The lengthening twilight seemed almost interminable as the old car plowed along the dismal roads east of Baroda. Indian sunsets are particularly spectacular where there is flat country and few trees or buildings to break the magnificent vista of pink, orange, and purple sky. These roads had not been built for motor vehicles, and our progress was slow as we pushed past hundreds of workers hurrying home on their bicycles. I had been warned the journey might take more than two hours.
Inside the old Ambassador, the only car the government of India allowed to be built at that time, there were the three self-styled “Young Turks” and myself, the somewhat mysterious visitor from the West staying with a Patel family on Race Course Road. The Young Turks, all university graduate students, thought of themselves as rebels against traditional Indian life. I remembered that, when the distinguished scholar and President of India, Radhakrishnan, had come to Baroda to give a talk, the Young Turks and their friends had boycotted the occasion, al- though everybody who was anybody in the ancient city was present for the distinguished man’s speech.
The Young Turks were taking me to meet a famous sadhu, a traditional holy man living not too far from Baroda. Contrary to popular belief in the West, holy men are not common in India these days, particularly in busy business cities. If one wants to meet saints, he must go to Varanasi (Benares) or up north to Rishikesh and Almora – although not all the “saints” he sees will be genuine. So the Young Turks were, somewhat cynically, taking their new foreign friend to meet a reputed sage.
The journey ended as darkness descended in a desolate field; one strange building stood some distance from the road. Looking like a huge house, it had no glass where windows should have been (one often finds birds flying in the house in India) and, in some parts, there was no roof over the wooden floor. Upon entering we found a variegated scene. One man was cooking a banana over a fire smoldering on the floor; several others were reading musty manuscripts that looked a thousand years old; several more were sitting cross-legged in attitudes of meditation; others were milling around talking. The main light was from the fire, although one or two candles also burned. One had the feeling of being half-inside and half-outside in that house. Incomprehensibly, a well-milked goat roamed freely about the rooms.
We were told the sadhu had been in Samadhi (the super-conscious state) since the day before, and there was no telling when he might emerge from his exalted condition. We decided to wait.
Most of the conversation was in Gujarati, the language of the local province, but a few of those present spoke English (the university language in India) as well. It was hard to tell what the others were doing there. Did some live in that huge house? Were they disciples of the sadhu? It was impossible to know.
After about an hour, there was a sudden silence. Looking up, we saw a strange, almost drunken-looking man entering through a doorway, leaning lightly against the wall. He had on a simple white dhoti instead of the ochre-colored sannyasin robe we half-expected.
This imposing man of indeterminate age – of 40 years old? 50? 60? his white beard made it hard to tell – was now the focus of all eyes. He quietly sat down in the cross-legged lotus posture, not saying a word. There was silence for quiet a while. Then, one-by-one, overcome by the august presence of the man, the Young Turks came forward, prostrated themselves on the floor, and kissed his bare feet in the traditional Indian gesture of respect. So much for their cynicism.
Finally, it was my turn, and I carefully seated myself in meditation pose about two feet from the sadhu and faced him. We looked at each other, but no word was spoken. (I had no way of even knowing if he understood English.)
After a while, one of the Young Turks came forward and whispered in my ear, “Ask him something.”
I paid no attention. Sitting so close to the man, who had just emerged from the deepest of immersions, I was fascinated by the tremendous vibration of livingness about him. Outwardly, he did not move at all, but inwardly he must have been seething with a tremendous force flowing through him. The tight clasp of the hands, with only the fingers moving, gave some clue to the dynamic surge inside. He had come out of Samadhi, evidently sensing visitors were there to see him, and yet he was still in it. Those who have successfully practiced really deep meditation will have some inkling of what was surging inside him. But there is no way to name it.
How long we sat, I cannot recall. I had been drawn into his radius of one-pointed dynamism, and words would have been superfluous. Again and again one of the Young Turks would come up to me and whisper, “Ask him something.” Evidently they felt I would pose a significant question or two, he would give the answers, and the secret of the universe would be clearly revealed. How naïve can we be to believe such things are contained in words.
Except for the writhing of the fingers, clasped tightly as though to keep him from exploding, the sadhu didn’t move. He never said a word during the hours of our visit. After his first sharp glance at me, he never again looked up, his half-closed eyes remaining unseeingly focused on the floor between us. The electricity in our little circle never wavered, actually seeming to grow in intensity all the time we sat there.
Finally, I felt it was time to go; we had intruded enough. Standing, I made the hand gesture known as pranam to the holy man, who did not return it. Instead, he gave me another sharp but not unfriendly look. Turning quickly, I led the way from the room, past the fire (where several men were now cooking some greens), past the over-milked goat, and out into the deep darkness lighted by a million stars above. We each took several deep breaths of the warm evening air and got into the car parked by the side of the house.
The drive back was swift and quiet. I was still under the spell of the sadhu, and the others were rather taken back by and ashamed of their impulsive act of honor and respect to the holy man.
On the long drive, one of the young men (the son of a Baroda doctor) asked me why I hadn’t questioned the sadhu to get some answers.
I smiled for a moment. “Do you mean to tell me you missed the whole thing?” I demanded.
He was surprised. What whole thing had he missed? What had happened? But I was not of a mind to speak anymore, and we rode the rest of the way in silence. I was filled with the vibrancy of the sadhu, so deep in his God-intoxicated state. I do not know what thoughts or feelings occupied the others.