Two things were on my mind when I went to Devigarh for the shooting of Vidhu Vinod Chopra's movie 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 twenty years ago so I was sure bankruptcy was just round the corner. I was happy to be a part of Chopra's wonderful unit but I was worried sick.
Devigarh is 27 kilometers from Udaipur - an ancient castle that has been converted into a hotel. It is spectacular. I thought the Rajasthani countryside would be parched and arid. Instead, it was green and verdant. It had been raining incessantly in the region for the past month, something that had not happened here for as long as people could remember. The surroundings were beautiful. But I had no eyes for the landscape or the balmy weather. My thoughts were gloomy, my mood sombre, my soul depressed.
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. The doctor had recommended that. I ran at a leisurely pace for half a mile 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 had a bundle of clothes slung on the other. He gave me a toothless smile as he passed me 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.
"You are 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's something that has to be done. Ancient tradition. Peace of mind. After Dwarka I will go to Hardwar."
I was stumped. Running barefoot from Kathiawar to Dwarka was 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.
"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 verdant, heavenly landscape. I was not worried anymore.
The toothless, uneducated, grey haired, barefooted old man had taught me the greatest lesson of my life.