I wondered if it was the smoking. Yes, the climb was steep and I had no shoes. But 30 odd steps is all it took to break me. Panting as if my lungs had never taken a decent gulp of breath. Every pore in my body crying out sweat. My feet, calves feeling as if they had walked all the miles in a year within those 30 odd steps. You know the wall that sportspersons keep talking about? I did not stumble into the wall, the wall rammed into me with a ferocity I was not familiar with.
And that was just what happened to the body. The mind was another story altogether. Questions crawled out like ants, furious and relentless. What the heck is happening here? What was I being weighed down by? What could break me so? All the vice, all the indulgence paraded before my mind’s eye. I thought I used to be better, there was strength and grace to support, perhaps the Divine has abandoned me? But, but are the vices so unforgivable? Am sure you get the drift. I wondered, agonized and went through a mini version of Dante’s hell or perhaps the lower worlds illustrated by the Buddha.[quote_right]I wondered, agonized and went through a mini version of Dante’s hell or perhaps the lower worlds illustrated by the Buddha.[/quote_right]
I said yes, almost 2 weeks back when my cousin asked if I would to the ritual required to visit Sabari Mala, the abode of Lord Ayyappa. I did not think much, having visited the temple almost 18years back, I was familiar with the process. A period of austerity(abstinence from meat, alcohol and hanky panky), two time visit to temple, curbing of dodgy thoughts, wear the characteristic black dhothi, a t-shirt perhaps and no footwear. I managed to do okay even with the dodgy thoughts, the rest were tricky but doable.
As I stood there on Sabari Mala, with almost 80% left to cover, I did think seriously of going back. It was physically and mentally impossible. The devotion of fellow pilgrims helped egg me a little.
As I went the next 30 odd steps my eyes opened a little. The pilgrims who had seen the deity were on the way back. I caught the eye of one of them, a lad of 20years perhaps. Walking down, he came closer to the lane I was in and made a fanning motion with a piece of cloth to cool my body sweltering from the strain and heat. I still do not know how to receive that act of compassion. This stuff is easy for nobody and yet here was a guy who offered help, without asking.
Once I saw that, I could see there were more people acting thus. Small acts of compassion from strangers to strangers. Each act rendered as an offering to the Lord, each an offering to the immanent Deity. There was glucose powder being handed out, some gave out water and more. I was no longer alone with my crumbled mental and physical self. I felt as if the Lord was manifesting himself in every instrument available, who could do just that little bit to help take another step.
As you can guess, it took another 30 steps to break down again. The story repeated itself. The body wondering if it would last the climb, the mind wondering what the hell made me descend into samsara![quote_right]The body wondering if it would last the climb, the mind wondering what the hell made me descend into samsara![/quote_right]
At this break I stopped by a vendor selling slices of pineapple. Standing close to the vendor I noticed someone trying to step close from my right-side. I turned and saw an old man, perhaps around 60 years old, definitely not wealthy and almost positively poor or even very poor. He seemed hesitant for some reason. Thinking I was blocking his way I thought and stepped aside to make way. The old man came a little closer and asked the vendor the price of a slice.
The vendor was busy dishing out slices, he gave a damn about pilgrims, this was business and he conducted himself that way. He threw out the price, without looking at the old man, “Five rupees”. He even translated the number into couple of languages, after all people from nearby states visit this deity in large numbers. I kept watching as the man was about to step away. He was panting just like me and I could only wonder about the extent of breakdown that would happen to people at that age.
I almost instantly knew what to do. Having observed many acts of compassion thus far in the climb, I thought it was time for me to do something. I called the old man, more in signs than in speech. I asked the vendor to give the old man a slice. Old man hesitated, I reassured him in signs that it was okay. Taking the slice from the vendor, the old man started moving. Half way through turning away I saw the old man hand over the slice to a boy of 7 or 8 years old and kept moving.
It hit me like a bolt even in my broken down state, the mind awoke to an unexpected clarity. The old man might not last the climb up, yet, the one slice he got he gave the boy. He did not stand there expecting a repeat generosity from a stranger, though offered out of compassion and under the eye of the Lord.
This was not philanthropy of the rich, cheques written out over aged mahogany wood. This was not the generosity of bleeding heart liberals saving the downtrodden. Nor was it generosity looking to barter your religion for material things. This was sacrifice in the truest sense, giving what is essential to yourself and not a handout from excess.
This was the dictum of the Gita about intent of the act being more important demonstrated.
And yes, if you are wondering why the title says Rs.10 and not Rs.5, I called the old man back and insisted he take a slice for himself, which he did with some reluctance.
There are distances I have to travel within to get anywhere close to that type of selfless action. The thorn of inadequacy is still lodged within.