It was the month of May- that time of the year when Summer makes himself most comfortable in the city of Chennai and continues to stay on for several months through the year, compelling its residents to ask: Athithi,tum kab jaoge ! That’s the time I choose to stay indoors. Yet, when I had the opportunity to meet a remarkable person, I couldn’t let the chance go by. I had to meet up with Sri M and since I didn’t exactly have the physical stamina to follow him to the Himalayas, I decided to meet him at Madanapalle, where he has his ashram.We decided to travel by road to Madanapalle in Chittoor district , to meet him and talk about his various travels. The drive was quiet and I was fascinated to see little mountains of mangoes beautifully arranged.
Mambazhakkalam ! A dear friend was my travel companion. We unrolled our windows and allowed the mixed aroma of the different varieties of mangoes to invade our nostrils! We didn’t allow ourselves to be distracted by something as inanimate as the mangoes .
A quick stopover for breakfast and I was all geared up to meet the extraordinary man who had travelled 7500 kilometres across the length of India from Kanyakumari to Kashmir on a padayatra, walking ‘The Walk of Hope’ for the Manav Ekta. That was in 2015, begun on the day commemorating Vivekananda’s birthday and the journey continued for more than a year. It sent a message across religion, caste, region and language that there was a great need for a humane look to issues and he preached love and tolerance wherever he went. He spent time talking , singing, exchanging thoughts and ideas, wherever he stopped and spread the message of hope. Crowds gathered in large numbers joining him at various points throughout his walk . In all humility he says: “ it is not a novel concept” . It is true many before him have gone on a padayatra, but he made it a mission to walk on a hope that rested on the spirit of oneness. People joined him on his mission to express their faith in oneness and as in any travel, one never ceases to wonder at how much a particular travel can teach you. Sri M admits that he received so much more than what he could give. “India is such an inclusive country and there was not a single place where we did not encounter hospitality of the most generous kind. The journey was so beautiful and we took care to visit every place of worship that was on our way. We discovered minorities blending peacefully with the majority groups- there never seemed to be any discomfort- often we go to teach but we in turn discover and learn new facets”.
For Sri M, travel is two pronged. The one kind of travel as the walk of hope is for a purpose- that is external. In this kind of travel, no matter which of the world he may visit, he proceeds on a padayatra to connect to people, to spread his message of hope, love and secularism. He sets to even spread awareness of the importance of planting trees and also continuing to see that they are looked after- just as giving birth to a child alone is not enough, its nourishment and upbringing is just as vital.
However, Sri M enjoys the travels for his personal reasons even more than any other travel. As a young boy, Sri M found he could never stay for too long in any place. Speaking of his Guru he says, “Babaji often remarked that I had roller-skates under my feet”.
“Observe the trees- the stronger the tree grows, the deeper its roots grow too, and it becomes difficult then to move without uprooting the tree.” It made me understand why he led an almost nomadic life. I was reminded of the time when we read in books about settlement leading to private property and bringing with it the ills of mine and thine.
“ To me, travel is spiritual.” He spoke of the need to travel inwards , for what is to travel, but to really grow? Every travel teaches us something and with every new lesson, we actually grow. So at these times of his personal travels, he moves into the quiets of the forests or the mountainscapes of his favourite Himalayas. He speaks of the Buddha- “Buddham sharanam gacchhami ….what is gacchhami? It implies travel, movement, to go, to seek. That is what true travel is all about- to seek, to go- but not just physically but spiritually too.”
As I left the room, I took in the quietness of the place, its serene atmosphere and wondered whether the inmates would be influenced by the whole ambience. I decided in the affirmative when I discovered I slept so peacefully that night in my own little cottage.Everything was perfect- the prayer hall, the idols of worship under the trees, where Nature participated in pooja by allowing the fruit to gently hang overhead should any devotee seeking to offer should see the need. As for flowers, there was a gentle shower every time the Wind God willed it ! Dogs moved freely too making themselves completely at home in the surroundings. Madanapalle was also the place where Tagore had the Jana Gana Mana set to music. I realized the place is naturally positioned at an elevated level because the place leaves you exhilarated as well.
As we left Madanapalle , our hearts were full. This time when we passed the mountains of mangoes, we stopped not only to smell them but to savor them as well. After all, Mambazhakaalam comes only once a year and we had to celebrate our fruitful journey.