The three of them were seated in a closed six by six foot room, with barely enough space for one person to sleep. They could hear each other’s breath in the silence. Aki’s room was a rickety makeshift adjustment made by the ashram leaders as the number of monks grew, while the premises didn’t expand correspondingly. The walls were crumbling and the door was a thin cardboard sheet that would collapse if one of them sneezed loudly. Being a senior leader Aki was offered better facilities to stay but he had refused saying that he was happy and was receiving lot more than what he desired or ever deserved. His humility was most endearing to the monks and given his immense scholarship and wisdom, for him to be non-assuming and simple in his lifestyle inspired the juniors in the ashram.
Today however Aki had no wisdom to offer. He was quiet and meditative. Gently wiping an odd tear from his left eye, he heaved a big sigh; his eyes were moist, and he struggled to hold back his tears.
Venky had just explained animatedly his concerns about Kishor’s mysterious behavior and Shyam who had dutifully accompanied his friend sat expressionless.
Venky was loud, “Why is he growing a beard? Monks are generally clean shaven! Something’s really wrong; he’s out of place. I have never seen him in all these years with unkempt hair and long beard”
Aki looked at Shyam who returned the glance and then turned to Venky.
“He’s always advocated the need for the brahmacharis to go on a retreat”, Venky said. “He’s been talking about this for years and at last now we have the Karjat farm retreat planned. Everything is ready, and even the monks from our satellite centers are coming. And now Kishor’s acting funny; he’s not interested. We even announced we’ll be playing a mega cricket match one of the days. I insisted he come for at least two out of the four days, and he’s totally indifferent. I told him he would be the cricket captain of one of the teams and while everyone in the ashram is excited to see him play, he’s playing truant. I am shocked because he never throws tantrums; he’s not part of this ashram anymore”
Venkys’ voice trailed off. He then repeated what he just said and then jumbled incoherently. Aki was patient and a little later Venky paused, apologized and fell silent.
“It’s all right” Shyam said, “You are excited and concerned for a dear friend”
“Even I share the same worries”, Shyam now looked at Aki “A couple of days ago he came to the store room and asked me about my well-being. When I said I am all right and then asked about his welfare, he remained mum. He then said, ‘you are young and new in the ashram, Shyam, it’s not too late for you to go home. Life is tough out here. Life could get lonely here’. He then walked away. He looked sad and all by himself”
“So what should we do now?” Venky asked helplessly.
“Let’s hope for the best” Aki said softly and spread both his hands to gently massage the palms of Venky and Shyam. “I wish I had answers, but I am clueless and myself in pain”
Venky and Shyam sat silently as Aki wiped his own tears and put up a brave smile.
Both of them rose to leave; the door crackled as they carefully pulled it in.
Outside Venky turned to Shyam, “I had gone to Aki to resolve one big mystery of Kishor. Now I am returning back with two unsolved mysteries. The most unemotional person I ever knew was Aki and see he’s also crying.
To be continued…