All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am. Maybe because of the realization, as to how unredeemable a yesterday is and as to how inevitable the future is. The present is all I have. It is a series of this present, that the past and future have too. If so, what is my present?
I'm in a dingy bus with huge windows and soft cushions, on my way to Chickmagalur. Travelling solo leaves a lot of space for yourself; your thoughts and observations. It demands your presence at the moment. I watched myself as the landscapes realigned outside, as the vegetation grew denser and as more huts were getting lost amid the tall coconut trees. The stark simplicity was growing outside and on the inside.
Chickmagalur, though a huge district of the state of Karnataka, was a small and simple town surrounded by lofty ranges of the Western Ghats. One would easily be mesmerized because something was different here. It was something different, something beautiful. It was uncommon to the modern world. There was no rush here, no sense of urgency and nowhere to be. It was just this and now. The present; Is the universe telling me or showing me something?
I found a one-room cabin amidst the coffee farms. The atmosphere was abbey quiet, apart from the chirping of birds, insects and the burbling of water streams nearby. I was welcomed by the cabin's caretaker - Satish and he gave me some important safety guidelines. He took me to my single room wooden cabin and left me to myself. I unpacked my stuff and cleaned. The water and air around were very clean and refreshing. I munched peanuts left in my bag and sat on my bed. Now, what? There was no plan. Everything was comfortable here. Taking that step outside was all that was to be done. But the sun was below the horizon, and I was scared to roam around in the pitch dark. Then what about me meeting significant experiences with the time I have here? Well, the universe knows what's best for me; I thought to myself and pulled up a book I was reading. The dim lights slowly dragged my heavy eyelids and I was fast asleep. There was nothing for a period of time. No sound, no coffee farm, no lights, and no Chickmagalur.
I woke up with the first light hitting down on my eyes from the window and looked blankly at the roof. Today was fresh, no fear or fatalistic ideas. I met Satish outside and had a good healthy breakfast. So now, it was me taking that step. I wanted my first stop to be Mullayynagiri, the highest peak of Karnataka. It was just a few miles up from the cabin and I decided to trek up. I was unsure initially but kept away uncertain thoughts by focusing on moving in the right direction. As I was moving, my comfort grew and I was just feeling closer to the surrounding. I stopped at a few places which were very beautiful and the view showed a vast amount of land as far as the light could bend. The place, view and the moment were priceless. Curious with this, I questioned myself, why was it like this? How did we lose this beauty of nature, that which was everywhere? A lot of questions buzzed around. As I was wondering and being one with what was there in front of me. The answer was right there, in front of my eyes - The change.
Change is inevitable in our existence. One of the most beautiful truths of our place in the universe is the ability of our nature to strive towards balance. For this, change is crucial. We fail to see this often, as we are part of it. We take steps every day to change the way we are consciously or unconsciously. And eventually, the rate of change is so tremendous, that we need a complement to hold our composure. Maybe this is what made the place priceless; the timeless beauty of the place, view and the moment. The timeless beauty of this present.
I dusted off my pants and my train of thoughts. I had one mile to go, one mile to reach the top. As I was approaching the top, I saw people with petty shops and friendly smiles. It was off season, and they felt good to see a new person in their homeland. It was much colder on top and I decided to have a warm cup of tea to enjoy the highland. The Chai-Walla greeted me and took my request for a cup of tea. He struck up a casual conversation asking me as to where I was from and why was I here during this off-season.
Sipping the cardamom flavored tea, I told him my story. I was a recent college graduate from Bangalore, who had another five months left to work. I told him about how certain experiences made me lose my youthful exuberance and as to how a trip here was me seeking certain truths from my inner self. He didn't understand my point completely but was happy that this journey meant so much to me. He sensed some struggle in my voice and told me this. "I have had this tea shop for 15 - 20 years, sir; I take it day by day. God has given us a simple life; it's we who complicate it. Don't worry and don't seek, for it is when you seek, you don't want to be where you are now." I was stunned and speechless for a few moments. From where did this Chai-Walla get this wisdom? The insight was so powerful. I couldn't imagine the experiences that must have helped him realize this. I looked outside at the skies and vast surrounding hill ranges, and spoke to myself, "the Universe is telling me something". I thanked him for the tea and promised to visit him the next time I come here.
I was in a state of mixed emotions, overwhelmed by the magnanimous green ranges and struggling to see the repeated lesson under all the events. I was switching between a state of appreciation and state of self-enquiry.
The Tuscany-blue lit sky was like an amphitheater, showcasing varying hues of green with the help of sunlight. As I moved further, I saw a temple ending after a flight of stairs and this seemed to be at the highest point. I was thrilled to see a temple on the peak. It was a simple four white-walled Shiva temple with a lot of pictures of other deities. The ringing bells and chanting of Vedic hymns made the place vibrant and divine. The priest was happy to see a new face and enthusiastically began his prayers with the hymns he was familiar with. He lit the camphor and prayed that I am blessed with a long life, wealth, and knowledge. I was a stranger to him, but this was his prayer for me. I thanked him in my mind and sat there absorbing the place as much as I could.
The priest was curious, why was I here at this time of the year? I was sitting there with my eyes fixed on the Idol. He slowly came up to me and opened up a conversation. After I got acquainted with this kind stranger, I was talking to him again about how internally displaced I was. How lost I was. He listened to me calmly and patiently. He had all the time in the world for me.
When I was done, his reply was very simple, "Swami, when something bothers you, think of Lord Shiva. Chant His name. He will take care. Neelakanta; that Neelamani (blue-jewel) is here. He is here, has always been and always will be." I wasn't convinced with his reply and ignorantly came to a conclusion that, how foolish was I to expect a priest on a hilltop locked in his temple, to know the answers to my questions? I sat there for a while looking blankly and got up to return to my cabin.
As I was walking, I began to wonder the element of 'present' in this encounter. Why was God always 'present'? Why was he never in the past or in the future across many generations and places? The priest's words "this Neelamani is here", "here is Neelamani" echoed throughout my walk. In my perspective, it seemed like the priest's 'God is present', seemed like 'Present is God'. So is this present is my Neelamani?
I had to catch a bus the very night and made my way down to the town. It was a late night and quite chilly; I had my cup of cardamom flavored tea again. Once the bus arrived, I took a seat by the window side and sat there wondering if my journey was complete. People started flowing in and took their respective seats. The bus started and each one in the bus settled down with their own businesses. Some gossips, some snacking, some listening music and while some, were talking about the events that had happened and expectations they had for the near future.
I was looking at myself within, as the landscapes realigned and trees were growing less dense. Present was God. This present was all I had. Imagine I met every present like I’m meeting god, my life would be so blissful and divine. It was only when I was living in the past and future, did I feel lost; because it was not now. Like in my journey, all I had to do was to break myself from my comfort zone and take that transformative step. Take that step, brushing aside my fear and fatalistic ideas. I am never lost. I am always present. The present is my sapphire. What is my present now?
It was me sitting on a bus, on the way to Bangalore with other strangers; their present was connected to mine. We were all one. As I passed the picturesque scene on my way back, an old quote crossed my mind. "In the blue of the sky, in the green of the forest, whose is the hand that has painted the glow? When the winds were asleep in the womb of the ether, who was it who roused them and bade them blow? He is lost in the heart, in the cavern of Nature, He is found in the brain where He builds up the thought: In the pattern and bloom of the flowers He is woven in the luminous net of the stars; He is caught." - Sri Aurobindo. It seems like my one night one day trip has fulfilled its purpose. It feels complete now.
Have I seen God everywhere?
No, but I have seen the present everywhere.
Have I seen God anytime?
No, but I have seen my present every time.
How blue is my sapphire now?
Well, that depends on whom I ask.
Bio : I'm Shashidhar Muniswamy from Bangalore, India. I am a Teach for India 2016 fellow. I graduated from an engineering college recently, with my Bachelors in Electronics. I love to travel and write. I learn and realise a lot of lessons from nature and surrounding. In my perspective, travel is a learning experience. My stories revolve around this theme and the genre I've chosen for the story.
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