He is a saffron clad-baba, aged around forty, swiping his wooden staff to avail a lift on some two-wheeler. He is well built and a mere look at his ears bearing glass rings makes his identity evident. He is a follower of Nath sampradaya, a follower of Baba Gorakh Nath. He couldn’t have thrown his staff in front of a more suitable vehicle. With the Baba confidently pillion riding I ask him the whereabouts of his journey.
Becoming an ascetic wasn’t his conscious choice. His parents hadn’t any child even after many years of marriage and they made a vow before the holy fire in an ashram belonging to Nath Sampradaya that if they had children with the great saint’s blessings, they will offer the first born to the sect to be raised as a complete renunciator on the path. With the great saint’s blessings they had four children and keeping their vow they offered the first born to dhoona, the holy fireplace at the ashram. Now the very same sadhu is pillion riding my bike.
He has been to all corners of India on pilgrimages and evaluates people’s worth in terms of their disposition towards kindness. The latter aptly measured in terms of their opening the purse for charity donations. These are hard times. A baba has to have something in the purse to survive because everything is monetized. Literally every breath we take seems to come at some financial cost. So this baba too is entitled to innocently covet money like all of us do. I don’t have any right to expect too many spiritual and hard-penanced elements in this baba’s life because asceticism isn’t his choice. It has been handed over to him by his parents. Thankfully he seems to have accepted his fate and doesn’t seem to hold any grudge against them for depriving him of a role on the normal worldly stage.
The crux of his philosophy that he told me can be summarized in a few lines: ‘Health is the biggest blessing a human being can possess. Health is as important to a fakir as it’s to a king. Both cannot follow their path with full commitment with ill health.’ Well, cannot agree with him more.
As he disembarks from the bike, I teasingly ask him, ‘Should I give you 100 rupees maharaj?’ As I’m drawing out my purse he comes to fresher spark of life, ‘Of course beta, of course, some chai pani!’ The major advantage of being a sanyasi is that you get entitled to call everyone a beta, anyone from newborns to centurions. He has quick eyes to scan the contents in my purse as I search for the promised 100 rupee note. The money is given. But these are hard times you know. Nothing seems sufficient, at least financially. I am expecting a smiling blessing but I find him serious and pointing to the lower side pocket of his saffron robe. The cloth is well-washed and looks quite new, not worn out at all. A bit of stitching has gone in a corner of the pocket.
‘The robe is torn beta. Baba would be pleased if you get him a new one,’ he sulks. I am about to laugh and say, ‘Baba, it just needs a stitch that would come for free, so why take the trouble of getting a new one for this.’ But I keep quite. ‘Maybe even a baba needs safe new pockets to do justice to the charity money by keeping it well guarded in sturdy pockets,’ I tease him within myself without giving any outward sign of my insights.
In any case he has decided to further lighten the weight of my purse which is already light. ‘I don’t have a clue to the price of an ascetic robe. How much do you think it costs?’ I ask him. ‘About 600 rupees!’ he tells smartly. Now I realize he has blessed the 500 rupee note in my purse by his kindly gaze and with this additional amount, apart from the one already in his grasp, the charity would match the price of a robe. I feel primarily sad at such times, if nothing else. So resignedly give into his charity-seeking enthusiasm and hand over the 500 rupee note to him. I casually look at the 100 rupee note in his hand. He instinctively puts both of them in his cloth bag as if afraid that I may ask for the smaller denomination to be returned in lieu of the bigger note.
Before I realize he has drawn something out of his pocket, grabs my hand and secretly puts something on my palm, folding his hand over my closed fist as if he has handed me the most miraculous nag mani, the gem of alchemy. ‘Keep it with you and it will save you from all dangers, make you a millionaire, make you the luckiest man on earth!’ his blessings are profuse. After all, 600 rupees in one stroke sometimes turns out to be more than the entire charity that they collect in a week. Most probably I have just contributed to his ganja smoke at the most.
I am about to burst out with laughter at his blessed gem but to help him assume that I’m in awe of his blessing I keep silent. It’s a five-mukhi rudraksh bead, that too a fake one, most probably. But to make him happy I keep it in my pocket. I have no reason to be angry at him. I cannot hold too lofty spiritual expectations from him because the path isn’t born of his conscious choice. He was just pushed into it, like most of teeming millions that we see robed in ascetic cloths across India.
He is still speaking and before I hear some other financial plan for the upkeep of his saintly ways I shoot away like a rocket. He was still speaking while I sped away. I don’t know why but I rode pretty fast after that. Maybe it was the reaction of my subconscious mind for losing some money because money has turned out to be as dear as life these days.
He was practical enough to ask my name and the village of my residence. ‘I will pay a visit to your nagri,’ I heard him shouting as I sped away. Most probably he finds me someone who is simpleton enough whose purse can be opened with the slightest effort. But he is grossly mistaken on this. I am happy to contribute to his ganja smoke once but if he commits the mistake of following my track to my village for further ganja doses then the baba will be trouble.
Here is my plan of action if he is unlucky enough to follow the foolish scheme: I will welcome him at my place, offer him water, serve him tea and ask for food if he is hungry. And the moment he demands money—which he would most probably—I would produce the fake rudraksh bead asking for full refund.
That night when I went to bed I had a hearty laugh: ‘I bought a fake rudraksh bead for 600 rupees. Imagine my lack of business sense and with that sense I once—height of heights—explored the possibility of turning a businessman and scouted some countries in Africa, central Asia and eastern part of Asia.’ The plan lightened my pockets to almost perfect weightlessness. But this reflection at least assuaged those mild bruises of losses whose pinch I feel sometimes during nostalgic moments. No point in going into that all. That’s all the normal stuff as it happens to most of the people. Nothing exceptional about that. But the baba has to be careful. Very careful.