Walking 1

Thomas Aquinas wrote after a spiritual experience: My writing days are over. How shall the two communicate, the altered and the ordinary…?

In my early twenties, when the days were long and nights equally longer, we set out—my friend and I—both equally foolhardy– on a long walk that lasted many days along the south western coast of India. We cherished a treasure in our hearts, a dream that would stretch certainly much beyond those few days and nights. Let’s do it, that is all we said to each other, when the very thought that we do a long walk along the sea dawned in us. And we did just that. Armed initially with a plastic bottle of water that we diligently refilled many a time along the way. We were both clad in saffron dhoti and kurta that ran much below our knees. My friend also had a Malabar towel slung around his shoulders. He was humming an old favourite film song from the seventies. And I was excited. The excitement of the vast unending blue skies that spread like an uncoiled umbrella above us. The steely blue of the road below also appeared unending. There were birds on the flowery boughs and the air was full of hope and rejoicing. We were indeed romantics. My friend I recall had a notebook in which he wrote a great deal about our jaunts mixing memories with philosophy and personal musings. Sometimes he read to me from those notes and I responded with the exhilaration of a cheerful enthusiast. We moved in happiness with the low hanging wisps of white clouds near the huge mountains. There were many water bodies in those days; after all we were moving across a land that was blessed with no less than forty rivers within a space of five-hundred kilometers of sea coast. We were close to the northern tip that petered into the neighboring state of Karnataka. Our destination was Goa, the erstwhile Portuguese colonial town. But we never reached it. Even as we reached Gokarna our energies had died out and we were close to dropping. Neither of us had any previous experience of such an arduous walk outdoors, and neither were we prepared adequately for staying outdoors for more than a few nights. We turned back as one, almost close to tearing one another out for having come out with such a dumb idea in the first place. We decided to hike it by truck or lorry back. Then we were lucky enough to get a lift up to where the river Sharavati drops over the cliffs in a spectacular manner as the Jog falls. Our fatigue died out. We scrambled downhill all the way to the river bank and looked up at the magnificent scene of the water’s descent. We were the romantics once again. My friend started to sing and I drew out my sketch pad and stated to draw the falls and hills and trees and bushes. The sky revealed a wonderful rainbow—all for us, we thought. By evening we were back to our morose selves. We yelled at one another and blamed the other for the foolish idea of it at all. We were hungry and without money. Even the most beautiful of God’s own places could not make us glad: hunger began to eat into us. Fortunately a couple of young fellows who had also stopped by to admire the scene at the top came over to investigate, inquisitive at our demeanor and appearance. We told them our venturesome tales and they were excited. They offered to treat us to a dinner of hot Parotta and masala, and we gladly accepted. Later they took us to the Youth hostel and got us dormitory lodgings. I do not know how we managed to crawl all the way to our comfortable beds. I dropped off as soon as I saw the bed. I had lost all sense of time and place when I woke up. There was only the intense smell of fever. My friend had still not woken up from his profound sleep. By mid day however we were on our feet and outdoors once again. Both of us were silent for the whole day. We headed east and reached Kollur. At the temple village we were welcome visitors. We got some accommodation at an ashram and spent a couple of wonderful days. The sowparnika river was placid and the round stones felt rounder under our feet. The Whistling Schoolboy, the Thrush of the hills, kept us company along with the Fairy Blue Birds. The Grackle flew in large numbers overhead while the Racket-tailed Drongos mimicked a fairly large number of calls and bits of songs. It was wonderful. We decided to foot it to the top of the Kodajadri hill—the moolastana (the ur- source) of the deity. About sixteen kilometers of dry and moist deciduous jungle and shola forests filled with the joy of wonderful bird and insect life! And once on top of the hill the entire world melts below through the swirling mists of a divine touch. Little wonder that when Sankaracharya, that doyen of Indian spirituality and advaita, passed through these parts, he felt like resting and meditating for a few days. It is reported that he fell ill and in the deep feverish slumber Devi appeared to him in all her glory and revived him. The divine is everywhere here. I had always wondered how it is possible that the spirit that is the divine creatrix could ever be considered as accrued more in certain places and not spread in equal measure everywhere. But here we find the answer to this age old question. This is the place of sanctity. Here is spiritual benevolence and sanctuary for the deprived souls. In these misty heights the troubled mind finds peace, serenity and harmony. Here is eternity and infinity rolled into one magnificent being. They say that south of the Himalayas, these are the hills that are most frequented by the genuine spiritual seekers. My friend and I run into a few such souls, keeping aloof from the maddened world of turbulence so far away. Perhaps, I could detect a faint trace of a smile vanishing through the tight thin lips clouded by long tresses of tussled beard, sometimes. Yes, they have understood our longing, our search. They are so close to that secret that we are yet to discover the path toward. I am reminded of the tale of the Bodhisatva who paused at the threshold to Nirvana, turning round and walking into the everyday world with the determination that until and unless each and every life form in this world of desires and pain is liberated there is no meaning in individual salvation! What does it all mean? What is the meaning of our search? My friend and I descended the hill after a few days in all silence. We were headed home. After all, home is the place where there is always a space for you, whichever, whatever conditions you are in. I thought of the security and comfort of a home. How could we ever have understood the true meaning of homelessness and the feelings of wanderers; because after all, in our heart of hearts we always knew we had a home to return to? But nevertheless we did realize albeit a tiny fraction of what it all means. The birds had whispered it all into my ears. The giant leap of the green frog in the deep forests helped us discover the trace of the lost majesty of nature. The arc of the rainbow under the falling waters told us the hitherto untold secrets unrevealed even to the wandering saints. The wing-beats of tiny insects hidden inside the huge evergreen trees sang of meanings laid aside unceremoniously. Each foot step on our path helped us reach closer and closer toward our own selves. The wandering had been fruitful. Those days altered our perception of ourselves and the world. 

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