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River taught him humanity

IF HE were a doctor, Amritlal Vegad would have dispatched half his patients to circumvent Narmada River as treatment. It would not only rid the city dwellers of their external symptoms, but cleanse their souls as well.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2006 01:10 IST

IF HE were a doctor, Amritlal Vegad would have dispatched half his patients to circumvent Narmada River as treatment. It would not only rid the city dwellers of their external symptoms, but cleanse their souls as well.

Vegad delivered the Pt Ram Narayan Shastri memorial lecture on Sunday evening at Jall Auditorium. A celebrated artist and author, he rose to the occasion dispelling ‘Monday morning syndrome’ with his eloquence and wit. Late Ram Narayan Shastri was an accomplished Vaidya and cured his patients to a great extent with his gentle and reassuring talk.

An unassuming art teacher, Vegad has been spreading the gospel of Narmada for past 27 years. He gives Narmada the credit for his outstanding literary success, calling himself a mere stenographer, putting on paper what the river spoke to him. He appointed himself as the messenger, who walking along both banks of the river and carried the message both ways.

Like the Canterbury tales, his travelogues have a great variety of characters. By comparison to classics he could be modern day Ganesh, Kalidas or Chaucer, but he chooses to be a humble traveller seeking enlightenment.

Eleven years of travel, walking more than 2,000 kilometers Vegad has seen a rich tapestry of humanity and breathtaking landscapes, braved innumerable difficult situations and emerged a strong person who for his frail frame at 78 years of age has spirit to undertake the whole journey for a second time.

The audience packing the auditorium and its spacious foyer listened to his vivid experiences in awestruck silence. The midnight encounter with a mentally deranged stranger who could have killed him but respected the teacher in him, a brave tribal woman of Chhingaon who protected him like Goddess Durga against hostile villagers, a tribal father who refused to

accept food from a sympathetic traveller so that his children learn to live with hunger; snakes, crocodile and jungle bees that became regular companions. He witnessed how urban civilisation is eroding rural culture and values.

Most touching incidence is perhaps one spread over 24 years. In the initial years of circumventing Narmada he floated a lamp in the river asking in return for a light inside him. Narmada did not reciprocate - not for five years, not for two decades.

How could she have had? Vegad worked out the solution to his grievance against the river. Men keep on assimilating dirt in their heart and expect divinity to flush it out.

A sage from Handiya, mind-way point of Narmada’s course and close to Indore, enlightened Vegad - the divine flame takes a lifetime to light but once lit it does not extinguish. So keep walking, even failure in an honest endeavour is a step towards goodness.