Imagine waking up at 6:00AM on a Sunday morning to a hungry stomach.
And there’s no electricity.
And it’s 15 degrees outside and your immediate vision is restricted to about 5 feet in front of you because of all the fog.
And breakfast’s half a kilometer away.
And it’s a hunk of bread. If you get there fast, you get jam. If you’re lucky, you get coffee.
Welcome to a typical day in Rikhiapeeth.
As for my experience of living there for 10 days, here goes.
I packed my bags and arrived at the ashram 2 days before Christmas. Wait, why would I do that? Because mom. I’d been putting off this visit for some time now, but this year, she managed to coax the words out of me with the kind of persistent psychological bludgeoning that seems to come naturally to every mother.
Upon arrival, I found to my growing dismay that electricity in the place was out most always. Heck, I couldn’t find a charging port for days. This rendered my phone completely useless, meaning no Whatsapp, no Facebook, no music and most definitely, no selfies with swamijis.
Staying in December meant everything was cold. Food, feet, floor, my freaking sweater. Days usually ended at around 6PM, when pitch darkness took over. Showers were agony. The first day, I felt the bathroom tap, nope-d out and proceeded to spray deo like I was in an Axe commercial.
A day in, I wanted out.
The third day was when I sort of gave in. Like you know, when you’re watching a bad movie with your friends, and there’s that moment when you admit to yourself that what you’re watching actually really sucks and you realize you have to sit through it anyway because you might, just might get free popcorn in the interval. That was me, except the popcorn didn’t come.
So I gave in and did what I had to do. Survive.
I woke up, ate, did various kinds of ashram work (called seva), attended pooja sessions, traipsed around, slept.
Through it all, I had to work with people to get things done. The people there were mostly foreigners, and my comfort zone – including the boundaries that defined it – underwent extensive testing, because I had to talk to people I could only barely understand, and work with them for all kinds of stuff. (Note that I didn’t know Hindi either. Unfortunately, I chose to watch Power Rangers over Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge when I was young.)
Sometime during all this, I got it; the whole point.
Since I had no access to social networks, I couldn’t talk to my friends about stuff that I would do on that particular weekend. Here, I just went ahead and did it.
We have all these things on social networks with us, the notifications, the likes, the follows, to help connect people and bring them closer. We keep adding digital layers to them keep the interest up. Layer after layer after layer. And suddenly, people don’t care about people. They care about the next layer.
In the ashram, I got 3 buildings full of real talking, interacting people. No layers. It was pure. It was beautiful.
It was also happy. I’ll tell you about one incident.
So we were serving dinner on Christmas night to about 150 people. We usually get ‘specials’ on days like Christmas, and on that night we were having rice and panneer gravy. I was handling the gravy. The day was ending, and there was next to nothing left. Maybe gravy enough for 3 spoons of rice. (I swear I didn’t sneak any.)
Then a guy saunters into the hall, this 6’4″ giant of an Irish dude. I’m thinking he’s going to be pissed.
He picks up a plate, takes the rice and comes to me. I’m holding a ladle that’s barely quarter-full with the gravy. He sees it, and his entire face lights up. It just lit up, man. You know why? Because it was Christmas night and he got special food for dinner, although it was adequate for probably a child.
I learnt so much from that one moment.
There’s us, with so many things built to keep us happy and yet, we can’t say with a straight face that we’re content with our lives. And then there are these people who live with so laughably little, and you couldn’t find a single discontent person in the whole place unless you blared Nicki Minaj on their loudspeakers for a whole day. (Didn’t get to put this to test.)
I realized that the ashram way of life wasn’t really about worshipping higher powers. Nor was it a place to give yourself pretentious titles and waiting for people to come to you for life advice.
The ashram way of life was about doing things and talking to people.