I’m going to share with you a synchro-mystical memoir that actually occurred; beyond ideas and conceptions … outside of statistical analysis, chance, and ordinary coincidence.
The year was 1977. The season – Summer. The place – India. Some seven-hundred-eighty million people were then living there in a collection of over one hundred thousand villages, towns and cities.
Monks and Cars
Bombay’s heat was unbearable as I stood out in the sun to see for the first time that beautiful cream-coloured Mercedes Benz. My fellow monk, Raman, had just driven it overland from Germany in a six-week ordeal that included breakdowns, food shortages, and disappearing highways.
This vehicle was a magnificent two-door coupé loaded with extras – a regal conveyance suitable for any of India’s Maharajas. In India, these cars were rarely seen. Throw into this automotive-context a couple of (American) Vedic-monks, and ‘rarity’ suddenly became a ‘shocking oddity’.
I sat in the plush passenger seat, admiring the overall design and materials, and began imagining a pilgrimage that would unfold all the way to the southern tip of Kanyakumari. From there, I imagined us heading north, to end up in Kathmandu, where Raman actually had a wealthy acquaintance ready to purchase if we could just deliver the car in one piece.
In the radiance of this beautiful automobile, I felt my heart sink as Raman shared his concerns about damages to the power-steering. From my months of travelling on India’s crumbling highways, I knew the crucial importance of dependable steering, so getting this unit repaired seemed absolutely necessary.
We packed up our few possessions and decided to cautiously drive to Bombay’s Mercedes-Benz service-centre. There, the gleaming team of young German-trained Indian mechanics inspected the car and then told us the many months required and the immense cost of new parts and labour. Their entire plan was absolutely un-workable. In his New Jersey accent, with his eyes rolled back, Raman abruptly blurted out, “Screw that!” — and within minutes we were on the road headed south.
Highways of Chaos
Desperation or foolishness, whatever our motivations, we plunged into the highways of chaos and braced ourselves as this gorgeous car lurched precariously without warning, ever more frequently, for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres. In the glaring heat, we saw brilliant green rice paddies, ox-carts, water-buffalo, monkeys, coconut palms, cows, crows, tea stalls, mangy dogs, venders, lories, rickshaws, bicycles, scooters … and endless, endless people.
We did make it all the way to the southern tip of India, and from there, two days later, we emerged on the main boulevard of Madras; broad, intensely hot, mysteriously free of all traffic, and lined with spectators. We discovered that the huge throngs gathered there had been waiting for hours for the imminent arrival of the Prime Minister, who was now, it seemed, being upstaged by two white sadhus driving a Mercedes Benz. In this unusual circumstance, I jumped up through the sunroof, sat there with my legs dangling and my saffron robes flowing elegantly in the hot air. I felt inspired to wave to the multitudes with cupped hands, exactly as I had seen Queen Elizabeth do on TV.
This bizarre and unexpected appearance electrified the masses as hundreds of thousands of people went into ecstatic overwhelm. A colourful human-tsunami swept down both sides of the wide boulevard as we drove along. I couldn’t stop giggling in my state of disbelief.
We continued on our northerly course and experienced many fantastic occurrences. The car’s power steering worsened and the hazardous uncertainty of our driving steadily intensified. By the time we reached India’s border with Nepal, we had had at least thirty near head-on collisions, mostly with lorries.
Although we planned to cross into Nepal at the main border crossing-point just north of Gorakhpur, we had been told that with our international car registration nearing its expiry date, we would probably be detained until it expired, and then watch as the car gets impounded in the quicksand of Indian bureaucracy, wherein it would disappear forever. We were advised to cross many kilometres to the west via the tiny hamlet of Nanpara.
We pressed on toward Nanpara upon mostly unpaved roads, allured by the backdrop of the majestic snow-capped looming Himalayan Mountains in the distance. We entered the little village with its quaint, colourful earthiness; women with tattered saris carrying water pots on their heads, small children flying tiny kites made of dry leaves; the heat, the dust, brick hovels, and of course, the grunting gray pigs taking care of business in the open sewers.
A Loud Pinging Sound
Just as we were making our way into the blinding village square, I heard a loud pinging sound and looked over at Raman to see him rapidly spinning the steering wheel in either direction as the car continued to lumber straight ahead. He hit the brakes, stopping directly in front of a shabby tea stall.
Sitting at an arm’s length from the hood of the car was a very distinguished Indian gentleman in his seventies wearing a pristine, starched, white-button-down dress-shirt with a perfect bow-tie. He sipped tea from a fine China teacup in the late morning’s merciless heat. He seemed completely out of place.
Raman opened his car door and slid underneath to have a look. Having been a mechanic in his former life, he quickly assessed the situation, got up, and whispered in my ear, “We are TOTALLY screwed!”
As he was brushing himself off, I got busy looking around to see if there was anyone who might help us. I approached three men sitting off to the left sipping chai and smoking bidis; probably truck drivers. When I asked them in Hindi if there was a mechanic in the district, they all pointed to the distinguished gentleman sipping his tea.
What is the Difficulty?
We walked up to him and without hesitation asked, in English, if he might have any suggestions regarding our plight. With his head bobbing side to side, he replied very politely, “I am having some knowledge of automobiles. I will finish my tea and see what is the difficulty.”
After his last sip, he walked away only to come back minutes later in some work clothes. He directed Raman to start the engine and turn the steering wheel. Then he slid under the car, tapped a few things with a small hammer, issued a few more instructions, and then came up. With a twinkle in his eyes, he told us in his distinguished, almost British intonation, “I will repair your steering system very nicely. It will take me some four hours only.”
No Charge to Sadhus!
Being ever so desperate, and hearing the confidence in his voice, we asked him how much it would cost. He said, “No charge to sadhus, but maybe fifty rupees for some bits and pieces.” We nodded ‘yes.’
Within forty-five minutes he had removed the unit from the car and took it to the village blacksmith. After disassembly, its main bolts were heated red-hot, hammered, and stretched. Bicycle inner-tubes became new gaskets. Other ingenious strategies occurred sequentially out of bits of junk, and in less than four hours he had the power steering re-installed. He instructed Raman to start the engine and test the steering. It responded precisely to fingertip pressure – like brand new!
Bursting with intense curiosity, we respectfully asked, “Ji … how did you know what to do to fix the steering on this German car?”
A Cosmic Joke
As if he’d been in on a cosmic joke, he calmly divulged,
“You’ll both be very pleased to know that I was the chief mechanic at the Bombay Mercedes-Benz for some thirty-five years, and for the last six months have been happily retired here to my family village.”
Bewildered, blessed, astonished — we cried.
The impossibility of it: that we could have rolled right up to the one human being in all of South-Asia, probably all of Asia, or even the entire planet, who could repair this power-steering unit with metal scraps from a wooden box. The inconceivable timing of it, the odds and right before we were about to drive into some of the most dangerous roads on Earth; well, it was just too much. Our tiny brains went into melt-down and the conventional categories of ‘consensus-reality’ dissolved into vapor as this old man finished making his final statement.
With his words echoing in our minds like distant laughter, we sat rigidly in the car’s front seats and slowly rolled out of the now mysterious little village, our sights set on crossing the border. Affected by the multiplicity of utter disbelief and amazement, I felt faint, and Raman appeared pale and deeply disturbed.
We exited from India without conversation or incident that late afternoon. We drove north, on and on, quietly gazing out upon the surrounding vastness … huge mountains, forests, clouds, endless sky, our home-star sinking into the golden rim of the world, as countless pinpoints of light emerged from the black mouth of nightfall.
In the following days, we negotiated those dangerous mountain roads without prayers or mantras, or even New Jersey jokes. We silently slipped from gratitude, into eerie feelings of perfect emptiness — as though we were now resting within an immense, inscrutable, and utterly beautiful, living Mystery.
We would love to hear about any events in your lives that defy all odds. Events that are so syncro-mystical as to leave no doubt that there is an invisible web connecting us all; communicating with us all on many levels. We always appreciate your engagement and your contribution.
We are all connected, all one, all interdependent.