Parag is a software developer turned writer who loves travel, the open sky, animals, books, and writing.
In the first week, I returned to my apartment after the chanting, to cook dinner. But one day, I felt a bit lazy and walked into Akasha Inn—a nearby restaurant. It was packed with people. I learned that guests shared tables during dinner to accommodate all the people. This was similar to the experience I had at Tumkur Tatte Idlis in Belagavi during breakfast.
That day, I shared a table with a Canadian aunt-nephew duo. They told me this was their first trip to India. They had plans to cover the entire length and breadth of the country. The initial ice-breaker lead to a pleasant conversation over a good non-spicy meal.
After that day, I’d go to Akasha Inn very frequently. The meals were good and so were the conversations with diverse people from around the world.
During another dinner, I shared the table with an elderly gentleman from Andhra Pradesh. He had been visiting Ramana Ashram once a year for the past ten years. He usually stayed for a week, but now that he had retired he planned to spend more time in Tiruvannamalai.
Once, I shared a table with six other guests from different parts of the world. There was a young woman from USA who had come to India to learn yoga. She had done teacher training courses from three yoga ashrams and was planning to work as a yoga teacher after returning home. Then there was a middle-aged man from Romania who was interested in the teachings of Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. I told him that I had once been to Nasik where I had met Ramakant Maharaj-- a direct disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj. Ramakant Maharaj had spent almost two decades with Nisargadatta Maharaj. I ran into the Romanian man once again on an early morning while hiking up Arunachala. He told me excitedly that he had booked a ticket to Nashik to meet Ramakant Maharaj.
Once I met someone who told me that the main deity of Arunachala was “Pachaiamman”, who is an aspect of the Goddess Parvati. He went on the explain that the main deity at Machu Pichu in Peru, which was almost on the exact opposite side of the globe, was “Pachamamma”, which meant “Earth Mother” or “World Mother” - an almost similar connotation. According to him, Ramana Maharishi used to say that Arunachala had a very high concentration of spiritual energy and there had to be a place somewhere on the opposite side of the globe with an equally high concentration for balance. That place, according to the person I was having dinner with, was Machu Pichu in Peru.
Dinners at Akasha Inn were fun. They usually came with a special serving of interesting conversation.
After dinner, I’d leisurely walk back to the apartment and head straight to the terrace to relax under the open sky and look at Arunachala while listening to music.
A rainy conversation
One evening, I stayed back at the ashram after the chanting. I did this sometimes because it was a pleasant experience to sit in the meditation hall after the chanting. I’d probably have sat longer that evening but I saw lightning followed by a loud rumble in the sky. I did not have an umbrella or a jacket and wasn’t excited about getting wet, so I got up hastily and decided to get home before it started raining.
When I walked out of the ashram hall, I noticed a light drizzle but in a matter of a few seconds, by the time I reached the open courtyard, the drizzle rapidly turned into a downpour.
When it started pouring, I was midway between the ashram and the watchman’s cabin in the open courtyard. Not wanting to turn back, I made a dash for the cabin to find a dry spot under its extended tin roof.
With the rain coming down real hard, I looked neither left nor right but downwards, to prevent the drops from getting into my eyes, and ran straight ahead.
Just a few feet before the shed, quite fortunately, I looked up and noticed someone else in my peripheral vision running at about 30 degrees from me, with equal speed, to the same spot of dry land.
Afraid of a collision, I screeched to a halt.
The other contender who was about twice my size also screeched to a halt, probably for the same reason.
A major mishap was averted.
We stood a few feet from the shed, panting. I motioned him to go first. He did the same. Bound by courtesy, we stood motionless in the rain for about half a minute until another flash of lightning and thunder promised a heavier downpour. The lightning broke the niceties and the deadlock. We made a beeline for the cabin which fortunately had enough room to accommodate two people.
“Hi, I’m Vivek,” (name changed) he said.
“Hi, I’m Parag.”
“Where are you from?” Vivek asked.
“Pune, how about you?”
“I used to live in Kolkata, but I’ve been here for a few months.”
Vivek, who was probably in his late twenties, was dressed in an ochre-coloured lungi and kurta. He had a jolly, round face, shaven head, little beard, and a protruding tummy. He was a little shorter than me but more than made it up with a generous overall circumference.
As we spoke further, I learned that he belonged to a popular order of monks.
He spoke in an innocent joyful tone and his eyes glistened partly from the rain and partly from the joy that only someone who has disengaged from all sorts of mundane and worldly cares can experience.
He told me about his life in Kolkata, travels to different ashrams, and stay in Tiruvannamalai. He had taken up residence in a room about a kilometer from the ashram. He described it as a small room with a noisy fan and a leaky ceiling but with enough space for him, his books, and a small platform to cook meals. He liked it and was planning to stay there for some more time.
I also learned about the resistance he faced from his family when he told them that he wanted to become a sanyasi. I admired his courage for standing up to the life he wanted to live.
Thus we continued our discussion despite the noise of the rain pattering on the tin roof. We spoke about spirituality and discussed the philosophy of some of the luminaries like Swami Vivekanand, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Yogananda Paramhansa, Ramana Maharishi, and Sri Aurobindo.
Vivek was knowledgeable but not pretentious and I liked the simple way in which he spoke about spirituality. He was also a great listener. He listened in an easy way without jumping in to advice or correct. I learned a lot from him that evening.
The conversation would have lasted much longer had the watchman not interrupted to inform us that it was time to lock the ashram gates and that we’d have to leave. I looked up at the sky. The downpour had reduced to a mild drizzle. We thanked the watchman and walked out of the campus.
Vivek invited me for a cup of tea and spiritual discussion to his room. As tempted as I was, I realized that my t-shirt was already a bit wet from the rain. I wanted to wash up and relax in my own apartment, so we bade each other good luck and walked towards our respective homes.
Such random conversations are one of the many small joys of traveling to places like Tiruvannamalai.
© 2021 Parag Shah 333