The whole group was pretty excited about their weekend trip. They were going on a special trek, and it was a one that the locals often did, and was suggested by them. There were going to go to a place a little away from Tukawadi, and trek from there across the range of hills to culminate in the devraai on the hill in HEGT. The special thing about this trek is that it was an overnight one, on the full moon night of Guru Nanak Jayanti.
Come Saturday, the group, largish for a trek, 19 of them, reached the starting point at the base of a hill around 7 in the evening. They were accompanied by Mahesh Mali kaka’s teenage son, Vishwa and 2 of his friends, who were local residents of Tukawadi and going to play the role of guides today.
It was a cool evening, and the group was in high spirits. Many of them had got along packets of snacks for the way. Moni and Bethany had come together with some volunteers, which included Bulbul Singh, and put together a nice spread, which included methi parathas and payasam, among other yummy treats.
Suraj had had a busy week, and a busy day that day as well. He was kind of tired and was in two minds about joining this trek, but eventually tagged along. He was enjoying sitting around in the group, nibbling at snacks being passed around, cracking jokes, laughing. He half-jokingly suggested that they spend the night there – sitting, snacking, snoozing and get back home in the morning. He was eloquently supported by Shirisha and Kamal, but generally booed down.
Shortly, they started up the hill, with a big, rich, copper moon looking on them from a clear sky. It was magical. There was moonlight enough to read in, and many of them exclaimed how thanks to electric lights they didn’t know a full moon was so bright.
At the top of the hill, Vishwa pointed out a very faint light, like a star, out in the distance. “That” he said “is a light on the tower in the HEGT campus. And is roughly the direction we will go in”.
‘This can’t be so bad then’ thought Suraj to himself. “If we can actually see HEGT, then we’ll be in a few hours – half way through the night.”Everything was so beautiful, bathed in moonlight; the vehicles on the highway far away seemed like little light ants, there was a light, cool breeze. The entire group felt energized, and was looking forward to the trek.
The continued on their way, with Vishwa leading the way briskly, keeping pace. Clearly he’d done this many times before and it seemed like a habit to him, while for the others it was an adventure and they trundled along looking around them and appreciating the cool light and breeze.
They climbed up the next hill and then down again. Up again and down again. Up and down. Up and down. Suraj was getting tired. He tried to think about what an excellent opportunity this trek was, what a great experience, the beauty of the whole thing. He enjoyed this kind of stuff usually but perhaps today he was just tired to begin with. The word ‘monotony’ was beginning to creep into his mind. He tried to divert himself by listening on to some of the chatter that pockets of the group were busy with, chiefly Moni who was in high spirits. Suraj stuck to Yeshi mostly. Yeshi was like a part of the moonlit environment himself – calm and cool. He had on a backpack, and his lithe frame moved along lightly. Suraj imagined Yeshi in his mountainous home town – and imagined that this must be like a walk in the park for him. Some people were looking no good though. Jay, though well-built, looked ready to kiss the ground. Kamal and Shirisha were dragging themselves. They had long back given up their backpacks to Bulbul Singh, on whose frame they look negligible. Bulbul rounded up the group at the rear, and was stomping on with his big structure cheerfully, and he looked good to go on all week if need be.
To get the team spirits up, they shouted slogans every now and then – “Shivaji maharaj ki …” somebody would shout up front, and everyone would reply with a resounding “Jai”.
“Bharat mata ki …”
And rounded up with Bulbul booming “Jo bole so nihaal …”
And everyone replied “Sat shri Akaal”.
And so they carried on – Up a hill. Down a hill. Up. Down. Everytime they reached the top of one – Suraj expected the tower light would be much nearer – but it just seemed the same distance away.
About an hour after midnight, Vishwa – the guide stopped on a kind of grassy shelf on a gently sloping hillock, and announced “We’ll stop here half an hour for dinner. The chubby Tsogt just threw himself on the grass groaning, spread out, and it had a domino effect, with several others following suit.
Moni was surprisingly still bubbly, in fact even more energized than she had started off. Suraj imagined she must be soaking up the moonlight like an energy drink. Bethany too, surprisingly thought Suraj, for a plus size girl, was all vibrancy. Suraj put it down to her robust American constitution, unfazed by size. Lakshman looked like business as usual. Vishwa and his 2 friends – young, skinny boys stood patiently by Moni – waiting to help out when asked , as Moni , Bethany and others cheerfully unpacked everybody’s food on a nice big sheet they’d spread out. As they busied themselves, everybody’s spirits begin to lift. The tired ones ate silently. The others chatted. Moni especially waxed eloquent – Suraj thought she went on and on – about the wondrous moonshine, how lovely the streams sparkled in the moonlight, how the wooded pockets they’d come across looked inviting and foreboding at the same time. How cool the breeze was, how cute the couple of rabbits they’d come across looked, and the other rodents too. How she was so glad this trek had happened, and how they should do it more often. Bethany laughed and giggled through all of this, and ably supported Moni.
Suraj said something about them only going up and down, and the HEGT light tower not seeming any closer despite half the night gone. He had done a good job of mumbling it, so that Moni and gang could conveniently ignore him.
Suraj turned to Vishwa and asked “We must’ve climbed 20 mountains by now?”
Vishwa grinned – “No bhaiyya. We have not crossed so many hillocks.”
“Ok. How many more to go then?” asked Suraj. The people flattened on the grass picked up their ears.
Vishwa smiled what Suraj interpreted as a pretentious, condescending smile, even as Vishwa answered politely “Not so many more bhaiyya. You can see how near the tower is now”.
The tower didn’t seem any nearer. Suraj thought about how he usually thought Vishwa was a nice kid.
They started again. Up, down, up down.
While they were trudging, Suraj caught on to when Bethany let out a squeal of delight. On listening further, he figured that she was delighted with the ‘beautiful round moon hanging over them’. He thought that she should have got used to it being part of the background by now – not get suddenly rapturous about it.
Bethany said excitedly “Think Moni. I’m sure you’ll know something describing the beauty of the moon”.
Moni put on her thinking face. Several others did too. But nothing.
“I can think of one. But nothing to do with beauty” said Moni. She said
Dhrushtwa thu devi, kupitham brukutikarala,
Mudrchcha sanka sadhya schavee yanna sadhya,
Pranaan mumocha mahishas thadeeva chithram,
Kair jeevithe he kupithanthaka darsanena.
“Good choice Moni!” Kedar congratulated her. Moni smiled happily and Bethany looked on, so Kedar translated for her.
“O Goddess, even after seeing your very angry face with sharply bent eye brows that looked like the rising reddish full moon, Mahishasura did not give up his life. This is indeed surprising because, who could continue to live after seeing the very angry God of destruction”.
“Oh” said Bethany. “Nice. But not what I was expecting”.
Shirisha elbowed in verbally. I have one. She said
She eagerly followed up with the translation.
“That is all very grand” boomed Bulbul Singh. “But she is looking for something with the beauty of the moon”.
“Like Somashekar” piped in Sukumaran. “This was Lord Shiva’s beautiful image, which he acquired at Parvati’s behest, when they married. Instead of his terrible ash and snake clad image which scared Parvati’s mother. Soma means the moon and shekhar is head – the one with the moon in his head”.
“That’s a nice story Suku” said Bethany.
“Soma also gives somaras. Sharaab” boomed Bulbul Singh. “Alcohol”.
“Anyway” he continued. “Doesn’t look like Soma – the moon, is the same as somaras from the plant. I looked that up”. He winked mischievously and boomed
somaṃ manyate papivan yat sampiṃṣantyoṣadhim | somaṃ yambrahmāṇo vidurna tasyāśnāti kaścana ||
“One believes, when they have squeezed the plant, that they have drunk the Soma’s juice; what the realized Ones know as Soma no one ever consumes”.
Most of them didn’t know how to react. It was unexpected. Moni broke it with a hearty laugh. “Good one Bulbul Singhji!” she said. “But you know what they say about scripture. It will mean exactly what you want it too!”
Sanam Singh cleared his throat. “I prepared one for today. Where a wise, bright Soma shows us the way – along the path”. He said
tvaṃ soma pra cikito manīṣā tvaṃ rajiṣṭhamanu neṣi panthām | tava praṇītī pitaro na indo deveṣu ratnamabhajanta dhīrāḥ ||
You, Soma, are the wisest; lead us along the straight path As you disseminated the wealth to the gods and our forefathers, so O Indu, do to us too.
“Very nice” said Amina. And added thoughtfully “But what exactly is Soma? I remember reading somewhere that nobody knows for sure now. But it might be some metaphysical sap, like moonlight, that bestows energy.
Then Sukumaran chimed spontaneously:
somenādityā balinaḥ somena pṛthivī mahī | athonakṣatrāṇāmeṣāmupasthe soma āhitaḥ ||
By Soma are the Ādityas strong, by Soma is the earth mighty. Thus amongst all these constellations is Soma present.
They carried on hiking. Up and down. Up and down.
Suraj imagined that he had a slight pain in his knee too. That meant that he had to focus on putting down each step carefully and consciously so as not to hurt himself. He cursed himself for coming on his trip. He should never have come. The moon was bright high up in the sky right above them – but that made no difference to him. He looked down at the path right in front of him and trudged along silently. He thought he’ll focus on something nice – to take his mind off the drudgery. If only he’d been rested, he thought. This trip would have been so much different. Maybe, in the future, when he was relaxed, he would bring back to mind memories of this trip, and see it in a more beautiful light. However at the moment, he was miserable. He kept thinking over and over about his comfortable bed and the crisp sheets. That was a comforting thought – he just wasn’t sure if it made time pass.
They kept trudging on. One beautiful hill after the other thought Moni. Oh, this was like a wonderful dream. She had often imagined wearing shimmering clothes in the moonlight, chanting in the moonlight, dancing in the moonlight, and other kinds of romantic moonlight stuff. And here she was, enjoying a whole night, in nature, with company of people she liked, and her favourite food. As they walked along, she imagined herself waiting at one spot – just waiting, perhaps aesthetically. Or that she would build a house on a particular ledge, and enjoy all the moonlit nights from there. And so on she fantasised.
Unlike Suraj, Lakshman was enjoying the trek too. After 2 in the morning, the group was walking along pretty silently. Lakshman’s mind was drifting too. He wondered about how armies in the old days must’ve trekked night after night, in treacherous terrain perhaps, with or without moonlight, in pleasant or inclement weather. The thought struck a chord in him, and he felt the thrill of adventure surge through him. At other times, he looked at the moon, and it made him think about how wondrous it was that this orb that they perceived as beautiful – so much so that they had actually planned an outing around it – was a huge rock rotating around the earth. It definitely had an effect on their lives he thought. The picture of tides rising and falling came to his mind. How tides affected marine life, how they affected the livelihood of fishing communities, how ships planned their activities according to the tides all came to his mind. Then his mind drifted to how it was that the moon exerted a gravitational pull on the oceans to create tides. Perhaps there was a pull on people too, on full moons. After all humans were 70% water too. He had heard about people who experienced mood swings, or personality changes, for better or worse, in times of full moons. He imagined water pulled up to their brains. ‘Water on their brains’ he pondered.
Thus the group trudged on. Up a hill. Down a hill. Whenever Suraj looked at the tower light from the top of a hill, it seemed there were no more than 4 -5 peaks in between. But it had been like that since around 30 peaks ago. He didn’t believe it any more.
There was more or less silence now in the group now, as they approached the end of the trek. Each was in their own thoughts. The light tower at last was actually looking closer now. The moon was nearer the horizon now. The dark of the night was lightening up – although nowhere near the pink of dawn yet. Even the landscape wasn’t so hilly anymore and the surroundings felt vaguely familiar and opened up. Suraj spirits rose at last. He even started chatting.
As they reached the top of the hill, they could clearly see the devraai on the HEGT hill in front of them – it was the next peak. There were cheers, and whoops and exclamations all around. Mostly from a sense of achievement, or time well spent. Shirisha and Kamal hugged each other with joy. They were just relieved.
They made their way down the valley – if that’s what one would call the area between the two hillocks. The group followed a path down. It was a narrow path and they went down single file. Bulbul drew up the end as usual. They must’ve been halfway down, when the silhouette of a woman and child caught his eye, through a narrow path through a thicket in an opening on the other side. He’d already passed the side path, but stopped dead in his tracks, and retraced his few steps. The still image was surreal in the opal moonlight – a middle aged lady was sprawled out on the grassy ground, her hair strewed open. A little child swathed in a patched quilt sat quietly a couple of feet away from her, not quite looking in her direction. There was a basket near the lady and a tied cloth which might have had another quilt.
Bulbul Singh looked on a few moments at the scene which he thought was quite fantastic. “Hold on up” he boomed at the people trundling on in front. They stopped, and turned back and looked in the direction Bulbul indicated. Moni felt a chill of horror run down her spine as she thought that something might be terribly wrong, and she rushed towards the isolated pair. It wasn’t long before she identified the lady as Rakhutai – the priestess of the Bhukiamma temple and her grand-daughter Chinu. Moni rushed to the child and held picked her up. Moni could see diffused bruises on her face and hands. The child looked forlorn and resigned – but Moni guessed that she was ok overall. She handed Chinu to Princess next to her who held the child close and fussed over her, even as Moni rushed to Rakhutai’s side.
Rakhutai’s black skin was shiny in the moonlight too. She didn’t look injured, or distressed. On the contrary, she looked peaceful and even happy, Moni thought. There were a few half eaten mangoes around her, and around her mouth, and on her hands were smears of the mangoes which she had obviously been eating. In fact Moni thought she looked quite beautiful with her flowing hair complementing her tangled sari.
Moni shook her by the shoulders, and passed her hand over her hair. “Rakhutai, Rakhutai … wake up … are you ok?” Moni repeated it a few times before Rakhutai stirred.
Rakhutai looked dazed, very drugged. She looked around her slowly, until her eyes locked on Moni. Recognition came slowly, and a smile woke up in her face, difficult with her dry lips. She stretched her trembling arms out to hug Moni. Moni was confused but offered her neck anyway.
“I so glad you’ve come, my darling” said Rakhutai in a trembling voice, eyes still half- glazed.
“Do you know who I am, Rakhutai?” asked Moni, patting her cheek.
“Of course” said Rakhutai, slowly, licking her dry lips with a parched tongue. “You are … you are …”. Rakhutai was deep in dazed thought.
“Yes tai … tell me … bola … “ encouraged Moni soothingly.
“You are … my darling” completed Rakhutai, and quite pleased with herself.
She pointed past Moni, struggling with a very happy smile. “There’s my mother”. And then pointed slowly to the right, smiling even wider. “That’s my father … Poi” she said, dazed and affectionately.
Moni, by reflex, looked briefly in the direction Rakhutai was pointing to, and there was just space, naturally. She was worried Rakhutai’s dry lips might burst, she was smiling so much. Was Rakhutai in her final moments? She had heard of people’s lives flashing before them at the end. Had her parents really come for her? Moni broke a light sweat inspite of the cool weather, and gave an involuntary shiver.
She didn’t know what to do next. She said a small prayer in her mind. She steeled her mind, and prayed for Rakhutai’s end to be painless and her next journey pleasant. A small part of her brain revolted against these so called superstitious thoughts, but it was easily overcome by the overwhelmed larger part.
Scriptures flashed across her mind
Moni took a deep breath. ‘Calm down’ she told herself. ‘Don’t panic’.
Another one flashed in her head.
‘Calm down Moni. Calm down. Take a deep breath’ she told herself. She took a deep breath. But was hardly able to focus right.
Then the other one flashed in her mind, where if a person is able to give up their petty worldly thoughts in their last moments, and focus on God, and is able to take their name, then they escape the painful cycle of birth and death to Moksha.
Moni wasn’t sure if there was a cycle of rebirth, much less if life on this earth was painful. She thought life was alright. She had no clue what it was about Moksha. She wasn’t even sure what it meant to give up ‘petty worldly thoughts’ since Rakhutai wasn’t even in her right mind. But she did it anyway, what she’d heard old people say.
She leaned forward, so that no one else could hear her, and half–embarrassed whispered God’s name to Rakhutai and asked her repeat it back. Rakhutai seemed quite delirious.
A big splash of water on Rakhutai’s face, and she had closed her eyes tight by reflex, and licked it up greedily. Shirisha had been moved to action, and splashed Rakhutai, and was rallying round people “Come on Bulbul Singh – put those bags down. Get here quick. Let’s get her to the clinic quick.”
Moni kind of got shaken out of her stupor and moved aside. Thank God somebody still had some sense in them – she thought, very slightly ashamedly.
The water seemed to have a good effect on Rakhutai. Shirisha must’ve noticed it, because she took a big go at Rakhutai again.
Rakhutai held her head, as in a hangover. The dazed look, and the happy one were getting replaced by a miserable and coherent one.
She tried to sit up weakly, and three- four people scrambled to help her sit up. She blinked around, and moaned, as sense of her environment came to her.
She suddenly sat erect and looked around panicked. “Where’s Chinu? Where’s my baby?”
Chinu, the very composed child, as some children are, was brought forward, and Rakhutai grabbed at her, and sat her down on her lap. She tore away the quilt from the children, and checked the child’s body eagerly. She passed her hands over the child’s face, arms and legs, tummy, back. There were blackish-bluish bruises all over the child’s body. A couple of wounds looked like they might have been oozing recently, but it was sealed now.
Rakhutai wept silently, clinging on to the little girl – tears of relief, Suraj thought, with some surprise. Why would Rakhutai be relived, he thought, especially when the child was so bruised? Perhaps it was the shock of passing out, and the child unprotected at night in a desolate place. Maybe it could have been worse, and that’s why she was relieved.
The group stood around quietly, as the disheveled grandmother clutched her fragile child close to her bosom and wept. The relief was obvious. Lakshman imagined he heard her mumble repeatedly “Thank God she’s better. Thank God. Thank God.” He looked around to see his friends quite taken in with scene. Some of them seemed to be overcome with emotion themselves. Could be because it was combined with the exertion of the walk that they had just undertaken. The chubby Tsogt was trembling with feeling. Bulbul’s nostrils were flaring in a weird manner. Moni was stoic though. Bethany’s eyes, cheeks, ears, lips had all gone red and she was sniffing. Yeshi was solemn and poker faced. Suraj looked confused. That must’ve been the expression which stood out. He followed Suraj’s gaze past the hugging pair of Rakhutai and Chinu to the basket of mangoes. Quite so – he thought. What were they doing with mangoes? It wasn’t even mango season. Why was Rakhutai eating mangoes in that deserted place? How long had they been there?
It was much brighter now. Dawn was definitely upon them.
Though not an emotional or romantic person, the beauty of the moment was not lost upon him. The loving grandparent, the luscious mangoes, the green rolling hills, the beautiful breaking dawn – it all seemed uplifting to him. He felt light and happy.
The group packed themselves up, and helped Rakhutai and Chinu up, and silently made their way towards the HEGT devraai, behind which the great golden orb of the sun was motionlessly rising up.
A brand new Sunday was theirs.
 Devi Saptashati Verse 4.13
 Bhagvad Gita Verse 10.21
 Rigveda Verse 10.85.3
 Rigveda Verse 1.91.1
 Rigveda Verse 10.85.2
 Bhagvad Gita Verse 2.22
Just as a man gives up old and worn out clothes, and acquires other new ones – similarly the embodied soul gives up old and worn out bodies and get new ones.
 Bhagvad Gita Verse 2.13
In this body, the embodied soul goes through childhood, youth, old age and then changes to a new body. The wise are not perplexed at such a change.
 Bhagvad Gita Verse 8.10
At the time of death, one who keeps the mind still, and in Bhakti and with the strength of Yoga, and completely establishes the Prana between the two eyebrows, that person achieves to that divine Supreme God.