Friday, October 16, 2009


There was no Siddhi Ma. No chakra-blowing darshan, no profound interchange, not even a glimpse of her radiant white robes. After dutifully scouring ourselves in the Ganga (for the intrepid), or from a spigot (for the typhoid-conscious) and acquiring offerings of fruit to be blessed, twenty of us crammed into two jeeps and trundled off across Rishikesh for our anticipated audience. Rishikesh the day before Diwali (picture New Year’s, Christmas, and July 4th rolled into one) is no treat to navigate in a couple of unwieldy SUV’s packed with sweating American adolescents chartreuse with motion sickness. After taking a few moments to compose ourselves and will our heaving stomachs into submission, we trooped into the ashram, only to be told that Siddhi Ma had left suddenly that morning at 4:30 a.m., and no one knew why or where she had gone. I can truthfully log this as the first time I’ve ever seen Dwabha nonplussed. Her guru had vanished in a cloud of Maruti exhaust, while we were left with armloads of papaya, and not an avatar in sight.

In all of her years as a devotee, Dwabha had never known her guru to simply vanish when an audience had been arranged, as ours had. We had to content ourselves with a desultory tour of the ashram grounds, Neem Karolyi Baba’s Samadhi (memorial), and the largest Hanuman statue in northern India. The statue itself was a bit alarming. Hanuman is the monkey god, the god of wind and the ultimate warrior. He is usually shown in a vigilant stance, and the artist behind this particular piece made liberal use of bulging veins and pneumatic musculature to convey his strength and virility. I felt like he might, at any moment, throw a punch, pound a Red Bull, then turn to me with a with a lift of an eyebrow and say “How you doin’?”

What did impress me is that the statue itself actually stands on a pedestal which is built over and around the cave where Neem Karolyi lived and meditated for years by the banks of the Ganga. While thoroughly sobered by the fact that the Ganga has retreated over a kilometer from that spot thanks to global warming, it was incredible to step into the shadow of Hanuman, and duck into this tiny cave where an enlightenment occurred. It was hardly larger than the inside of a VW bus, with a picture of Neem Karolyi taking up nearly one entire wall, blurred by dense incense smoke. We all crammed in and sat in meditation for a while, until the heat and claustrophobic quarters drove us back out into the sunlight.

I felt like a newborn fawn, wobbly of leg and bleary of eye, as the glare from sun hitting white marble inundated me from all directions. Dwabha was in mid-discourse about the origins of the god Ram, and as I pressed my back against a cool column, I was awash with gratitude for her patter, as the capacity for speech or movement had temporarily deserted me. I wish I could be more articulate about this. I don’t know what happened in that cave. I just felt really quiet is all, and completely surrounded by a presence that had nothing to do with the breathing, perspiring bodies pressing in from all sides. When I walked out, I felt shaky and overwhelmed and unable to look anyone in the face, lest I scare any of my students with an acute case of the “crazy eye”. I felt like there was a new and not unpleasant void in my brain, but certain my students would not have the same appreciation for a bottomless gaze from their leader. This may all be sounding pretty woo-woo for a lot of my home team readers, but it’s about as real as I can keep it at present. I’m in Rishikesh, after all, and you don’t have to be a Beatle to get bitten by woo-woo around here.

Ground zero zoomed up to meet me soon enough, as Dwabha led us in a chaotic foray through the central market in search of fireworks and Indian sweets for our Diwali festivities on the beach tonight. My blown fuses where still smoking gently, so I elected to stay in the back of the jeep with a couple of teenage orphans who had come along for their fourth encounter with Siddhi Ma. The young girls shared a highly entertaining series of jokes about an ant and an elephant with me in halting English, as my students and Dwabha filtered back with illegal variations on fireworks like the “fountain of light”, and something highly ill-advised called “Guns of Fun”. I sent out a prayer to whatever was in that cave with me to protect us all from unregulated pyrotechnics, and tucked myself back into my eight inch by eight inch slot behind the driver’s seat for the head-whipping ride back to the orphanage.

Dwabha postulated this morning that Siddhi Ma probably left before our meeting in order to increase our desire to seek out master teachers in our lives, which we would not have fully appreciated had we been able to gain her presence so easily. I have to admit that I was thoroughly disappointed that our date with the Divine got rain checked, but I will admit to some reservations during our vertiginous drive to the ashram. Many of the students were full of avatar jokes and blessed fruit humor. I’m not sure they were quite ready for the dose of energy they would have received from such a formidable presence, and perhaps neither was I. Dwabha claims that avatars do nothing by accident, and feels certain that Siddhi Ma’s eleventh hour vanishing act was divinely ordained. I guess sometimes the baker knows when the loaves are ready, and when they need to get shoved back into the fire for, say four more weeks. Rajasthan, here we come.

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