The grass is up to my neck. Wherever I look, there is wild grass and a few old oak trees here and there.
It’s June 1954, Hūvös Völgy, Hungary.
The summer sun wraps the whole field in golden yellow light. It is warm. Not a cloud above, just the vast blue sky arching from horizon to horizon.
As I move forward some grasshoppers are disturbed and go airborne only to duck for cover again before the hungry swallows could swoop on them. The air is filled with the smell of grass.
The perennial bee-flights ensure that the whole field resonates with the sound of humming. Lots of white cabbage butterflies hover over the grass; some even land beside me.
But I am not interested. The butterfly net in my hand is for another exclusive purpose: to bag the elusive swallow tailed butterfly. They are magnificent with their huge vermillion fake eyes decorating their double tails which stretch out like the ribbons of colourful kites. The fake eyes surrounded by decorative multicoloured fancyworks are reminiscent of peacock feathers.
The swallowtail is much bigger than the ordinary cabbage butterfly with huge gracious wings which can stretch to 10cm across. Few children with a butterfly collection could resist the temptation of trying to catch at least one of them even though they are protected. So hunting them has that extra excitement of acting like a wicked poacher.
But it is not just a swallowtail that I am after. I would also love to lay my hands on a stag beetle, preferably with huge double stags. And if I could also find a shed snakeskin, well, that would really make my day. I know these are all here somewhere in this vast field, hidden out of sight in the tall grass.
I reach a clearing with a stream. I quench my thirst with crystal clear water and soak my feet in it. My hot red feet tingle and steam in the ice cold water. I look up at the branches of a tall oak tree towering over me. I feel the gentle breeze stroking my face.
I am thoroughly contented. In fact, I am so relaxed that I decline the temptation to climb the oak tree to steal the eggs from a bird nest that I just sighted not too high up in the tree. For a moment I could not even care if I did not catch a prized swallowtail or a staghorn beetle.
I feel like a jungle boy protected and nurtured by the tall wild grass around.
I recall the famous lines of Petőfi’s poem that I learnt in year two of my primary school in Budapest just before we broke for this summer holiday.
“Oh, nature, oh glorious nature. What language could compete with you? How great you are and the more you keep quiet,
The more eloquently and the more volumes you speak!”
I am starting to feel hungry, but I did not bring lunch and I do not want to return home.
I survey the scene.
Some 250m away not far up on a hill I spot strips of long red rows. My guess is that they are ripe raspberries. My mouth waters at the prospect of checking them out. So I head for the hill in a hurry. At its bottom, there is a winding dirt road leading up to the gardens. There is an ox, yoked to an old cart with an even older man driving it. He offers me a lift uphill. It turns out that he owns the raspberry farm. He invites me in for a taster. To make sure I seem polite, I tell him I have not got money on me.
“Never mind,” he laughs kindly. “Have as much as you like.”
Well, that is all I need to hear! He probably has no clue as to how hungry I am.
When we get to the raspberry rows he lets me off and stops his ox. He leaves his cart and walks leisurely to his farmhouse.
Now it’s just me, the ox, yoked to its cart and the raspberry fields.
I invade the bush like a hungry fox let loose in a chook pen. I eat so much raspberry that I can barely move. I stagger to the ox.
I never saw a yoked animal before.
But the image of this yoked ox remains clearly etched in my mind to this day.
The yoke ensured that the cart and the ox were inseparable. Wherever the driver directed the ox, the cart had to follow too.
Twenty-two years later when I started yoga, I learnt that yoga means ‘yoke’.
It would yoke my character to my soul so that I would go with it without deviation. The memory of the generous farmer, the ox and its yoked cart helped me to understand the magnificence of this concept.
The good old man’s raspberries eased my hunger.
Like every delicious yoga session.
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