Our reporter Nirmala Pokhrel meets the mysterious ascetic of Gechu and learns about her curious, lonely and regimental ways of living
Profile: Meet Srimati Rai, 65. She has been alone for good part of her life. She doesn’t know what it means to have a companion in life.
Srimati Rai has been living alone in isolated places for last 43 years. She laughs off when asked if she was ever afraid to live on her own. She is a sadhvi (ascetic), who began living a yogi’s life since the age of 22. She went off, leaving her parents behind in Sarpangseer. Of course she never married.
“What is fear? Someone who fears is weak,” she said. “No one asks me because they fear talking to me.”
The tiny old woman doesn’t remember the last time she combed her hair. She has chopped her hair with a kitchen knife. When she smiles, you can see long, sharp incisors; the look she wears when she does this is one of dreadful innocence.
But it is easy to talk to Srimati. She is jolly and goes on talking. Yet as darkness comes she prefers not to speak to anyone.
Srimati has been living by the roadside at Gechu for almost three months now. Gechu is about 30km before Tsirang as you drive from Sarpang. It’s a silent place, away from settlement and in middle of a forest. She has managed to build a tiny, tidy hut above the road, attached to the wall. Beside the hut, she has gathered some rocks to make a fireplace. That’s her kitchen.
Before she moved to Gechu, Srimati was living in a deep jungle in Sarpangseer, away from any kind of human settlements.
“I couldn’t live there long. Elephants chased me away,” she said. Srimati’s relatives don’t come to visit her. “It is by much peaceful here,” she added, giving away a toothy smile. And she is happy that way. She said she could not live with them because of different food habits. Her family is non-vegetarian; she is. Let alone meat, she has not consumed a grain for last 43 years. One roti is all she eats in a day.
“I love to eat some sweets sometimes. Whenever I have that feeling, I enjoy a mixture of milk powder and sugar,” said Srimati.
During the day she goes into the forest to collect broom plants. She sells them to travellers at Nu 50 minimum a bundle. With the money she goes Sarpang town to buy flour. That too is not all too frequent.
Sometimes, travellers give her clothes and things to eat. She accepts them, but only rarely. “One should not enjoy on others’ wealth. Their wealth is fruit of their own hard work,” said Srimati. “I don’t want to be harsh, though.”
Srimati is dressed thinly but not meanly. She is very particular with hygiene. In a pet bottle she mixes soap and sand to wash her hands and feet before and after food.
“I’ve been strict with hygiene. Probably that’s the reason I have never been sick in my life, occasional aches besides.”
Srimati is not sure how long she will be in Gechu. Of one thing she is certain, however: she will continue to live alone as long as she is able to.
Probably, after that, she will go to live in a dham (temple).
Nirmala Pokhrel, Gelephu