After returning from the fire scene, Gain Manjhi (right) returned to his former home and changed into clean clothes, waiting for the volunteers' arrival. Boon Tiong Tan (middle) gently helped him with his appearance, a small gesture that speaks volumes about the volunteers' unwavering love and support. | Photo courtesy of Wen-Ying Chung | Bakraur, Bodh Gaya, India| 2024/04/03

Due to the dry April weather in India, a fire broke out in Bakraur village around 2:30 PM on April 3, affecting thirty households in the area, including the new home of Gain Manjhi, a Tzu Chi care recipient.

Dry Weather: Thatched Huts Burnt to Ashes

At around 1:00 PM on April 3rd, at the Tzu Chi office, local volunteers were attentively listening to Master Cheng Yen's teachings on the Da Ai TV program Life Wisdom. They were earnestly praying for those affected by the Hualien earthquake, which occurred at 7:58 AM Taipei Time on the same day. Afterwards, the local volunteers focused on a Chinese language course. Shortly after, local volunteer Vivek Kumar's phone rang abruptly. "Vivek, Gain Manjhi's house has burned down..." It was a call from Malor, one of the villagers. Upon hearing the news, ten volunteers split into two tuk-tuks and hurried to Bakraur village.

Upon arrival, the volunteers saw a devastating scene. A fierce wildfire destroyed the thatched huts of over thirty households and charred century-old trees. The burnt remnants of household items were scattered nearby.

Despite the remaining embers, villagers stayed alert, constantly pouring water to put out any lingering flames. The distressed villagers, with empty gazes and a sense of helplessness, sat quietly on the burnt ground. Upon seeing the volunteers, the village chief and residents eagerly briefed them on the fire situation.

As the embers smoldered, the villagers, wary of reignition, tirelessly doused the remnants of the fire. Here, a woman sits motionless as she stares silently at the devastation. | Photo courtesy of Wen-ying Chung | Bakraur, Bodh Gaya, India| 2024/04/03

Around 2:35 PM, four schoolchildren playing outside saw flames coming from a house and immediately warned the residents to evacuate. The fire burned for about an hour before firefighters put it out. Thankfully, since it happened in the afternoon, there were no injuries as most villagers were out during the day. However, because the houses were made of thatch, the fire spread rapidly, destroying the homes. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Volunteers' Love Amid Hardship

Standing at the scene, Gain Manjhi appeared distressed. Volunteers approached him to offer comfort. He shared that he used to live in his brother's house but gave up his room for his blind niece due to overcrowding. He then built himself a thatched hut using a loan of 20,000 rupees (approx. 240 USD), striving for the most economical option. Despite being just a hut, it finally felt like home. However, within days of moving in, the devastating fire destroyed everything.

Malaysian volunteer Boon Tiong Tan (second left) comforted Gain Manjhi, saying, "The most important thing is that everyone is safe. Take care of yourself first." | Photo courtesy of Wen-ying Chung| Bakraur, Bodh Gaya, India| 2024/04/03

The fire not only consumed his house but also burned his gray volunteer uniform and white pants. Losing his volunteer uniform added to his worries. Facing the charred remains of his home, Gain Manjhi's already difficult life was once again clouded by shadows, putting him under immense strain.

Seeing Gain Manjhi deeply worried, Malaysian volunteer Boon Tiong Tan comforted him, saying, "The most important thing is that everyone is safe. Take care of yourself first." Feeling slightly relieved, Gain Manjhi started walking back to his old home.

When volunteers arrived at Gain Manjhi's former home, his blind niece (right) sat silently against the wall outside the house, quietly sensing the events happening around her. | Photo courtesy of Wen-ying Zhong | Bakraur, Bodh Gaya, India| 2024/04/03

After volunteers assessed the situation on-site, they continued to show care for Gain Manjhi by riding tuk-tuks to reach him. Upon arriving at his doorstep, they saw his blind niece leaning against the wall in silence, lost in thought. Despite his despondent mood, Gain Manjhi greeted the volunteers. Boon Tiong Tan noticed his disheveled appearance and carefully helped tidy him up, a small gesture that deeply touched Gain Manjhi.

Volunteers returned to the Tzu Chi office to prepare blankets and essential items then brought it back to Gaina Manjhi. With comforting words and genuine concern, they slowly guided and cared for him until they finally saw a smile on his face. The volunteers promised to visit him again the next morning, and Gain Manjhi expressed his gratitude with palms together.

With trembling hands and tears welling up in his eyes, Gain Manjhi bent down to accept the relief fund from Vivek Kumar. Overcome with emotion, he could not help but sob and repeatedly wipe away his tears. While grief for his burned home weighed heavily on his heart, he was also profoundly grateful for Tzu Chi's unwavering support. | Photo courtesy of Wen-ying Chung| Bakraur, Bodh Gaya, India| 2024/04/04

The Gray Shirt of Hope: A Volunteer's Gift

On the morning of April 4, before nine o'clock, seven volunteers arrived at Gain's house, their promise a warm greeting in itself. As Vivek Kumar handed him the emergency relief funds with a sincere bow, tears of gratitude flowed down Gains face as he accepted the funds with trembling hands. It was a mix of grief for losing his home with an overwhelming appreciation for the volunteers' swift help. He realized that while he lost his home much, he gained far more from the volunteers.

His priority: a new uniform – a simple gray shirt and white pants. The volunteers joined him at the market, where he bought two pairs of pants, a white shirt, and shoes. The gray shirt, a thoughtful gift, came from Vivek Kumar.

With everything purchased, the tension in Gain's face relaxed. To cheer him up, the volunteers invited him to breakfast nearby. Sharing stories with them was probably his happiest moment yet.

The volunteers brough Gain Manjhi and his friend to the Tzu Chi office and as soon as they entered the lobby, they immediately paid their respects to the Buddha, expressing gratitude for all the encounters they had experienced. | Photo courtesy of Wen-ying Chung | Bakraur, Bodh Gaya, India| 2024/04/04

After breakfast, they gave Gain and his friend a ride to the Tzu Chi office in Bodh Gaya. At the entrance they bowed in thanks, the feeling of unity setting the stage for a positive day.

The fire may have been ruthless, but the volunteers' love offered hope for healing. Rebuilding will take time, but as the saying goes, "where there's a will, there's a way." And when one door closes, another opens for those in need.

2024/04/17| ◎ Wen-ying Chung, India