The Iron man of Uttarakhand

In a rare display of indomitable spirit, third year student of engineering, and active volunteer of the Art of Living, Maninder Singh unwaveringly faced daunting odds, as he fought his way through narrow valleys and steep mountains to bring succour to scores of affected people in Uttarakhand. The fearless youth from Punjab recounts his spine-chilling experience.

His amiable, gentle demeanour belies the steely self-belief. Maninder is a man of few words and does not believe in glorifying his deeds or actions. He prefers working silently for better productivity and effective results. “Being in limelight can mar your concentration and take away your focus from work,” he says. “When disaster struck in Uttarakhand, my studies were in full swing. But I chose to apply the brakes and stand by these grieving people in their hour of need. Now that I am here, I just want to keep working and not get distracted.”

The journey begins

Along with three boys, Harshit, Umesh and Vaasu, Maninder arrived at Guptkashi, almost a fortnight after the episode happened. “But we were quick to get started,” he quips. “We headed straight to Devalgaon, a small village, nestled in the uppermost terrains of the Himalayas. After doing a detailed survey from door-to-door, we zeroed in on eight families that were severely affected. Each of these families had lost their loved ones and had not received ration ever since the flood occurred.”

Dealing with difficulties

Being young, it wasn’t easy for Maninder and his boys to tackle the grief-stricken people. The catastrophe had left them frustrated, sick and helpless. “Yes, initially we were unwelcome at some places. People were shattered and wanted to end their lives. They felt God had been unjust towards them and so they started throwing tantrums, the moment we approached them. Besides, they were finding it hard to control their hunger pangs.”

Beating the odds

Maninder  was faced by challenges at every step, but he remained unbeaten by the odds. “There’s an unseen force that has helped me pull through this whole ordeal. “he says. “Otherwise I could have lost my life, in this journey, considering the difficulties I encountered. Walking through the mountainous terrains was no cakewalk. We had to take this path, as the roads to Devalgaon had been washed away. I was surrounded by dense jungle, wild animals and cool jungle air. Tigers were lurking in the shadows and there was every possibility, they would spring from nowhere. Besides we were carrying backpacks with relief material of nearly 25-30 kg .It was difficult to move through the mud and debris, as we proceeded with a stick, beating about the bushes.  The path had become very slimy, owing to continuous downpour. At times, we wondered whether we would be able to make it or not.  So we sat and moved across as it was difficult to get even a proper foothold. A boy from my group even felt uncomfortable and breathless, but I managed to help him settle down.”

Emerging a winner

Undoubtedly, it was commendable the way, Maninder and his boys held their nerves. “Often we were interrupted by poisonous cactus plants, but we brushed them aside and kept moving,” he continues. “By evening the daylight had dimmed and it was getting riskier with every passing moment. There was no trail or easy path. We had to walk on large, wet rocks and scale down vines. So if we took one wrong step, we could slip and lose our lives. Also the leeches in the jungle only made it worse. It was difficult to take them off my legs. Leeches are parasites and can cause you severe pain, if allowed to cling to you for long. But we managed to pull through and everything fell in place. We finally reached the villages and supplied ration, lanterns, blankets, torches and other essentials to people from door-to-door.  Though the journey was taxing, we weren’t feeling tired. People were hungry for day and we couldn’t be lax in our efforts.”

Breaking the ice

With his humility, simplicity and soothing words, Maninder managed to win hearts, wherever he went. Even the womenfolk, who otherwise are always reluctant to speak, shared their stories with this young lad. “After counseling and simply talking to them for 30 minutes, I got them to open up and release their pent-up angst. These people hadn’t spoken a word or stepped out of their homes after witnessing death in their families. When I hugged them, they sobbed uncontrollably. With these people, I too wept at times and expressed my grief. Eventually, people found a lot of solace and blessed me for my efforts.”

Bringing respite to people

Within the next few days, Maninder had organised quite a few dhyan shibirs, stress-elimination programs and medical camps in the troubled areas. “While doing a survey, we realised that providing relief material was not the only solution; it was important to do these shibirs and camps, to help them relieve from the trauma they were going through. Otherwise they could sink into depression and even die a silent death. So many women had lost both their sons; like Susheela Devi, who had lost everything in her life, her family members and her means to employment. She sat motionless, when I met her.”

The ground realities

The sporting enthusiast has also worked in the badly-hit Rudrapur village where the casualties are comparatively high. “A pall of gloom has descended on this village. Every other home has had a sorrowful experience. Though, we have begun with our remedial measures, a lot needs to be done here. Women have been widowed at a young age and have no source of earning their livelihood.  We are strategising and doing as much as possible to render help, but we need to keep moving.

For a better tomorrow

Maninder is passionate about his cause and wants to work long-term for rehabilitating the masses. I am already working under the aegis of Volunteer For A Better India (VBI) an initiative undertaken by the Art of Living and guided by humanitarian leader Sri Sri RaviShankarji. Firstly I want to set up a few medical shops in these villages. There is a dearth of medicines in these areas and I want to do my bit. Secondly I feel pained to see small girls traverse a huge distance from one village to the other for attending school. We need to set up more schools, so that these girls can refrain from travelling in the dark. The lonesome paths are risky and not advisable. So there’s lot that I have envisioned for myself and implementing every idea is definitely tough. But I believe when the going gets tough, the tough gets going,” concludes Maninder with a twinkle in his eyes.

Story credit : Art of Living Bureau of Communication


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