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Deaf in Delhi: A Memoir

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Bhua Parvati strongly believed that my deafness was caused by my lack of respect for various gods. I had read Ramayana and Mahabharta epics when I was only ten years old and was convinced that neither Rama nor Krishna were bona fide gods. Bhua Parvati used to cover her ears when I would try to argue my theory about the gods.

“That is sinful, young boy,” She would scold me. “Lord Rama will hear you. Do not talk like that or He might punish you.” Her fear was genuine, and that only encouraged me to push my theory about the gods even more. My deafness, according to Bhua Parvati’s unshakable belief, was the result of my mocking of the gods. She wanted to make sure that I made amends for my transgression so I would be forgiven. She was as sure as the sun rises that I would regain my hearing if I asked for forgiveness.

My already weak faith in the gods was further shaken by this “punishment” meted out to me for no reason. I refused to pray and ask for forgiveness for a sin or crime that I had not committed. Bhua Parvati was not one to give in easily. She made plans and got support from Babuji, who did not think that my deafness was the result of some celestial punishment, but who also thought that a little religion would not hurt me. Thus, I was taken to a number of sadhus—holy men, temple priests, and those who claimed to have a direct line to gods.

The first was the Gurkha sadhu who lived in a cave next to a very old temple about half a mile from our home. We all called him Gurkha Baba because he was from Nepal. (Gurkha is a city-state in Nepal.) He was a well-built young man who dressed only in a langoti, which closely resembles thong bikini underwear. Gurkha Baba’s langoti was a thong tied around his waist, which held a two-inch-wide strip of cloth that went from front to back between his legs. His whole body was covered with white ash, as was the practice of many holy men in India. Even in winter, when temperature went down to forty degrees and all of us wore woolen sweaters, Gurkha Baba walked around only in his langoti. His immunity to cold won people’s respect for him as a man of God. I, along with other kids in the village, used to make fun of Gurkha Baba. No wonder he did not like me. The fact that he had worked as a cook for us in Delhi a couple of years back did not help the situation either. It was a strange coincidence that he ended up in our village, 250 miles from Delhi, while he was wandering as a sadhu.

Bhua Parvati brought Gurkha Baba to our home. He sat there in front of my bed, erect on a chair with his left foot crossed over his right knee, holding the trishul (a three-pronged spear that many sadhus carried as a symbol of Shiva) in his right hand. His eyes were very serious, and he did look very graceful—almost holy. No wonder Bhua Parvati and Bhabhi sat there looking at him with their hands clasped in abeyance. I knew if we were both alone, I would have made some smart remarks and he would have threatened me. Here, we were acting very civilized to each other, and I did not want to exasperate Bhua Parvati and Bhabhi.

Bhua motioned for me to touch his feet, which I did with an exaggerated motion. He blessed me, matching my exaggeration. While I lay there, Bhua and Bhabhi took turns explaining something to him while pointing toward me. Gurkha Baba listened with great earnestness and then closed his eyes and began to mumble something. Bhabhi and Bhua also closed their eyes in respect to the great saint’s efforts to bless me. I tried my best to hide a smile, as I believed Gurkha Baba, behind his facade of prayers, must have been thinking, “serves the little brat right.”

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