Limping to the Centre of the World

Limping to the  Centre  of  the  WorldLimpJ

Timeri N. Murari

Penguin Books

Rs. 350/

 

At the first glance of the title, the reader wonders what the writer means by  “Centre  of the World “ and it  soon becomes clear when  the eyes run down below that  the book  is  all about his   journey to Mount Kailas which is located  in a remote part of the western Tibetan plateau .  Mount Kailas is  revered by four religions: Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and  the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion Bon .  The only reason  for  Murari, who is an agnostic    to   venture   on the arduous  trek , despite  his age  and   a   recent knee surgery  is Bhima, his temporary son  who is about to undergo a major surgery.   

The    visual  and graphic  portrayal  of the river  kali, (goddess of death)   in the first chapter  sets off  the tone  of the volume making a chill run down your spine.  Murari  writes “ The river itself is death ; it could smash  a human or an animal into a bloody mess against those giant rocks , and not even a lunatic would try white-water rafting in this enraged torrent.’’ Expressing his hatred  of  the ledge which runs low above the kali, he says  sarcastically , “The ledge isn’t a trek  but an assault course, and the men who hewed it  didn’t even have the decency to pave the pathway  evenly but just dropped rocks and stones wherever they fell, no doubt exhausted by their labours”   As  you read on  you  begin to wonder   how  this first time trekker at   64  with  an injured knee would  make  it  to the abode of Shiva  which   involves  a 200 kilometre limp over hazardous terrain in the lower Himalayas upto the Lipu Lekh Pass at 5334 metres  to get past  the   border into Tibet . And  a  parikrama of the mountain itself  which involves  a climb  upto the  5550 metre  high  Dolma Pass  in  not too friendly conditions nature  throws up.  He has  porter  Mohan Ram, strong and surefooted   22 year old  Kumaon Native, who knows the mountains like the back of his hand, to  support him  while negotiating the roughest terrain.

After  weeks of   arduous  journey when  the sacred  conical  shaped mountain   comes into  view the yatris  prostrate , some run towards it  with excitement ,and Murari  just  stands  and stares mesmerized .  Strangely  he doesn’t    experience  the same ecstasy and passion of his fellow yatris  but has a feeling of  puzzled certainty which  he cannot explain. He finds himself  speaking to the Mountain, telling the  objective of his undertaking the journey and  prays   for  the child’s well being and future which is followed  by  prayers   for his immediate  and extended family  and wonders if the Mountain can hear his prayers.  When they reach Lake Manasarovar, Murari  finds it even more stunning  mirror of the sky which looks as if it has descended to earth. Mount Kailas  reflected in the Lake  looks  picture perfect and  a photographer’s delight . He performs the parikrama  passing through Yumdwar, (people believe  by passing through this passage one escapes seven generations of rebirth) which  he  considers as  a spiritual  portal  opening into his  new dimension of belief. He becomes nostalgic   at this moment  reflecting  on the  past events in his life. Mission accomplished  by  completing   parikramas  around the mountain and Lake, his only wish for Kailas and Shiva  is to grant  him a safe journey back . His pleading is loud and clear for him to hear , ” Kailas, you called me here, so please get me down safely”  which  becomes his refrain as he inches down the mountain.

Murari  undergoes  a  metamorphosis  which is explained best in the Epilogue : “ I went  with a vague belief in god  and  returned with a strong belief in god as an energy, a mysterious force, an incomprehensible power that had deliberately shaped not only our natural world, but in a fraction of a moment, created a universe. I never had an image of god in my mind when I prayed before but now I do —not a face, but a mountain and the sky.”

The author  literally carries the reader along on his journey to Mount Kailas, describing  every detail of the yatra  and the   behaviour  of  yatris  who accompany him which  add to the  interest of this faced paced  personal account. Perhaps  he    could have    avoided  a mention    of  his political views  which  appear  to stick out  like  asore thumb  and  mar the flow  of this very readable book.

N. Meera Raghavendra Rao

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