I am encouraged to pen down this strange story of a reclusive middle aged man and an erudite lady who hitched with him to a strange hidden enclave in the Himalayas, where exalted sages and great stalwarts of early and later Vedic ages continued to live alongwith heroes and historic changemakers of later eras. It was a mountainous, densely forested wilderness where, at first, one sees nothing exceptional; one meets no one until someone authorised, from among those happy, glowing and fulfilled cave residents, came forward to introduce… It was an uber fabulous space apart from one bound in time.
It is a story that happened to yours truly but is not about me. So, here we embark.
Chapter – I
”I too am going to Kalka.”
I put down the book. She must have seen my travel itinerary on the reservation chart posted at coach entrance. It was quarter to ten in the night now and the train had rolled out of Durgapur station. My co-traveler looked middle-aged but seemed all eyes, weightless and sprightly. It’ll be one more night before we will disembark at Kalka.
The occasion needed a few words to stabilise. But what was there to say, i searched. All that I found was that I was glad, which couldn’t be mentioned without a context. The nod of acknowledgment was all I could reflexively put out when our eyes met but, as I later sensed, the smile on my countenance had stayed on. The juncture was loaded with a tentativeness, I felt. It would unravel, I told myself. It always does.
She did her bed on the upper berth. It was a two-berth coupe. I had the lower one. Despite it being late, she chose to sit at the other end of mine. She looked out of the window and I followed suit. It was dark and rushing out there. The wind on my face left me indescribably connected. Looking back after a while, I found her watching me.
“Not sleepy, eh.”
“Yes, the excitement of embarking is still to subside. Perhaps you would …”
“No, I hate missing out on so much of experience to sleep. Perhaps, by the early hours of the morning I’d allow the dark lady to take over. Are you, by any chance, a little taken up by apprehension, on account of this forced situation of spending the night in the company of a stranger… ?”
“Could be, subconsciously. Anything could happen but I perceive no cause that it would.” Her eyes were direct, locked with mine. “It’s your perspective to sleep that I am curious about. Most would find it not so normal. Especially at your age …”
“How do you see it ? And what’s my age, I wonder ?”
“You look late middle age. What exactly do you experience, looking into the blank depths outside the window ?”
“ It’s pathologically human, I guess, to presume of what it is from what it looks to be. At what age should one stop appreciating the night ? It’s healing, wondrous, quietly alive and so very gathered in peace. But I am supposing…”
“Are you a monk ?”
“No, just a recluse.”
Sometime after a long quiet interlude, she moved up to her place. I stretched out on mine and felt good to be traveling with someone. I embraced the track and wheel sounds for long, the wind on my face, the indistinct hills and trees in a darkness beyond regularly punctuated by the amazing presence of lit zones framed in black.
”It felt good to be travelling with someone,” she said, zipping close her utility pouch in the morning. I smiled. It was the thought I had slept with… There was no point to it but the wonder turned in my gut. An extra dose of vitality shot into the nerves, if you know.
I may have said that to myself because, a little later, she looked moist and fresh and strangely familiar. The book she’d opened was Narendra’s essays on Vedanta. I stared through the window. This existence out there, in passing villages now awake, never failed to empty the mind and rest my gut.
Breakfast was timely and a silent affair. Single-minded, to be exact. She smiled her satisfaction, looked out, read, and was mostly hesitant to launch an engaging conversation. I picked up the book, barely read a paragraph or two, and snoozed.
”You know, in this book, this term for truth, “Satya,” keeps coming up but remains without content. It’s so familiar, almost intimate as it rings in the ear, but empty, I feel. What is the truth ? I find the significance undefined and unspecified.”
”Perfect,” I said with a smile. “Let’s introduce ourselves.” There was no way for me to define the truth or specify it decriptively to her, without the context in her particular background. It would be tortuous even with that, I reminded myself. Word heavy academic conversations had long since ceased to appeal to my attention
The suggestion seemed to have finally broken the ice between us, in a manner. We spoke with some familiarity, then animatedly, as friends do. She was Pam : for Pamela, a professor of humanities. She had not married, ever, but had come close once and had thought of being open to it a couple of times. But her distaste for the chore involved had won each time.
I very truthfully bared the mystique about myself : I was Vam, for Vamadevananda, a nomad who had retired early and did nothing for livelihood. I had sons who did, who were glad to support my wandering. I did things that served my peace, my personal truth values, and my happiness.
Kalka was not my destination and I did not know what was. I would be taking the connection to Shimla but would head for the bus stand, for proceeding to Kalpa. The district administrator, a younger man who knew me, had arranged for my sojourn in a homestay double room suite that he had certified was spacious. But right then, sitting in the rail coach a thousand miles away, it was all tentative and somehow tiring to speak of.
She wowed, looking wistful. I looked at the fields passing by, at the transient objects afar as they gradually came in and receded from the view. The being, of which they arose, I sensed brimming in my heart.
”I’ve decided to spend the summer interlude with my sister, in Shimla. I expect to finish these essays during my stay and hope they yield their truth to my contemplation. Do you think they will ?”
”I wish they do. Sincerely. They might too.”
I knew, that transforming featureless fullness seldom happened with just reading and thinking. It does not impact us enough to self-inspect our spiritual station honestly and comprehensively, in all its evolutionary detail. First, there was the genetically programmed hump of survival and fear; then, procreation and the sexual muck clouding the purity and extent of love in our heart. Finally, the need for power to compensate for dissatisfactions and inadequacies, and addictions, we accumulate along our way in life. It reduces our being within egoistic eddies that have since turned habitual and automatic. They bear transactional fruits : few satisfactions on a sprawling expanse of emptiness sprouting mental chimera, organic depletion and physical exhaustion. More, the speed of their whorls raises an impenetrable wall, leaving our self occupied but our being stranded within its bounds. the knowledge at source in our eye. But everything helped … if the drive to restore our self, to the self in its solitude, was intense enough.
” You’ve done well till now, Pam, through over half a century, if I’m not wrong. Why are Vedanta truths so important for you at this late stage ?” I saved the thought to myself, ” Especially since you seem well off, and without any apparent crisis that might occasion the necessity.”
Truth, our truths, do not have a formal form. It is too tied up with ourselves. The subject could not be discussed from our surface. It needed informal communication of what we were perceiving in our mind just then, without also causing it. I was hoping to know her, in order to understand her words more fully, more accurately.
The introspection process does take its time. It demands that we wait. Time was essential to effective and efficient communication.
” Vam, I never married. When I looked about, after finishing my doctoral studies, I couldn’t be listed in the 20’s column of matrimonial pages. Too, I discovered, I wasn’t keen to hitch on. Life was engaging in the university, in the classroom and in my chamber, where I wrote scholarly papers that got noticed and always lead to more work, research and papers, more conferences and seminars.”
Concise, deliberate, critical and frank. Filled with truth.
” The campus was quiet, simple enough for my pleasure, liberal and liberating. I wouldn’t have given that up for anything just then, much less for playing second fiddle to someone who had priorities for himself, his career or business. The fullness I was living meant everything to me. I was happy.”
“As was I, to have met her,” I told myself.
” There was money enough, which meant little to me except when it enabled me to travel. Have never been a shopper and had felt no need of more property than I’d already inherited. Investments other than some tax-savers like insurance policy, mutual funds and fixed deposits were completely off my radar…
“There were men who saw a future with me but no one I felt over time whom I could admit into my life for all time, into my house and in my decision making.”
” Does that make you sad, today ?”
” No … but I am seized by the need to make amends for not having a companion I could call my own, who would speak to me, be with me during my solitary departure from the world. Someone who would hold my hand and miss me while I breathed out my last. Having lived in the present all my life, I cannot ignore preparing well enough for what I am walking into, at the eve of my journey’s end.”
It showed in her eyes. A developed intellect that had sincerely fashioned a values system for all matters, moral and ethical. The moment was pure and fascinating.
Reflexively, I picked up the water bottle and drank to a thirst that seemed unquenchable. It was still in my clasp, while I assessed the need for more, when she reached for the bottle unasked, without a word. Our relatedness could now be categorised as informal.
” I sense that you need the skill to complete yourself in solitude, by and to yourself, and the capacity to choose emptiness than abhor it, even more than something intimate and substantial. It will likely free you from the need of having someone by the death-bed.”
There was nothing I could add right then to what she was already doing to fill on her want.
“Telescoping our sight on our being does bring much of our life into focus. They reveal our ego-emotion-being for us to know all that we, in truth, are not. It is what we want in it that which roots ourself in it, and lets it defines us. The want is the error when we need to be free of it…
“What is ours is the curiosity, the quest to know. Spot it and resume with the being in quest. Move on to knowing, and persist with moving on. There really is nothing here to hold on to. We could give to it, but give up we must because there’s nothing that would accompany us through our great departure, except what we are to ourself.”
The distance must have shown on the visage, as she gravely pored over my face for the longest moment, with a strange firmness of resolve.
This was an unknown, unpredictable domain. I picked up the book but soon snoozed over it. The oblations had been poured in the crackling fire within her. The result would arise.
End of Chapter I. To be continued …
To Be Continued …