Leaving Kedarnath proved to be a much more difficult task than reaching there.
Murphy’s law once again proved itself right. Brick by brick, one after the other, things were falling apart. Beginning with a silly bickering among the pilgrims about who takes the first chopper ride out. Ideally one could have either chosen FIFO ( First In First Out ) or FCFS ( First Come First Serve) to take the chopper.
But just because Lord Shiva resided there, it didn’t make order prevail. It was utter chaos near the camp tent where 2 Border Security Force men were left to fend for themselves to deal with the disorderly crowd.
Indians, as a bunch do not seem to follow a Q system. Especially when they travel within India. All hell breaks loose if they are asked to form a Q or adhere to a Q. It’s as good as asking a 2 year old to recite the table of 19! Or begging Rafael Nadal to take a shot at a doosra! The concept is too alien and sounds ridiculous to our brains! Observed closely, we would come across as a bunch of stampeding cattle to a wide-eyed clueless foreigner.
The BSF men quit trying before they even tried to control the crowd. Each one was left to yell out his name from wherever he was standing and whatever names the army men heard made it to the list. Real or imaginary!
Away from the pandemonium, I was having the best time of my life. Soaking in the juices of the snow clad peaks and marinating in the clear, rarefied, non-judgemental air of the silence of the remoteness. Collecting pebbles and stones as keep-sake for those times when life makes no sense at all. Living alone amidst the mountains has been an elusive dream to me. So I grab every chance I get and try living many years in our sporadic fortnightly vacation to the mountains. The solitude, inaccessibility, the bitter cold and the silence of the Mountain Gods was too precious a thing to let go and get involved with the human disarray happening on the side like limp salad going to waste!
As if this wasn’t enough balderdash, a local politician and his wife were having a tea party! Right in the middle of the helipad of all places, no less! That’s when the delay and the unnecessary chaos made sense. The BSF men were simply buying time by playing dumb to the growing crowd of restless pilgrims! How Kafkaesque!
Unknown to us all, the clouds were gathering speed and in the blink of an eye, they gobbled up the Sun and 10 AM felt like 6 PM. As the dark sky rumbled, terror seeped in on us. A storm seemed to be brewing up in the mountains and the only thing sane to do would be to RUN! The nightmarish images of the previous year’s cloud burst danced in front of our eyes and each one of us shrunk into ourselves. For once; although strangers to each other, we were all united in fear. And prayer. Solidarity always shows up to play catch up with its long lost friend – Fear of Death!
2 things happened at that opportune moment. Sleet and my name; both came calling. As I ran to the chopper holding on to my windcheater, the blinding rain fell hard with ice pellets hitting everyone and everything on its path. The ride back was freezing cold and tumultuous as the pilot gave his everything to keep the helicopter steady in clearly, non-conducive conditions. I held on to my Mom, who was luckily with me this time and the both of us were lost in our own minds. My Dad who was seated at the back was no different. Were we all praying for a safe landing, another chance at life or an easy pleasant death?
I wouldn’t know. My memory fails me there.
The nail biting wait for my siblings to get their ride out has been the toughest till date for us as a family on the other side, what with our nails getting short by the minute with incessant biting! In the end they got back safely, but since they had got caught in the driving sleet, they promptly fell sick.
Kedarnath proved to be a self help book worth its weight in gold with many life lessons for me.
Most important of all was the classic case of human memory being subjective, unreliable and fallible. Compared with most animals, we humans engage in a host of behaviours that are destructive to our own kind and to ourselves. As has been proved over time through centuries, we, as a collective are quick to forget the lessons learnt from the most dangerous of circumstances and that folly often leads to disastrous results. The deluge had wiped away the land, as we knew it and washed away its people and their man-made constructs, causing massive destruction. But it also left behind an opportunity for genuine change. Call it Kafkaesque or call it human lust for MORE or our malleable and ductile memory, the second chance was being ignored and wasted away by everyone within the System and everyone out of it. A repeat of a natural disaster much bigger in proportion is just waiting on the brink and sadly everyone, including the who’s who of the ‘Save the environment’ brigade haven’t been able to do much to stop the carnage or take Nature for granted.
“The Revolution evaporates, and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy. The chains of tormented mankind are made out of red tape.”
Wasn’t it Kafka who wrote this wise-cracker that seems almost like a fail-proof prediction of human behaviour now?
The other lesson is closer home and more spiritual. A short story by Leo Tolstoy read years ago as a young girl of 14 comes to mind as I recall that day. I stepped on the hallowed grounds of Kedarnath with a broken faith, questioning God’s role and reasons behind the deluge and overwhelming loss of innocent lives. I came back with the reaffirmation of what I had already learnt and abided by, since that story came to me all those years ago.
In God sees the truth but waits…Ivan Aksionov, the protagonist, goes through his days riddled with guilt, forgiveness, faith and conflict in a variety of permutations and combinations as life plays a game of hard ball with him. Until he rises to the occasion and learns acceptance in the most strangest and difficult of all circumstances; paving the way for his freedom, albeit spiritually.
You and I are no different. Every day is a grand struggle; with us fighting against all of our emotions and choices and difficult decisions in mixed proportions. But look at it the other way, isn’t that what makes living worth the effort we put in, day in and day out?
My struggle in accepting my fate is a story well known by now to readers who follow my blog, since it’s all chronicled here in WP. This trip and this visit to Kedarnath turned the wheels of my life towards a less conflicted, more accepting, fluid version.
In early Vedic texts, Shiva – the name means sacred and auspicious. Not pertaining to any deity but to the quality of being pure, benign, kind, benevolent and friendly. In later texts Shiva becomes a deity, residing in one’s consciousness. He is all pervasive. He liberates, emancipates and kills all forces of darkness within us, thus allowing us to transcend that which holds us back.
Pure Consciousness or the Lord who destroys Evil; true to His name, the holy land where he is said to reside as the Lord of the Fields- Mount Kedar, is where all of my learning’s till date consolidated and arranged themselves in an order that became self explanatory. This is where I healed.
Coming just 5 months after a life- changing 10 day Vipassana Meditation retreat, I finally came to believe during the trip that Questions of our yesterday have their answers in our today and likewise Questions of our today have their answers in our tomorrow. And more importantly some Questions do not have Answers. Even if they do, they are beyond our human understanding of what is Right and Wrong. Not everything is Black or White. That Grey is an ocean of tints, tones and shades of human deeds and conduct; its more than just a colour I’m not too fond of!
Some quests are better cut short. Some relationships are better forgotten than gnawed on for eternity like bitter pills. Sometimes we don’t get to know the Why behind what happens to us. Sometimes all we can do is accept, forgive and be kind to our own selves.
And Oh yes! Lest I forget, sometimes Ignorance is truly BLISS.
To be continued…