A trekker loses his way and finds her meditating in an ancient long-lost trail deep in the Himalayan forests. In her trance-like state she is not completely unaware of the intruder.
She has heard the faint rustling of leaves but in her heightened sense of awareness, she does not feel threatened or annoyed. Instead, there is a gentle hesitation in the susurration of the wind, which alerts her to the presence of the intruder but whispers to her to not be alarmed. The monks have taught her well. Her whole body is transformed into light and her countenance exudes bliss. Inside her, there is stillness in movement, each in-breath vibrates with power and strength and each in-breath, a return to calmness. It is as if she is able to articulate the paradox of every aspect of life itself; that in every movement there is stillness; that in life there is death; that in peace there is turmoil.
Although her eyes are closed and the living creature is not making any sound, she can feel the heat emanating from his warm body and she knows that it was not an animal. The wind carried his scent to her and she feels a quietude wash over her like the cool waters of mountain streams. The feeling brought on a long-lost memory of giggling girlfriends whispering secrets. She wrapped the mellowness of that memory like a warm shawl around her shoulders and drew on the drawstrings of her wandering mind to the present moment. She had learned enough to know that the mind would always wander but it was in her power to give it direction so that it is never lost. She returned to purity, she returned to a soft glowing whiteness that engulfed her gradually, gently encircling her like music that drew her inward into the depths of its notes. She returned to the state where she was there in the forest and she could feel every leaf that dropped from the trees to the forest floor, she could smell the pieces of fruits that the squirrels were foraging, hear the fluttering of every wing of every bird twittering around her or gliding over the valley below. She could feel the soft texture of the butterfly’s wings brushing against her cheek and the hard rock on which she was seated. She was even aware, from the cleavage of the rock that it was marble. Within minutes of his arrival in her hidden abode, she felt at ease and returned to her meditation.
She feels her body detach from her mind, which retreats to explore deeper wonders, while she holds on to its reins.
The stranger who has stumbled upon her in the middle of the high Himalayan forest could feel her leaving him alone. At first when he had found her, he had been alarmed but when she did not open her eyes, he felt wary. Within seconds, he felt as if he was being sized up by this woman who had her eyes closed. Within minutes, he felt that she had left him there alone.
He felt like the traveller in Walter de la Mare’s poem. He felt like he was knocking on the door of a house which had nobody inside but there were listeners, who could listen to everything he said and watch his every move. Needless to say, the man was completely fascinated by her stance and realized that even though a part of his brain was asking him to keep going because he had to reach the campsite where his friends would be waiting for him; he was rooted to the spot. He also feels a rising fear of her because there is a part of him which feels that she is somehow aware of everything that is happening around her.
This sense of complete power and powerlessness enthralls him and he is unable to move from his place.
Her posture is so remarkable that she almost blends in with her surroundings. She is everything that a woman could be and yet, she was nothing like any woman that he had ever seen. She is the original sin and the penultimate enlightenment. Her body is toned to perfection; every muscle, every sinew, every curve, every line, every angle is perfectly molded within her frame of her body, making her the perfect form for her body alone. Perhaps, this was the first time he realized and felt ashamed of his own fallacy of being a man. He rebuked himself severely for gazing upon her solely as a woman because she was so much more than simply that. He realized how flawed the patriarchal society was to make prototypes of what a woman should be like. This woman before his eyes opened his mind to the truth that there was no singular truth that one can pursue. He reproached himself for looking at her with eyes that have been accustomed to look at women in a certain way. Her form was an embodiment of womanliness and yet it was not limited to her physicality alone. He felt a burning desire, a need even, to know the mind of this enigmatic woman.
He feels irresistibly drawn to her, like a gossamer thread pulling him at his navel.
She was a contradiction in terms.
He felt inadequately equipped to understand who she was or what she symbolized. He wished he had a different set of eyes or a different mind to fathom the infinity of this woman. Her face was not beautiful in the conventional sense. Her hair was piled up over her head somewhat untidily. Her skin had been seasoned by the weather, her muscles taught and tensile. But she glowed with an inner radiance like the soft translucent luminosity of liquid amber that made her appear in a softness that he wanted to reach out and touch. He could only feel her presence because to understand her he needed to willingly suspend his sense of sight. She could only be described through absence. She was the absence of worldly beauty and yet, she was enticing, attractive even. She was the absence of turmoil and yet, she made him restless. She was perfection and yet she was filled with multitude imperfections. Even though her eyes were closed, he felt that she was aware of his presence. She was of this world and beyond every worldly thought or feeling. He felt a sense of calmness and peace flooding through him while also being aware of his palpitating heart. He felt that he was falling into a blue, or perhaps it was rising into it. At first he thought it was the deep blueness of the ocean but then at closer inspection, he realized that the blue was the lightness of air and he was flying among the clouds, high above the earth, his feet firm on the soft forest floor. He seated himself at a distance from her so as to only see her through his peripheral vision. He closed his eyes as if in prayer.
Wasn’t this what he had always been looking for?
He had wandered far and wide and the Himalayas had drawn him closer and deeper and called him out in dreams. Like an ancient language that he did not understand, the Himalayas had willed him to answer. And there had been no looking back. He had kept returning every year because there was a deep and unexplored part of his soul which was unfulfilled. He had been searching for that one piece of the puzzle which would give him the complete picture, and now, all his years of searching had finally led him to this sight before him. What greeted his tired eyes was like déjà vu because he was certain that he had seen her before but he could not quite recall.
His mind, which was going on overdrive trying to contain what he was feeling and thinking into something tangible and reasonable was slowly giving up; and this victory of his heart over his mind made him smile triumphantly. He was connecting with this woman at a different level of consciousness. As if, in answer to this inner dialogue and subsequent surrender of his mind to her essence, the outer corners of her mouth appeared to relax and crease ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly —
the shadow of a smile that he did not have the pleasure to witness because his eyes were closed, and that was perhaps because his mind was being coaxed to open up to her divinity, like the evening dew enticing the petals of a flower to awaken to the moonlight.
She was so much more than everything that he had ever encountered. She was the complete woman. She was the pause and she was the beginning. It was as if Time stood still to watch her translate Time in her stillness. She was the embodiment of the infiniteness of the universe, calmly contained within the finite realm of her body. In her stillness there was movement. He could not look upon her still form without feeling a sense of movement stirring deep within her, and in turn, within him. He felt like there was a part of him that was moving to an unknown rhythm to the lilting sounds of an inaudible music. It was as if she had paused midway in the middle of a dance.
He realized that he was falling deeply in love with this woman who was seated in a posture of complete control and calmness. Hours passed and he sat quietly in rapt admiration, eyes closed. The mid-day sun moved across the horizon and if a camera could have captured a time-lapse video of the meditating form and the man sitting at a distance from her, one would have seen that neither had moved; the woman unmoved in her apparent state of unawareness and the man in his heightened awareness of her.
Eventually, the man feels a stirring, like a voice calling his name from the depths of darkness. He opens his eyes carefully, cautiously, gradually awakening from a dream. But the very next moment he regrets ever closing them because she is nowhere to be seen. He looks around frantically but cannot find any trace of her. Was he dreaming? Was it real? He moves quietly to the rock where she had been seated and touches it gently, almost devoutly. The rock feels warm to the touch and he breathes a sigh of relief. He gathers his backpack and his belongings, which feel meaningless to him now, and starts walking towards his campsite. Now that her presence was not suffusing every pore of his existence, his rational mind starts working overtime. Who is she? What is her name? Where did she live? She did not seem like she was a local and yet she was not a tourist. Is she a monk? His head swimming with unanswered questions, he finds his way back to the campsite, just before the sun disappears behind the snowy peaks in a dazzling display of shades of gold.
“She is Shiva. Some say she is a forest ranger. Some say she is an environmentalist, a scientist. She has a way with animals. She has deep knowledge of the rocks and the trees. Some say she is a trekker. Some have even met her on the high snowy mountains. So they say she’s an alpinist…
… But no one knows where she camps. No one knows her routes. She is a lone trekker but a very good one. She really knows the Himalayas”, replied the trek leader, when the man describes his experience in the forest.
He is surprised by this information because she did not look like a mountaineer or a scientist. She looked more like a Yogi. Unable to hide his astonishment, he says, “But she was meditating…”
“She meditates. A lot. She sometimes also smokes the chillum. No one knows where she gets her hash from but it is supposed to be the finest. But don’t mess with her if you ever meet her, which by the way, will never happen. No one I know has ever seen her twice. But if you do, don’t mess with her. She will break your bones without laying a finger on you.”
Alarmed, incredulous, fearful, and yet fascinated by the story of this remarkable woman, he asks, “So, if no one has ever seen her twice, how do you know she’s called Shiva?”
The trek leader smiled benevolently, like a parent smiling at the innocent inquiries of a child, and says, “We call her Shiva. Tell me, what did you feel when you were there?” He reflected back to those hours he had spent in her presence, and smiled instantly at the memory. “I felt like I had met an old friend.” He paused, unable to truly articulate the feeling he had of being surrounded by a grace, a gentle kindness, the comfort of compassion, and a complete surrender of all his worries. He had unwillingly at first, but had resigned to suspend his ego of being a man because for the first time in his life, he had felt protected. He looked up and met the eyes of his trek leader, who seemed to have been observing him keenly all along. He nodded and patted his shoulder and said,
“She is Shiva. And you just know.”
His mind seemed to sink back into a void. He walked out of the trek leader’s tent in a daze and went into his own. As the sky grew darker and the air felt nippy, he leaned against his backpack and closed his eyes. He could not deny that everything that he had felt and sensed and experienced had been real. He could not deny the presence of this woman but if all that he had heard was also true, then had he fallen into some kind of a trance? Had he had some kind of a spiritual experience? Such incidents were not unheard of. But all his years of cultural conditioning was coming in the way of his understanding. There was a part of him which could not, would not, accept that which was staring him right at the face.
And then, like in a dream, there was a whisper in his ears, “Why can’t Shiva be a woman?” He opened his eyes with a start and he saw. For the very first time, he saw.