February 24, 2006 | 03:28 AM
My friend, the wanderer
I met him trekking to Amarnath up in the Himalayas many years ago. A Hindu place of worship, where legend says that the God Shiva met his consort Parvati.
It was night, and snowing. I was making coffee outside my tent clad in my warmest down jacket. I see a man of about my age walking by. Clad only in a flimsy cloth, carrying his begging bowl. Obviously a Sadhu (a holy man). He was limping barefoot, one leg shrivelled by Polio. How did he get here?
“Hey Old Man” I shouted impulsively “ aren’t you feeling cold?”
“I was not” he replied “but now that you mention it, I am”.
That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted over 30 years. Between an actor/film maker and a holy man. Who owns only the cloth he wears and whatever he can carry in his small wooden begging bowl. Two completely different lives that intersect with the most amazing coincidences.
We often joked together. He was travelling and meditating in search of God. And I promised that when he does, I will find him and build a hut around him to live and meditate for the rest of his life.
I have no idea how to contact him, for does not live anywhere. But he is there, magically at every turn of my life. He appeared when my mother died. He appeared when I made my first film in India.
I was in my first day of studio filming for ‘Elizabeth’, when the security called to say that a man in almost no clothes, barefoot and very long hair was asking for me.
How did he get to London? How does he know when to come? I never ask. He just gets there. Last year when my father died, I waited to light the funeral pyre. Looking around, there he was walking towards me. I knew he would come.
Now, he is a very good-looking man! And whenever he would come to my house, all the young actresses would turn up and flirt with him. He would just smile. But one day he was very agitated. At night he said he was never going to come to my house again.
“Why?” I asked. He mumbled something about how provocative the girls were getting.
“But you are above this” I said. I was the one with all the sexual urges. Surely not him, too. And as we got into an argument, I told him that it was a bit late to go through sexual adolescence at this age!
He looked really upset and he walked away from my house. But he did call the next day to apologise and said some of the most frightening words I have heard. That he was wrong. That he had wasted his life in search of God. That perhaps my ‘decadent’ life was the only reality. And then he just walked out my life.
Why frightening? Because I desperately needed to believe that someone had experienced a life beyond mine. That there was a ‘higher’ plane of living. For if not, then was this all there was?
It was only years later I realized he had deliberately pulled the rug from under my feet. So I could journey on my own.
I did not see him for six years. And one day I walk into shop to buy some cigarettes, and there he is. His hair matted and gone completely grey. He looked a bit wild, but kept laughing. His eyes now piercing, with a strange glow in them. Almost mad.
“So?” I joked, “ You have found God? Time for me to build you a hut?” He laughed even more. Put his arm around me.
“Shekhar, my friend, you’ve not understood anything” He scolded me. “God does not exist at the end of a search, He exists in the search. God lies only in the search for God. The journey is the destination”.
Obviously the hut was not built and never will. But we keep crossing each other’s lives in our unending journeys.