Friday, June 02, 2006

Musings from a Pilgrimage - I

Sorry for this hiatus – was really occupied with personal, professional and the spiritual. Yes ! I was out for a week on a pilgrimage (tour)

“Pilgrimage – now that sounds boring. And since when did you start paying visits to the deities?” Comments that I received when I announced my trip.

OK !! I have never been over the top with religion or any thing that remotely smells of the meta physicals. But, what the heck - I am OK with the idea of faith. So when my parents issued an emotional appeal (Well fine!! emotional blackmail) – I just said yes. Here was a long sought vacation which I was unable to plan somehow. And – it turned out to be quite a bit more than a pilgrimage – so this post promises to be much more then just a travelogue.

I might have never mentioned that I belong to a jain family – it seems so trivial but one realizes that one’s religion is very much a part of one’s identity. A visit to shikharjee - the place in question – thus is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to wash off all the sins that we might have committed in our lifetime. (some made me believe that actually it also takes care of sins that you are going to commit in our future…… I told you it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity). Eevry one was convinced that my kid is really lucky to go on such a “yatra” at such a tender age (four years).

I did not realize that we were off to such an important “yatra” of my life until I occupied my birth in the train. We were dropped by my uncle and family – sheepishly they took out a couple of garlands (the typical yellow genda – variety which one sees hanging at all flower shops) and we (I, my wife and the kid) were felicitated complete with the red “tilak” on our forehead. I felt like the sacrificial lamb being readied for the final kill. I recalled Haj yatris on railway stations being similarly treated and the fun I had watching all the drama – but never did I imagine that I will become the reasons for amusement of fellow passengers – Oh! God was it embarrassing.

I : Civil Sense ??
Anyways we left for an almost 36 hour journey in a train which will travel through so many corners of MP, UP, Bihar and Jharkhand that I never knew existed. After a long time I was on a long journey by Indian railways and that too sleeper class. I grew increasingly conscious of the fact that in brightly “shining” India – lack of civil sense remains a burning problem – a train coach which starts spanking clean from the origin station (no pun intended) becomes a mess with spits, wrappers, peels, dust, newspapers, water spills from water bottles to wash basins to even toilets. By the time our journey ends we just want a clean wash and sound sleep for the next day.

Another 25 km of taxi ride took us to Madhuban – a small town at the foot of shikharjee hills was to be our abode for the next three days. I was immediately attracted to the green hills that we were to travel the next day.

“Yatra Begins”
Well the D-day started at 4:00 AM – and how? Of course with a wish for a successful yatra in front of a deity named Bhomyaji – considered the paheradar (Guard) at the doors of the shikharjee. It is amazing to note that almost every God worth his salt (or his temple) in India follows the business/corporate culture of establishing a trusted guard notionally outside his abode taking care of his boss’s business and like every other office reaching the boss passes through their tables necessarily (Remember Hanumanji for Ram Temples, or _________ for Lord Shiva etc.)

I was told this incredible news that we are supposed to walk approx. 27 km (yes twenty seven) by the evening. The only destination that we could see was a one white temple on top of one of the highest peaks and gosh!! It looked far and high. I was ready to bet my money that this 27 km bit was an exaggeration by some over zealous “bhakt” and we started on an unending serpentine concrete road approx. 6-feet wide on a hill covered with thick green forest seemingly leading us to – well nowhere. I must say I really enjoyed the first km. Through the lush green dense forest at around 4:30 hrs. Not just me, to our delight even our four year kid was so full of energy and enthusiasm that he traveled almost the first km on foot.

II : Children of my country
Early on in our “yatra” I noted these young girls in their early school going age carrying something in nylon sacks on their heads, on those steep concrete roads. While I clicked a few snaps I asked one of them as to what is it that they were carrying. She replied simply "Itta" (bricks). I was taken aback, as if hit by those bricks she was carrying, by the casual manner she answered it – a look at the bag would reveal that each bag must have contained 6 or 8 bricks. I could not think of carrying a travel bag for long with me and here is a small girl almost one-third my age carrying brickload on her head climbing this strenuous mountains.

I was aware that we would be traveling on concrete roads - which they said has made the yatra much easier. My parents who visited the place about 25years ago remembers that it was once just a "kaccha" path through the dense forest – where even the mighty sun would rarely reach them. I was suddenly conscious of the fact that this concrete road that we were walking on was laid down on a bed of bricks carried by these tender shoulders at an age when the Indian government promises them compulsory primary education. Thats India for all of us.

III : Fellow Human Beings
Did you notice those “dolis” moving along with us – a strong thick wooden beam carried on their shoulders by two men with a swing like arrangement for one person to sit while they are carried by these two people through their yatras.

This is the only help available to carry out your journey if you are unable to complete the fete on foot. There are hundreds of such doliwalas swarming the place. They obviously cater to the peak time demand when this small town is full of “yatris”. At this time you just look around for a “doliwala” and at least 10 will approach you. If you have the courage and will to negotiate they will agree to half the price that they are entitled to. You would easily realize the sheer manual effort that is required in carrying a human being (50-70 Kgs on average) on these steep hills for 20 plus kms. And then it would dawn upon you, how inhuman it would be to negotiate a better price for their manual labour.

I was once in Calcutta (in the days when this was the name of the city) and saw human beings carrying richer fellow human beings on a hand pulled trolly (like a horse cart with a human being in place of the horse). If you feel that’s awful – this one is worse. I have always wondered how would one feel sitting in one of those carts (or one of these dolis) with the other human beings carrying you. At least I could not make myself sit even to try out this feeling.

IV : Faith
Faith is an amazing thing. It can move mountains – or it can make you climb mountains – literally. Here is my mother – she suffers from chronic troubles with all joints in her body and she generally avoids walking for long because the pain becomes unbearable specially the outsized bones of her toes. Any number of doctors could not convince her to go for a regular morning walk which they claim will keep her joints more functional. And here was she all energized and determined to complete a 25plus km journey through steep mountains in a single day and by now she has traveled about 8 km. She keeps saying no to our suggestions, requests, emotional blackmails to sit on a doli. How else can one define this seemingly unexplainable contradiction.

Here is another picture of faith – look at the frail beauty of this old lady whom I don’t know. Its hot summer of may and she travels all the way up here with her family (may be with the help of doliwalas) looking for what – God, Peace, Sense of conquer or just a need to tell herself that I am up and kicking.

The “yatra” continues and so does my musings. The post is turning out to be bulkier then I thought when I started. So More to come – wait for the next post – stay tuned.