It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in the village of Turtuk where we were volunteering as teachers in a local village school.
Expecting to see either a student or teacher from the school, we opened the door to a small cherubic and kind face with a beaming smile.
“Namaskar ji! Mai Narayan.”
That is how we met Narayan bhai for the first time and that Namaskar will go onto be his unique way of saying hello in all our future encounters.
“Hum Star se milne aaye hain. Humko Hassan bhai ne bataya ki aapke paas dog hai?”
Here we are , we thought to ourselves, in a village where people are generally scared of Star (our dog) given there are hardly any dogs in Turtuk, a couple has come all the way to just meet Star!
Narayan Bhai and his wife came in and within couple of minutes they were as pally with Star as if they knew each other for years. We kept chatting for next couple of hours getting to know more about each other.
Narayan bhai is originally from Nepal. As he grew up to be an adult, he went to Dubai for a brief period of time but then was brought back by his brother to India for better prospects. He didn’t study for too long, possibly just managed to complete high-school. But that has not stopped him from moving ahead in life and becoming a good human being.
He currently works as a porter senior (in-charge of sorts) managing the porters who go to the high peaks carrying the supplies for the Army. He has been in Turtuk doing this for last 11 years and it amazes me to see the skill with which he runs the show.
As a management professional, my experience has led me to believe that, of all the resources involved in a operation, the most tricky one is man-management given the quirky nuances and unpredictability of human nature. It gets all the more challenging if the working environment you are in, is harsh and extreme (imagine the Altitude of 21000 ft and temperatures of -30 degree Celsius while you trek upwards with kilos of load on your back). I did get a small glimpse of Narayan bhai at his work now and then and the prudence, alacrity and humility with which he applies himself to his job is absolutely inspiring.
Another fact that makes his job interesting is the fact that Army Paltans are always on the move, deployed in an area only for a couple of years before another one moves in. But Narayan bhai stays there always, building relations with the constant change in his stakeholders and always ready to help. I witnessed a testimony to this fact when I happened to travel once with Narayan Bhai from Turtuk to Leh via Khardungla Pass. He was literally greeted with a warm smile and a loud cheer at every Army post we crossed which also meant we got a warm welcome with a hot cup of tea at each point.
Narayan bhai is also an amazing cook and loves to host people. In a span of 1 months that we got to know him we were lucky to have 3 feasts (thats the word!) hosted by Narayan bhai but were able to manage to invite him only once. And each of these times we literally had to beg him to stop shoving food in our plates as we did not have any more space in our tummies and found it hard to eat, move or even breathe.
Over and above the cheerful smile and jovial nature, the biggest thing however, that stands out in Narayan Bhai is his kind and giving nature which we got to experience first-hand in a heart-warming gesture. The school where we were teaching at was still under construction but the work was going slow due to shortage of funds. The entire focus was on completion of the building first and there was no fence yet. One day, a passing-by vehicle ended up brushing against a young student. The kid fortunately survived with minimum injuries and was rushed to the nearby Primary Health Center for immediate first-aid. As the School staff and some other villagers were standing at the scene discussing the problem, Narayan bhai happened to pass-by. When he heard of the incident and the fence problem, he didn’t say or ask anything further except for the amount required to build the fence (Rs.15000). In the next couple of minutes, he simply went to the nearby ATM, withdrew the exact amount and handed it over to the principal insisting that the fence be constructed immediately.
We only got a few weeks of acquaintance with Narayan bhai but in that short time, the impression he left with his joyful nature, cheerful attitude and a kind heart is forever etched in our hearts.
The Seeking Soul