Friday, October 05, 2007

The Sun rises

After an extended break at Phantom ranch where we dropped off some stuff to reduce the load we were carrying, we headed out to 'Cottonwood' on the North Kaibab Trail. We were carrying a lot of food - fruits, pulihara (tamarind mixed rice), sandwhiches, energy bars, trail mix etc. We also had emergency stuff and gear with us. So, the camelback was quite heavy. Padma was having some trouble holding food and some of us were tiring out from sleep deprivation. We took some time to recoup and sufficiently woken up from sleep we headed out at around 6 AM from Phantom ranch. This was a slow incline that was supposed to take long. We kind of ran any flat or downhill sections we chanced upon. Then the most wonderful thing happened. Vinod, Gaurav and I had pulled on in front and there seemed to be more light as we were running through the belly of the Canyon. We had switched off our lights. Thats when we saw the tips or peaks (if you could call them that) were being dipped in gold! The sun was coming out in all its glory and the canyon basked in it. We started observing the surroundings more. The layers of rocks on our side were millions and millions of years old! This was when the cameras were working overtime. We also went through some scenic waterfalls. We reached Cottonwood. A ranger out there started chatting with us as we waited for the rest of the gang. He seemed to question what these crazy folks were doing. It was more of an interrogation to see if were stupid or insane. After taking a few more photos we left for the North Rim. This was the toughest stretch of them all! 7 grueling miles of crazy elevation. It was a long slow walk as the majestic sun turned into a ruthless dictator. The fall colors and more amazing sights followed. Notable among these was the roaring springs waterfalls. But, we were out of breath for a different reason! We wanted to keep a steady pace as we ambled along in front. Meanwhile, Arun decided that the elevation was getting worse and it was not a good decision to try it out without enough training. So, he went back to cottonwood. We watched the amazing pine trees on top of the north rim as we got closer to it. But, the closer we got the further it seemed on the trails! At every short break I was zoning out. I didn't want to stop anymore. I trudged along with just the immediate goal of reaching the top.

Once they had Rs.3.50 (1$ = Rs. 40) to feed 13 people that day. Sandhya Rao reported in 'Frontline' two year later: "Eighty women in five rooms is not easy in the best of circumstance. The matter is worse when a majority of the residents come with a history of all manners of sexual abuse, physical abuse, disease, no hygiene, no socialisation and of course lice." She adds:"one of the women had fever and was crying like a child and another begged and begged to be taken to the bus stop, but which one or where she could not say. A third begged to be excused if she had asked too many questions and a fourth demanded all my attention." It is with such wards that Vaishnavi and Vandana have spent their lives --24/7, to use that expressive number-- for many years since they began in 1993. Vaishnavi answers a question: "Yes, it was grim at times. We would have washed them, fed them, cleaned the floors, the latrines and finally settled them. It'd be close to midnight when we shut the door of our little room. And the banging would begin!" But quitting never occurred to them. That was what they had chosen --and were happy-- to do. Soon Ashok Kumar, a young man came on board to help. And material help began to arrive too. Banyan does not just accept women who arrive; they publicize everywhere their willingness to accept. Most women are manic depressives or schizophrenics. Many have lost their sense of dignity or ability to care any more. They are ridden with lice and maggots. One was found eating dog shit. Banyan races to gather them and bring them over. They are given first aid, a make-over wash and if necessary a trip to the hospital. Luckily most cases can be treated with medication-- reinforced with add-ons like a sense of belonging, security and feeling wanted. In about six months they are normal again and begin to ask to go home. Hope is forever resurgent.

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