Companions in Solitude – 7
APPLE OF THE FOREST
In today's journey I had many co-pilgrims. Among them there were a few women, too. Along the way there were Binni trees laden with ripening and attractive fruits. The ladies began to debate amongst themselves as to which kind of fruits they were. Someone from amongst them said that these were forest apples. It was therefore concluded that those were apples of the forest anyway. Fruits were in abundance, and wore a mixed colour of red and yellow, which imparted the impression of their being ripe.
The group of ladies stood back. A grownup girl climbed up the tree. It seemed that she must have had the practice of climbing up trees in her village. She shook down about 40 to 50 fruits. The ladies standing on the ground picked them up, scrambling. Some smart ones could pick up more than the others. Those who got less started quarrelling with those who got more. While quarrelling, a lady who had got less started accusing that the other woman blocked her way and picked up more. The woman who picked up more retorted that she picked up more because of her agility and her ability to move fast. She reasoned that those who moved fast are bound to be the gainers. If you had been more agile than me you could have outdone me and collected more.
They decided to eat them at the camp along with the food. The fruits, they opined, were sweet and beautiful and would taste well with the food. Putting the fruits in their apron, they began moving happily, for having collected so many of these costly fruits so easily. Though the quarrelling ceased after sometime, the mutual illwill of collecting less and more continued. They were angrily ogling at each other.
The camp was reached. Everyone sat down. Food was prepared. Fruits too were taken out and served. And lo! Those who hastily put it in the mouth began to spit out. The fruits were bitter. The beautiful fruits, for collecting which they quarreled and laboured a lot, have turned out to be bitter.
They were greatly disappointed. The native porter standing beside was greatly amused and started laughing. He said, "These are fruits of Binni tree. They are not eatable. The seeds are used for extracting oil." The ladies felt ashamed for having collected and carried the fruits without knowing the truth about them.
I too was there and was a witness to the entire episode from beginning to end. The ladies now started laughing over the fruit episode. They got a chance to make fun. It is common that people feel happy on laughing over others’ mistakes and faults. Their mistake was that they assumed the fruits to be sweet and tasty because of their attractive shape and colour. How can everything that appears attractive be sweet? They should have known it. The ignorance caused them to be ashamed of themselves. Moreover, they quarreled for a worthless cause.
I ponder as to why these ladies alone be laughed at, while nobody laughs at the whole society which is crazy after attractive appearances, like moths dying over the flame. In the world of appearances, god of beauty is worshipped; pomp and show attract everyone; and due to the temptation people madly fall for worthless things. They waste their lives chasing shadows of happiness and fulfillment and in the end repent over the futility of their pursuits, like the ladies who were repenting here due to having collected the bitter fruits of Binni trees mistaking them for forest apples. People who go after appearances would do well to cultivate a deeper vision to be able to realize the inner worth rather than the form. But it is possible only when one is wise enough to discern the pitfalls of attractive appearances and be able to keep away from them.
None could eat the Binny fruits. They had to be thrown away. Those were not eatable at all. Riches and wealth, beauty and youth, merriment and fun, sex and infatuation, enjoyment and easygoing lifestyle and the like are some of the many vices, which disturb and pollute the mind. But most of the glittering things in the world are such that their acquisition ultimately causes only deep remorse and disgust.
MULES THAT WALK CAREFULLY
In mountainous regions, sheep and mules are used as beasts of burden. They are the only means available for transport too. Like we see carts, tangas, rickshaw, etc on our roads of the plains, mostly mules are seen moving safely on the difficult paths of the mountainous regions.
We walk with great caution on such perilous mountain footpaths, taking proper care to avoid hitting the foot against stones. The mules also walk likewise. Our head is so positioned on the body that we can see where we are putting our next step and can thus avoid danger. But it is not so with the mules. With their type of movement of the neck and position of their eyes, they can see ahead, but cannot see where the legs are being placed. Yet every step of the mule is always carefully placed at the right spot. Else the slightest slip would cause it fall down and end up its life like the cow calf we saw yesterday lying dead on the way to Gangotri due to falling from a height of about 80 feet. The poor thing lost its balance due to keeping one of the legs on the wrong spot. Such happenings are rare even in case of mountain cows. But in the case of mules such instances are never heard of.
The man incharge of the mules told us that these animals were extremely careful and were wise in treading the way. They walk fast, yet every step is kept carefully. When they apprehend any dangerous spot they suddenly control themselves, take the step back and search out the safe spot with the leg and then go forward. While walking, its attention is concentrated on the balance between the foot and the ground. Had it not been so they would not have been so useful on this difficult terrain.
The wisdom of mules is commendable. While man repeatedly takes wrong steps without caring a bit and consequently suffers without growing wiser, the mules make no mistake in finding the balance of their feet. If we too learn to carefully put our steps on the uneven and perilous path of life, our conduct would also become commendable like that of the mountain mules.
SIGHT OF GOMUKH (The origin of Ganga)
Today my long cherished desire of seeing the origin of Mother Ganga got fulfilled. The journey of 18 miles from Gangotri to Gomukh is fraught with far greater difficulties than those faced in the journey upto Gangotri. When the road to Gangotri gets cut off or blocked, the Government officials of the Public Works Department arrange for its quick repair. But this route to Gomukh mostly remains neglected and unrepaired. The mountain roads get damaged every year and if they are not repaired for a year or two the paths become very hazardous. In some places the paths were cut off in such a way that to pass by it was nothing short of gambling with life. A slight slip of step and there ends your life.
The glacier, from which Ganga originates, is of blue colour. This place of origin of Mother Ganga looks uniquely magnificent by the presence of snow-clad mountain peaks all around. The course of water appears like an ordinary fountain. Though the course is thin its velocity is tremendous. It is said that this course of Ganga comes from Kailash - Shiva's matted hair. From Kailash to Gomukh Ganga is said to travel underground. The tremendous speed of Ganga at this visible origin is attributed to her having endured the weight of millions of tonnes of glacier for over hundreds of miles. Whatever that be, for imaginative minds, it is milk coming from mother's breast. A pious urge surges within to drink it and to get immersed in it like it happened with the writer of 'Ganga Lahari' (Waves of Ganga) a composition of poems written in praise of Ganga by Shri Jagannath Mishra, who went on reciting his own composition, putting one step ahead with the chanting of each stanza and at the end of the last stanza plunged into Ganga in a fit of heightened emotion and accepted the watery grave (Jal Samadhi).
I satisfied my urge by taking a sip and a dip in the Ganga. Throughout the way my imagination and emotions were billowing like the waves of the Ganga. Many thoughts appeared and disappeared. At this time I cannot restrain the urge to write down an important thought that has just surfaced in the mind. So here I put it.
Here at Gomukh, Ganga is only a thin tiny course. On the way hundreds and thousands of fountains, streams and rivers join it. Some of them are many times bigger than the original Ganga at its source. It is only due to all those rivers and streams and fountains joining her that Ganga has become so large and wide as seen at Haridwar, Kanpur, Prayag etc. Big canals are dug to carry water from the Ganga for irrigation. The water from Gomukh will not suffice for even a single canal. If no other stream or river had joined the Ganga its water would have been absorbed by the soil within a few miles of its origin, and it would have vanished, thereby millions of human beings would have lost the opportunity to be nourished by its life-giving waters. Ganga is great, certainly great, for it has bound myriads of streams and rivers in the bond of love. She threw open her arms of magnanimity and embraced them to her heart. Taking no notice of their virtues and faults, she assimilated them all in her fold. How can one whose heart is full of feelings of boundless love, intimacy and oneness be short of water? When the lamp burns, moths also get ready to burn themselves over it. When Ganga has set out on the path of public welfare by spreading life-giving nourishment, why should not the rivers and streams come forward to sacrifice themselves in it. We can see for ourselves that innumerable souls have merged themselves in the large-hearted soul of Gandhi, Buddha, Jesus and the like.
Ganga's bed level is the lowest. This has enabled the streams and rivers to fall into it. On the contrary if Ganga had, instead of keeping herself low and humble, held her level high feeling proud of her qualities, other streams, though not much worthy would not have tolerated her conceit and would have turned away from her, feeling rather jealous of her. The magnanimity of the streams is truly great and their sacrifice is also praiseworthy, yet it is the humility of Ganga in presenting herself as humble that has given the opportunity to the streams to make their existence fruitful. Ganga has many other great attributes but this one virtue of humility alone is so great that words fail to admire her.
The farsightedness of the streams and rivers in renouncing their own ambition of attaining fame, keeping their separate identity and importance is also highly appreciable. They enrich the capacity and greatness of Ganga by losing themselves. They realized the importance of unity and co-operative working. So they deserve unbound appreciation. They did not preach nor discoursed on the strength of unity but showed it practically by their deed. This is called courage of conviction. This unique example of renouncing one's identity is not only great but instinct with foresightedness too. Had they insisted on perpetuating their separate identity and sought to themselves the credit of their performance, they could surely have had their own name and fame, but that would not have been considered of much value. In that condition, no one would have considered their water to be holy nor worth using for sanctifying body and soul.
The sacred Gomukh that I saw and bathed in today is only the origin of Mother Ganga. The complete Ganga is formed by the collective effort of thousands of streams and rivers. Gangasagar has welcomed it. The entire world worships it. Only a few like me go in search of Gomukh and reach it.
I wish that a sacred united angelic and divine force may emerge in human consciousness to eradicate sin and promote universal welfare. If only our leaders and their followers could pick up this example of collaborative working like that of Ganga and her tributaries?