Monday, October 26, 2015

THE BEING AND THE BECOMING-XVI

It was an hour before dawn. Swamiji returned from the lake after a bath. Thimmy sat on a boulder blinking at the brightening east. I too hastened down for my morning ablutions and returned.

Swamiji meditated for a while and then led us down to the lake, and along its edge to a small group of huts set amidst a copse of trees, banyan, peepul, tamarind, and coconut palm, hugging the far side of the lake.

The place was already bustling with activity. Men, women and children greeted Swamiji with folded hands as he walked amidst them - they hailed Balu, too, who was carrying Thimmy.

At the edge of the lake some women were washing cloths - the coloured clothes they wore and washed fluttered like giant butterflies in the morning sun.

Swamiji sat down on a bench in front of one of the huts, and bade us sit down.

A few of the villagers stood around respectfully.

“Come doctor; doctor Krishna is it or is it? Here are one or two persons who may need your help.” He looked at me.

“But, Swamiji, there are so many things I want to ask about and know.” I hesitated.

“You may ask all you want, son,” said the Swamiji, “but doing and knowing is more fun. Like eating and knowing, doing also happens I suppose; also asking and answering. You may ask, but whether that will make you know, I doubt. Asking, by itself, is fun. You may ask and not know; you may know and not do; you may do not know! Ah, here I see Subbu. Maybe he needs you. Come Subbu, tell the doctor.”

Subbu came forward. His left hand was swathed in a dirty rag and he was supporting it in his right hand. He injured it badly while cutting firewood. He slowly removed the rag, then a couple of old pieces of cigarette package, to reveal a dirty mess of crushed leaves and ash sodden with blood - an ugly wound gaped in the palm. There was some swelling, too. He looked feverish.

My medical training possessed me again, and the horrors of uncontrolled infection filled my mind. I made him sit down, and I looked and looked, wise and helpless.

“Swamiji, he is getting blood poisoning, or he has already got it. I don't have any clean and sterile bandages, or medicines. He must go to Hospital,” I said.

Subbu, doctor wants you to go to hospital.” Swamiji told Subbu.

“Swamiji, I cannot go - the bus and the waiting; and who will look after the cow and the other things. If I'm at home I can at least tell my little son what to do. If I go my son too has to come along and that would mean no eating and no food for the day. Let the doctor do something for me!” Subbu said.

Subbu’s son began sobbing.

“Then, there is nothing I can do, Swamiji,” I said. “Please tell him that he will die if he does not go to hospital.”

“Do you definitely know he will die?” asked the swamiji.

“He might,” I said.

“Do you definitely KNOW? he persisted.

“I do not,” I said, “I only said he might.”

“Ah, so; if he might die, he might also live. Is it not?”

“Perhaps,” I said reluctantly.

“Then let us say he might recover. When we do not know the truth, it is better to think of nice things and nice results. So, you say you can do nothing.” He looked at me. “Absolutely nothing?”

I stared at the wound.

“Oh, perhaps we can clean it up a bit,” I said.

“What you need for that?” asked Swamiji.

“Some boiled water and pieces of cloth; better boil the pieces of cloth, too,” I suggested.

“Balu, you get these things for the doctor.” Swamiji told Balu.

Balu ran to the huts and after while returned with a steaming pan of water, with a few rags of clothes in it.

Subbu sat leaning against the wall of the hut. With Balu’s help I cleaned up the wound. It was not looking as ghastly as I suspected at first sight.

“It does not look so bad, Swamiji,” I said.

“Anything more you can do?” asked Swamiji.

I bandaged the wound with one of the pieces of boiled rags. He must rest and must have some good food and fruit, too.”

“He must; must he? If he can't or won’t what do you know will happen to him, doctor?” asked Swamiji.

“I don't know,” I said lamely, “I think it will get worse.”

“Let us think it will get better! he smiled. “Here are some cakes left from last night's packet from Hanuman. Here, Subbu, take them. You heard what doctor said - rest a bit; it will be well.”

“I wish I could do more, Swamiji, I did what I can” I apologized.

“Can you do more than what you can do, doctor,” he mused.

After listening and attending to one or two others, Swamiji went round the heart. More came to see him. Some offered bananas: some, lemons and one or two gave him a coconut. At most of the huts he talked to the men and women at work; played with the children. In fact he talked little - more often he stopped only to help a man lift a load into a cart or give a hand in mending a fence; or he gathered the children for a song or a story. Balu seemed to know the residents well enough. He would come out of one hut or another munching some nuts or cakes. Of course, he helped wherever it seemed his help was welcome. Some protested at Swamiji's putting his hands to the lowly tasks, but gave up seeing that Swamiji enjoyed the work.

We found Subbu leaning against the side of his hut helping his little son to stitch leaves into plates - to be sold to the hotels or the market in town. Subbu got up as we approached.

Swamiji asked him to sit down. Swamiji started stitching up the leaves; Balu and I joined. Swamiji joked and laughed: "See, Subbu, how many persons must be thinking of you and thanking you for these things you make! eating on these plates and getting fatter, too. You seem to be working better with one hand!"

Subbu was arranging the finished leaves into neat bundles.

"Talking of eating, why not we do the same?" he said as he emptied the bag of bananas, lemons on to one of the leaf plates. He gave some to Subbu, to his son, and also to us. He, too, joined. Seeing us sitting there any eating, a villager came running with some water. Another brought some tea.

"May be Subbu needs something for the evening meal," said Swamiji to the woman who brought the tea. "I can leave the rest of the fruit here."

“No, no, you don’t,” said the woman, “what about you? We are still alive in this village! he will get his evening meal alright, you don't worry!”

I guessed that Subbu lost his wife some years back.

Swamiji thanked the woman, gave her a coconut and wished her well.

After this we walked back to the little hut from where we started. Balu stayed back to help Subbu’s son, to play with him and look after the cow and its calf.

The little hut was kept for Swamiji. It was small, but neat and clean. A couple of rush mats were on the floor. On a small brick platform in one corner were some statuettes of Ganesh, Hanuman, Krishna; a picture of Christ; another of Buddha; some goddess, too. In another corner was an earthenware jug and a mug.

Now and then a villager would drop in. Swamiji nodded to them and listened. He listened with keen interest; laughed heartily at some joke or example of human frailty. He talked very little; talked no philosophy; gave no advice - this I noted. Once or twice he walked out with a villager if he heard someone was sick; or if some repair to a hut was held up and the villager complained of lack of hands.

Late in the evening Balu returned. In the early moonlight we walked back to the cave - it would be much cooler, there, and less of mosquitoes. Thimmy nestled on Balu’s shoulder.

We washed ourselves in the lake and climbed to the cave.

Yes, I have come a long way.

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