“What do you want?” she asked in a pleasant voice. She was in her thirties and spoke good English. My friend brushed her off, thinking she’d wanted something from me. The lady turned around and asked again in the same tone “What is it – that you want?”
We were at Goindwal Sahib, a majestic Gurdwara in the district of Taran Taran, Punjab. The third Guru, Guru Amar Das, lived here for 33 years and established a centre for preaching Sikhi. A baoli or stepwell paved with 84 steps lies adjacent to the temple grounds. Certain devotees believe that recital of the Japji Sahib after each dip at the sacred baoli on each of the steps gives liberation from our various life cycles, where it cleanses and purifies sins in this mortal world.
Clad in a sarung, I held my daughter’s hands and together we bravely dipped, wholly into the cold baoli. There was a gush of tranquility and freshness. We were frozen momentarily. Reciting our Mulmantar underwater, we struggled to do it in one breath! We then climbed out of the pool and landed onto the first step and read our Mulmantar again. Thereafter, we descended into the pool and continued the process.
There were numbers imprinted at eye level, above each step. After the 5th dip, we decided to continue our steps all the way up. As we ascended, my mind began to explore. The numbers on each step came to life and I started reflecting on my life story, each number representing my age.
Totally soaked and reciting the Mulmantar, my journey started at Number 6. The age I could remember my first existence! Childhood memories came flashing back. The play world we thought would continue forever. From climbing guava trees, to picking red saga seeds from supposedly haunted trees, to eating belimbing fresh from the bark, those were our kampung [village, in Malay] adventures. There were no forbidden fruit in our naive garden. We led simple lives. I then remembered my purpose on the step there. Quickly, I sought forgiveness – for my stubbornness as a child.
The journey continued to adolescent, with its share of challenges. As kids, we were obsessed about growing up. We wanted to wear adult clothes and do adult things. Today, much older, we want to be younger. I guess in life, you always want – what you don’t have.
Our university days …. ahh. We grew up in this institution. While we learned, we got a taste of independence. We enjoyed our Wednesday satsangs at PJ Gurdwara. It was moments of escapism and bliss! Delicious roti and pajhi would fill us, not to mention soulful kirtans. Moving on, it was the worklife phase or corporate rat race. You don’t get to see the sun rise nor shine, only the moon greets you home occasionally. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
I then reached my current age. I looked down the steps and woohh!, it sure was a long way down. I thanked God for bringing me this far in life. I expressed gratitude for my family and friends and His gift of joy, peace and good health. I sought forgiveness for my shortcomings during many junctures. Meanwhile, my daughter replicated my every move diligently.
I went past number 60 and told myself that I would live longer than Dad. I finally went to the last step and said “Yes, I will live to a ripe healthy age of 84!” What a journey it was! As if I was reliving it already – for the future.
While I was at the middle point of the 84 steps with a resting spot, a lady approached me. The fact that I was in a bubble; reflecting on my life story and seeking forgiveness; her question jolted me.
My mind was programmed to seek His mercy and not ask for things. When she inquired for the second time, I paused. After a short moment, I realized, it was Him speaking through her. By then, I had lost her amidst the crowd going down the pool. Her question about what I long for, rang in my mind. Once I understood, I looked up the steps and replied …..“I want your light, God “ and continued my journey.