In all these years of my life, there are a few times I would end up climbing the hills of Tirupati, one of which was with my then 1.5 year old daughter. To visit the temple and see the God is the ultimate aim. But to walk the mountain up is something else altogether. The toil just marinates you to make the final result so much more sweeter and unforgettable. There are vans and buses plying the winding roads with loads of people enjoying the valley view and fresh air from the hill. I have been on them many times too. Why would one choose to walk? That people chose earlier is may be because they did not have the roads and facilities, but why now? I understand and sometimes think those who walk are much more blessed to get that experience. The length of time you spend out there is transformative. When I zip through the roads to see the God, hence shortening the time, puts me through this process quickly and takes me out of it too. My exposure to the raw nature, the mountain breeze, the bustling life around is cut off, and my muscles and mind are not exercised. The number of minutes I think of the God and the chances to think are reduced drastically. I know, I only think of Him when I’m in need and that need is taken off, you see. Chances of tapping into the deeper reserves of mental and physical capability is diminished. So, when I reach the Golden door of the shrine to see the God, I have done all the “rituals” except the walk up the mountain and I do get His darshan and I do feel blessed but it may not be a complete experience.
So, this was one of the times we were walking up the mountain, as per our prayers, carrying her on my hip. Nope, she would not let me put her on a baby carrier. I was panting and quickly running out of breadth every 100 steps. My body was not at the top shape to take over this physical activity. I see beside me, a lot of other devotees walking, crossing me quickly. From some as young as 3 to as old as 75 or 80. Walking whichever way they could, to cross those steps and reach up, inching closer to the summit. I was profusely sweating and it made my little one uncomfortable as much as myself. The sun shone on my face as I walked, making my already difficult journey even harder. I got some water and fresh lime soda at the stalls on the side that popped up a few times on the way. They helped a bit but ultimately, I had not gotten a good foundation and could see that I was struggling. Time is passing and my aim is to reach the top before it gets late into the night – really cold and breezy and with a baby-toddler, I always wanted to play it safe. She would get rotated between my husband, my cousin and my brother, but she was not interested in going up without riding on me! “Oh God, why do you test me like this?”, I asked everytime I ended up lifting her to walk after a brief respite. She was too young to walk the steps and crawling was a No-No! I keep asking, “how many more steps to go” until the person answering would become disinterested! I would slump down on the side of one of the steps, my trembling legs refusing to push anymore… my baby oblivious to all this, staring at the people and the mountain wide-eyed. I prayed to Him to lift me up just a little, would he? I desperately need a hand here… please!! I can’t do this anymore, I doubt. Then after catching a few breadths, I am back on my way, with her in tow. With God’s picture in my mind, my ultimate goal, I focus hard on the result, to reach there not too late, blurring out the immediate inconveniences and challenges. This taps in a strange energy from deep within me, to carry on, despite the struggles, and doubts and the challenges. “Govinda Goovindaa!” I hear from people around, cheering up and refocusing my wandering, tired mind. The steps get a little spring in them, as I cover a few more before drifting away in exhaustion. I tell His name a few times, to get myself align back on my task. All this, my baby is watching and absorbing. I didn’t think she got the struggle part and the chanting part for encouragement and ultimately work it through to the goal. It’s too complex for her tiny mind, I thought. We reach the final fleet of steps called the Shin-Knot. It is named aptly so because it is a series of very short and tall steps that really challenge you. Half way through them, all my prayers, my focus, my chanting, my last bit of energy are all drained and my body and mind both are at a point where I just could not move. If I rested, I may lose the momentum and may not push forward, I worried. But nope. Not another step. I stayed there perched on one of the steps, with my baby on my lap, my family too catching a breadth when I send out a silent prayer, “Oh God, I would need a miracle to cross this now!”. And he sends exactly that my way! My baby, who I thought till now, was just someone too young to get these complex ideas of goals and struggles and pushing through and motivations, who I thought was just looking at people walking by as some sort of play, lifted herself from my lap, crawling step by step shouting “Golu…Golu…” her way of saying “Govinda” looking back as if calling us and for a second, our faces lighted up, a fresh breadth of air energized my body and I was following her for a few steps before resuming to lift her and walk to reach the gates. Yes, we made it! We made it!!
This experience is so much similar to my parenting journey as a mom, I feel. It is exhausting and miraculous in it’s own way. It makes you reach for your innermost reserves from time to time, transforming the person you are and the capabilities you thought you had… pushing you to a whole new plane of experience and existence. That embodiment of strength I see and experience when around my own mom and grandmother I used to wonder, where they got it from! It’s from that pilgrimage of a lifetime!!