Friday, October 05, 2007

Starting in the dark

I had arrived at Williams, a quaint little town 1 hour from the Grand Canyon on Friday. My parents are visiting the US and this gave me time to take them around. It was a lot of fun with an 'old west' set up, the famous 'Route 66', The Grand Canyon Railway and other such interesting places. Around the evening was when the rest of the gang (Arun, Padma, Ganesh, Gaurav and Vinod) arrived. On their way to Williams they came to this 'brilliant' conclusion that instead of getting a few hours sleep in the night, we should start right away after dinner. I kind of reluctantly agreed even as my clueless parents were wondering what happened to the son they once knew! After some wonderful pasta, rice, fruits and a hearty dinner we left for the Grand Canyon. It was windy and cold at the top. We were all wrapped up. By the time we found the restrooms, the trail head and finally started it was 1:00 AM on Saturday morning. We ran down the bright angel trail through Indian gardens. Within less than a mile into the run we started feeling warm and the coat, full sleeves, gloves etc. became a burden. We were quite chatty through the run. We even got reprimanded by an old lady near a campsite for being way too loud. But we were quite slow through all this. We reached the Colorado river only after 4 odd hours (for about 9.6 miles). The roar of the river under a bright full moon night was surreal! The moonlight shined on the walls of the canyon waking me up to the wonders of this creation. I ran for a while without the lamps and it almost felt like I was a passive observer, letting the world be without disturbing a thing. Then we came to the bridge. We had to cross the Colorado to get to 'Phantom Ranch' on the other side. Heights are not my thing and I felt the bridge was swaying for a long time. I just held on to the sides and walked slowly.

In 1993, one woman was dashing into the traffic on Haddows Road Chennai. She was obviously mentally ill, half-naked with matted hair. She was an eye-opener to India's nowhere people. The nobodies that no one wanted to acknowledge existed. It started as a kneejerk response to a responsibility that no one was willing to take up. As people either gawked or walked on, two young women hugged her and took her to their college nearby. They cleaned her, clothed her and calmed her down. When they tried to find an organisation in the city that would take the woman in, they realised how hard it was to find one. It was a defining moment. A moment when Vaishnavi and Vandana decided they can't wait any longer. The two close friends were both 22 years old then -- they had made a pact with each other while still in their teens, that they would qualify as professional social workers and dedicate themselves to service. They now knew they had to act right away. 'The Banyan' --their vehicle of expression-- was soon registered as a Trust. When the girls went around looking for a home to house mentally deranged women people nervously closed their doors. Finally a serving officer in the armed forces let out his house. And the two young ladies moved in full time. At 'Adaikalam' ('Refuge') Vaishnavi and Vandana soon had 9 inmates --and growing-- but little money. There is a moving picture of the two young girls in the Indian Express of Aug 15, 1994. They had 'Gruff' their Doberman plus hope that help would come in. But life was hard.

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