There must be a reason why sadhus prefer to squat if they don’t have to be on their feet. It may be that they’re rarely in a hurry to get anywhere and it does not make sense to stand waiting for a train. The other reason could be that few or no eyebrows are raised on seeing them squat in public places, something that must have to do with their dress, the saffron robes that set them apart from everyone else.
Whatever the reason may be I was surprised to see a group of seven sadhus squatting on the railway platform one morning. When I ran up the short flight of stairs and stopped short on seeing them I noticed that one of the sadhus was holding a photo album in his hand. He wore a jhola the size that would comfortably hold the photo album. In between they exchanged small talk.
The sadhu with the photo album must’ve said something, for the rest of the group soon drew closer and formed a tight circle around him. It only meant they hadn’t traveled together for long else no photo album will stay tucked away inside the jhola for too long on an Indian journey.
As he flipped the leaves, pictures, two to each side of the leaf, came into view. There were pictures of other sadhus (some apparently from the Kumbh Mela), of Hindu deities, of sadhus posing for pictures outside temples, and surprisingly two rupee and five rupee notes tucked away into an empty plastic picture slot or two.
He paused at each picture and said something I could not hear from where I stood. He must have spoken from memory for the pictures appeared to have been taken at different places at different times, probably at destinations he had been to. Seeing me show interest in the pictures he looked up at me and smiled before turning to the album.
As he spoke, his voice occasionally drowned by the announcer announcing train arrivals and departures, the rest listened quietly, looking at each picture as the leaves turned.
The only time they smiled was when they saw a make-believe five hundred rupee note with Goddess Lakshmi gracing one side inserted in a picture slot. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped as the Goddess of Wealth, and no devout Hindu will shy away from worshipping her, more so on Lakshmi Puja during Diwali.
Then there were pictures of Hindu Gods, deities in temples. Not once did any of them shift their eyes from the album in the time he showed them the pictures, listening in silence. Of the pictures of sadhus he showed them some must have featured him posing with those he made friends with. Given that the photos appeared to be in no recognizable sequence meant whoever took the pictures possibly returned to give him a copy, perhaps a traveler.
I could only imagine what the album must mean to him. Memories of pilgrimages, of fellow sadhus befriended, of temples visited, and rivers worshipped must necessarily define the identity of the pilgrim feet, otherwise what else is tangible.
Once he was done with showing them the pictures he prepared to tuck the album away into his jhola. All around them passengers on their way to the office stepped around the sadhus to get to the train, hurried as much by the need to get through the day as by the compulsion of the need.
An itinerant has his footsteps for a family, and miles for a clock. And he banks memories to sustain him on journeys like others bank money. He accrues interest on his memories when he shares them with others, and he spends the accrued interest on his belief, strengthening his faith in his faith.
About then the horn sounded and I sprinted in the direction of the incoming train, slowing by a bit to ease the pain of a fall from a train months ago.