* * *
Sydney went to the USA for her studies. There she met Steve, fell in love, and married him. After her graduation from the University, she was searching for a job while pursuing painting as a hobby when she met him. His photo studio near the University was not very successful. His grandmother’s baking lessons inspired him to open a bakery nearby. He commissioned Sydney to make a good painting to display in front of the bakery. He liked what she painted, but neither of them knew how to estimate its cost. She knew that the quality of her work was high, but was in a dilemma whether to charge less as a beginner or to charge more to meet her financial needs. He understood her needs but was being careful with his scarce resources. Still, he estimated the cost at double the amount imagined by her.
She stood in bewilderment. She wanted to explain to him about her wish to give the painting free, and her desperation to make some money to avoid returning to her country. He gave a knowing smile to her. “You are a true artist, but you will need a job to support yourself financially. Look at me as an example.” She knew that he sensed her dilemma.
He advised her to spend this money carefully until she got a job. He offered a part-time job in his bakery. She was moved by his kindness and generosity to recognize others’ needs and to help them in spite of his own struggles.
She got a job soon after that. She used to visit his bakery whenever possible and work voluntarily. His behavior towards his staff always impressed her. He was neither a businessman nor their boss, but a coworker who sincerely tried to understand all their needs. She decided that he was the man for her. When she confided in him, he tried laughing it away.
“I have nobody, own nothing; No force could tie me down so far. My strange lifestyle may not make you happy.” But she prevailed on him.
His detached spirituality attracted her at first, but as the family grew, his disinterested attitude started to annoy her. He almost ignored his cute and adorable children. His preoccupation with his world even after his return home from work started to make her insecure.
She got used to hearing him discuss India, the Himalayas, and the Ganges. His grandma told him about these things apparently. He often repeated his wish to visit Haridwar and Rishikesh. After a few such visits, he appeared to be lost in his own thoughts, causing her some worry. He left the bakery management mostly to the staff, while he was busy in his thoughts. Whenever she reminded him to be normal, “I am” was his usual smiling reply.
The children felt alienated by this meditating father. They started quizzing the mother why their father did not behave like the other fathers. The reasons were lost on Sydney too. Finally, she questioned him about the vacuum in their children’s life. His calm response was that he loved everything in the world equally.
“I loved your empathy towards the world when I met you first. Now the children and I are missing you, Steve. Please understand and behave like a normal father with your children.” She was firm. She noticed a hint of irritation in him.
Sydney’s account paused there when the bus reached Haridwar.
One remark made repeatedly by her during the night was that the whole world accepted India as its spiritual teacher.
Sydney was ready for the day. The strain of the journey and the lack of sleep were missing, and in their place, new excitement is patently visible. Was she merely responding to the local mood, as she felt?
The Ganga Aarti, a daily evening ritual where several handheld holy flames are offered to the river, was where we met again. I watched him more closely then. He no longer looked like a foreigner. He desired and acquired Indianness in his appearance. Their faces were lit up with an unknown joy. I really missed Murali at that moment.A sudden commotion brought my mind back to the present. An infant crawled close to the riverfront while the accompanying adults were lost in their banter. They swung into action, and lifted the baby in a flash, and hugged her tightly. The baby was laughing aloud, while the mother was scolding her for rushing into the water. The baby thought it was a game, and laughed again. This brief incident brought more joy to Steve’s face.
* * *