Proceed with caution  

I wrote this blog a few years ago when I was in Rishikesh for someone who asked me how it was living in the capital of yoga from the eyes of a foreigner as a spiritual journey. 

To be honest, I pondered a bit before sharing this writing on here, because what I wrote was mainly for a Westerner audience, so I hope if you are not from that part of the world you won’t hold it against me if you read something you don’t agree with. 

Let me start by saying that I have a profound love for mother India and that my first trip to this incredibly vast beautiful land was many. many. years ago. They say that India calls you, and you can’t resist her. This has been my case.

The original title of the blog was “Namaste, I’ll be your baba of the day.” Because that’s pretty much what Rishikesh is famous for in the eyes of someone living in USA, or in Europe, at least from my experience. And also because babas have always intrigued me: their life style, their wandering, their non-possessions. So, what you are going to read is about these two definitions as experienced by yours truly. 

Now, let’s get at it!

According to Wikipedia the word “Namaste नमस्ते – sometimes spoken as Namaskar or Namaskaram – is a respectful form of greeting in Hindu custom. By saying Namaste one means “I bow to the divine in you”.

Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow of the head and hands together, palms touching, fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. The greeting may also be spoken without the gesture, or the gesture performed wordlessly, carrying the same meaning”. 

I have heard and seen many “Namastes” at the beginning/end of a yoga class, mainly in the West; in fact this term is hardly ever used in any yoga session I have experienced in India. 

Then of course there are the westernized versions of it: namastay … right here… in bed all day… a complete destruction of the original word but hey… what to do? 🤦🏻‍♀️

Still according to Wikipedia, the word Baba बाबा means father, grandfather, wise old man, sir. 
This term is used to define men -and sometimes women, although not as common- who have left family, possessions, attachments to live an ascetic life wandering from place to place without desires or wants. 

The purpose if this choice is to practice sadhana/tapas – a discipline or spiritual practice – living in a state of Bhakti, devotion to God.” 

You can see them walking in groups or alone – especially in Rishikesh, a very special spiritual place where many sages and saints have lived. And if you haven’t been at least one time in your life, I recommend you visit because it is indeed a very special place. 

Babas wear one or two cloths to cover their body – mainly orange or white – sometimes a turban, malas and/or bracelets; at times they carry a stick and a sleeping bag. In one hand they hold a metal tiffin for food, on the shoulder a small bag – often knitted by themselves – with their entire life in it: an extra cloth, a blanket, some small change, a towel, a cup, whatever found on the road that might turn useful.

Often they are barefoot, but not the baba I met one day with a pair of broken down Birkenstocks donated by a tourist who was leaving and didn’t have any more room in his heavy backpack. 
They weren’t even his (the baba’s) size but they were/are doing the job. 

Babas don’t seem to be faced by weather conditions; the sun can be brutal in Rishikesh, the rain during monsoon season is not just a couple of drops and when it’s cold it’s COLD. 
Occasionally you can see them finding shelter by the nearest ashram, where they are also fed at specific times during the day, or simply resting by the side of the road, waiting for whatever climate to pass. 

Some of them stop at road stalls to rest or drink a chai, smoke bidis or other substances believed to increase one’s concentration and limit desires. 
They can strike a conversation about whatever subject they feel like talking about or they just sit silently. 
Rarely I have heard them talking about their own life. 
The majority doesn’t ask for anything and often people offer them food, fruit, small change. 

Although sometimes I find myself complaining I don’t have all my “things” here (in India) with me I wonder if I could do the same, living with basically nothing, that is. Then again, when you don’t have anything, nothing can be taken away,  how freeing is that?

I imagine being a baba is not an easy life: not knowing where you will sleep next, or wash, or if you will have anything to eat, if someone will steal your bag, a monkey your food, or a tiger will attack you in the middle of the night.

On the other hand I imagine how liberating it is not having to worry about recharging your phone, or paying rent, or doing your taxes, putting gas in your car, insurance, vacations, holidays, groceries shopping, making the bed, fixing your hair. It’s exhausting just writing about it, isn’t it? Think about it for a moment, how liberating it is to know that not much is necessary to live a life of devotion, that all the “stuff’ the mind tells us WE NEED don’t bring us closer to the Divine. Not. one. bit. 

And then of course there are the fake babas…
You can see them in perfectly ironed orange garb, running shoes matching the impeccably crisp outfit (!) brushed long hair, tilak (the colored powder or paste between the eyebrows) applied in front of the mirror. 

They walk sure of themselves, head high, shoulders back, enough beads hanging from the neck to show they are serious about their babaness. They exude the calculated piousness necessary to attract whomever will give them a chance. 

These “smart” babas understand that often people come to India to “find themselves” – particularly in Rishikesh – or with the intent of learning more about the practice of yoga, of finding shanti or to meditate by the sacred Ganga. 

They have found the perfect formula to get what they need… attention, money, money and attention. They speak enough English to get by, some know a few words in other languages as well. The conversation begins whith a Namaste and continues with a where are you staying? By the answer to the question the fake baba determines what kind of a foreigner you are, how much money you have and subsequently what can be taken from you. Beware, oh videshi! 

These babas hang out where you and I do, because they know sooner or later they will find a foreigner (maybe on his/her first trip to India) who will mistake them for knower of “truth”. Which truth? Whose truth? I humbly ask.

There was one baba I met whom I liked a lot. I saw him from a distance one day I was at the beach. Fake, real? I don’t know. 

He had been living in the forest for over 20 years; in the particular spot where I met him for over 7.

Just the other day the police told him to leave. He took his “belongings” – one bag, 2 tarps, 2 blankets, his bidis and matches, a Tommi Hilfiger jacket (donated by someone)- and spent the night on the road. 
He was back the next day. 

He said, “If  Shiva wants me to leave i will leave.”

I still have no idea how old he was.

He should have been wearing glasses: his eyes couldn’t see too well, but he didn’t want to. I offered to take him to get his eyes checked, he politely declined. He meditated more or less all day, except when he went looking for wood, or fixed his tarp. He cooked his own chai and chapati- although he fasted most of the time, so just chai.

He smoked bidis 502 and every once in a while you could hear him say, “OOOMMM”, his voice strong and calm. Like a song coming from deep down the throat. 

He kept his rice, flour, and a few vegetables in a hole he dug, so the monkeys didn’t get to his provisions. He answered if you asked him questions or he sat in lotus pose, silently. I loved how when he smiled the whole face illuminated. How he never asked for anything and when I brought him “things” anyways -bananas, a watermelon, milk, a new tarp, some ropes- he would say, “Na Na Na mujko kuch nahin chahiye” No No No I don’t need anything.

He slept on the ground with only a blanket and a cover over his head if it rained, regardless of how hot/cold it is. He bathed in the Ganga in any weather condition. He owned nothing, complained about nothing, accepted everything as it is, wanted nothing, and above all he did EVERYTHING as devotion to the Divine. Every. Single. Day. All. The. Time. Of this I am sure. 

It gave me such joy to be in his company! I have no idea where he is now. The last time I was in Rishikesh I went to visit him and he was gone. No attachments, right? 

The moral of the story, you might ask? 
The beads don’t make the baba. 

Thanks so much for reading ❤️

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