Last night, I left the mandir (another word for “ashram.”) right after the chanting and singing period. Beautiful singing with one person playing tabla and another a tambourine.
The walk down the street from the mandir is beautiful. Towering branching rain trees reach high over the street, and colored lights glimmer all around. Here are some daytime photos of some of these trees by the mandir and near my flat.
Just down the street, there is a little roundabout, very wittily decorated with a sculpture of traditional Indian musical instruments.
As I turned the corner off of the roundabout, suddenly there was a man in front of me lying across the sidewalk. A small man, face down. His clothes were dark with dirt. The night was dark.
Now, as noted, in India a lot of people live and sleep on the sidewalks. But not really right where I am in Pune, perhaps more in the bigger cities like Mumbai or in poorer neighborhoods of Pune. And I’ve seen workers sleeping on the sidewalk during breaks. So I wasn’t’ sure what to do.
I walked past him but was worried because he was face down. I turned around and went back. I stopped by him to see if he was breathing. I couldn’t tell.
I thought I should do something or tell someone or have someone take a look at him. I saw some security guards at a little car dealership just on the other side of the roundabout. I went up to the first one and told him about the man. He was a nice guy with a mustache, about thirty. He shook his head and said the man was probably just drunk. That there are a lot of drunk guys on the sidewalks. I asked him if he would just go take a look. He didn’t want to. Before long several other men came up. I told them about the man. I kept asking if one of them would go with me and take a look, just in case he fell or was hurt or dying. Another man said, “He’s just drunk. He’ll get up. Anyway, what would you do? If you took him to the hospital, then they want to know who you are, what your relation is. A lot of trouble. He’s just drunk. He’ll get up. Just leave him.” They were all totally nice about it, but no one would walk over with me to take a look.
In India, sometimes it seems that every one has just about had it up to here with the hardship of life. Of course, I’m just a foreigner learning about India, but as I walk down the streets, the faces seem to have a hardness and a kind of resigned yet fierce determination. And with good reason. In the cities, you have the poverty, traffic, pollution, noise assaulting you all the time. You just can’t take another problem or irritation.
(For a while, I thought everyone was angry. But that’s not it, at all. Yesterday, I wrote a poem about what happens when you smile at people you pass on the street. Now, Pune’s a big city, and in big cities anywhere, people don’t smile and greet everyone they pass on the street. If you did, you’d be nodding you head like one of those little wooden dog toys with the heads that constantly bob up and down. But often on my morning walk, I look at someone I’m passing and smile at them. I think Thich Nhat Hanh calls this giving out “eye candy,” but I think he has a more spiritual name for it. Anyway, when I do that, if the person looks at me, often there is a sudden hesitation, a withdrawal of expression, a tightening up. I imagine that what is going on in the person’s mind at that moment is something like, “WTF does he want?” Something like that. But then, as they see that the answer is, “nothing,” suddenly that hard face of determination opens into the sweetest smile and kindest eyes, often with a little laugh. I do this all the time. People seem to be wound up tight and on guard, and with good reason, but in my humble opinion, by and large Indians are the sweetest people. And when you get to know some of them, you realize how true that really is.)
So, these security guards really didn’t want some naive American coming up and creating a problem for them about some drunk on the sidewalk. They had enough on their plate. They were guarding the car dealership. Finally, the first guy I spoke to just said, “Sorry, I’m on duty here.” I said, okay.
I walked back to the man. I checked to make sure he was breathing. He was. Maybe he did just fall out of drunkenness. But I didn’t feel okay. I went across the street to the Ambience Hotel, where I stayed last year and talked to the security guard and to two desk clerks. No one would do anything.
I went back out and stood on the street to see if a police vehicle might come by. After a few minutes I looked up to where the guy was, and it looked like he was sitting up. It was dark. But it looked like he was. I felt sudden relief. Then someone stopped by him and bent down. I crossed the street and walked up to both of them. The second was an old wizened guy in one of those little white hats that look like upside down paper boats. He reeked of alcohol. The other guy was sitting up. He had a mostly shaved head and looked about in his thirties. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he was a sadhu. I didn’t know. I was glad he was okay. He looked up at me with a face out of El Greco.
The second man held out his hand and made an eating gesture.
And here’s the sweet part of the story. I happened to be carrying home two pieces of “prasad” — sweets that have been blessed by the guru. I don’t usually eat them right away as they are too sweet for me. I sometimes leave them out on my balcony to bless the birds, which may be some kind of blasphemy, but my guru loved nature, and I love the birds, and everything is Brahma, so I do not think she would mind.
So, I gave each of the men one of the sweets blessed by my guru, Ma Indira Devi. I thought, this is the best food they could ever have. Ma is said to have healed many people when she was alive. I left them sitting there eating sweet prasad in the dark. When I got to my flat, I looked up. The moon was breaking out of the clouds.