Yamuna Yatra…In Search of Unconditional Love
(A journey following river Yamuna in India to witness the sources of pollution that has given rise to the black river in Delhi. This river is one of the main sources of water in Delhi and the surrounding cities, and carries a large portion of its water to river Ganga, the largest river in India. This is a walk from the Himalayas to Delhi….Yamuna Yatra)
I’d forgotten how to walk. Racing with the rats, it was all about their pace, being better than the one running ahead, triumphing about running ahead of the one behind. I was running so hard that I forgot my own pace, my own dreams. I forgot me. Life was stifling, hope was lost….. I was lost. One day, looking at myself in the mirror I saw what I had refused to see. A rat….one of a kind. A kind I never fathomed I would be. I realized this race was costing me humaneness, costing me life. I had to stop running. I had to go back, back to my dreams.
And the hardest part, I had to start walking…….
It had to start somewhere…..but where? There was so much to do. So many dreams I’d locked one by one in a little box within a span of a few years. Now…a Pandora’s box. Where do I start?
Yamuna Yatra….a 5 paged dream I’d tucked away with the rest of them. It wasn’t a big deal compared to the rest hiding in there. Just something I wanted to do sometime back. Something I never made time for. Now within my grasp. This is where the journey began. Making the impossible possible. I started to walk, and it turned out much harder, much easier than running.
So I shed my inhibitions, my fears….I travelled light….
Delhi was not what I expected, heaven and hell, where the twain may meet. The mornings were so hot and the nights, the nights were cold. And Yamuna, dear…dear…Yamuna.
Her life was stifled. Her breath was stifling. Her soul…..dark, murky, abused and polluted. The pooja of her people still floating on her putrid water. The oil from the temple lamps an eerie rainbow on her surface. I looked at her, and saw me reflecting back, barely. But she still flowed. Hope still flowed. Love……so much love shrouded in the blackness…her broken heart never really learnt how not to love. Flowing endlessly, compassionately, unconditionally.
So we went in search of hope, refusing to accept that this is her fate. In search of the fable that is her life, of her journey. 18 of us, each with their own dreams, each with their own objectives. But all connected with one purpose…to answer why. In search of the cause, in order to find a cure.
We went in search of her infanthood…..
Kwaja mere kwaja (god my god)…… the journey began. Musoorie hidden amidst rocks and jungles. The town at night, a tiny heaven on earth. Its million stars a kaleidoscope of colour…… bright white, blue and yellow. The night a blend of soft music, diving for Frisbees in the freezing cold, clowns juggling, guitars strumming.
A travelling circus. They were different alright. People from all over the world. What crazy person left their lives behind to join a circus. Then I realized, they never did leave their lives. They all came in search of a life that they had lost. Some, like me… leaving the rat behind.
Up…Up…..Yamuna lead us. Pointing to our destination. Lakhamandal…..
The water whispered. Her soft waves dancing, lapping at our feet…loyal, faithful. Yamuna….in all her childhood splendor, skipping through rocks, a cha cha here, a salsa there. Her spirit soaring with the rains, beyond the borders of the villages that lay daringly on her banks. The villagers… their God shining through their eyes, God, rising in their voices, God in the voices of the children, blending with their elder, blending with the whispers of Yamuna. A prayer sent from a temple as old as time itself. A prayer to the unseen, to the stars beyond the mortal heavens. I let that prayer soak into my soul. And for an unimaginable moment, let myself believe in something greater, a purpose, a faith, a tangible faith…kwaja mere kwaja (god my god)
The night brought with it many a merry man. The jugglers, the clowns, the stilt walkers, the fire performers, unleashed. And the villagers, their eyes dancing with mirth, pure glee, looking ahead at the tale that unfolded before their eyes, a tale of a battle between man and god. Nature fighting silently, teaching man, the oh so arrogant man, many a gentle lesson. Patient, willful, silent. Much like Yamuna…mutely suffering. The performers left the audience aghast, awe-struck, at what man had become. The self-sustained, independent, modernized man, what he has traded to achieve this self-proclaimed superiority. The children clapped…..One day they will remember and they will relate. And hopefully, their God will win over the cravings of mortality. And the travelers from the circus…..their mission would have been successful.
The wheels were turning now towards Jankichatti. It was Holi, the world burst in to a rainbow. Faces shone with colour, all the colours of untamed beauty. People…like wild flowers. Colour was everywhere, on our faces, in our hair. Colour blended with the air, the joy of red, the envy of green, the melancholy of yellow, the blues of blue. The children waved with red-green palms….blowing kisses into the air. Their frocks and shorts all the same pattern….a patternless blend of colour. Holi….
Jankichatti was cold, freezing freezing cold. I was a Colombite. For me the coldest it ever got was 250C. I didn’t even want to know how cold it was in Jankichatti. But the cold was forgotten as soon as the guitar strings started strumming, and the games rolled out. We cuddled into one warm puddle of puppies, not to mention the grizzly dogs who cuddles with us. The cold wind and the lonesome cow’s bell wasn’t the only thing that kept me awake that night. Tomorrow, we had to trek for 4 hours to Yamunotri , the source of Yamuna, and I have never trekked in my life. Reliable sources had told me that it was a walk up-hill, as in vertical up-hill. Oh my muscles ached just thinking about it. Well…..I wasn’t one to meet trouble half way. So I forced myself into a toss-turn sleep, vowing to deal with it tomorrow, head-on…..
Morning came….The vertical walk, wasn’t too vertical after all. There started my lessons…Lesson No.1: it’s never as bad as they say it is. So we headed uphill. I had packed light, but I knew I could have packed lighter. And walking that walk, I wished I indeed had. Lesson No.2: leave your baggage behind. I’m no athlete. Sure I played basket ball twice a week, but this was a different ball game altogether. I tried keeping up, the guys ahead of me looked like they were running. They were so ahead, so fast, so fit. I was out of breath, my legs were hurting, my clothes were soaking and I was freezing. I was never going to make it. That’s when I stopped….
I was doing it again. The rat thing… Trying to keep up, trying to be what I wasn’t. I had to stop. No more rat. So I took my coat off and my camera out and started shooting all around me. That’s when I saw it…..
The tiny white flowers on a tree, blooming slowly, and amidst the blooms some remaining as buds, to bloom in their own time. Green gangly creepers wrapped around massive brown trunks. Tiny droplets of water expanding , collecting, forming a fountain, dripping all over my hair. The broken metal railing falling down… down….into eternal oblivion. Lesson No. 3: when you’re climbing a mountain never ever look down.
There was more…..The stark whistle of a bird hidden by the thick brush, the big red flowers dotting the green leafy cloth of a ginormous tree reminded me of home and Avurudu (Sinhala and Hindu new year), of the red cheettha frocks my mother forced me to wear in my bratty days. The snow on the ground, candy floss and cotton wool, refusing to succumb to the rising temperature. The massive thunderous rocks of Himalaya lying before me. My destination…Tiny wasn’t an adjective I have ever felt in my life. Before…
I tripped and fell on the rocks on the ground, and at times I sat myself to rest on the same rocks, and lo and behold…..it was over. I had reached my destination. By no means was I one of the first to arrive, (and it felt good on my ego that I wasn’t the last) but at that moment I couldn’t care less. I was there, I made it. 4 hours up a mountain in one piece. But the best part, I didn’t miss a thing, I saw it all. Lesson No. 4: It IS infact about the stops you make in life, the stops you take to reflect on life, your life, making the most of it. These stops are life’s amrith, spent relishing not spent in remorse for time lost not running the race. It’s never about the race, it’s about the runner.
Yamnunotri rose to our arrival with snow and holi. Within seconds my face took the patterless pattern of the little girl’s frock. Colour was thrown everywhere. It was on the snow lying on the ground, it was in the snow balls we aimed at each other. Colours were minuscule specs floating in the air. Colour was in our laughter. Colour in our eyes and colour in our hearts, only our smiles shining brighter than the multitude rainbows floating around us. At the end…..we left the snow a pastel artwork, a phenomenon, a fluke creation by a perfect moment. Life was beautiful.
It wasn’t going to snow, we were certain. The snow on the ground was melting. It wasn’t time for snow, so we climbed up the glacier, sinking our shoe-clad feet into the layers of snow. I fell, fell again, down the ice-clad rocks…I rolled. I was one big bruise. But it didn’t matter, snow was all around us. I had become a snowholic within the span of a few hours. And like all other addicts everything else just fazed in to absolute nothingness.
Climbing down, the wind started to change. The subtle breeze that murmured in my ears turned to a loud wheeze. The trees protested, the branches screeching, and then it came. Rain……No, not rain. The tiny drops that fell on my nose was not a drop at all, but a flake. Snow……it was falling. Softly at first, then like dandelion, one fluff multiplied and within minutes I was covered. For an amateur snowholic, life never got any better than this. I let the moment capture me, I flew with the flakes, up…up…Beyond these mountains, passing peak after peak. I forgot about the ground beneath my feet, my arms were wings. The cold……the cold never touched me. I was a part of it, for the first time in a long time, I felt my heart soar. I let myself heal and I never thought I needed healing. I let the snow enter me, cleanse me, absolutely completely succumbed to it. I was immortal….I was whole.
Not a moment in Yamunotri did I feel cold…it was the coldest place thus far on the trip, my friends kept insisting, but to me the cold somehow failed to register. I was Alice…..and wonderland never looked better. The campfire was hot. The sparks from the burning wood reached for the skies as the skies released snow. Sparks and snow, sparks and snow, playing together, suspended in a perfect waltz, just for a second before they submerged into darkness. Voices sang, a round robin of a musical cocktail. I didn’t understand the words, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t need to. Faces, eyes, smiles spoke clearer than any words. That night was eternal…..
In the morning, I woke up to Yamuna…..the infant. A new born crying in the arms of mother nature. Her waters clear. Pure innocence. Snow was everywhere, nature wrapped in a white woolen robe. It was beautiful. But Yamuna……she cried, and alarmingly her cries were endless. Something was wrong. These were clearly not the tears of a new-born, but the tears of despair, the tears of a child forced to face the qualms of life so young. The tears of a child refusing to accept reality. Her robes of white on her banks were spotted with colour. But there was nothing holi about these colours. They leered at you. These colours never blended, but suffocated. Plastic….
It was everywhere. Raincoats, bags, bottles, cans, packets, sillyngers, footprints, ugly footprints of man. Footprints of the illusion of superiority, of selfish arrogance. For a moment I wished that I could disappear. So overwhelming was the shame I felt of my own kind. I wanted to cry, because I had been there. I knew what created this man. A man so devoid of nature, a man who never saw that our souls were all windows to nature. I’ve tasted that bitterness. So I cried, I cried for all those people who lost their humanity, and for those who will never find it again, for those who will never try. I cried for the rats I left behind. I cried alone…
So we started cleaning it, trying hard to find the banks of Yamuna that must lie beneath the layers of garbage. I was fuming, The garbage were mountains all on their own. No matter how deep we dug there were more, garbage on garbage on garbage, until we realized we were standing not on earth but an artificial mountain formed by years of man walking across Yamuna. We were all furious. I could see it in everyone’s faces, the helplessness, the utter hopelessness, the loss of faith. We couldn’t do this, these 36 hands couldn’t clean this mess. We have never felt so vulnerable in our lives. Then we reminded ourselves about the story of the old man and the star fish. There were so many star fish waiting to be saved on the shores, but the old man could only throw one at a time back into the ocean. Seemed fruitless, hopeless. But when asked he said throwing yet another star fish into the ocean…“I made a difference to that one”. We can move mountains if we try, even plastic ones. All we needed was time. Standing next to the piles of junk we had created, we vowed we would find an answer. We would make that difference. I sent a silent prayer for that time. My heart was broken…the snow would heal it I knew, but this lesson I never want to forget…Lesson No.5: watch where and how you leave a mark in the world, for every stroke adds to the canvas, or erases from it. We humans underestimate our mortality, we forget that we’re each only a wave, a part of this great ocean of life. When we try to be greater than the ocean, we only create a tsunami that will destroy our shores.
Now my journey to the Himalayas is a chapter from a time foregone. I am back with the rat pack, and my days are once again numbered. But this walk left me with a gift…a sense of overwhelming peace. A place I return to again and again when I close my eyes and picture the white white mountains, the colours of Holi, and Yamuna….
She still flows…from the infant given birth by Mother Nature, to the stumbling child, to the gangly teenager, the confident youth, Yamuna flows. Bearing the faith of a nation, the gods of a nation, Yamuna flows. From childhood to motherhood…..nurturing, caring. Even as an aged cripple, crippled by the very children she nurtured, the very children she cleansed, fed and now rest on her beds, corpses that mock her love, the malicious mirth, bubbling methane on the surface of her water. Yamuna….her infant cries…her childhood laughter…her youthful banter…throttled to a murmur, a whisper and now a dull silence that flows in Delhi. Still giving and giving as her children sucks the milk of her love, not realizing that it is indeed her life’s blood that runs through her veins that flows in to their bellies. Not realizing that each time she gives, she gives a part of herself.
But beware, her tolerance will have its limits. Her love as unconditional, will not be eternal. Like her children she is deprived of immortality. When her blood evaporates in tears, when her veins are emptied, not with choice but with the tenacious brutality of the ones whom she nurtured as her own. When you, her children are deprived of that nourishment, when your bellies and your children’s bellies scream in hunger, a thirst that reaches beneath to scorch your souls. When her waters have no strength to bare your pooja to your gods, and when your gods refuse your prayers…
It will be too late…
She will no longer be silent…but be silenced…Forever.
Anu was one of two a BB-ites who went on the Yamuna Yatra, a project put together by Swechha which happens roughly twice a year. Last year, few BB-ites was on an extension of the same project which included excursions in Sri Lanka. Short videos on Anu’s yatra are here and here, some pictures here. Coverage on the last yatra on this blog is here and a youtube video is here.