The Italian baba

“Have you ever been in love?”, I ask the Italian baba living on the hilltop we had walked to, after debating for a while with myself if it’s the right question to ask the holy man.
“Yes, many times”, comes an easy reply with a smile.
“Have you ever loved one woman more than the others?”, I ask again
“Yes, I lived with her for 7years before I came here.”, he says, as he hands me the biography written on him by the Italian writer Falco Terzani titled, “A Piedi Nudi sulla Terra” or “Naked footsteps in the earth.” as if to say, you’ll find all the details in here curious young lady.

Mia my new German friend suddenly asks, “Is jealousy in love, just a product of the ego and the mind?”
“For sure.”, he replies falling back into the silence, never speaking more than he is asked nor supplying us with any great wisdom on life.
“Do you ask him that question because you have experienced jealousy in love?”, I ask Mia.
The Italian baba is now poised between a smile and a laugh as we women confront each other.
“Yes”, says Mia.
“I have too.”, I say.
Lini nods as if to agree while Mia says, “I suppose we all have at sometime.”

It’s the beauty of sharing emotions, not just the beautiful ones full of light, but also the dark ones we’re asked to hide. When you share them honestly, you realize that everyone feels just the same as you do.

The Italian baba doesn’t come across as an enlightened man far beyond human reach, but very unafraid to show his emotion and so all the more interesting. Interesting enough for BBC to film a documentary on him and his biography due to be translated in English soon. Although he is a recluse, people sought him out over the mountain, to know his story, which brought me to the question, “So then what are you doing here on this hilltop, in the forest?”
If he had loved, what was he doing here alone for over 58 years in India?
“I came here in the last hippie caravan from the states. We were the last hippies standing. I felt drawn here. It felt right to stay.”, he says simply as if I should have all already known this, before I came here.
“Do you miss Italy?”, I ask.
“I was just there a month back.”, he says smiling and gets up to recite effortlessly fluent Sanskrit chants for his evening puja, after having passed around and shared a strong joint of marijuana with his Shiv-bhakts.

I came back home to read contradicting statements on him such as, “He’s an amazing being and so very special.”to “He’s a fake.”,
Whatsoever be the truth, I admired that he answered my question with perfect honesty. He just was, sitting there, his lips poised between a smile, intriguing us. It was we, who were curious enough to have sought him out deep into the woods.

As the sun drowned over the hills in Hampi, we walked back before it got too dark and the conversation deepened with the girls, just by sharing one little doubt, one little question. And just like that, I understood love if only for a glimpse deeper.
I was able shed a layer of fear right there, simply by sharing what I feel.


A painting of The man.

44 01-19-2010
Igniting a light.

Meditating in the Casino

I’m aware how this title sounds. I’m also aware that the casino is not a place to meditate. What was meant to be a random fun night, turned out to be one I won’t forget because of what I experienced at that roulette table,
And so I tell this story.

It’s our last night in Kathmandu. The city sleeps early and having already explored it, we ask the cab driver what we should do for the night and this is how we find ourselves in the casino. This is my first time in one. On second thought the first was as a child in Las Vegas watching the adults play, not allowed to touch anything, my hands to myself I watched the apples and hearts roll on the slot machine.

I could now pull that forbidden lever.
Besides pulling the lever on the slot machine with the few pennies of stupidity that I hope will amass unexpected riches, like everyone else who pulls it, I have no idea what to do here. Z plays blackjack with a skill that surprises me of the sides to him I am yet to discover and we move on to the roulette table.
He is winning and losing and winning and losing, going by the rule of the casino, playing for the fun of it.

It doesn’t take me long to drift into boredom and I am now just sitting at the roulette table beside him, watching when a thought whispers in my mind,
Empty yourself and you will be full.” I find this thought strange, because it is a meditative Sufi like thought, that doesn’t belong here.
I decide not to question or pursue it and begin to do as it says.
While Z plays, I stare at the roulette table blankly, thinking of nothing and emptying out my mind as much as I can……… when quite suddenly the number 30 starts to shine on the board, glinting like magic. I dart my eyes around the board quickly and just this one number has that gleam.

I take a coin at once and place it on the no 30.
Z turns to look at me questioningly because I am playing, “What are you doing?”.
I don’t reply staring only at the number that is gleaming like magic.
Ten seconds later the rotating ball stops on the number 30.
His eyes are wide “Did YOU just do that?” …. We are so excited with the win, that we don’t look at the rolling ball which stops at 30 again. The two men on the table playing seriously look at me quizzically.
It wasn’t a wild guess because I played just once. It wasn’t a maybe or a what if?
It was a crystal clear shining number 30.
It happens twice again that night, a gleaming number 9 and number 5, but this time I foolishly don’t trust it. Because of this experience, Z & I are both awaiting in eager anticipation for the magic, and it doesn’t arrive because the whole idea is to not use your mind, but empty it completely of what you think is right or wrong, for the magic to show itself

I know this is not why you meditate – to go win at the casino, but this encounter went far beyond that moment on the roulette table.
It was a far too tiny glimpse of Rumi’s poetry insisting that if you empty yourself of your thoughts,you will be surprised with the haven of magic and love that will pour itself and fill you. It was a moment that told me to always trust my intuition. It told me that magic is real and that everything is indeed connected, in a way that I am far too preoccupied to notice.

I am just a beginner learning how to meditate, and I have the incredibly inappropriate thought of what it would be like if a highly meditative person, like a Zen monk walks into the casino and can see the number’s crystal clear beforehand. Z tells me that the paradox is they wouldn’t be here. True.
My mind is racing and in its reverie a movie like “21” is playing and he teasingly says it will be a flop film, but he also tells me not to write this story, because we should go back again and not give “our secret” away.

Far beyond the silliness, another question starts to form, “Empty yourself and you will be full”. I have experienced this on however minute a level.
What will happen if I stop asking myself questions for just a week? Those questions that torment me with their how’s and why’s. What will happen if I stop seeking answers for just a week? And I stop making them up. We’re always asking ourselves questions. How? Should I or shouldn’t I? When? WHY?
What if I laugh at the questions in my mind and laugh at the answers that pass me by? What magic will I find?
I know that magic lives in everyone and I can’t help wonder, what we might find?

I will not forget what I saw with my eyes, that gleaming no.30 and what it taught me. We did’nt walk out millionaires but I felt enriched.