India Interior

The quest for the last post

Deachen Chorol | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on June 17, 2016

Under a mellow sun Inside the Rganstos Khang, or old age home, near Leh

Padma Lhaskit from the village of Skyurbuchan, in Ladakh, had been brought to the district hospital in Leh city for treatment and then abandoned there by her relatives. Knowing she had no place to go back to, she began to fake illness to prolong her stay. In the meantime the hospital staff had developed a fondness for Padma and she ended up living there for seven long years! But her experience went on to ignite a dream — one that she shared with two other elderly women she happened to meet — to establish an old age home, or ‘Rganstos Khang’ in Ladakhi.

The three women approached Venerable (Ven) Sangasena, founder-president of the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre, which runs a residential school, meditation centre, charitable hospitable and a mobile clinic at Choglamsar, near Leh city. With Sangasena’s support the old age home came up in 1995. It has meant many different things to different women, but for all it is a homecoming in their sunset years.

Sonam Palkit, 89, from Hanisku village, has seen many summers at the Rganstos Khang and is probably its oldest resident. Being single and with her siblings having passed on, she did not want to be a burden on any of the younger generation. On a chance visit to Leh city, she found what she had been looking for and stayed on. There is no trace of sadness or regret on her wizened face. She occasionally breaks into a toothless smile, her eyes lighting up with a radiance that belies her age.

For Tsering Dolkar the place has been her refuge. Hailing from village Sapi, Zanskar region, she used to work as a labourer till she suffered a paralytic stroke. It was her cousin who helped her find place in the Rganstos Khang. When her mother passed away, she was traumatised and recalls, “I used to sleep for hours and weep most of the time. People here are so caring. They would keep me awake saying that if I sleep too much I will become weak. I am better now. I can walk easily on the crutches, fetch my food. I am happy here.”

But it is the 72-year-old Ishey Spaldon who sparkles with energy and a joie de vivre. A nun from Neraks, she moved to Leh city for medical treatment, living in a rented house before finding place in Rganstos Khang. For the past 21 years, this has been her home. “ Totpa dangs, shulpa tos; ta maney rig tongo chhodna gyala dug ley (with food to eat and clothes to keep off the cold, the best one can do is remember God),” she says. With a chuckle, however, she adds that she is not thinking of dying just yet, because she feels so happy from inside.

This article has been written under the Sanjoy Ghose Rural Reporting Award (2015-16); Charkha Features

Published on June 17, 2016
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