Meet Omkaar – a gift economy astronomer

As part of our preparation to leave India and move to Africa, we took a road trip in India. A last outing – just the three of us – me, my husband and our car. We had no agenda; we had no set destination for the day. We left ourselves open to experience what came our way. A week on narrow lanes going through forests and remote villages along India’s western coastline.

road travel, travel to experience, road teaches us kindness

It’s amazing how the road teaches us kindness in so many ways… We waved at village kids coming back from school, we smiled at strangers, give way, stopped to admire flowers and trees, stroked conversation at tea & food stalls with strangers and gave lifts to strangers as and when asked. Simple yet amazing little ways to reach out to strangers.

Below is my diary entry from 21 August when we had a chance meeting with a gift economy astronomer!

The best part about these roads is that we are the only occupants of it (more or less). In the entire day, rarely a bus or a tempo crossed us by. Guess that is the reason why people ask for lifts easily. Today I only have luck to thank that it brought a gift economy astronomer in our car!
gift economy, volunteering as a way of life
Gifting his gifts! 🙂 Omkaar – a gift economy astronomer

Omkaar had gone to Hadi village to meet his sister for Rakhi (Rakhi is an Indian festival that celebrates the love bond between brothers and sisters). He lives in another village 30 kms away and had been waiting at the bus stand for 1 hr before he waved to us.

In no time conversation started and when he came to know that I belong to Jaipur he got all excited. Told us that he went to Jaipur to see the total solar eclipse on 24th Oct 1995. Soon we learned that he is a self-taught astronomer! And had also made a telescope all by himself out of cardboard. All the knowledge that he has collected, he spreads around freely. He takes free workshops for children in his village and nearby villages. He spends hours reading ancient texts on stars and formations. He goes to colleges and discusses with professors there, always learning new things and comparing modern science with ancient Indian writings on astronomy. He has gone all over India to be part of every major astronomical event – solar eclipse in Rann of Kutch in 1999, in Calcutta, in Kanyakumari and many other places which I am not able to remember :o. He also told us that there is a comet sighting coming up in October around Diwali.

“What do you do for a living?”, I asked

Omkaar: In the tourist season I take tourists on star-gazing trips around Malvan village.. And that is what supports me largely. In off-season my father and I also work as hired laborers on farm.

Me: And how much do you charge the tourists for each session.

What he told next left me beaming.

Omkaar: I don’t have a charge. I never ask people to give me money but I accept whatever they give. Even if someone gives me 1 Re, I accept it with gratitude. I believe our lives are a gift and whatever we have is enough and that we will find enough if we aren’t greedy.

For a minute I was silent. I was instantly thinking about Kirti’s story of abundance and wondered at my stars that made me meet Omkaar, a young boy who lives on gift economy in this remote village along the konkan coast. What a privilege!

We were soon approaching his destination but I wanted to know so much more…

Me: How did you get interested in astronomy?

Omkaar: my mother washes utensils in village homes for a living. She only got time at night to wash utensils at home and I used to help her. After that I would just gaze at the night sky. Looking at the stars and wondering how far they were, how they twinkled, why some were more closer together than others… And that’s how my study of stars and their mysteries started.

And this was 15 years ago. Omkaar is now 25 years old. He has followed the stars since he was 10. I wish I could capture a picture of him with his telescope, with village kids all around him gazing at stars! As we dropped him at the Malvan bus stand, we asked him how could we contact him if we came here again.

He has no number, he has no email id… You can’t really find him except leave a message at a local shop in the region; it is he who finds you!

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