Quenching Our Thirst

Apr 6, 2005

Day before yesterday, we walked 40 kilometers with almost full water bottles. Today, we are on kilometer 20 of 30, and no water in sight.

At the next big junction, I look to the left for water but here a voice from behind me. "Come, come, I'll get you some water." Guri and I turn around and see an old lady motioning us to head towards her.

"Hang on, I'll go get you some cold water. She goes in the back of a tea stall and comes out with a broken-rim, mud pot. As two tired pilgrims on a hot day, we sat on the ground holding our bottles as she hunched her back and poured it from a bronze container. It is indeed cold water.

"Where are you headed?" she inquires. "Petlad," I say in brief, trying to conserve my energy. "Pilgrimage?" "Yeah, pad-yatra." "Where are you coming from?" "Nadiad; but originally from Ahmedabad." "Memdavad?" "No, Ahmedabad." "Oh, Memdavad." "No, no, Ahmedabad. We've walked about 130 kilometers to get here."

A man behind the scene, with a big U-like tilak on his forehead, comes out and casually says: "As soon as you say what you're doing, it's over." Sensing a profound comment, I look to him to confirm my hypothesis. While frying something in a pan, he repeats himself, "As soon as you say what you're doing, it's over." He was telling me to be selfless. Wow.
Before we can finish sipping our water, the lady comes back: "You want some tea?" "No, but thank you," I tell her. "Oh yeah, you want some tea. Come on, have some tea. Here, I'll get you a cup," she says while turning around to get some tea in a very motherly way. Seeing no escape, I hedge my bet -- "No, no, no. Just wait. Ok, one cup for her. None for me. Seriously."

First comes the tea. And then within another minute, the old lady surfaces again with a plate with two 'papads' and many 'pakoras', "Here, here, eat." "No, no. Are you kidding? We can't eat this stuff," we say just because it was definitely over the top. "Come on, just eat," she pushes the plate in such a way that we have no choice.

It was such a generous portion that we could barely finish one-tenth of it.

When it was time to go, I offer to pay. After all, this was their business; and they probably made very little on a daily basis. Considering our dollar-a-day budget, we normally wouldn't have had this but the mother-like hospitality is priceless.

I dig into my back pocket to pull out my wallet and out comes the old lady in full force and stuff it back into my pocket. "No way," she says. Her husband, who had earlier told me to selfless, says: "This is all God's. He is the one giving and he is the one who is taking." Another comment, way out from the left field.

After a few more futile attempts to pay, we give up. Instead I say, "Well, in that case, we will ask for your blessings." Guri and I spontaneously go down to touch the old lady's feet and in a very motherly way, she places one hand on each of our heads and showers us with kind prayers.

We turn to the old man and before I could touch his feet, he bends down himself. At first, I didn't understand what he was doing, until I felt his hands on my feet. He was asking for my blessings!

Anyone who is remotely familiar with the Indian culture, knows this is NEVER done. No grandpa-like figure will touch the feet of someone who could be his grand-son. But here it was. Not knowing what to do, Guri and I touch his feet as he shares his blessings.

With the song of humanity in our hearts, we leave.

Within a minute, we meet a really old man wearing a torn shirt and worn out sandals. He has a few vegetables on his cart and is pushing it very slowly, along a highway. It's hard to imagine how he will make any money.

We pass him, but then quickly I turn around to visit him. Guri understands and tells him, "Dada, can I get some tomatoes?" Excited, he walks around his cart where the tomatoes are and helps us find tomatoes. Guri gets two tomatoes. It's time for me to pay and empty out all the coins I have, about 10 rupees.

"This is too much. It was only two rupees," he says. I ask him to keep it but he refuses. Then I explain it to him: "Dada, there were a few holy folks in the other town; they treated us like their son and daughter. We wanted to share that spirit with someone, and so we just wanted to give you this. This is not from us. It is from them to you." Dada folds both of his hands together in a prayerful pose, with ten rupees in change in his hands, and accepts with a smile.

Neither Guri nor I will forget that old man's deep eyes. We continue walking in silence.

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

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