Excerpts

Prologue

He knew he was dying.

Through his failing vision, he saw the trophies he’d been so proud of, adorning the walls of his room. Now, in his last moments, he felt their worthlessness. The desire he had long suppressed of becoming an artist, a painter, confronted him.

Long ago, the plight of his struggling artist friends and the complete insecurity of his future had made him lose his nerve. He fled the art scene and took up a comfortable desk job.
But the ghost of the artist never left him in peace, despite his affluence. It held him responsible for its murder. How would life have turned out if he had remained steadfast to his first love?

‘Better! Would have absolved my existence. Changed me into a greater human being. All my life’s work amounts to nothing!’
Tears of regret spilled from his eyes.

From the bed, he saw the sparrow he fed everyday land on the windowsill. Ironically, the sparrow never worried about tomorrow, but lived every day joyously. Unlike him; he had spent all his life securing his tomorrows. Now, all of a sudden, there was no tomorrow.

‘If I get another chance …’ he murmured, before he died with the wish on his lips.

1 A Method behind the Madness
Beep … beep … beep … beep. … The oscilloscope sent out its tired signals, the waves losing their highs as they ran out of energy.

Had she been conscious, she would have brought her hands to her ears and screamed; the shrill tone would have driven her crazy. But she was beyond caring, edging past the twilight zone between darkness and light. She had suffered enough. For her sake, he wanted her to cross the thin line between life and death.
Beep …

The sound died. The wave flattened into a straight line. With it, the three-month-old battle ended. She became another statistical figure, another coma victim.

It was drizzling when the ambulance arrived and the ward boys heaved the body into the back with a practised ease that was almost obscene. Their indifference stripped death of its dignity and reduced it to a routine, mechanical procedure. As he tried to climb into the ambulance, he felt a hand on his left shoulder.

He turned and his mouth went dry.

Three men had him cornered. Their plastic hats and raincoats looked ominous. The hand dug deeper into the flesh of his shoulder and he cried out in pain.

‘Where’s the money?’

‘I couldn’t get it today. …’ His face went pale.
Am I bleeding?

‘You didn’t learn any new sentences in the weeks we gave you.’

‘I … I will pay. Promise.’

‘The same bullshit. Let me put your vocabulary on the fast track. Hold him, you two, or are you just going to keep standing?’ he shouted at the other two menacing figures. They sprang into action. One of them held him from the back and the other grabbed his left arm.
‘Stretch his forefinger. …’

‘What are you doing?’ His eyes dilated in fear.

‘Taking a small part of you. In my experience, the slow learners get into the act quickly if we take a tiny bit of them.’

‘No!’ His body stiffened when he saw the gleam of the knife as it reflected the lighting.

‘Won’t hurt as much as you imagine. Just enough to ensure you remember our next meeting. Trust me,’ he laughed mockingly.
The man struck the knife at the root of the finger.

He screamed, but his scream stuck in his throat as the man grabbed him by his hair.

‘Don’t search for this finger.’ The man dangled it in front of his face. ‘We will feed it to a dog. Get some first-aid; we don’t want you to die of sepsis.’

He moaned in agony, trying to control his pain, knowing shouting would invite more wrath.

‘Cremate your mother. But remember, we will be back in ten days. If you don’t pay, we will take two of your fingers next time.

Understand?’He nodded between his moans. The man shoved him as he walked away. He hit the door of the ambulance and fell on the ground with a thud.

Through his hazy vision, he saw them returning to their car as their shoes squished over the water-clogged road.
He saw his blood mix with the rainwater swirling around him before he lost consciousness.

28  An Offer I Could Not Refuse

Just six months ago …

The harsh ring of my cell phone woke me up. My immediate reaction was confusion. I stared sleepily at the watch. 6 a.m., it blinked. Who needed to talk to me at this unearthly hour?

The ring tone died as suddenly as it had sounded. I turned and pulled the sheet over my head. Just then, the cell phone intruded on my privacy again.

The same number.

I bolted upright. Had the loan sharks traced my number? I grabbed the mobile before it played hide and seek with me again. ‘Hello?’

‘Is that Partibhan?’ The faintly familiar female voice at the other end stopped me from packing my stuff to flee.

‘Yes?’

‘Guru Parmanand wants to see you.’

If I had been expecting a bolt from the skies, then this would be it. I recoiled at the mention of the name as though I was holding a snake in my hand.

‘Hello?’ I was familiar with the voice at the other end, but couldn’t recall who it belonged to. ‘Why? And after all this time?’

‘He’s going to depart from the world in a short while.’

‘That’s a roundabout way to say he’s dying. Pity the great, all- knowing, all-powerful Swami Parmanand can’t tame something as simple as death!’

‘He isn’t dying. Your father’s taking samadhi, a voluntary renunciation of the body. But I don’t think you’ll understand. Are you coming to see him?’

‘Is that a threat or a request?’

‘A request; why should I threaten you?’ The woman sounded calm. My verbal assault failed to irritate her.

‘No, I don’t wish to see him. His physical death has arrived twenty years too late for me.’

‘Harsh words for your father. I called not only about performing the last rites, which is your moral duty, but for a more practical and pressing material side.’

‘My father can’t have a material side to him. He’s so spiritual, so holy.’ The sarcastic edge in my tone surprised me.

‘If you take no interest in him at all, then we’ll have no choice but to donate his fortune and close the ashram.’

‘You can all go to hell, or paradise – whichever way you please. I have nothing to do with his ashrams and followers.’

‘Partibhan, don’t pass judgement so casually on us. You’re unaware of the eternal spirit within you.’

‘It’s because we can’t see it on an X-ray, can we, Sneha?’ I finally recognised the voice of the woman speaking to me. She was my father’s first disciple. Fair, tall and almost thirty-five – her picture came into sharp focus in my memory. She had been with my father from the time he was a non-entity to his present status as a world-renowned, miracle-performing saint.

‘Are you coming?’

‘Don’t you understand simple replies anymore?’

‘I’m talking about the trust your father owns. About three billion dollars, and all legal. You wish to say goodbye to all that? This, when you’re on the run from loan sharks? You’ve lost a finger already; you want to lose your life?’

I gulped. Now I was awake. I mean really, really awake. They were thorough with their homework. Three billion dollars. Dollars! Mine! I looked at the suitcase I had hurriedly picked up in my anxiety to leave the hotel. It reminded me of my constant state of panic. I was a desperate man on the run.

‘Are you still there?’

‘Yes –’

‘Just to inform you, both wills are ready. One of them donates all the fortune owned by your father to hospitals and NGOs, and the other is in your name. If you see him and accept the plan he has for your future, the fortune could be yours. If not –’

‘I don’t care …’ My lips were dry. I was afraid she might believe me.

‘We’ll wait for you till this weekend. You decide. Goodbye!’ The phone went dead.

I stared at my cell. From being a poisonous snake, it had transformed into a magic wand which could change my financial health! Three billion dollars! And she said it could belong to me. The only question haunting me was how I would contain my hatred towards my father without jeopardising the inheritance.

I decided that I couldn’t postpone the trip. I was tired of living in dingy rat-holes. The opportunity was irresistible.

In less than five minutes, I was heading towards the railway station to catch a train to Manmad.

 

29  Someone’s Loss, Someone’s Gain

It was evening when my auto-rickshaw stopped at the gates of my father’s ashram. The mellow sun cast a rust-brown sheen over the building, giving it a resplendent look. No one could have imagined that this ashram run by my father was worth three billion dollars – it seemed incapable of such prosperity.

As I stood mesmerised by its beauty, the guards managing the gate approached me.

‘I’m Partibhan,’ I told them. ‘I’m here to meet Sneha.’

From the way they reacted, I think they knew who I was and were expecting me. They saluted and opened the gates quickly.

Moving deeper into the compound, I saw fountains lining the road to the main building. The water cascades, replete with pebbles and ferns, seemed real. Flower beds of many varieties lined the sides of the manmade stream. Further down, a tall, majestic, pyramid-shaped meditation hall made of glass created a spectacular silhouette against the sky. A group of people sitting on the lawns outside were singing a bhajan. Was all this going to belong to me? Did I deserve it?

For the first time ever, I was in awe of my father – before this there had been just one dimension to our relationship, that of hatred. More than the stamp of wealth, the place bore the signature of heart on everything visible. I felt serene and content for no reason, after a long time.

How my father came to own this ashram was a story the media repeated ad nauseam. An industrialist’s only son was afflicted with a tumour in the brain and the doctors gave him a maximum of six months to live. Left without hope, the man took his child to my father for help, who at that time, had a very small but dedicated following. Guru Parmanand asked the industrialist to bring his child to the ashram every day. In six months, the child seemed to have made considerable improvement. The doctors pursuing the case were in for a surprise when a CT scan showed no sign of tumour. From the hospital, the industrialist went straight to Guru Parmanand. He fell at his feet and wept with joy.

‘You saved my son! You saved him!’

In a spontaneous gesture, the industrialist donated twenty crore rupees worth of idle land to my father with a request. ‘I would like you to build an ashram for the good work you’re doing. I’m sure whatever happens here will be for the good of humanity.’

Since the industrialist was famous, the news of this gift hogged headlines for days and stirred a controversy. The cynics and believers kept arguing about the reasons behind the cure but my father refused to comment or engage. He quietly went on with the construction, with the complete cooperation and support of the industrialist.

The incident proved to be the turning point in my father’s life. His fame spread, both through the lanes of India and the skies of foreign countries. In another decade or so, he became a world-renowned spiritual leader, whom both Indians and foreigners were eager to meet. His refusal to migrate abroad met with praise and his popularity with the masses as a man of ascetic values soared to heady heights.

‘You can come to India because you can afford it, but most of my fellow citizens are poor and can’t fly to your countries. I would rather stay with them,’ he would say, whenever rich and influential people asked him to migrate to their countries. No talk about spirituality was possible without his name cropping up.

All this was that facet of his personality the world knew. His private side, however, was one which only two individuals suffered and endured – his wife and me. He abandoned us on the night he fled on his selfish spiritual search. We remained bitter, while the world heaped praises on him.

He tried to reach us when he could afford it, but it was too late. To us, he wasn’t a saint but a charlatan, who merely got lucky.

When the media tried to raise a juicy scandal by unearthing our whereabouts and interviewing us, my mother flatly refused to participate. She rejected the large sums of money they tried to pay her for her story because she didn’t believe in mud-slinging.

There was a large crowd outside the entrance to the main building. Every face I saw reflected anxiety. No single quality could describe the gathering. It represented different classes and backgrounds, yet the people appeared united in concern for my father.

‘He isn’t dying of ill health or suffering from any disease. …’ I heard Sneha say as I got down from my auto-rickshaw and walked towards the assembly. ‘It’s a wilful abandonment of the body. So be joyous for him, like he wishes.’

Like me, nobody bought her views. The gloom in the crowd didn’t abate.

She saw me and nodded perceptibly. Before she could meet me, she fielded questions about my father’s health. People swarmed her with requests to meet him one last time or to donate money. It took quite some time for her to disengage from her duties.

I waited patiently, feeling lost and confused in a place where I didn’t belong. With nothing else to do, I watched her. She radiated good health, efficiency, patience and kindness – despite the endless and sometimes unintelligent questioning by the disciples. Anyone at an ‘enquiry’ counter would have lost their nerve a long time ago. At last, she was free.

‘Sorry to have kept you waiting for so long,’ she said. ‘So you’ve seen reason at last.’

 

30 Freedom, on One Condition

We marched through the corridors. The building had a high roof and a series of recurring ventilators made the corridors breezy and well-lit. The place was so quiet, I could hear the clatter of my shoes, and it made me uneasy.

‘Why didn’t he choose you or someone from the ashram as his successor?’ I voiced what was uppermost on my mind.

‘Because we’re not as worthy as you.’

‘How does being his son make me worthy?’

‘Swami Parmanand can never be wrong in his judgment.’

It was obvious her faith was blind. ‘I think my father’s just promoting a family tradition. I smell a hierarchical stink rather than a spiritual flavour in this dish he’s trying to cook.’

‘Your father’s a great man. If he’s chosen you, he must have some good reasons.’

‘Which are apparently lost to you and me?’

She ducked my comment with a stoic silence. Eventually, we came to a large room.

‘Please remove your shoes.’

The room connected to another room through a door, which Sneha opened, leading me inside.

He was sitting in meditation, eyes closed. His body was so thin, he appeared malnourished. He sported a flowing beard. His forehead glistened with a supernatural radiance and my immediate reaction was to look at the roof, to find the bulb which must have been casting the luminance on him. There was no bulb!

My father looked different from his appearances in the media and his presence felt electric. My hair stood on end like bristles; I felt a cold rush of air over my head. We approached him on tiptoe and waited. The complete silence lingering in the room amplified all sounds beyond proportions and made me aware of all the noises we create – the sound of our breathing, heartbeats, and the rustle of our feet over the floor.

‘So you have come.’ He spoke without opening his eyes, his voice a soft melody of a flowing river. ‘Welcome, my son.’

‘I have no time for niceties. Will you come straight to the point, please?’ How did he see me with his eyes closed? I searched the room for CCTVs through which he may have seen me coming, but found none.

‘Why are you so stuck with the business of hating me? You must forgive me now that I am leaving this world.’

‘You’re only leaving this world now; you left ours twenty years ago.’

He didn’t reply.

‘Will you open your eyes and talk? Surely, you are not meditating. This way, I have a creepy feeling, as if you are blind. I mean, in the real sense of the word.’

My father opened his eyes. They were big, languid and hypnotic, having depths that made me uncomfortable.

Why did I ask him to open them at all!

His penetrating gaze tore away the mask of indifference I wore. He might have been lean, but he was healthy beyond doubt and far removed from death. Was this a cheap trick to bring me here, then? I remembered the anxious followers outside and Sneha’s replies to their concerns. It puzzled me. Could the claim of samadhi as promoted by Sneha be true, then?

‘Your stay in the ashram will change the way you see the world.’

‘As much as criminals change in a jail.’

‘Then let me come straight to the point. Day after tomorrow, when I take samadhi, you will become the next guru of this ashram – you’ll take up from where I leave. All my life’s work will then become your responsibility.’

‘Is that all one needs to become a guru of your type? No training, no education? Nothing except being the son you discarded long ago? I simply have to sit on your funny-looking throne to become a world-famous guru like you?’

‘I’ll give you shakti-paat.’

‘What’s that?’

‘A transfer of my divine knowledge to you through a special ceremony. You’ll receive all the knowledge I gained in my lifetime and all my experience.’

‘You mean you’ll give to me all that you don’t have and I’ll own the nothing that is in you.’

He smiled again. I was simmering in anger but could not provoke him.

‘This game of finding and pointing out my flaws is something you can’t amuse yourself with for too long now. I request you to focus on the future. Do you want me to leave everything to the government institutions, NGOs and hospitals?’

‘Why are you so keen that it shouldn’t go to them, even when they are more deserving than me?’

‘It’s heartening to know you’re still concerned about right and wrong despite your financial difficulties. Remember those times when we used to give alms to the poor children near our home? You were ten years old then.’

‘Yes I do. Why do you ask?’

‘How did you feel the first time?’

‘Good. I felt as if we were looking after them.’

‘They were malnourished and we gave them clothes. They slept outside our house and smiled on seeing us, all of which made us happy. But soon they became a nuisance.’

This was true. From priding myself as their saviour, I soon become furious at them. They would shout, fight, and create a ruckus. Their pranks interfered with my studies. They picked up quarrels with other children and littered the street. Twice, they broke windows when they hurled stones at each other in street fights, which became routine. One day, I offered them chocolate out of sympathy. But rather than feel grateful, they pounced upon me the next day and rummaged through my bag – throwing my books, tearing pages in the hope of getting their next chocolate, which they thought I was hiding from them.

‘Where are you hiding it?’ one of them demanded.

‘I don’t have it baba,’ I reasoned.

‘Trying to act smart? Take this –’

They didn’t believe me and beat me black and blue, tore my clothes and sent me wailing and crying. Finally, someone complained and the authorities took them away. It was a big relief for everyone.

‘I spent sleepless nights after the day you returned home with your torn clothes and a lost school bag. I realised that those kids, and in fact every human being, needed something other than alms, without which they would keep straying from their potential. I also realised that a much bigger task awaited me, instead of just feeding my family.’

‘You mean to say that we harm people by helping them? The jobs being done by NGOs and the Red Cross are futile?’

‘Who deserves alms, and when you need to stop giving and instead focus on making them self-reliant is something which you can know only when you become self-aware. Then you know who is living at an animal level and who is ready to connect with the higher being in them. Sadly, help and charity are exploited, both by the users and the givers.’

‘Yet that’s what most NGOs are doing.’

‘For me, a much more rewarding job would be to invoke the deeply buried higher self in every human being. If this higher self is activated, then automatically, not only will all their other needs be fulfilled, but they can also excel as human beings. For that to happen, they have to align to the superior force of the Divine present in them and not to the pulls and pushes of an NGO.’

‘Are you suggesting that running this ashram is worthier than running a hospital?’

‘Yes.’

‘Anyone can see how the work done by charitable hospitals and NGOs helps humanity. But your work is abstract and vague, maybe, even questionable, because who has seen the Divine?’

‘We’re running charitable hospitals and NGOs too.’

‘Still, you think that spiritual healing is worthier?’

‘Yes, because it works at a higher level, aims at a higher goal. It’s not about surviving or existing, but sublimating. It makes them independent of NGOs and helps them have a higher awareness and vision.’

‘Then why choose an unworthy candidate? I am a rogue, hounded by loan sharks. My interest in this ashram is limited to money, and you know that well enough.’

‘Yes, I know. I also know why you took that loan and lost your finger.’

So he was aware. I’d borrowed money for my mother’s treatment, but I failed to save her from death. She’d succumbed to her insulin-shock-triggered coma, despite the best efforts of the doctors, and I had lost my finger in the brutality that followed because I was unable to repay the loan.

‘You think you are unworthy and you even accept it,’ my father continued. ‘You never justify yourself but feel guilty about being thrust into a place and position you feel you don’t deserve. Is that the sign of a rogue? No, it’s a sign of a humility only the aware can have.’

‘Flattering, but I still don’t feel I’m suited for the job.’

‘As I mentioned earlier, shakti-paat is a powerful ceremony that will change you. You have another twenty-four hours to decide. After that, I won’t be here to change the will. So think carefully.’

At that moment, I knew he was not lying.

 

31  On the Path with Shakti-Paat

I knew Shruti would never forgive me if she got to know about the life I was leading. I took a loan of ten lakhs for my mother’s treatment and because of the time I spent with her in the hospital, I lost my job. With no money to pay the monthly installments, I tried to buy time. But when those loan sharks chopped my finger off with the warning that they would return for more, I was left with no choice but to flee to another city. I took up odd jobs, like working at factories as a supervisor, to meet my expenses, always with the fear that they would find me one day.

Now, I was on the verge of becoming a guru!

All this while, Shruti believed that I was still working at the automobile plant – a job I had managed to secure after quitting my government job. But for the abnormal circumstances, she would have been my wife by now. She was almost twenty-seven. Her father was anxious to see us married.

Before revealing the details of my new career to her, I had to tackle my confused state of mind. My becoming a guru would shock her. However, I had reached a point where the ‘coward’ label didn’t bother me. I needed time to regain my bearings in this new world.

In the past, I had criticised the ways of spiritual gurus like my father to everyone I knew. I had always believed that gurus preached spirituality to the gullible to earn money, fame and comfort for themselves. But soon, I was going to become one of them.

Shruti would be angry with me for not having sought her father’s help in clearing my financial dues. But he was the last person I would ever seek help from. I never felt comfortable with him – he was always scrutinising me, as if measuring my character.

I can’t forget the day he had invited me over for lunch. During those days, I was struggling with my career after my disastrous stint at Bangalore. I’d resigned because of the deep-rooted corruption prevalent in my government job and was finding it difficult to secure another one. Most of my friends and relatives didn’t see my quitting a corrupt job as something heroic. From their perspective, I’d run away from a battle, like a coward. My confidence wasn’t very high either. Though I was in no mood to socialise, he insisted on a lunch.

When Shruti went into the kitchen, he offered to set up a factory for me. ‘You’re unemployed and I was just wondering … you know.’

He was testing me for what I was worth. Those searing eyes watched me like a fisherman watches the waters after spreading his net.

‘You are offering me what my father did some time ago, and I refuse for the same reason. I don’t want any favours.’ I toyed with the chopsticks, having lost my appetite.

‘You have a father? Shruti never told me.’

‘Everyone has one. What she doesn’t know is that he’s alive. I am the son of Guru Parmanand.’

His head jerked back and his face mirrored his shock. It turned out that he was my father’s follower. I revealed my tumultuous past and his cynicism turned to respect. From a despicable, to-be-avoided son-in-law, I became a cherished and desirable one.

Next week, we were engaged!

I kept thinking about these incidents on my way to signing those damned papers, still hoping that a last-minute reprieve would extricate me from the inescapable gravity of financial matters. Then I need not tell Shruti anything.

‘The ashram won’t be the same after Swamiji.’ Sneha startled me out of my reverie.

‘I suspect it will be more like a circus, with me playing the joker!’

‘Not a joker, but a guru.’

‘In my dictionary, they are synonyms.’

‘Wait and see. You’ll need to revise the old edition soon and remove the errors.’

‘Fat chance!’

A lawyer delivered the papers in full view of my father, Ramanujam, Sneha and some other old disciples of his. Shifting my attention from the lawyer to the papers, I tried to spot a loophole in whatever I was being made to sign. But there were none. Several clauses filled the pages.

I would lose my inheritance:

If I spent more than two months a year outside the ashram.

If I stopped giving lectures to my disciples.

If I called my father a fraud.

If I made fun of religion.

If I spent lavishly towards pursuits not helping spiritualism in any way.

Sneha could veto all my expenses, unconditionally, but I could spend money – thirty thousand every month – without her permission. However, if I spent this money improperly, I would cease to be a trustee and also lose the right to the monthly stipend. The pocket money would double when I married. The list went on and on, typical of a father who knows his son too well and tries to pre-empt all his weaknesses with one masterstroke. Acutely aware that I didn’t have any choice in deciding matters, I signed awkwardly, using my thumb and middle finger.

Goodbye, freedom!

My father instructed Ramanujam to clear all the pending interest I owed the loan sharks.

‘But you can easily pay the entire sum I owe. Why pay only the interest?’ I protested.

‘Your dues will be cleared after two years.’

‘Why not now?’

‘Because then you will be tempted to reconsider your freedom and discard the ashram after it has served your desperate purpose.’

‘I can do this after two years too.’

‘Two years is going to be more than enough for you to realise your higher self. One day, you will know that all these steps were for your welfare. You are in a terrible crisis right now and most people in such situations behave in self-destructive ways. I don’t want you to destroy this ashram or yourself.’

Glad that the ceremony of my utter humiliation was finished, I went to my room to celebrate my slavery to a profession I hated.

My father was right when he said that the game of hating him, which I’d played so far, was about to end. I had already made a beginning in which I was going to hate myself more than I hated my father. I compromised only because I was tired of hiding from my creditors.

‘So Partibhan, you’re no longer an engineer in the materialistic world, but a guru in the spiritual world. You are a guru from today …’ I laughed spitefully at my reflection in the mirror.

Shakti-paat, or transfer of power from the guru to his disciple, was to take place in an hour’s time. The preparations were elaborate. Word had spread that I would succeed my father, who was going to take samadhi. Before he left his earthly home, he would transfer all his divine powers and spiritual knowledge to me. I suspected it to be a lousy trick to establish my succession without stirring controversy.

My father’s disciples threw flowers at me as they led me to the stage. I gasped when I saw the spectacle: massive cheering crowds of at least ten thousand people. What had I done to deserve the honour? Signed the death warrant of a free life?

A short while later, my father appeared. He greeted the crowd with folded hands. The entire gathering saluted him. Some of them folded their hands while others prostrated on the ground.

‘Guru Parmanand ki jai!’

He waited for the noise to subside. Then, in his clear baritone, he addressed them. ‘My children, I’m going to depart at 6 a.m. tomorrow. But I’m going to leave a part of me in the young Partibhan. My voice and my advice will exist through him, because I’ll give him realisation today. After the shakti-paat ceremony, there will be no difference between him and me, spiritually, that is. Respect him the way you respect me now. Listen to him as you listen to me.’

Guru Parmanand ki jai!’

‘Guru Partibhan ki jai!’

I looked around, bewildered at the sudden change in the chants. He had achieved the transfer with mere words! The message to his followers was clear – they were to respect my authority.

My father sat on the floor, facing me. He closed his eyes and raised his right palm towards me, in a gesture of blessings. He then began to chant what sounded like mantras.

Was this man really going to die tomorrow at six? Or was he going to commit suicide because he was fed up of the ashram life? Maybe this was his revenge for my refusal to accept him as a respectable father figure. He was locking me up in this jail for two years – among these mad people!

The entire gathering watched us in silence. Then my father raised his hand further and placed it on my head.

‘Guru Parmanand ki jai!’ People shouted repeatedly.

My father was reciting some Sanskrit shlokas. All this while, I sat inertly, surely looking like the fool I felt I was. Abruptly, my father opened his eyes and said, ‘I have given shakti-paat to your new guru Swami Partibhan. A new chapter begins and my time has come. I have served you to the best of my capacity. Forgive me if I unintentionally hurt anyone’s sentiments.’

‘We love you, guruji!’ Many in that hysterical congregation were sobbing.

‘Long live Guru Parmanand! Long live Guru Partibhan!’

My head buzzed with a strange sensation. I felt drowsy.

Later, alone in my room, I closed my eyes and remembered the madness of the crowd.

Was shakti-paat real or just a clever gimmick? Was it an auto-suggestion that would make me believe I had received spiritual enlightenment? Or was it a catalyst that would trigger my dormant capabilities? I felt confused and at a complete loss.

And what were all those people seeking? What did they see in my father which I failed to see? I would never understand these people.

I realised I would have to talk to Shruti about my predicament. I needed advice to survive this madness.

The buzz in my head increased and I felt cool draughts all over my body. I was overcome with drowsiness, despite having slept enough for the day.

I stretched on the bed and immediately fell asleep.

32  Fuzzy Logic

I was flying among stars spread so densely, they formed a river. The universe looked beautiful with its suns, planets and galaxies. It seemed as if I wasn’t alone but accompanied by a benign force. As I drifted along the river of stars, I experienced a sense of joy and freedom, as if I was liberated from all binds. I felt surprisingly light.

‘You have to return now to your world and do the job meant for you,’ said the invisible force.

‘I don’t want to leave. I’ve never been so happy.’

‘Your job awaits you. When you return, there won’t be any turning back.’

‘Promise?’

‘Promise.’

When I woke up, I felt sad for no reason, as if I’d lost something precious. The beauty of the state persisted. Still groggy from sleep, I reached for the glass pitcher.

Was it a dream or something real that I had seen? I didn’t know. I looked at my chopped finger, a constant reminder of my financial failure. For five years, I had struggled to make a career out of my engineering degree. I couldn’t compromise with corrupt superiors and unethical practices. Now, to escape the consequences of my financial problems, I agreed to be a guru to so many people who would repose their faith and trust in me. I was clueless as to what I was supposed to do, with no learning or experience whatsoever. Should I go and tell everyone the truth? Should I tell them to seek salvation at a more deserving place?

If I did this, the loan sharks would never leave me in peace when the next installments came up. And what to make of the dream? It perplexed me. It was loaded with overpowering significance. What of the joy I’d experienced in the flight, which still lingered? Only my father could answer these questions. Just three hours remained between now and 6 a.m. If I slept now, I might never see him again – if his intent to take samadhi was real.

I felt compelled to talk to my father.

The lights in the corridor were dim, but I found his room easily. I pushed the door from the outside and it gave in. It took me some time to get accustomed to the darkness.

He was sleeping on the floor without a mattress or bedsheet beneath him. It was very cold because the heater was off. The sparsely furnished room smelled of the sweet fragrance of incense sticks. It was more like a temple than a bedroom.

I stood watching my father as he slept peacefully, without even a pillow beneath his head. His face looked serene. I saw his caved-in stomach, his undernourished body, and realised that though my father was surrounded by luxuries, he lived a severely austere life. Automatically, my gaze went to his forehead, which seemed to glisten with a halo. As I stood, uncertain of what I should do, my father opened his eyes.

‘What are the questions troubling you, my son?’

I was shocked. How could he have read my mind? I stared into those hypnotic eyes with unfathomable depths. ‘I feel like a fraud and am leaving this ashram.’

‘Why? What fraud did you commit?’

‘I can’t fool people into believing I got shakti-paat and have moved to a higher spiritual plane, and give sermons. Because I haven’t changed in any way. I have neither the knowledge of a saint nor the grace of a holy person. I feel every inch a fraud.’

‘The shakti-paat was real. In time, you’ll understand it fully.’

‘What’s the need to lie when we stand here alone?’

‘I believe in it and one day you will too. For now, sit and close your eyes to take an inward journey and tell me if you see something.’

‘But what has this got to do – ’

‘Go ahead, just do it. You and I are not going to lose anything by this simple exercise.’

I closed my eyes and sat motionless for what appeared like five minutes. Gradually, a joyous state enveloped me. Abruptly, I saw the same river of stars, the Milky Way and the universe in slow motion I had dreamt of in my sleep. I also saw a huge ball of light in the middle of this universe. The repeat experience startled me. What was happening?

‘What did you see?’ My father broke the spell. I opened my eyes and stared at him. What had he done?

‘I saw the universe and a huge ball of light – exactly the same I dreamed of when I fell asleep, after the shakti-paat.’

‘You just saw the inner light of your divine self, which is present in all of us. It’s divine light. However, the darkness of ignorance eclipses it. During shakti-paat, I merely raised the curtain of ignorance and let the divine light fill your being. The light you saw was your own divine self.’

What he said appeared incredible. The ecstasy I had experienced was unique. ‘Still, it’s difficult to believe that spirituality is like cooking instant noodles.’

My father laughed. ‘Spirituality is an inherent, ever-present quality in all of us. When awakened, it becomes accessible instantly. Just like the force of electricity comes alive with the flick of a switch.’

‘I don’t know if it’s available in me and I don’t know what to do with it.’

‘Different people put electricity to different uses. Someone uses it in a torch to light a path at night and someone else lights huge mercury lamps to flood an entire auditorium. Our spiritual force is present in all its strength and ready for us to use. It’s present in the meanest of human beings, as in the most saintly. With an ancient process, I’ve merely given you ready and easy access to your own spirituality, switched it on, like electricity.’

‘You mean you have put me on a fast track? I find that hard to believe. What about my disciples? How would I be able to help them access their spirituality? I see that as my key role, of which I have no clue.’

‘Good concern. The spirituality I’ve invoked in you is more like a seed I’ve planted. But it’s you who’ll decide whether to nurture the seed and make it a tree or let it wither. If you make it a tree, then the fruits of your effort will be available to all those who come in touch with you. However, if you deviate from the spiritual path, this light will dim. Just stay steadfast on the path, and the light will glow like a thousand suns. It will bless many by its radiance. You’ll be able to dispel the darkness that lingers in ignorant minds with the light of your knowledge. Unleash an exponential chain reaction by giving everyone their self-realisation.’

‘Self-realisation?’

‘The shakti-paat I gave is just one-to-one, from me to you, limited to two people. But if you remain steadfast, you will ignite self-realisation in millions of people with this light that is in you.’

I smiled disbelievingly. ‘What are you doing on the floor, in this cold? You don’t even have a bed and you haven’t switched on your heater.’

‘Those are materialistic comforts, not necessary. The joy I feel with the Divine is what I relate with. I don’t need them because I rarely identify with my body.’

‘I wish I could believe what you said. What about the samadhi? Is it possible? Or is it suicide you’ll commit tomorrow?’

‘Suicide is a cowardly act. Death comes to all of us; I’m choosing the time to leave my body. Only blessed mortals can do so, that too after several years of attuning to the Supreme.’

‘Your austerity could be a ruse to impress the gullible, and the samadhi could be suicide, despite what you claim.’

‘And what you saw just now is the result of opium we mixed in your food? Our mind can do nothing except destroy everything sublime. I can’t extract you from the swamp of intellectualism. To come out, listen to your heart. It’s easy to destroy what the heart builds. I have given you a glimpse of the absolute truth. But faith is something you’ll have to build on your own. Even God can’t instil it in human beings.’

His word signalled that the discussion was over; the spell had broken.

The temporary bridge of friendship built in those beautiful moments lingered in my mind long after I closed the door gently behind me.