Giving it up
Yuyutsu RD Sharma
Not many would believe that the Naga sadhus had once been my clan. As matter of fact one fine morning they named me — Ram Dass, Lord Rama’s humble servant. Monsoon was just beginning and on the ghats of river Satjuj, I sat at their feet on a mossy flagstone-step that ended in the river bed. It was a mighty river, full of fish that came swirling in great iridescent circles to the blue edge. Besides the name game, they gave me immense trouble — these soot-smeared, lanky naga sadhus with their ashen dreadlocks, the ones you see posing like peacocks on touristy postcards symbolising the essence of Hinduism. It’s a family, this community of sadhus. In their secret circles, they maintain relations, kinships, castes, clans and even relationships, legal as well as illicit. Officially ostracised from the rest of the society, they desperately cling to the shadows of their past and draft parallel societies in isolation, emulating all the trappings of the worlds they deserted. It’s this gratuitous isolation and the alienation resulting from it that they fear the most. In return, they create worlds of hierarchies, jealousies, betrayals and deadly sins.
Maharaj Ram Agya Dassji, the head sadhu of the clan I knew, was a benevolent holy man. The multicoloured tika on his broad forehead and his long dreadlocks gave me the creeps. He would spread his serpentine locks like prized items near the bonfire in his dark oblong room and pull on the chillum (smoke pipe) coughing his lungs out. Taciturn and reasonably modern in his outlook, he would often ask my father, his diehard disciple, to take me out of the room whenever he saw me secretly rubbing my eyes from the stinging smoke. The pungent smell of the hashish fused with the sweat of the naked yogis with their obscenities protruding from their homespun loincloths wasn’t a decent sight for a five-year-old boy. Ram Aagya Dassji often admonished my father to educate me properly. “This Ram Dass is a bright boy, eh Madan.” Thus, began the first draft of my profile building. “He will become a great Sahib one day, mind my words.”
“The chap has a sharp mind,” Raaghuvir, the naga disciple of the Guru would add, “Look how he has mastered all the details of our scriptures at this tender age.” I could fluently narrate all most all the episodes of ‘The Ramayana’ and ‘The Mahabharata’. Apparently, my father’s lure of the vagabond lifestyle of these ashen ascetics took away the best of my life’s calm. By and by, he became a devout follower and in due course, addicted to the spiritual doze of harsh life along with the intake of marijuana. At noon, he would collect his offering for his Guru’s supplication — milk, green vegetables, fruits, incense sticks and an ounce of hashish and make me sit on the tiny extra seat fixed on the rod of the cycle, holding the can of milk and head for the temple on the outskirts of the small town. My father would make me lie prostrate on the ground in front of each sadhu as a mark of respect and make me rub my nose in penitence for sins I might have committed. In the evening I would throw balls of dough, one by one, to the fishes all the while chanting Ram, Ram, Ram…
In the late forties, my father completely surrendered to their tribe. He left his family and set out to explore the wisdom of the world. Barefoot, soot-smeared and clad in a homespun loincloth. By then, I was studying at the University, explicating the sensual implications of Edmond Spencer’s ‘Faery Queen’ with American missionaries, he had hurled himself into the fires of self renunciations. My mother took his exit as a relief and didn’t bother to know more about his whereabouts. He had simply vanished into the dark to torture his body to know God.
A decade later when I received him, he had shrunken like a dry leaf in the desert. His great Guru had died of throat cancer. My Papa could hardly breathe. He had to keep his mouth open like bird all the time just to breathe. His last grudge remained — “Ah my son, what a mystery this life is! Even a God can die of cancer.”