I consider myself fortunate to be born and brought up in the yoga capital of the world — Rishikesh, U.P., now in Uttarakhand — and having spent first 26 years of my life at that beautiful place. In fact, whatever you see in me, whether good or bad, belongs to Rishikesh. Of course, Ahmedabad and Kanpur did provide their valuable contribution in providing further knowledge and experiences, and also honed up my skills. For example, though I had been playing harmonica, performing yoga and making paintings ever since my childhood, it was only in Ahmedabad that I took formal lessons in harmonica, joined yoga classes (ironically!), learnt Bengali and Gujarati from my colleagues and started learning Russian. Living in Ahmedabad was the first time I had lived outside the Hindi culture. At Kanpur, I learnt German and French. However, it was only in Rishikesh that the initial impetus was provided and the spark to pursue lifelong learning was ignited.
Rishikesh is a perfect place if you want to look below the surface, peep behind the curtain, dive deep into different layers of consciousness. You can know yourself. And that is important to be at peace with yourself and free of conflicts. Irrespective of the rush of tourists and crowd during summer and during religious festivals, you are always in the lap of mother Nature. Thus you can simply raise your head a bit and look at Kunjapuri keep an eye on all your movements. And then of course, there is Ganga in its purest form you would ever see, except of course, in upper Himalayas. The water is so clear that you can even see the fishes inside its waters while standing on the Laxman Jhula. Several times I have spent hours at a stretch sitting on its bank. There is the main Ghat, called the Triveni Ghat, where people mostly visit and take dip. The one where we used to visit for solace and contemplation was near to our college, and a bit isolated place. Perhaps in early morning and evening some yogis and students used to come for practices. Otherwise during rest of the day not many people visited that location. The stream was fast, but not wild; you could see continuity in the flow and easily relate it to the flow of life, and maybe the flow of your thoughts. That was meditation, cessation of all thoughts. My friend Sumedha says that Rishikesh is the place where you can listen to silence.
Having spent four decades on this planet, I have spent nearly half of the years in Rishikesh; in couple of years more, it would become exactly half. Still, the memories are fresh in my mind. Hence it happens that while talking to people about my life experiences, most of my stories are from Rishikesh. My life there was not pleasant; in fact, there are more bad experiences than good, and the society was as you find anywhere in India. So you can see, things were not different from what they were at Ahmedabad or Kanpur. Still Rishikesh is conducive to life in a group as well as that lived in solitude In daytime, mountains give you company — wherever you might be standing — and in night, there would be stars. I rarely ever saw a night sky elsewhere like that. The lights from Narendra Nagar competed with that from Saptarshi and Kaal Purush (Ursa Major and Orion, respectively).
So this is the place which crafted me and made me what I am today. Rishikesh had never let me down, it had never failed me. Even on the occasions when family and friends deserted me, these mountains, rivers, and stars were always there with me. There I understood the rationale of the word ‘motherland’.
It had always been my dream to take my last breath in Rishikesh. It would have been so comfortable, and so tranquil, to lay my head in its lap, and close my eyes to the mortal world. It has been 14 long years since we separated. Even today when life becomes difficult, I close my eyes, and hear the gentle voice whisper in my ears : “Amit, mother calling . . . “.