I was standing before the fountain, watching as the water flowed out of the hole in ground and formed a rivulet near my feet. 365 long days and nights I had searched for it. And finally, when I was here, why couldn’t I proceed to drink the nectar I had so longingly desired? What was stopping me from being young, forever?
Various scenes from the past year started looming across my eyes, places I had been to, people I spoke with, the wisdom they shared with me. One of these scenes focussed strongly and seemed to answer for my doubts.
I was travelling through the desert in the search of a vital clue to the fountain. The last thing I remembered was standing on the top of the dune, when everything went black. The next time my eyes opened, I was in a thatched hut at the edge of the desert, a small girl sitting beside me, looking at me earnestly. She ran outside, shouting, “He is awake, Dada (grandpa)! Woh jag gaya! (He is awake!)
The grandfather walked in. An old man in his sixties, wrinkles lined on his nevertheless bright face, walked towards me and sat at the side of the bed. The girl brought some water which I drank slowly.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“You are at the edge of the desert, my friend,” the old man said. “We found you at the foot of a dune in the desert and carried you home. If I am not wrong, you hadn’t had a single drop of water for hours.”
I nodded in reply. “I must go on. I am looking for something very important to me. Time is not to be wasted.”
As I tried to get up, the old man laid his hand on my shoulder and pushed me back, gently, into the bed. “I know what you are looking for and how important it is to you. But forsaking your health for it is not a wise idea. A man of your age should understand this. Stay with us for a day. Let yourself regain your health and then you can be off. Now sleep, please.” As if on command, my eyes closed and I drifted off.
When I woke up, it was already dusk. I got up gingerly from my bed and walked outside the hut. I saw the girl building a fire. I went to her. She looked at me and gave me a smile.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Do you go to school?”
She shook her head and ran off inside. I kept looking into the fire, thinking of the fountain. I didn’t realise the old man come and sit beside me. After a while, he spoke up, “You really are obsessed with this fountain, aren’t you?”
I was startled with his question. “How did you know about the fountain?”
He gave out a long sigh, looking into the fire. “Many young men and women have wandered these lands in search for it,” he looked at the hut, Geeta standing at the door, and back into the fire. “My son was one of those many. He made promises that he would come back, young forever, and he would bring some for me, make me young forever. But he never came. Geeta’s mother died giving birth to her, and her father got lost in search of this fountain. I am all she has.
I knew you were one of those people. I am not going to tell you to give up your quest, I don’t have the right. I am only going to tell you what I told my son. Life is a full cycle that starts with birth and ends with death. In between, we witness experiences as per each stage. And every stage has a different experience to give. You have already experienced childhood and are experiencing youth as of now. This would be replaced by old age, which you wish to avoid through the fountain.
The fountain gives you a chance to stay at one stage of your life forever. However, life is meant to be changing. If one stays at one place forever, the meaning of life is lost. Life is not about clinging to one part or one stage of your life forever. Life is about letting go and moving on. And death is the final place where you move on from this earth. How many people are you prepared to see dying before you realise that this forever youth you crave for is a curse? Are you prepared to see your future generations decay in front of your eyes while you enjoy the merits of your youth? And even if your entire generation drinks the nectar, are you and your family prepared to watch the world moving towards its end and finally find yourselves in the midst of a land full of decaying corpses? Would you stand on them proudly and claim yourself to be the king of a land which has been destroyed by nature? Ask yourself these questions before drinking the water, my friend.”
The old man got up and went inside the hut. Geeta was still standing at the door, looking at me with her innocent eyes. After a while, they came out with dinner. I was too astounded to say anything. We ate in silence and slept. The next day, I collected my stuff and went on my way to fulfil my quest.
Now, as I stood in front of the fountain, I heard the questions of the old man echoing inside me. I had the water in my hand, and I could see the happiest events that could take place in my life after drinking it. But suddenly, they were replaced by events of death all around me, while I was standing there helpless. Could I live through all these deaths and be happy? The answer came out clearer than ever. The water fell from my hands. I turned my back to the fountain and walked the way I had come.
On my way back, I came across the hut. The door was open. I looked inside and saw Geeta sitting by the bed, with her back towards me. The old man was lying on the bed. I went to them, smiling, happy to have found the true worth of my life, when I realised that the old man wasn’t moving, and tears were flowing on Geeta’s cheeks. I sat beside her, looking at the man’s face, silent and calm. Geeta looked up at me and asked, “What do we do now?”
I looked at the old man and then back at her. “We move on.”