Have you ever wondered why we gravitate towards certain situations and certain kinds of people? Why we instinctively trust and commit to a certain individual? I have wondered that. A lot.
The last few weeks, I have been thinking about Maamaji. I spent a lot of my time in the Himalayas with him. I was specifically wondering what made me choose him? Me and him – We were an eclectic duo. We come from two different worlds. He was an ageing Hindu pandit in a remote north Indian village. I was a catholic from South India with a fatal obsession for Yoga/Sadhguru. There were so many aspects of Maamaji’s personality that weighed uncomfortably on my then new-age-spirituality sensibilities. For eg, Maamaji personally rolls his tobacco and smokes them unapologetically after performing some Pooja in the nearby Uttarkashi temple. He charges money for performing these poojas promising that “Bhole Baba will help you pass the exam” etc. He gets angry quickly. Sometimes for arbitrary reasons. Any one of the above things could have easily alienated me from him on a regular day. But the circumstances in which I came across Maamaji were far from regular.
I recently listened to a podcast from my favorite Neil DeGrasse Tyon where he was interviewing Mr Shatner (who played Capt Kirk in the Star trek series). In one particular interaction Shatner whines about Neil’s explanation of time dilation was just not making sense. He said that “that was too crazy, that’s just too confusing. Why couldn’t there be a simpler explanation?”. Pat came the reply: “It is not the business of the universe to make it easy for you to understand.” Sadhguru said something similar “The purpose of the existence is to exist. It is too fantastic to have a purpose”.
I am glad that I was sufficiently on the edge that I let my path choose me. And Maamaji. I am happy that I met Maamaji. Happier because it made me realize just how bountiful the existence is. Just how freely Life dispenses to those who trust it. I am happiest because with Maamaji, I experienced the magnificence that is India. It contextualized what Sadhguru has been saying all along.
Someone asked me why I chose to use a picture of Nalla Sivam (a character in the tamil movie “Anbe Sivam”) for my first blog post where I openly talked about my experiences in the Himalayas. The analogy with the film’s characters was eerie. I was the quintessential city slicker – a fish out of water (like Madhavan’s character) and Maamaji was the serendipitous travel-mate that the path chose for me (like Kamal Hassan’s Nalla Sivam). Like Nalla Sivam, Maamaji has his many quirks:
- Maamaji has an intense love for Shiva. Almost bordering on the fanciful. “How to walk up to that hill? – Bhole will take care. “There are so many tourists from Delhi here. What to do?” – Bhole will kick their butts. “How to say ‘My legs are aching’ in Garhwali?” - <Big Chuckle> Bhole will carry you all the way to Kedar. Nalla Sivam and Maamaji will disagree on the definition of Shiva but I reckon that they will reconcile and be like each other’s best friend forever.
- I strongly suspect Maamaji has/had some domestic issues. He does not talk about it. But people in the village said that Maamji was once married. He has a grown daughter. After his daughter’s marriage, things kind of fell apart domestically. Nobody says much beyond that. But I remember seeing his face become sad when somebody mentions things about their family/wife etc to him. This was reminiscent of the Nalla sivam’s doomed love life.
- Maamaji is an absolute expert in making rotis/parathas. His expertise extends to his uncanny way by which he can setup a cooking rig almost anywhere. While trekking the Himalayas, there is of course very little organized food on the way. Especially once we were close to Bhaelak/Panwali pass, things get thin. But Maamaji can magically create cooking rigs from jungle debris. I used to work in the kitchen back in the Ganeshpur ashram and i am proud to say, he was mighty impressed by my vegetable cutting skills.
Just like the way Anbarasu (from the movie) got so many revelations in the company of Nalla, I got to experience so many new things in his company. It was perhaps for the first time that I had a quintessential experience of ‘Bharat’. To put it melodramatically, it was by Maamji’s side that “India got to me”.
I sometimes wonder what Maamji will say when he comes to know of what all I did after I left Uttarakhand. I am pretty sure he will not appreciate me getting married. I find myself strangely yearning for his approval. I also worry about his well-being. He was a consummate smoker of limited means. But the singular overpowering emotion that I have for Maamji is gratitude. I experienced the India that Sadhguru keeps talking about in my own limited way. I learnt that despite so many differences, there are so many shared ethos which make up our most intimate part of our lives. I discovered that Hinduism is far from being a mono-lithic religion. Coming from a Christian upbringing, I always thought that Hinduism is “another” religion. My experiences with Isha/Sadhguru made me understand that there are parts of Hinduism that are not comparable to other Abrahamic religions. In the company of Maamaji I witnessed the diversity of beliefs/lifestyle/practices that is associated with Hinduism. Many of the seekers that I met on the way had their own practices, their own guru, their unique lifestyle. To club them together into on amorphous label called “Hindu” and passing judgements on them based on unnuanced knowledge is the very definition of prejudice and bigotry.
There was this swami from Varanasi that we met on the way. He was sent out of his ‘guru ashrama’ to go on the Himalayan walking circuit. He was sent with no money, no formal spiritual initiation. Just a hint to get lost in the Himalayas for a few years. Apparently this was called “Bharat Darshan” and is a well-trodden tradition. When I first heard the term “Bharat Darshan”, I loved it. Mainly because I was in one myself. It felt good that whatever was happening to me had a name. And Maamaji was there to guide this clueless, penniless tamil boy on this uncharted terrain.
The first day I took alms, there was an unprecedented sense of urgency about my sadhana. I remember it as a moment of epic internal implosion. The only dignified way that I could take biksha was by promising myself that I will do my sadhana with sincerity. Otherwise what I was doing amounted to thievery or beggary. The first few days of taking biksha, a new sense of humility dawned on me. It was a humility that seeped into my bones. I have long since came down from the mountains. I have taken up a job, a mortgage and a marriage. I cringe at what Maama’ji would wonder in the unlikely case he sees me randomly walking on the streets of Dublin. “What the hell happened to the guy walking towards Kedar?”
Every night I wonder the same thing.
The Boulevard Montmartre at Night by Camille Pissarro.