My friends, first, I would like to thank you all for your kind support and encouragement that you have given me in response to my earlier writing endeavors. I have to say that I really didn’t expect such a response to my efforts when I had started out. Now that my sorry excuse of an acceptance speech is done with, I hope you would take the time one more time to go through my latest train of thoughts, which I would like to share in this note with you. Forgive me if I don’t live up to your standards, it’s been a while since I last wrote, but that doesn’t mean that you should hold back in your criticism.
I really can’t believe that life can be this hectic, especially when it’s summer! And what a whirlwind this past month had been! I had involved myself in a scooter accident, had a harrowing experience in catching up with my unforgiving college’s exacting attendance standards, and then the mad rush of bringing myself up to date with the latest goings on in college, only to be capped by a whirlwind marathon of xeroxing notes, snapping pictures of assignments, copying them like a mindless copywriter, getting caught copying in mock tests (trust me, never, ever ask a lecturer to have a heart, I’m still paying the consequences for it!), end sem lab tests, and then cramming humongous portions that get covered in ridiculously small one-hour sessional papers, only to have finals in theory subjects staring at you two weeks down the line, all the while balancing commitments to friends, a demanding girlfriend, and a forever concerned pair of parents! And to think that Engineering is supposed to be a chilled out phase in life!
I have to say that I haven’t felt this relieved in a long while. I have made the most of this break, going through documents, movies, music, videos, and photos, which had cluttered up my laptop over the past few months. As I pored over this disorganized array of data, I stumbled upon a set of photos taken at the Mumbai airport, on my way to Mauritius last year. Going through all those photos refreshed my perennially forgetful mind, and it is one such memory that I’d like to relate you now, without further ado.
It was almost 10 months ago, at the national terminus of Mumbai‘s Chattrapati Shivaji Airport. My flight from Mangalore had just landed, and even though I was exhausted by the entire ordeal of check in, security, boarding, and being immobile in my seat for an hour and a half, I had felt like a second wind had passed through my bones as I alighted the tarmac and followed my family into the spacious building that handles some of the heaviest passenger traffic in Asia. Mumbai is the maximum city, and true to the romantic images conjured up time and again in popular culture, I felt enamored by the sight of its terrain, flanked by miles upon miles of the concrete jungle that stretched beyond one’s eye. Even though the transit was for just four hours, it felt amazing just to be back in Mumbai in less than a year. Mumbai has always been special to me, for reasons that I’ll share with you in the coming days, for that is a special story that deserves a space of its own.
However, that feeling of nostalgia had drifted away into a sinking realization that I had to resign myself to a monotonous existence for a further six hours. (twelve if you included the travel time from Mumbai to Mauritius). My restless mind had nothing else to do. Having already finished the battery life of my iPod and having read all the magazines I had brought along, I sat on an ice-cold seat at the arrivals lounge, watching as a sea of humanity brought along in its wake an incomprehensible mass of nuclear families, some just married and on their honey moon resembling a strange blend of modernity infused with modernity, the western attire meshing conspicuously with the mehendi still fresh in the palms of the brides with their hands decked up with blood-red bangles symbolizing perhaps, the martyrdom of their husbands on the altar of marriage strutting their stuff imperiously, even as their hapless and literally strait jacketed husbands lugged their baggage along, some long married, with irritable toddlers bawling on the luggage trolleys, some with moody teenagers typing away furiously on their cellphones or just being indifferent to their parents commands as the music played on their headphones, some with infirm parents being treated like an unnecessary burden, which in itself is sad, considering India is one of the most inhospitable countries for a senior citizen, all rising and crashing like the inscrutable waves that they had rendered themselves into.
Having travelled this often, I wasn’t really helped by this exercise. However it wasn’t before long that I finally saw a fellow traveler who had caught my fancy. No, it wasn’t some famous business tycoon, nor was it a celebrity, nor was it a drop dead gorgeous woman with whom I would never in a million years (correction, a billion years) would have a chance with. It was, my dear readers, a relic of India‘s rich and ancient religio-cultural past. I, of all the people in the world, was focusing all my energies observing the movements of a Sadhu, or a God-Man, or a Charlatan, depending on what way you looked at it. This man, who seemed to be in his late 70’s, was clad in the sacred saffron robes of his occupation, with his matted locks frayed and graying, and his beard, flowing down the expanse of his neck and downwards towards his belly, was wheel-chair bound and had been accompanied by an entourage of stocky and corpulent looking middle-aged men, some of whom hurried behind in his wake, some who spoke rapidly in some North Indian language which sounded like Sindhi, or Marwari by the looks of it, to one another and some who barked rapid instructions into their cellphones, apparently to some subordinates who, perhaps were waiting to receive their spiritual master at the threshold of the airport.
All this would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the following sequence of events: The old man *I hope the ones among you who are of religious inclination would forgive me for addressing him thus* stopped, or rather made the attendant wheeling him along, stop in his tracks. He was fascinated by a display of a high-end luxury sedan which was prominently on display at the arrivals lounge. This attraction had been largely ignored; except for a bunch of highly enthusiastic children who were ushered away by their parents who were possibly worried that their little ones would damage this piece of luxury. The old man, who had been the epitome of serenity and bliss up until now, was suddenly jerked back into the confines of our materialistic world. He breathlessly spoke to his aides, and no sooner than this happened had a salesman materialized out of nowhere, breathlessly answering the surprisingly well-versed guru’s questions of torque, mileage, top speed, gear mechanisms, cabin volume and so on and so forth. The volley of questions and answers was then capped off by the sound of a cheque being torn by a devotee and then passed to the old man, who proceeded to write, what one could only assume to be the astronomical sum which the car must have cost.
And thus, the same salesman, who appeared out of nowhere, seemingly disappeared into the background, with untold glee of having made a sale, while the Sadhu nonchalantly had himself wheeled away in all his glory.
All this made me wonder: surely this Sadhu’s wealth was fuelled by the more than generous contributions of his devotees, who no doubt might have fallen head over heels to please their redoubtable master. But what would these very same devotees say if they had seen their master perform such acts of sheer materialism and opulence? What sort of illogical justification would they give in their master’s defense? That he had to match up to the grandeur of the other God-men of this world? Would they be shame faced knowing that their wealth could have gone to better use, perhaps in service of those who really needed it? Like the poor and destitute? And why on earth are these people so stupid as to believe so blindly that a fellow human being is capable of having miraculous powers and exalted status inspite of being as mean minded as the next guy on the street?
In this manner my ranting and raving over matters of the spiritual and the sensual would have continued, had it not been for a drop dead gorgeous woman who, like in the mould of the Apsaras of old who were sent to destroy the intense meditation of the Rishis, snapped me out of all these noble thoughts by sitting next to me and making small talk.
I know what you’re all thinking with this last paragraph dear readers, but Men will be Men!
Photo Courtesy: Sunil Kumar | Monk and His Ferrari.