Rolling with the Hills – Vagamon (Kerala)

The drive through little towns and villages, through the festive mood of the Sabhrimala temple pilgrims, we slowly saw an entry into greens – opening up into the the rolling hills of Vagamon. From the local pineapples, the old quaint homes to the wild purple and yellow roadside flowers – once again, I was enchanted. I stared out of the window in awe of the grand creations of nature, as the flaming orange blooms of the Vaga tree were spotted here and there on the hillocks. My heart started thumping and this vibration moving through the spine kept anchoring me downward to this space.  The movement within seemed loud and overwhelming at the same time. It seemed that this was an entry into a big dream full of love.

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As we parked at the base of the hill, the newly built hospital shone in the dim evening light “Vasishtha Hospital Vagamon”- the dream of Mr.M.P.Pillai and Dr.K.Saraswathy Devi (loving Achhan and Amma, as I would refer to them- my in laws). His face was glowing and eyes wet, as I shared “We are standing in your dream”. With his great and often misunderstood sense of humor, he adjusted his hearing aid and said “My doom?”. Jiju chettan (my brother in law- ‘chettan’ means elder brother), Arun (my husband) and I had a good laugh with Achhan. “No one understood this, years back when I shared the idea. Today, here we are.”

He pointed out to the perfectly cut out letters reading “Vasishtha Hospital Vagamon” and asked , “Did you see this?” . I excitedly nodded and told him how neat and impactful it looks. Melting into the evening mediative mood, we sat in silence for some moments, enjoying the fragrance of the freshly lit handmade dhoop (incense). “I like this incense but Amma doesn’t”, he commented softly.

 

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Standing strong at 80, it is hugely commendable how this dream has manifested. There have been several hardships in constructing in this far flunk area – right from getting labour, construction material, making a thousand hectic visits from Thiruvananthapuram or Trivandrum (which is 5.5 hours away by car). As I sit in the car and type, Achhan is engaged with getting the space ready for the inauguration day after tomorrow and Arun and Jiju chettan looking into other logistics. Looks like it has been a long day at work for them – from getting the ashram rooms ready, arranging clean water to the voluminous work revolving around the hospital. I feel so grateful to existence for bringing me here and being family to instruments of such divine compassion.

A truck just arrived with hospital equipment – these were huge wooden steam chambers and a bed for the Panchakarma Ayurvedic treatment. As the truck was being offloaded, two guests arrived. To one I shouted out “Ba” (meaning ‘come’) , while others said “Poda”  (meaning “go you”), simultaneously to him. Confused by the mixed instructions, he left. Was a beautiful black and white dog. The other guest was huge golden and brown moth, bigger than the size of a palm, settled on the well lit wall. She fluttered around for a bit and then finally made a tree her perch. We tried to take pictures in various angles but of course, there are moments when the camera cannot capture the experienced beauty of God’s fine creations. 

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Soon another truck arrived. This was the long awaited botanist who drove down from Thrissur. A rush of excitement went through me – Dadiji (my grandmother) and Dad would have been so happy to see all this. He was carrying an entire nursery of medicinal plants. These were little ones, over a thousand. It was already around 8:50pm. Everyone – family, the staff, the workers, were tired. I was yawning too and watching how my body wanted to simply shut down. The royal entry of the saplings brought in a whole new twist – a fresh energy began to flow.

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These little ones were to be offloaded from the truck and arranged – to be placed in their own respective families for the night. As two people loaded the big metal trays, I sat on my haunches ready to tuck them into their place. A whole hour passed without notice. The saplings seemed tired after the journey, some turned, others roughed up with the handling and jerks. It was like putting babies to sleep, now. The botanist stood tall on the side, watching us. I asked him if we could engage for some information. He gladly agreed. “These are such gifts , these plants. They give us so much. I wish to know more from you if you are available in the next two days”. To this, he responded, “They are just weeds, we have to know what to do with them.” “The gifts are there already in the weeds, we just don’t know it and people like you study and recognize, to re access the knowledge we have lost. Thank you”, I added. What went through my head, is perceptions – how they differ. The silent conversations between the saplings and me continued. We bid goodbye and wrapped up by 10pm. The day concluded with a jerky jeep drive to the ashram rooms, the chaos around lost room keys and finally, in a comfortable bed with a feeling of deep satisfaction.

 

The morning broke into thick mist that enveloped the hillocks. Whispering from the windows was a self talk “It’s cool and misty, sleep a bit more….”, and a short nap followed. Unfolding gradually into morning prayers and activity, the day had much to offer. While all ate breakfast, I made my spice less brunch. We chatted, joked around and had some nice family time together. I shared with Arun how connecting with the saplings was so wonderful. “Why don’t we try the homa (healing and purifying fire ritual)?”, he asked. Amano (my dear friend and teacher – Mr.Arun Wakhlu/ Swami Amano Gaurav) had shared a video on agnihotra farming a few months back, on our first visit to Vagamon. It clicked all of a sudden.

I have always been drawn to havans and held a desire of learning to perform one myself, since my early teens. Here it was, our chance to express a thanks, connect with nature and do something that we would enjoy. We are now collecting cow dung to dry. This is so much fun – like playing ‘ghar-ghar’ (a game commonly played by urban children pretending to be living in a village setting, usually under tents made with bed sheets. I loved it as a kid).

The havan is to be performed at sunrise tomorrow. It would be quite an adventure as it isn’t usual for Arun to wake up before sunrise. Truly a miracle how things just unfold so spontaneously and unexpectedly.

Am here now, in the camper, parked in front of the hospital. A little boy named Nandu joined me and Arun in exploring the much celebrated camper, listening to some sufi music and sharing stories. There were stars sparkling in his eyes. He pointed at the Ojo de Dios (eye of God) that is hanging on the front mirror and asked me what it is. We spoke about making it together the next time we meet.

I see several art and craft kits travelling now! The ladies taking care of food and managing the maintenance of the area were fascinated by no gold on me and asked me to get them rudrakshas malas, on our next visit.

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Amma and Achhan have been busy with pouring visitors, medicine suppliers, workers at the site and relatives. Managed to get few minutes with Amma, who happily answered several questions I had regarding this dream. It was in 2012, July, that the thought of making the hospital occurred to them. The sad demise of their first grandchild Karthik that led to this. They wished to make a memorial for him. This thought was shared with other members of the Vasishtha Trust in 2015 in the form of a written request, and was accepted. This marked the initiation of the project on ground. Funds were raised by Amma, Achhan, Jiju chettan, Binu chechi (‘chechi’ means elder sister) and her parents Mr. S.G. Nair and Mrs. Satyabhama Nair.

To know more about the Vasishtha Hospital Vagamon, please contact deviks42@gmail.com (Dr.K.Saraswathy Devi – President) or mppillai36@gmail.com (Mr.M.P.Pillai – Vice President)

When I spoke with Amma, she said that the local people have been very helpful and supportive. They are already familiar with the organization due to the monthly medical camps conducted by Sree Vasishthashramam (Chariatable Society). To reach a hospital even for a small stitch one has to drive for 40 kms from this area. She expressed that it was their deep heartfelt desire to provide the people with medical facilities that they don’t have access to. It would take time and huge amount of funds to have a fully functional ayurvedic and allopathic hospital – however, she is in hope that like minded people shall pool in resources to make all of it happen. 

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The day went by with play. The company of Nandu and Advaith (my nephew) was a cherry on the cake. Along with Arun, we all connected very naturally. It was much fun – right from taking photographs, joking, walking on the curvaceous paths in the tea gardens, to eating and chit-chatting together. As I took an afternoon siesta in the camper, the three of them went for a dip in a local water pool nearby. The boys came back cold, the sun was on its way out. We sat wrapped in a sheet in the camper till their hands warmed up. This was followed by hot chai and snacks at a local restaurant nearby (Chinnu’s). As I began to write and read out couple of written paragraphs, Nandu and Advaith also started penning down their experiences. They are now sitting and  “brainstorming”, as I was told when I peeped in and asked how they are doing. Looking forward to what emerges from their “creative break”.

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The plant saplings have been neatly arranged and labelled, ready to be distributed to people coming in for the inauguration of the hospital and medical camp. Amma enthusiastically shared how each of the 26 plant varieties correspond to birth stars followed in the Malayali astrological system. S. Subramoni, an elderly but strong gentleman has been at work with them the whole day long. He mentioned he has been working with plants since three years now but he does all types of work. I recalled noon time when I was serving chopped pineapple from a plantation we crossed while approaching Vagamon. His hands were foully soiled and I was rather awkward and embarrassed  about not being able to offer him the fruit properly. Later in the evening, I finally got some moments with the botanist. It was a working Christmas for Mr. Benjamin Joseph. He was working with the Medicinal Plant Board previously and has also been trained in conservation of medicinal plants. He warmly shared his visiting card and said that we must visit him if we travel to Thrissur.

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Late evening went into preparation for the little havan and puja Arun and I had planned. The dry cow dung was ready and so was the rest of the Guru puja paraphernalia. We woke up at 5 am all geared up and excited. The downhill walk through the mist was like a page out of a fairytale. The crescent moon smiled at us as floating clouds separated with our steps forward. The walk seemed longer than what it was in the crispness of the morning cold. All the ingredients were neatly arranged, nestled in the middle of the saplings. The cow dung was put into the electric stove along with camphor and dhoop. Arun and I sat together silently, watching the fire go down, engulfed in a feeling of surrender and oneness. The rituals ended with the collection and sprinkling of the charged ash on the plants and the whole premises of the hospital. It was an enjoyable creative activity for us.

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The inauguration day was long and hectic, several people poured in. Long speeches, discussions, the rush of local people for medical check ups and meal distributions filled the day. I shied away from the hustle bustle occasionally with walks into the tea gardens and little chai trips with Arun. We managed to soak our feet in a little pond across the road along with Advaith. There were short interactions with passing dogs and cows, with our mostly unsuccessful attempts to feed biscuits to them.

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I had some interesting conversations with Chinnamu and Sister Sujatha – the two yoga and meditation teachers associated with the Trust. Journeys were shared with each other with warmth and friendliness. We went through Sister Sujatha’s article where she has mentioned the three M.A.’s of married life – Mutual Acceptance, Mutual Appreciation and Mutual Assistance. These were beautiful thoughts, very precisely laid out by her.

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I asked Chinnamu to join me for a stroll. We sat on a little path in the tea garden on two full bodied black rocks that provided us with comfortable surfaces. “Arun taught me how to connect with rocks, like I do with plants – they are just as alive”, I shared. She added how she enjoyed star gazing, lying on these rocks – as part of her growing up in rural Kerala. The evening calls of the bulbuls and the rustling of the trees in the breeze was magical, in our silence. It was time for a perfect dip within. Refreshed, we returned into the activity at the hospital. Decorative fairy lights were being pulled off, there were satisfied sighs and tired yawns all around. A herd of cows entered the back area to eat the left over food. There were goodbyes over closing registers and doors. Packing ourselves once again in the jeep, we zoomed up the bumpy path to arrive at the rooms.

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The whole family sat together with Amma and Achhan cosily and chatted. There were jokes, leg pullings and discussions about the event. The night wound up for Amma and Achhan by about 10pm. The rest of us sat outside the room in hope of a bon fire. Between Arun, Advaith and Ani chechi, the fire came on and went off. One by one everyone started breaking into old movie songs – Malayalam and Hindi. The backdrop of a wall covered with all sorts of moths and insects, a little fire and the love and fun that kept the air cozy – was just perfect. There were talks about a family holiday every six months in Vagamon. 

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It was the 27 th of December now. These three – four days flew by fast. Everyone was ready to leave and one lot of people were dropped to the hospital at the base of the hill. Binu chechi and I stayed back with some last minute packing and errands at the rooms. We got some relaxed time to sit together and have a nice heart to heart in the warm morning sun. Bhajans started to flow out of her as I was moving things from one room to another. It was lovely.

Shared the ‘blue book’ (http://www.amazon.in/Opening-Doors-within-Meditations-Findhorn/dp/1844091082) with Binu chechi for a page of the moment. She felt she got a guiding message and that was heartening. I recalled the day in 2014, when Amano had mailed me ‘Opening Doors Within’ – what I refer to as the ‘blue book’. The daily guiding messages have been a strong force in my life and it is always a pleasure sharing these pages with loved one’s. The space was free and loving, we were grateful.

It was time to load the jeep. On the way down, the driver suddenly braked. It was as if a king is passing by- an elegant snake swiveled swiftly, crossing the mud track. The grace of the movement, the off white markings on the rich coffee brown body left me dumbstruck. He/she was about a foot and a half long. This was a lovely “goodbye and see you again” from the wild side of Vagamon.

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18 Comment

  1. Bindia Khanna says: Reply

    Beautiful!!! What a lovely place and surrounding, and the devotion to realise this magnanimous dream to help mankind!!

    1. Indeed!

  2. Kangan Badhwar says: Reply

    Words fail to express the beauty of descriptive and philosophical narrative .
    God Bless you
    Dadiji.

    You have evolved a thousandfold with your skill of writing ,coming straight from the heart, flowing like a river of thoughts, amazing dear!!
    Love you
    Mom

    1. A big Thank you to the wonderful writers and looking forward to your visit to Vagamon

  3. Had goose flesh and tears in my eyes while reading this. You describe so beautifully what indeed is a very special and fulfilling time for the family. Huge congratulations, love and best wishes to all!

    1. Thank you. Deeply touched by your message and experience of the read. Lots of love!!!!

  4. How wonderful for the family….congratulations ! And thank you for giving words to this beauty and dream realised!
    Love and hugs !

    1. Thank you so much. lots of love to you all!

  5. Lalita Badhwar says: Reply

    What a lovely description…..!
    I nearly feel as if I was there myself..
    Congratulations to Amma, Acchan and the entire family…. And all the board members
    What a wonderful project!
    God bless
    Bhua

    1. Thank you! Looking forward to your visit to Vagamon!

  6. Thank you Mudita for a beautiful description of your soulful journey to Vagamon and the lovely inauguration and celebrations in your family. Congratulations to Achhan and Amma, Arun, Your whole family and you for this noble endeavor. Love and Hugs to you, and many blessings. ~Amano

    1. Thank you so much for your love and blessings!!! Warmest regards from us all!

  7. Just accompanied you on the trip to Vagamon !!
    Congratulations and felicitations for a wonderful project to Achhan and Amma, you, Arun and all the family.

    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful wishes! Lots of love

  8. Supriya Kukreja says: Reply

    Awesome…It was like being there with you guys…Hope one day we would…

    1. Looking forward to your visit!! Thank you!

  9. Beti, I am so proud of you for having narrated the whole episode of vagamon events in a poetic and beautiful way attracting every reader’s attention . Get all those interested in vagamon from your readers and family to visit during our ‘varshikam’ on 30th may.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement.

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