In the service of leprosy patients
Papaji's quest for a deeper meaning to life ends in Tapovan
by Reema Anand in "The Tribune"
On the outskirts of Amravati, 153 km from the orange city of Nagpur, stands Tapovan. In Tapovan, looms the larger-than-life persona of Bhagwant Singh Dalawari. He is Papaji, a father-figure to the leprosy patients he takes care of, to the children on the campus and Papaji to his satsangis and colleagues.
His morning starts with donning a white surgical gown over his stark white khadi kurta pyjama. He bandages the wounds of the leprosy patients gently with gloved hands and joking with them all the while. His gentle treatment of their wounds and their hurt spirits bring tears to their eyes and smiles on their faces.
Papaji tells this writer: "I am not dressing their wounds, I am dressing my own sores, treating my sins". And he laughs heartily. He doesn't need to flash the gold medal which he received after finishing his formal training from the Vellore Christian Medical College.
The love he showers on them, the bhajans he sings with them were not a part of his training. But all this comes naturally to him. "It is my Guru, Guru Granth Sahib, who makes me love all humans and treat them as equals, irrespective of their state of body, caste and religion," he says.
Bhagwant Singh Dalawari believes that he enjoyed worldly life to the hilt from 1956-1976 while moving from one diplomatic posting to another. He enjoyed being a father and a husband. He loved his work which took him to Egypt, China, Belgium, Guinea and France. But at the back of his mind was restlessness which gripped him and took him to various Cheshire homes in Delhi and to villages outside it.
The quest for a deeper meaning to life led him to disquiet introspection, which lasted a couple of years ending only in 1979 when he arrived on Oct 5, 1979 at Tapovan. Dr Patwardhan, the founder of this tiny hamlet of leprosy patients, a contemporary of Subhash Chandra Bose, was subconsciously looking for someone who could help him in his work of looking after leprosy patients with love. His search ended in B.S. Dalawari, who took over with remarkable ease. The inmates cannot think of Tapovan without Papaji.
Dalawari rejuvenates his spirit by holding Satsangs in which people from all walks of life irrespective of their social and religious differences, join him early morning. The Satsangis have become his adopted children who belong to various castes and different parts of the country.
He meditates with them on the Guru's name and talks about their teachings. At the same time, he insists that, "reading and learning scriptures is not enough, one has to practise what one reads."
Asked why he chose working with leprosy patients, he refers to Gandhiji's autobiography where he wrote: "To see God face to face, one has to love the meanest creation as oneself. It then dawned on me that these were God's very own creatures who were emotionally starved and socially ostracised."
He has no regrets that he parted ways with his earlier life including his wife and daughter, who are in the US and started a new life. "All these inmates are members of my new family." "Seva and Simran go hand in hand according to Sikhism", he says and I am happy doing both. When he is not in Tapovan, he is in Delhi holding early morning and evening Satsang.
This is tough on the inmates of Tapovan. They miss him and cry. But when he is in Tapovan, cries of "Anand karo Prabhu ke gun gao" resound in the Tapovan precincts with children clapping their hands in glee.
It is dusk, literally and metaphorically for Bhagwant Singh Dalwari, but he stands a deeply satisfied man, admired greatly and revered too!
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