NO. THIS IS NOT A SEQUEL (RATHER A PREQUEL – AS OBIT COMES AFTER FINAL DEPARTURE) TO MY POST ‘THANKS FOR MY OBIT‘ (OCTOBER 16, 2016 )
This is not about my ‘kicking the bucket’ nor was that about my real obituary -which would never be written anyway as I am not important enough for it. It is about a trip I am planning to the ‘Char Dham’ (four centres of pilgrimage) – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri – next month.
As someone looking forward to be 80 and to the final curtain call, which cannot be far away, such a journey may as well be the last – so I refer to it as my Last Journey. I am not particularly religious –I remember the times I used to sit outside temples and read books as my late wife went in to worship. The ‘Char Dham’ trip is more to atone for my failure to do much of tourist sightseeing even while going around several states, on duty.
Imagine being on an election tour, winding up Madhya Pradesh trip with a day’s stay at Satna before going to Banda in Uttar Pradesh and not seeing nearby Khajuraho, visiting Dwaraka to cover inauguration of Tata Chemicals without seeing the Krishna temple, living in Gujarat without visiting the historic Somnath or the Gir lion sanctuary or not seeing the wild asses of Kutch even when there with a Prime Minister to visit the Indian village nearest to the border with Pakistan. The list is very long.
My father, as an auditor in the Indian Posts also had scores of trips, but did not waste the chances with just audit duty. On reaching a post office to be audited, he first found out all the places around worth seeing. Before the tour was over he not only saw all of them but also collected the local legends. Thus he could see, on duty, ALL the Jyotirlingas (the most sacred symbols of Shiva) twice, besides many other tourist spots.
When you visit a place and come back someone or the other asks, “You have been there to see that temple/tourist attraction, but did you visit _______ just nearby?” You certainly would have, had you known about it beforehand. And you cannot always go back all the way to that distant place.
So, before you visit any place of pilgrimage or tourism, meet people who have been there, or Google and find out all you can about nearby attractions. If you can, keep a diary or record of the visit and take as many photographs as you can; it is no more costly to do so with the filmless digital cameras and cell phones. I find the iPad the best for this.
Anyone who has been there – and around– is welcome to tell me about it.
If you can write about the tour it may be useful for others who go there later. That was why I asked an ex-student of mine who did a ‘Narmada parikrama’ –walking along the coast of a sacred river from its birthplace to the place where it meets the sea– to write a book about it. (She did not.) Parikrama is a regular practice for the devout in Gujarat and such a book would have been of great use to all , besides being a record of the customs, lifestyles, and legends of the people along the way.
India has a great tradition of pilgrimages. In the olden days people used to set out on foot from all over India to visit the holy town of Kashi, camping along the way. They set out presuming that they may not return alive.
Adi Shankara had travelled, from east to west and north to south, the entire country to re-establish Hinduism — twice before he passed away in his thirties! But we did not have a tradition of writing about travels and places, which would have been of great use for those interested in history, anthropology and culture. Indian travelogues are rare.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s memorable poem says:
“Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie……
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter from the hill”
Life itself is often called a journey, though the beginning and the end are beyond our control. All we can decide, sometimes, is the direction. And death is like going back home — something to be welcomed and celebrated rather than feared or mourned.