It was unnerving. The likeness couldn’t be missed or ignored. A huge brown frame with the overwhelming face hung opposite the entrance to a small sitting room. As we got out of the car and walked towards the gate of the small, cottage-like bungalow, I had been apprehensive about what I would find there. A smaller gate led up to a side entrance of the house. Around ten devotees perspired patiently in a queue. We were led to the cool comfort of the living room. The place belonged to a gentleman known as Hanuman baba, because of the astounding resemblance. Though not instantly converted, I was dauntingly zapped out of my cynicism when I saw the face smiling at me from the picture.

A couple of caring, persuasive friends had cajoled me into this visit for my mother’s sake. She was bed-ridden with chronic and severe rheumatoid arthritis. Medication fortified by strong will power saw her pull through each agonizing day. The swollen, deformed joints with very little mobility often drew pity from a few friends and relatives, concern from most.

“Come with us just this once,” they told me. “Tell him about your mother’s condition and at least see what he has to offer.”  I consulted my mother. She just smiled and said, “Go for your friends’ sake. I have tried everything under the sun; there will be no harm in trying this too. Respect their sentiments and go without a fuss.”

That translated into, “I don’t expect this to work either, but I will not be rude to anyone who sincerely cares.”  So willy-nilly I had accompanied them with a packet of incense sticks, some flowers and a coconut, as instructed. After about fifteen awestruck minutes, most of which I spent gaping at the photograph, we were ushered into an inner room.

Through the assailing fragrance and haze of glowing incense sticks, a metal idol of Hanumanji burnished to a beaming gold, stared imposingly down at us from its six-foot height. Flickering oil lamps genuflected around his feet and garlands of variously hued flowers adorned his neck. Offerings from grateful devotees. I bowed my head before it and then in namashkar to the spitting image in human form, seated cross-legged at its feet. The baba was clad in a white kurta-lungi, with ash smeared on his broad forehead and a peacock feather broom by his side, with other paraphernalia of puja scattered around him. He beamed his welcome and bid us sit down on the mats provided.

An awkward silence as he turned his gaze on each of us and cleansed our auras with the peacock feather broom.

“Baba, this is our friend. We had spoken to you about her mother.”

He nodded knowingly at me while I silently sent up an earnest plea: “Please, please, let me believe for my mother’s benefit.” Faith works miracles and I genuinely needed them – faith and miracle.

He regaled us with his life history, stressing he was a celibate like his deity and how people flocked to him because they believed him to be an avatar, from where, how and why they had come to settle in this city… He also narrated an incident or two of his emergence as a ‘baba’. A few questions about my mom followed and clearing my throat I answered them as well as I could in Hindi.

Throughout, his hands were busy laying our offerings before the idol on our behalf…another cluster of incense sticks was lit, flowers arrayed after being touched to the feet of Hanumanji, new oil lamps readied…but his eyes kept darting to our faces, plumbing the depth of my trust I felt, so I bolstered my plea for faith with greater urgency. If you have a song of faith in your heart, it will be heard by the look on your face.

Either from tension or from being unaccustomed to sitting cross-legged on the floor, my left leg was going dead under me.  As I changed position he shut his eyes in contemplation. Waiting for guidance? Sparrows twittered outside, lifting his cerebrations heavenward and my petition too I hoped fervently closing my eyes as he had done. A little later muttering some prayer, he flicked the broom on my head and swept it downwards. My hands flew up from my lap at the suddenness of his actions. He did this about three or four times. That was apparently to cleanse my mother’s diseased aura. He then put a single white flower and a small packet of ash in my hand.

“Put these under her pillow and tomorrow morning let her drink this ash in a little water.”

“This will cure her?”

“Yeh, tau inke haath mein hai” (that is in his hands) he said pointing to the idol. “I am only his servant.”

“Shukriya.”

I stood up, with the ‘prasad’ in my hands and some hope in my heart. The living likeness of a widely worshipped deity had its effect on me too. Perhaps even the sparrows had done a good job. My friends also received ‘prasad’ and blessings from baba.

As we readied to leave, he said to them, “This evening send me those pills for headache. Pehlewala stock khatam ho gaya(the earlier stock is exhausted).”

My eyes grew wide. My lips parted as the little hope I cherished flitted out the window to confab with the sparrows. And my head stuck a mile out on my neck as I blurted,

“Kya?! Everyone else comes to you for cures and you rely on medicines to cure your headaches?”

He smiled sheepishly. “It is not I. He cures everyone, I am just his humble bhakt”, he reiterated pointing once more to the statue.

“Then won’t he cure you too? Don’t you believe that?”

“It is probably his wish that I should suffer even as he heals others through me.”

I wanted to tell him that if you believe it is He who wants you to suffer these migraines, you shouldn’t take any medicines. Just bear them resignedly. I bit my tongue. It wasn’t my place to advise him or embarrass them any further. My friends, by the way, were wholesale distributors of drugs.

“Dekho, aap.”  He continued pointing to his ‘medicines’, “If these work even ten percent on her, you can come back to me next week.”

So he too had doubts! Did I pass them on to him or did he snuff out my trust pulsing like a firefly’s faint light?

On the way home, my friends tacitly decided to leave me to my musings.

Yes, I did put the flower and ash under my mother’s pillow after narrating the whole episode to her. And next morning I had them put under a tree, asking Lord Hanuman to forgive me for my lack of faith in his devotee who seemed to lack faith in Him.

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16 responses »

  1. vimala madon says:

    May miracles are known to have been wrought by blind faith and doctors are unable to explain them rationally. But faith is one thing and gullibility is another. Both arise out of a desperation for an answer to their pain.

  2. gc1963 says:

    Divine manifestation is uncommon and imperceptible and at the same time to perceptible and common. Depends on what we choose to believe.

    • Shernaz says:

      Dear Geetashree and Vimala, My response to your comments did not get through yesterday. Even now there’s a connectivity problem, so before I am logged out suddently, a quick thanks to both of you.

  3. Shernaz says:

    Right, Om. We too had been told a similar story. A man was challenged by his friends to go to a graveyard on an amavasya night and hammer a nail in a particular spot, to prove that there are no ghosts. He accepted the challenge and put in the nail where he had to. As he stood up to leave, something caught him by his robe and pulled him down again. He tried a second time, with the same result. The man died out of sheer fear and next morning his friends found that actually he had put the nail in through his robe and so couldn’t stand up straight. So when we come down to the basics, it seems that everything is in the mind and in the power of suggestion. And having been told this so often we still succumb to our fears and negative thoughts – human weakness?

    And yes, no matter how much faith someone shows in me, if I do not have the power to heal he will not benefit from that faith. Whereas, placebos given to my father-in-law, by one particular doctor always seemed to work on him. So that’s how it all works.

    • There is a wonderful story of faith ( told by Sri Sri Ramakrishna? – I am not sure )
      Once a sage was pestered by a woman to teach her to walk on water – as she did not have enough money to cross the river by boat – when she pestered him too much, just to get rid of her, the sage gave her a miracle mantra – he told her to chant Rama Rama and walk on water. Next day, he sees her walking on the river, and is astounded. How did you walk? She says, that she said Rama Rama – Then the sage thinks to himself, if this poor, illiterate woman can indeed walk on water, why not he, using the same technique? – He then tried walking on water, saying Rama Rama, and drowned.

      In this the woman had so much faith and the man did not have any faith in his own suggestion.

  4. Shernaz,
    A medical research some years back, selected some people suffering from a particular disease, and segregated them into two groups – they gave real medicines to one group, and they gave placebos exactly like the real medicine to the other group – and they found that those who took placebos, also recovered around the same time as that of the real medicine takers. It proved conclusively, the power of suggestion/mind.

    In my opinion, both faith IN the healer, and power of the healer – both are necessary. But the mind of the person who goes to the healer, has to be receptive.

    A man was told many times that the field nearby was full of snakes – one day he was forced to cross the field at night, without any light – he was constantly in fear, and suddenly, crack! – a snake had bitten him – he hobbled on, and once out of the field, collapsed and died – in the morning, people saw that a coconut shell had got caught under his foot and cracked and held on to his feet – which he thought was a snake – so, in reality, there was no snake – it was HIS FEAR that a snake had caught hold of his feet, that killed him.

  5. Shernaz,

    Even though I read your blog last Sunday, I could not comment immediately as I had gone out of station for a few days.

    In the bible, it is said, “Faith is the evidence of things unseen” – and any event or happening of this kind can be judged only from the presence of absence of faith.

    I personally knew a faith healer, who used to heal several people from all kinds of acute illnesses. Unfortunately, he himself was very sick, always visiting the doctor – so, one day, I asked him the reason, and what he told me was this ” I cannot heal myself. God has not given me that power – this power I can use to heal others – not me. “

    • Shernaz says:

      Om, I too have heard of a lot of faith healers. What I am trying to understand is – what works? – their power or the patient’s faith. If we see faith as a person’s determination to get well, wouldn’t that be the clincher, no matter what the method? In that case the healing would have to be attributed to the patient’s own mental power. Is there a difference between faith healing and miraculous cures like those at Lourdes? Or that too is just faith? If faith is the evidence of things unseen trying to reason it out wouldn’t work, right?

  6. Beyniaz says:

    Great blog, Shernaz. If faith can move mountains, disbelief can shake Babas too!

  7. J S Broca says:

    Dear Shernaz,an enlightening episode. I have also seen some such “babas” making money from gullible people on the pretext of miraculous powers etc.I recall what Albert Einstein has said: “The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.” Also, I think it was Gandhi ji who said :” Faith must be enforced by reason.When faith becomes blind,it dies.” I also agree with some one who has said : Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible. Kudos !
    J S BROCA
    NEW DELHI

  8. Mira Pawar says:

    Awe so sad….I thought your mother would benefit by the efforts you made to go and visit the baba. It was funny though that baba asked for pain killers. He could have done that on the quite and I am sure you would not have lost faith. Very engrossing read though.

    • Shernaz says:

      Well Mira, if such babas could heal so easily there would be much less illness in India at least. I remember, years back there was a great stir in my home town. People were all flocking to a baba who blew his holy breath on water and turned it into a cure-all. I wondered then, as a young girl, why he just didn’t work his miracle on the main water supply. That way the whole town would become healthy. I have no idea what it takes to have this kind of faith – I certainly lack it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  9. vimala ramu says:

    A Simian likeness is being made use of here, I feel. Being a Rheumatoid Arthritis patient myself, I can tell you that the disease has its own periods of flair ups and remissions. If people want to attribute the periodic remissions to faith healing, I have nothing to say.

    • Shernaz says:

      Thanks Vimala. Yes, this disease does have its periods of flare ups and remissions but there are several kinds of arthritis and unfortunately for my mother it never went into remission except when she went in for nature cure. Othewise, inspite of strong allopathic drugs it was always painful and debilitating.

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