The Sanyasi — Part 3 (Pagla Baba Trilogy)

NOTE: I had published this on Sulekha.com in 2002 

The constant desire for something unknown…super-imposed by the constant desire for familiarity and the need to stay grounded. Endless conflict churning in his head, like the churning of the Divine Sea — was there an unrealized desire to churn till the fabled Amrit emerged?

The Village Idiot

Raghava was a young man of limited intellectual abilities. He'd laugh to himself, giggling uncontrollably at things that defied all sensibility…at the sight of a leaf floating in the air, and down to the ground, for instance.

He had this constant bemused look on his face, as though in eternal confusion about everything about him, when he was in the company of other people. But catch him unawares, and you would see his joyful side. Like I said before, laughing uncontrollably, rolling in the mud…Did I mention that?

He'd roll on the ground with laughter, as though he were the sole witness to the most hilarious comedy.

His mother used to be a worried woman, at first…she simply gave up on him eventually. It was not like he was a bad son or something. He'd help his father plow the land, take care of the bullocks.

He's run errands for his mother, chop wood, bring water from the stream flowing behind their hut.

But, the fact that he was slow (the villagers called him Bawla, almost affectionately) bothered the poor woman very much. Even though she wouldn't talk about his problems openly, she worried nonetheless.

Shambhu Ram and Nirmala Devi (his parents) were people of limited resources themselves. They were simple farmers, living off the land, producing a little rice, whatever vegetables they required; had a cow, a couple of bullocks and a hut with a stream flowing through the backyard.

Raghava's nature became evident to them when he was about five years old, and he'd simply start laughing at seemingly ordinary events (or non-events in many cases). The worried parents took him to the Village Vaidya (Doctor). The Vaidya observed Raghava and declared him physically fit, but with some defect in his brain. He even suggested that some damage might have been caused during childbirth.

Nirmala Devi cried, and Shambhu Ram was upset. But, in all his aged wisdom Vaidya Charakanath consoled them saying the problem might go away when he grew older.

The dejected parents waited eagerly for several years after that, to see if there was any change in Raghava's behavior. But there wasn't any and they resigned the cause to destiny.

The villagers clucked in sympathy initially, but even they realized that there was nothing to be done and accepted Raghava with all their earthy love and warmth. Like I had mentioned earlier, Raghava was a good boy — but bawla, that's all.

The days rolled into months and months to years. Raghava grew older, his parents even older.

They wanted to see their son married and settled down, but who would marry a retarded boy such as him?

So, they gave up on the idea without even asking around, for fear of being ridiculed or laughed at by others.

So, time went by and one day Shambhu Ram died. He died of old age, and the tough life he had.

Everybody mourned him — he was after all, a much-loved member of the village community.

The Village Mukhiya came by, followed by many others — the village elders (panchayat members), Vaidya Raj, Pandit Mahashay, everyone. They all came to offer their condolences and consolation to the bereaved family.

Nirmala Devi was strong — she knew that something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. So she mourned, but carried on with her life. She was all her poor son had, after all. So she directed Raghava in the fields till he was capable of tilling the land and shouldering all the responsibilities.

But the vision of her son rolling on the ground with laughter right after her dear departed husband's death haunted her. She did not really feel hurt or upset, for after all, Raghava was Bawla.

More time went by, a few more hard years; and Nirmala Devi passed on to the other world too.

Raghava laughed this time as well. The villagers looked at him with sorrow and pity in their eyes.

"Poor Boy," they thought, "Now who's going to take care of him?"

They tried; they would feed him and visit him from time to time. All the while, Raghava seemed oblivious to his predicament.

He'd wander about the village and the surrounding forests, doing his thing — sitting under the trees, laughing, and giggling at something — everything!!

One day, the Mukhiya's son spotted Raghava walking away from the village, laughing and dancing. Everyone thought he would come back in the night and continued with his or her work.

But Raghava never came back — he was gone!

The kind villagers worried about him for a few days, and then forgot all about him.

After all, how much of trouble could they take on themselves?

They prayed that Raghava be well, wherever he was, and continued with their lives.

Wandering through the forests

Raghava did not know where he was, or what he was doing for most of the time. In fact, he was aware of very few things in his surroundings. He understood everything that happened around him, when he wanted to. But most of the time he did not. He was perfectly content staring at the patterns he saw all around him. The swirling spiraling pattern, the pattern of rays shooting around everywhere.

It was not as though that was all he saw — he saw like other folks too.

He knew what a tree was, how the sky looked, how the ground looked.

He knew a cat from a dog from a monkey…the list could go on and on. Anyhow, the point of contention here is that, he chose not to acknowledge these things around him.

Why? He felt good, very good when he could see these patterns emerging. That's why he'd keel over with laughter when he saw a man passing by, or a leaf breaking and falling to the ground.

If you saw a man walking past through Raghava's eyes, you would see a balloon of light bobbing up and down, usually most inelegantly, as if they were balloons floating in the air, being dragged along by the wind.

He would not talk too much, since he instinctively realized that those around him were uncomfortable (with his presence).

Anyhow, if someone was wondering why he laughed when he saw someone pass away (die), it was because he was so happy for him or her. For they could see the way he saw, talk to him. The dead person knew what he saw, for they saw in the same manner.

But, all that can be discussed later. Let us concentrate on the situation at hand right now.

Raghava walked out on the winding trail, out of the village, into the forest. He was oblivious to everything around him. He loved the forest; the patterns he saw were the strongest and most beautiful there.

The plants had a different pattern of light around them. They were not roundish balloons like men were; they were cylindrical and were generally less shining. But they extended far and wide (for several yards together) and they all were loosely interwoven with each other as if they were one individual entity, or rather one single being with numerous compartments.

Wandering through the forest in ecstasy, he lost all track of time (not that he was very particular about it). As time went by, he walked deeper and deeper into the forest.

The forest was massive, stretching for miles and miles in every direction, as far as the eye could see.

There were ragged mountains, worn with time, rain and sunshine. Not awesome like the Himalayas, but then they were much older. Ancient mountains that have witnessed nature in all her pre-historic splendor.

The day turned into dusk and dusk to night. Raghava settled down under a big tree to rest for the night. There was young grass growing around the trunk of the tree, and he found a comfortable hollow into which his back could sink in comfortably. He watched the fireflies play games in the darkness, and their light illuminated the entire area, since the darkness of the forest night refused/diffused the starlight outside.

But, then Raghava could see the other kind of light as well — and what a splendid sight it must have been!

The morning came and the birds chirping in the crisp dawn air were a pleasant sound to the ears.

Raghava was up and awake. He got up and stretched his muscles a little, walked up to the pond to his right, and splashed some water on his face, washed his hands.

Just as he was climbing out of the water, he noticed a man in an old rag of a dhoti stepping out of the water.

They looked at each other almost at the same time, and the man smiled and beckoned Raghava with a wave of his hand. Raghava walked around the pond and up to him.

The stranger was about forty years old, with a headful of long black hair and long black beard flowing down his cheeks, chin and up to his stomach.

There was something about the man's light that kind of appealed to Raghava.

The man spoke to him lovingly — “Raghava, why did you take so long getting here?”

Raghava didn't know how the man knew his name, but he liked him. So he spoke — “I was wandering through the forest…seeing.”

The man smiled and nodded approvingly. He said “Raghava, I have been waiting for you for quite some time now, now that you are finally here, let's get started.”

Raghava was again at a loss to understand what was going on. But he meekly followed the man.

Remembrance

The man walked some distance and then sat down in a clearing in the grass. He gestured to Raghava and asked him to sit down facing him. Raghava sat down and the man spoke — “My name is Agnivesha, I am a yogi of an ancient tradition. I have been waiting for you to come along, so that I can remind you of your previous achievements, and get you started on this life's journey.” Raghava was confused, and so he asked “What kind of achievements? Everyone in my village knows that I am a fool…”

Agnivesha smiled again and said, “Hold on, you will know in good time…”

Saying that, he asked Raghava to get up and bathe in the pond, wait till he was dry and then come back to him.

Raghava did that and about an hour later, he returned. Now, Raghava looked at Agnivesha's eyes. There seemed to be a whole world flashing in his eyes, with swirling and exploding lights like molten gold!

As he stared into Agnivesha's eyes, Raghava started undergoing changes. Long lost memories started rushing into his mind. This went on for two days and two nights. Raghava was oblivious to the world, lost in reverie and the memories.

They were memories of people alien to Raghava. He went through memories of several lifetimes, starting with the life of a thieving nomad of Arabia who learnt a valuable spiritual lesson just before his pre-mature death. He remembered that life in which he was a Japanese Zen Monk who lost his practice and eventually his life falling in love with a traveling noble woman.

He remembered his life as the Mayan priest, his spiritual experiences and practices, till finally the conquistadors he welcomed into his world with open arms destroyed it totally and mercilessly. He shed a few tears in sorrow, for his fallen people in that life.

Then he remembered his immediately previous life, when he was the kshatriya warrior of Rajastan. He remembered how his Guru Agnivesha's attempt to revive his memories had driven him mad and how he had died a sad death.

As all these memories came back to him, slowly the wisdom associated with each of these lives returned as well. All that he had learned in these lives rushed back to him — as though they had always been a part of him. As this knowledge came back to him, a great excitement arose in his mind. At the end of the second night, just before dawn, burdened with all his regained wisdom, Raghava collapsed in a tired stupor. When he woke up the next morning, Agnivesha was gently fanning his head with a leafy twig. He fell at his guru's feet and prayed for his blessings. Agnivesha blessed him and said, “Go on now, and go north…there is a lot of work left to be done.”

He said, “The people of your land need you, they need you to teach them a portion of your acquired wisdom. Go north, for foolish people are desecrating the immortal knowledge. You yourself chose this path and now you must complete it.”

Raghava asked, “How do I start my work, O Sage?”

The Guru replied, “Go north across the forests and over the ancient mountain till you reach the plains. Go through the towns and villages as a wandering bhikshu and pick the right ones. Then, get them started on the Golden Path to Enlightenment. The Eternal Way of Life needs to be rejuvenated, re-discovered by the people of this land. That is what this Yuga needs now and you must show the way.”

“Remember one thing though” he added…”pick only those who are really ready, otherwise, the power that knowledge brings will be useless.”

Raghava humbly touched his Guru's feet and got up. Just before he was about to leave, the Guru answered the question that was bothering him. He said, “You were born as Raghava — the Village Idiot because such a retrieval of memories would be possible only with someone who was untouched by reason. For in today's world, as much as reason is a blessing, it can be a curse as well. Had you been a reasonable man, you would have died from the shock of regaining these memories, just as you had in your previous life. Therefore, you rightly chose the role of the isolated in this life. Go in peace my son, my blessings are always with you.”

Having said that Agnivesha walked away deep into the forest. Raghava walked on northward.

Many months later, as Raghava reached the northern plains, he settled down in a hut in the village near the big city. And aspirants were drawn to him; and he was drawn to some of them.

As the years went by, the people of that region named him Pagla Baba because of his seemingly eccentric behavior and habits.

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