Early Days

Family photo early 90s. Standing: Dad, Mom, Me. Seated: Anup Rai, Sangeeta Rai, Raj Rai (Passed away in 2016)
Family photo taken at the wedding reception in 2011. Left to right Raj Rai (Passed away in 2016), Dad, Me, Shruti (my wife), Mom, Sangeeta Rai, Anup Rai
Our home the white painted (250 sq. ft.) growing up 6 family members at Nursing Officers’ Mess – Servant Quarters, Southern Command, Pune, Maharashtra, India
My youngest brother Anup Rai on his visit a few years back to our old home at Nursing Officers’ Mess Servant Quarter, Pune

My parents immigrated to India from a village called Deomi in Illam, Nepal. I was born and raised in Pune, Maharashtra, India.

Early Life and 5 Elements

Like many in the Indo-Nepal sub-continent my ancestors have been farmers. My father Mr. Dal Bahadur Rai and mother Mrs. Sukhmaya Rai have been farmers, dreamers, doers and hard working individuals who endured many hardships to provide a better live for the family and educate their kids in English medium education. Without knowing local language or any support or money they left their village in Nepal in search of a better life. My parent’s story is a story of trials, tribulations, adventure, determination and a never give up attitude which they instilled in their kids.

Eldest of 4 siblings, I lived with my 6 family members in a small 250 sq. ft. room in Pune – Mom, Dad, self, my two brothers Raj and Anup (Our loving brother Raj passed away in 2016) and loving sister Sangeet. My father, after trying to get recruited in the Indian Army, laying down wires and erecting poles for telecom networks, working as a construction worker, mason, plumber, painter all over Sikkim and Darjeeling, West Bengal landed up all the way in Pune with a Government job as a Cook in the Indian Armed Forces in Southern Command, Pune. He then travelled back to his village in Nepal and got married to his younger brother’s – wife’s younger sister (my mother) and the newly married young couple travelled back to Pune with nothing in their possession but dreams. I was born in Southern Command, Pune.

Since both my parents placed significant importance on education, they got me admitted to an English medium school at St. Anthony’s Primary School in Sholapur Bazaar, Pune. My Dad’s friends would insist to get me admitted into a Hindi medium school nearby the workplace. But following his dreams, my Dad would not agree as he wanted his kids to be able to converse with people from all over the world in English. This did not mean that he looked down upon Hindi /Nepali dialect as a language but he always thought that the kids would pick up Hindi growing up anyways conversing with other kids and English medium school would where one would learn to read, write in English. My Dad would cycle half an hour and drop me on his by-cycle to the school come rain, shine or cold every day and then again go back to pick me up from school. As the family grew, Dal Bahadur Rai and Sukhmaya Rai had 3 more kids, they decided to get all their kids admitted to St. Anthony’s Primary School. This would mean Dad had to work 3 to 4 more jobs on the side after waking up every day at 4:00 AM showing up for the regular job as a cook in Southern Command, Pune and then doing other jobs as a gardener (Maali) and house keeper at Nursing Officer’s Mess in Pune where the family were provided a servants’ quarter to live which was about 250 square feet with no electricity. For about 8-10 servant quarters there would be a common tap for drinking water and other purposes. The servant quarters used a common toilet. My hard working Dad would also work as a security guard (Chowkidaar) to make ends meet. My loving Mom would nurture and take care of the four kids at home. Mom and Dad would take turns sleeping for 1 hour each and wake each other up so Dad could leave for his job at 3:30 AM and reach work place by 4:00 AM. Every month on receiving Dad’s monthly salary, I would keenly observe how Dad and Mom would put aside the school fees for all the kids and then with remaining money, buy other things like groceries, essentials, etc. and made it work within the money that was left. Dad would have to borrow on exorbitant interest rates from money lenders in case of unforeseen expenses like buying a He-Man comic book, buying a second hand by-cycle and also for extra tuition fees on subjects like Hindi, Marathi for me. All the 4 siblings would study sitting on the floor at times on a jute bag, under a glass lamp (Diya) that would be lit using kerosene. I would also study under the nearby street lamp post lights in the night near Hutchings’ High School, Pune and the nearby street post lamps.

How Dal Bahadur Rai and Sukhmaya Rai exemplified Dreaming and Doing

Earth, Soil, Farm and A Garbage Dumping Area

What used to be a garbage dump area, later developed into a thriving farm by my Mom & Dad and now all that’s left is this huge tree that we Mom & Dad planted. This road didn’t exist before.

Earth

There was garbage dumping ground out in the open area, nearby the servants’ quarters where my family lived. My Mom and Dad had grown in the farm at the village in Nepal and wanted us kids to be exposed to nature, earth, elements, farm, farming and the magic thereof. In the summer vacation where neighbourhood kids would play cricket, I and my siblings were instructed by our parents to start cleaning up the garbage dumping ground and go to the nearby areas to bring thorny branches of trees (Babool tree branches) so a fence could be created to grow a small farm and replace the garbage dumping ground. After weeks of working on the earth by hands and some basic tools and building a fence, dumping garbage had stopped. The neighbours were shocked to see the fence coming up and wondered why was this being done? Dal Bahadur and Sukhmaya had a dream of building a farm – an oasis, an escape where they could teach their kids to be in synch with mother earth, mother nature and the five elements – earth, water, air, fire and space. They longed for their kids to taste of magic of five elements – Panch Mahabhota.

Water

Close to this garbage dumping ground was a spot where water would always be overflowing. Turned out almost a water junction – multiple water pipes met had a small meter, where water would always be seeping out. Multiple repairs were done to take care of this but no one could figure out and stop the water seepage. This lead to a big whole and a semi pond to be created in the earth due to the water seeping out for years and during monsoon tadpoles and frogs would make this their abode. One would also see animals, stray dogs, cats, goats, cows, buffaloes drink off this unplanned fresh water body. Dal Bahadur and Sukhmaya thought why don’t they dig a swale (Naala) to bring water to their newly created farm. So this took care of the water element to nurture the dream farm project.

The garbage dump area turned out to be a blessing for the microbes and life within the soil. This was evidenced by earthworms of various sizes and shapes that would be found within the soil once all the layers of garbage were removed by the Rai siblings. This soil was throbbing with life and was black gold. 14-20 inches of black gold. Earth, farming, farm life, taking care of the cows, pets, soil were engrained in Dal Bahadur and Sukhmaya’s life and living while growing up on their ancestor farms in Nepal. They could see beyond the garbage dump yard. They could see the dream in the garbage dump yard and a way to demonstrate the respect and relationship with mother earth and mother nature and and magic of the 5 elements to their 4. The most important education of all could only be provided by dreaming and then by doing. Imagination, Work Ethic, Team Work, Respecting Nature, Being in tune with Mother Nature and Mother Earth – these are principles of life and living Dal Bahadur and Sukhmaya passed on to their kids by turning a garbage dump yard into a green organic, natural, chemical free abundant farm near the Nursing Officer’s Mess – servant quarters in Southern Command, Pune. As people would walk by they would see this transformation happen right in front of their eyes. For the 4 Kids – Deepak, Raj, Anup, Sangeet this would become a lifelong lesson that would be a foundation to how they think, perceive, imagine, do, create and share with the communities where one lived.

Air

With almost no construction in the designated army area neighbourhood, the wind and air would blow strong in the mornings, evenings and nights and at times, in the afternoon. Pune air in the 80’s and 90’s was more or less pollution free with the army men and civilians alike on their by-cycles. I and my siblings would fly the kites, play cricket, football – at times made of cloth. The Pune Air was breathable.

Fire

Growing up the 4 Rai siblings would wander about free spirited like any other kids of those yesteryears without internet, mobile phones and any of the modern gadgets. Most of the afternoon blazing Sun (Fire) they would be found playing on the field like there was no tomorrow. Soaking in the Fire. Growing up in abandon. The dream farm that Dal Bahadur and Sukhmaya had created with their bare hands was all that was needed for these 4 kids and to the entire neighbourhood to see nature up close and sit under the shade of the might Jamun fruit tree planted or the Moringa plants and Papaya trees.

Space

The physical space in the neighbourhood was as boundless as Akasha. With no possessions one would wander about the vast spaces outside the farm. The farm too had enough space to accommodate about 150-200 hens with an efficient hen house that Dal Bahadur and Sukhmaya made out of bamboo shoots, wood, ropes, few nails and a hammer. The hen house was built at about 3-4 feet space above the farm’s fertile surface and had wooden steps so that the hen could climb up the steps and stay safe and warm in the wooden shelter. The bamboo floor with strategic space between each bamboo would ensure the hen and roasters would be comfortably perched on it and the hen manure would drop on the fertile farmland below. In almost everything Dal Bahadur and Sukhmaya did, managing and respective Space would lead to abundance and efficiency. The hen manure was all that was needed to nurture soil health and provide a nurturing 14-20 inch black gold the rich fertile soil with abundant of all sorts of seasonal vegetables and fruits one could imagine – turmeric, ginger, methi, potatoes, spring onions, herbs, sugarcane plants, corn, green chilies, garlic,  cauliflowers, egg plant or brinjal, okra or ladies finger, peas and many many other greens that Deepak, Raj, Anup, Sangeet had the fortune of reaping them from the land of milk, veggies and honey that Sukhmaya and Dal Bahadur created, nurtured and used- to teach the kids by dreaming, doing and sharing the farm abundance with the neighbours at Nursing Officers’ Mess – Servant Quarters and the neighbouring community. Giving more than taking. Living in harmony with nature and neighbourhood.

Ancestry

Rai & Kirati Indigenous People

The Rai clan or Khambu clan are Kirati indigenous ethnolinguistic groups of the India subcontinent. Rai means King in the old khas kura. Rai are the descendants of Kirata Kingdom. Kirata Kingdom (Kirat) in Sanskrit literature and Hindu mythology refers to any kingdom of the Kirata people, who were dwellers mostly in the Himalayas (mostly eastern Himalaya). They took part in the Kurukshetra War along with Parvatas (mountaineers) and other Himalayan tribes. They are widespread in the folds and valleys of Himalayas in Nepal and Bhutan, and in the Indian states of Himachal PradeshUttarakhandUttar PradeshBiharWest Bengal (Darjeeling), SikkimAssam and Tripura.

I saw my father Shri Dal Bahadur Rai and mother Shrimati Sukhmaya Rai as Kirati Rai King and Queen growing up and till date – honest, they never spoke ill or otherwise of any one, they always uplifted everyone, just and fair, proud of their heritage and culture, respecting everyone else’s perspectives.

With the farm food security, relationship with mother earth, living in synch with the 5 elements Deepak, Raj, Anup, Sangeet felt like the fresh Prince and Princess of Nursing Officer’s Mess Servant Quarters in the farm kingdom created and ruled by the Kirati King Dal Bahadur Rai and Kirati Queen Sukhmaya Rai.

Current Day in November 2020

How my early days shaped Shruti and my current decision of having our daughter Shanaya be raised close to the 5 elements. The above blog post is an honest attempt to write my thoughts down. This blog is being written for our daughter Shanaya when she grows up and reads this, Shruti and I hope she will agree with our decision.

Hope you and your families, stay safe and healthy during and post Covid-19. To better times.

Deepak Rai

Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh (3.December.2020)

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