“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
~ Henry David Thoreau (Walden)
Someone once told me that smiling and greeting people you encounter is a beautiful way to bond with a place. I have been trying to inculcate that habit in me ever since. It has indeed been a very enriching and pleasant experience. It is funny how every time I am in Rishikesh (I am there many days in an year, it almost feels like I belong there now!) when I walk between Ram Jhula and the Lakshman Jhula, many stall owners, Baba and locals who are sitting on the benches, recognise me. It feels good. I feel less like a traveller and more like a resident.
One of those people is him………..
His Name, I do not know. I never asked. I wonder why! I met him for the first time while walking beyond Lakshman Jhula on my first visit to Rishikesh as a Solo Traveller (October 2016). He was sitting with a lady. She was lighting a dhoop and they both greeted me as I passed by them. I smiled back at them. He told me- “You smiled but you did not greet me back!”. I said- “Namastey!” My attention immediately shifted to the lady. I was curious about what she was up to with the fuming thing in her hand. I asked her what she was doing. She said that it was Dhoop stick (an incense) and she was lighting it up.
They invited me to join them for a chat. I agreed and sat beside them. Honestly, I was sceptical about it, but not scared.
I talked to the lady for a while and asked her how she came to befriend the Baba. She told me that he seemed different from the others. He sat there silently and did not ask her for money like the rest. So, she started bringing him Chai and talking to him. She added that she looked forward to interacting with Babas and Monks while travelling. She found their lives fascinating and wanted to know more about their lifestyle. Her experiences with them had been quite similar except for the fact that at times, while conversing, the monks would suddenly stop talking and get into meditation while the Babas often entered their own world and kept on speaking, words gaining depth beyond her comprehension.
Soon, the three of us began talking. The Baba told us about his life. I asked him how he managed to live that way. He said- “I had a family, a house and a vehicle. I was in possession of material objects. But, at a certain phase in life, my attachment to people, to material objects, began to fade. I took off. Now, I live on bare necessities. I do not have a footwear but I trek the mountains. I do not have money but I find food. I do not posses anything but I find what I need. God is there and he is looking after me.”
I translated his words for the lady. She asked me how people in general perceived the Babas. I did not know what to reply. I thought for a moment. I told her the truth of how people think that most of them are absconders or thieves. Then, she asked me what happened to their bodies after they died since they have no family. I was silent. I said I did not know. There was silence then. I looked at the Baba and tried to imagine what his life must be like. But, I could not. My attachment to material objects rendered me unable to even think of a life sans any.
Sensing our silence, the Baba asked me to advise the lady to learn some Hindi. He said she must have faced scams. I conveyed his message. The conversation went on. Every passerby turned to look at our unconventional and unusual trio. We could see them judging the entire setting. The Baba did not seem to pay any heed to them. He said, “Most people see me as an inferior being, someone who does not deserve to live. I get stares and looks of disapproval. People hide little kids from me. It felt very insulting and disheartening at first. Now, I am used to it. Perhaps, some people who claim themselves to be a Baba have done things that have led to us being perceived as cheats and drug peddlers. However God knows me. He treats me just as he treats others. Sometimes I feel really close to God.” I felt very sad and remorseful about the instances when I had avoided and prejudiced against people.
Something rather interesting happened then. A group of four guys approached the Baba and asked him to step aside. They asked him if he had any Marijuana. The Baba looked at them for a while and then, smirked. He said, “Just because I dress like this and have a different lifestyle than yours does not mean, I sell Marijuana or cheat people.” He asked them to leave. They left mumbling something, annoyed with him. The entire episode justified his words. It was like getting a peek at his life. I felt sorry for him and made up my mind to be more open and think before judging people. Again, there was silence.
This time, it was the lady who broke the silence. She asked me how people in India responded to Indian women taking up solo travelling. We talked about it for a while. She suggested me to visit the four Dhams and the twelve Jyotirlingas. She told me how she loved India and was intrigued by the diverse spectrum of cultures! I realised how lucky I am to be born in a country with such rich culture and a history that is one of the most ancient on this Earth. I wanted to be more connected to it’s roots. To explore, discover and learn more about this beautiful and exotic part of the Earth. I think the conversation made my respect and love for India increase tenfold.
I was lost in thoughts. Suddenly, I realised that it was 5.45 p.m. and I was getting late for the Parmarth Niketan Aarti. It would take me at least half an hour to walk till there. I asked the Baba if I could take his picture. Then, I bid them farewell and walked. I was immersed in thoughts and the way between the two Jhulas seemed even more beautiful. I observed the small houses that were given to the Sanyasis, the old-old trees with aerial roots and saw the beauty of simplicity! There were two monkeys on one of such houses, they jumped on the roof and played with each-other. Everything was meaningful. The mountains in the backdrop, the birds up in the sky, the sky changing its hues and the cows confused and looking for place to walk. I had found “my place”. The place that was mine. Where I belong, not by birth or because of education but from my soul. I was glad! Rishikesh had become my sacred space. The one where I could be me. I had a smile on my face and I was happy.
I reached the ghat and spent hours even after the Aarti on the ghat just watching the river flow. Life is a flowing river. Catch as many memories as you can before you meet the sea. The material possessions are left behind and all one carries is the water of wisdom and memories.
Like I said, on this voyage of life, we meet people who address our spirit and add a little something to our existence. I believe such people are messengers of Nature. They show us how simple and beautiful life is. There is peace in simplicity and simplicity in peace. Sometimes, we forget how great and magical the phenomenon of “Life” is in itself. We forget to celebrate life. So, everyday, let’s make the most of our lives- add value to our existence, create memories and share joy. We are all connected…..