It was the very first day that my wife was admitted to the Ladies Club of our “Gated Community”. She was thrilled that she was able to edge her way into the elite club as a member without being rich and even without having much gold to flaunt.
To her good fortune, or so she thought, the club had a venerable visitor that very day. A bespectacled and bejeweled old lady who was venerable not only because her late husband was a proud Secretary to the government and had had her house raided by the tax authorities twice for unearned money, but also because she was so spiritual that she could recite the Gita, the Ramayan and the Hanuman Chalisa forward and backward. A woman accompanying the lady had whispered to the microphone that Ramanand Sagar, the late producer of the epic film Ramayan, had consulted the Venerable One (V.O. for short henceforth) on many aspects of Rama’s life history. The chairperson added that Sagar started shooting only after this V.O. had approved the script.
This august lady was to deliver a spiritual lecture on the day.
“I will start with a real life story,” she began (so recounted my wife). “An ice cream vendor was vending his wares on the wayside, and my grandson wanted the costliest one the vendor had. You know these youngsters of ours. They always want the best, the costliest. Now, an urchin was watching my little one relishing the stuff. The miserable pest was actually drooling, could you believe, casting eyes on my little prince and drooling. What do you think, should I have bought him an ice cream as well?”
“Yes,” said the audience, in unison, though most of whom would not have done it themselves.
“No,” said the divine preacher. “I didn’t buy him one. Can any of you tell me why? Don’t say that probably I did not have the money.” She tapped her sequined bag suggestively.
The ladies scratched their heads. There had to be a good reason why a woman so venerable and so rich (with unearned money) would not deign to buy the miserable drooly a cheap ice cream.
“I will tell you why,” said the lady at last. “If I bought that beggar an ice cream, which he had never eaten before, he would get to know the taste of the ice cream. He would hanker after it. With no money, he would start to steal to buy ice cream. That would go on and on till he would became a thief, a burglar, a murderer. All because of an ice cream that I bought him. The sin would ultimately visit on me.”
She then recited a Sanskrit verse to prove the point. Since no one in the audience understood Sanskrit, the point was taken as well established, Q.E.D.
When the audience settled down with a sigh of relief, the V.O. continued:
“Do you think that God is a cruel, unjust Being? No. Then why is that some people are born poor and miserable while others are born rich and happy? Why is your servant a servant and you the boss? Why do some catch leprosy while you don’t, although you breathe the same air and drink the same water? Tell me.”
She rocked forward and back, hands on knees, confident that no one but herself would be able to explain the mystery.
“Past sins,” ventured a bright one from the audience.
“What past sin for a baby just born into a miserable hovel?” demanded the V.O.
“Of past birth,” said the bold one. She was also an avid reader of the Gita and knew all about transitions and transmigrations of the souls.
“Yes,” said the V.O. approvingly. “If you sin in this birth, you pay for it in the next. Suffering comes from past sins. Supposing the judge put a thief in jail and you let him escape would you be spared of punishment?”
“So what happens if you relieve someone of his God-given suffering by giving him money? You take the sin upon yourself. That’s the law.”
After a pregnant pause, as if to ask unanswered queries, she added : “giving a coin now and then to get rid of the pests doesn’t count”.
“Then why do all of us women suffer so much in childbirth while the men only enjoy the fun?” asked a young woman, who was not much past the age of childbirth. The older ones glowered at her for her temerity.
“In the past birth, you were the husband and enjoyed the fun while your husband, who was your wife, suffered the pangs,” answered the V.O. Her sense of humour was well known.
The audience tittered dutifully.
That night my wife had indigestion. I consoled her that in the past birth the fun was all hers. Somehow, that made her stomach even worse.
I recounted this story to a saffron-wearing old man who passed off for a sage in the community, who had come to free-load on my dentist friend.
“That lady is only half right,” he explained: “There is always a way out of suffering from past sins, whether you are born a woman or a low-caste. Lord Krishna had promised:
“Women, Vaishyas, also Shudras,
Even those born of evil wombs,
All those who take refuge in Me
Also go to the Supreme Goal.”
He didn’t explain how that gelled with the promise of a rebirth.
“Perhaps having a bath in the Ganges would help them too,” I suggested. “I mean the women, Vaishyas and the Shudras, in that order”.
Since my wife was still holding forth that it was I, not the Venerable speaker in the club, who caused the upset of her stomach, I enjoyed repeating the equation.
“Yes,” grunted the sage through his toothache. “In India, we always respected women”.
“And the Vaishyas and the Shudras – the low castes,” I added helpfully.
He glowered and changed seat.
If you think I am making it all up, you must admit televisions do not lie. You must also admit that Asa Ram Bapu is a Highly Venerated One, a true H.V.O.
This is what Asa Ram Bapu said on television in one of his discourses:
“I went to America to give discourses to my devotees there. I couldn’t find a single servant to polish my shoes nor to do any of the menial work that we in India give to our servants. In India we have servants to do these jobs for us. Americans do it all by themselves, while we get it done here. What does that mean? In America, all are servants while in India, we are masters”.
Don’t forget that most of those in the audience who worshipped this bearded HVO are servants themselves.
Asa Ram had no hesitation in pronouncing judgment on the Delhi rape case that shook India.
“The girl is to be blamed,” he had said famously. “In the first place, the woman should not have travelled with a man who was not her husband”.
Asa Ram Bapu would have done any cleric in Saudi Arabia or Ayaltollah in Iran proud if he hadn’t continued:
“Even if she did, she should have chanted the Saraswati Mantra when the men pounced on her”.
I wondered whether the girls who made allegations of orgies and rape against Asa Ram and his son had not chanted the Saraswati mantra either.
That night, it was I who had diarrhea.
However, this story ends as a comedy. Asaram Bapu is in jail.