Seven Barefoot Saints

Mar 25, 2005

"Can we touch your feet?" It was a simple question to seven 65+ year olds. And out came a simple answer, "Yes."

Jayeshbhai and I had walked into a room without any doors, where a group of seven had just landed. They looked poor, but they felt holy.

We asked them what they were doing in Nareshwar and they said, "We are on a pilgrimage to circumambulate the holy Narmada. We met each other along the way." My curious self asks them further: "Why are you doing this?" The oldest of them, with a very dignified yet innocent face, responded promptly, "So we can find God in people like you."

These were illiterate people, walking barefoot without a purpose, with no money in their pocket and ultimate faith in the universe, all in search of God. For the past four months, they walked with one small bag of belongings, and prayed all day. This was no travel-India, feel-good field trip ... it was the real deal.We asked them, "So what are you going to eat today?" "Well, we don't know. Today we are fasting but God usually sends something or another." Unbelievable. Moved by their sincerity, we tell them that we'll get them fruits that they can eat today. We walk and walk to find fruits, but nothing. On our way back, we run into a potato vendor; so we buy some and ask a random neighbor to cook "suki-bhaji" for us. "It would be my pleasure. That way I get to do some good too," said our willing neighbor after hearing our story.

"Do you need anything else?" we probed the oldest man. "No, we take whatever God provides," he said. A little later, Jayeshbhai asked his wife the same question and she said, "Well, I don't have a saree so I'm using my husband's dhoti."

All of sudden, you felt like a fool. It was evident that she was wearing her husband's clothes. "All the stores are closed right now, but we'll get you a saree tomorrow morning," we said. "But we leave tomorrow at 8AM," she said in an slightly saddened but uncompromising tone. We shruged our shoulders and simultaneously thought that it really would be a shame to miss this opportunity. I whispered to Jayeshbhai, "Can we give her that 'lungi' you have? Perhaps it's a little short but maybe they can use it?" He agreed and offered them a lungi, which they gladly accepted.

Possibly touched by our sincerity, they allowed us to touch their feet. One by one they stood up from their prayer mats and gave us their blessings with broad smiles on their faces.

The next day, walking barefoot on the hot sand, I almost burned my feet. Right away, I flashed-back to yesterday's encounter with the barefoot saints. My feet felt a little better just remembering them.

I also realized that we never asked their names. And they never asked us ours.

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