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The nerves on her hand were visible. Blue capillaries spread like tributaries of a river starting from the point where her hand was attached to the forearm and spreading across towards her wrinkled fingers. It was her right hand.

The Hand held stories to tell.

It was the hand she had used to steal sonth ke laddoo from where her mother had hid them, as a girl growing up in Ballupur, Dehradun, a town in North India. The hand had quivered while writing love letters to her would be husband at the age of sixteen, sitting in her school compound. She had used the hand to wear a heavy gold necklace, with multiple chains, gifted by her mother-in-law at her wedding. The hand she used to cover her eyes while blowing air into the chullah, while cooking rotis for the entire family,at their ancestral home in Saharanpur, at a time when piped cooking gas did not exist. The hand had held her first son Dinesh, not knowing then that he would suffer from polio and die at the age of sixteen. The hand had cooked her husband’s tiffin, as he left home to fulfill his duty as a guard on a train, during the time the British ruled India. She had clutched the bed-sheet with that hand, from the pain she experienced, every time she gave birth; another three children, two boys and a girl. She had used the hand to pack their luggage, as the family moved from Saharanpur, to Kalyan to Mumbai, one railway quarter to another, as her husband was promoted in his railway job. The hand had bathed her first grandson, her daughter’s son and conducted the pooja at his naming ceremony. The hand had waved goodbye to her elder son as he left from the airport, to Muscat for his first foreign job posting. The hand that cooked all day long in the kitchen and maintained the house, as she oversaw the numerous relatives and guests come and go, some stay for as long as months. The hand she had lifted to bless her daughter-in-law as she bent down to touch her feet, with whom she would share a bitter-sweet relationship in time to come. The hand she used to clutch a walking stick as she developed arthritis in her knees as the years went by. When her younger son died, the hand had wiped tears that seemed to flow as though a dam had broken and there was no possibility of stopping. The hand had wiped the pictures of Lord Ram, Sita and Hanuman, sitting amongst other Gods and Goddesses in her pooja room, everyday. The hand she used to pour water over her tulsi plant in the balcony and made balls of atta to feed the crows in the kitchen window. The hand with which she touched her husband’s feet at the age of ninety, during their last Karvachauth together and prayed for his long life. The hand that was clasped to the other, praying for forgiveness, for any mistakes done, as her husband lay lifeless after a cardiac arrest, dressed in white, about to undertake his last journey.

He held The Hand.

It felt soft weak and lonely. It seemed tired. It had crossed the river of life. It had seen births and deaths. It had sought joy and felt bitterness. It had hurt and had been hurt. Fleeting pleasures, memorable disappointments, never-ending expectations, rigid control, fixed norms, mental illusions, emotional heart breaks, abstract love, highlighted achievements, unmet dreams.  The Hand contained all of it. Memories of a lifetime. Now, not knowing what lay ahead.

He looked at his own hand clasping hers. It had it’s own stories to tell. Life stories. Like any other Human Hand. Yet there was something different between her hand and his. There was an anticipation in his hand. An anticipation of what the future would bring. It was missing in her hand. As though a vital life ingredient that had exhausted its supply. One day perhaps his hand would be like hers. Exhausted. Awaiting the unknown. Soft weak lonely.

For now his hand held hers. Listened to it’s stories. It was not a Hand. It was Life telling its story.

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As the participants poured in and took their places, the streaming light from the large windows flooded the room, making it seem more spacious than it was. Each had their own expectations. Their own dreams. Yet for these two days, their roles as social entrepreneurs got them together. This was a leadership retreat and they had come here to learn about negotiation, delegation, time management and engaging stakeholders. At least, that is what they had planned for their training needs.

The two facilitators had a plan for the training, as well. The projector in the middle of the room was part of the plan. So was the power point they had prepared. They were confident. They had done this before. Two hours of presentation and two hours of engagement. It was a safe bet. For them, and for the participants. With the structure in place, what could go wrong?

Apart from the participants and the two facilitators, there was something else in the room. An unseen alive force. Something vibrant, yet still. It was the spirit of that room. Created out of the unconscious intermingling of the deepest desires, fears and beliefs of all those present. It was witnessing the gathering unfold. It had a life and a plan of its own.

The ‘training’ began with a question. A question each, that a member wanted to explore. That question led to more questions. Questions of all kinds. Probing, searching, looking in the deepest corners of the person. Like, a slithery snake made of questions let loose inside, looking for what was hidden, unacknowledged and unappreciated. Some questions were evaded, some were answered. It did not matter the snake had access to what was inside. It knew. Now the task was to bring the hidden to light, the results of the first exploration.

What emerged was a child and an engineer. The child was rebellious. The engineer analytical. Neither were listening or reflecting. The child wanted and the engineer rationalized. How could learning happen? It didn’t. Yet the framework was rattled. Was shaken. Learning would happen. The process had begun. The seed was sown. It would grow in its own time.

The sharing moved the spirit of the room. Other participants wanted to find the people hidden inside them. The hidden stories waiting to be told. Very soon, the projector was swept aside unused and the power-point forgotten. What really mattered now was to explore and share the unconscious spirit. Drink from the well of the unknown. A bitter portion that illuminated life.

As we explored the room was filled with more participants. Characters from within. Unseen yet very much alive in each participant.

We came across a small girl that wanted to play in the rain. Yet was afraid of getting wet.

We found a guerrilla warrior ready for the next battle. Yet not strategising enough to win the war.

We discovered another small girl that was now grown up. Yet finding it difficult to say goodbye to her old self.

We found a grass-root leader who had found his roots at a young age. Yet to develop the capacity to have difficult conversations.

And each character had a story to tell. An untold story. We narrated its story and set it free.

At the end, the participants felt lighter. The facilitators felt fulfilled. There was meaning in discovering and sharing stories. It was not part of the training plan. It was not part of the skill-list the participants had posted. Yet it was real. Healing. Self generative. Like a dip in the icy cold Ganges waters at Rishikesh. It pricks you all over. Yet invigorates your soul.

The ‘training’ that was planned for four hours extended to two days. The spirit of the room had staked its claim.

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