Swami Satyanand stood by the banks of the roaring Ganges at his ashram in Rishikesh. His audience had been sought by a famous business woman from New Delhi – Yamini Pradhan. The devotee who had requested the Swami for the meeting had told him that Yamini was suffering from chronic depression and with no medication being able to help , her only hope was to seek the refuge of a great saint like him.
Travelling from Delhi it had taken more than 7 hours for Yamini to reach Rishikesh. They had started at about 11 am to beat the city traffic and now it was close to evening. Yamini had asked her driver to park the car on the other end and had walked over the Lakshman Jhula to come to the ashram. She crossed the humble but clean environs of the ashram to come to the river front. It was a beautiful sight but she felt afraid watching the gushing waters in front of her. She knew these new fears very well but they haunted her all the same. She questioned herself for her fears. So many of them, unfounded and baseless, with a life of their own. But no answers came. Only more fear, more anxiety.If your own mind decides to play tricks on you there is little you can do.
She approached the embankment slowly. She had a strange feeling that something was not in place. The profile of the man she saw in the dimming mountain sun looked familiar. No – this could not be Aakash, she thought. But why not ? Akash had all the signs of becoming a renunciate – he followed a frugal lifestyle, was mostly by himself, read a lot of books on science and religion. Yamini remembered whenever Aakash spoke against her ambitious plans calling them material pursuits, she used to tease him saying “ab Babaji ka gyan shuru ho jayega”. And here she was seeking help from the same person. Her heart wanted her to slip away but her mind stopped her in her tracks. Her pride was nothing compared to the hope of redemption from this never ending despair which had now claimed her entire being. She had resolved that she would do anything that can get her out of this bottomless pit. Her ego would not come in her way.If this was a test then she was ready.That’s the good thing about mental illness – the first thing you get rid of is your ego, thought Yamini.
She approached as slowly as she could and stood next to the Swami. There was no one there except the two of them. The sound of gushing water resonated in unison with the din of thoughts running in her mind. It was him. It was Akash.
Swami Satyanand turned to face Yamini. He folded his hands in Namaskar and a gentle smile ran across his face. He had recognised his friend from the past but his reaction was measured. The robe had certain restrictions and the Swami followed the rules of renunciation by the book. For years he had not only denied his body of food and comforts, he had also trained his mind to live in a state of unaffected equanimity. His Sadhana was his only precious possession and he guarded it with an utmost sense of probity.
But something strange was happening to him. The mind which he had long tamed and caged in some corner of his consciousness had suddenly got new vigour. It was raising its head and was gathering strength to challenge him. The Aakash who had died in him, when Bramhchari Satya Chaitanya took the Diksha 10 years ago, was about to be exhumed from the ashes of his past. Swami Satyanand’s thoughts raced faster than the Ganga’s current and the entire 3 years of Lucknow University started running through his mind. It was as if he was in a movie theatre tied to his seat with no option but to watch what was happening on the screen. Aakash and Yamini were sitting on the steps of Physics Department talking about the similarity between quantum mechanics and Vedanta. A big fan of modern science and its developments Yamini just could not come to terms with Aakash’s idea that the sages of ancient India had it all figured out. And even if they had, she argued, what difference does it make to her in the 20th century. She was living her life now and all that mattered was how well she could live before passing into the oblivion. Aakash was silent. He did not want to quote books and scriptures to convince Yamini. He was of the opinion that the discovery of truth was a individual journey. “Perhaps you are right. The ideas I know from the books I have read are someone else’s experience. It is not my own truth. But one day if I discover my own truth I would love to share it with you” Akash told Yamini and they started walking together towards the cafeteria.
He remembered the one time he had asked Yamini to join him for a poetry session on Kabir and his philosophy. A folk singer from MP had rendered some ethereal compositions at the end of the program.Yamini had cursed him for making her sit through the boring two hour session. It was such a vivid memory. Yamini had cribbed “Akash I so wanted to run away. First of all I didn’t understand half of it and then your Kabir..was he obsessed with death or what ? It was so depressing.” He had just smiled and promised she will be spared in future. Yamini was quite intelligent otherwise and that was perhaps the reason that Aakash liked her company. They were together most of the time in the first two years of University but around the third year they had drifted when Aakash went on a trip to Mount Kailash and upon his return started to spend more time by himself either studying or meditating in his hostel room. They lost touch completely after Yamini went to pursue her MBA and Aakash decided to do an MA in philosophy.
Destiny had brought them together again and more than Yamini it was Akash who did not know how to react. To be the old friend from past or the learned sage of the present.
Yamini was standing right next to Aakash until he shifted a few paces. Was he trying to avoid her ? Yamini was skeptical.She had never felt as defeated and lowly in her life. All that she stood for – the success, the money, the comforts, the idea of a good life had failed her. Even her mind was not her own.She felt like a piece of driftwood being tossed and turned by the current of life with no hope to find a shore, ever.She wanted to cry like a child but kept looking at the horizon where the birds were flying back to their nests in the backdrop of a setting sun.
Aakash too was silent or may be he had nothing to say to her. Aakash had always told Yamini that the only logical choice one had was to learn to be content with what they have. There is no end to our desires and even if one wins in the rat race, they will still be a rat. Our anxiety was rooted in our hope for the future and our sorrow in our guilt from the past. We must learn to control our mind. But right now it all seemed to be so meaningless. After years of practice if he could not even curb his basic instinct to touch and feel his past had he just been playing with words all this time ?Had he made no real progress ? Even the thought disturbed him. Akash decided to walk. He wanted to move with the river. “A rolling stone gathers no moss” he used to preach in his discourses. It might just work for him now. The movement may allow his mind to shed the thoughts that were clouding his vision.He knew that thoughts die on their own if you do not engage with them. He had to let go. He had to be here. Now. He was Swami Satyanand this moment and someone needed his help.
He walked up to the point where a few priests were performing a Yagna. He was more at home here. The flames of the sacred fire calmed his mind. He started chanting the mantras in chorus with the sadhus. The sound of the bells from afar announced that it was seven in the evening. In half an hour once the sun had set, it will be time for his evening Tarpan. Swami Satyanand turned around towards Yamini. She had not walked with him but was now facing him with perhaps a similar resolve – to be in the present moment. The years had added grace to her.Her face which used to be borderline skinny was now full and her cheeks had turned red perhaps due to the cold breeze. Her slightly curled hair were let loose except for a single clip at the back. Yamini was wearing a peach Chikan kurta along with a matching chudidaar that highlighted her figure. She looked vulnerable as she looked beautiful.
Swami Satyanand picked up a stone and threw it gently in the river.
Yamini was still wondering if she should go back or stay. She knew Akash too well for him to counsel her in any manner. But then he was Swami Satyanand now. 10 years is a long time. People change. They grow up.But then had she changed ? Deep down she knew who she was – an ambitious girl who wanted to prove a point to this world. She just could never lose. Her last venture had flunked big time and while she absorbed the financial shock, she had no idea how to deal with the ill fame it had brought her. The headline “ Yamini’s winning streak over” had painted itself permanently on the billboard of her mind. And here she was , standing next to a class mate, adding insult to injury . As per him it was just all just a stupid game and she had lost even in that ! Look at him choosing not to fight and still standing tall like a winner. She won’t seek his refuge. She may have lost her pride but not her self respect. Aakash was looking at her intently. Was he checking her out?she thought and a chuckle ran across her lips.She felt a bit better.
Swami Satyanand picked up a second pebble and threw it in the water. This time with an effort so it landed right in the middle of the river. He smiled as if proud of his achievement and gestured Yamini to do the same.
She did just that and started walking towards him..