Covid, for sure, has brought a lot of patience in us. It, for sure, has allowed us to accept the only option ‘wait.’
After a long wait of about 2 years, the day to head to Badrika Ashram, for the initiation finally arrived and I saw my trip companion, Suhas. G (my student and friend) at the Bangalore airport at 9.10 am. We did manage to get adjacent seats for that little gossip and exchange of stories. The age difference did have its boundaries, neither Suhas behaved too young, nor did I behave too old. I think we had our behaviours all mapped in. I though, was mentally building up an itinerary, to keep Suhas busy and trail him through for an experience, maybe, first of its kind. He is among that lot who has never said ‘NO’ to me, when asked for. It for sure would be that trip for me to dwell deeper and for Suhas to test it out.
We did have a bit of a snack (Idli and Sugarcane juice) and I did think of buying some sweets from ‘Anand Sweets’ for Navneet. Found it exorbitantly expensive and preferred taking myself (ANAND) to Navneet. We also picked up books for that popcorn of our chatting. ‘Unlearn’ by Humble the poet was picked by Suhas, and I picked up a catchy book titled ‘My Experiments with Silence’ by Actor Samir Soni. (I guess you need to google for this guy). Quite an actor per se. By the way, was our destination a process of Unlearn? – I wondered. The book hunt was quite indulging, and we almost missed the flight.
A little nap was an interval for our chat, and we did notice our co-passenger rigorously say his prayers both during take-off and landing. Guess god also had the job of handling this plane.
We were received by Ajay, and we headed out to the Ashram after arriving at Chandigarh around 1.45 pm. A restaurant enroute, though it looked shabby, served us good food. Roti, dal, and mixed veg were preferred and Suhas was hesitant to dig out for his chicken. He also had mentioned to his folks that he would be a vegetarian for the next three days, he would be at the Ashram. It for sure was the trailer of the vegetarian meal that would be religiously served at the ashram. Suhas also searched for his fruits, and we did pick up a few after our lunch. The bananas and the oranges we picked, after another nap, looked like an Indian and a foreigner in their appearance. Seemed like, it represented the people at the ashram.
We reached the Ashram at 5.15 pm and got our formalities for the check-in and the preferred room. I did get to see Uma at the reception and to be honest, she made me feel very tall. She inquired at the reception counter. “Do I need to take anything specific for the Initiation?”I in my mind answered – “Uma will have to take Uma only”.
I did pay Rs 4000 for the taxi and Suhas instantly transferred his share of Rs 2000 through Google pay. That’s something I have always seen Suhas do. He is clear and open about the way he handles money and there are no two ways about it.
Dinner time seemed a bit strange and early at 5.30 pm after we dumped our luggage in the so-called river facing heater room. I did inform Suhas of the silence to be observed in a few areas of the Ashram and did lead him to the discourse by Swamiji in the temple at 6.20 pm.
Swamiji arrived at 6.30 pm and asked “How are you all?” Few initial questions rolled out and the humorous answers by Swamiji kept everyone tickled. I did look at Suhas in the corner of my eye and realized his intellectual mind at work. Questions to Swamiji were about tantric practices for a householder and a bug in the sadhana app. Suhas did enjoy Swamiji’s anecdotes, and I was relieved to see him enjoy the event. I was sure the gates would open soon. We got to meet Navneet and his wife Pallavi. We did further catch up in the new little café opposite the front desk office, planned for a trek and chatted for some time. Later at around 8 pm, we did retire and we at our heater room had our little discussion on sadhana until we hugged our beds at 10.30 pm.
I did for some reason wake up at 3.30 am, and after catching up on my mudras was back to sleep with another wake-up at 6.30 am. As we were getting ready for the day, we noticed a bird flying straight into the glass pane of one of our room windows. Maybe it assumed that there was space for it to fly through. It kept trying for some time and we for sure realized that it hurt itself banging the glass continuously. We filmed it and felt sad to see the bird’s struggle. Maybe all the reflective glasses in the ashram have witnessed these phenomena and so to say the story of the bird and Swamiji is witness to it. Unfortunately, we were just Anand and Suhas.
Temple was at 8.00 am with breakfast at 8.30 am. Breakfast was light with poha, fruits, and sweets. Suhas did have only fruits and sweets. I was getting to know that he doesn’t like rice in any form. We decided to head to the river as Suhas wondered about the agenda for the day. Giri, I think, smiled at us, and did roar about its glory. We did enjoy being there and loved the environment. As steps progressed, we did appreciate all that was around, and the water did remind me of my last time. Later, as I kept wondering how to keep Suhas busy, I got an idea of rock balancing after seeing the river-washed pebbles. This in fact, was a workshop organized by us back at my college WCFA. Both of us figured out our set of stones, and we began our act. For Suhas, there was another game of tossing flat stones over the water sheet. Both games I think, had their merits – One seemed like an act of concentration or maybe, meditation and another was just about skill. I for a moment felt there were eyes on us and realized Swamiji’s home was right above us. Guess, it would have been a delight if we saw him there, just as imagined. Few rocks were friendly, and a few were naughty. Few revealed their centre of gravity, and few laughed and rolled away. We did photograph and video a few to spread our excitement. Photographs and videos were indeed the sign-off sessions. The rocks stood there in their solitude as a standing yogi marking their silence next to the dynamic river Giri. I wondered, was this an abstraction of Swamiji’s sadhana in the woods.
We were back at the front office to get our heater room confirmed for the 4th and 5th night too. The advance done by me was followed by a quick transaction by Suhas. Now that I scribble it here, I wish that all my clients were the same.
We at 10.45AM, moved to the library for the reading session. I did see some familiar faces but was hesitant to speak to them as they loved their loneliness. We squatted on the cushions and to my delight found my donated books rolling all over the place. It was indeed a sight, a pleasurable one, to see them more dynamic than the static state back in my bookshelf at Bangalore. I thought, life can go on when you dissolve it all and how long can you be obsessed? I did tell these books “Now you are all initiated”.
Back at the dining room, our lunch at 12.30 pm was yummy with roti, dal, aloo, rice, and the suji sweet (Kesari bath). The local pickles with carrot and radish garnished it well too. We did meet Uma at the hall, and I did influence her to visit home saying that she would miss seeing some good architecture.
The rocks seemed to be calling, and I asked Suhas if he wanted to head back for the second innings. Suhas agreed happily. On our way, we did interact with Sukhdev Singh, the contractor of the gabion wall and after a little exchange, we invited ourselves to see his house (I guess his ashram). Sukhdev did call his wife, letting her know that guests were coming home. We meandered through Sukhdev’s field and witnessed his crops from coriander to wheat and onion. As we approached his house, we were warmly welcomed by Sukhdev’s wife. The smile did it all, and we were taken to the first floor of his house. We did sip the local water followed by masala chai. Suhas did hesitate to sip the water but enjoyed the tea. The tea indeed was tasty, and I broke my vow of not drinking tea. Wanted to keep Sukhdev’s heart. He kept saying that you are my guests and serving you is my dharma. We did our architectural investigation around his house and a collaborative project between Samsung and Apple, framing all that we could. After a while, we were back at the spot where we had met Sukhdev. I met Uma at that spot and she continued my video chat with Arathi.
The rocks called us again and we headed for the second round of balancing. I guess we were pros now but witnessed the first round of stacked rocks being brought down. People do find pleasure in doing this, I guess. Demolish, if you can’t build, confuse if you cannot convince, tear it if you cannot stitch, and so on. Maybe I sounded a bit possessive of our doing, but later moved on.
After a while, as we continued our walk to the eastern part, we got to meet Shristi, a 7th standard School going girl. She was chopping firewood and was shy in her own sweet way. There were many other kids in the vicinity too and it’s quite a delight and wonder to see these kids conditioned to hang around in these valleys, walk for miles together and help their parents in all the doings of the family. As we happened to speak to Shristi, we could see her mother come close to us from a distant area. Shristi’s mom looked more like a tigress taking care of her cub. Feel this is right in its own way, for all the isolated world they are in. We continued with our walk and could not venture out for long, as the road seemed to meander into unknown pockets of the woods. Crocs and Birkenstock (our footwear) did show up their grip and guess Suhas was all set to rip his Birkenstocks so that he could exchange for a new one.
As we walked, Suhas happened to ask me about his practice. I said, he should go for it, but the challenge is to set up his boat. I did give an example stating that for one, creating an umbrella is easy whereas, for one to ignore the umbrella he already has, and creating his own umbrella is more challenging and complex. For a moment, he did not get my analogy but, realised it when I went specific.
As it turned 2.15 pm, I received a call from Navneet for the trek we had decided on. They came over to the spot where we were, and we continued our walk to the eastern part, which was already witnessed by us. We chatted that we should cross the river, but did not know the right spot. Sudama and Kapil, the cooks of the ashram arrived just as we were figuring it out, and we did witness them crossing the river with their shoes and trousers removed. Navneet, Pallavi, Suhas, and I made up our minds and we all set out to cross the river. Our legs froze in that cold water, and we managed to hold on to our balance. As the barefoot of Navneet, Pallavi and Suhas enjoyed the massage given by the pebbles in the river, I claimed proudly, the versatility my crocs gave me. Once on the other hand, we did continue chatting with Sudama and Kapil and continued our followed walk on the trail that led to Solan. It was getting tiring and all of us desired to have tea. Our inquiry with one of the local ladies did give us some hope- ‘Tea hope’ if you want to call it so but we did end up cutting it off as we could see the lady and her man discuss rigorously.
We continued our walk, and the stretch was picturesque with mountains, yellow flowers, well-painted houses, and birds too. Pallavi went nonstop in describing and canvassing the place whereas Navneet was quite composed and specific. Suhas was busy acknowledging both interactions that flowed from Hyderabadis to the Bangalorean. Few photographs were clicked for that little memory and after a while when we realized it was 4+, we decided to head back to the ashram. On the way back, there was one stretch that was granular and was steep in its way. Guess it was an extension of the rock balancing to human balancing and we did witness Navneet fall right on his bum. Pallavi was thrilled and laughed out loud knowing that I had filmed it and asked to share it with her. Suhas and Pallavi were careful, and they moved down with their tactics. I was more of a guide instructing them to manage the CG.
We finally came to the river to see a few kids get back to their homes through the river. It was playtime for them, and the river was holding all the entertainment it could give.
I wanted Navneet and Pallavi to taste the act of rock balancing and influenced them to get into this act. They did initially get their set and balanced in their style. What ended was a collaborative set where we all together put up one. I guess it could be called the Hyderabad Bangalore gesture – The one of friendship.
We got back to the ashram at around 5.30 pm and we headed out for our scheduled dinner at that time. In the discourse that followed at 6.30 pm, I could see Navneet and Pallavi all decked in white, all ready for the initiation they had come in for. White for a symbol of purity, for an act of initiation from a man who also equally acknowledges Black.
The discourse by Swamiji was hilarious with his answers to two questions that were asked by the people in the crowd. One question was, about happiness in any job and another was, will the guru come and receive the disciple’s soul when he dies. The answers given by Swamiji were both hilarious and quite touchy too. Few did burst into tears, and I did get to see Uma too drenched in tears. As Swamiji left after his discourse and the Aarti, we all stood to receive the Prasadam and I did go close to Uma. I did place my hand on her head, kind of consoling but, could not hold my tears. I too was deeply in tears, and we silently stood in the queue for the Prasadam. Suhas was witnessing me cry and guess he was all at wonders. He did mention and asked me: Why these tears? to which I replied – These are of gratitude.
Navneet and Pallavi did meet us after the initiation they had, and I did witness Navneet in tears – Am sure it’s of gratitude and for the love to the person we all do. We chatted about a few things and our minds travelled from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari.
My initiation was announced for the 5th early morning and I did get in touch with Sanju to reschedule our trip for the 5th morning instead of the 6th. I wanted to move around Chandigarh so that Suhas could feel entertained.
I was early to rise and did not sleep quite well. The thought of facing Swamiji in the morning hours grounded me entirely. I was up at around 6 am and was all set for breakfast at 8 am. We did visit the temple before breakfast, and we did meet Navneet and Pallavi at the dining hall. That morning was our last meeting, and we did say goodbye to each other. Our destination of return waited for us and I am sure we are all tied by the knot called Om Swami.
At 8.30 am, we were at the meeting room to meet Swamiji for the event of the day. Suhas did wait along with me until I was taken to the seating just outside Swamiji’s meeting room. After a few minutes of waiting and seeing two families and a lady see Swamiji, I was allowed inside Swamiji’s room. The door opened and there he was, Swamiji sitting on a high diwan in all his majestic ochre robe wearing a grand and tender smile. He looked larger than life and welcomed me as I moved in. I sat down and he did ask me to come closer to him. He said I am going to initiate you now and placed his finger on my forehead. He uttered his mantras and told me that he is giving me Deeksha, and I would from now onwards be part of his lineage. My name from now onwards could be Om Anand or Anand Om which he said was optional for me to use. I continued to close my eyes but chanted Omnamashivaya as Swamiji uttered his. My body shivered and after a while, he said yes. Swamiji as his last remark asked me to meditate on his form for about a year. I asked Swamiji if I could touch his feet, to which he offered his left leg. I mentioned to Swamiji about the book I had taken for him. Though he said that he would not take anything during Deeksha, he accepted it and I was all elevated by his gentleness. I did move towards the door without my back towards him. As I stepped out of the meeting room, I though, was in smiles, held it back to not get into an act of announcement. Few souls outside did see me for my reaction and I was too engrossed with the thought of all that took place a few moments back. Uma did see me and rushed to me, and I was like a child spelled out everything to her in a shivering state. She did revert, that Swamiji did not offer his leg for the blessings. I was taken back and wished I had not shared everything with her. I guess and wonder what Swamiji’s evaluation is? – It’s not for me to judge. Uma was set to get back to Bangalore and I did leave Uma in her taxi. Later, we had tea with Sukhdev and at around 11.00 am, we boarded our taxi to Chandigarh.
As I was in my taxi and drew up the hill with Suhas and Gurdeep, I saw Badrika ashram below us at the valley garlanded by Giri. I also saw a shrine upon another mountain and did pen down my thoughts:
One at the top, one at the bottom.
One at the head, one at the base.
One at the crown, one at the feet.
One at the sky, one at mother’s lap.
One at a statement, one at its humbleness.
Thoughts continued and I started to miss the Ashram. The meandering rough tracks allowed my mind to cherish the meeting with Swamiji and I internally celebrated the time he gave. Tears of gratitude rolled down my cheeks. Suhas did mention that he too was missing the Ashram. Guess the gates were open.
Yet another thought that surpassed my mind:
Who sees no Caste?
Who sees no Creed?
Who sees no Colour?
Who sees no Language?
One in one, the only Oneness.
One of one, the only Mindedness.