Monday, September 6, 2010

Thoughts at Markanda

This weekend, I visited the Markanda Temple, built in the 8th century. I was completely astounded by the solidity of the temples as they stood, and the beauty of the stone carvings. I felt speechless marveling at the talent of our ancestors. Few from my generation, given all the technological advancements, could carve out such an architectural marvel or recreate the magic of Markanda.

It pained me though, to see how so many pieces had been damaged, and many were reported stolen. How much should we focus and invest on the preservation of these heritage sites? I wondered if our ancestors ever built these structures with the vision that they last for posterity. On a recent trip to Hastinapur, the local guide mentioned how any remains of the existence of Pandavs and Kauravs had been swallowed into the earth’s heart over time. A symbolic temple of ‘Karan’ had been built. Isn’t this the law of nature: There is nothing permanent except change? Should we choose to forget and move on? Are we actually doing wrong by holding on to these structures? While we learn about our ancestors from these preserved sites, do they ever push us to explore our creative energies, pursue perfection in leaving behind our culture, what our era stood for- besides information overload? Why else do we preserve these sites- if we don’t learn anything from their stories?

I am no student of history or archaeology- but it does pain me to see people washing their laundry on the steps of such a monumental wonder. I don’t think they are wrong, but I wonder, what our collective responsibility as a generation is.

The day I almost drowned

5th September, 2010: Somehow, I want to remember this day for life. It was like nothing ever before.

The lake in our campus had filled to the brim due to recent heavy downpour. As the guys jumped bare-chested into the water, I felt a tinge of envy. I would so love to take a dip. Seeing a friend relishing the experience in Salwar Kameez provided me encouragement. I had years of practice behind me. Unable to resist, I jumped in. One mental challenge overcome; the other screamed invitingly. I wanted to swim up to the other shore of the lake. A friend cautioned: “Test if you have the stamina first.” My arrogance replied: “If I think of doing something, I can do it.” I asked another trained swimmer if he would accompany me. I didn’t have it in me to undertake this adventure alone. Getting his affirmation to start off while he dived in, I left for the opposite shore. I felt a high- the beauty and silence seemed soothing, the shore inviting.

I was inspired by Che Guevara’s attempt in Motorcycle Diaries as he crosses the stormy river to reach the leper homes. I wanted to symbolically ‘reach the shore’ too, and in a hurry. Suddenly however, I realized I was hearing no sound around me. First moment of panic-I can still feel the fear my heart felt then. I turned to look back: I was in the middle of the lake, water all around- and my partner had never left the shore. My heart gave up, my limbs stopped moving-suddenly, there was no way I could make it. I can’t remember feeling anything but plain and absolute helplessness. I altered my course towards a boat passing by, hoping that people on the shore would notice that something had gone wrong. I shouted out to the boat, but my voice felt so muddled even I couldn’t hear it. PLEASE SEE ME! PLEASE SEE ME!

Luckily they noticed and steered toward me. I clung to the boat, yet I cried out: “Please hold my hand.” I needed the human touch- the reassurance that I would make it. As my partner now came up to the boat, I had nothing but the rage of lost trust in my eyes: “You never left.”

The fire in me had not died though. Breathless as I was, I wouldn’t return in the boat. I struggled, but swam back to the shore. Everyone clapped as my hand landed on the platform. I felt ashamed and disappointed though- I had failed; I had not made it. I was lonely and scared- I just needed a hug: maybe, I had made it. Returning back, I had seen disbelief and fear in my friend’s eyes- almost anger. I couldn’t face him or speak to him later-somewhere I felt I had disappointed him too.
There were many lessons for me in this. I had been overconfident and arrogant, as also I had misjudged the distance, flow of currents with continued rain, force required to swim fully-clothed and acclimatization period required with a partner for the first time. I have heard about those out to conquer the Everest- that even if they make it to the peak, they actually feel vanquished and respect the mountain all the more. I am aware I was undeservingly lucky. While I hope I never fear it, I will at least never underestimate the power of nature, and so also the respect any challenge commands. It also taught me how a right partner isn’t one who just accompanies you or rescues you- but one who is present every step of the way; is involved in minute-by-minute decision making; where you don’t need words to communicate and sets the pace for tackling challenges, as also life.

The rain came down violently all night- it was loud, thundering. I almost felt anger in it-maybe it was my own anger with my decision-making. For all my upbringing and the courage he gave me, I think I failed my Dad. For all the faith and heart-warming care she showered me with, I feel I disappointed my Mom too.

My arms hurt like never before. Now, I know how violent the pursuit of life, of breath can be; how overpowering the fear. I have probably never flapped my arms so aggressively, yet so helplessly. The only up-side: I have heard that maturity comes with age and experience. My impulsiveness and rash risk-taking maybe at least prove: I am still young!