About three weeks ago when I came to the clinic, I saw a female volunteer aged around 50, working very hard in the medicinal garden. Her head was covered with a large round hat; she wore Wellingtons and seemed very cheerful. At lunchtime, I saw her again in another part of the garden, still working very hard even though it was obvious that she was struggling with the heat. I thought with some embarrassment that some of us at Sambhavna are often think of escaping from the 15 minutes (Shramdan) voluntary garden work that we do on Saturday mornings (8:30-8:45am). On the same day I saw a tall old man in his seventies wearing a pure white khadi, kurta-pajama and leather sandals. He carried a thick pocket-sized book in his hand and walked very upright with no hunched shoulders or bent back. Later, with the help of Shahnaz translating into Hindi, this lovely couple introduced themselves to us all at the weekly staff meeting.
The man has a shining face with a big smile and looks very energetic. As I said earlier, he is not bent or hunched in any way, even though many of us in our mid-twenties are seen to be sitting hunched over computers or walking with slouched shoulders. I decided to talk to him at the earliest opportunity.
The gentleman told me that his name Peter Tamplin, and that he lives in Bristol, England, with his wife Linda. Peter is a teacher of the Alexander Technique and Linda is a professional gardener with many years of experience. When Peter explained something of the Alexander Technique to the meeting, many seemed interested. On the following Monday over 20 people attended an introductory lesson, and now Peter teaches the Technique to one or two members of staff most days. When I asked Peter to tell me something about himself he said:
“I have done many things in my life; when I first left school I started to train as a hotel manager, and then I trained as a teacher and taught science and religious knowledge to 11–14 year old boys. I then trained again and became a priest in the Church of England. Counselling was a large part of my parish work, so I underwent more training in that area. Now I have moved on to the Alexander Technique which I find very fulfilling because it really encourages people to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, rather than blaming God or their parents for their misfortunes. It is not a therapy, nor does it cure everything, but it helps to free up more energy for the things we want to do and it also help us to take care of ourselves, thus preventing many accidents.”
And so we talked some more and I asked him Peter and Linda if they would mind being interviewed for our website. Here’s what we talked about:
Nagendra: How did you come to know about the Sambhavna Trust Clinic?
Peter: In 1983, I was in Russia with my daughter, staying in Kiev about 50km away from Chernobyl which exploded the following year. I was horrified that I had been so close to such a huge incident, but I was even more shocked that same year by news of the Union Carbide accident. The world took some notice of Chernobyl out of self-interest because of the threat of radiation spreading. Bhopal was quickly forgotten because it only affected people in Bhopal. I continue to be ashamed by the attitude of big business and the multiational corporations because I suspect that they are a mirror for western attitudes in general where profit comes before people.
N: How long have you been planning to come to Sambhavna?
P: I started planning to come here a year ago. Now we are here, my wife is working in the garden and I am teaching Alexander Technique in the yoga room. Dr Shruti passes some of the male patients over to me after they have done some yoga and I give them lessons. I am also teaching some staff and volunteers.
N: What are your experiences with patients and staff up till now?
P: Everyone I have seen so far feels that they have learned something. Some people feel that after one or two lessons they have learned enough, while others keep coming day after day. I know that we all learn in different ways and that many may seek out another Alexander teacher in years to come. It’s a lifetime journey.
N: Please tell me about the therapy and your experiences here at the clinic.
P: I understand why some think of Alexander Technique as a therapy, because when anyone is touched gently by another it is a lovely and therapeutic feeling. However the point of me as a teacher is for the pupil to notice the unnecessary tension in this or that part of him or herself. Many have expressed a sense of lightness in their movements after a lesson; I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. I am so lucky to have had such wonderful teachers at the Bristol Alexander School, and my only hope is that some lives here will be lived with some less pain and some more energy.
Nagendra: Linda, please give a short introduction about yourself.
Linda: My name is Linda. I have four children who are grown up; they live in England and I live there too with my husband, Peter. I work as a gardener and I advise people which plants to grow in their garden. I help them to take care of them. I work in big and small gardens, growing many things including fruit trees, beautiful flowers, vegetables or just lawns…I love gardening.
N: How did you find out about Sambhavna?
L: In England, the Bhopal disaster was reported alot in the newspapers and by other media, and it is something that many English people are still aware of. My husband wanted to come to Bhopal. He discovered that we could volunteer here, and as we didn’t want to come to India just as tourists we felt that doing some work and offering our skills was something we would like to do.
N: How long are you here with us at Sambhavna?
L: We hope to be in the Sambhavna Clinic for six weeks and then travel a little bit to other parts of India so that we can get some idea of the country and not just the clinic and its surroundings. My work in the clinic has been a great surprise to me. I have been able to learn a huge amount about the plants and herbs used for medicinal purposes from the staff. The gardening staff cut plants and give advice to the many patients who come daily. They do this in such a caring way that it makes me feel the garden is a very special place to work in. I enjoy all aspects of what I am doing here in the garden, not only gardening but learning about the plants and amazing wildlife, tasting some of the medicinal plants and realising how valuable a resource the garden is to the people of Bhopal.
N: What are your good and bad experiences here at the clinic?
L: We find it very difficult to sleep at night because of the noise of the nearby street. (Someone did tell us that India is a very noisy place!). It’s taken us a long time to get used to the amount of traffic, children and dogs. The noise goes on night and day. It is also much hotter here than in England and we do not sleep well because of that too. In the garden I find mosquitoes the most difficult thing; they seem to eat me more than anyone else who is here, even the other gardeners. The herbal medicine unit made me some medicinal paste; it is green, thick and messy. I put it on my skin and it looks so funny, but it does really help to keep the mosquitoes away from me. Also, I am not fond of spiders. I saw a huge spider this morning…fortunately, a bird came down and ate it. A great breakfast for the bird and a greater relief for me!
About gardening work here…it is very tiring because of the heat and humidity, but I work hard as a gardener in England and I feel that as I am only here for a few weeks, I must give it my best shot. I enjoy living here although it is quite challenging. I find people very friendly and helpful. They are curious to know how we live in England, what our life is like there and what our children do. A sense of family is very important here and we see children playing outside, and many generations live together in one house. Those things have become very unusual in England and it touches sour hearts to see them here.
N: Do you want to leave a message?
L: I would like to say thank you to those at Sambhavna for being so welcoming and friendly, and letting us stay here. I would also like to say to anyone thinking of volunteering here that it is quite a shock to come to a place that has so many difficulties, but it is a very rewarding experience.