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“Reaching the unreached and including the excluded”

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Remembering Avdhash Kaushal

By Alok Ulfat

I remember meeting Avdhash Kaushalji way back in 1982 when I was a little boy. It was at the Nehru Yuvak Kendra, where I went every morning to the open gym under the Lichee trees. Later in the evening, we would come together to do theatre activities at the Kendra, where Kalamanch, Vatayan, Yuvamanch, Abhirang and many sincere theatre companies found a place for their rehearsals and meetings.

At that time I saw a mysterious man at the Kendra Campus, always up to something, and I wondered what engaged him so deeply. Soon I was told that this gentleman was Avdhash Kaushal. I remember him as an upright and tall person mostly in white long shirts who would poetically wrap himself in a shawl during the winters. His lovely smile was always encouraging, eyes promising and full of dreams. Whenever I met him we greeted each other with warmth. As a young boy I felt blessed when he told me that he knew about my family and my parents who were also engaged in social work. I felt there was something common here.

I remember him taking us near Sahstradhara to plant trees, and meeting musicians and dancers from Chakrata and Jaunsar-Bawar region, when they came to perform at the local melas. We were absolutely amazed how the dancers climbed over each other and built dancing human pyramids with beating dhols and drums.

Life moved on and I grew up to make my way into the wild-wild world. I left for England to do my teacher-training. He often came to my thoughts when I missed my hometown, Dehradun. In my imagination I saw him working endlessly in his office and felt that on my return to India I would definitely work with him, and so I did.

Later, in the year 2000, I met Avdhashji again and told him about my wish to meet Gujjar families living in and around Rajaji National Park and also if we could work with the children of The Van Gujjar School.This opened many new possibilities. After that, I visited the Deras and the school to hold informal workshops and perform plays for Gujjar families.

Many times, I had visitors from India and abroad. Avdhashji always made arrangements for our travels and gave us warm hospitality. One time, I remember my team of 32 actors from Mumbai performed our play ‘Prithvi’ for the Van Gujjar community at midnight with 300 candles in the dense forest. He was a kind human being with a truly generous team of workers.

I have met his son and daughter-in-law and feel fortunate to feel connected to him and I am sure they will continue the great work. Nanhi Dunya Schools, The Rangshala, Avikal Theatre Company and Nanhi Dunya movement will always remember his messages.

On one of the occasions at Nanhi Dunya Green Yatra, he said to a large gathering of children, “If our environment is beautiful we would do beautiful things.” In a peaceful situation we come together to sing, dance, create art, share our gifts and celebrate together. This I feel was simple and wise. We were so moved to see how he connected with the children immediately without lecturing them on the subject.

On one occasion, he also invited me to conduct teacher training workshops for teachers of hill areas held at Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK). I felt refreshed to work with the teachers. I was happy to know that the Kendra had over 140 full-time and part-time staff and many volunteers, some from abroad as well, working together in a non-hierarchical system. He has left us with many memories and built most valuable initiatives for Uttarakhand. His campaigns include literacy, health and veterinary care, culture, community forest management and more.

I have always wondered what makes people extraordinary and when I think of all the wonderful people I have met in my life, I see they all had something very remarkable in common; the spirit of serving the world without being self-centered. In the case of Avdhash Kaushalji, I realised that he was a man of heart who loved to celebrate nature and life. I remember that, wherever he felt people were stifled and not able to express themselves, he stepped up to empower them and bring change into their lives. His concern was not limited to people but he also dedicated himself to a greener planet. He will always be remembered and recognised for his vast contribution. His heart and feelings awakened the consciousness that created wonderful projects for the development of India.

Avdhashji, after living a wonderfully challenging and meaningful life, has moved on to join many spiritual journeys into the future and we shall miss his physical presence. We salute a most dedicated Man of Uttarakhand. Let’s all join hands and hearts to continue his wish to reach the unreached and include the excluded.