by Atul Sharma
Manchanda Uncle walked alone in the silence of noon. The July sun was at its best to squeeze energy out of him. It looked like the sun was hell bent on taking some revenge from my Uncle. He saw a peepal tree. He sat under it. The peepal tree realising him as old as itself asked help from the wind and passed a breeze to him.
The shirt wet with sweat provided him extra relief. He felt as if the nature switched on a.c for him. He mopped the sweat from his forehead, took a sigh, and put his head between his knees.
His old fatigued body wanted rest so he closed his eyes and waited for sleep to take over his body. And sleep arrived only to go back in a few minutes and he again had to face the tormenting reality.
Reality stung more in his age.
At seventy, my Manchanda Uncle had never thought that this could happen to him. He was sure that by age relations grow stronger. Whole his life he had toiled so hard for her, just for a few moments of comfort with her. From being a refugee from Pak to an owner of three garment shops in Delhi, he thought he had conquered the world. He handed the bigger shops to his two sons and kept the smaller one for time pass. But for a man like him who found rest in struggles peace held no value.
‘Let’s find a guru and spend the rest of our lives in the shelter of religion,’ he suggested to aunty one evening over tea.
Aunty added a small smile to his. She knew one who cannot find peace in these wonderful times of good finances, health, and cool grandkids will never be able to find it in any guru’s ashram.
Still she did not want to deny him any piece of happiness. After all, he had toiled so hard in life.
She said, ‘Find one and we will go for a few days and live there’.
‘Not for a few days but for the rest of our days,’ asserted Uncle.
‘Okay as you please,’ answered aunty without any worry. She knew Uncle would not be able to live there even for a month. His shops will pull him back.
The next week passed without any mention of guru by Uncle. Aunty thought Uncle got over it. And one evening Uncle proved aunty wrong by coming with a pamphlet in his hands of a place somewhere in Madhya Pradesh near a small town Ashoknagar.
‘I bought a two b.h.k flat there for us. Do not tell the kids,’ confided Uncle in a tone overflowing with ecstasy.
Aunty said nothing. The next day Uncle declared to his two sons, their wives, and his four grandkids about his going. Everyone knew he would come back in a few days. So no tears were shed.
This time Uncle booked train tickets.
‘We are sanyasis (ascetics) now we won’t travel by air anymore’, announced my Uncle. The crowd of the Delhi railway station imparted my Uncle a scare and he took aunty to the Delhi airport. There he was happy.
‘It is our last journey, we can go by air this time,’ he excused. Aunty only smiled.
They reached Ashoknagar in time. Then travel of an hour by taxi brought them to guru’s ashram.
The place was a sight to behold. Every building stood tall and wide with European style domes. Every structure eye met was made of marble. The ashram was spread over a wide area. Many small villages had sacrificed their existence for the Ashram. It had its own farmland, powerhouse, and water supply. It was like a small city with private government. Every local politician made beeline
here to garner votes. The Guru mostly travelled by air. And he had even got a specially transformed train compartment for himself. His compartment was latched to the train by which he desired to travel such was his clout.
Thousands of devotees resided there permanently. The old shunned by the younger lot sought refuge here, the younger ones here were mostly orphans, and a few of them were so much fed up by life that they decided to reside here to seek spiritual competence.
The Guru was not an easy man to meet. He was in his mid seventies and many diseases were living in his physical body. He made his appearance only on special occasions like festivals and his birthday.
My Uncle and aunt tended to a routine. After all, they were sanyasis now. They woke up at four in the morning, took a bath and aunty made tea for both. They have not brought any servant with them.
Do your work yourself was the motto of my Uncle here. It was easy for him to say, as he knew aunty was always there for him.
At five, the Ashram’s bus took them to the temple called Puja Hall. They stayed here till eight, praying and singing bhajans. The Puja Hall was always jam-packed.
They were back by nine. Then they did a quick breakfast of milk and rusk. By ten, they reached the Langar Hall where aunty made rotis and Uncle served them. They got free by four in the evening. Uncle was tired by then, very very tired.
The time of four to six was devoted to the meditation centre called Shanti Hall. And six to eight disappeared in a revisit to the Puja Hall. When the clock announced nine Uncle and aunty went to bed. Sometimes filling their stomachs with dinner and sometimes with empty stomachs as aunty was too tired to prepare and our dear Uncle was too tired to ask his jaws to work.
In this manner, a full week was reduced from their age. Uncle was happy with the routine and aunty was finding it difficult to cope.
Then as the second week made its presence felt. My dear Uncle became restless. The worry of his shops started to haunt him. The numerous hours of labour spent to make them exist troubled him.
‘Children are careless. They will destroy my life’s labour-- my shops,’ worried Uncle.
On the other hand, the face of aunty received the glow of tranquillity on it. Her heart was calm and at peace. She started to ignore the ever-whining Uncle. This was a shock for Uncle, as he only knew the loving and obedient aunty.
After one full month brimmed with restlessness, worries and ignorance Uncle declared to aunty.
‘We will go back tomorrow.’
Aunty made no response.
‘We will go back tomorrow,’ repeated Uncle.
Aunty only nodded.
In the morning, bags were packed for departure. Uncle picked his and went out of the door. Aunty did not pick her and declared:
‘I will live for the rest of my life… here.’
And the door was slapped at the face of Uncle, startled he stood at the door for a moment. He pushed it and went inside. There he found aunty sitting on bed cross-legged, eyes closed and chanting the word of the guru. Uncle’s throat developed a lump, tears rolled down his eyes and he could only call aunty’s name Sudha and nothing more. He stood for a quite long time waiting for aunty to respond. Nevertheless, Uncle knew her Sudha well. After waiting for a long time Uncle forced his body out of the door, leaving aunty with her newly discovered spiritual world, which had freed him from its shackles only leaving my Uncle with his shops.****