Narrative about my walk of 3,118 km along the river Narmada in India.
In the horizon we see a small figure next to a hut waving at us. “Let’s keep walking.” I say to Sachin and Sajesh. “Please. We literally just stopped for a tea. We do not need to agree on each tea invite we get.” I plead to them. During this Parikrama my entire focus is on walking. All the time. And both of them are really annoyed by my constant “Challo. Let’s go. Let’s go.”
“You don’t understand our culture. You are very rude. We must at least stop and give our greetings”. I keep quiet in order to avoid our daily quarrel. But I know there is not such a thing as just saying a greeting in the Narmada Valley. Each stop and each greeting goes as follows: “Come sit and have a tea.” and after the tea “Stay and eat.” and after eating “Stay over night. It is already late.” and after staying over night “Stay a few days longer and rest.” and after a few days longer “Stay. We will give you land and build an ashram for you”. This time proves not different. We greet. We drink tea. We eat. We stay overnight. And as much as I am disappointed for not having walked the distance I wanted to for today, I feel very grateful to have crossed path with this Baba. Whoever I have met, often unwillingly due to Sachin’s and Sajesh’s kindness, I always feel immensely grateful to have connected with that person. And this time proves not different. We stay in a typical straw hut that Babas often live in. The only difference I notice in this one is that Baba has a nice four-wheeler car standing at the back of the hut. Later we get to know about his spiritual awakening on the banks of Narmada. It invoked in him to live a life fully dedicated to selfless service.
And while he himself cooks and serves us lovingly, he speaks about two big ashrams that his followers build for him. He ran away from it and built this very humble straw hut instead. None of his followers know his whereabouts. He seems very young. His stature is tiny. His eyes are sparkling. Baba asks us brilliant questions, which invoke a heated discussion between the three of us. “With all that you have learned and experienced here in India, what will you do with that knowledge back in your home country? Do you have a responsibility to pass it on?” He doesn’t ask these questions to answer them. Even when I try for him to reveal his thoughts, he doesn’t say anything. He only asks and lets us answer ourselves. “There is nothing I know nor can pass on.” I firmly say. The other two insist that there is a responsibility to carry “My task is to live what I have learned. To apply it in my daily life. To let each cell of my being shine with that Truth. To be a good human being.” I refuse to acknowledge that we have any knowledge nor learning to pass on to anyone. And I lived accordingly. I muted my life for the past few years in India. I had disappeared. Even the closest souls didn’t know where or what I am up to in life. I like it this way. What is there to say my friends? Towards the end of our Parikrama, whenever we arrive at a new place to stay for the night, we simply say a Narmade Har Babaji and ask three questions: Where can we sleep? Is there a toilet? Baba shall we cook for you too? We don’t ask his name, life story, tradition or plans. It does not matter. Whatever is supposed to be said, will be said. On it’s own accord. I entirely stopped asking questions to anyone. None of my questions seem relevant. A Baba has neither past nor future! And each human being is a Baba!
I have neither knowledge nor learning to pass on to anyone. I have no intention to pass on Kriyas, Pranayamas, Mantras or Mutras from the many Saints I have met. But I have an experience to share and a question to ask:
One day on the North side of Narmada Ji we intended to stay at a small village temple, which is managed by a very sweet Mataji. When a villager passes her house in the evening to give her milk from his cows, Mataji says “Stay with him and his family. You will feel comfortable in their home. You can rest well” And so we take our backpacks and walk across the village. When we enter we see his young wife. Immediately she gets up from the chair and without asking any questions, she prepares tea and their bed for us to sleep in. She puts new bed sheets, gives us an extra blanket against the cold and places a water bottle on the cupboard. “Where will you sleep didi? Please we happily sleep on the floor.” Looking inside their small home I knew there is no other bed to sleep for them. I also knew whatever I would say absolutely nothing will change their mind. There is no way that they will not insist for us to sleep in their bed. So I accept and enjoy a very grateful, warm, soft nights sleep. In the early morning when I wake up, she has already placed a bucket of water to be heated (a great luxury), prepared tea, insisted to make us breakfast and asked if she can pack curd for us. Their home is that of a typical very humble Indian family home – one bedroom, one kitchen, one bucket shower and one Indian toilet. On their bedroom wall hangs one of their wedding pictures and a few empty picture frames that still have the packaging image of white models in the frames. Her husband takes care of cows, which he proudly and lovingly shows us. He also shows us two little puppies, which he rescued and sheltered in the barn. During a brief conversation in the morning, while recommending her some medicine against her cough, I get to know that she is pregnant. A pregnant, sick, young woman slept on the floor, served and cooked for me, a total stranger, who she met the evening before and likely will never meet again in her life. And it seems an absolutely normal thing for her to do. She and her husband didn’t ask any questions nor took selfies. They simply and lovingly served us.
The question is: Will I do it? Will I offer my own bed to a total stranger that happens to stand in front of my door in the evening? Will I?
Will I drive to the next village, buy bananas and sweets and return to serve them to strangers? Will I invite strangers into my home, wash their feet, yes wash their feet and then cook lunch for them? Will I stop my work on my farming field to walk with strangers for a few kilometers into my village to make sure they receive tea? Will I drop my daily errands in order to return home to welcome strangers to rest at my shop? Will I apologize for not having milk and only offering black tea to strangers? Will I say to a stranger that the dirt of his feet deserves to touch my head? Will I serve Saint and Villain alike? Will I?
People of Narmada, you are Maa Narmada! Through you She lives. Through you She speaks. Through you She serves. Through you She exists. Nothing in life has touched me as you have. Nothing in life has altered my heart as you have. Nothing in life has spoken the highest Truth the way you did. People of Narmada, you are Maa Narmada!
Narmade Har Bhagavan!
[ If you are a woman reading my blog: If you are a woman reading my blog… ]