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  • Writer's pictureEphemeral

Where would the Gods Live, if not Here?

A familiar haze covers most of the city, birds of death flock in the sky. The air reeks of chemicals, perpetually enough for you to acclimatise to the fact. Bedlam is white noise here, and the constant rush to get to the next destination is palpable in the energy with which people push past you in a crowd. I think people love it here - at least I do, and very much so.

People have told me various reasons for them putting up in the hustle and bustle of big cities, especially this one. Some are born and brought up here – they travel, nay, live amid the constant megalopolitan traffic, starting from their life’s very first car ride home from a hospital, perhaps to continue very well until death. Some others move here from different parts of the country because they’d like more money, more prospects. Fame or recognition, maybe inclusion. Or any other feeling they may have been chasing all their lives only to finally find here. My school textbooks went as far as to say that people migrated to these areas for better living conditions, but I’d beg to differ on that; in my several years living at other places, I remember having seen neither accommodations nor their natural surroundings in a worse state. Nevertheless, I have my own reasons to be in the room I am in right now, perched upon a reverberating building very much a part of the same city I describe as borderline inhospitable.

I have my roots amid mountains, so many assume that I have a natural affinity to them. This is only true to some extent. Perhaps having brought up far from them for almost a decade of my childhood, for the longest time I recognised only a little of their magnificence, and even in what little I did recognise, I felt terror. Time practically halts in the mountains, especially so after sundown. For someone who has always been averse towards the lifelessness associated with night-time and sleeping, mountains unleash unreal levels of existential crisis. Cities, on the other hand, are almost never dormant - and this one? This one never sleeps, instilling a pleasant numbness in me. It’s almost as if there is a drug in the air that makes me forget how much more hostile nature is as compared to our artificial habitats.

There was, though, a span of time, fleeting but a span regardless, wherein I felt differently about nature’s hostility - a visit to the pilgrim town of Gangotri once not only made me appreciate the allure of mountains better, but also remoulded my wary feelings towards them. The town of Gangotri lies near the foothills of the Gangotri glacier - the origin of the Ganga, the source to a deluge of life. The creator of expanses of geography so vast that neither the eyes of a simple human being like me could see it, nor their mind comprehend it. In a way, for all of us, or at least for hundreds of millions of us, the strota of everything that gives us life – air, water, and minerals - is Gangotri.

The town of Gangotri is surrounded by harsh terrain, blanketed by conifers. To even look at these verdant, primeval landscapes, and to absorb the wild nature’s supremacy, is a humbling experience. There is no sign of life other than trees amid these mountains. While in our artificial habitats, we take it upon ourselves to project our emotions unto other people, animals, and even objects and invisible forces of the universe, one may not be able to fathom what creatures these forests harbour, hidden away with emotions unknown to man, perceiving reality in a way unimaginable.

In the city, the flow of time is evident in each passing train and car, and in the endless crowd of pedestrians. In the mountains, only the colour of the sky can give you an inkling of how much of the day lies ahead you - turning from shades of white to blue, and then to peach and darker reds and purples - until there isn’t any day left at all. How does one perceive time in a place where nothing, except uniformly flowing rivers and waterfalls, seemingly moves? In fact, this makes me wonder how ambiguous life is for the mountain dwellers of higher latitudes, for if it weren’t for the sun and the arrival of night-time, wouldn’t the flow of time feel slow to the point of seeming stagnant?

Speaking of night-time, a perpetual dark grey smokescreen has erased the city-dwellers’ memories of starry nights. In Gangotri, a black void overlooked the valley at night, gradually giving way to a spectacular display of the Milky Way, a new pair of glittering eyes opening and looking back at me from the sky every time I blinked. I remember seeing shooting stars for the first time in my life.

Despite the richness of my experience with mountains, I feel more at home in the city, a place of control and regulation, a greenhouse for human beings like me to feel secure in, even if falsely so. To feel at home in the mountains is a feeling entirely different from relishing the sight of them, and while I have felt the latter, I do not think I would ever feel the former. Perhaps, the closest thing to belonging that I have felt in the mountains has been surrender. Before visiting Gangotri, I had never seen untouched and uncharted wilderness with my own eyes. Absorbing how inhospitable and unconquerable the surrounding mountains were, their grandeur untainted by our tinkering hands, I was naturally awestruck, feeling something simultaneously primal and close to deep respect – surrender. Surrendering the human urge to colonise, the human urge to exercise ownership and superiority, I felt oneness with the strota, with the mountains, streams, and the forest. I felt a joy very pure, as the mountains allowed me to feel my presence on the same unconquerable terrain I was looking at from a distance. I knew that the mountains were pregnant, pouring out love and nutriments for us. And that’s when, while I knew that I belonged in the hustle and bustle of the city, I looked all around myself and wondered, where would the gods live, if not here?

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