Parikshat-SahniTwo things were on my mind when I went to shoot a film in Rajashan recently: the condition of my health and the condition of my finances. My cholesterol had hit the 400 mark and, being an inveterate hypochondriac, I thought the end was near. And, the Income Tax office had slapped a huge fine on me for not paying my dues 20 years ago, so I was sure bankruptcy was just around the corner.  I was happy to be a part of the wonderful shooting unit, but I was worried sick.

I thought the Rajasthani countryside would be parched and arid at this time of year. To my surprise, it was green and verdant. It had been raining in the region, something that had not happened here for a long time. So, the surroundings were unbelievably beautiful. They reminded me of Kashmir, where I had spent most of my childhood. The countryside was, as it is in our valley, green and verdant, and there were wild flowers growing everywhere. Dew drops glistened like diamonds on leaves and flowers in the early rays of the morning sun. This was not the Rajasthan I had pictured in my imagination when I had come to Devigarh.

But, I had no eyes for the landscape that morning. My thoughts were gloomy, my mood sombre, my soul depressed, for, as Shakespeare said, “When troubles come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.” And, deteriorating health and pending bankruptcy were only the tip of the iceberg. There were other, more serious family and career problems that threatened to pack me off to the netherworld sooner than I would have liked to say goodbye to this one.

I decided to go for a jog early in the morning in order to get the cholesterol levels down and be fit for the shooting. I was grossly overweight. I had been trying to drown my sorrows in strong drink and rich, oily food. The doctor had recommended that I run every morning to get my weight and blood pressure down. Though I wasn’t too sure running would be of much help, I followed his orders and ran at a leisurely pace for a furlong or so, through the countryside, and, then, finding myself out of breath, switched to a walk. I had barely taken a few steps when I saw an old man, grey-haired, lean, barefoot, running towards me from the opposite direction at breakneck speed. He was carrying a long staff on one shoulder and a bundle of clothes on the other. He gave me a toothless smile as he passed by. Intrigued, I started running alongside him.

“Take it easy! What’s the hurry, Grandpa?” I said to him, barely able to speak.
“I am off to Dwarka,” he grinned.
“What’s the hurry?” I asked.
“No particular hurry,” he replied, still smiling from ear to ear.
“Then why are you running?”
“Much more fun.”

I was a bit taken aback by that answer.
“Are you going to run all the way?”
“And where have you come from?”

That, I calculated, was a distance of not less than four or five hundred kilometres. Noticing that I was pooped, he slowed down to a walk. He wasn’t even out of breath.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked him, astonished.
“It is a pilgrimage. It is something that has to be done. Ancient tradition. Peace of mind. After Dwarka, I will go to Hardwar.”
“On foot?”
“Of course.”

I was stumped. Running barefoot from Kathiawar to Dwarkawas astonishing enough, but then to run from there to Hardwar was unbelievable.
“Where do you eat? Where do you sleep at night?”
“People feed me on the way. There are good souls everywhere. No problem,” he smiled. I had never seen such a carefree man in my life.
“How much money are you carrying with you?”
“Nothing. What do I need money for? The less baggage one carries in life the better, sahib. Gives one peace of mind,” he laughed, baring a lone canine again.
“How old are you, sir?”
He laughed out loud again. “God knows. But three of my grandchildren are married and have children of their own. So I must be pretty old.”
“Won’t this wear you out?”
“I will be worn out if I don’t run, sahib. One has to have a goal, a target and a destination in life. As long as I have a destination, I will not be worn out.”

Saying this, he laughed again and resumed his run. I stopped in my tracks and looked at him disappear down the road.

It was then, for the first time since my arrival, that I noticed the beautiful countryside, the dew on the grass, the wild flowers, the heavenly landscape. I was not worried anymore. The toothless, uneducated, grey-haired, barefoot old man had taught me the greatest lesson of my life.