Diary of a commitment-phobe

Published On: March 21, 2020 10:45 AM NPT By: Devendra Gautam

As I write this I feel as if the all-seeing eyes of Swayambhunath are watching over the whole city from the hills

Prelude: Don’t worry, near and dear ones. This backpacker, this amateur Yogi shall find a way out of the mess that he is in. And he will. 

I don’t clearly know where I am headed (I feel out of this world, but I am not drugged), but I am sure I will find my way, my destiny, my destination. One thing is clear, though: I am leaving this city at least temporarily because it reminds me of so many things. You see, loads of memories are not a good thing when you are in an unenviable situation. On a pilgrimage? 

Definitely not. It has been years since I lost faith in all things divine, so the quest for divinity is out of the question. I will require several knocks on my head, it appears, to restore my faith in divinity, as if this school of hard knocks were not enough.  About humanity? Don’t ask me. 

As I write from this Pandhero (a spring of the yore turned into a waiting station turned into a junction of sorts) I feel as if the all-seeing eyes of Swayambhunath are watching over the whole city from the hills. 

But then, you hardly get to see from a vantage point the Hogarthian, poverty-stricken lives of lesser mortals of this megalopolis and not-so-sacred lives of the super-affluent and the hardships-filled lives of upper and lower middle classes. 

Walking along, I find a red-robed figure fiddling with his cellphone. No, this human is not trying to establish spiritual connection with the headquarters, the centre of faith located nearby or with the distant Swayambhunath, for that matter. 

Red-robed or not, human beings have needs and in the hierarchy of those needs, basic needs come first.  While walking along the rapidly-thinning woods and the growing concrete jungle, the all-seeing eyes of Swayambhunath haunt me.

I feel there’s a need to ponder little more over those all-seeing eyes transfixed in all four directions along with a question above each pair. Could the whole superstructure have been turned into a superpowerful CCTV camera of sorts, what with its watchtower and super-dome like feature, to receive data and signals from high heavens and transmit them to humanity through religious-spiritual connections after processing, and vice-versa?

Already, tired limbs are seeking a break from this excruciating journey that began about half an hour ago. Please note, though: This is not a mere journey from point A to B. Rather, it’s a long and hard journey spanning several cycles of birth and death, a journey accompanied with lots of ups and downs on topsy-turvy roads.

Lo and behold! You wish and things materialize. As I struggle against the gravity along a steep stretch, a Peepal tree (ficusreligiosa) emerges by the roadside along with a temple and a public tap with running water, which is a rarity these days. I quench my thirst and then sit cross-legged in the Bhumisparsa mudra under the peepal tree. Despite a pretty long meditation session, there’s no connection with the Swayambhunath tower and its all-seeing eyes. Neither Mara nor his agents descend beneath the tree to entice me. No earthquake takes place to deter me from my path. You see, it perhaps takes numerous cycles of birth and death to arrive at a station in life where Mara and his agents come to scare you away or entice you.

Surprisingly, though, my Eureka moment arrives then and there. Perhaps air purified by Peepal tree helps free up your mind from pollutants and see things more clearly. It may not just be a coincidence that Shakyamuni Buddha attained liberation while meditating under a Peepal tree!

Through my mind’s eye, I find that the developer of the super-dome of Swayambhunath (equipped with data receiver, processing features and all) had not installed the software necessary to make those eyes all-seeing.  Was there some hanky-panky involved in the whole thing in that day and age in this fertile valley of Bagmati civilization, where spirituality grows by leaps and bounds along with crops?

There can be several explanations behind this (purposeful?) omission. Of them, perhaps the most plausible explanation is this: The high and the mighty of the yore did not want those all-seeing eyes to record all their sins and transmit relevant data to high heavens for onward divine action.

Or perhaps the super-powerful gods themselves conspired against this sacred, beautiful valley to turn it into a sin city of sorts in its new avatar, because it could otherwise fare better than their own heavens located you don’t know where, what with a fail-proof surveillance system equipped with the all-seeing powerful CCTV-type mechanism fitted in a vantage point, long long before other metropolises around the world got their first surveillance cameras!

You don’t believe this super-powerful semi-divine, semi-human surveillance camera theory? You have the liberty to do so. Please bear this in mind: It is quite possible that our ancestors may have reached the zenith of civilization in those golden days. Remember, they were already feasting on 84 Vyanjans (84 kinds of mouth-watering delicacies in one meal) when people in several other parts of the world were in dire straits?

It is a given that one cannot remain at the peak of things forever, one has to descend. It could have been an apocalypse, it could have been man-made disasters like wars or natural disasters that put an end to those good old days, exterminated a huge section of the population and brought the survivors to their knees. 

Back to the journey: The rest of the journey is quite uneventful. Along the way comes the Single Tree. Not even in my dream can I imagine this solitary being tying the knot and going on a honeymoon with its other half, forcing lovey-dovey couples that hang around it to go someplace else.

After what seems to be an eternity of limb-numbing walk comes Batase, close by the White Gumba, but not before a turkey shows amazingly beautiful dance moves to wow the female on a dirt road as people watch with interest. Isn’t it just enough that you got to see turkeys in this country? 

At a nearby makeshift shop cum eatery, I come across a young woman in charge of what appears to be a not-so-thriving business. The global COVID-19 disease outbreak seems to have made an impact in this part of the interconnected world too, with just a handful of travelers. 

After light snacks, I ask: Kati bhayo (how much for the snacks)? And she says: Pardaina. Bhaihalyo  (Leave it, you don’t need to pay).

You see my lord god, Shakyamuni Buddha! The days of a young woman (Sujata), the daughter of a tribal chief, offering you delicious rice pudding to enable you to gain your heal and continue on the path of higher ideals like liberation are not entirely over! I pay part of the precious little that I have and continue on my journey toward the woods for a break from the maddening city that I have left far far behind, at least temporarily.  

On the way, I am moved by the kindness of the shop-owner. Tears well up and drop on dirt roads as I raise dust. It’s a pity that lotus flowers won’t spring from the footprints that I have left behind, from the act of her kindness toward a stranger. 

 At Batase, close wind blows beneath the Peepal tree seated by the side of corn fields on the lap of lush-green woods. At this alien corn, aching limbs slowly get some relief as another session of Bhumisparsha mudra begins.  I feel liberation is not even on the horizon (from this countryside, a 360 degree view of those mountains and forests and clouds hanging over them makes you feel as if you are in heaven) for me, so Mara and his agents do not come around to force me to abort my meditation session. 

“Another escapist, perhaps” 

“Or a drifter” 

“Or a commitment-phobe”

(Rough translation of the tirade)

Were these salvos coming from women (deeply frustrated, perhaps) heading for the cornfields, part of these tirades perhaps directed at their own partners? For me, all that sounds quite familiar. After all, that is what you get to hear at home or close by. The cold wind stops blowing, the reverie ends. I feel a huge crater of sorts forming deep inside my heart.

As I leave the Peepal tree, couples arrive. At the forked road where I caught the turkey dancing in a bid to win the heart of his love interest, I meet Robert Frost and he sings to me the “Road Not Taken”. My phone rings but I hurl it deep into the woods and the noise ends an eerie silence session of the woods (or so it seems). Deeply disturbed by the noise, the woods start chasing me toward the city. Another Saturday is effectively ruined as I leave for the city to brave yet another long and hard week.

Note: This is a rough translation of travel notes that I found beneath a pebble under a tree, during a hike to Batase.

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