Where do all journeys begin? Where do they end? Questions like these occur in us often only to be curbed by the waves of other thoughts coming forcefully to the shore of existence leaving traces of the ephemeral as they recede, as if they were the misshapen wetness caused by the restless waves of an endless ocean. Also we do ask very rarely about the timing of journey; when exactly do we start our journey? Even if we are always on the move, controlled by the temporality of time consciousness and frightened by the immensity of the unknown we rush back to the safety nests that we have created at the places of origin and heave a sigh of relief. But somewhere at some point of time one has to burn the original nest and commence that uncharted journey without even the idea of seeking anything including deliverance. It is the journey that sets one free from including the idea of freedom itself.
Our, mine and the artist Shibu Natesan's journey together had started long ago. Blessed by fate or chance we happened to be born in the same family thanks to the cross marriages between a brother-sister duo with another brother-sister duo. We grew up together, sharing same ideas and attitudes, at times even clothes. While Shibu was born with this exceptional talent to paint I had realised at an early age itself that I was inclined to words. Physical distance grew between us as we were growing up and luckily we could get back together as my writing took a turn towards art history. We had our share of differences and lows in mutual relationship only to come back together again with so much force and vigour. We started travelling together in 2014 and our first trip together was to Thiruvannamaly (I have written nine chapters about that journey and you could find it in my blog). Our second trip together was undertaken in 2016 and it lasted for only ten days. I was having a spiritual crisis at that time and was largely sceptical about things. The deliberate attempts to curb and resist my fairly large studies on/of Hindu philosophy were proving an huge impediment in accepting Shibu's spiritual guidance and that journey nearly brought us to blows and regular shouting matches. The fight peaked when I objected to pray before the idol of Shiva at the Brihadeswara temple in Tanjaore.
Then the miracle happened: at the wheel of the mighty off-roader vehicle, Gurkha from the Force motors, I saw Shiva. It was not Shibu Natesan who was driving; it was Shiva himself. The ego that had stopped me from folding my palms and praying before the Shiva idol broke then and there. Silent tears were rolling down from my eyes. All what I have been learning and studying since my childhood went through an alchemical process; knowledge became awareness. Lead turned into gold. Lord Shiva showed me the way. Things became extremely clear and my perspective of life changed. We returned to the base as bad blood had developed between us; through out the drive back we were silent. But both of us were changed beings.
I went back to Delhi and Shibu to London. At some point while talking to each other from two different continents we confessed mutually the transformation that we had gone through during that journey and I realised that he too was going through a spiritual crisis then and he had seen his deliverance in me. What changed in us during that journey was not just a change in our ego levels; it also changed our own selves unprecedentedly. We knew that with different kinds of life in two different places it was impossible for us to undertake regular trips. As a genuine traveller Shibu had travelled a lot by air and by road already. The new purchase that he made of the Gurkha was to undertake longer off-road journeys and paint from nature and life. He had almost decided to live in the vehicle for a longer period. With my new existential evolution I expressed my wish to travel with Shibu in his expeditions and the request was immediately granted as he told me that being (half) brothers we did not need to 'know' each other as we already know each other; we know our strength and weakness that makes our differences less bitter and short lived. With the sea change that had happened to us in 2016, we realised that we made perfect travelling partners.
When Shibu was away in London, my writing took a different turn; a turning that nobody including the people near around me had expected. I started writing poems in my mother tongue, Malayalam. The poems came mostly in old rhyming verses and a majority of them turned out to be prayers to Shiva. I did not know I knew so much of Malayalam words though I had already been a fairly known Malayalam writer. Some people did not like this as much as I did not like their free verse. They thought I went retro in approach and thought that it was an indication of me slowly turning into a linguistic fundamentalist. Soon it was followed by an allegation of myself becoming a Hindu religious fundamentalist too. This allegation was triggered by my newly acquired identity as Swami Aksharananda. I had started my religious writings in May 2016 in a blog titled ' Aksharananda Speaks'. With my personal transformation I started writing more vigorously in this blog and felt a very strong urge to do away with my name JohnyML and become Swami Aksharananda.
My world view as well as religious perspectives had changed by then. All what I had learned about Hinduism and the immense readings ever since (basically done to oppose Hindu fundamentalism) went into another alchemical change and I became very clear about my religious views. But for any other person who has been reading me for a long time it was too huge and quick a change difficult to comprehend. Even my mother couldn't understand what was happening. Talking about Hindu or Hinduism is seen as retrogressive in this country. So people started calling me a new convert and a Hindu fundamentalist. But I have no worries about it. The most important thing happened to me is regarding my understanding of art history and art in general. Along with other clarity my art historical perspective also turned and became clear and different. Today I just need to look at a work of art to know its history. Beyond any canonical readings I could see the depth and meaning of it.
My conversations with Shibu continued but now the focus our conversations was different. We talked of the fundamental needs of all beings and how everyone was capable of having what one needed as the nature was immensely rich. We also realised that what we knew was very little and that little was the major problem towards awareness. Soon we recognised that our art was limited because our art scene functioned on what was known and what was knowable. It was incapable of knowing the unknown and the unknowable. To reach the unknowable one should do away with the tools of knowing and get a different set of tools and skills; of experience. We can only experience the unknowable. The unknowable cannot be known through the traditional tools of knowing. Experiencing is nothing but the non-different existence of the experiencer from the experience. It could be conveyed only by the subtle forms of art and writing if at all they are to be communicated. We decided to travel together to become one with the experience and that of the land, this vast country, the world and the universe.
For many it may look very exotic but for us it is not exotic at all; on the contrary it is real to us in the philosophical sense. What is experienced in the heart is real for every human being. What is experienced in thoughts is the world and it ends when the thoughts end. But the experience in the heart never ends because heart (not the organ but the seed of existence) is a part of the universe which is nothing but the whole. So this journey that we are doing is to experience the real which perhaps could be seen as extravagant by many. Both of us do not have any particular idea about seeking anything. We are permanently high on the enthusiasm towards the life that we are living with this journey or otherwise. Shibu breaths painting and myself writing. In our teenage itself we had realised it and never wavered from our paths though practical life has showed us many different ways of surviving.
"I will paint," Shibu had told me a month before we planned this trip. "I will write," I had said. The difference is that a painter needs a lot of things; canvas, easel, paints, brush, sketch pads, chairs, tables and what not. "I have arranged everything," shibu told me. "This time we are even going to cook," he told me. Then the day finally comes. On 16th February 2017 we start early in the morning. On the previous day we were busy packing the Gurkha who has a name ' Murugan' with painting equipments, cooking pots, hot plate, inverter, foldable chairs and tables. We even have an inflatable bed. "Pack your things now," Shibu tells me. "I am," and I keep my bag with some clothes and a pair of jogging shoes. "Where are your writing stuff?" Shibu asks me. I show him a dairy and a pen, and this phone. Makers of images need a lot to make an image but a writer now needs a smart phone and a 4G SIM card. We smile at each other. Murugan revs up. Now he is climbing the Thenmala hills. Behind them the sun has just come up.