When one of the boys suddenly stooped to touch my feet, I caught him by the arms and drew him up. That’s one thing we had learned from Saktida. Stop them before they get to touch your feet. You can’t let all the illusion get to you. You can’t let your vision blur in all the noise. Maybe this is the biggest thing I should be trying to teach these children, above everything else. Or maybe this cannot be taught after all. Practicing it in front of one’s audience is the most one can do. Living it. Living with your heart set in the truth, and nothing can make you break away from it.
The truth that it is not they who should be touching my feet. That it has always been the other way round.
I remember, on the last day of Class 8, at night, after dinner, we were sitting in rows in the corridor, it was the hour of the nightly meeting and meditation. That night, it was Bhargav Maharaj’s last night with us in Vidyapith.
He had spent two years with us, our batch. Two years of endless fights, falterings, and frustrations, two years of hundred-holed starched-sheeted discipline, crawling the ground-glass paths that saw us map our way to adolescence, two years of finding strange shapes of magic and wonder – inside of ourselves, and inside of our batchmates.
We learned to use the word ‘batch‘ to refer to ourselves as a whole, over the course of those two years.
How we hated him throughout the time. How he raged at us. We knew something about his past, something about him having another life once upon a sometime, being a jewel student with a diamond-studded career ahead of him, and then giving it all up and coming here to be a monk and work here because he heard something calling within his heart. We did not know at first why he was so damn thin. Then we came to know that he had bone TB. They could not give him heavy physical tasks, so they sent him to work with students.
We were his first substantial ‘project.’ He was given the charge of us. He embraced us, drew us into his heart that burnt with renunciation, right into that fire, and we hated him for it. You want to be a fucking monk, great. Why don’t you stop trying to make us into monks as well? We hated him because we didn’t understand that a man can only give what he has. Once you talked us through it and got that bit out of the way, we could talk to you for hours about all the wonderful things he had done for us. All the wild richness he had farmed in our rather monoculture-d lives. I remember that last night. I wish to remember it all my life.
Crickets outside in the dark and stars above the deodar in the lawn. He stood in front of those hundred-and-ten boys sitting in two rows in the bulb-lit corridors, and joined his thin hands over his chest, and said, ‘Today is my last night with all of you. If in all this time, I have fallen short in any way in serving you, I request you to forgive me.’
We had not answered him. Our eyes had said the needful, allowing us the silence we needed to swallow the lump in our throat.
I see faces every day. I talk to them, I have them talk to me, come and go, do this, don’t do that. I see myself puppetting along and pulling threads, hanging, and hanging, and hanging. They do not understand that I am not teaching them. I do not have the slightest intention to teach them. The only person I am doing any teaching to is myself. I got into this job because it lets me keep going to school. I did not come here to be the snowcap to the river. I came here because the rivers can teach me.
Unknowingly, yes. They don’t know what they teach, they don’t know how they teach, they hardly know that they teach. This is, strangely, one of the biggest lessons they embody. Yes, that’s just it. They are not teachers, they are lessons in themselves. I realize that these children are not going to make me proud in the future. The pride I take in them belongs to the here and now. It is now that they are themselves, and their eyes still hold dreams. These early hours of sunlit dew are the most golden they will ever be, and everything that will follow is a devolution, a compromise, celestial things crashing down to make themselves terrestrial.
Two boys wanted me to take a photo with them. I said I wanted to sit on the ground, while they stand behind me. I know that they did not realize why I wanted to do it that way. Moving through rituals can help to build strength of purpose. You have to do everything you can to remind yourself of who you are. You have to do everything to keep yourself from turning from the fire into the ash.
I kept thanking everyone who asked me to stand with them for pictures. For every request I received, it was like a benediction. It was a consecration that said, “Your service was satisfactory. You didn’t not matter.“
I lay on my back on the ground looking at flocks of birds flying by. The sun was setting somewhere behind all this city grey, and I saw the yellow-orange rays, making shadows on the underside of the birds, as they flapped past the blue-grey sky somewhere to their homes.
Someone came up and asked me, ‘Sir why are you lying on the ground, looking at the sky?’
‘Stargazing,’ I said.
‘But there are no stars in the sky,’ she said.
I smiled on the inside, because I could have said “Raater shob taarai achhe diner aalor gobheere,” but she wouldn’t have understood. So I just said, “There are stars here on the ground. You all are the stars.”
It is not every time that you can pick a truth out of the air to replace another truth. I was lucky. I kept it. Three more asked me the same question, within a few minutes. I gave them the same answer. Are you a stranger reading my blog? – You will not believe how surprised their faces get when they get to hear something that nice which is also not fake bullshit.
Now it is night and the stars are out. But I sleep under a cement roof, and these years the starlight does not reach me in my bed anymore.