Children ride a camel on the beach where the Gomati meets the Arabian Sea off Dwarka, rather on the banks of the Gomati that abuts the beach off the Arabian Sea just short of the Gulf of Kutch to the north.
There’re two camels about, both decked in bright designs, beads, and fluff. When they’re not carrying excited pilgrims around, they rest on their belly, their legs tucked alongside. They’re a picture of calm. The late afternoon sun tints them golden, and suddenly life, all life seems warm and beckoning.
Photographers meander among visitors, ever on the lookout for faces willing to be framed by the setting sun. A photo studio - Dharmendra Photo Studio - across the walking path beachside processes the prints. I count six photographers equipped with DSLRs, all but one are in their twenties. In the day when the sun is high and few pilgrims are about, they retire to the shade of the studio, whiling away time talking amongst themselves or looking through the pictures.
I find myself meandering among pilgrims gazing out to sea, at some fixed point that must exist more in the imagination than in the sea. It’s that vacant gaze seeking indulgence in a vacant space.
In the distance, a lighthouse stands on land abutting the sea. Spotting the lighthouse at night I imagine the deck-hands on passing boats and ships exclaim, “Look there’s Dwarka.” In that moment the night must forsake its darkness for the exclaiming voice delighting in Krishna’s Dwarka.
However I see no ships on the horizon. It is empty. Before me the sea opens up like a gate, or dwar. It beckons but there’s no path leading out. While Krishna’s teachings will show the way to the dwar, and beyond, they will not part the sea. His Dwarka could not part it when the time came, and I’m but a mere mortal.
The dwar will differ from me to you, from you to the next. It’s as much an exit as it is an entry, as much a passage as a dead end, only depending upon which way you’re heading, or wish to, or are pushed toward. I do not know. Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t.
Somewhere in the waters off the land I stand on, off the coast of Saurashtra, Krishna’s legacy in stone is safe from the prying eye. There’s every possibility that the sliver of land I walk on as I look out to sea will someday recede into the waters, extending the Dwarka of yore, and widening the Gomati further.
Having walked alongside her for a few days, I’d imagine she strains uneasily from being chaperoned by man-made channels as she courses out to the sea. She was placid in the time I spent on her banks, only briefly lapping the steps higher than usual as the tide rose, bringing the small fishes further inland, their aspirations limited by Gomati’s own, for now that is. The ‘now’ that seems forever. The ‘now’ of the moment that seems like eternity.
I stand with my back to the coconut vendor who is busy with pilgrims stopping by for nariyal pani, so busy he has no time to ponder on their pleasure at sipping the refreshing drink he makes them before picking up the next green nut to slice the top off before passing it out to the next eager hand.
In the day, when the Sun is high and strong, there’re few if any visitors queuing up at his cart, the coconuts heaped high and idle, their green the only relief for some distance around. He shares the silence with the camels resting likewise. And the sea contemplates them both while keeping the clouds company.
The picture of calm that descends through much of the day quickly evaporates as the Sun dips and begins its downward journey.
It’s not hot, nor thirsty. Still, a drag of tender coconut water, some tea by the tea stall, a smattering of chaat for the taste buds, and a ride on a camel serves to make the walk to the beach worthwhile, and the pilgrimage to Dwarka, memorable.
Dwarka, Krishna’s Karma Bhoomi.
The years have receded away just as the land he once ruled receded to the bottom of the sea thousands of years ago. Off the coast the divers found Dwarka, or rather some of it, for I’m told it used to be a large, magnificent sprawl. Now fishes roam among large portions of the city that Krishna had declared to be his Karma Bhumi.
The previous day, an elderly man I met in the bazaar, past the Dwarakadish temple, past the sari shops, past the provision stores, had raised his arms above his head, only his advancing age preventing them from straightening ever more skyward, motioning to Lord Krishna’s home in the heavens, before lowering his voice to a whisper, “He (Krishna) saw Kaliyug coming, and drowned Dwarka. It was his wish.”
“I come here each year. Many of us walk for fourteen days to reach here. It’s a tradition,” he said, before continuing, “I’m just happy being here, where Krishna once walked. To walk where he once walked makes me happy. Yeh Krishna ka Karma Bhoomi tha.”
No sooner I ponder on the words, their import comes sailing on the stillness from Krishna’s own rendering of Karma to Arjun at Kurukshetra. The charioteer left nothing to ambiguity when he said –
Karmanye Vadhika Raste Maa Falesh Kadachan
Ma Karma Fal Heturbhuh Ma, Te Sangotsva Karmani
It’s a part of my heritage, the words as much as their import, and calling. I roll them on my tongue. They roll easy, only on the tongue that is, not so in practice. I know only too well. But then that’s a different story, for another time, if ever.
There’s a finality to it. A finality that comes from taking a stand, a final stand; a finality associated with making a choice for good, not for the good even though that might be the intended consequence; a finality that will not allow you another chance; a finality that comes from taking a responsibility that cannot be shifted, ever. A finality that says – this is it; this is where I’ll make a difference; this is where I will stay the course, to the end; a point of no return from a resolve made, banishing the possibility of return in the fear of exercising it should the resolve waver.
Karma Bhoomi, the land you work in the spirit of sacrifice to benefit self and society.
Karma Bhoomi, the land where you live and work in accordance with the teachings of your Dharma.
Karma Bhoomi, the land where you experience the cause and effect of your Karm or deeds, your Karma resulting from your deed or Karm.
Karma Bhoomi, the land where you discharge your responsibilities in accordance with the Dharma.
Karma Bhoomi, the land where you accrue your Karma that will in turn determine your present, and future experiences, and the life you’ll be reincarnated as.
Karma Bhoomi, the land that beckons, where you fulfill your responsibilities as a duty, ensuring your actions are not influenced by the desired or expected outcome, acting independently of whether you’ll benefit from it or not, instead leaving the fruits of your actions to your destiny.
Karma; nothing definite; nothing indefinite, its continuity factored into the timelessness of the soul.
I soon realize that I’ve stepped out of the frame even as I remain in it. Voices float by. Shadows shift slowly. I see the camels again, but in a different light. One of them is resting while its caretaker sips tea from a glass, his dusty cotton drawers the colour of earth, and the turban energised by the Sun warming up to the unfolding scene daubs the canvas deep red. He’s in no hurry. Neither is his camel. Stillness flows with time. Lack of it marks time.
While the colourful finery, real and plastic, marks the camel out there’re no ‘lesser’ cousins I can contrast its regal bearing with, at least not in Dwarka. However I was reminded of the camel wagons we passed on the road to Alwar in Rajasthan some years ago, marveling at their tenacity in dragging the wagons heaped with produce long distances. There wasn’t a jot of finery to acknowledge their Karma, not a wisp of colour.
I turn my gaze to the royalty before me, trailing my eyes along the contours of its hump, first rising before falling away, much like Dwarka’s own fortunes.
Each day the camel returns to its Karma Bhoomi with its caretaker, ferrying pilgrims about on joy rides, surviving the passage of time in the memories the pilgrims capture in frames, memories likely outlasting their own lives in the eternity of digital, the only continuum with a beginning but no end. Like Krishna. Like Karma.
The eternity of a moment is in its transience. And I returned from Dwarka with many such moments, stringing the transitory along until it acquired the permanence of a memory.