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in Delhi: A Memoir|
With the prayer over, Gurkha Baba dug his hand into the small cloth bag that hung from his shoulder. He produced a small packet made of old newspaper, unwrapped it, and took out some white ash between his thumb and index finger. Bhua Parvati stood up and hurriedly made me get both my palms open so I could receive the holy ash. He put a pinch of ash in my palm and applied some of it with his thumb to my forehead. I did not want Bhua Parvati to give me further directions, so, knowing what was expected of me, I licked the ash from my palm and moved it around my tongue and swallowed it. Gurkha Baba gave the ash to both ladies and applied it to their foreheads. They both touched his feet with great respect and prayed with their eyes closed.
After he left, I got mad at Bhua Parvati and told her that Gurkha Baba was nothing but a thug, who was too lazy to work and was leading a nice life by fooling people. Both Bhabhi and Bhua Parvati were upset and asked me not to be sacrilegious. They pointed to my ears and toward Heaven, explaining that God will cure me.
“God does not need a Gurkha as a middle man to help me,” I declared. “If God wants to make me hearing, he would do it without that faker.” They got exasperated and I went to sleep.
Needless to say, I received some admonition from Babuji that night for being disrespectful to a holy man. I quietly read as he traced words on his palm and said, “OK!”
In Gagret, a son never disagrees with his father; he just obeys. I did.
The second sadhu I encountered was the Mahatma, or “great soul,” of Andora, a small village, two miles from Gagret, across the Swan river. The Andora Temple was on a cliff right on the Swan’s bank. The main temple was high with a white steeple topped by a red flag. The Mahatma of Andora was well known throughout the district. People from miles away came to worship there. They brought offerings—food grains, dals, fruit, milk, butter, and, of course, cash. Every time I visited there, I tried to figure out how much the temple earned in cash and the other items. My guess was it was hundreds of times more than a laborer would make and even more than what Dr. Tulsi Das made by writing prescriptions full-time. Each year, the Mahatma would go on two- or three-month-long pilgrimages. It was known that he had many disciples who invited him to bless their homes in faraway cities. I had a different theory: I believed he just went out to spend the money. Maybe he saw a lot of movies in cities where no one knew him. Maybe he had a lot of fun spending the money and came back to his ascetic life after having a ball. Not many people agreed with me.
The Mahatma of Andora, being a holy man of higher stature, did not make house calls. So, there was no alternative but for us to visit him. Since there was no bus service to Andora, the trip had to wait until I was strong enough to walk two miles each way. Bhua Parvati, of course, had to go. Sham, Ramesh, and a few other kids made up the entourage. I walked slowly and kept chattering and making snide remarks about the Mahatma. But soon I had to stop since no one seemed to share my view. Sham was religious and strongly believed in holy men. Ramesh and the others believed at various levels and did not want to speak out.