The 1st of August 2010. I was in Rishikesh, living at Parmarth Ashram. I had made that choice to be away from the touristy humdrum. I didn’t know ashrams in Rishikesh attracted more tourists than the hotels. Yet, there’s something nice about having to follow a discipline regarding your meals and the closing time of ashram gates, for Mumbai never imposes such routine on you. It imposes other things, though.
Another thing about Parmarth Ashram that I did settle comfortably into was the evening Ganga aarti, the daily ritual of worship of river Ganges, at the ghat that belongs to the ashram itself. I never missed a chance to attend the aarti while I was there. It’s not something religious that drew me there evening after evening. It was the energy – the music, the water, the evening sky and people moving in unison as a homogeneous mass just as in a rock concert. Whether most of them get the words of aarti or not, they definitely get the mood and the mood gets them.
That evening I had rushed to the ghat. The afternoon rain had delayed me. As I entered the ghat, I located an isolated corner amidst the crowd of devotees and tourists and leaned against one of the pillars to catch my breath. My breath still louder than the sound of bhajan reaching my ears. Slowly, as my breath started to match the slow pace of the music coming from harmonium and tabla, I noticed a lone figure standing tall while others were sitting or were in the process of finding a seat. He was wearing a white bandanna on his head that matched his long white beard that hung below his chin, like glacial ice from a mountain. His kurta-pajama was white too. He was standing absolutely still and I think it was this fact that made me recognize him more than anything else for in past I had seen him only in some photographs in newspapers or magazines.
Sunderlal Bahuguna (born 1927 in Tehri region, Garhwal ) is a noted environmentalist of India, had participated in Chipko movement and had fought the Gandhian way against the construction of Tehri Dam.
I get a jolt of excitement on seeing Sunderlal Bahuguna in person. I pull myself closer to one of the managerial staff members of Parmarth Ashram.
‘Is this Sunderlalji Bahunguna?’ I asked to be sure.
‘That’s him. He’s staying at the ashram. Have you had a chance to meet him?’ He asked me with a smile. I shook my head in negative. He ushered me forward. Closer to the steps of the ghat. Close to Ganga. I found some space close to the river. To my left, not very far from where I was sitting, Sunderlal Bahuguna took his seat too.