A spiritual journey more than a cycling journey you could say, in spite of the relentless cycling often under the blazing sun and over rolling roads. This stage was a little more taxing from a cycling perspective as was to be expected. I went through all the legs reasonably comfortably, a few niggles notwithstanding. We have now completed 900 kms of the journey. The standout memory is spiritual, a gradual awakening that would leave all of us very different people deep inside of us as the journey progresses.
Several humbling experiences told us that there are journeys more taxing and arduous than the one I have embarked on. At a school for orphaned visually impaired just outside Davengere, we saw young children combating the challenges of learning to write in Braille. The thought of the journey of life that lay ahead of them had a sobering impact on us. Yet we were moved by their zeal to sing as they were being trained at this school founded by Sri Pt. Panchakshara Gavai, who was blind from birth but was an outstanding musician.
Even more moving was our visit to a government school for the blind in Hubli. The current premises are sparse and inadequate and the classrooms dark and depressing thankfully they are moving into a new and better premise in a month.
We were amazed at the confidence and agility showed by the visually impaired students. As they moved around the school premises, they gave no impression of visual impairment. Their confident demeanour was admirable. The students were tutored under the caring eye of the acting headmaster Annappa. He has devoted all his life to caring and teaching the visually impaired. He told us that he firsts orients the children to their surroundings so that they can move around unaided and with confidence. He then orients them to the world around them and helps them to use all the other senses and their hand and bodies to “see” the world around and understand where they are. He then teaches them to be self-sufficient in daily life skills. Finally, is the training to memories and use the Braille language and tools to communicate.
Rarely do you get to meet a teacher in a government school so very dedicated to his profession, increasing his own capabilities by completing an MEd.
Seeing so many caregivers at close quarters helped us understand that a re-engineering of your inner selves was necessary to be a good and caring caregiver on a sustained basis. I refer to caregivers as anyone working for uplifting the lot of the underprivileged. Be they teachers of the blind, or teachers of children from the poorest of the poor families or those caring for the shelterless and those chronically ill.
In Davengere we visited the Rasmi school for girls from the poorest of the poor families. We were struck by the disciple and training the girls were receiving. I can’t recall such discipline in a school or group of young children that I came across. There wasn’t a regimentation; it seemed that the students willing accepted a disciplined way of life.
The Kabeeananda ashram and the Anandadham ashram in Chitradurga stood out for us because of the relatively happy faces of the residents. Both these ashrams housed senior citizens and children. The proximity of these two disparate groups seems to be a good model. The elderly are in close proximity to the vibrancy and hope of the young and the young are exposed to the needs of the elderly.
Not such a good experience was the home for the urban homeless in Ambur. The shelter which is run by an NGO and supported by the government was quite depressing. The dormitories were shabby and the residents had forlorn eyes devoid of hope.
At the Kabeeananda ashram, I was moved by the bright and hope-filled eyes of the children. The ashram runs a school for children who are orphans or from broken homes. Something very good is happening at this place from what we could see.
We got a pleasant exposure to the ashrams run by religious Mutts. We stayed at the Sri Murugarajendra Mutt in Chitradurga. It was a large sprawling place well constructed and well maintained. There were rooms for travelers who needed to stay the night, home for orphaned children and large spacious canteens that served food for anyone who chose to walk in for a meal at lunch or dinner time. The Mutt serves food for approx. 1000 to 1500 every day. Above the dining area was a large conference room that could house approx. 5000 people. An impressive hall that had no pillars. On the 5th of every month, the Mutt conducts marriages for couples who wish to use this facility at no cost along with the wedding lunch for the guests.
We never got a chance to get a deep insight into the working of these Mutts but what we saw from the outside was very impressive. The influence these institutions have of the community is enormous. They seem to have a very necessary place in the fabric of the country.
At every place we went, we were warmly welcomed.
The Rotary Club of Chitradurga held a meeting where I was the key note speaker.
An event that warmed our hearts was a community meeting at Hiriyur which was held in a temple premise.
Welcomes galore was the order of the day.
And so the cyclothon goes on. It is as much a spiritual journey as a cycling event. We have much to learn on what it takes to be a caregiver.