Monday, March 13, 2017

Strange Encounters: My Journey 14

All destinations are not planned destinations especially when you have decided to become an Avadhoot, someone who does not stick to a place for long time mainly to avoid developing any sort of attachment with that place. Sometimes you get out of the place of your stay with a particular destination in mind but end up reaching a place which has not been really in the radar. One of my friends who travels a lot for the heck of it has told me how his travels are open-ended always with no return ticket in hand. I have seen him coming back to his station much earlier than expected by himself, yet with a burning itch to set off sails again to the places that he seems important. Mine too is open ended but with a difference. Though I have assumed the status of an avadhoot, I am not a jeevanmukt, one who has liberated from all his limitations even while having a body of his own, fresh and alive. I have my professional as well as personal commitments, not as burdens but as responsibilities that amount to the performance of certain kind of penance that would lead me to the ultimate deliverance. Hence, each journey at least in my case anticipates a coming back perhaps not to the same base/station. I wish everyone enjoys this freedom to set out on a journey and come back to the station without being heckled and harassed by the near and dear ones. It would impart such a feeling of freedom and deliverance, which eventually would make all journeys light, relevant and meaningful.

Aruvippuram has been not in my radar for a long time. It is a place where Sree Narayana Guru had consecrated a non-Brahmin Shiva in 1888. Before doing that he had done penance in a cave at the top of a hill near by the Neyyar river that flows through Aruvippuram. If you ask me about the destinations that I have thought of going from the home base in Vakkom I would recount the place names like Chempazhanthy where Sree Narayana Guru was born and Thonnakkal, the Kumaranasan Memorial is located. I had plans in my mind to visit Aluva Adwaita Ashramam which was established by Sree Narayana Guru for spreading Sanskrit and Vedanta education among the lower castes. But providence has a different narrative written for me; a different direction set up for me so that I could follow the cues of nature, not really as a professional traveler. If you ask me whether I would like to be a 'genuine' traveler I would answer in negative. My travels are not undertaken with an idea of 'traveling' to know or to gather experience. Traveling happens in my case as a part of the natural dynamics. There are people, causes and effects waiting for me in the places that I am not even aware of existing. They just happen in my life and when they happen the intensity of the happening is too strong to comprehend. Anything that goes beyond comprehension is understood as experience and however one tries to explain it all those experiences stay as reconstructions in words and gestures; perhaps that's the possibility as well as the limitation of creativity. 

By the time I reach Trivandrum by bus my plan has already been changed. According to the original plan I am to go to the Khadi bhandar to buy a dhoti and kurta. I would be participating in a panel discussion in Mumbai in a couple of days' time and I have thought of wearing a dhoti and kurta to share the spirit of the panel discussion which is titled, 'regional art writing'. I get down at Trivandrum bus stand and the first bus I see there ready to start has a name board stuck on its front; it says Neyyattinkara. Aruvippuram is just six kilometres from there. I could pick up an auto rickshaw if I don't get any other conveyance. I get into the bus. In forty five minutes I am at Neyyattinkara bus stand brimming with the enthusiasm of uniformed boys and girls from nearby schools. Sitting in a tea stall, biting into a crispy parippuvada and sipping a cup of hot tea I watch the boys and girls. Boys are boisterous anywhere in the world especially when they are going back from schools. When they are just out of the school gates their uniforms transform; they pull the waist of their trousers down, roll up the sleeves and trouser ends, they are so obsessed with their hair that one hand is always working on the hair. Girls are no less than the boys. They talk to each other with gestures and eyes. Boys ogle at them. Some take courage to talk to each other. Some are just in the supporting roles. They hang out for a long time in the bus stand and like the clouds shatter and vanish in the sky, the crowds of the boys thin and vanish as each bus picks up a set of girls and disappear from the station. 

I get into a bus which goes via Aruvippuram. There are a lot of boys and girls in this bus too. I am lucky for I get a window seat just behind the front door. I have a good view of things outside and all along the way the loudspeakers accompany me with various sings with each song coming into my sonic field reminding me of the presence of yet another temple whose annual celebration is currently on. It is harvest time in Kerala. Though agriculture is no longer a lucrative occupation in the state the harvest festivals are not in wane. On the contrary every year the harvest festivals are on the increase with old temples intensifying their ritualistic presence and the new and revived ones joining the fray. With the BJP's influence on the rise in the state one could understand a rejuvenated feeling among the Hindu temples. Despite all these heightened activities around the temples the arts related to temple festivals are now fading slowly due to the lack of audience. While people like temple rituals they do not like to leave their television watching habits and congregate to watch live theatre and dance performances. The atmosphere is charged and I breath in the festival ambience which has been lost to me for a long time.

A strong smell of alcohol hits my nostrils. I see a lean thin man whose age could be anything between thirty and fifty sitting next to me and talking to a woman talking quite animatedly. I look at him and observe what he is trying to talk to the lady in the next seat. The lady who is enthusiastic as well as impatient on something is being pacified by this man with his sweet talk, I understand. Soon I gather that the lady is impatient because she believes that she would be late for some ritual in a temple somewhere ahead. This man tells that she is not going to miss it. In her agitation she has overlooked the fact that this stranger is drunk. Then he turns to me. He asks me where I am heading to. I tell him that I am going to Aruvippuram. He suddenly turns himself into a guide. First of all he apologises for being drunk. As I am familiar with such people I smile and tell him that it is okay with me. He tells me what all I should visit and what all I should do. He tells me that I should walk along the Neyyar river and sit near a small cave where Sree Narayana guru used to relax. He also tells me about the kodithookki Mala where Guru had undergone deep penance and was watched over by snakes and leopards. After informing all that he asks me what I do and why I am there. I tell him that I am writer and my visit though has no particular aim I could come up with an article or something. At that point he tells me that his name is Udayakumar and he lives a couple of stops away from Aruvippuram. He also informs me that he is known as Kunjunni in the neighbourhood and I could tell anybody that I know Kunjunni for getting help if need be. Then he does a classic act; he goes to the driver and tells him to stop in front of the Aruvippuram ashram so that his 'guest' could get down there. Generally the transport bus drivers do not oblige anybody as they are particular about braking  only at the stipulated bus stops. But this man applies brake and Kunjunni comes back to tell me to get down. A little embarrassed, I thank him and get down.

There is a stately gate in front of the Aruvippuram temple and ashram. As I walk in I see a tree which has a cemented platform around it. A plaque says that it was under this tree Guru had initiated the social and religious reformist organisation called the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Sangham in 1906. This organisation would become a strong socio-caste organisation unlike Guru had wanted and would influence the economics and politics of the state. Just behind it is the Guru Manduram, the house of Guru. One could see the easy chair and walking stick that Guru had used. The photographs of his primary disciples flank the sanctum sanctorum of the building. Though it is not meant as a temple, from the paraphernalia laid out there tells me that there is some kind of puja going in there. Next to the building there is bell tower and a glass house and a painted wooden peacock is exhibited inside the glass cage. The board there says that the peacock statue was gifted to Guru by a rich Christian merchant in Trivandrum. As it is a hot noon I do not see anybody there in the campus. The temple that has come up around the non-Brahmin Shiva consecrated by Guru is closed. I go there stand in front of the temple and say my prayers, 'loka samastha sukhino bhavanthu.' I do not have anything else to wish or demand from Shiva. What I notice is the absence of Nandi that looks into the temple facing Shiva. The iconography is not strictly followed here because it is not a Brahmin temple, I assume.

I walk along the river and reach the cave where Guru used to relax looking at the river and listening to song of the stream. A few boys lay still on the boulders above the modest cave. Some boys are taking bath and washing clothes upstream. Just behind me a few yards away, beyond the huge banyan tree a gang of boys and girls make revelry. They have brought food it seems. They take photographs and selfies. Though any place is a good place to picnic the behaviour of these boys and girls looks absolutely inappropriate considering the sanctity of the place. After sitting there for a while I climb up and come to the road. Just across the road kodithookki Mala starts. I ask someone at the foot of the hill whether I could go there on the top. She says I could. I start climbing the hill. Though steps are made most of them are broken. On either side I see plantations and forests. I stop, catch breath and climb again. At some point I see a few houses but they stand still with minimum human presence. Almost at the top of the hill I see a pump house owned by the water authority of the state. I climb further what I think is the hill top is really the hill top. I need to climb further. I use all my strength to scale the height and experience is quite humbling. Finally I am there at the top of the hill where there is a newly built temple. I go there and see none. There is a signage that tells me about Guru's cave. I have to climb three levels of stairs on the other side of the hill to reach the cave. I climb down by those steps and suddenly I am in front of the cave! Behind me there is an endless gorge and before me there is this cave. I do. It feels nervous at all. I look inside. It was here a hundred years back Guru had cut himself off from the world and meditated. I sit there for a long time; some sense of immensity engulfs me. I do not know how long have I sat there. When I open my eyes it is dark with the sky above me filled with dark rain clouds. I say good bye to Guru and start my descending.

At the bus stop a tailor from the nearby shop tells me that a bus is due to the Neyyattinkara bus stand. I wait there with a mind which is absolutely blank. I see the bus coming. As I am about to get in someone calls me out 'sirrrr'. I look up and see the animated face of Kunjunni. I too am surprised. He gives me a window seat and sits next to me. He says that it is a divine intervention. He tells that he kept on thinking about me after leaving me in the noon. He has taken a few more drinks since then, he confesses. He has taken bath and has worn new dresses. He tells me that he is on the way to buy a mobile phone. He says that he has been sincerely wishing to meet me again. He asks what I think about the late actor-singer Kalabhavan Mani. I tell him that I had qualified him as the first rock star in Kerala. He is so happy to hear that. He expresses his views on many issues including the rape cases becoming rampant in Kerala. He holds my hand and tells me that our meeting is predestined. I agree with him. At Neyyattinkara bus stand we get down and he wants to have a cup of tea with me. In the same tea shop I sit with him and drink tea as if we were long lost friends. He hugs me as he takes me to the bus to Trivandrum. He waits till the bus moves out of the station. As he fades into the unnamable layers of a distant town his touch and the smell of alcohol linger on for some more time. Then that too fades. Droplets of rain fall on my face. I am in another bus that runs through the darkness along an old highway where I see  the silhouettes of my own childhood enthusiasms now grown large enough to overwhelm me. I think of Guru and Kunjunni. 

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