A HERMIT IN THE HIMALAYAS
hermitage I received spiritual experiences which I had never had
before. One day I shall return—nay, I must return."
I ask him about the kind of life he is living and how he endures it.
"It suits me well because I have the freedom to study and medi-
tate, a freedom which I could never get in the old days when I was
employed in a Government post, even though that was well paid," he
"It is a hard life, though, for a man of your class."
"It would be if I had to beg for my food; that is a degradation I
could not at all pass through. But I am fortunate enough to get all
the food and shelter I need from the teachers with whom I stay.
Thus, on this pilgrimage to Gangotri, the teacher who is taking me is
also providing for all expenses."
"Is it true, as so many people assert, that most of the wandering
ascetics and holy men are good-for-nothing tramps? You are moving
amongst them and can speak more authoritatively than we who, after
all, are outside those ranks.'5
The Yogi shakes his head sadly. His eyes grow grave.
"Yes, unfortunately it is only too true. I would go farther and
say that more than ninety per cent of them are mere idlers, mendi-
cants or vagabonds. I have seen them in every part of India, and lived
amongst them, and I assure you that not more than five per cent are
sincere spiritual seekers."
Our path skirts the forest and is flanked on the other side by a
low slope. As we walk, we come upon the fresh unmistakable traces
of a bear, which has turned up the soil quite freely in search of edible
I tell him of an incident I witnessed while I was waiting for a train
at Gwalior Station. A wandering holy man, owning nothing more
than a waterpot and a stick, had terrorized the ticket-collector and
, railway police into allowing him to get on the train without a ticket.
Before his loud-voiced, mysterious threats all were afraid to move a
finger, and it was quite certain that he would repeat the performance
at his destination and thus -add one more to the numerous army of
ascetics who travel free on India's railways. Moreover, I could see
from the man's eyes that he was strongly under the influence of
Bandhu Shanna expresses his disgust in a melancholy voice.
"My travels and pilgrimages will be over xvithin another year,"
he informs me, "and then I shall throw off the society of such
wastrels for ever, I hope. I shall then settle down somewhere and
live in utmost simplicity on a tiny income I hope to secure from
friends. I shall devote myself to study/*
It seems clear to me that the wandering holy men of India are