“One life to ride” is a story of a bike-trip from Pune to Ladakh. The biker/writer with the wanderlust is Mr. Ajit Harisinghani, a speech therapist by profession . I happened to randomly pick up a marathi translation of the book by Sujata Deshmukh , titled “ Bikewarcha Birhad”, which loosely translated would mean “A home on the bike”
I enjoyed the translation immensely and just wondered what the read would be like in English, but as far as books go, i am not one to die wondering, so have already ordered one online.
There is a passage during the writers’ journey that really caught my imagination with its mystic, poetic quality that was lent to it by a chance encounter the biker had with a Sufi Baba. I want to share it with you all.
Of course you would think it weird to be reading a translation of a translation into the very language it was written in originally. But, its not really a translation. Its just the gist of that encounter and what the biker got out of it. The idea is to give you all a glimpse of something that I really loved reading and get it to vet your appetites enough to pick up the book, in either language. Here goes…
“ As I was getting my bike a fill, I saw an old Sufi Baba pedaling on his extremely old , dilapidated bicycle in the same direction I was headed to. I paid the attendant, kick-started my Enfield 350 and in a few seconds overtook the baba .
Blame it on the hot and humid afternoon, or on the loneliness that goes with a long journey on a bike, but for some reason I felt like stopping and letting the baba catch up with me. I pulled up and sat on a wall, as the green-robed baba with his long white beard blowing with the wind, came pedaling towards me. Probably for the same reasons as mine , he too decided to get off his bicycle and join me on the wall, as I was inexplicably confident he would. In what felt like a silent communion lasting about 15 minutes between us, we just sat and stared at nothing in particular. I felt we both shared the kinship that must exist in two people for whom the clocks have ceased to hold any importance. Then I reached for my pack of cigarettes and drew one out. As if on cue, the baba fished out a beedi and I lit up for both of us, still not a word out of either of us . We smoked in silence, enjoying the smoke and the hot, quiet afternoon.
After my last puff, I stubbed out my cigarette, tossed it away and introduced myself and also the purpose of my journey that had no purpose at all. He told me about his journey that very definitely had a purpose and a very clear destination too. He had set out for Mecca, the holy pilgrimage for almost all the branches of Islam. Upon hearing this, I was as flabbergasted as my sister was when I had told her of my bike-trip to Ladakh.
“But baba, Mecca is in Saudi Arabia ! How can you even hope to make it there on your bicycle at your age ?” I asked him. I could clearly see from his age and the state of his bicycle, which was sure to be as old as him, that it was a close race between the two. Who was going to kick the bucket first, the baba, or his bicycle ? I wouldn’t bet on either of them. Confident as I was of completing my own trip on schedule with the fast and well oiled machine I had with me, I probably had a cocky, even derisive look on my face when I asked him this question.
He gave me a warm, kind smile in return. The kind of a smile that an indulgent Grandpa gives his grandchild, and said “ Son, my Mecca would be right where my body lays down for the last, final sleep. How does it matter whether my body reaches the real Mecca or not ? As for my soul, it has reached Mecca the day I started out on my journey !”
After this profound rejoinder, nothing but a quiet, contemplative smoke would have been in order and that’s exactly what we had. After a while I asked him how did he manage his meals, accommodations etc. Again his answer made me feel like the materialistic worm that I was. He said he had complete faith in the benevolence and providence of his creator who provides food for every hungry stomach one way or other, and as for sleep, how much space does a human body need to stretch itself after a long day of pedaling?
Offering some money to him as a token of my respect and good wishes seemed the only recourse I had to appease my ego and give myself a bit of a glow that a giver subconsciously expects. But I guess it just wasn’t my afternoon, because the baba gracefully accepted only a small part of the amount I offered him. He then proceeded to tell me a story as an answer to the unasked question he saw on my face.
“ Many many years ago, there lived a great master. In his monastery, he used to teach and live with his students. The monastery was strategically situated in the caves so far away from any human habitation that the minds of the students were without any distractions or disturbance. The students would learn as much from the nature as from the great master himself. There was a very young student whom the master was particularly fond of because of his inherently brilliant mind and a grasping capacity second only to the master himself. A day came when the master felt convinced that his protégé has come of age and was ready to go into the world that existed out there, to test himself as well as to get an education about the worldly matters. With his blessings and a great ceremony, he bid his favorite student goodbye. The student , with the strict discipline taught by his master started his life, adhering to the ways and rules he had learned. In the mornings he would go from door to door asking for raw grains in alms , so that he could cook them himself, eat and spend the rest of his day studying the scriptures he was given by his master. One day, he found himself at the door of a particularly wealthy landlord in his morning forays for alms. One look at him and the landlord sensed something that told him this was no ordinary alms-seeker. He respectfully invited the young man into his house, and called his young daughter out to give some grains to the guest. This was the first time the young man was seeing a human being of his opposite sex , and was obviously impressed with what he saw when the young girl respectfully emptied a sack of grains in his pot, and retreated with folded hands. Quite taken in by her beauty, the young man pointed at her and asked her father “What is that ?” . The landlord, once having being a man of the book himself , was appreciative of the innocence behind this question, and answered kindly “ This is a girl, and she is my daughter”. Still mesmerized by the first glimpse of feminine beauty, the young man could not help pointing at the girls bosom now and asking “ What is that?” No matter how innocent, this still was a delicate question for a father to answer about his own daughter, and in her presence too. But his kind heart and wise head enabled the father to come up with an answer that was correct and in decorum too. He said “ That, sir, is the organ that will enable her to feed milk to her child with, when it is born in a few years time!” . Upon hearing this answer, the young man looked wonderstruck and a with a self-deprecating smile emptied his pot back in the sack, keeping for himself only as much as would suffice for his evening meal. Now it was the turn of both the landlord and his daughter to be perplexed as to why an alms-begging scholar would return their respectful offering like this. The landlord asked this to him in as many words and with a sheepish smile the young man answered “I thank you both for reminding me a discipline my master had taught me, which was to accept only as much as I would need for a day. Your answer now reveals the lesson my master wanted me to learn. If the creator of this universe had enough foresight to provide your daughter with an organ at birth which years after would ensure her child’s meals , why should I worry about where my next day’s meal is coming from ?”
The Sufi baba and I then wished each other well for the rest of our journey, and parted. He, on his bicycle, already assured of his destination, and I , on my Enfield 350, still a touch worried about the equation of my fuel-gauge and the distance to the next petrol pump.
But I know I am richer from this encounter than I was before.
Ah, my India ! My incredible India !
Go get that book guys ! It’s the next best thing there is to actually getting on your bike and setting off to nowhere in particular. You might want to visit Mr. Harisinghani’s website too. Here is the link