A couple of years ago, a group of travellers wanted to travel across the Bangapani region in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district. However, due to heavy rains, a bridge over the stream that connected other villages had been washed away.
That’s when a villager informed them about Yamraj, the only man who could help them. The group was confused — Yamraj, in Hindu mythology, is the god of death — but decided to approach him anyway
Since it was late in the night, he refused to cross the stream and promised that he would help them begin their journey in the early hours of the morning. Since the travellers had no place to stay, he took them to a nearby government school and arranged for blankets and snacks.
Next morning, as promised, he carried each person, by turn, on his shoulder in waist-deep waters and helped them reach a pakka road. Moved by his heartfelt assistance, the travellers generously paid him Rs 8,000.
As Yamraj a.k.a Diwani Ram narrates this incident, I cannot help but marvel at his courage, willingness and kindness towards strangers.
“For a family like ours, earning Rs 8,000 in a day is a huge deal but my reward was seeing the happiness on their faces. The group had travelled all the way from another state to visit different temples in our state. Of course, I had to show Uttarakhand’s hospitality so I did whatever I could,” says Diwani, who received the nickname after he was spotted going to school on a buffalo as a kid.
Due to the absence of a proper bridge, nearby areas including Munsiyari, Bangapani and Dharchula experience flooding; the connecting bridges often get washed. It becomes difficult for villagers to visit markets and government offices. This is where the 49-year-old farmer comes in.
“For three generations we have been helping people including villagers, travellers and officers to cross flooded regions. My father taught me how to walk in deep waters when I turned 14, and since then I have been doing this work every season. Now my son has also joined me,” he says.
Crossing a flooded region might seem like a task that can be undertaken by anyone, but maintaining balance and taking responsibility for another human being’s life is something that can only be mastered over time.
“Sometimes, the winds and the water currents are so strong, that they uproot trees or cause bikes to lose their balance. Once, I was helping a lady when I lost balance and both of us fell. Some of her belongings drowned but due to my alertness and knowledge of the stream, I was able to save her life,” he recalls.
To appreciate Diwani’s exemplary work, people voted him to be the Gram Pradhan (village head) of Siling village between 2015-2019 and even as he occupied that post, he continued helping people.
Diwani says he has ferried thousands of people over the years, and prefers to offer his help for free. On most occasions, people, out of their goodwill, end up paying him. “My dad believed that offering help without expecting anything in return is the biggest service you can give for the nation. His words have stayed with me till today, and I have even passed them on to my kids.”
While Diwani is not averse to accepting money for this work, there are times when he happily forgoes payment. “There are a couple of soldiers who are posted in different regions so if they have to get across the village during monsoons I help them. It feels wrong to take money from them, so they pay for my services with sweets.”
While Diwani enjoys his work, there is a chance that he will have to discontinue it once the bridge — which is currently being constructed over the Jauligarh river — will be ready.
“We have already finished working on small bridges in the area and two big bridges are under construction so this problem of flooding will soon be solved by the administration,” Anil Kumar Shukla, sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Dharchula area of Pithoragarh, told The Better India
Till then Diwani can continue spreading a little cheer and kindness.
Edited by Gayatri Mishra