A river flows in me or do I flow with the river? I cannot distinguish between the two.
Having been confined to activities of home tends to make one reflective, I believe.
It’s a different dimension all together from the rest of life. One needs reason, common sense and presence of mind to analyze present situations and conditions, and the heart is important when strange feelings predominate.
Looking at my salt and peppery hair, which adorns an otherwise youthful look, often gets me thinking, “Oh my God, life just passed me by.” At the very least, it’s evidence I have been rolling with the river a long time, and will never return without feeling its flow, no matter where I go. This is how I came to the shores of “Dainty Danube” during my visit to Budapest.
Strolling the Danube Promenade, my heart twitches and turns then misses a beat.
“Not again.” I exclaim “Please not again.” There have been times when I’ve arrived at an unknown, unseen destination that stirs my core and forces me to connect with the waters. Today I feel that resonance between the Danube and me, again.
Its flowing waters carry my thoughts to days and lands far away, and as I traverse time and space, queer feelings arise. Today the connection between me and the Danube is not comforting, even though normally turbid waters appear blue.
“The Danube is fast flowing,” I consider. “How can her waters be so clear?”
Slanting rays of Budapest’s evening sun dress the water in gold. The surreal sparkles should take on a heavenly aspect, but not for me and not today. My reasoning fails. I can’t explain the river’s melancholy nor contain her effervescent words.
I stand still and quiet. I feel and hear her aches and pains in violent, crashing waves, yet she maintains a stoic grace as she passes the shore nearby. Despite the familiar currents and dashes, she makes me uneasy as I gaze at her today. I met with the Danube in Bratislava too; she had been so sweet, quiet and poised, but here at the edge of the promenade, her desperation reaches out to me.
Perhaps she has a tale to tell, or maybe she just wants a listener. I choose to pause and talk with her. “Come pour over your heart out to me. I’m listening, said I. She is teaching me something perhaps, I thought. I’m sure she means well.
This recognition is sure to be meaningful and beneficial for my inner transformation, I believe. After all, everything that we encounter in life acts as a spring board for our own success and growth. But what is the teaching?
Trying to fathom the answers of my questioning mind, I decide to sit on a bench, sharing it with a beautiful young woman. She greets me with a lovely smile. I smile back. A faint affinity towards her overpowers me. I tune into a light conversation.
“Isn’t it all so wonderful to be here today? Do you come here often?”
She nods back saying “My English is poor.”
“Language doesn’t matter, let our hearts talk!” I say.
She looks into my eyes and I get a glimpse of her insight. She is in discomfort as well. That hurts again.
Clasping my hands in her soft clutch she says “Your warmth is so soothing. I’m humbled and touched.”
“As am I” I reply.” We Indians are like that you see, we don’t leave anyone alone when they are upset and unhappy.” I dash out my words with great passion.
“Oh, is it so” she answers.
“Yes, of course, there is some logic in this too. Sorrows when shared begin to divide just as joys when shared start to multiply.”
With this effort of mine we laugh out loud. Wow, I think, How contagious is love. How precious it is to be born as a human being. With an expansive warm heart, the world truly appears to be my home. No wonder they say – Home is where your heart is.” We finally get introduced to each other when she asks me to wait just there, for a while saying “Let me introduce you to my mother, you must see her. I bet you’ll carry Budapest in your heart all your life.”
I try to shift the planes of my life condition. The view of the Buda Hills in front, ravishing and pompous pest at the back with the magnificence of the Hungarian Parliament building and the dancing Danube in the center, offers a spectacular view yet I succumb to the wanting of the strong currents of the Danube, when all of a sudden the sight of many shoes at its embankment catches my sight.
“What are these?” I get up to have a closer look. All types of shoes – tired worn out shoes, ladies, gents and children shoes, new and old shoes, stylish and ordinary shoes, different sizes and styles but all made out of iron.
“Oh my god. Why?” I ask that “me” within. Why are these period appropriate shoes of all sorts are sculpted for posterity in iron and then embedded on the embankment of the Danube? I have so much to decipher and everything appears to be the kernel of my stories.
“Oh there are a few roses in some of the shoes.”
I bend to touch one when a voice broke out “Hey, my dear friend, this way please.” I turned instantaneously, its Zanshichka. She stands beside the bench with her mother. I hurriedly retrieve my steps.
“A very Good Evening to you mother.” I say with a “Namaste”. I bring the sunny warmth from the tropics of India for you.”
I bow and deliver my heart’s content. Mother is as universal as the Sun of all seasons. She embraces me in her tight hug. I love it.
“Why do I see so much of pain in your eyes? Tell me what ails you Mother. Don’t think that I’m too insignificant. I can do what many can’t.” I tell her with an emboldened spirit.
She smiles a painful smile and sits down on the bench. “My mother is a survivor of the reign of terror that gripped Hungary during one autumn in 1944, when after the Germans toppled the existing government to bring into power the violent fascist regime. She was a toddler then…just a child. On one cold and windy winter night, along with her family she was brought here, almost at this very spot” points Zanshichka. All were then asked to undress and take off their shoes. My grandmother took off her clothes and hers as well to avoid getting beaten by those militiamen. My mother’s little hands were tied with the laces of her own boots. There were many others with them that day facing the same fate. All were tied in small groups. My mother’s family was tied together along with her. They were not blindfolded. My mother was numb with cold and could freeze anytime.They shot only my grandmother who was standing at the edge with her back towards the militiamen.
As she fell into the Danube she pulled the others along with her. They were washed by the strong currents of the river when just a few miles away from Budapest they got entangled with few other randomly floating bodies. Just as luck would have it she and her elder sister were rescued by some farmers who saw them gasping for breath. They reared and kept them alive to breath into the air of freedom later.
Zika comes here with her mother very often, almost every day. Both love the sight of the sunset behind those dark Buda Hills and every day Danube remains a dark, sad and horrid reminder of how humanity failed to be human.
Little wonder that it looks blue even today because it carries in its heart all the woes of humanity. Its waters are a flowing cemetery bouncing back a sense of shocking grief. Each empty shoe by the Danube tells the ever pervasive tales of emptiness and vacuum of innocence.
Mother says something which I fail to understand because of language problem. I look at Zika and she quickly puts it in simple English, “It’s time to move on.”
I nod and hold her hand and say “Can I stay connected and in touch with you and Zika?”
Zika answers “Of course!” while translating what I said to her mother.
A broad smile lights up mother’s face, as she stands up and Zika tells me that her mother wishes to visit India someday, that the three of us will meet at another promenade, in another time, beside the Ganges. I am delighted to hear so.
After exchanging numbers and addresses, we bid adieu wishing each other long, safe, secure and a happy life ahead. It is again the heart to heart connection; I thought, which turns into life to life transaction. I turn back and hasten my steps when I come across a plaque
I stop. I retreat on another bench but this time all alone, all by myself. I surf through my smartphone at hand and find-
“Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a haunting tribute to this horrific time in history, created by film director Can Togay and the sculptor, Gyula Pauer. Installed along the bank of the Danube River in Budapest, the monument consists of 60 pairs of 1940s-style shoes, true to life in size and detail, sculpted out of iron and attached to the stone embankment.”
I begin to relate to the pains of Zika’s mother. To me she appears as a strong trans-formative force. She is no doubt a reminder of unwavering acceptance of the torrents of changes that uprooted her life yet a symbol of a fine soul who had the courage to embrace all that came her way, unquestioningly.
Every day she retreats into the wilderness of painful memories, why? To find something new, something hopeful to forge ahead another day? But what could it be? I wonder.
Her retreat at Danube I believe is a personal endeavor of connecting to herself. Here she does not undergo moments of withdrawal, but it is time to connect with her soul and memories. A glimpse of her at the promenade said it all. She chose to morph into ever finer soul in spite of encountering painful and endless shifts and turns.
I believe I have an answer now.
She retreats from ignorance, from dissatisfied mind of attachment and from self -cherishing thoughts. It is her way of developing basic human qualities of compassion and embracing love. Here coming face to face with herself every day, she meets and sees herself in the depths of Danube. The flowing waters teach her to flow with its tides because stagnation means death. The Danube did not stop flowing when its waters turned red; rather it still flows with great gusto.
Looking up to the Danube, I felt as if I’m getting purified of tremendous amount of negativity. I feel an upsurge of hope, strength and courage within. I feel like a butterfly fluttering its colorful wings with miraculous expansion of my heart. Yes, it is also time for me to move on. The sun has retreated behind the Buda hills a long time, so must I. I stand up to take a last look of the Danube, for tomorrow I will be going home.
I am Tanuja Chatterjee. In spite of being a post graduate in economics, I chose the road less taken, towards happiness and fulfillment. As a practicing Buddhist, I see everything around me through the light of my soul. I am a world citizen and humanity my religion. Linking hearts and connecting minds to give peace a chance to hold the world is all I care about.
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