Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - August 2013  

Death, Inseparable Companion of Life

By David Rodrigo Garcia

A surviving SRSG Spanish family relates their experiences with the Monsoon.

Ma Ganga, the most venerated river in India, suddenly engulfed thousands of Her most devoted children in the small, ancient and peaceful sacred city of Uttarkashi in the Indian Himalayas. We were no more than twenty meters from the river--- a Spanish family of three children ages 8 and 5 years and a 3-month-old baby with their mother and father.

The loving and venerated Mother abruptly turned violent like a high seas tempest along the narrow streets of the town of many small ashrams. Furious and pitiless, She immediately drowned the little houses, ashrams and the dwellers that found themselves on Her path, which, prior to that moment, had been like an enormous European avenue of cobblestones heated by the implacable mountain sun.

A soft and sweet rain ceaselessly animated the monster that roared as She surged from Her birthplace one hundred kilometers to the North, the glacier Gomukh.

On the second day of this catastrophe, there began, before our eyes, the destruction of buildings big and small of quick construction: hotels, houses, temples, ashrams. These had previously rested above the banks and had been separated from the now oceanic river by a small road. The river did not immediately jump its banks to conquer the town that lay before it. Rather She stealthily and breathlessly devoured the earth under the foundations of whatever they supported until all began to fall graciously like a house of cards. My Valencian mind remembered the midnight bonfires at the end of the festival of Las Fallas, with hundreds of papier mâché effigies set ablaze—but these puppets were of real flesh and bone.

Ma Ganga also dragged away strong iron bridges where cars and trucks had gone. The roads that silhouetted the river were suddenly destroyed in all directions and the little town of Uttarkashi was converted into a mouse trap, like a mortal trap.

From that moment on, it was like a Chronicle of Death Foretold (Crónica de Una Muerte Anunciada), with the only unknown being how much of the town was left. Uttarkashi was at the peak of Yatra season, crowded with thousands of pilgrims on their way to the birthplace of Mother Ganga and the stellar temple at Gangotri.

Prior to the catastrophe, a friend helped us find lodging in an ashram called Kailash at the feet of the then compassionate Mother. Several days later, on June 15th, Ma Ganga, as if dusting away specks, razed two temples from the ashram where we were staying. Fortunately, the catastrophe began during the day, which notably reduced the human toll. It wasn’t so in Kedarnath, another very important pilgrimage place for Hindus, located in the same State of Uttarakhand. Here, the Himalaya, the universal Father for the Hindus, flattened, while they slept, thousands and thousands of people with rocks hurled like missiles by the surge-fed, torrential rains. [See: Devastated Kedarnath shrine] We later learned that large chunks of two glaciers in the Northeast and the Northwest galvanized these torrents and converged on Kedarnath simultaneously, totally destroying villages downstream.

The human toll is still unknown. They talk about 400 in the area of Uttarkashi and between eight and thirty thousand in the area of Kedarnath. A “national crisis”, said Sushil Kumar Shinde, the Indian Home Ministry chief.

My wife and I decided to call the emergency phone at the Spanish Embassy in New Delhi thinking that our children’s lives were not in danger since our motherland would come and save us with a helicopter if necessary. An attentive young woman listened to us and told us that “they didn’t have information of any warnings”.

“Well, the Ganges is razing buildings, bridges and roads in front of our eyes,” I answered.

“Then, I recommend you follow the instructions of the Indian authorities,” replied the official of our embassy. “They are the ones in the area. I will look on the internet for weather forecast and will inform you.”

“All right, thanks. We’ll see,” I answered, feeling the piercing look from my wife with our baby in her arms.

My wife and I spent three long nights spontaneously taking turns watching the Ganga from our beds while my wife breast fed the future of our baby and our two other sons slept strangely at ease with the peace of each night, cuddled by the roar of Ma Ganga though they were well aware of the drama unfolding no more than fifteen meters from them in their profoundly sleeping heads.

“We’re alive” I told her.

“Like I told you, follow the directions of the local authorities. The forecast is that today and tomorrow it will continue to rain and then two days of truce,” she continued.

“We’ll see,” I said.

With emotional tears, my wife related to my sons a movie in which an Indian family held hands to receive an imminent death by catastrophic deluge. They looked into each others’ eyes and smiled. “Only the body dies,” she reminded our sons.

Amidst catastrophe and misfortune there was an underlying serenity in Uttarkashi, not only among the monks in the ashrams but also among the locals and the pilgrims. That peace also enveloped us.

“We have learned something,” I thought. We arrived in India five years ago looking for inspiration about Truth and the meaning of life in its most authentic and traditional philosophy and spirituality. Today these traditions are in the catacombs of modern India with an economic growth that marvels the world, while throwing herself blindfolded into the abyss of materialism, despite the existential vacuum in the West and the absence of sure ancestral alternatives. The disillusioned West looks again to the East, anxious for peace, happiness and love. Meanwhile, modern Indians reject their spiritual traditions and run after materialism.

“I’m proud of you,” I said to my wife, kissing her. “I’m proud of all of you,” I went on merging with our three sons.

Our baby never stopped smiling in all the drama. Innocence or innate wisdom?

Finally the rain had the brief truce promised by our embassy, and the Ganga relaxed slightly. However, one couldn’t exit the town from any direction since the roads were destroyed. The Indian army completely took over the area and worked incessantly, like a father for his children, urgently evacuating people and reconstructing roads. 

“In one or two days the roads will be open,” they announced, “as long as it doesn’t rain and we can work.”

Other people were saying that it could be a week or even a month, in which case the monsoon’s truce would cease and the battle for life would be cruelly renewed.

During last year’s monsoon, this same little town, key in Himalayan pilgrimage, suffered another terrible similar inundation of the kind which are said can only happen once in 100 years.

“God doesn’t want the Himalayas to turn into a tourist attraction and lose its spiritual atmosphere” is the most frequently heard conclusion in the constant discussions of locals. “He is conducting a cleansing. Father and Mother are angry at our bad behavior.”

Thirty million tourists visited this Indian state, Uttarakhand, in 2010 while ten years ago it was one third that number, according to Indian Government official statistics.  Economic growth!

In the area surrounding the Kedarnath Temple, only the Shiva Temple remains, the Hindu god destroyer of forms, even in life.

Waiting for the friendly army and looking skyward, Ganga Dussehra arrived, the day when Mother Ganga is specially worshipped, and so it was as always. Only now the puja was from rooftops in constant danger of collapse. It is possible to hate and fear the river, but not the Mother who teaches even with merciless punishment.

Meanwhile, our middle son turned six, and he distributed candy among the sages of our ashram. One friendly local family threw an unforgettable and intimate surprise birthday party. Our son was beaming with the one-Euro gifts.

For one week we were barely able to exit our simple room with hard monks’ beds and views of Ma Ganga whose roar was the monotonous background music of our lives. Our older sons rediscovered themselves becoming real friends. Their toys: the imagination.

But the situation grew worse. The continuous days without electricity, tap or drinking water and land transportation even with neighboring villages provoked the scarcity of food and the plummeting of safe food and drinking water. We all fell ill, except for the baby whose only nutrition was his mother’s milk. Our other two boys vomited even the water. We went to the doctor, but the stomach infection wouldn’t heal.

Finally the roads opened! I ran to find a taxi to return to our home, Rishikesh, another sacred town along the Ganga 170 kilometers South of Uttarkashi. Like me, thousands of people were fighting over the tiny fleet of local taxis that had collapsed to just a few cars. There were no vehicles to get people out of there; our children were sick and the rain could return at any moment.

Then I learned that the government had monopolized most of the available vehicles to deal with emergencies. I managed to get a vehicle assigned for medical emergency. With an exhausted driver on the tightest mountain roads supported by a little sand, on June 21st we finally arrived in Rishikesh after eight hours of anguish.

It was then that I heard of hundreds of dead bodies that were arriving via the Ganga at the same time as us.

The rain has come back blocking the rescue of survivors and the recovery of dead bodies. Ganga is still furious and in the Himalayas it rains on unstable soaked ground. We’ll see.

Death is life’s inseparable companion. Everybody knows it, but everybody ignores it…until it’s too late. And we think we live in the age of knowledge and progress. Ignorance is Proud!


Editor’s Note:

David and his wife Nuria live with their three sons, Emitai, Bindu, and Shankara, at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) in Rishikesh.  David serves in the Education Department.

To read about the birth of the baby, Shankara (click on title): A Newborn Flower in the Blessed Garden of Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama


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