He sat, it seemed, for eons on the porch outside her room. He
had been waiting already for years, then months, then those
days since he was told he could go up to her on his birthday,
sitting in his solid little block of a Peace Corps house, trying to
concentrate on a name, a tiny face glimpsed above a railing;
eyes that blinked at the brightness of the Bay of Bengal then
swept silence over the sea of faces below. Too soon she returned
into the mysterious inner world of which he knew nothing.
Reclusiveness held a fascination, especially for a restless
American given somewhat to seclusion himself. That first year
in India had been a reading binge, a trunk full of books devoured
during the day’s heat and night’s boredom. Without the yoke of
formal education he drifted from field to field, grazing indiscriminately.
If he could not speak much Tamil, he could at least
talk English with his books. Yet every night he would bike out
into the bazaar on some useless errand, an excuse to lose
himself in the noisy river of the marketplace. He thought often
of Sri Aurobindo remaining in one room for years on end,
sitting still for hours in the heat.
It was very hot in the veranda outside her room. He hadn’t
brought a cloth for the sweat. The crows were obnoxious as
usual, louder and more present than the distant hum of the
Ashram below. He wondered if the others waiting with him
were as easily distracted. They seemed so sunk into themselves,
silent and unconcerned about the more than two hours they had
been there. It was two hours, wasn’t it? He snuck a look at his
watch. After eleven.
This was a test of course. Like the would-be Zen student who
sits motionless in the snow for days trying to persuade the
master to open his door. He wished ruefully that he could sit still
for five minutes, but he was just a gangly North American
wilting in the humidity. If only he could hunker down anywhere
like any Tamilian, easing the body down over the flattened feet
as if settling into an overstuffed chair; at home in waiting,
unworried about whether a bus would come in two minutes or
two hours. He lasted less than a minute, rocking back and forth
on the balls of his feet, his mind a runaway express plunging
through the dust of India.
He remembered the instructions given in clipped, hushed
tones: “Go in front of her, kneel, and give her your flowers
(rapidly wilting, he noticed). Then make pranam. She will be
looking clearly at you. You should open yourself and let her
look inside through your eyes. You may be staying for some
time. Then she will give flowers and blessing packet.”
Some time. . . the eyes! Back in Midwest USA people didn’t
look into each other’s eyes. He knew from taking speech in
college that “eye contact” was important, but its only purpose,
it seemed, was to make the other person shift their glance.
Man’s superiority over the other animals is proved by the fact
that not one of them, dog, cat, horse, can hold a human’s gaze.
But what about the wild ones staring at us from the shadows of
the forest. . . the door opened.
Someone stepped outside and motioned them to come. He
followed the others into the welcome dimness of an incense
fragrant room. He looked eagerly around-saw paintings, statues,
cases of knicknacks, books, carvings-a museum of a
room. ‘Another test,’ he thought, ‘to distract my already distracted thoughts.’
What was strange was the combination of
objects: exquisitely carved ivory and wood figures next to
sea-shell necklaces, toy elephants, the kind of things found in
Courtesy and Link: http://www.motherandsriaurobindo.org/_StaticContent/SriAurobindoAshram/-09%20E-Library/-05%20Magazines/Collaboration/1987%20spring.pdf