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Illumination: A blog from the Haridwar Writing Project

by Dr. Kalpana Iyengar, San Antonio Writing Project/Haridwar Writing Project    |    July 30, 2015

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The highlights of this trip for me were the newborn calves at the goshala, Ganga River, Rishikesh, and the Haridwar Writing Project. Porter and I went to the goshala at 7 am to see the cows and the men who work there announced that a cow had given birth. I was thrilled to hear about the new addition to the cow family and in my life. I had to go see the baby, who was sprawled on the floor with its legs spread in opposite directions because it did not know how to manage its legs yet. The little one was cute with a white tilak on the forehead just like the mother. The mama was licking the baby so affectionately that I was reminded of the day I had my first baby 22 years ago in an unknown land with no mother to sooth me. I lost that boy, who I’d have named Kishan or Govinda! The next day, I was told that the newborn calf died suddenly. The mother, who was given a lot of medicines had trampled the little one and was not aware of it.  I watched the mama cow call out for the baby, but the calf was buried that day.

On the 25th, we went to have a dip in the Ganga River and watch the aarathi (light ceremony) on the banks of the holy river. Before that we drove around the Haridwar downtown area. On the way, we were surprised to see Pankaj and Gopal on a Kinetic Honda. Porter was leaning over as if he was going to jump out of the window. He had spotted the men in the downtown area and he had to let them know that they were discovered. That was a pleasant surprise for all of us.  After the car ride, we went to the Ganga aarathi. There were about 3,000 people at the Aarathi anxiously waiting for sunset. It is a practice here in Haridwar to do the Ganga aarathi after sunset. The pundits described the significance of the Ganga and her healing powers. Later Sanskrit mantras were chanted in chorus and the finale was the light ceremony. I had purchased a basket made of leaves that held flowers and incense sticks for the ceremony. We saw people lighting the lamp in that basket and letting it sail on the river as a sign of respect to Mother Ganga. Dr. Henkin asked me why Ganga was holy to Hindus. I was reminded of Bhagiratha and his efforts to bring the river to earth to absolve his ancestors. The story of how Ganga descended from heaven onto Lord Shiva’s matted hair and then to earth from the Himalayas fascinated me when I was little.  My mother used to read to me stories from our epics and I also watched dances based on the story of Ganga.

Ganga mayya is flowing with full exuberance carrying with her all the minerals and nutrients from the sacred Himalayas. She travels long distances and she makes the paddy fields on her way fertile. Thousands of people from all over India come to Haridwar to have a dip in the Ganga River. The Ganga river reminded me of all those beautiful people who came my way and guided me to become successful and made me who I am in life today. Ganga activates souls only to give the best to people who come into contact with her. I believe in her powers; she stirs, repurposes, redirects, transcends if we have faith in her. I was reminded of my mother, Nagarathna, Geetha, Vasantha, Padma, Neela amami, Bapu mama, Dore mama, the English Language Teaching Community, San Antonio Writing Project, and all of my teachers from all of the educational institutions who put me on a successful trajectory.

Mukunda, Srinidhi, Mohan, and Gowri went to have the darshan of the diety in Badrinath temple. My brother-in-law, Srinivasa Murthy told me that not everyone could go to that holy place. Only those who are fortunate do. For me, the writing project institute and my colleagues were more important, so I stayed back from Badri yatra. I will one day if God has that in my path.

I was oblivious to the noise and people around me while I was standing on that bridge in Rishikesh and the Ganga River in Haridwar. I was overcome with emotions and gratitude for my colleagues who came to India with me to teach and learn at Dev Sanskriti University. I was reminded of people who cannot travel to this place to have the darshan of the holy river. I was reminded of the lama in Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim” who attained his salvation after he found his ‘river of arrow’. I am thankful for the experiences here at Dev Sanskruthi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, and the Ganga River that grounded me.

This awakening allowed me to realize what I should do with my PhD. I will try to serve people who yearn for an education and find happiness like I did when I go back. I want to use the knowledge from the education at the UTSA to help students who may be struggling like I did when I was deprived of opportunities due to hurdles and a few un-awakened people in my life.  Like the demons and the Gods who churned the ocean to discover the ambrosia during the samudra mathana, I came into the PhD program and saw light that will help me guide people who may be where I was a long time ago. Like Shiva, who drank the halahala (poison) to protect his devotees, my PhD was meant to be for me to help make this world a literate and a better place for all people.

I will miss the Haridwar Writing Project Teacher Consultants Alka, Pankaj, Rajeshwari, Purva, Manaswita, Reetudwaj, Ajay, Neema, Riya, Vikas, Ipsit, Nivedita, and Gopal. Thank you for this enlightening experience!

(Photo courtesy of Ved Prakash Thawait)

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