First Class Karma

Apr 29, 2005

It's a Ranghavdhut temple in the village of Thuvavi. In the back, there's a prayer room with a fan and two windows. Courtesy of a stranger we met at lunch, we were alloted this space for the rest of the evening. No amenities, except running water and a fan subject to sporadic electricity.

Oh, and there's a toilet. But no shower. :)

It is also Sheetal and Veena's "initiation" day. Since it's their first day on the pilgrim tour, we pass on an offer of pre-made accomodations in favor of "bring on the karma". And winging it on 50 cents per day either spells trouble or adventure, no matter what your karma. :)After 25 kilometers in the heat, bumping into this place seems like "first class" karma. There's a nice river in the back, it's relatively cool and quiet, with some trees in the back.

Guri, after about an hour, says that she wants to shower. We have water but there's no place to shower. We all brainstorm and come up with a brilliant plan -- shower in the toilet itself! (Indian toilets do have faucets, so it's not that bad.) After about fifteen minutes of cracking jokes, we go in one at a time. Guri is first. Then goes Sheetal. He walks in and immediately walks back out with a dumbfounded look: "You have got to be kidding! That place looks like frogs could jump out of it anytime." :) When he finally finishes his shower, he says, "I never ever even imagined I would do something like this. Never." We laugh for ten more minutes. :)

The sun sets. Since we have used up our 50 cent daily budget by lunchtime, we are ready to fast in the evening. Although dollar-a-day type limit is abitrary, such rules really force us to cultivate a deeper perspective on the unknown. In mundane life, it's easy to think one way and act another; on a pilgrimage, everything has to be in tune or you'll be mentally, physically and spiritually fried. You can't read explanations about life on your cozy bed, you can't chat it up with friends at a coffee shop, you can't escape it by rotating in other dreams. When you are on the edge, things happen in the now. You can't cash-in your "blessings" to run away from unknown; neither can you explain away random occurences to chance or coincidence or serendipity. Stuff happens. And your mind will keep on bothering you with the same darn question -- why? And dealing with the question is, ultimately, the entire purpose of a pilgrimage.

So, we plan on fasting. Buying, asking, wishing is all out of the question.

Every so often, couple people come in to say hello. One is an older gentleman who invites us to tea at 9PM. Another is the cross-eyed temple priest who wants to make sure things are ok. Another is a twenty-something, jock-like youngster named Viru, who is wondering what we are doing. When Viru learns about our walk, his eyes immediately light up -- "I have always wanted to do something like that."

After some conversation, Viru asks us if we have had dinner. We tell him that we're fine. He presses further and then finally just insists, "I have a friend at a restaurant. Wait here, I'm gonna get you some food." Sure enough, he brings us some food. Then, he realizes that we don't have any vessels, so he runs home and gets us some vessels along with home-cooked bread and curd. He tells us to eat it by the time he returns at night, after electricity comes back. :)

Before four of us eat in the candle-lit room, we do prayers. At times like these, prayer and gratitude come naturally. Four of us eat, without any plates, from two bowls of vegetables and some bread in our hands.

Viru comes back at 10PM, and this time, with four of his buddies. Initially I wanted to meet with them outside, so others can sleep but then we just went in the back and ended up sitting under a tree, next to a river that was reflecting the almost-full-moon. Viru opens and says, "I told my friends that there's some people they should meet. You guys have walked so much with so little, maybe you can share some of your experiences."

We chat for a while. They share stories about the "Kalpa-Vruksha" tree under which we were sitting, and monks and nuns that their families are associated with. All of them seem to be very sincere twenty-somethings. One of them is chewing tobacco, so we chatted a bit about that. They told me about how the politicians try to bribe their votes by giving all the folks free alcohol around election time. "Everything is about greed, now-a-days," Jigar says. "We are in shambles. Even youngsters, it's not their fault, but they're addicted. All our friends too. The only we have going for us is that famous saints have all graced our village, Thuvavi."

Our conversation is quite engaging. I talk about service and dharma, whatever little I know, and they talk about their life situations, aspirations and God. Viru, a strong, muscular, confident youngster, is slated to go to the army. "You gonna go to the army, Viru? Kill people?" I ask him, to make him think. Viru, who is never short of an answer, immediately says: "Yeah, I want to serve my country. I have always wanted to do that. See, if we don't keep the bad guys away, they won't let people like you do any good in the country."

Few more questions later, it's 11:30PM. I initiate the goodbye process, knowing that we have to leave at 5AM tomorrow morning. Viru is convinced that we have met before and that we'll meet again; he repeats something he's said almost half a dozen times by now: "My only thought is -- when will we meet again?"

As we are wrapping up, they tell me what's coming up for them in a week. "We are headed to Bombay." "Bombay? Wow. Why?" "Well, we have heard of it but we've never been," the villager kids told me. They are graduating this year, it's their last chance to be together, and this is their big trip that they have all been saving a little money for. They want to know what it's all about.

"You want to see women in short skirts on the streets?" I ask them unabashedly. "No, no. We want to see good places. Places like Swadhyay's machi-maar village where the entire town is converted from drunks to respectful adults who pray three times a day. Maybe Pune too." They don't know where Pune is in relation to Bombay. :)

I think about Third Class Ticket, a book about one landlady's service to the community of giving everyone a free third class ticket to roam the entire country. Simply by the exposure, the community naturally self-organizes themselves into radical progress over the next five years.

They even told me about their financial plan: "When we get there, Jigar has heard of a place where they sell vegetables so we are all going to go there at 4AM, buy some and then sell it, so we have some money for the day. See, that kind of stuff, that's our speciality. We can do that anytime, anywhere," they said in a young-proud sort of way. :) "Nipunbhai, we have always talked about doing something like what you are doing, with full faith in God. And this trip is our little experiment, maybe we'll get bolder next time. I think it was God that made us meet today."

We say our goodbyes and hit the sack (err, I mean floor). Bats are roaming around our room, big ants are crawling on the ground. It's all meant to be, our first class karma.

Bookmark and Share


Projects I'm Involved With

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

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."