The Car Driver
Chapter 1- Road to Manali
The car sped along the long straight as a ramrod road through the desolate but beautiful wastes of Ladakh towards the Rohtang pass which would lead it to Manali. The sky above was an impossibly deep blue. In his wake he left behind a cloud of cold mountain desert dust. Even at that speed he was in permanent awe of the landscape around him.
The stark brown mountains in the fore and background, the icy-cold waters of the rivulet flowing alongside the road over well rounded pebbles, contrasted dramatically with the emerald patches of green which would miraculously emerge every now and then — places where enterprising and intrepid farmers had carefully nurtured patches of vegetables.
Soon he was driving through the Rohtang Pass towards Manali, snow capped mountain peaks all around him, almost threatening to fall on top of his car. He negotiated the mountain bends and turns expertly, being careful not to drive too close to the edge, while maintaining his acceleration.
From time to time he would come across vehicles lumbering painfully up the pass, and he would zip by focusing on moving ahead as he had tasked himself to reach Manali before the sunset. The closer he got to Manali the more lush and sylvan became the surroundings. Tall deodars — pines were in profusion, and the beautiful river Beas-one of the five legendary rivers of the Punjab, glistened in the evening sun, its waters bathed in an ethereal pink.
Overcome by the sheer magic of the place he pulled over his car beside the road, and got out to stretch his legs. The pine-scented air drove away some of his fatigue, and he closed his eyes for a full minute. On in impulse he decided to trek down to the river side, almost five-hundred feet down mainly through loose shingle, and earth, his feet dragging and skidding down while he moved down the incline. He was at the river-bank in fifteen minutes.
Once there he lay sprawled on the grass, his fingers dipping into the fast moving current of water. The back of his head lay nestled in the velvety grass and his eyes stared at the pink evening sky above and around him. From a corner of an eye he could espy his car parked on the road above, looking like it was something which belonged to the ethereal landscape around him.
He could hear a variety of birds — cuckoos, sparrows, thrushes and a few more twitter excitedly while they headed towards their nests to find safety ahead of nightfall. From time to time, he could also hear the faint drone of motor-vehicles pass his car on the road above. Soon he fell asleep, partly because of tiredness and partly being lulled into a state of relaxation and letting go induced by the magic of encountering nature up close and personal.
Chapter 2 Starlit Night
The breeze woke him up. It was cold and made him uncomfortable. He opened his eyes and saw nothing and instantly panicked, but regained his composure when he realised that night had fallen. He gazed at his watch and swore. It was past nine o’clock. He had slept for more than three hours.
His eyes had by now got adjusted to the light from the stars above, and he could see the river beside him reflecting their light in a limpid sort of way. Though it was a moonless night, the stars above shone with enough light to let him see a little distance. He glanced at the sky above, and was taken aback at the sight of the Milky Way staring down at him. At these rarified heights the stars can seem amazingly bright and close. He marveled at the dense and smoky galaxy aptly named AKASH GANGA, River of the Skies by the ancients.
As he began his laborious trudge up the hill, he felt a little twinge of anxiety. The whole place seemed to have acquired a dimension which could be described as being very different from normal. Not just ethereal, but something even beyond. Almost like two worlds had passed each other by.
The cry of a night jar shook him out of his reverie and he hurried up the hill to reach the spot where he had parked his car. His car was not there, and he panicked once again, but calmed down when he saw it some fifty yards down the road. “I probably couldn’t exactly find my bearings because of the dark. I must have actually parked it farther ahead than I remembered.” He looked down towards the ledge from where he had come up and saw the milestone read Manali 5 km. That was exactly the spot he had parked his car in the morning.
Now very worried he quickly walked down to where his car was parked and was relieved to find that next to it was another milestone bearing the legend Manali 5 km.
“Bloody PWD,” he muttered.
“Never could get anything right.”
He took out the car-keys from his pocket and opened the door and screamed. Seated on the driver’s seat was a creature with a halo around its head, and an extremely brilliant orb of light surrounding it.
Chapter 3 The Friends
The creature soon assumed a normal human shape, and no longer shone with light. The car-driver blinked uncomprehendingly, some of his terror ebbing, now that person in front of him appeared to be of this world. “Sorry to have startled you like this,” he said in the most mellifluous voice our friend had ever heard. The instant he heard those words he experienced a tremendous sense of calm the like of which he had never experienced before.
He knew then that the stranger was no threat, and howsoever strange it may seem, was in fact somebody in whom he could repose complete trust. “Who are you?” our friend the car driver asked, now out of sheer curiosity, not fright.
“What do you think?” the man answered, with a mischievous glint in his eye.
“You could be a saint, a mendicant, why God himself,” he answered evenly.
“Ah, I see that you are no longer afraid of me. That’s good.”
“It is you who made me afraid, and it is you who make me calm,” our man replied. “And why is that?” he countered.
To this the car-driver replied, “Why would I be afraid of somebody, who shines like the sun and whom I find sitting in my car, in the dead of the night on a god-forsaken mountain road? Some body who inexplicably then assumes human form and stills my mind to the extent, where I can engage in a normal conversation with him. You would call that strange.”
“You are a brave man, I concede that. Most people in your place would be at their wits end in a situation like this”
“I am glad that you appreciate my courage, perhaps you would now care to tell me who you are and what you are doing in my car,” he replied, some of his candour returning, now that he was engaged in a normal conversation with another human being.
“I will tell you in good time, but before that I want you to drive me to Rishikesh,” saying which he sidled over to the passenger’s seat on the left, and the car driver sat down next, to him started the car and drove off, as if that was the most normal thing in the world to do.
Chapter 4 The Dhaba
The car driver and his companion drove off from the spot where they so strangely met, and embarked on a journey which was to transform our friend in a way that he would not be able to imagine. A few minutes into the drive our friend settled into the kind of easy conversation with his companion, possible only with someone you have known over most of your lifetime.
“Are you hungry, I feel like I could eat a horse”, said our man.
“Why let’s eat then,” said his passenger.
“Yeah, there’s a dhabha, about four kilometers ahead.” “No it’s down this bend,” replied the ethereal one. And sure enough the dhabha the car driver had in mind was down the bend, and not about four kilometers ahead as he had thought.
“I must have miscalculated the distance. Happens in the hills,” he thought no longer considering his situation as being anything other than ordinary.
They settled down to a delicious dinner of rajma-rice and yogurt, made all the more appetising for our friend by the rigours of his drive so far. They were the only customers there, and giving them company were the dhaba walla, a cherubic middle aged gentle man of ruddy complexion, his helper boy and the cook
“Do you get many customers here?” he asked the dhaba owner.
“Not so much in the night, but quite a few for breakfast and lunch, as there is less traffic on the hills at night.”
The rest of the meal was finished in silence, and the two friends walked out into the compound and sat down facing each other on two adjacent charpoys under the open night sky brilliantly lit up by the stars. Soon the dhaba owner brought them a cup of tea each and sat down on the ground in front of them with his own cup. He had taken care to place a coarse rug on the spot that he sat on so that he did not get wet from the due on the grass.
They sat silently for a few minutes taking in the peace and silence of the place. The scent of pine from nearby forests and the occasional barking of a distant dog was perhaps the only thing that could faintly be perceived by the men as they sat in a meditative silence.
“It’s so peaceful here,” said the car driver after sometime. “We could sit like this all our lives and know absolute bliss. No tensions, no rat-race, no worrying about money, and nothing to achieve, just plain being.”
“You think you could sit here the rest of your life and remain in this happy state?” enquired the ethereal one with a kind smile.
“No of course not,” replied our friend.
“I know that I will hanker after all the things modern life offers pretty soon. This happy state cannot be preserved.”
“Well I live here, and I tell you that I am quite happy, the dhaba owner piped in quite unexpectedly. You see, I don’t belong to these parts. I used to work as a government employee in Delhi, and passed by this place many years ago. I was on my way to Manali on a holiday with my family, and our tour bus had stopped by this dhaba for a tea-break.
This dhaba used to be run by an elderly Sikh gentleman in those days. The moment I stepped down from the bus, I felt complete peace and contentment. The kind that one feels at home in the company of a loving mother and father as a small child. The place felt like it was home. Like I had lived here before for a very long time.
We went back to Delhi and to our old life. But things had changed for me. I had set my mind on coming back to this place, and making it my home. So I discussed this with my wife and son, who was quite young then. Both of them felt somewhat the same about the place, so we chalked out a plan. I would continue with my job in Delhi, till the time my son completed his education and took up a job. That is exactly what we did and I ended up buying this place from its previous owner.
My son works for a pharmaceutical company in Rishikesh, and my wife and I have taken up residence in Manali. She helps me at the dhaba during day time and catches the bus in the evenings. I try to go to Manali every alternate evening. I can’t make it there every day as I often get delayed, serving customers like yourselves, late into the night,” he said with a smile.
“Whenever I feel like it, I hand over charge of the dhaba to my assistant here, and sit at home with my wife gossiping, or we both visit our son and his family in Rishikesh.”
“Lucky bloke,” remarked our friend the car driver. “We are headed that way.
Should you and your wife be planning to visit your son, you can hitch a ride with us, as we are headed that way.”
“Thank you so much for your kind offer, but we have just come back from a visit,” replied the dhaba owner.
It was decided that the two friends would bed down in a small room behind the dhaba, as the car driver needed some sleep as he had been driving for quite some time. There were two cots in the room with comfortable bedding which consisted of cotton mattresses and quilts. Soon our friend fell into a deep and peaceful slumber. The smell of tea woke up our friend.
Chapter 5 Pelting Rain
Soon the two were up and ready to leave, a hearty breakfast of parantha topped with butter and lots of strong tea making them feel very energetic and raring to go. Our friend the driver stepped up the pressure on the accelerator and the car shot ahead. It was a cool and chilly morning with a hint of moisture and they wanted to hit the plains as soon as possible so that they did not get caught in the rain while still in the hills, as that can be pretty dicey.
As they approached closer to the plains the gradient of the road became gentler and the car moved even faster, the tyres intermittently crushing heaps of fallen leaves. Sometimes birds would dive down right in front of the car, giving the impression that they were bent on suicide, only to reemerge andd fly away in the nick of time. Other times wild mountain dogs with beautifully deep coats of red or brown and outstanding physiques would race alongside the speeding car for a few second before giving up in exasperation.
They had just gone down the last bend and hit the first few metres of the expansive plans that stretched out in front of them, when the rain descended upon them like a tidal wave. The force of the rain buffeted the car sideways to the left, even as our friend the driver peered ahead intently keeping his eyes on the tarmac through the water streaked windshield, which the wipers were doing an ineffective job of keeping clear.
Our friend had driven through many rain and thunder storms and even a snow-storm in the past, but never had he seen anything this violent. He decided to pull over to the side of the road and wait for the fury of the storm to abate. Through the driving rain he could make out several other vehicles parked by the side of the road, their terror stricken occupants apparently waiting inside.
Our man swore violently as a particularly strong gust of wind lifted their car a few inches into the air and then set it down again with a loud thud. His companion laid a comforting hand on his shoulder and our man felt calm return to him. He watched in wonder as a bolt of lightning crashed into a tress a few feet ahead of him flattening it into cinder.
As suddenly as it began the storm abated. A few moments ago it was raging with the velocity of a solar wind, and already the wind had ceased howling being replaced by a cooling breeze instead.
“Wow that was quite a storm,” he said, turning to his friend only to realise with a start that he was no longer with him.
Chapter 6 Not Quite There
Completely flabbergasted by the new turn of events our man debated on what do next. He could go back to his normal life and routine, yet felt a strong impulse to drive on to Rishikesh as the holy man ( he was sure that was who he was) had asked him to. Not for a second did he imagine that he might have hallucinated about the strange happenings he witnessed.
He could easily put down all his recent experiences to the disjointed imagination of a tired mind and body. He was on the highway to Rishikesh for sure but it was also the road which went to his hometown of Chandigarh to which destination he was returning. It was quite plausible that he had actually not had these experiences, and a tired body and mind were playing tricks on his brain.
After all he was no more than an ad-agency manager who was returning from an adventure packed vacation in the Ladakh Himalayas with likeminded friends. There were three of them who had laid a wild bet which consisted of them racing all the way to Ladakh and back in cars. The winner was to be a treated to an evening of drinks at a popular night club in Chandigarh!
It was something which was quite to be expected of the three as they were very fond of taking off on long drives to far-off exotic places, as and when it suited their fancy. Unlike our man, his friends were from a business background and were being groomed by their fathers to inherit their respective firms.
But like him they were young, gregarious and lived life to the full. Together they had driven till the sand-dunes beyond Jaisalmer, and to the lush backwaters of Kerala. Their adventures in Ladakh had been the most challenging of all their expeditions as driving along some of the highest motorable passes in the world, where even oxygen was in short supply was the ultimate test of one’s driving abilities.
It was on the way to Manali that our man had been separated from his friends on account of a flat tyre he had had to stop and replace. They had zoomed past him even as he was cranking up the jack to raise the wheel. Winning the bet was serious business for these speed aficianados, even if the reward was of no major consequence. The ringing of his mobile phone jarred him out of his reverie. It was one of his friends.
He suddenly felt a stab of anxiety, as the friends had enforced a strict rule of not making calls unless it was an emergency.
“Hey Sid, What’s up dude?” he asked. “Listen,” Sidharth replied.
“There’s no time to explain, but there’s been a change in plans. We are to drive to Rishikesh and meet there. Mark is headed that way too. I’ll explain when we meet.”
Chapter 7 Friends Meet
Our friend, whose name can now be revealed is Ram, took a detour from Ambala towards Saharanpur en’ route to Haridwar and Rishikesh. It was a reasonably good road with a fair amount of traffic, entirely through a flat as pan-cake terrain, and he reached the outskirts of Haridwar in no time.
The gradient was once more hilly, and he enjoyed the touch of the delicious mountain breeze which trickled in through his partly rolled down window glass. The drive to Rishikesh was a pleasant affair through some fantastically green and serene and gentle mountain territory.
As he drove down into Rishikesh, darkness had set in and he was greeted by gently twinkling lights from small houses, shops and eateries. He stopped by a roadside stall, bought a coke and a packet of wafers, and got back into his car to finish his frugal meal and wait for his friends to show up. Sid called up in a little while to give him directions to a small but comfortable hotel, which was just off the highway and really served as an American motel for passersby.
After quickly registering themselves as guests, they headed toward the inhouse restaurant, and settled themselves into their chairs. As the place did not serve any liquor they ordered coffee and some light snacks, and with the easy familiarity of old friends, started their long over-due catching up conversation.
After Ram had finished his narration, he found the other two staring at him with wonder and a degree of alarm. “What’s the matter guys? You meet up with the same gent yourselves?”
“As a matter of fact, yes,” replied Siddarth breathlessly.
“A holy man of exactly the same description saved our lives. After we had passed you by on the road to Manali, Mark and I had been racing down the treacherous mountain roads like maniacs, when the sudden appearance of a herd of donkeys around a bend saw both of us slam our brakes and our cars fly off a ledge and into the valley a thousand feet below.
We thought we had bought it and I for my part almost lost consciousness due to fear when we saw this gent, fly in through the air and point his staff in our direction, and lo and behold the next thing we see is our cars are back on the road, parked next to each other, and the two of us standing next to them in the benign presence of our saviour.”
Thereafter the holy man had calmed them down after explaining that they really had not flown off the ledge as they imagined, but had in fact been saved by a mountain wall, which had stopped their cars from toppling over, and he had merely pulled them out and stood them on their feet. On being told that
that the cars had not suffered any damage from the supposed crash, he had merely smiled and said, “with time you will know.” “We wanted to compensate him for his help, but he would have none of it. All that we could get from him was that he was headed to Rishikesh, and he was glad to have been of help, and that we should think nothing of it. And saying that he just vamoosed.”
Mark and Siddhartha were the kind of people who did not believe in mysteries and their encounter with the holy man deeply mystefied them, and they wanted to understand what was going on. So they decided to go to Rishikesh and track down the man. That was why they had summoned Ram to join them.
“You know guys, I don’t think you came after him. He is the one who made all of us come”
Chapter 8 More and More Curious
The three friends deliberated on how best to search for the holy man. It was decided that they would hire a local cyclerickshaw and look for him at the many ashrams that dot Rishikesh. As there were a few hundred of them, they decided that they would set out early next morning, and prepared to retire for the night at the hotel. As they got up to go to the reception and make the bookings, Ram’s phone rang out.
Instinctively he knew it was the holy man. “Guys it’s him. He wants us to meet him at the Ananda spa in Narendra Nagar.” “Ananda Spa, wow. For a holy man he sure knows his way about town. Always wanted to go there. Today’s my lucky day,” piped in Siddharth.
The three friends piled into Ram’s car and began the ascent towards Narendra Nagar going along the Tehri road. Ram had been to the world famous Ananda in the Himalayas spa before, and knew that the entry of private vehicles on to that road was forbidden after dark, but somehow he knew that they would be let through, and sure enough they were waved through the entry check-post.
After driving for about forty minutes they reached the second police check post leading into the hill town of Narendra Nagar, and were similarly let through. Driving around the bend they saw the holy man glowing luminously in the dark standing next to a ledge protruding on to an inky black abyss, much like they had seen him in the mountains near Manali.
Ram stopped the car and our three friends got down from the car and knelt down before the holy man and closed their eyes. The mendicant smiled and laid his arms upon them in benediction. The three friends opened their eyes and shrieked in primordial terror. The mendicant dressed as a Mongol war-lord from Genghis Khan’s army, his features thoroughly Mongoloid was furiously galloping ahead on his horse across unending grassy plains.
He was leading a small band of battle-hardened veterans, armed to the teeth on a mission to raid a small village of European tribesman on the edge of Eurasia. And they were part of his team, every inch as Mongoloid as him, riding along with him, similarly armed and matching him yell for blood curdling yell.
He lifted his arms and they were back in the familiar surroundings of the Gharwal Himalayas, kneeling in front of their car and peering up to his face enquiringly.
“That was you and I in a previous life. You see, we are linked by Karma,” said the holy man.
“Wow, we were Mongol warriors together, going on world conquest!” spoke out Ram in a voice both incredulous and wonder struck.
“And fellow soldiers in the ancient battle of the Mahabharta, cowboys battling bandits and Red Indian tribes in the wild west, and again soldiers in the British Indian armies fighting the Nazis in Africa, we were these and many many more,” continued the holy man.
“Did we always fight on the right side, I mean I hope we were not part of Atila the Hun’s armies or part of the British forces during the Indian uprising of 1857.” piped in Siddharth who had a strong patriotic streak running through him. “We have always been alright, no matter whose side we were on. I mean we never worked for the forces of darkness,” smiled the wise man again.
“But tell me Baba,” Ram addressed the mendicant in the time honored Indian tradition of addressing a venerated holy man-“Why were we and indeed why are we in it together?”
“We are linked by Karma and have Karmic debts to pay off to each other and many others. Our life spans and what we confront in this world are inextricably linked with and the consequence of the actions performed by us during our time in this world.”
“Where does God figure in this?” asked a pensive Mark.
“Doesn’t he decide what happens to us? Baba replied,
“Well God is not separate from you. He permeates every part of you. He gives you the free will to decide what course of action you choose, which in turn decides how your life pans out. Much like success in your professional life is hugely dependent upon how seriously you took your studies in school and college. Your parents and teachers were there to support you, but it was your decisions which impacted the course of your life”.
“Baba please tell us as to what explains your being in a position to interpret and explain things not only of this life, but also lives past, while we who you say were always part of your life or lives as the case may be, were going about our lives oblivious of any Karmic implications, until you came along and completely redefined our lives, to put it mildly,” Ram asked in a calm and matter of fact way.
“This wasn’t always the case. My clairvoyance or ability to interpret is something that became apparent to me in this lifetime. As a child I was like any other till I reached the age of three and there was this sudden sense of awareness which enveloped me.
In a flash the meaning of life, the origin of it, the interplay of spirituality and the physical world, all of it became clear to me. You see we all have walked a certain direction in the journey towards light and supreme knowledge. Call it liberation if you will. I, because of decisions taken by me in all my lives till now am at the very end of my journey.
You three have travelled some distance, but need to take some vital decisions in this lifetime and see them to the end. Once you have achieved what is expected of you it will be time for you to evolve to the next stage. Or else you will have to continue striving in more lifetimes till you get it right,” said the baba and dissolved into thin year right in front of their eyes.
Chapter 9-Get on with Life
The three friends Ram, Siddharth and Mark looked at each other and quietly sat in the car without exchanging a word. There they sat for a very long time, each lost in their own thoughts. In sometime they fell asleep, the exertions of the recent events as well as their other worldly experiences had taken their toll on their tired and feverish minds.
It was Mark who woke up first, “Guys where’s the dude?”
“Huh,” said a grumpy Siddharth. “He disappeared like always. Must have run away under the cover of darkness.”
“And what about that Mongol warrior experience? How do you explain that”, queried Ram. The other two looked at each other and kept quiet. “Must be mass hypnosis,” Siddharth offered finally. “I hear some people are very good at it.”
“Possible” said Ram.”
In any case I want my life to come back to normal. I wanna have a beer.” “Quite right,” said the other two in unison. “Let’s have a bloody beer!”
Ram started the engine and started driving in the direction of Mussoorie, which lay a three hour drive ahead through some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in the world. They arrived in Mussoorie tired, but the hustle and bustle of the famous hill station soon lifted their spirits.
The three of them settled into comfortable chairs in a bar on the Mall road with a good view of the Doon Valley some five thousand feet below. Sometime and many beers later, the three friends decided that it was time for them to get a grip on their lives and perhaps contemplate a more normal and staid pace of life.
They would therefore give up their old lifestyle of long drives, crazy wagers and adventure.
“I’ll give to the old Baba, though. Your life becomes what you make of it. Let’s go back to our boring but normal professions, and help our wives raise our kids. Maybe that will elevate us to the next level, if you will excuse my using the Baba’s phraseology,” said Mark.
The other too nodded gravely.
“Yes,” said Siddharth. “Time we stopped playing Indian Jones and tuned to Clark Kent instead. I don’t ever want another Baba to freak me out again.”
So it was decided by the three friends that they would go back to Chandigarh and live normal lives.
Chapter 10 Life as It Is
Ram threw himself into his old life. One would have imagined that his recent experiences would have made him the contemplative and meditative type of person who would be a lot gentler in his approach to people or situations. But that was not the case. He began to pursue his career goals even more aggressively.
Where he was earlier always very focused in his professional dealings, he now pursued his objectives with the single minded determination of a man on a mission. His wife and two small children, a boy and girl aged ten and eight respectively noticed the change in him, but did not mind.
They saw that he was almost menacing towards those he thought were trying to come in the way of his pursuit of something, but he never ever was unfair or unjust in the way that he dealt or interacted with people. He played hard but fair.
His family saw that and respected him for it. Soon he decided to shift base to Delhi, as he felt that business would be better there, as the city had witnessed a spurt in industrialization, post the setting up of the Maruti car plant in the satellite township of Gurgaon, and the emergence of corporate giants like Airtel and DLF.
Lately it had also become a hub of global IT business. So business was good, the money was coming in steadily, and soon he moved into a large house in the suburb of Sushant Lok in Gurgaon. He had two cars, one of which was used by his wife to visit her friends and relatives as and when she so desired. Life had settled into a nice rhythm, and the future looked good.
He thought of the experiences, he had shared with his friends and the holy man in the Himalayas sometimes, and would wonder at the sheer spiritual and other worldly dimension of it all, and yet he felt that somehow it was inextricably linked with his day to day life, and everything that he did since then was somehow in a way guided by those events.
He knew that his time in this world was finite, and he had been sent here to achieve certain goals. What those tasks were would be clear to him as time went by. In the meantime, he would do his duty, as he thought fit. His friends too were deeply impacted by their experiences and in their case, the effect was palpably visible.
They both became a lot quieter and reflective in the way they approached life. Gone was their swagger and the devil may care attitude. Instead they both worked hard at their family businesses where earlier they had had a very cavalier attitude toward their work and life in general.
Their parents were stunned at the turn of events would often quiz them over what had happened on their Himalayan travels, that had changed them so.
“Hey Sid come on tell us. What happened in those high Himalayan mountain passes that made a saint out of my boy?” his father would tease him.
“Tara,” he would ask Sidhharth’s wife, “You think that he has joined some monastic order up in the mountains?”
She would smile indulgently at her husband and say, “Come on Dad let him be. He’s doing fine.”
In fact Tara had all the more reason to be pleased and happy with life. She had conceived soon after her husband’s return and was in fact the proud mother of a baby boy. Everything was perfect.
Mark too had turned a new leaf, and had started to take life and his responsibilities more seriously. He had agreed to marry and settle down with the girl his mother had long been after him to wed. He took greater interest in his work and went to church every Sunday.
Things had worked out for him too. By all accounts the friends were doing well in their lives and all was well with the world.
Chapter 11 The Epiphany
Many years passed by, and our friends moved ahead in their lives. Ram was at the peak of his career and his personal life was peaceful and full of happiness and tender moments of love and caring. His wife had taken to painting and had become so good that she had held a couple of her own exhibitions.
His daughter was now twenty and pursuing a course in mass communications post which she would probably work as a journalist or a communication specialist like Ram himself. His son was a school topper and was busy preparing to take the prestigious IIT entrance test. He would eventually go all the way and do his MBA from IIM or abroad at Wharton or Harvard business school.
Life was shaping up just asanticipated and pe rhaps even better. The car drive in the Himalayas had been pushed into the recesses of memory. Siddharth’s business had expanded, and he too had moved base to Delhi, and lived in a luxury high-rise apartment with his family in Gurgaon.
He had diversified from his father’s business into the new age IT industry and Tara had joined him as she had had computer education, and was able to assist Siddharth in the technical aspects of his business. Their son was an exemplary cricketer and was part of the state sub junior team and was an average student academically, but very sharp in whatever he put his mind to, which for now was extra-curricular activities.
He would be an achiever when his time came. Siddharth thought about his Himalayan experiences sometimes. Mark was now the proud father of eight year old Luke who was the apple of his eye. His wife was a loving and pious lady and their Chandigarh home was always open to friends, and both Ram and Siddharth, families in tow often visited them at their sprawling bungalow.
Mark was also involved with his church, and spent most of his free time working for its betterment. He was content with life, and never ceased to thank the almighty for his benevolence. He had almost forgotten his Himalayan sojourn.
One evening Ram had just got back from work and changed into his evening clothes when he heard his mobile phone ring softly. He extended his hand towards the instrument to pick it up even though as a rule he did not take calls in the evenings. It was the mendicant. He knew it even before the caller spoke.
“I need to meet you,” he said. Ram took a deep breath and replied, “Sure, where do we meet?”
There was no question of him not agreeing to meet. “The coffee shop of The Ashok, at 4 pm, tomorrow,” replied the holy man, surprising Ram, who had expected that the meeting would be somewhere in the mountains
“Fine, I’ll tell Sidharth to make it as well, or have you already told them both?” continued Ram. “No just you. There is no reason to meet your friends,” said the other man. Ram put down the phone and thought about calling up his friends and letting them know, but decided against it.
Soon he was dressed and headed for his study, where he poured himself a glass of whiskey, and sat down in his favorite chair and closed his eyes. All his memories of his Himalayan adventures flashed by in his mind. He vividly remembered his terror at finding himself riding along with the mendicant, and his friends across a Central Asian grassy plain on the way to a frontier village to carry out a typical Mongol raid.
This was no hallucination, of this he was sure. He could remember the smell of horse dung mixed with that of morning mist, and the noise made by the riders and their horses as they surged ahead at breakneck speed.
“Very unusual and awesome.”
He heard himself mutter aloud.
“What’s strange and awesome?” asked his wife, as she came into the room.
She was smiling as she came in.
“Oh everything replied,” replied Ram pleasantly.
“Our life on this planet, what we do here,” he continued.
His wife looked at him quizzingly, and he smiled at her indulgently, and she let him be, as she mostly did. She had implicit faith in him, and knew that he was a good man.
The next day was a Saturday, his weekly off, and he did not have to make any adjustments in his schedule to be able to make it to his 4 pm appointment. He drove down the thirty kilometer distance to the hotel himself, asking his driver to take the evening off.
He drove very infrequently these days, but decided to do so today. Moreover he had not really had the chance to check out his latest acquisition, a Suzuki, Grand Vitara SUV, and appreciated the opportunity to be able to drive it a bit.
He found him already seated at a table, having coffee. He was dressed in ochre monk clothing, and looked quite imposing in the coffee shop. The hotel staff were very deferential in their serving of him, as he radiated palpable magnetism that was apparent to anyone who came before him.
Ram quietly sat down beside the holy man and greeted him with folded hands in an Indian Namaste. The stewards at the hotel, recognized Ram, as he was a regular patron, and one of them came forward to take his order.
“I see that you have got along quite well in your life, and so have your friends.
That gives me immense happiness, the mendicant said in his serene voice.
“This is all due to your blessings,” replied Ram, in the typical demeanor of a Hindu devotee before his preacher.
“Your progress is the result of your good karma, and hard work,” replied the holy man. “However there is a reason why I called you here and not your friends,” said the mendicant.
“You see it was always you who was to carry my word forward. Your friends are linked to us by past karmic connections, and are good souls. That is why they were able to share some of our experiences. But you are my heir. My legacy is yours. And nobody would be happier than me at that, for I was you father in a previous lifetime, and you were my most obedient son,” he further said, his eyes ever so slightly moist at the old memory.
Ram heard him without saying a word. His mind was going through a swirl of emotions. He knew without the shadow of a doubt that everything that he has heard was true. But as to what was required of him to perform, left him apprehensive.
The two had finished their coffee by now, and Ram summoned the waiter to make the payment.
“We leave for Nainital in your car now. Somehow I feel that our best talking happens either on the move or when we are inhaling cool Himalayan air”, said the holy man, and they got up from their seats. He made a call to his wife saying that he was going to be out of town for a couple of days on a religious business.
It was not unusual for him to take off on business trips like this, and therefore his wife was not surprised, though she found his involvement in a matter of religion slightly unusual as he had never mentioned that he had any such clients. In about half an hour’s time they had hit NH-24 and in less than seven hours they had reached the last railhead of the plains in Kathgodam before the hills took over.
In between they had only halted once for some fuel. Soon they were ascending the Kumaon hills, and as the altitude rose, and cool pine scented air began to trickle into the car, Ram rolled down the window to let more of the moist air in. It was past midnight and they could see the twinkling lights of the lakeside town of Nainital down below in a high altitude Himalayan valley.
As they descended, the powerful engine of the SUV purred gracefully, and the headlights danced and flitted across hair pin bends, and in the distance Ram saw the shining eye of a leopard as it briefly caught the light of the car while crossing the road to the forest on the other side of the hill. Once in Nainital they checked into a hotel and proceeded to sleep as they were both very tired from the exertions of the day.
The next morning they met in the coffee shop for breakfast.
“Have you rested well?” asked the holy man. “Yes Baba, the mountain air must agree with me. I am fresh as a daisy,” replied Ram earnestly.
“Good for we need to walk,” said the Baba.
Soon they were walking on the popular trail which led to China peak, a vantage point high in the mountains. Their shoes crunching pine needles, chestnuts and branches fallen off the trees, chill mountain air caressing their faces, and the strains of a flute being played by a Kumaoni shepherd in the distance, they began to talk.
“The miracles and supernatural phenomena that you and your friends witnessed is not important. What is important is how we live our lives. It is extremely important that we realize that our lives as humans is but a link in the grand scheme of the cosmos. We do not end with our deaths but move on to another plane of consciousness.
But what we do with our lives is important. It always bears fruit. Good or adverse. Just as energy is neither created nor destroyed, but just transferred from one form to another. Similarly with life. One form ends and another begins. Man has just about scratched the surface of science and is wonder struck by his achievements. But how little does he know?
For example, we know that time is the fourth dimension after length, breadth and thickness and everything is relative to each other. Yet man thinks that he is the centre of the universe, which is not entirely untrue actually, for every action of his has reverberations across the cosmos. Your drinking a glass of water has intergalactic ramifications.
Surely, you have heard of a parallel universe, where our actions are replicated in the opposite way. While you drink your glass of water your cosmic double would probably be vomiting water due to some reason. You would have heard that the earth has reached the tipping point, the environment has deteriorated beyond repair, terrorism has become a global scourge, and floods, droughts and famines have become the order of the day.
Nuclear proliferation has got out of hand. The global financial system has collapsed. Here in these Himalayan heights, I tell you the creator is concerned. He has hit the panic button. Mankind has to stop. He has to realize his true divine nature. He has to stop or he faces divine retribution, armegedon, the day of judgment, or the sword of Kalki, call it what you will. It is far closer than you can ever imagine. It is the time to shape up or ship out.
Nature, the environment and indeed everything good that has been given to man will rise and devour him unless man hears the voice of reason. The present model of greed where over-exploitation of resources, manipulations of truth, religious fanaticism based on the most diabolical ideologies, the absence of compassion towards other living beings, and the inability to pause and mull over basic truths has to go.
It has to be replaced by an organic, close to nature all inclusive model, where everybody’s good becomes the individual’s good. Total disarmament, the coming together of all nations and pooling in their resources for the betterment of mankind. Consumption not for the sake of consumption but for the sake of healthy living that is compatible with the surroundings-these are the basic markers of the new blueprint. It is not beyond mankind to do this.
There are so many incredibly talented, social scientists, technicians, philosophers who can implement this master-plan. All is not lost. There are many like me, who from the beginning of time have tried to stem the rot, lead the people to light. In the past you had the Buddha, Jesus, Krishna and Gandhi show the way.
Today we have you and me and many many more, who have to spread the word. You can say that you are one of the chosen ones. Go you forth and do what you have to do,” saying this Baba vanished never to return again. Ram knew what he had to do.
He would go back to his family and live as he always did, but would always be on call in the mission to save mankind. He floated down to the base of the hill and saw a young man lying unconscious beside the mangled heap of a car which had apparently fallen down the gorge from a winding mountain road on the sides of the wall of the hill.
He put a hand on the man’s brow, who immediately came to and asked incredulously, “Who are you?”