themselves, as Rs.40,000 is quite a sum! But the dearth of funds did not dissuade them from going ahead – they had to provide the right treatment for Jai even if it meant hardship for themselves.
The Sai sevaks deposited the required amount at the hospital and the operation commenced. After a grueling seven hours, the doctors emerged from the operation theatre triumphantly. A 3.5 kg tumor was removed from the patient’s abdomen to everyone’s relief. The hospital managers, witnessing the selfless attitude of the Sai workers, wanted to speak to the Sai Youth. They were moved by the patient’s plight and the enthusiastic youngsters’ spirit of sacrifice. They said, "Your dedication and devotion to a fellow human being who is a complete stranger, is so inspiring and worthy of emulation. Allow us to be a part in this mission of selfless seva too. We are waiving Rs 20,000 for any post operative care. And in the future, we will treat any patient that you bring here absolutely free." Needless to say, the Sevadals were completely taken aback and overcome with joy as they reflected how the fragrance of God’s Love affects others with compassion so powerfully.
New Lives for the Neglected
There are other elements of the Narayanas’ lives that the spirited Sai youth have been able to improve. Their harsh daily existence requires them to beg - this being the most traditional way of earning their livelihood in a society that does not allow them to work. So, these Narayanas can be seen sitting outside temples, and going from door to door, looking for alms. Unfortunately, during the summer months, Rourkela turns into a blazing oven resembling one of the furnaces at the Rourkela Steel Plant, as even the road asphalt melts in the scorching sun! No one dares even to venture out in these blistering months, except those forced to beg to survive. Risking sun stroke the Narayanas used to start out no matter what the temperature, for they had no choice – the only alternative being to starve to death.
On one of the regular visits to the colonies a few devotees observed that the Narayanas have a great deal of difficulty drawing water from the well. Their mutilated fingers and hands were not able to grasp the rope to draw the water. A scarcity of funds did not deter the Sai Organisation from remedying this situation. Twenty days after the idea surfaced, a water project for the colony was born, when an electric pump was fitted to pump the water to an overhead tank. Now the Narayanas easily procure clean and pure drinking water by a simple turn of the tap, which is, after all their right.
Sarita Maa, a 72 year old lady, smiled joyfully when after veda chanting and bhajans, the project was inaugurated with a gush of fresh water flowing down into an earthen pot. She carried the pot of water to the temple and asked the priest to perform abhisekham (worship) for her “Sai” first, then and there. One could not help but be reminded of Sabari's devotion to Lord Rama, from the grand epic, Ramayana.
From Lepers to Luminaries of Love
The children of Naya bazaar colony are now in their Bal Vikas Group 3 classes. These children chant the Vedic hymns “Rudram” and “Chamakam” with right intonations. They are encouraged to continue and complete their studies in the local school provided to them by the government and a few bright and deserving students’ fees are also sponsored by the Samithi so that they can complete their graduation.
Although their living conditions and physical appearance is heart-breaking, their faith in God is now exemplary and their spirit is soaring. Who, but only an embodiment of Pure Love, can inspire such incredibly inspiring acts and make divine beings out of ordinary mortals. Let us make our lives a saga of Pure Love just like His - and like St. Francis of Assisi, who was also moved by God to care for such suffering Narayanas, pray:
- Heart2Heart Team
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Vol 5 Issue 11 - NOVEMBER 2007
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