An image of piled stones on a hill
Credit: Lathashree KS

Two Minutes

Understory · Two Minutes by Lathashree KS

As a young survey archaeologist in 2002, I walked from village to village collecting stories of non- Puranic Gods and Goddesses. When the theme is Sacred, conversations tend to get philosophical. It was a drought year and food was scarce. I carried limited food and water in my backpack; and often, I walked alone. Back then, we had no smart phones, GPS, or Maps to guide researchers like me. On that day, I was following up on a single line in a very old document published by the Government. It was a tiny report of an unusual Goddess.

I woke early, checked with a shopkeeper at the Bangalore bus stand and got into a bus that was going to the taluk headquarters, in the general direction of the village I needed to reach. It was unusual for the villagers to see a city girl armed with a rucksack. After a full-scale interview about who I was and why I wanted to reach this village; the bus driver and conductor reached a consensus about where I should get off – the other passengers agreed that it was my best option. Dropping me off at a bus-stand, they went their way. I found myself looking at a lot of people seated around the aśvatta katte, a stone platform under a giant pipal tree. After another round of introductions, the villagers said the ancient structure I sought was just “two minutes away” - eradu nimisha - and pointed me in the direction of my object of desire.

I knew their “two minutes” was a mere expression of time, a poetic phrase to suggest that it was possible for me to reach there today without a struggle. Rolling my eyes, I realized it was going to be a long day. Reaching the village after 40 minutes, I was told that I had to climb a little to actually get to the unique sculpture that I was seeking.

The temple belonged to a subaltern community and a young boy was acting as a priest since most of the adults in the settlement had moved to the city to seek a living in the drought year. I began a conversation with him in an effort to understand how the people connected with the sculpture and site. I walked down with the lad and shared my biscuit packet. He was feeling uncomfortable and I was wondering about it.

When I entered the impoverished settlement, I realized why…

He invited me home where he lived with his beautiful old grandmother. He rushed to get me drinking water in a glass. The drought year was apparent here- the water was golden in color- obviously filtered from the last of the dying water pools. The grandmother mumbled and he hurried out to buy a banana from the only shop in the village- food for the guest. The grandmother and I sat down for a long conversation – she was familiar with Shaiva siddhanta and the philosophy needed to live through life. She spoke about the natural need to surrender to whatever comes- drought and floods, good and bad- to live a full and complete life. With clear emphasis and an emancipated sparkle in her cataract-filled eyes, she said, “You see, Surrender (śaranāgati) is sensible for there is nothing that is not Shiva.”

She wanted to know why I was there and was impressed.

She said I must walk down the road to another site I had no clue about. It was not yet noon, I thought I could get some more data.

And then she said, “It is just a two minute walk away.” Do minute ka rasta hai.

Even with the lessons of Surrender still floating in my mind, my poor heart sank. Of course, there was no bus or anything that went that way from this little colony filled with the old and the very young. Just a dusty path to follow- a short cut! - on a sunny day. I decided to follow the old woman’s suggestion. One of the first lessons I learnt as a researcher was about my allotted budget: it was unlikely I’d return to this area.

I put on my backpack and prepared for the next long walk of the day. I bought a Glucose biscuit pack. The shopkeeper who knew everything about me by now quietly suggested that I buy a few bananas as well. The path was shady enough and I had water in my bag. I stopped a few times to watch birds or satiate my love for geology and look at the rocks which have existed here since the formation of land on Earth. As I carried on, I became grateful for my Hunter’s boots (from the Army store). I shared my food with a couple of naughty young shepherd boys. I walked on.

When one is not in a city, all paths lead to the next highway; and as I got there- I saw a rusted sign indicating I was headed in the right direction. The villagers sitting under a pipal tree on the highway crossroads looked up in surprise when I told them where I had walked from. I had walked over 2 hours by then. The site I sought, they said, was that a-way: “It’s a journey of two minutes.” I smiled and walked all the way for more than “two minutes”.

I reached the site where I was meant to go- it was a hill-shrine. No one had told me that! Needless to say, the caretaker of the site also lived in a cave up on the hill. Having surrendered to the Gods who lead researchers on, I heaved a sigh. I drank my last sip of water. I climbed- I climbed for the second time that sunny day; for more than “two minutes”.

The view was wonderful. The air became cool and light. No one passed me by. Yet, I was not quite myself. I reached the cave-shrine. A sanyasi stood at the mouth of another cave- he had obviously heard me panting up the hill. He looked at me with his gentle eyes and said, “You are hungry.”

6 June 2021

Lathashree KS is a Public Archaeologist based in Bangalore. She wants to take academic data and theories related to Indian Past to anyone who is interested via her forum Chai with History.

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