Friday, March 31, 2006

The Arunagiri Diaries: The Encounter

Yesterday was a big day for me. It’s days like these that get you wondering whether you are a new age rationalist with traces of faith in fate, or a strong believer in destiny with only the occasional sparks of suspicion. And I am still wondering.

I remember the exact words - his first words to me yesterday when I was introduced to him by our now common friend Arunagiri: "It is good to set your eyes on where you want to go in life, but it is just as good to keep your eyes open to where life takes you". I heard his voice first, a good few seconds before my eyes could spot him.

I slept fitfully last night. This simple utterance kept haunting me in my dreams and even my thoughts, during the brief periods when I did fall asleep, were about the same: the face, the voice, the unlikely manner of the first meeting, and beyond all that, the stunning realization that this was a sequence of events that was meant to happen just the way it did.

After an unsuccessful outing on a long first day, we were disappointed and tired to the point of being groggy, but thankfully we got back to the hotel before dark. At dinner, Raghu seemed uneasy about something, possibly a twisted ankle, but more likely, generally indisposed after the adventures, or the lack of it, on the first day. I found out yesterday morning that he was down with fever and although the febrifuge had done it's bit, he really did not look like he was going to help himself greatly by joining me up the hill. So, I advised him to take rest for the day, and assured him that I would return well before dark.

By noon I had climbed a quarter of the way up and honestly, I felt the climb was getting tougher without Raghu around. Even though I had no companion to talk to, I must say Arunagiri was a dear, and made me feel quite at home. After I had reached Sunshine point from the east side - this was a particular clearing in the forest which Raghu and I had similarly reached the day before yesterday - I decided to change course and climb up from the west slopes. It was Raghu's suggestion to use this clearing as a point of rest and reference, and we named it Sunshine point, because of the generous amounts of sunlight in this clearing, in stark contrast to the shady greens on the slopes directly above and below it. There was also a small rock face here that jutted out at an angle, spitting out a thin trickling cascade of water. It was late afternoon when I had reached near the top-most flats of the hill, and uninterestingly, without any major adventures. Close to the top, I arrived at what looked like an abandoned temple. From a distance, it looked like any other temple, although it was curiously smaller, no larger than two railway compartments placed along their lengths. Two frail-looking columns invited you on one end, and there was not even a prominent gopuram, so typical of South Indian temples. Instead, there was only a small conical finish at the top, over which there fluttered an orange flag.

I briefly wandered inside to pray to the deity in the temple. As I looked through the gate - a sturdy iron molded into grills forming patterns of squares and diamonds - I could not see the idol. There was no idol inside! I was intrigued, as I had never before seen a temple without the idol of the presiding deity. I looked around to see if there was anyone, and let out a small loud sigh, to attract the attention of anyone who might be around – frankly, I did this only to convince myself that it was safe to go closer to have a better look in. Then, as I slowly walked up towards the sanctum sanctorum, I noticed that the gate was in fact, locked. I took quick and uncertain steps, and peered inside behind the grills, and although it wasn’t very bright, I saw clearly: there was nothing inside. I pressed my face against the gate and looked askance into the dark corners, still, nothing.

I was about to turn around and walk back to resume my pursuit, when my eyes fell on something inside the sanctum sanctorum, in the near corner: the perfectly still hood of a snake, right in behind the gate. Never before had I seen a snake any closer than from where I stood then: a silly six feet separated me from the perfectly poised serpent.

In an instant, I pushed against the gate, jumped back, turned around and ran. I did not even turn to see where the serpent was, or whether, in fact, it was behind me after all, nor did I care to know which direction I was running in. All I knew was that I had to run for my life, and run I did. Until, I tripped over something and fell flat on my face. Too tired to get up, I lay there on the ground, panting heavily, when I heard those words: "It is good to set your eyes on where you want to go in life, but it is just as good to keep your eyes open to where life takes you"

For a few moments I did not quite register the fact that I heard someone speak, let alone understand what was said. I turned my head, still lying on the ground, trying to make sense of it. I found no one. Then, all at once, those words rang in my ears. And that’s when I looked back to see what I had tripped over. There, lying peacefully on his back, stretching the long legs that I had ostensibly tripped over, and presently looking up at the sky, was the man who had just spoken.

I felt an electrifying shiver in my spine. And a cold drop of sweat on my eyebrow.

2 Comments:

Blogger apu said...

Good. Keeps the interest alive.Try and avoid falling into cliches though.

Monday, April 10, 2006 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger ladyparadox said...

yeah, i agree with apu. but the guys of yore used that language... tough one that

Wednesday, April 12, 2006 12:03:00 AM  

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