Since we returned from Ooty over a week ago, Vaidyagrama has been caught up in a whirlwind of activity, the center of which has been a high profile guest and his entourage. He arrived accompanied by a five-car police escort two nights before we left for Ooty. We had never seen so many cars at Vaidyagrama.
The staff had been working at full tilt to prepare for their arrival, including the construction crew that went into hyper speed to finish a new section of the covered pathway that links up different parts of the grounds. Up to half an hour before he arrived, the crew was putting in the last floor tiles at the new path entrance. When the headlights started pouring down our little dirt entry road, the staff, students and other curious guests all gathered there on the freshly placed floor tiles to welcome them. He and his wife disembarked from their vehicle along with the rest of their group and were promptly whisked off to their rooms, leaving us all a bit breathless from our brush with fame.
To honor his confidentiality, I will just say our guest used to be a highly-placed government official, high enough that he has Indian Police protection even though he no longer serves a political post. I’ll call him “the President” for short. It is primarily for his wife’s care that they came to Vaidyagrama, and they brought six other officials and friends with them to receive treatment here as well. She has struggled with rheumatoid arthritis for many years and has received good results from Ayurvedic pancha karma treatment in the past. They live on a small island and sought out Vaidyagrama based on connections and recommendations. It continues to impress me that Vaidyagrama receives all of their patients through word of mouth, as they do not currently advertise at all.
Since the night of the President’s arrival, there remains an air of increased attention around their building. Their group occupies our old block (in fact, the President and his wife are in my old room). We moved so their group could have a block of four rooms entirely to themselves. Aside from the convenience of being together, it makes the job of the police that much easier.
Yes, the police. They have moved in as well, since they have the responsibility of protecting this man during his month-long stay here. They have an armed guard posted at both the front and back of his building at all hours of the day and night – and when I say armed, I mean quite visibly so. It is very odd to see military uniforms and enormous guns here in our little hamlet of peace. The police eat with our staff in the kitchen (when they’re off duty) and sleep in a couple of patient rooms in the building next to the President. At times it feels quite comical, passing the police on the way to the cow shed or the garden. I suspect the President couldn’t get further away from public view and any associated need for protection.
One way this has impacted us students is that suddenly there is a bit more work to be done around the place. Regardless of these being high-profile patients, the arrival of any eight guests plus five or so police-guests would mean more work on all fronts – housekeeping, food preparation, medical care, etc. Add to that the understandable desire to make a particularly good impression, and the staff here have definitely been feeling the pressure. We were vocal in our desire to help out in any way, so we were ultimately given the task (and honor) of serving the President, quite literally.
The staff set up a dining room in the President’s block where they take their meals together. Patients generally take their food alone in their room so there are no staff dedicated to food service. Dr. Ramdas’s wife, Lima (whom we LOVE), and one of the Punarnava office staff, Kavita, are overseeing the food preparation for the President and doing a masterful job. Along with the two of them and the President’s personal servant who traveled here with him, us students are helping to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. While I suspect this is a big step down for this group in terms of luxury, we are enjoying making his dining time as comfortable as possible.
After the novelty wore off, serving the President has become just another piece in the changing rhythm of my day, something that fits between class time, yoga, eating meals, making my medicine, and doing laundry. I am reminded of Dr. Ramkumar’s advice three months ago when we first arrived: Ayurveda is all around us enmeshed in nature and its rhythms, and learning it will require the three P’s – patience, persistence and perseverance. In the idle moments while we wait for the President’s arrival in the dining room, I’ve been able for the most part to remain present, not counting the passing minutes as “wasted time.” I have dusted off my old waitressing skills, including the “hurry up and wait” patience necessary to be at the beck and call of others in this unexpected way.
What continues to inspire me is seeing this as an opportunity for seva (selfless service) – not by serving the President so much as serving the rest of the staff of Vaidyagrama by helping out in this way. To see all that they have done to step up to this enormous challenge, and all that they continue to do until the wee hours of every night to prepare to do it all again tomorrow, and to imagine I have taken any portion of the heavy load off of their backs in my small actions, gives me joy. One of the beautiful things about doing seva is that it really does bring happiness.