We recently visited Kausani at the foothills of Himalayas in north India. It is one of the most picturesque and tranquil places we have ever been to. Mahatma Gandhi called it the Switzerland of India. He complied the Gujarati translation ‘Anasakti Yoga’ of the Bhagavad Geeta while staying at an ashram, now named as Anasakti Ashram, here.
Sarla Ben, fondly remembered as Gandhi’s British daughter, established Lakshmi Ashram here in 1946. It was set up as a basic education program where girls would receive academic education along Gandhian lines and get trained to become social activists. So that they would in turn, work to become self reliant to uplift their village sisters of remote Uttarakhand.
Most of the students at the ashram today are from poor, rural families. Others are from particularly remote villages where access to post primary school is still s problem, especially for girls. Most of them come from small, off-road villages and relatively uneducated families. The school considers it very important that everone at the ashram lives and works together irrespective of caste and other social differences.
We reached the ashram, after a steep climb, in the afternoon. Two little girls guided us to Kanti Didi, affectionately called Odee by all in the ashram, a devoted Gandhian and in-charge of the school activities. She was very warm and loving and bonded with us in no time. We told her about Laughter Yoga and she could see the deep value hidden in it for her school girls.
Odee summoned a girl and asked her to ring the ashram bell. All the girls assembled in a jiffy and were told to proceed to the Shanti Bhavan, their community hall for prayers and cultural activities. In her simple, yet sincere and effective way, Odee announced that we had something valuable to share with them and everyone should pay apt attention.
There were about 60-70 lovely, little girls there. We told them how much we loved children and how sweet each one of them was. Then, we explained the concept of Laughter Yoga in a simple manner very briefly. A laughter session followed after that. Oh, what an amazing session it was! We had never experienced anything like that before. It was joy, cheers and energy all around. Odee, probably in her seventies, was as ecstatic as the kids. The session lasted for one and a half hours! Pure joy, nothing else. Towards the end, everyone was lying down, facing upwards, meditating laughingly as if in a trance.
They offered us Kaadha, a drink prepared from a concoction of Himalayan herbs, and requested us to stay back for the evening play time with the girls. We felt happy and privileged and obliged readily.
In the evening, we went to a lush green play field, surrounded by beautiful trees, and all the girls, clutching our hands tightly with heartfelt affection, took us many years back, right into our own childhood days. We ran and played with them like mad kids. First, we formed a laughter train and ran around the entire field and then marched like soldiers with loud shouts of hoho haha. Towards the end, we performed a laughter orchestra. We had slipped into super consciousness!
All the girls are richly talented in their own way – some are super atheletes, some good at games and almost everyone can sing and dance well. We are sure that many of them can compete at the national level with a bit of coaching and opportunity. Everyone of them is a wonderful soul.
There were some volunteers with us there: Michelle (from Denmark), Alexandra (U.K.), Leo (Germany), David (U.K.), Pramila(Italy) and Uma (Hyderabad). It was an awesome evening.
By now, we were like a family and the girls wouldn’t let us go back. We promised that we would come back the next day, stay and laugh whole day and have lunch with them. And, we did.
We were there with them on the next evening also and joined them for their evening prayers in Gandhian manner. Thereafter, they arranged an impromptu cultural evening and farewell for us. It was singing+dancing+playing+laughter=joy all the way.What terrific talent those girls possess! Unbelievable. It was a marvelous night brimming with emotions. By now, we were all theirs and they were all ours. We would be going there again and again. It is a home for us now.
Next time, when we go there, we are going to stay at the ashram itself. Odee has been benevolent to accept us as their family members. The girls surrounded us and held our hands with so much warmth that Radhika had tears in her eyes. It was really difficult to depart. Two girls, with torches, came down the hills to escort us back to our hotel in the pitch darkness of the mountain slopes.
As we were preparing to leave Kausani with a heavy heart early in the morning, we saw Odee knocking at our hotel room door to bid adieu. How thoughtful of her! She assured us that they will do Laughter Yoga regularly in their ashram and they find immense value in it and appreciate the philosophy underlying it. Had it not been for Laughter Yoga, we would never have had such a soul stirring experience ever!
- Jagat Singh Bisht