I applauded Syn’s wonderful story. Syn bowed. I did not realize it but we had conjured up a crowd. Standing in the crowd was a man in white ritual garb with three horizontal lines on his forehead. Syn deposited his bag on the ground and then Jock and he put the palms of their hands together before their faces before slightly bowing in respect. I then did likewise.
“Ah! Syn! Welcome back!” The priest said casually, smiling as he returned the respectful gesture. And Jock. Welcome back!”
“Priest Deekshithar Sahib” Syn said. “May I introduce John Nicholson?” We again bowed acknowledging each other respectfully.
“These guys have been here before?” I asked.
“Indeed!” the priest said laughing. These are my two most difficult students!” Syn and Jock grinned. “They will not come into the temple but choose to worship outside. But that is all right. Everyone must find their own way to worship Shiva.”
“Oh?” I asked. “You don’t mind people like us visiting to learn about Shiva?”
“Of course not!” the priest said casually as we strolled along.
“We will meet you at Our Spot! Bye!” Jock said as he and Syn carried that mysteriously bag off toward their Spot.
“We don’t spiritually pollute? And you speak such beautiful English.”
The priest laughed. “If Shiva appeared here as a beggar and a naked wild man then I don’t think he particularly cares about appearances! And I was educated at Fort William Collage. I was there recently helping to translate Sanscrit and noticed you. Being very tall you are easy to notice. Alas I am rather short so I am not surprised you did not notice me!” The priest laughed. “We do elaborate pollution rituals of course along with diverse rites prescribed by tradition in the Vedas. The Vedas are very ancient and stress the need to do every ritual exactly er the universe unravels ….but….” The priest smiled. “We do the rituals because Shiva can be a tad ….. unconcerned about such things. Actually to be perfectly frank he does not bother about such things at all!”
“You take care of Shiva and do the things he does not bother with?”
The priest laughed. “We all have jobs we must do. Jobs we are born into. Jobs we are destined to do. I was born a Brahmin. It is my dharma. My fate as a Brahmin. Personally I would rather play cricket for a living but then….” We laughed. “You have your dharma too. A job to do. Destined. Chosen by fate. You can do it poorly or well. That is what each of us must decide. Do we perform poorly or well what Fate as destined for us?”
“I appear to be destined to be a soldier. Everything pushes me toward the Frontier” I replied softly.
“Dharma” the priest replied smiling. “Do the best you can. What else can Fate ask or Destiny expect? Be respectful to Life. Leave the world a better place. And you will be reborn in a better place. Remember Karma is ‘what goes around, comes around’.”
I nodded. “I have been fascinated by Shiva. He dances in my dreams. My mother worshiped a dark and foreboding religion of profound … unforgiven…. damnation. And I ….suffered. So now I really cannot in all honesty embrace her way. She lives in fear. I don’t want to worship in fear and terror and hell and damnation. But she left me hag-ridden by fear and terror and hell and damnation. And I feel mired in blackness and oppression and the terrors of night. Like the wild people in the mangroves tormented by magicians who terrorized them by fear and scary rituals and oppressive threats. And I have a …..very bad temper. And people don’t much like me …for good reason. I don’t much like myself ….for good reason. Oh dear! I don’t know why I am telling you this!”
“My job old chap!” the priest smiled. For some reason I could picture him in white cricket clothes very easily in stead of his ritual white garb. “In India the gods pick their worshipers. You have come as a searcher. I am here to help you find your way. Perhaps it will be Shiva. Perhaps it will be another way. The important thing is for you to find your way. The way for you to find salvation. Each person has their own way to salvation. Sometimes that way is so unique no one else can share it. Sometimes it is as broad as the Great Trunk Road.”
“Salvation is not an monopoly?”
“Oh dear! No! Not at all! I think everyone wants to be saved. And I think God wants everyone to be saved. Everyone wants, and needs, to find Nirvana. I am here to help as much as I can.”
“Can everyone be saved?”
“Yes. Absolutely! But some people might need many reincarnations to find their way.”
“Slow learners?” I said. “Or mulish and stubborn people like me?”
The priest laughed. “I am a Brahmin! Jolly good old chap! And pat myself on the back! But does that mean I found my way quickly or through so many reincarnations I finally lost count?” We both laughed. Unlike my mother’s kirk minister this man seemed so open and tolerant and compassionate. He was even able to laugh at himself. I did not think any Brahmin could laugh at himself. I had seen some Brahmins in the temples so proud they demanded that servants blow shell horns as a warning for Untouchables and other ‘Once Borns’ like me to flee er we pollute the very air the Brahmin breathed. The priest smiled as if reading my thoughts. “I am not that type” he laughed. “Let me tell you about my favorite god!” And he did!