Spirited Sunday. Cheery Rekha hooked onto her favorite television serial. Brother Akash was pacing through the cliff-hanging pages of an Enid Blyton thriller. Ma was engaged in the kitchen and the grand aroma of her cookery was wafting into each and every room of the Gupta household. The musical doorbell chimed. Akash raised his head. He called out:
“ Dad must be back. Rekha, open the door…please.”
Rekha was dumb-struck as she opened the door. There stood a very tall man in a saffron robe, a grizzly black beard which snaked his way right down to his broad chest.
“ Mummy in?” he grinned and raised his thick eyebrows, whirling his eyes gracefully as he slumped an empty sack on the floor.
As soon as Rekha zoomed in to call ma, the burly man walked in briskly. He hurled himself on the sofa, sprawling his legs in a wide semi-circle.
“ Bom…bom…babaji,” he blessed ma with closed eyes,” God bless your family.”
Akash peeped at the saffron stranger from behind a showcase.
“ You are Mister…?” Ma sounded like an old curiosity cat.
“ God has sent me here,” he sounded confident,” To raise your family to new heights in money and fame.”
He looked up at the ceiling of the sitting room. Splat! A sparrow which had perched on the ceiling fan showered his droppings on holy Babaji.
“ Oh, I’m sorry Babaji,” ma apologized profusely. “ I’ll clean up the mess on your beard with holy Ganga water I’ve collected from Hardwar.”
“ God forgive the bird…,” Babaji muttered a short prayer of forgiveness. Then he sniffed the air with his large nostrils and smacked his lips. “ All you have to do is to provide me with yummy meals.” He proclaimed like a pampered king, adding: “ …and three-star shelter. I will guide you towards the heavenly light and transform you and your family into a prosperous one, crawling with celebrities.”
Ma marched into the dining room with a steaming bowl of basmati rice, paneer and chicken gravy.
“ Close your eyes for seven-and-a-half minutes and pray silently for the wonderful food God has provided for us.”
Rekha shut her eyelids. Ma did too. Akash opened an eye…just in time to catch Babaji stuff a huge potato into his mouth. Babaji’s eyes turned red like an angry ogre and he struck a long finger vertically to his lips warning Akash. The poor boy was so scared that he squirmed his eye shut once again.
“ K…o…o…o…r…h! K…o…o…o…r…h!” Babaji coughed.
Out shot the unsuspecting potato from his mouth like a cannon ball and struck ma on her forehead.
“ A…a…a…a…h!” Ma could have recorded her scream in a seismograph.
“ A miracle!” Babaji wiped his perspiring face with the edge of the clean white tablecloth,” God sent a potato right into my mouth with his holy invisible hand. “
Ma folded her soft hands in a prayer and bowed her head low at Babaji.
“ B-but ma…,” Akash had flagged off a tattle.
Babaji spun his huge eyeballs at Akash, squinting them mischievously. Akash gulped. His legs shivered. His teeth chattered. His nose turned pale white. Babaji was nibbling at a chicken drumstick like a merry alligator when papa
“ Hello, Sir!” Babaji’s voice bounced liberally,” Bom…bom…Babaji.”
Papa removed his specs, rubbed his eyes and took his poky nose rather close to the stranger’s large, long face. Babaji dipped his holy fingers into a tumbler and sprinkled water upon papa’s flushed cheeks. Ma smiled excitedly. She explained to papa the learned Babaji’s intention to usher in wealth and fame for the family.
“ Babaji will show us the light,” she said.
“ What an overgrown bundle of talents going waste,” Babaji stroked his thick, black beard thoughtfully. “ The dashing boy will represent the country in hockey and Rekha will thrill all as a karate champ…gaining in leaps and bounds in this very humble home.”
He closed his dreamy eyes and chanted a few mantras. Then he opened his eyes and addressed papa:
“ You must toss your job away,” he said,” Money will grow on trees for you. Your wife will become a celebrity Kathak dancer!”
At the break of dawn, Babaji trooped into the garden. He directed papa to plant saplings of money plants.
“ As soon as the plant begin to grow,” he assured papa,” I will perform a miracle. Money will blossom instead of flowers.”
Ma admitted a rebellious Rekha to the karate school. She herself began to pursue Kathak dancing in great earnest.
“ A mathematician’s blood runs in your veins,” Babaji evaluated papa, a medical salesman by profession.
“ I’m horrible with numbers,” admitted papa.
“ I’ll be your Math guru,” said Babaji,” You are overloaded with talent…enough to churn out the most sizzling computer programs on earth.”
Babaji winked. He yawned. He had created a lasting impression on both adult and young minds.
* * * * *
More excitement was yet to flower in the house of Guptas. Babaji investigated the family two wheeler intently.
“ Sell off that scooter immediately,” Babaji warned, “ The flaming red color foretells great disaster.”
“ Oh Babaji,” asked a worried Mr.Gupta,” Should we go for a milky-white car then?”
“ Go for a milking white cow instead,” the holy man advised with great care,” You can tuck her into the garage.”
Only Rekha eyed the Babaji with a certain degree of suspicion.
“ Ma, I think we must do away with him as soon as we can,” she said,” Or else we’ll all end up in a big soup.”
Rekha did not notice that Babaji had pricked his large ears and had scooped up large chunks of their conversation.
He car was sacked. Soon a white cow arrived instead.
“ No more Western music,” the Babaji told Akash and Rekha,” Only the best of the East.”
The cacophony of the holy man’s self-sung bhajans vibrated in the room.
When ma churned out the regular ice-cream Sundaes once more, the Gupta children were delighted.
“ Sacrifice…and you will see the Holy Light,” smiled the guru indulging in large scoops of homemade ice-cream himself. “ The more you give…the more you will receive from the Almighty.”
Babaji was right. The more sermons he babbled, ma scooped more chunks of the delicious milk food for the religious giant termite.
Early each morning, papa would milk the cow himself.
“ M…o….o….o…o!” The cow would merrily chew cud and call out loudly.
“ M…o…r…e!” Babaji translated to papa with a tilt of his huge head. A liberal smile spreading all over his freckled cheeks.
The heaven-sent Guruji would slurp up the fresh, pure cow’s milk daily. He would count his holy brown rudrahaksha beads murmuring into the breeze. He stretched his stay from just-a-few-more days to just-a-few more weeks to just-a-few-more months. All for the upliftment of the well-sinking Gupta family. One moonlight night,
ma nabbed him fiddling with the money plants out in the open terrace.
“ What are you doing?” ma cut across sharply,” At this hour?”
“ Plucking money, see?” The Babaji held up a few glittering silver coins in his hands, “ Money has started to grow in your plants.”
“ Your heart is as pure as honey, sister,” the holy man vowed,” I shall take leave as soon as your family becomes rich.”
With Akash gaining finesse in the field of hockey, Mrs Gupta sharpening her dancing skills and Rekha snapping up a black belt in karate, it was now left to Babaji to improve papa’s Math abilities.
“ I always cut a sorry figure in Math,” surrendered papa,” I simply can’t figure out the difference between a python and pythogoras, a trapeze and a trapezium, an angle and an angler…I rather suffer from a strange bout of Math-a-phobia!”
Then disaster struck much against the holy man’s wishes. Ma twisted her ankle at Kathak, Akash got a swollen knee during a practice session and Rekha sprained her left arm.
“ Life has its twists and turns,” Babaji batted his eyelids nervously,” All’s well that ends well.”
* * * * *
A couple of days later, Babaji was alone in the empty house. He quietly entered the Senior Gupta bedroom. He thieved out a bunch of keys from the drawer. He struck one into the safety chamber of the steel almirah. He was delighted! He stuffed the precious gold ornaments into his brown jute sack. His eyes twinkled with joy.
“ I’ve made a fool of all of them!” He guffawed to himself.
He was so drowned in worldly pleasures that he didn’t notice the figure which had slipped into the bedroom. A roaring scream shook him out of his wits. It was ma who had returned. The crook threw down the sack, dodged past ma and raced towards the open bedroom window. He raised a leg over the window ledge and …
Suddenly the family came in together! Akash used his hockey skills with his stick, Rekha used her karate to good effect and ma joined in the chase, lost her balance and clung to Babaji’s beard for support. Off came the false beard!
* * * * *
Babaji had taken flight.
“ Never trust people on face value,” a tired Mr. Gupta yawned.
“ One must always trust one’s own ability in the journey of life,” added ma.