When this beautiful book was given to me, I was told, “You will enjoy the beauty of Amritlal Vegad’s writing and his lovely sketches. Try if you can translate this one.”
Hindi and I, are like ahem, not so friendly neighbours. We exist side by side, because there is no other alternative for either of us.
For instance, Mother Hindi shudders with hurt sensitivity when I say that ‘motorbike aaya.’ My indignant ten year old tells me, ‘Amma please do not speak such wrong Hindi- motorbike is a lady! Motorbike aayi.’
I am another bewildered Mother. I see a scooter and happily recalling my lessons, say, ‘Scooter aayi!’ When I look around for approval, my little one frowns formidably, as if I were a lost cause! ‘ Oho, Ma! Scooter is a male! Scooter aaya!Don’t you ever get it?’
Jeez! I will never get it, sorry! There is no human logic behind that sort of stuff! Then I realise that many times, my staff members are struggling to contain their smiles, because I mess up the genders of common nouns. Why the heck do the non living things have a gender at all, eh? And who decides? Well, well…
So, back to Vegadji. Amritlal Vegad, is a much acclaimed writer,a gifted and awarded artist and an environmental activist.He made travel writing, a supreme art form in Hindi and Gujarati literature.
Narmada, as per Hindu lores, is the only divine river whose parikrama is spiritually deemed precious to Hindus: walking along her shores from origin at Amarkantak, to the final merger with the Arabian Sea. She is called Narmada- the Giver of Joy, Reva- the One who Leaps, and is the only river in North India that flows west, flowing majestically between the Vindhya and Satpura ranges. She is one of the seven rivers praised in our daily prayers:
Gange Cha Yamune Chaiva
Narmada Sindhu Kavery,
Jalesmin Sannidham Kuru
The journey, as attempted by many sadhus, walking barefoot through the shores, by seeking bhiksha or alms from the places they reach, is supposed to take 3 years, 3 months and 13 days. The parikammavasi, has to cover 2624 kilometres, covering both shores of this revered river.
Amritlal Vegad covered the southern shore, walking 1800 kilometres in the period of 1977-1988.
He wrote ‘ Saundarya Ki Nadi Narmada’-Narmada: The River of Beauty, based on his travels. His wit, sharp observations, benign philosophy, the strange personalities he met, the description of the mighty river and her flow- are inimitable and considered supreme literature. His beautiful sketches of the various travellers and villagers, especially the Bhils and Gonds who habitate the Dandakaranya regions of the river, are legendary.
In the period of 1996-1999, Vegadji travelled by foot again, through the northern shores of Narmada. On 3rd October 1997, he turned 70. In twenty days he covered 230 kilometres by foot- through jungles, weathering rain and wind, sun and tough soil, meeting many pilgrims, in the never ending adventure of a spiritual sojourn.
In his own words in ‘ Amritasya Narmada'( Narmada, the Divine Nectar), ‘Main abhi jeern-sheern nahin hua/ Adhva, jeern to ho gaya hun, par sheern nahi hua/ Chust bhale hi na raha, par durust to hu!’
I am yet to turn decrepit! Or in other words, I am weather beaten, still not yet weak! I might not be smart, yet I am decently able bodied!
I am an eccentric reader- I start from the comments section sometimes. I first read Vegadji’s wife’s article: My Husband (Mere Pati), and tried to understand the man himself. I read about the thrill of readers as expressed in their letters to the editor, as they explored his travelogues often serialised in Dharmayug, in Sakshatkar, in Vagarth- all literary magazines of great repute!
‘ Aapke lekh kya hai, mano sanskriti ke virat bhitti chitra hai’, writes a reader from Hapud.
‘ What can I say of your writing- they are like the majestic cave paintings of our culture!’
(We have to remember that the Bhimbetka cave paintings, dating to more than 20,000 years ago, were discovered on the shores of Narmada. )
‘Viswa prasiddh Nobel puraskar vijeyta Russi upanyaskar Mikhail Sholokov Ki anthyatam kriti ‘Dhire Baho Don’ ki yaad dila di…’ writes some other erudite reader.
‘ Your writing reminded me of the world famous, Nobel prize winning Russian novelist Mikhail Sholokov’s book: And Quiet Flows The Don!’
I sit amazed, humbled, and totally awed by the book in my hand. I turn the pages reverentially. This is like the pure water of Narmada herself. I ask my little daughter to give me her pencil; there are so many words that I do not comprehend. I need to research their meanings. Yet, it is a joy to read. His sense of humour, his perfect understanding of the human destiny amidst the majestic flow of the river, his quirky turn of phrase – are simply amazing.
I open a random chapter: ‘ Maunimata ke ashram se Karaundi (From MauniMata’s hermitage to Karaundi), and start reading…
Then, I thank God that Hindi and I are not adversarial neighbours. I am genuinely getting to like her a lot!