Feb 29, 2012

Mr. R



It's been a year-and-a-half now since M and I made the epic sojourn to Kailash and Manasarovar. Although overwhelmingly brilliant, I simply could not find the right words to describe the journey for a long time. Eventually, I thought it best to document it bit by bit, one wonderful experience at a time. The Lake Where No One Lives came first, hopefully others will follow.

While there are several noteworthy stories to share about the sights we set our eyes on, equally inspiring and interesting were the 40-odd people we shared our pilgrimage with. Names are hazy and easily forgotten, but their faces and their smiles, their words and their deeds, will remain etched in my memory forever. 

There was Maa, who had literally turned blue after catching a cold but went on nevertheless. There was Doctor S, who I'd witnessed administering stitches to an elderly lady after she had met with an accident. At the end of the procedure he touched her feet, thanking her for the opportunity to serve her. Both pairs of eyes welled up, rendering useless any further words between them. There was also the girl who made my dip in the Lake possible, who helped me walk into the cold waters with courage I never knew I had.

But most of all, I remember this one man, whom I shall refer to as Mr. R.

Mr. R, with silver-gray hair, was probably in his late fifties. He was the kind of man you could tell was very handsome in his youth, good enough to have been a movie star. His frame was muscular and there was a certain beauty in the way he held himself and took his long strides. As you'd know if you've read some of my previous posts, I take great interest in observing people who catch my fancy, and Mr. R was certainly one of them. 

So observe, I did. It was hard not to. Impossible, really. The man was remarkable not just in terms of physical beauty, but also physical endurance. The cold and high altitude that had gotten to me, a person half his age, had seemingly no effect whatsoever on his health and attitude. While the rest of us bundled up in layers, he went about regally in the only flimsy pair of clothes he had packed - as a man on a true pilgrimage would. Due to the lack of hot water, the group abandoned bathing as we gained in altitude. But not Mr. R. He continued to cleanse himself with ice-cold water at every stop we made, after washing his clothes. As he waited for them to dry, he would chant aloud Sanskrit verses on the praise of Lord Shiva

Naturally, I was not the only one whose attention he had managed to grab. A few considered him a man of extraordinary physical strength. There were rumors doing rounds that he would walk all the way from Chennai to Tirupati and back, once every month. Others in the group said he was a show-off, trying desperately to gain some attention by openly defying the rules. I'm not sure if the whispers ever reached his ears, but they seemed to be of no consequence to him. He seemed set in his mission, whatever he'd decided it was.

It was around 4 am on a dark, chilly morning in Paryang, Tibet, when my intense observations of the past week had actually led me to do something I never expected I would. The group was readying itself for the next leg of the journey, the all important one that would lead to the Lake Manasarovar. I was ready ahead of time, completely uneasy with the climatic conditions, having vomited non-stop from altitude sickness the previous day. It irritated me beyond reason that I had to have fallen sick while on the journey of a lifetime.  As I walked out of my room, I tried to gather my thoughts, focus myself on devotion and nothingness. And that's when I spotted in the hallway, a lone figure, seated on a wooden stool. Faint chants told me that the person was none other than Mr. R. Dressed once again in his flimsy t-shirt and pants, he was engrossed in singing the praises of the Lord, while all around him were busy looking for toothpaste and waiting for some hot water to arrive. 

I stared. I could not believe it. What on earth had this man done, I burned to know, to have possessed such an extraordinary control over his body. Here was a man, who at the age of fifty could do something that I could perhaps never, ever hope to do in my lifetime. Here was a man who had mastered something that I have been struggling with ever since I could remember - the body. He was comfortable in his skin, comfortable in his discomfort, and for that, there was no way I couldn't have done what I did next. I walked straight up to him, and bowed down at his feet. 

At first he didn't notice me. A few seconds later he did, but his chanting continued nevertheless. I shed a few tears, got up and walked away, realizing how far I was from where I wanted to be. Also realizing that maybe not too far, if I could only find a way to bow down to every creation of the creator, just the same way.

28 comments:

  1. The story recalled me a baba ji from a small temple in my town at Banaras. We never saw him wearing heavy warm clothes or using blankets etc in the harsh end-Jan winters of the region...incredible few people are!

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  2. And, I must mention...I reallyy liked the way you name people, Mr R, Dr S and so on :)

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    1. Hi, Punit! Welcome here. Yep, some people really are amazing like that. Thanks, glad you liked the naming system :)

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  3. It has always been my dream to take a trip to Kailash.. and you are so lucky to have experienced it.

    What made you bow down on his feet, is what you have been looking for. And you have already found it.

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    1. Hi Jane! A pilgrimage to Kailash is indeed something great to dream of. I hope and pray that you get to experience it at least once in your lifetime. :)

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  4. Profound, sumitra! The post was so vivid, I could almost visualize Tibet, the Lake, the mountains, the people, Mr R and you bowing down at his feet!:)
    And what you wrote at the end is so true- When we can see the Creator in everything, and everyone, life comes a full circle!

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    1. Thanks, Sruthi. I'm glad you liked the post. Yes, when we see the Creator in everything, I guess that is what is self-realization. But it's not as easy as said. :)

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  5. I love travelling. Almost everyone is writing about their travel experiences and I feel like visiting every place! This is must visit and you were lucky to get the experience of a lifetime. All the best for the contest:)

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  6. This Mr R sure does seem like the Indian version of Rambo.

    Can only imagine how much perseverance and control he must have put in to go around in such flimsy clothing; all the while not caring a dime about the judgement of the people accompanying him.

    Beautiful post - could picture a lot of what you've said here.

    Cheers :)

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    1. Haha, Indian version of Rambo! :D Good one, AS. He sure was handsome enough to fit the bill. Glad you liked the post :)

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  7. It is a huge dream of mine to go on the Kailash Yatra. I am so happy for you:) Truly!

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    1. Thanks, Archana. I pray that you will also get to go soon :)

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  8. Lucky girl!! All these journeys of a lifetime are making me jealous! :-) ... I hope you win the competition - extremely well written.

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    1. Thank you so much Nirvana. May your words come true! :D

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  9. One of your best posts!

    (*Bowing to Mr. R myself*)

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  10. Such a profound post..And the way you write is soo good..It was like I was right there and I could visualize everything :)

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    1. Thanks, Natasha. Feels good to hear that you liked the post :)

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  11. People continue to amaze us !

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  12. Beautiful, beautiful post, Sumitra. I could picture Mr. R in my mind, through your words. :) Some people are amazing, and Mr. R appears to be one such.

    If I were you, I would have been awed by Mr. R too. :)

    Loved the way you concluded your post. That's so true - If you can picture the creator in everyone and everything around you, you have reached the place you were looking for, or at least reached close to it. :)

    All the very best with the contest.

    PS: A trip to Kailash-Mansarovar

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  13. Loved the writeup! As they say, faith can move mountains! He seems to be a fit example of that!

    ♥ www.thegirlatfirstavenue.com

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  14. Sorry, hit publish by mistake before I could complete the PS. :(

    PS: A trip to Kailash-Mansarovar has been on our minds (both the OH and me) ever since one of our relatives went there and described her rich experience. We feel that is a trip that should be undertaken at a young age, when one is still reasonably fit (that is questionable, though) and before major ailments start to assail one's body. The altitudes and the thought of altitude sickness have been scaring us, though.

    Oh, well, someday... :)

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    1. GalNxtdoor, Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked the post and the conclusion as well. You know, if you have it in mind, you should certainly find a way to make it happen :) The altitude sickness is there, but it doesn't really affect everybody. Nothing happened to M, only I fell sick. You never know. But yea, if you have to go, you must when you are young and your body is able to withstand it. Better do it before you have kids, coz now you don't have that responsibility. You can always train yourself with jogging/running/yoga, a few months before you make the journey. But the important thing to remember is that it's not the body fitness that really matters but the determination to complete the journey. I was not very fit when I went.

      We went as a part of the yearly trips organized by Isha Foundation, and I must say they do a very good job of it. Every single thing is taken care of, much better than any other tour company you can find. Just thought I'd tell you, since you do seem interested :)

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  15. Kailash- Manasarovar Trip is a dream that I've cherished for a long time now. Reading the unique experiences of the trip has only motivated to dream harder... I hope one day I'll be lucky enough...

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience!

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    1. Hi Nisha, welcome here! I'm sure you will be lucky enough to make the trip, if you truly want it to happen. I pray that you will be able to make it someday :)

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