Visnu in Vasna

Apr 3, 2005

Our plan is to walk 26 kilometers to Matar. After spending the afternoon in Navagaam, we are confident of journeying the remaining 10 kilometers before dusk and sleeping at the Balavdhut Ashram there. Instead it's 7:30PM, we are well past 10 kilometers and we don't even know we have taken the "long cut".

"How far to Matar, bhaiya?" "Just keep walking straight down, it's another 4 kilometers." And then couple of the youngsters form a little circle and start talking: "Well, you have to cross the river with knee deep water and there's all these 'waghris' on the other side, who will bother them for sure. We'll have to send someone with them, if they really want to go."

Alright, it's not safe. But once again, no plan B. And no one is offering to take us safely to the other shore. What to do? Just keep walking. The other complication: we are hungry! While talking about fear and uncertainty on the way, Guri and I got pumped-up and decided that no matter what, we will not ask for (or buy) any food tonight. We won't even have any Parle-G's in our bag. If we get an offering, good; otherwise, tough luck ... err karma. Just keep walking.We come to a village looking place. At the corner is a temple; there are no lights, except the small candle in the mini-shrine. A couple of girls are around and we decide that we shouldn't go further. This was our place; we'll just sleep on the ground there and we had some water to serve as dinner.

"Is it ok if we sleep here?" we asked the passerby's whose face we couldn't see. "Here? Yeah, sure." After a minute or so of curiosity, they started helping us. "Well, you could just sleep in the school; no one will say anything. And there's a water faucet there." "Ah, ok, thanks."

Right then, a gentleman comes by. He actually feels like a teenager. "You are not really going to sleep here, are you?" he questioned. "Um, yeah, we are," I respond curiously. "No way. You can't sleep here. It's impossible. All the bugs will eat you up. And my sister (referring to Guri), she can't sleep here," he said in a very caring way.

I thought he was going to offer to host us, but instead he suggests, "Are you Jain? Because there's a guy here who hosts Jain monks." "Hmmm, no, we are not Jain," I respond with a slight glimmer of hope. Silence for a while. All the girls are looking at Guri, wondering how she made it walking so far and how she was planning on sleeping on the ground there. "You know what, let's go there anyways. Come, I will take you," that young voice declared. We agree.

So this random stranger is taking us to another random stranger's house. And we haven't had any food and we weren't about to ask for any either. Life doesn't get better than this. :) If the universe is alive, if we have karmic debt to pay, here it is baby -- bring it on.

On the way, this guy starts asking me questions about what we are doing. I give him an idea of the spiritual nature of our trip, something I felt he could relate to; and he says, "Well, I have a small house; why don't you stay with us?" "Oh yeah, sure, we can sleep on your front porch. We don't mind anything." "No, no, don't worry, just come. By the way, have you had any food?" "No, but we were thinking of just having water today since we walked so much," I say in the spirit of not burdening him too much. "That's not right. Let's see. We'll arrange something," he says.

Now, all of a sudden, we are walking to our newly-made-friend's house, through all the lefts and rights in the dimly lit paths. We have no choice but to trust what the universe brought our way.

We walk into a house; a slim woman greets us with a generous smile. Pretty soon a bunch of others come through. They offer to get us chairs but we park ourselves on the ground. Everyone is smiling, jovial and curious. Within ten minutes, we're all like family. "Do you want to shower?" someone asks us. When we said yes and told 'em that we were ok with cold showers, they were taken aback again. While Guri sneaked in a cold shower, my bucket was luke warm. Of course, I didn't know that I would have to take a shower in the "back" with a candle light in a distance. :)

Vishnu is the name of our stranger friend, who farms for a living. One of his two older brothers delivers milk every morning at 4AM. All three of their wives and children lived together in two houses; two of the wives were even sisters! It all made for a very tight knit family, that seemed very innocently geniune.

By this time, they figured out that we were low maintenance and high energy. They asked us to dinner -- "Will you eat with us? We eat rice and real spicy daal. Will that be ok?" "Of course!" we said with our grumbling stomachs. As soon as we realize that they are sharing their own dinner portions with us, we eat little but feel deeply satisfied.

Over the next hour, the entire neighborhood comes to visit us one after another. All the kids came in and sit in the room, as if some TV show is on, but it is the adults who control the conversation. "What caste are you?" one of the young adult asks me. "Oh, I'm not really sure but just figure that I'm a harijan." They all smirk and I insinuate a conversation about it. "Yeah, it's true that we are all equal but they get all the benefits from the government; we work just as hard but we don't get the jobs," one of the elder said. We even talked about women's empowerment; Visnu's oldest brother remarked at one point: "You know, our women work doubly hard. They not only do the kitchen work but they also help us on the farms. They deserve all the power."

Interestingly, none of them figured we are from America. To them, whether you are from the city in India or a city in the US, it was all a novelty.

By night time, they tried to give up their beds for us. "No way, boss. We are fine on the ground. Here are our shawls even," we tell them. After much argument, they let us sleep on the ground but only after tossing some serious padding on the ground. But, of course, before that, we had a round of tea to keep the conversation going. "You know, in our town, people are very innocent," Visnu says in his trademark innocent way. "It's because we don't have a lot of money."

Next morning, we wake up, meditate a bit, and join them for tea. To treat us right, they even bring out cups (instead of just saucers); I am in awe of their hospitality especially when I notice one of cup handles is broken.

As we say our goodbyes, we share the potter experience and hand them the decorative gift we had received the day before.

To top it all off, Visnu decides to drop us off all the way to our next stop ... 4 kilometers away. By this time, he has taken a real liking to us. He calls Guri his sister and says that if she ever needs anything, his brother is right there for her. Visnu carefully takes us across the knee-deep Narmada river and drops us off to Matar. While he knows he has to return back to pick tomatoes for the day, he keeps walking with us. And then finally says: "Nipunbhai, my mind keeps wondering when I will see you again? Will you come again?"

"Visnubhai," I pause and put my arm around his shoulders. "Last night, we didn't even know each other; today we are like family. How did it happen? It happened because you took the chance to serve someone in need, because you reached out your hand of friendship. Right?" Visnu agrees. "Then the same force that connected us last night, will connect us again. Right?" Visnu agrees again, but he adds, "But next year, it's my daughter's wedding. You have to come then!"

It's time for Visnu to leave. Guri and I both touch his feet and he says, with half a hidden tear in his eyes, "May all the forces be with you to accomplish whatever you want to."

Reason no. 94 for this pilgrimage: reconnect with long lost brothers.

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