Friday, January 12, 2007

Dirty Dhoti

During darshan, Amma often tells people to sit on the stage in her presence for a while. The first night in Kodungallur, near the end of darshan, she invited a feeble little old man with inquisitive grey eyes onto the stage. Two of us devotees who were on stage lifted the man from the ramp below without difficulty. He wore a sleeveless t-shirt and a stained dhoti that was pulled up to his knees in the manner of someone who had been doing physical labor, or just had been sitting around his home. In short, I saw him as a simple villager who didn’t consider changing clothes to come for Amma’s darshan.

I helped him to sit down near Amma. It happened that a jet of cool air was blowing right onto this little man who had no flesh on his bones to keep him warm. A devotee brought a new white dhoti that I draped around the old man’s shoulders.

Soon after, Amma finished darshan and departed down the central aisle of the open-air hall. Devotees hands were clamoring to touch her as she passed. As I helped the old man to stand, the devotee who had offered the dhoti said that he could keep it. He was also concerned that the man might have arrived at the program with someone else but was now alone. We couldn’t ask him since we didn’t speak his native language – Malayalam. We asked a brahmachari if he could ask the old man if he needed assistance. The brahmachari simply said, ‘Oh, he’s the landowner of these grounds!” The other devotee and I had a nice laugh as we let the landowner shuffle off to his house with the new dhoti still draped across his shoulders.

The next morning, at the program, I slipped behind the stage to take a path that ran past a few of the locals’ hut-like houses. My eyes landed on the same old man wearing a dirty dhoti as he was being strongly addressed by a little old woman. She was pointing at the dhoti and then at the darshan hall, and saying what I could only understand as ‘No!’ in Malayalam.

Sometime after Amma started the morning darshan, I saw the old man shuffle onto the stage, this time in a much nicer dhoti, but with a button-down shirt that had a tattered collar. A woman devotee who was in that corner of the stage, leaned over to me and said in a concerned whisper, 'He just came up here on his own.' With a knowing smile, I replied, ‘He’s the landlord!' She looked the old man up and down slowly as if to see through the emperor’s new clothes and said surprisingly ‘Him?’

Alas, Amma still has a lot of work to do to get us past our attachment to appearances.

I next saw the landlord one more time later on that night. He again came for Amma’s darshan, and again, she invited him onto the stage. I saw him standing there, his gray eyes surveying this village woman who had brought tens of thousands of people from all over the world to his land. This time, though, he wore a nicer shirt along with a bright white dhoti that flowed from beneath his shirttails all the way down to the carpeted stage floor. In the end, did it matter to Amma?

Abhaya, Italy

10 January 2007

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