Be a River. Know yourself.

Tirthan River flowed with a rhythm, and I contemplated while sitting on the bank. My friend told me this is the cleanest river in Asia, and that was soothing for my ears. But to my surprise, there was a voice. “That is fine, but my dear friends, you should know that this clean travel ends when I meet and merge into the big River Beas .”It was the Tirthan talking to us. Yes, the status of the “cleanest river” will end when she enters into River Beas, one of the five rivers that created our Punjab, the state that feeds most of us with wheat. “But that is the only way for you to reach your final destination, the ocean,” I responded to Tirthan. “That is a bit philosophical, but for me, it is more physical and painful; I dissolve my identity with that of the Beas, and that is the end of my clean status, its death for me.”

My friend was a bit beleaguered and worried; he looked at me weirdly. “what are you murmuring?”. I said that I was having a conversation with the river. That made him more harassed.

I was saddened to listen to Tirthan because I was under the impression that all the smaller rivers are happy to get dissolved in a bigger one and happier when they meet the ocean, their final destination to lose their identities and become the ocean themselves—a kind of Atma becoming part of the Paramatma.

My friend was now in turmoil; looking at my face with wide eyes, he asked, “What happened? Are you still taking to the river?”

I said, “No, now both of us are silent; the best way to communicate.”

“You are mad or very close to reaching that stage.”

I smiled at him and said, I understand the language of mountains and rivers, though I still need to become fluent in their language. But I am improving from the day my trainer asked me to “ask the mountains before you even think about climbing.”

It was the last day of our training in mountaineering at Manali, Himachal Pradesh. Our trainer was Colonel Premchand, the trainer for many young aspirants of Everest. While concluding the session, he asked, “Who all are ready to climb the mountain now?”. I was just 20, typically ignorant, arrogant, and overconfident. I raised my hand and was among a few, and he noticed me. To my dismay, he said, “You are not going to climb” he could read the big why lit all over my face. “Did you ask permission from the mountain? Did you ask shall I climb.” This was beyond my understanding. My facial expression said loudly, “What nonsense.”

But that was the beginning of a long association for the ignorant that I was with the high mountains of the Himalayas. After that, I started learning to be humble and ask permission from the mountains, valleys, rivers, birds, and animals before intruding on their domains.

Tirthan giggled loudly and said, “Look through me; what do you see”? I looked at the reflection and said, “Myself.”

Madhu Menon

Tirthan Valley, May 01, 2023

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