November 12th, 2009, Pushkar
3 p.m to 5 p.m
I started climbing the trail to the Gayatri temple, not because I was feeling religious or in a mood to sight-see, but because I wanted to get away from the overbearing commerciality and touristiness of the town. I loved the fact that you had no option but to walk everywhere when you were there but the sheer amount of falafel shops, trinket sellers, fake sadhus, pizza parlors, Hebrew signs, “Salvador Dali” art galleries, backpacker cafe’s, yoga & meditation classes and snake charmers started getting to me. I looked at the little tourist map I had and I saw two hills, on either side of the lake, adorned with temples on top. Being a lazy ass, I chose the smaller one closer to the town.
This was my first real experience of solitude in Pushkar and it felt beautiful. I huffed and puffed my way to the top and enjoyed the sweeping views of the town that lay below. Since it was still mid-afternoon, I was quite exhausted and sought a shade by the temple to lay down for an afternoon siesta. Not long after, I was in a spectacular dream where I was flying over slanted rooftops, that looked like something from a medieval Chinese village in a Shaw Brothers film, from one town to another selling crocodile pickle.
It was while I was having this adventurous time that I felt a firm poke at the back of my leg. I turned around and saw that it was an immensely old man with a stern, admonishing look on his face. “This is a temple, not a dharamshala”, he scolded in pure Hindi. I was startled and my mind had a hard time getting back to the real world from the fantasy it was living in just a few moments ago. Was he shouting at me because I hadn’t delivered his pickles yet? For a while there, my mind was expecting the body to fly away but since that did not happen, it knew reality had well and truly crashed its preferred domain.
“This is Gayatri Devi’s temple and she’s having a violent tussle with Savitri Devi who lives up there”, he said, pointing to the hill on the other side of the lake. “So you better be careful about what you do here. I have heard many stories of people getting sacrificed to Savitri Devi in a number of horrible ways so they could resolve this ancient tussle. What are you doing in Pushkar?”
I was going to scream, “What the fuck?” but managed to retain some composure to reply that I was just traveling.
“Are you married?”
He shook his face sympathetically and said, “Don’t worry. Come with me to Kalitopiwale Baba (the Baba with a Black Hat) and he’ll set you right.”
“I don’t want to be set right”, I said. “I like my life the way it is.”
“That’s where you are wrong, my son. You’re being highly ignorant. But that’s not your fault. We all harbour evil within us but there are ways to fight the evil within you. Your loneliness might be a result of some grave wrongs you have committed in this life and your earlier lives. Once you meet the Baba, everything will become clear to you. The Baba will get your juices flowing and women will start liking you. Look around you. There are so many beautiful women here (he said goriyan but I’m not using the more racist, literal translation i.e. “white” here even though that’s what he may have meant.). They have all been sent by God just to keep the people here happy. Many people come to seek Baba’s blessings when they have trouble getting women and there are many who have flown to America as a result. He will help you lead a good life. You’re too old to be alone but there might be some good within you. You only need a force to unlock the good and defeat the evil that resides in you.”
This was just an abbreviated version of his sermon, which went on very slowly, painfully and repetitiously for 20 minutes. At the end of his lecture, my head was getting dizzy with conflict. Should I take up the offer? There was a huge part of me that wanted to go see the Black-hatted Baba and see what happens. After all, isn’t that the whole point of travel? To seek the unknown, have an horrible experience, survive it and brag about it later? But I had to refuse because I had told Celine and Josh that I would meet them at the Sunset Café in the evening.
My refusal seemed to have hurt the old man deeply. With an air of resignation, he said, “If I was a young man wearing a suit and talking to you in English, you would have accepted my offer. But since I’m an old man wearing shabby clothes, you don’t trust me. You think I’ll have you murdered or something. In time, I’m sure you’ll regret not taking this opportunity. Well, it’s your choice.” I started protesting and saying that it wasn’t the case at all but he simply looked away from me towards the barren wasteland of the Thar Desert that stretched all the way to Jaisalmer and into Pakistan.
I clambered down to the town and as I was sitting in the Sunset Cafe, meeting up with Josh and Celine, talking about places to go, things to see, Shantaram and Maximum City, bragging about our ordinary lives and getting annoyed at a group of Israelis sitting by the bone-dry lake and jamming to “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, I thought the old man was right about one thing. I do regret not sitting with the Black-hatted Baba and finding out what he was all about. It most certainly would have been more interesting than what I was doing at that moment, being a tourist, sitting in a tourist café, with other tourists, watching some tourists play touristy songs.