Mandakini gently supported her father, Ramlal from one side while her mother held him from the other, as they walked out slowly from the doctor’s room of the government hospital. Her father had been diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bones and his diabetic condition had made things more complicated. The doctor had advised them to take him to Delhi, to the All India Institute Of Medical Sciences. He had also written a letter to one of his doctor friends there and had gently though firmly advised Mandakini to not waste any time. The trio reached the tea estate, which was home to them for the past so many years. Mandakini and her younger brother were born there. Now with her father’s unexpected illness, Mandakini was completely at a loss as to what to do. Her mother worked on the tea fields and Mandakini was studying in Std. XII, in the Government High School and had never stepped out of Kaziranga. Ramlal was a jeep driver cum tour guide who took tourists to the National Park to see wild life. Mandakini had to take a call. She made up her mind and she decided to leave for Delhi immediately.
Next morning, with what ever money they could arrange, all four of them left for Delhi, a place that each of them had only heard of as the capital of their country. After reaching Delhi, they were quite taken aback by the sea of people that met their eyes. Taking directions somehow they managed to reach their destination, AIIMS. Thankfully the people were helpful and they were directed to the concerned department. They met the doctor who would be treating Ramlal. The doctor was a nice man who was pretty assuring to them but he made it very clear that Ramlal would be required to come to the hospital thrice a year, each trip comprising a week, for the required tests and assessments to be done. They had to be extremely particular with the dates and they could not change them for convenience. For the first time, they would need to stay for ten days.
After exiting the doctor’s room, each of them looked at each other. The same question was there in all four pairs of eyes; how would they spend ten days with the little money that they had? The tests had started and thankfully the treatment was free. They came out of the hospital and wondered where would they settle down with their two bags. They saw people living on the footpath, along the hospital wall. They hestantly found a place and sat there. Following others around, they spread a blanket and sat on it wondering if that was going to be their home for the next ten days. Ramlal said,
“ Let us all return home.We will not be able to stay here like this. What will we eat?We do not have enough money for that. Let us accept God’s will humbly, instead of fighting it.”
Mandakini replied, “Baba, we are following God’s will only. He only has brought us here. He is showing the path; we must follow that humbly.”
Ramlal was too weak and tired to argue. He slumped near the wall and closed his eyes. It was already afternoon and all four were famished. The woman close to them, who was sitting there with her three children, told them,
“Come with us and have food. Just follow us.”
Without a word all of them except Ramlal followed the woman and to their surprise entered the hospital premise again. They saw long queues, all leading to a long table on one side, on which big containers were kept. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw food in those containers that was served to all the people in the queue by a number of men standing behind the table. Everyone ate to their fill. Mandakini’s mother took some food for Ramlal too and returned to their resting place. The woman who had taken them along, told them that there was some noble person who everyone addressed as Lalaji, had made arrangements for feeding the relatives of the poor patients, both times a day. No one went hungry and everyone was dealt with, respectfully. From that day the unknown Lalaji became the saviour for Ramlal and his family, like for the countless others. For three years Ramlal kept coming regularly for his treatment and all through, the unknown Lalaji kept feeding him. Mandakini could not comprehend as to how such a system existed for years and years, like she had heard it to be. Every time she took food on her plate, she would pray for Lalaji and thank him profusely for his selfless service.
Ramlal, in the coming three years, was completely cured and Mandakini had become a trained nurse. At AIIMS, having being exposed to the kind service of the nurses, Mandakini found it easy to choose the purpose of her life. She chose to be a nurse and serve the sick, just like the nurses she had seen serving her ailing father. With her determination and hard work, she managed to come out with flying colours from her nursing school and she applied for a posting at the prestigious AIIMS. Her joy knew no bounds when the letter of posting was in her hands and with the blessings of her Parents, she left for Delhi and joined AIIMS. In a very short time with her compassion and hard work, she made her mark in the hospital and was designated to handle difficult and terminally ill patients. With every patient, her patience grew along with compassion and empathy.
Presently Mandakini had been assigned an aged patient , who had been in the hospital for about four months. He had developed too many complications over time. He was terminally ill and his pain and suffering could not be managed at home, hence he was put in a hospital. Every time Mandakini would enter the room, she would ask him cheerfully,
“Baba, how are you feeling now?”
Every time, with a tiny smile Baba would reply, “Lots of pain, beta. Can’t you do something about this?”
Mandakini’s heart would feel torn to pieces as she would carry on with her routine work of tending to him. His immense pain made Mandakini feel even more empathetic towards him and she was as loving and gentle as she could. He had a very loving family, that visited him during the visiting hours. Baba would look forward to that, every day. Other times of the day, Baba would strike a conversation with Mandakini and he would encourage her to talk about her family. Mandakini would speak very fondly of them and told him about each one of them, even her father’s illness. During the course of the conversation she also spoke very reverently about Lalaji and how he was their saviour in those three difficult years. Baba was all ears to her memories. She also spoke about how her father found his calling for his profession. She started with the story that she herself had heard so many times.
“My Baba was all of twelve years of age when once he was returning home on foot, from his school. Monsoon was on full fury. The Brahmaputra was flowing unrestricted and had flooded the National Park like every year. The animals were slowly crossing over to the hills on the other side of the road, for safety. Ramlal was walking fast when suddenly he heard a sound. He was rooted to the spot. It was unmistakably a tiger. He looked around to see a tigress trying to pull her cub who had gotten entangled among the bushes on the fence. Very unlikely, the cub could not pull itself out and the tigress was getting frustrated. Ramlal thought for a moment then moved towards the mother-child duo. The tigress snarled. Ramlal kept looking straight into its eyes while he reached up to the cub. He untangled its legs gently and helped it cross over to its mother. The tigress started licking its baby, all over.Then she looked straight into Ramlal’s eyes. Ramlal read gratitude and relief in them. She then picked up the cub by her mouth and went away towards the hill. Ramlal’s heart was filled with joy and that incident helped him decide his profession; a profession with the wild life and that’s how after some training by the government officials, he became a tour guide of the National Park. He simply loved his job and took around his guests with full enthusiasm and joy.” Babaji heard the full story and nodded in approval
Mandakini would get a night off every week. After one such off, she returned in the morning to find Baba no more. She was deeply pained. His full family was there but what surprised her was the crowd of people who had come to pay him, their last respect. After every few minutes a chant reverberated through the air;
‘Lalaji amar rahein’; ‘ May Lalaji live forever’
‘Lalaji’ ? the word caught her attention. She asked the other staff why were people addressing him so. The staff seemed to be surprised at her ignorance. They asked her how come she didn’t know that he was the famous, noble Lalaji who was responsible for feeding the countless hungry, everyday?
Mandakini stood still. She just couldn’t move. The staff was overwhelmed while narrating how Mr Peter Rodrigues became Lalaji. Some forty years back, Mr Peter, a pharmist had come on his routine visit to AIIMS, to meet the doctors for his order. While waiting outside the doctor’s room, he heard a man sobbing and saying,
“How can I stay here for my wife’s treatment, Dr.?You tell me that the hospital will treat her, free of charge. We stay so far away in the hills. How can I stop work and stay here with her and feed our little daughter as well as myself? I have no money for that.”
The man’s sobs shook Mr Peter to the core. When the man came out of the room, Mr Peter took him aside and said that he would take responsibility of feeding the father and daughter for the time they were required to stay there for treatment.
That was the beginning of a journey for one of the noblest causes that mankind could ever know. Since that day, Mr Peter would put aside a fixed amount from his salary, every single month and feed the relatives of poor patients. Gradually he formed a trust and now the trust was feeding the countless needy of the hospital.
Mandakini broke down. She was inconsolable. She remembered having told her story to Baba, the Lalaji who had silently been a listener without telling her that he himself was the Lalaji, their saviour. What a great, selfless man he was. After having cried her heart out, she gathered control of herself and got up. The very next day, she reached the office of The Lalaji Trust and pledged a quarter of her monthly salary every month, to it. That was the least that she thought she could do.