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American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf in Delhi: A Memoir

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The Mahatma himself greeted us very warmly at the temple. He knew Bhua Parvati as a generous donor, therefore, he gave her the red-carpet treatment. After we had touched his feet and received his blessings, we sat down on the cold marble floor of the temple. Bhua Parvati talked to the Mahatma while Sham and the other kids sat very solemnly listening to her. I looked at the various statues of gods dressed in clothes. Their eyes were lifelike. I looked into their eyes and tried to communicate with them.

The Mahatma applied sandalwood paste to our foreheads—a fancier stuff than the Gurkha Baba’s ash. He also gave us fruit and sweetmeats. The Mahatma ran an upscale establishment. We ate lunch at the langar (open kitchen), which the temple provided daily, and headed back home. Sham, at the bidding of Bhua Parvati, told me that the Mahatma had blessed me so I would be able to hear soon.

“When?” I asked.

“Soon.” Sham interpreted Bhua Parvati’s speech into tracings on his palms. “As soon as God wants you to hear.”

So that is what the smart mahatma had told her. It was an open-ended and broad answer—anytime between now and whenever. I wanted to comment on this totally ambiguous and nebulous prophecy, but kept quiet. I knew my opinion in that group would not be valued and that Bhua Parvati’s firm belief that my deafness was caused by my mocking everything religious would only be strengthened. I had no intention of increasing her conviction.

Bhua Parvati next took me to faith healers who professed to have connections with ghosts, goblins and lost souls. The sadhus and mahatmas I had visited previously at least practiced from temples and had some kind of legitimacy. These faith healers, however, used old tombs, broken-down temples, or their own houses to run their trade. I visited several of these, but will describe only one experience to illustrate their modus operandi.

These faith healers usually got into this business of healing abruptly. A good and honest farmer, carpenter, or blacksmith would wake up one morning and go into a trance. Sitting on the floor with legs crossed and most of the weight on both palms, he would start moving his head in a jerky circular motion with his eyes closed and face in deep concentration. Then suddenly, strange people would start talking through him. He would make prophecies or curse people. Some of the prophesies would come true, and then word would spread from village to village through the very effective grapevine that so and so had become a siddh, an enlightened one.

I did go to some of these just so I could visit places. One of the trips still stands out in my memory.

I loved to watch movies, and the nearest cinema house was in Hoshiarpur. I could not, of course, just ask Babuji to go to Hoshiarpur for such an activity because watching movies was frowned upon. My cousin Ramesh and I hit upon a plan.

Two years after I became deaf, we learned that a siddh was plying his trade in Bheekuwal, a village not far from Hoshiarpur. Ramesh and I slowly and craftily began to sow the seeds for making the trip. I talked to Bhabhi about going to see this saint who had become famous for curing people. Ramesh casually mentioned it to Babuji one evening and volunteered his services to escort me there. A week later, I made the proposal to Babuji for taking a walking trip to Bheekuwal to see this siddh. Babuji was surprised and also pleased with my interest and increasing belief in siddhs. I suspected, however, that he saw through our conspiracy. He knew Ramesh well enough; he also knew that when we two got together, we could not be trusted. Still, he decided to approve our trip and made arrangements with someone to care for the cattle on the day we would be gone.

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