I have a confession to make, rather a secret to share with you all. I am very very scared of Diwali crackers, especially the crackers which make noise. And Diwali happens to be my most unfavourite festival. It would take a lot of convincing from my family members to make me come out of my hiding from under the bed during Diwali. So an ashram event during Diwali was nothing less than an escape for me. I was under the assumption that I would be away from the maddening noise and pollution of the cities during Diwali. Also, since I suffer from bronchitis or bronchial asthma very often, a trip to the hills would be a welcoming change for me. My excitement about escaping Diwali was perhaps more than the excitement that I had about going to the ashram. What made me decide about visiting the ashram can be read in my previous blog here.
Prior to making my bookings, I had checked out on all the instructions mentioned on the website. To my dismay, there were no direct flights to Chandigarh from Hyderabad. I had to settle for a train journey, from Hyderabad to Delhi and from Delhi, I decided to take the bus to Solan. I had already made my cab booking from Solan to the ashram through Sanju Bhayya. So my itinerary was ready, so was my mind. All my bags were packed and I was ready to go, but I was leaving on a train rather than a jet plane.
Now, to tell you briefly about myself I come from an upper-middle-class family. Even though I have neither been brought up in luxuries nor have I ever been pampered much by my parents, yet I have got used to a certain lifestyle. A lifestyle that can be termed as very comfortable, if not luxurious. Also, after my separation, I was also not much used to sharing space with others. My father was a government employee and in the initial years was entitled to only sleeper class train fare as a part of LTC. I remember traveling by train to my hometown in Kolkata from Hyderabad, that too in sleeper class in the scorching heat of the summers without much discomfort. It was the joy of going to my hometown that mattered the most than the heat of the summers. But ever since, I have started working I am used to traveling only by flights and train journeys had become a thing of past for me. However, left with no choice I was compelled to travel by train this time.
I had booked myself in the Rajdhani Express, as I had never traveled by Rajdhani Express before but had heard great reviews about it especially the food. My ordeals began as soon as I boarded the train. I was allocated the upper berth in 3 tier AC coach and was forced to stay put in the same berth during the whole journey, where I couldn’t even sit properly. There were families of several members that were occupying the lower berths and hardly gave me the chance to come down and sit in the lower berths. They were perhaps going to or returning from a marriage party and hence were fully charged up with enthusiasm and zeal. They kept me up the whole night singing songs, keeping the lights on, making a din, and of course, having endless courses of meals throughout the journey. Sleeping in the top berth with the AC vent direct on my face, my throat started to ache in the morning. I realized that the train journey wasn’t comfortable or as exciting as before. My train journey was not like the one I had expected.
My bus from Delhi to Solan was in the evening from Majnu-ka-Tila, but I reached Delhi from Hyderabad in the morning. I decided to book an OYO room near Majnu-ka-Tila. But google search deceived me and I ended up booking a room at Paharganj which was quite a distance from the boarding point of my bus. Already sick and tired from the arduous train journey, my heart raced as I entered the narrow lanes of Paharganj. The place teemed with people, shopping carts, and shady-looking lodges. There came a point when the cab couldn’t go further and I had to get down and drag my luggage till the hotel. Thankfully, the hotel was not so bad as I had anticipated it to be. I could hardly sleep properly, as the area was resounding with the cacophony of horns and honks of vehicles around.
My bus was at 7.45 pm, and the hotel receptionist advised me to leave by 6 pm so that I could reach the boarding point on time. I hadn’t had the faintest idea that the boarding point was at least 11.6 km from my hotel. It was evening before Diwali and the markets were swarming with shoppers. The roads were blocked at several places, there was hardly any space to even to go by walk. Somehow, I managed to drag my luggage and walk up to an open space where there was not much crowd. I tried to book cabs but in vain, as most of the cabs were canceling my requests. It was 6.30 pm and beads of sweat started to trickle from my face out of nervousness. Would I make it on time? By God’s grace, I finally found a shared cab. While I was busy thanking my stars after boarding the cab I realized that cab was hardly moving. It was stuck in a horrible traffic jam. As the jam eased, the cab started moving at a snail’s pace. However, it reached a point where it couldn’t move any further. It was 7:30 pm when the cab driver asked me to get down from the cab in the middle of the road. It was a huge junction of flyovers and wide roads and I had no clue where I was. I tried looking up in the google maps but my mobile’s 3G network had stopped working. I was aimlessly walking on the roads dragging my luggage, often mislead by people. There were cars and bikes all around, but all static as if the world had come to a standstill. The time had passed my boarding time, and the bus operator kept calling me asking about my whereabouts. All I could answer was “Bhayya bas 10 minute”. I suddenly found myself walking on an empty flyover, I had no clue where was I heading towards. I was almost in tears. My friend’s words kept resonating in my mind, ” You can’t visit the ashram unless Swamiji wants you to”. I remembered how Swamiji too kept wandering in Varanasi in search of a guru. I felt that Swamiji didn’t want me to visit him at all. I kept cursing myself for all the misdeeds that I had done in the past and hence making me an undeserving candidate to visit the ashram.
A bike stopped next to me while I was busy wiping my tears. “O bhai, kidhar jaana hai tereko?”, the bike fellow enquired roughly. I was taken aback for a while but I told him about my intentions. Apparently, I was going the wrong way. He offered me to drop me at a point where I am likely to get auto-rickshaws. I sat on the bike, scared and apprehensive. But at that point, I was even ready to die because I felt that nothing could be worse than death at that moment. Thankfully, I got dropped safe and sound at a terminal where several auto-rickshaws were standing. It was almost 9:00 pm and I had given up. I had already asked the bus operator to leave without me as I would not be able to make it. My aim was now to reach the ISBT and take the early morning bus for Solan. I finally managed to board an auto after a lot of convincing to drop me at ISBT. As we were heading towards our new destination, the auto got punctured. There was no stopping of my tears after that. The kind auto fellow booked another auto for me. I felt sad leaving him in that condition. As we started moving ahead, I received a call from the bus operator. It was 9:10 pm and they were still waiting for me. I literally begged the auto driver to change the destination and drop me at the bus boarding point. I tipped him handsomely and thanked him profusely as I alighted from the auto.
I finally boarded the bus, I got reprimanded for being so late. But I was only thankful because they waited for me so long, while the rest of the passengers got highly impatient. I finally realized that Swamiji did want me to come to the ashram. The joy of finally being able to make it, erased all the pain that I had endured all day long. As I settled down I let out a silent prayer, thanking God and Swamiji.
Sometimes, life wants you to tread a path unknown but puts obstacles to test your faith, intention, and determination. If you pass these tests the rest of the journey is likely to be smooth for you. But it is also true that many of the obstacles that we encounter are actually created by us, especially our minds. While nature was transpiring opportunities for me, my mind was constantly conspiring against me inducing fear and pessimism. It was my expectations and my inflexibility that had made my journey much more difficult than the roadblocks that I faced due to circumstances. Moreover, an unfit body can elevate the pains further than you actually endure. thus, a journey (सफ़र) can often become suffering if you do not remove your mind blocks & not physically fit. Plan for the best but also be prepared for the worst. Pain can be inevitable but to suffer is your choice.
As the bus sailed through the empty roads of Panipat, I finally felt sleepy. But little did I realize that there were bigger exams waiting for me ahead. I would describe the rest of my journey and my stay at the ashram in my next blog.