Culture,  Uttarakhand

The Search for Mother’s Laughter

In the Gular Dogi village of Uttarakhand, a young student and aspiring journalist shares a heartwarming journey of sickness, health, spirits and local healing. 

Story by: Aradhna

Read the original story in Hindi

‘Goodness, she has been bedridden for so many days! Her condition has really deteriorated! Seems like someone has robbed her face of its lustre. Don’t depend on these hospitals any longer. Have a baaki examine her,’ suggested our concerned sisterly neighbor. For the last 3-4 months, mother had neither spoken nor kept up with her work. She wasn’t eating anything; it seemed like her appetite had vanished into thin air. She just lay there watching us and crying.

We had her treated at many hospitals with the hope that the medicines they prescribed would magically help in improving her condition. But when nothing worked, our neighbor suggested that we have a baaki examine her. 

In Uttarakhand, a baaki is a village resident who has been gifted with special abilities. The baaki helps troubled people, helping them understand why they are troubled. We began to inquire about the whereabouts of a baaki. After a long search, we learnt that one lived in a village next to ours, called Chameli.

Next day, at the break of dawn, my father and I started out, climbing up and down hills, crossing narrow lanes and village streams, walking through forests, ultimately landing up in Chameli village. We asked a woman walking towards us carrying grass, about the baaki’s home. She told us that  the baaki lived next door to her house. We felt as if we bumped into a companion who would lead us to our destination. 

Hilly village in Tehri Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. Photo: Ashishnegi567, Wikipedia Commons

When we reached the baaki’s house, she was busy at her work. We told her of our problem and, after listening, she asked us to wait. Going inside her house, she asked for some grains of rice.. When I peeped inside her worship room, I found that it was full of idols of gods and goddesses. Watching her with the grains of rice in her hand, mumbling with her eyes closed, I got the impression that she was having a conversation with one of them. She came out after a little while and said in a soft,low voice, ‘The stream-side spirit has possessed her.’

I had earlier heard popular stories associated with ghosts and spirits. It was said that if an unmarried girl or a new bride ventures into the forest  to collect grass or water during the daytime, it is likely that she can get possessed by a spirit.

Tales of spirits are commonly heard in hilly areas across India. Photo: Anuj
Yadav, Unsplash

We were hassled and troubled after we heard what the baaki had to say. How could it be a spirit? Until now, we had only heard of such things. Many thoughts like how to get rid of it, what would be the budget of such a task, were flitting across our minds. 

It was fortunate that an old grandmother asked after mother when we returned from the baaki’s house. We solemnly told her all that the baaki had said, and of our problem getting rid of the spirit. She told us that a dhaami lived in the nearby village of Khangaliya who could help us. We happily agreed to her suggestion and thanked her.

A dhaami is a person who knows how to invoke the spirits. He chants mantras, beats on metal plates, and in a few moments a whole new atmosphere is created. Spirits enter the bodies of human beings and dance to the beat of the drums. It is said that if someone has died of a cause similar to a fall, his/her soul enters the body of a family member, meets the family, and tells them all about the past. After that, most commonly the family members perform a hawan (a method of fire worship) or animal sacrifice so that the spirit attains peace.

Hawan (fire ritual) is usually the most sought out practice to restore peace in Hindu tradition. Photo: Cullan Smith, Unsplash

It was evening by the time we reached home. Mother was lying on her bed in the same condition. We impatiently waited for the night to pass. The very next day, father went to Khagaliya village and spoke to the dhaami.

The dhaami chose Saturday, and we anxiously began counting down the days. Ultimately, it was Saturday. That morning, the dhaami brought books of mantras (chants), dhoop (dried herbs which are put into the puja fire) and many other things in his big bag. He asked us to bring a black rooster, and some small fish and crabs from the stream. We began collecting all this during the day. We struggled to catch the small fish. With great difficulty, we ultimately did manage to catch a few. Both my brother and I were afraid of crabs but summoning courage, we managed to catch one crab. By this time, it was evening and we reached home, running. When we reached, we saw that father too had got the rooster, and the dhaami was sitting in a corner with some things spread out.

Crabs love to mess around especially when you are attempting to catch them. Photo: Felipe Portella, Unsplash

The dhaami now began the prayer. There was pin drop silence all around. Mother was made to sit in front of him. Ever so often, he threw grains of rice on mother and shouted, ‘Where have you come from? What do you want? Get lost, why are you troubling her?’ And pointing to us, he said, ‘Look at these young children. They have forgotten their mother’s laughter.’ Sitting in a corner and watching him, we began to cry. After some time, mother fainted. We got scared. Mother regained consciousness in a little while and looking at us, began to cry. She hugged us and began crying louder. The dhaami threw some rice over her head and mother began regaining her composure. By this time, it was nearly 3 am. When the dhaami asked that the black rooster be taken to the stream, father and our neighbours were ready to join him. My brother and I sat at mother’s head and feet. It was around five thirty when father came back.

Events that took place on the day my mother was cured. Photo: Aradhna

By now, mother was better. She ate a little and spoke a bit. Our faces gradually began to light up with happiness and we expressed our gratefulness to the dhaami. He gave us a taabeej (amulet) each, and warned mother to avoid eating in questionable places. Father reverentially paid his respects along with a donation, and accompanied him to his house. 

We, once again, began to live peacefully. For months we had neither eaten nor slept properly. The next day, mother cooked delicious food for us, and that night she slept peacefully after days. Before this incident, I had not believed in dhaamis and baakis but when I saw the smile return to my mother’s face with their help, I was compelled to begin believing in them. 

My recovered and healthy mother whose smile has lit our home again. Photo: Aradhna

My beliefs changed and I came to realize that mother could be cured outside of hospitals too. I just want her to be well. For mother’s smile, I’m ready to pray at every place and to any god or goddess.

Cover photo credit: Maneesh Lingwal, Unsplash

Read the original story in Hindi

Meet the storyteller

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“Aradhna is a Grade 12 student from the village of Gular Dogi, who lives by the motto “Jo bhi kaam karo, lagan se karo”. She finds becoming a part of the change extremely uplifting and hopes to continue being a source of inspiration and change for her community. A first-generation learner, Aradhna one day dreams of becoming a journalist. Currently, Aradhna is a student-intern at the Pathshala Learning Centre and is playing an active role leading classrooms, and mobilizing her community to ensure that one day all children can receive high-quality learning and have access to greater opportunities.”

Simple Education Foundation
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"Simple Education Foundation (SEF) is on a mission to reinvent India’s government education system by providing high-quality learning to all children to fulfill its vision of empowering children to build a better tomorrow. In Tehri Garhwal, Uttarakhand, SEF is executing a Rural Education Transformation Program through a community-led initiative to build ownership, and bring sustainable shifts in the learning, leadership and culture from within the community."

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