1. Outcast of the Outcastes

  "Acharya Devo Bhava… [Consider your teacher as God]"

"I bow to the lineage of teachers (gurus)... even if they are. ... outcastes to out outcastes, without a trace of virtue... they are our masters." Kuressa

India, Uttar Pradesh, Near Allahabad, February 1967

 The little boy contemplated blissfully the sparkling sun over the golden river: a myriad of magic, blinding constellations clashing in joyful dance, then turned his gaze towards the enormous book with strange signs and beautiful pictures in front of him. Ensconced within the nest-like cradle of Uncle Arun’s long arms and legs, he was sheltered from the relentless sun, from the other children’s cruel jokes and their mothers’ derisive glances, but more than anything from his mother’s anger, her sadness and that painful silence of hers.

It had been a wonderful day.

Well, it hadn’t started that way. His mother, after not talking to him for days on end, had hit him with the broom for no apparent reason, and she was in such a foul mood that his only escape had been to go to the river to see if there were any boys who wanted to play. But nobody ever wanted to play with him. Their mothers wouldn't let them anyway. Little Daeshim didn’t understand why.

On top of that, earlier on, the kids had been chasing him, calling him horrible names, throwing pebbles, even stones at him, and he had hidden, crying behind the big rocks, watching the brightly coloured dressed women on the other side of the river washing the brightly coloured clothes.

They cleaned the clothes hitting them brutally against the heavy stones with a rhythmic thwack, thwack, thwack…

Perhaps he was somehow dirty and that’s why his mother hit him so often and that’s why the other boys did the same all the time and why everybody seemed to treat him as if he stank. And that is so hard for a four year old… And little Daeshim cried and cried hoping that his tears might perhaps wash away all those horrible things that everyone seemed to see in him.

But then Uncle Arun came.

Little Daeshim had never seen him before. Uncle Arun and his mother spoke with raised voices. Then, Uncle Arun came out of the hut with a severe expression on his face, and looked for him.

Little Daeshim was so frightened that he huddled behind a big rock, heart thumping against his ribs, trying to make himself very, very small, but Uncle Arun saw him, came towards him, and just squatted a few yards away looking at him attentively with those sweet, large almond eyes. He started to talk to him in strange, unfamiliar words that the child didn’t understand, but they were soothing, calm and gentle. Then the big man stretched out his open hand and waited there, patiently, waited and waited until the little boy could no longer stand his loneliness, his fear, his sadness and he came into those long arms and those long arms held him tight, so tight and close….

And for the first time ever, the lonely child felt, safe, loved, protected.

 Then Uncle Arun took him down to the side of the river and explained that he was his Uncle, and that’s why Daeshim first name, his Hindi name, was also Arun, although his mother always called him by his Buddhist name. He also explained that he would come often to be with him.

They had been sitting together on the banks of the river for a very long time and Uncle Arun had been teaching him to understand the strange symbols in the big book.

'What is this, Uncle? What’s the meaning of this?' And Uncle Arun, happy and proud, explained one symbol, and then another and they made drawings in the silty sand with a stick. The little child was so eager to learn and Uncle Arun was such a wonderful teacher….


May 1967

'Uncle Arun, Uncle Arun!' cried the little boy in excitement at the sight of the approaching tall, thin figure walking over the stones alongside the river.

The young man stretched his arms and lifted his little nephew over his shoulders as if he was a feather, making him feel again as if he was on top of the world, above the mockery and cruelty of the other children, the derisive comments of their mothers and their accusatory looks.

Little Arun grinned with delight from the fantastic elevation of his position that allowed him to be nearly as high as the clouds. He stretched a little thin arm towards them, hoping to touch the soft fluffy cotton, or even better, to catch one of the many birds flying by. He looked down with pride at the other boys who had refused to play with him earlier on, now no more than little ants on the ground. And none of them had an Uncle like he had! And none of them had learnt to read like he had!

The young man kissed gently the boy's thin arm and then, brought him down holding him close for a few seconds in an embrace that never left the skin: a cherished memory grows deeper in the centre of the heart, just as a name carved on the flesh of a tree grows deeper with the arrival of the winter of life.

'So… are you being a good boy?' Uncle Arun asked sitting by his side.

'Yes Uncle. I have read to mum the bits you told me to but…, she didn’t want to hear…' he ended with voice close to a sobbing murmur.

'Never mind,' said Arun tenderly, gathering the young body within his long arms, 'you read it. Didn’t you?'

'Yes Uncle.' answered the boy, brightening up immediately. 'I read it so many times that I learnt it by heart!' The little face smiled and looked up, filled with innocent satisfaction.

'Did you?' Asked the young man, holding him a bit further to contemplate him with loving pride. 'Tell me.'

"Tāni sarvāni samyamya…" started the little voice, stumbling here and there but without hesitation …"One who restrains his senses, keeping them under control, and fixes his consciousness upon Me, is known as a man of steady intelligence."


"While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops and from lust anger arises."


"But a person free from all attachment and aversion and able to control his senses… can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord."[1]


October 1968

Weeks and weeks had passed by. The little boy had waited and waited and waited, crouching down on the hot rocks, eyes fixed in the distance, sometimes blinded by the sun, sometimes getting up excited whenever he thought the tall figure was approaching.

But Uncle Arun didn’t come that day, or the next or the next. He never ever came back.


[1] Bhagavad-Gita