Saturday, January 17, 2004

Rites of passage
Ashwini Bhatnagar

THE murmur was audible even at a distance. It was, of course, faint but it drew the attention of those who had the ear for it. The gentle sound also marked the path of the flow of the water that had carved out the passage of the brook. The slightly tilted slope of the valley floor helped the flow along as it bounced over rocks, turned around the boulders and caressed the green of the grass alongside. A wide maple leaf danced to the gurgling sound, riding the crest of the merrily lapping stream. Drops of water on the leafís surface sparkled with life as the afternoon sun caught its eye. This was perhaps the rite of its passage: a celebration when it lit up as the sunís rays touched it, and gloom when it came under a shade. The arrival was conjoined with the passing away.

The arrival of the leaf had not interrupted the flow. In fact, it had not even noticed the arrival or the joyous ride that the leaf had taken on its tiny waves. It had also not stopped to inquire why it had been pierced by the thorny bush on the shore and now fluttered helplessly as the current enlarged the wound. The flow couldnít be interrupted.

The flow is continuous. It never comes or goes. Nor does it stand still to wait for anything. Its movement creates life within it and outside. Outside, the leafís activity was defined by it. It had raced the waves and dashed the rocks and had seemed to overtake the current. But it had appeared alive till it flowed with the current. The flow had defined its passage. It couldnít have been the other way round.

Within it, the brook has its own rhythm. It creates the life-cycle of births and deaths, of arrivals and departures, of light and shade, and of time and timelessness. In fact, it defines timelessness. The flow cannot be broken up into small segments. It is continuous and full-bodied. It is thus immutable and indestructible and has no rites of passage. It cannot be said to have been born at a particular moment or have departed at another. There is thus no coming to or going away. The goodbye is the same as hello.

Despite the pace and the consequent surf created by the brookís activity, there is clarity in the flow. The stones and pebbles and the marine life that inhabit its interior are visible to those who would look for a while and not be taken in by the denseness of the surf or the thrill of the flow. There is clarity in the flow of time, too. It doesnít hide what lies beneath. But you would have to look. The brook is transparent, so is time.

There cannot be anything like passage of time. One cannot also create his passage in time or through time. Like the brook, it has its harmony of rhythm that remains undisturbed even when we try to divide it into bits and pieces. Time, even when divided into centuries, years, months, days and hours, cannot be said to have lost its continuity. What is lost, however, is our own sense of timelessness as we divide and add and say that time has been found or lost. We live from one time frame to another and note the passing of one to another. The structuring of the element defines our consciousness of it. The parts in effect become the whole, which, in turn, is said to be non-existent! It is, therefore, no wonder that after having structured time to such an extent, it has become impossible for us to grasp the truth of timelessness.

We cannot pick our time. It is like stepping into a brook and saying that I chose only this part of the flow. The brook is not the same when you step into it. Between the thought and the act of stepping in, the water is not what you had picked to step into. You cannot enter the same water though you can go with the same flow. It changes yet it never changes. It canít be picked. The current is immutable.

There is no gain saying that time is not with me or the right time has not come. Time neither comes nor goes. There may be movement in it as perceived in the passing of days into nights or summer into winter. But though the appearances change, time never changes. It is also never right or wrong. Like the brook, it has its inherent rhythm and anyone who joins the rhythm spontaneously is carried forward merrily. Time becomes wrong for you when you stop to flow with natural effortlessness. The brook makes no effort to flow ceaselessly and, therefore, it is always in harmony with itself.

So when, you say you have hit bad times, it is not so actually. What you have really lost is your own intuitive rhythm. Bad times, therefore, never last long, and good times arrive the moment you regain the harmony that defines the flow of the brook as well as yourself.

But given our space, context and notional truths, time comes and goes away. Its passage is marked by arrivals and departures of people, places and events. The observance of these rites of passage becomes important as all of us come to go away. The brook emerges from a hill to merge into a stream. Time flows into space and men dissolve into oblivion. There may be homogeneity in these processes as each assimilates the other to define its own uniqueness and the end of one signals the beginning of the other. All of them are ephemeral in their own distinctive way. Therein lies their beauty. We die to be reborn, we go away only to return.