Narendraji from Vrindavan
I started my solo travel with my first trip to Rajasthan last winter. And the trip was quite smashing! So I set forth for my second solo trip to Mathura and Vrindavana this holi where I met Narendraji. Narendraji now manages a dharamshala in Vrindavan. Previously he had a fairly fulfilling career elsewhere. Narendraji almost turned me away saying they do not keep young-single-male-solo-travelers. And the first time he said it – his very words – they made the whole travel affair sound like a disease. But soon he changed his mind and asked if I could stay in their storeroom. The storeroom was pretty messy but it was sufficiently spacious for me. And quite well-lit and airy. Besides it was in a quiet corner with monkeys visiting all the time. As I later found out – they would pull down the flimsy curtain that modestly tried to separate me from the rest of the place. The room did not have any doors. Only a grill with a gate that took-up pretty much an entire wall. The other two walls had doors that opened into two other rooms that thankfully never opened. The room was – oh very white – with white sheets and white pillows and a pale yellow fan which must have been white once.
In our few days together – Narendraji had showed me his books of accounts and asked if I would like to make corrections. And I said of course not Narendraji. You are doing splendid. And then as more guests arrived I helped him carry dusty rugged mattresses outside to the courtyard where others could sleep under the stars. He taught me to fight monkeys – to not to be afraid and to put my most confident foot forward and always carry a stick – although a catapult was always better and could be bought for ten rupees. Narendraji, I guess, found in me a willing disciple and asked if I would bring him prashad from a local ashram. And although the ashram was most decidedly farther from what I had been told – and the way most bewildering – I kept at it somehow and it lead me to the most ravishing langar of my life. And I was paid to eat! Twenty rupees. I offered to help serve the food. I was allowed for a while but soon one of the hostesses was too embarrassed and demanded I rather let her do it. So I returned – with a bagful of gifts – a towel – oh, a lovely towel – an apple, a banana, biscuits and murmure. I donated the money I had received in a box upstairs.
Narendraji about sixty years old, beyond doubt, was the most darling of a person in whole of Vrindavan. He always smiled and was always cheerful and very kind. As long as I stayed I was mostly feeding on bread from the local grocery and bananas. I detest spending a lot on food when I am travelling and besides, since my travel plans tend to be very unpredictable, there is also a peptic reason to it . I eat the bare minimum that I need to survive and do not eat local food unless it is a specialty. Narendraji soon found out I was not having local food and was eating only bread and bananas. I would have loved to have eggs but – in Vindavan? In Holi? Narendraji thought I was unwell and surprised me with the most delicious daal, Karela bhujia and roti one day. He just showed up at the entrance and said he had made daal for me. I was surprised. I could not say no to him. Of course, and then he showed up just two minutes later to ask if I would like my bread toasted. No – thank you, that wouldn’t be required. And the next thing I know he shows up with a plate in his hands – daal in a bowl, roti and bhujia in it. I was so grateful – I did not quite know what to say. I gleefully accepted the plate, grandly happy at the prospect of having homemade food. And moments later he showed up again, with a spoonful of salt in his hand, standing in the sun outside my room which I made sure to keep padlocked all the time as a matter of both habit and protection against monkeys who seemed quite amused watching me eat bananas inside a room that almost looked like a cage. Oh, Narendraji! This wouldn’t be required! I did not quite know how to thank him. I made sure I washed the utensils before returning them – rubbing them clean as new and made a fuss about tidying-up the storeroom a wee bit before I left. I was so touched by his humility – I could not leave before promising – from the very depths of my wandering self – to return one day. And even if it meant just visiting him and not staying.