“No!” I burst out. “Aur kuch mat bataayiye ki yeh galat hai, woh galat hai. Bas yeh boliye ki isko theek kaise karein.” (Don’t say anything more about this being wrong or that being wrong. Just tell me how we can fix this.)
Trademark grin in place, Raghu Swamiji turned to the site supervisor. (My role was supervising the supervisor and so far, I had been doing a smashing job. If you remember, the base for the coffee shop was sitting pretty as a diamond – pun definitely intended. Read last post for reference :)).
They eventually concluded that the only way to fix the poles was to break the cement base, move them to the right spot and re-cement them to form straight lines. Day 1 on the job was already cruelly bringing down my hopes of being a miracle architect. I silently watched as they made the changes, feeling ashamed and guilty at having made such a silly mistake. I had the dreadful feeling it was just the beginning of a comedy of errors to follow.
And of course, it turned out to be true. Only it became less comedy, more tragedy.
For the most part, the team of boys worked under the instructions of the site supervisor. They would occasionally turn to me at the end of a discussion, asking for an okay – could they go bring more bamboo for the sides? Should they shovel stones for the wall first or do the framework for the roof? What kind of a drainage system were we considering? Would the cylinder room next door be an impediment for electricity in the shop?
It was like I had signed up for a breezy English lit class and ended up in Calculus where I thought e=mc squared was the answer.
The team was always unfailingly polite with their words and waited for answers sincerely. They never once showed any indication that they knew of my shortcomings and lack of knowledge in construction. However, I knew they knew and this was enough for my insecurity to rocket sky-high. With each passing day, I felt an utter lack of confidence and great nervousness. What if the coffee shop never saw the light of day? Or what if it did and then the whole thing collapsed the minute guests stepped in? It would all be because of my ineptitude.
Had I asked Raghu Swamiji for help, he would have given it instantly. But even in this desperate time, my ego wouldn’t allow it.
The kicker was that I knew I had the answers. All I had to do was think logically. It was only common sense that to lay a thatched roof, one needed a base first. The leaves obviously couldn’t hold themselves mid-air – they needed a framework. Any structure needs walls which obviously have to be built from the ground up. To lay the floors, the ground obviously has to be smooth and free of any bumps.
So, why couldn’t I tell them what they wanted to hear?
The answer to this question came around two weeks later. But I had an infinity to live through before that – the wringer was set on high and I was about to be squeezed for all I was worth.
I slowly began to realize that this was, by far, one of the hardest things I had ever done. I was working in a completely foreign field largely populated by men. I had the task of overseeing five teenage boys, all of whom blared tinny songs on their phones and wore their jeans so low, I worried about the work of gravity. And the most difficult of all – I actually had nothing to do.
My role in the whole process was to ensure that everything went according to plan. In short, I had to sit and watch others work. And this, more than anything, broke me.
As each day went by, I grew increasingly resentful of the fact that I was simply sitting around. What kind of seva was this? It was not useful at all! I wanted to get in there and lay the cement, shovel the stones, work with my hands, anything instead of just smiling and nodding at whatever was asked of me. But to do so was unthinkable and the reason was simple – I was a woman. Every cell in my body rebelled at the fact that I wasn’t allowed to work physically just because I possessed different body parts.
The one time I tried, it created such a hullabaloo that I didn’t try again. It became my first lesson in learning to pick my battles. But knowing it was a lesson did nothing to soothe me – if anything, it stoked the rebellious fire higher. Why, WHY couldn’t I shave and smoothen the bamboo? WHY couldn’t I mix the cement and slather it on the walls? WHY couldn’t I lift rocks when they needed an extra hand? I felt much like the rocks, a big useless lump only they had a purpose and I didn’t.
I raged at Bhagvan, crying in anger and helplessness. From being physically active at least eight-ten hours a day with dance and yoga and working with children (which, any teacher will know, is a whole workout in itself), He’d brought me down to merely walking to the temple, dining hall, my room and back. How could I survive like this? I missed dance and my kids fiercely, wondering why I was worrying about bajri costs and bamboo quality when I could be teaching kids movement. Why was I putting myself through this ordeal of dealing with these smirking boys who barely made eye contact when I could be swinging away to a beat somewhere?
Six months, I vowed to myself. Six months and I’m off. I’ll design a movement module for children and pitch it to schools, I’ll go back and join my dance troupe once more, I’ll rent myself a flat again and find a way to make a difference to people’s lives. My plans were many, the mind taking immense comfort in them.
But what is it they say about the best-laid plans? 🙂 I hated the thought of not being useful, not feeling needed here. My ego was breaking and I couldn’t bear it.
One such morning, I woke up, feeling sullen, defiant and moody. I knew my time of the month was near. I won’t go down to supervise them, I decided. I’ll just stay in my room and read. They don’t need me anyway.
And so, I remained in my room, reading and resting till around 10:45 AM when I began receiving calls from the site supervisor, Rajiv ji and Raghu Swamiji. Where was I? Why wasn’t I down there?
I felt a healthy jolt of fear. For all my rebellion, I didn’t want to leave. What if I was asked to leave the ashram because I wasn’t doing my seva properly? I rushed down to the site where I was met with the gentle rebuke of the site supervisor. “Kahaan hai aap? Hamesha late aate hain.” (Where have you been? You’re always late.)
This was so blatantly untrue, all I did for a few seconds was gape. Since when did not turning up one morning translate to always being late? Just like that, all my defiance was back. “Haan, aaj meri tabiyat theek nahi hai. Mera maheena ka chal raha hai (Yes, I don’t feel well today. It’s my time of the month)”, I said, looking him in the eye, almost daring him to react. What would he say, what would they all say to this statement, these men who believed in norms and gender roles? Would they be uncomfortable, horrified?
I was itching for a reaction.
To my utter surprise, he didn’t bat an eyelid. “Haan ji, hota hai. Theek hai, rest kar lo aap (Yes, it happens. Okay, please rest)”, he said lightly, hammering away at a nail, and the others nodded. All the fight went out of me and I turned away. This was not how it was supposed to go. Wandering around the site for a while, I tested some of the other men with the same statement. I was looking for a reason to fight. (Believe me, a hormonal woman on the spiritual path sees no rationality.) Almost everybody expressed concern and asked me to rest which touched my heart but further irritated the mind. Couldn’t somebody just oblige my desire to have an argument?
Finally, one of the men responded with, “Woh theek hai par thoda kaam dekhke phir aaram kar sakte hain na.” (That’s fine but you can look after work for a bit and then rest, no?) That’s all I needed and gleefully, I pounced. “Aapko pata hai yeh kaisa hota hai? Yahaan dard, wahaan dard. Itni thakavat hoti hai. Abhi chal rahi hoon, yehi badi baat hai.” (Do you know how this feels? Pain here, pain there. It’s so tiring. The fact that I’m walking right now is a big deal.)
I’d cornered the poor man. “Haan, nahi, mushkil toh hai (Yes, no, it is difficult),” he stammered as I glared at him. “Theek hai, aap jaayiye.” (Okay, please go.)
Now, I had no intention of going back to my room to rest. Apart from the occasional mood swing, a one-off craving for junk food and some tiredness, my blessed genes have ensured that I face no physical discomfort when I bleed. I was looking for a way to express the frustration and angst I’d been feeling and this was a most convenient excuse.
“Nai, aap bataake main kya jaaon? Main yehi rahoongi (No, why should I go because you say so? I’ll stay here only),” I snapped and he went silent, nodding uncomfortably.
(I apologized to him later for my behaviour and he smiled most graciously before saying teasingly, “Kuch alag nahi kiya. Har din toh yehi karte hain na.” [You didn’t do anything different. This is how you are every day.])
As work progressed, it became increasingly challenging for me to communicate with the team. They stopped taking me seriously because I would come to the site, sit quietly and go back at the end of the day. I had no answers to their questions and fighting an internal battle, I didn’t know how to work any of it out.
Despite my protests, Raghu Swamiji stepped in wherever needed and directed the construction. Though secretly relieved and grateful, this shattered my ego further. The feeling of being completely useless increased.
Four excruciating weeks later, I was finally given a reprieve.
I woke up that morning, unaware that everything was about to change. Bhagvan had set the stage for the climax I was about to unassumingly walk into.
And what a climax it was.
Part 3: The Conclusion releasing sometime next week 🙂
The breaking of a Baahubali-like ego deserves a Baahubali-like conclusion 🙂