Wise Men

A swarthy cut throat little man perched on the frame of the camel cart and steered us into the twilight. My wife and I reclined on embroidered silk cushions, spread around to engender some sense of grandeur on what was ultimately a worn old farmer’s cart. Trundling through the dunes into the darkness, our view was obstructed by the camel’s discoloured hind quarters.
Half an hour later with the light gone, we rolled into the outskirts of Pushkar. Stony faced men sat around small fires outside their single storey, windowless concrete dwellings drinking char and staring at us; no smiling Namaste greeting here. The roads were narrow and smoke hung in the dense night air, the darkness somehow acquiring a weight and pushing in on us. Pulling up at the side of a busy but unremarkable street, the driver, who spoke no English, signalled us to get off. Immediately an eager youth appeared and introduced himself as a student of the nearby temple. Assuming he was some sort of official guide we happily followed as he whisked us through the labyrinthine streets, pushing past a large crowd entering the temple to the booming sound of a gong. We were the only westerners.
Hapless, helpless, and in a haze, we pursued as the guide pressed on at break neck speed diving down alleyways and squeezing through gridlocked junctions to our destination, a ghat on the river. Here, against a cacophony of enthusiastic prayers and boisterous merchants, we were instructed to remove our shoes and transferred to the charge of two young men who led us down through the worshippers to the water’s edge. Clothed in white and amber robes with daubed faces they were apparently Brahmin, wise religious men. Having separated us, we were told to sit and presented with a metal plate of rice, sugar, flowers and a coconut shell. My Brahmin, calling himself Baba, spoke fluently and convincingly.
“This is not a place for one religion but for all. Repeat after me, Shiva, God, Krishna, bless me, bless my family”. I did as instructed.
“What job do you do?”
“Marketing” I replied.
“Give me good marketing” he said and gestured to me to repeat.
With each statement completed a different item from the tray could be thrown into the river, though what each signified was not explained. Baba’s words were delivered rhythmically and quickly in both Hindi and English and I repeated them parrot like, hypnotically, until with my tray nearly empty, talk turned to a financial contribution to ensure the health of my family and my future good marketing. Although not openly threatening, the Brahmin’s behaviour became more intimidating. Disorientated and alone in this alien city where rampant capitalism and religion crash together in an unwieldy chaos there was no escape. A strained negotiation ensued which did not end until my pockets were near empty with a ransom of five hundred Rupees finally securing my good karma (and release) though in a closing ceremony a further one hundred Rupees was extorted for the souls of my dead grandparents. I threw my flowers over my shoulder for good karma though I felt none.
As we were led away through the bedlam to retrace the route back to the cart Baba grinned and waved.
“Don’t forget me” he shouted.
Not likely. I think that perhaps Baba should reconsider his methods for the sake of his own karma.

B Poynton

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