April Clouds

Apr 22, 2005

Bahadarpura, 10 kilometers. After 17 kilometers, another 10 doesn't seem so bad. Except that I jacked up my left knee at kilometer number 5 and I've been almost dragging my foot for the last couple hours (and acting out scenes of 'Karate Kid' to Guri). Despite applying "Moov" and wrapping my bandana around it, the pain continues.

Incidentally, we've taken a short-cut today. So all we see are beautiful farms on both sides of the road. And very few people. You forget that India has 1 billion people crammed in the size of two California's. It's all open, free. The curves of the trees, the twists of the branches, the flight of long-tailed birds ... everything reads like Nature's majestic poetry.

But oh yeah, the pain. "Everyone talks about miracles on pilgrimages, but how come I have yet to experience one? I wouldn't really mind getting my knee healed right about now," I ask myself, very unsincerely. Of course, nothing happens.

Way up ahead, I notice an old lady just sitting comfortably in the dirt. It was really odd, really out of place.

As we cross her, Guri instinctively says, "Nipun, ask her what she's doing here?" The old lady says she's just sitting there. Hmmm. Then she sizes me up, and finally settles her glance on my water bottle. "What's in there?" Water, I tell her. "Ok, give me some," she says as if she's doing me a favor by asking! I open my bottle and start pouring into wrinkled hands that are cupped in front of her lips. Half of the water spills through her fingers and I think about how scarce water is on these roads, but then I observe her and feel a strange sense of compassion for her. "What are you doing?" she says. She repeats the question again since we couldn't understand her muffled voice. "We are on a walking pilgrimage," I tell her. "Ok, good," she concludes as if trying to sneak in some good wishes while we aren't paying attention.

No matter how you look at it, it's a privilege to quench someone's thirst.

Fifteen more minutes of slow walking, and barely one kilometer is knocked off. Only way to survive is to focus on each step, just like I did when I started a cross-country race too fast.

Meditation comes naturally when you are walking for six, seven, eight hours. But it's an art to pay attention to the observor, without losing the observed. Within a few minutes, I strangely start to feel better and even start walking normally! The pain is still there, but it's no longer overpowering me. I feel different sensations. 5 kilometers are left, I'm feeling unusually pumped-up again.

As usual, we have kept a fake destination in mind, but no one is expecting us there so anything is fair game.

In a distance, we see an old man with a hand towel on his head. When we pass him, he squarely looks at us with his big eyes and asks us where we are going. "Well, you seem to be God's people; can you come to our house, our village?" he asks us. Guri and I do a what-do-you-think check and within a second agree to spend the night at this random man's electricity-less home, in a village of 40 families.

It's April 22nd, the month of high summer. Somehow there are clouds up above. In fact, they have been giving us shade all day!

April clouds are singing. The joy is in the journey.

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