Parenting with(out) Fear…Rafting in the Himalayas!!

by Ashok Subramanian, Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu

Two years back, I did a course in the mountains of Dehradhun on NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and CBT jointly with a professor from Delhi.

We traveled to the Eastern Himalayas with my family along with one of our family friends, Rajalakshmi Raman.

One of the advantages with home schooling is…that I can take my family along with me for my training trips and also the flight tickets are cheaper during the exam times and hence we usually plan our trips not during the peak summer holidays, but during School’s Half-yearly or Annual Exam times.

After a lovely course in the mountain, I had a planned a few days to tour the Himalayas with my family and, as usual, I had not planned anything specific. The idea was to rest and move around to the nearby areas of interest and then come back.

One of our course participants Vijay Ep was also planning to tour around the Himalayas on his bike for a few days after the course. He also planned to stay back in Rishikesh, where we also were staying the same night.

Hence we planned to meet up in the hotel for dinner. During the dinner, Vijay casually asked me about the plans for the next day. I told him that we wanted to do a temple visit close-by with minimum inconvenience to ourselves. This temple was just 2 hrs away by car and we could go in the morning and come back in the evening easily. I dont like too much hassle or getting hurried by wanting to cover too many things.

Vijay told us that his friend had suggested to him that rafting was very special and not be missed in Rishikesh and he asked if we would be open to come to rafting along with him.

My daughter was listening and asked, “What is rafting?”…Vijay was explaining and I was not sure about any adventure…I told him that we were okay with just going to the temple.

My daughter asked me why are we not going for rafting…I told her that it could be dangerous.

The next day, when we were about to start, Vijay realised that the path he had to take was different and hence he started early on his way.

It was me, my wife Pria, Vipasha and our friend Rajalakshmi who started our trip to the temple in the car.

On the way, we found streams of ganges flowing on the road side and some people were rafting. My daughter looked at them and asked me, “Isn’t it dangerous for them?”

I really thought about it and realised that it was the fear in me which was stopping me and my daughter.

Instead of brushing her question aside in haste by giving unreal reasons, which sometimes I do, I confessed to her that I have a lot of fear about rafting and hence I am not inclined.

I told her that my parents did not introduce me or my wife to rafting, as we never ventured into such situations. Hence, we never had the opportunity to raft and so we were not comfortable with the idea.

She replied that if it is not dangerous, then we all try it.

I convinced her that on our way back from the temple, we would consider her request. She agreed.

On our way back from the temple, we came to know that there was a waterfall close-by. The driver said we could not do both waterfall and rafting. We could do only one of the things.

Knowing my daughter’s love for waterfall, I was very subtly trying to sell her the waterfall plan on the condition that we could do only one. We could do waterfall instead of rafting. I told her it may be safer.

She persisted that she would want to do rafting. She was turning restless. I was thinking that I am now paying the price for engaging with her in a casual conversation.

I was enquiring with the driver on the cost and other details and safety of rafting, all-the-while silently cursing Vijay for introducing this idea on our peaceful trip.

I turned to my wife and Raji to check if they were okay with the idea of rafting? Their faces gave me an expression which said….”Seriously?”

They tried their bit to convince Vipasha on why we should not try rafting. This was all in vain. Having learnt that it was pretty safe, but it was just our fears stopping us, Vipasha was adamant that we had to do this now.

I had to take a call. I contemplated for a moment, “Should I stand by my fears or should I be fair to her courage?”

If I had said a strict No, she may not have persisted so much. Her persistence was on the basis of my statement that, ”Rafting may be safe, but I am afraid.” I know she found a hope in that statement that so that her asking for it was not an unfair request.

Many times in parenting, I have had this confusion of whether to tell her the truth or start manipulating her reality to suit my convenience! Many times, I had opted for telling her the truth, even if I was not likely to win the argument or the decision that we might take might not be in my favour. I have always tried to be a soldier of truth in my life. I was trying to be the same now with my daughter. She was wanting to take the path of truth over the path of fear.

Not wanting to disappoint my daughter in pursuing her path of courage, I said okay, taking my wife and Raji in confidence by assuring them that we will explore what it is, and we should break the pattern of what our parents did to us.

In my young age, an astrologer once told my mum that I have a ‘Kandam’ when in water…which meant that I have to be safe around water or I might have an accident or my death could happen through water.

From that day on, my mum never allowed me to venture into a lake/well. I never learnt swimming in my childhood. My grandparents would take me to their well in their farm and with appropriate protection, I used to play in the well with other friends, but that was all curtailed in my home.

I was revisiting that fear now, wondering if this was what was stopping me from pursuing rafting here!

We almost left everything in the car and were geared up in the rafting gear! We were allowed to carry one mobile phone for taking pictures, which would be kept in the plastic bag by the rafting leaders for us to take the pictures.

Dressing up in the rafting gear was something we all enjoyed. We took a lot of pictures of each other very bravely and happily on the bank and then we were given training instructions.

There were only three rafters in our group and hence they asked me to man the fourth corner. I couldn’t believe it. My wife and Raji looked me in despair but smiled.

They showed us a ball which was tied by a string to the boat. In case some one falls in the water during rafting, they said they will throw this ball towards them and the person in the water should try and hold to the ball to avoid sinking.

The three of us looked at each other with a frozen look on our faces. My daughter was carefree and all excited. She was dying to get into the raft!

My tongue was rolling itself to ask the question, “What happens if we can’t hold that ball???”

Looking at the expression on my wife’s face and Raji’s face, I kept quiet.

I remembered my mum, the astrologer and his prediction once again!

The three of us (Raji, Pria and Myself) were looking at each other and were wondering what are we up to!

None of us wanted to step back, having come this far. But I was experiencing my fear deep down in my belly.

I thought I would be held responsible by my family, Pria’s family and Raji’s family if some mishap occurred. I was asking myself, in trying to give in to my daughter’s unrealistic needs, was I putting all of us in danger?

I was just recovering from my eczema episode, which I was suffering with for the past 2 years, and thinking we don’t want one more setback and that too immediately!

I could hear my mum’s reaction and my larger family’s reaction, if they came to know about this. I was already justifying my action to them in my mind.

The rafters started educating us about rapids. They were telling me that when the whole raft gets agitated while crossing the turbulent areas in water (the rapids), I should row faster and should not stop in the middle of the agitation. I said okay, looking at my pale arms, which were just recovering from the eczema!

There are some moments in life where you are left totally to yourself and that is when one remembers God. And that we are never totally on our own. This was one such moment.

My daughter was also getting a sense of the fear and she asked me what would happen if we fell in the river. I told her convincingly that the Ganges is god and would not let anyone, who believes in her, down. I told her that Ganges will safely bring us back to the shore, remembering the Baktha Prahalada story. She seemed to be very convinced with that answer, but I was not!

As we were just about to start, all these rafters who were just in their twenties, shouted in loud chorus, “Ganga Mata ki Jai” (Victory/Respect to Mother Ganga). That is when I realised that our lives were not in our hands now, but in the hands of Mother Ganga!

I thought to myself, our lives are never in our hands but by building a house and living inside it, we feel so safe and it takes an experience like this to really understand the truth of life.

We also shouted back “Ganga Mata ki Jai,” as if we were heading into battle with the waters.

As we were approaching towards a rapid, I moved towards Raji and whispered in her ear, “Madam, if you have any fear, you can repeat Shivaya Namah again and again and it will help.” I whispered the same to my wife and daughter too.

My daughter was looking at the approaching rapid with wide eyes! Our rafter friends were introducing the approaching rapid, “This Rapid’s name is Sweet Sixteen!!”

I was smiling nervously.

As soon as we were on the rapid, the whole raft was quaking like an earth quake. We all burst out in fear in chorus, “Sivaya Namah! Sivaya Namah! Sivaya Namah!!!” Non-stop. It is only in these moments that the amount of devotion that we have for god comes out so openly without any shyness! The logic which was driving our lives seems to be totally useless in these situations. We were left with devotion as our only hope.

The only instruction that I had in my mind was to row faster without stopping. My hands were just doing that and, within 10–15 seconds, we were out of the rapid into the calm water again.

We all burst into laughter happily remembering our chorus shout of “Sivaya Namah,” acknowledging the amount of fear that we all had about our own lives!

The beauty of the water and the mountains in such close proximity was doing to something to our heart! As we were getting lost in that beauty, the rafters introduced the next rapid. The name was Terminator (I don’t know where they get these names from?!).

We had a similar second round, just that we were a bit more confident and the way we were saying “Shivaya Namah” was slightly less louder than before. We had a lot of hope this time that we would all be safe. We started consciously trusting the Ganges.

Terminator was done and we moved into a tranquil area in water completely calm and still. What a surprise it was to see these different topographies in the same flowing river!

We found another raft ahead of us full of youngsters. This would be their first time too, I thought. I could connect to their nervous giggles from a distance.

The raft leaders instructed us that a safe area was approaching if any of us wanted to take a dip in the Ganges. The idea of taking a dip in the Ganges holding on to the rope in the stairs of the bank was scarier than this. The dip here was much easier as we could hold onto the raft. I said okay and slipped into my side of the water. My daughter said she also wanted to come. She also jumped in holding onto the raft.

I was holding the raft rope with one hand and her with the other. I asked the rafters, “Is it safe to drink this water?” They looked at me in disbelief and said, “This is mother Ganga’s water. Can there be anything purer than this?”

Coming from the mineral water mindset prevalent in the urban world, I realised I never knew about the purity of water at its source. I put my head in and drank as much water as I could. I told my daughter to drink it too. The taste was so rich and pure. I understood the word ‘purity’ only then in my life!

In the nearby raft, I noticed that none of them jumped into the water for the dip. They were looking at us with astonishment and commenting with each other, “That small girl is doing it. Can’t we do it?” One or two started to slip into the water from their raft.

My wife took some pictures and was also ready to slip into the water.

I looked at Raji. She was happy on the raft! I smiled back.

All three of us took a family dip, thanking the Himalayas, Ganges and life itself for this most wonderful experience.

We managed to climb back into the raft and we were heading towards the third rapid which was called Double Trouble. The names were just upping our excitement.

I remember that this rapid was supposed to be the longest one, more than 20–30 seconds, i think.

We were all relaxed and enjoyed rafting through the third one with all our adrenalin pumped up with courage and excitement.

When it was done, we moved towards the tranquil bit again.

As we were approaching the bank where our vehicle was already waiting to depart, my daughter whispered to me, “Dad, can we go reverse once again!”

We three adults were completely satisfied that we were reaching the bank. For my daughter, things had just started. She said she wants to come again. She said that it was only 3 rapids and she wants more of them.

I told her that we can come here again next year. She can come and live in the Himalayas, if she loves these kind of adventures, when she grows up.

As I was saying this, I was realising how ‘grown up’ I have become to not ask for more rapids adventures in my life!! I admired the youthful energy in my daughter, something which I also had in my younger days but seemed to have lost now.

“What has my life done to me?,” I was wondering out loud, as I thought what a loss it would have been for all of us if we had just said “no” to our daughter.

Thanks to Vijay! It was his energy which my daughter caught on to! We need such uncles for children. Otherwise, what will the poor dads and mums do with their children? :)

Thanks to my daughter and her persistence! She not only got the experience for herself, but also helped me break out of the fear that the astrologer had driven me and my mom into. We all returned as different people — reborn again!

They say that it is our mentors in the sky who choose to be born as babies to mentor us in our lives, to help us experiment with our paths outside of the boundaries set by our parents — so that we are guided to the right path!

We made this trip at a time when we were still recovering from one of the worst turbulences that we had faced emotionally in our lives i.e., after my dad’s loss and my sickness. My daughter’s way of mentoring me in that tough phase was to give us this experience. It could be metaphorically applied to my life in the following ways:

1. Don’t let the fear take over you;

2. Be courageous and risk your life, trusting the supreme power;

3. Keep rowing fast without stopping, when your life moves into turbulence;

4. Remember to recite his Name to distract your mind from anxiety (it definitely helps);

5. Tranquil waters are waiting after the turbulence!

How wonderful! If only we knew how to listen to our children as our mentors, giving up our ego and tuning our wisdom with theirs from time to time while growing together. How beautiful parenting will be then, I thought, that instead of mindlessly passing on our fears along with our strengths to our children, we try to give them a choice to experiment for themselves wherever possible?

Ganga Matha ki Jai!!!