Pictured here, Hari Mohan Pant (pronounced HAH'ree MO'hahn Pahnt) who, at nearly seventy years old, can scramble around like a baby goat on the hills of the Chadwick Garden at UCSC to procure the overflowing bag of fruits and vegetables for me and my visiting friend, Simon Majumdar, when we visited in early September.
I am at a loss for words. It doesn't happen often—it's not writer's block, but just the timidity of wanting to do honor to someone, and to help his charity, that I hesitate. Hari is just concluding his six-month residency at the UCSC Farm & Garden's apprenticeship progam (CASFS). I believe he is the second oldest of over 1300 participants in the 43-year history of the program. (The other man was a retired doctor.)
I met Hari in April, when the farm apprenticeship program began. There was a reception, and afterwards, I started talking to whomever was closest to me, in this case a young lady from South Carolina. The next thing I knew, I had a small crowd of laughing young people, and along with this older man with a vigorous handshake (always appreciated), and a lilting Indian accent. The five or six of us told stories and laughed—Hari, of few words but a great deal of mirth and good humor. The spark in his eye warms all who have the perception to see it.
Jokes turned into a conversation about pregnancy—one of the apprentices admitted her longing to be pregnant and be a mother. And since being pregnant and giving birth was easily the biggest miracle in my life, I have some cherished ideas that I wanted to share. Edited for brevity: the baby is like a teabag and the mother, the vessel of water that the unborn colors with its soul. (Read a book called Models of Love, written by Joyce Vissell and others: the chapter called "Lessons of Pregnancy and Childbirth," by Safiya Williams, describes each of her pregnancies and how they transformed her by manifesting the personality of each child. This happened to me, and I consider that mothers are the doorways through which a new soul enters the earth. Nothing gets more mystical than that. This is my all-time most-recommended book for parents-to-be.)
At this point, Hari told me a good deal of his story: how he came to want to learn to farm, as well as provide his village with quality medical care. (Please read it. His voice is so unique, and his spirit so strong.) His belief in destiny is somewhat stronger than mine, which I attribute to the spirituality in his mother land. He comes from high in the Himalayas. Hari is a retired Brigadier General with 33 years service in the Indian Army. With resources (including money, people, and food) being scarce at that altitude, Hari set about establishing the charitable trust.
In his words:
We interact with farmers in remote areas up to heights of 9000 feet, teaching them the benefits of organic farming, helping with seeds and seed saving, and assist in getting better price for their produce. In addition we provide holistic health services to the community, including an ambulance service between remote villages and hospital. I teach preventive health and essentials of healthy living to the community, specially women and children, as I consider them as future foundation. The Non-Profit also helps children by providing books and stationary, clothes and meritorious scholarships.
I know, this is a lot to take in. But every detail is so important—especially the most recent news, where the schoolhouse built for the children was damaged in the June monsoons. With great solidarity, the teachers persevered, and the children attended the classes as regularly as they could. Three children were injured, and got good medical attention.
And then we see this year, where a host of climatic catastrophies the world has never before witnessed devasted every region of our globe. A monsoon reached Uttara Khand in August, and the entire roof collapsed on the children and teachers as the hills washed away in a landslide. 18 children were buried alive. (The news story from Hari's region is here. Warning: though not bloody, the images are graphic and unbearably sad.)
When Hari sent me the link, I wept. Children so tiny, so precious, so beloved. Children that Hari has dedicated his life, his strength, his heart to teaching and helping. There are no words.
Well, yes, there are. In my extended family, in trying to put tragedies into perspective, we say, "No babies died." Because what could be worse? In Uttar Khand, babies died. Little children.
He asked me if I would share this tragedy with my network, and ask for even the least of contributions. An American dollar goes so much farther in India than it does here, and the resourcefulness of the village is enormous.
And so, I am asking, beseeching, imploring you—readers, friends, network—to visit the Bhagirath Trust's website and make a Paypal donation. And if you are a writer or blogger or Tweeter with a big following, please broadcast this to your larger network. It won't take long, and the gratitude for your help, from Hari's community, will be enormous.
Thank you, on behalf of the families of the bereaved in Uttara Khand, and those people who work to strengthen their community and make their world a better place. That betterment has ripples that spread.
Pictured here: Simon and Hari, sipping on the delicious chai that Hari made for us, one foggy Sunday morning in September. Hari gave us the full tour of the UCSC Farm and the Chadwick Garden. Don't you love Hari's emphatic joy?
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:
"If a man doesn't know, and he doesn't know that he doesn't know: he is a fool. Ignore him.
"If a man doesn't know, and he knows that he doesn't know: he is a child. Teach him.
"If a man knows, and he doesn't know that he knows: he is asleep. Awaken him.
"And if a man knows, and he knows that he knows: he is wise. Follow him."
Thank you for visiting.
Hari's direct email is hmpant(AT)gmail.com.