Once some of us trekkers were walking through a boulder-strewn path in the Himalayas. What started as a drizzle on the way to our trek soon turned into torrential downpour. Going back was not an option because our tents at the base camp had been blown away. And some of the early risers of our group had already marched ahead an hour before. We could not leave them in the lurch by choosing to stay back. So, we resolved to grapple with the harsh weather towards Parvati glacier — our destination.
The arduous uphill track posed more challenges when we were about to cross a moraine, some newly formed brooks and a small patch of ice. The incessant rain and plummeting temperature were menacing. A slip here and a fall there, amid wiping the water off my glasses, slowed my pace. With benumbed tactile senses, we could no more feel the little icicles falling over our head. The colourful and beautiful blooms that were strewn on the way had to be sadly overlooked because personal comfort became our priority more than ‘stopping by woods on a snowy morning to smell the flowers’. Gossip and the chit-chat had also evaporated. Only some brief conversation took place, as and when we had to seek one another’s help. The gusts of cold wind lashed our bodies and we trudged along bedraggled and famished.
When it became next to impossible to move ahead, we caught the sight of a frail little open green tent among the rocks. Our escort suggested that we take refuge there till the fury of the rain relented. We spotted a solitary shepherd huddled in a tattered blanket under the tiny tent. He ushered us in without uttering a word. Thereon, he made some space on his rickety bed and allowed us to use it, though we were drenched to the bones. Just when I thought that his cup of mercy had overflowed, he allowed us to ignite a fire with his precious little stock of firewood. A couple of hours rolled by. He responded to our many questions, but asked nothing in return. His magnanimous but mute gestures enabled us to forge a tacit bond with him and we continued to stay in till the rain mellowed. Now, it was time to move ahead. We expressed our gratitude to him as profoundly as we could for his hospitality. He nodded and advised us to reach our camp before the next spell of rain assailed us.
Some encounters in life offer us a wonderful way to tweak our path and make us ponder over existential questions. He appeared to be the essence of social welfare and stood for the virtue of the betterment of the world. Years have glided by; I am now 90 years old. But I simply cannot forget that image of the paragon of humanity.