As Mahalingam was about to enter the house late in the evening, he heard his father speaking in a frustrated tone to his mother and he stood there listening to the conversation.
“Paru, stop building castles in the air about Maha.From what I hear from his teachers in school, he is irregular to the classes and is at the bottom of the class. The teachers have given up on him as he has absolutely no interest in studies. He is a loafer often spending time at the temple and doing errands for the priest, “ bemoaned his dad.
“Can we give up on him like his teachers? He is after all our only son and is no muff. The only problem with him is he is deeply devoted to god and relishes being at temple and doing things he considers holy. I have spoken to the priest many times to encourage Maha to devote his time to studies. I suggest you also talk to him as his words may carry greater weight than ours, “replied his mom.
“I have done that many times and the priest tells me the boy is destined to become a spiritual leader and that we should not interfere in his pursuits. I have decided to leave Maha at your brother’s place at Coimbatore where he will be with his studious cousins and may change his ways. I intend to take Maha tomorrow. You pack his clothes in a bag,” his dad spoke with a finality.
Maha quietly retraced his steps and rushed to temple. To his disappointment, the sanctum was closed and the priest had left. He scribbled on a paper just mentioning that he is going in search of a guru and that none need search for him and inserted it in the keyhole of the lock to sanctum.
The priest had told him once about sage Ramana maharishi and how he became evolved by atma vichara (introspection) and that such intellectual pursuits are not easy for ordinary mortals. He was told further that it is only through a guru that one can progress spiritually and that Guru materializes only when one is ready for the knowledge to be imparted. They are not found easily but even to this day the siddha purushas roam about in secluded and silent spots like forests and are not visible easily. Devotees can see them if destined.
A young and innocent boy of 15, Maha was guileless and trusting by nature. He had grown physically big for his age, tall and well-built. He had no money in his pocket but set out on his spiritual journey to nowhere in particular. He started out travelling by train and foot only to reach the very same hills of Arunachala that Sage Ramana took. He was famished with hunger when he reached the temple. He lived on broken pieces of coconuts and plantains usually found left behind by pilgrims. He went around the hill in the quiet hours when it was not crowded and made inroads into the interiors hoping to meet the invisible mystics. Unluckily it never happened, though when he espied a clean spot he sat down to meditate. Without proper initiation, unable to stop crowding thoughts or prevent stings and bites of insects, he never could be at peace with himself. When the shadows lengthened and darkness descended, he heard strange cries and came away from the jungle in fear. He never gave up in his daily search for guru or his frequently interrupted meditations. Hunger and thirst bothered him much and the first boon he wanted was to be free of them.
It was hot summer and the sun was blazing in all his fury. Maha was extremely thirsty with his throat parched and there was no visible source of water with everything seemed dry. He trudged along towards the road where he saw a thatched hut. A man was ambling along from the hut towards him with two plastic tumblers in hand. He gave one to Maha urging him, “You seem very young but look very thirsty and tired. Drink this, you will feel better”
Maha gulped it without a second thought thinking it was water but found it tasted differently with some strange smell. With his thirst partially quenched, he did not refuse the second tumbler. He felt comfortable sitting on a culvert and was at strange peace with himself singing loudly a Tiruppugazh song. He could not recollect how long he lay there till he found someone gently nudging to wake him up. The sun had gone down and not many could be seen in the vicinity. He opened his eyes to see some young person with long hair falling down partially covering the face, a faded blue jean like thing with one portion covering up to knee and the other to the ankle. The figure had a mala of beads with a big rudraksha as pendant. He could not make out whether it was male or female except the figure had a very fair complexion.
“Are you here in these parts seeking Moksha? I am also looking for gyan from one of the gurus that abound here as people told me. I could not meet anyone for the last one week except some mendicants requesting for alms. Can we team up if you are also like me tracing a mystic?” the figure said in a husky voice.
Maha blinked at the young figure unable to size up the situation and found it difficult to stand firmly. He thought something was wrong in what he drank for water and shook his head sideways vigorously to get a control of himself. He could hardly stand up till he held the soft hand that was proffered to help him get up.
“I am Elizabeth but you can call me Liza. Where do you stay here? If you have no place you can spend the night in my tent and both of us can go in the morning to forest in search of guru,” she said.
When he struggled to keep pace with her, she took out from a pouch a small tablet and gave him telling, “Chew this, you will find your mood better in our search for guru and liberation.”
He refused initially but she insisted that he open his mouth and put the tablet in when he could not resist her request. She put her hand on his shoulders as a support and gently led him towards her tent. Maha felt some queer feeling as if he was floating in the sky amid stars and expressed his fears to his companion.
“This is nothing. Get used to this and I will take you to the uncharted world of bliss in the days to come to prepare ourselves for the great liberation.” she whispered softly in his ears even as the blond hair rubbed against his nostrils. He snuggled closer to her as the chill wind blew across making them hasten their steps towards the tent. He could vaguely see her spreading a sheet on the ground and making him stretch himself on it. He could not recollect what happened next as he fell into deep sleep.
He did not know how long he had slept, till he felt a baton hitting his knees gently. When he opened his eyes, he found a police man in Khaki telling him in contempt, “Are you not ashamed to sleep in this foul smelling gutter lane with no clothes on save your undergarment? Get up and pick your dhoti lying in the corner and cover yourself before others see you in this predicament.”
“I was lying under a tent of my companion and I did not see any gutter. Frankly I do not know how my dhoti got separated from me,” Maha pleaded in shame.
“What companion, a female hippie? You look hardly an adult and some wily woman has trapped you. Go home immediately and if I find you again here, I will lock you up,” he shouted in anger as he hit him hard on his leg.
He could see no trace of Liza or the tent or the sheet and stood confused till the constable pushed him out of the stinking lane.
Maha walked fast towards town when he heard the clang of a temple bell from a nearby small temple. This made him halt and turn towards the temple. When he saw a young priest in yellow robe and forehead covered in ash, a change came about him. He smeared himself with ashes after having a bath in the well. As he stayed to watch the puja he could not control his tears and started weeping inconsolably at his foolishness. Perambulating the small temple 108 times, he found a new vigour and purpose as he walked back to the beckoning hills and its shady forest. He was determined not to stray away from his goal.
As he entered the jungle, he avoided the beaten track leading into jungle but chose a bushy opening in the opposite direction. He waded through the thorny plants pushing them with his hands till he reached after a furlong or two a clearing with sunlight. He sat on a granite rock and started chanting loudly for long with his eyes closed, Om Namasivayah, Om Namasivayah…. When he opened the eyes, he found the sun was about to set and he wished to go to the plains. It was then he heard from behind a soft voice, “What are you doing here in the forest at this time when the wild animals would soon be on prowl? I heard you chanting the lord’s name. What is your name?”
He turned to see a small frail figure, dark in complexion with matted hair and long beard smiling at him with eyes that glistened. He had no clothes save the loin cloth with ashes smeared all over the body
“I am Mahalingam, Swami. I am here in the forest in search of a guru to lead me in the spiritual path, I have not been successful so far,” Maha said.
The figure laughed aloud and asked ‘” Do you expect the guru, in ochre robes with rudhrakhsa mala and kamandal, announcing he is guru?”
When Maha blinked not knowing what to say, the dark figure asked him to come near and whispered in his ears the mantra. and said “You can now go to plains, find a secluded spot, observe silence, avoid people, just eat to live and do japa."
Electrified Maha fell at his feet prostrating in full and clasping his legs, he mentally thanked him for his compassion and guidance. When he opened his eyes, he saw the figure missing. He realized now that he had met his guru and jumped in jubilation shouting repeatedly,”I have found my guru,” till he heard a voice, “Yes, your search has not been in vain. Think of me when you need me urgently, I will appear.”