A Fellow Pilgrim With a Bidi

Apr 18, 2005

I turn around to see smoke coming out of a random building, along the highway. From a cot inside, I see a hand waving at us. Another look and it's an orange-robed man calling us in.

The whole scene looked a little sketchy, to be honest. Plus, we had to cover 48 kilometers today! Not quite the best day to make such random stops, but hey, if we wanted to make "best decisions" we would be in the US pulling cushy salaries.

We walk in.

It turns out to be a loving, clear-faced saint, smoking a bidi. Schooled by the NGO sector, Western sciences and idealist spirituality, it's natural to judge an orange-robed smoker as someone with a shady character sketch. But I was wrong.

"Are you pilgrims?" he asked. "Yes, Swamiji, we are walking to profile inspiring people," I tell him in Gujarati as Guri sat cross legged on a mat to my left.

After some introductions, we learn that this monk has done almost a dozen pilgrimages! Instead of walking, though, he does one step, one bow. He goes with nothing except the pair of clothes he's wearing, and one of his pilgrimages can last over three years.

"Wow, are you serious?" I ask like a little curious kid, remembering Rev. Heng Sure's intense three steps, one bow pilgrimage.

Of the two gentleman in the vicinity, one goes indoors to grab a frame with newspaper clippings. Sure enough, he had done these rather unbelievable pilgrimages. "Since I was a kid, I was very devotional but then the calling inside got stronger and stronger," he says.

"Don't you think it's a little extreme?" I ask, knowing very well that many think even walking like us is a bit crazy. The Swami smiles, almost if to say that everyone will understand when their time is ripe. "It's all devotion," he adds.

"Now, imagine you have a bungalow, your own house. You have to pay electricity bill, don't you?" "Yes." "And what happens when you don't pay it? Your electricity is cut, isn't it?" "Yes." "Now, have you paid your bill for sunlight? Have you paid your bill for the water? Who do you think provides all this for us?"

Swami-ji stops the barrage of questions and explains, "God is giving us so much. And we're just busy taking. Take, take, take, take. We have to give back. It is our duty."

"And to top it off, you don't even own your own house! You are just a tenant in this body and that rent check is overdue too," he says with three times the volume of his previous statement.

The smoke from the other room is practically bringing tears to our eyes. One of the gentleman explains that they are in the middle of a 9 day prayer and that today was an auspicious day for them. "I am very happy to see both of you today," he tells us.

We share similar gratitude for having run into him and bow down to touch his feet. "Our pilgrimage is about finding the good, find that God, in everyone, and in that spirit, we bow to that divine in you." And then, I turn around to the other two gentleman and touch their feet. Everyone is somewhat taken back, and pleasantly surprised to see our statement put into action.

They fill up our water bottles and we hit the road.

A bit ahead, while crossing a bridge, we notice a man mumbling about 20 feet in front of us. Thinking that he was drunk, we didn't pay much attention. But as we crossed him, his mumbles somehow turned into a coherent statement: "Go! Whatever you have set out to do, it will be successful."

Unfortunately, we haven't set out to do anything but I get the sense that we are in good company. :)

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