I ordered my third Chai (tea) in just about an hour while I was sitting on the stairs beside Pappu chiwala (chai seller) on Assi Ghat. The Ganga arati was just over and the crowd had started dispersing. The constant buzzing of people’s chit chat, the sound of water waves, the rhythmic Sanskrit Shloka chants of the Vedic students from the adjacent Tulsi ghat and the occasional temple bell’s sound had consumed me into a peculiar state of mind. I was watching a group of kids blissfully enjoying flying kites, on the ghat. I wanted to freeze in that moment and shut my mind for a while from all my worldly engagements, from my own identity and from all the worldly expectations. I did not want to be alert and proactive about my responsibilities for sometime. I just wanted to loosen myself to flow steadily and have my moment of pondering over “what I want to be”.
Little away from the stairs where I was sitting, a little calf was testing the stamina of the Haridas Sadhu. The langot he had left on the stairs of the ghat to dry was now in possession of the calf. Haridas chased the calf with the best of his ability but gave up soon enough. The calf was back to the mother cow and was giving a victorious look to the old Sadhu while still chewing the remains of the langot. Haridas gave a smiling look to the little calf in response, as if saying “well played buddy”. The unspoken language on which this beautiful relationship was hinged, could be smelt in the air on that ghat, it was just magical. I immediately stood and walked up to Haridas, who had by then returned to his gang of Sadhus to consume his share of chillum puff . I am not sure what I was thinking and what urged me to go to them, but the fact is I was there sitting with those Sadhus on Assi ghat for hours on that December cold evening.
Even though I had never met any sadhu till then, I always had imaginations of meeting one and unrolling my curious mind before him. Then I was there in company of these Sadhus with all the opportunities to clear my doubts and still I did not feel any urge to ask anything, I was just listening to them. I was consumed with the truthfulness of their persona. They were so unaffected by things around. They were talking, singing, laughing, all together without a pattern and every expression was loud and clear, nothing to hide and be measured before expressing. “Ramawadh, it’s time to go to Manikarnika ghat and enjoy the great show”, said one of the Sadhus. “Come on son, we will show you the real world”, said Haridas while patting on my right shoulder. We were at the greatest shamshan on earth, Manikarnika ghat. There were at least twenty to thirty dead bodies, ready for cremation at that moment. There were family members and relatives of each of the departed ones. “Look there, they all are in either confused or distraught state of mind. Distraught is understandable but why confused, isn’t it what you are thinking”, smiled Ramawadh. He took a puff from his chillum and continues further with his commentary with an enigmatic and detached smile, “There are those who are absorbed in the memories of the departed soul, they are seeing the burning fire but are not quite there to feel the pain, instead are with the free soul. Then there are few who are in extreme pain because they are exactly there seeing the body burning in the fire and they are feeling helpless for failing to save them from the fire. There are many who are trying to believe that they are sad because it is their moral duty to be sad. There are many who know they are not very sad but they are pretending to be sad because after sometime it will be discussed who was sad and who was not. The only one there who is ecstatic, is the blissful free soul”.
After spending sometime there, while standing on the junction of two extreme manifestation of reality – life and death, my vision was clearer as never before. The ego got a decisive dent and showed me the mirror. “It is time for the dinner, we could arrange only for few potatoes today”, said one of the Sadhus. When one decides to be a Sadhu, it not only retires one from all relationships but also from all the material possessions and the urge to earn. This is a rule of any Sadhu gang, to depend on the world for sustenance of the physical body. World may call this lack of self-respect but Sadhus use this as tool to control their ego. I took the responsibility to arrange for the bonfire and some more potatoes as well. I literally went up to few shopkeepers, in the nearby market and asked for some wood, a matchstick and some potatoes for dinner. I was damned by few but at last someone expressed mercy. In all those years, I could never felt as light and relieved while begging for those things. It was not the first time that I asked for a help from strangers but earlier I acted as equal, this time I was truly humble and literally begging. It was as if I could offload all my worldly identities and washed myself clean. I felt pure and very light. The need of getting recognized, respected for my identity had suddenly vanished. We sang some Ram bhajans while we ate our dinner. I borrowed a blanket from Ramawadh for sleeping. We slept just there on the stairs of the Kedar ghat around the bonfire we had lit. I was having the best sleep of my life, for I did not have to think about tomorrow, for I was free from feeding to the fake ego of mine of all those years. I had the best sleep of my life in that cold night.
The sci-fi ringtone of my iphone was loud enough to awake me, the screen said it is ‘Papa’. “The dinner is ready and you have to complete your packing as well, come back immediately” worried voice of Papa was clearly telling, I was late. I had to fly to Delhi for my flight to Pittsburgh USA. My holidays were over and I was to fly back and report to my work in two days. Suddenly I realized, I had just finished my fourth chai while still sitting on the stairs beside Pappu Chaiwala. I turned back and saw Haridas Sadhu was still enjoying his chillum puff and I could only mumble to myself:
I’d Rather Be….that ‘Wanderer’!