Life is full of surprises. Just a few days ago, it sprang a surprise on me when Baba Ram Rahim Singh ‘Insaan’ of Sirsa, Haryana, made national headlines riding an outlandish motorbike in his multi-coloured clothes. I had never thought I would one day be speaking about my long-ago meeting with him. But here I am.
It was 2002 and I had just turned down a prestigious sarkari job because I wanted to become more than just a bureaucrat. My family decided it was time to exorcise the ghosts of my idealism and give me a reality check. Deeply, confoundingly religious, they heard about this ‘counsellor Baba’ who was in town. A couple of relatives, who believed they too had an ‘unconventional daughter’, joined in.
The ashram of the Baba was situated on the outskirts of my town and seemed to have been transported from some other galaxy. If Mogambo of Mr India fame ever became an architect or interior designer, this is exactly how his palatial estate would look like. From the jarring colours on the ashram’s buildings to the monstrous mix of traditional and modern architecture, everything was disconcerting!
At first glance, you could be excused for mistaking Baba Ram Rahim for a magician with a predilection for cross-dressing. When I set sight on him, he was covered in silk, satin and sequins, from head to toe. His corpulent visage was aglow with expertly-applied expensive make-up, a put-on benign smile and photoshopped radiance. His long, curly hair was shoulder-length and covered three-quarters of his face, thus rendering him nearly invisible. At best, it seemed his eyes and chin had somehow fought the battle against the Baba’s bountiful hair and lived to see the light of day!
His hands were repositories of precious and semi-precious stones — diamond, pearl, sapphire, turquoise, ruby and amethyst. He truly was the Lord of the Rings. His headgear – a turban with hardly an inch un-sequined – was a garish shade of pink and his footwear — slip-ons or jootis — brimmed with gold threadwork. After ‘blessing’ us all in a thoroughly-rehearsed manner of speech, the godman cast an appreciative glance, bordering on benediction on all of us. Then he got down to business. He tackled the other family first, while I waited. It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, till then.
I need not have bothered. Because my interaction with the Baba was hilariously short-lived. I was finally summoned before him. “How are you Beta? I’ve heard you are very good in studies but you are incapable of doing one thing for long. Now, you have left this prestigious, pensionable job too! Who does that?” he was asking.
“It was very difficult to stay on. That’s why I left,” my laconic reply befuddled the Baba. “But Beti, think of your parents! They see your talent go to waste and they are heartbroken. Look at their faces,” the Baba appealed to me. I looked at the faces of my family, who were looking on with expressions that were a mix of helplessness and hopefulness. They wanted so much for things to become ‘right’ for me that it bordered on the comic.
“It is the duty of every child to make sure they never break their parents’ hearts!” the Baba was saying. At this moment, something came over me and I snapped at him, reminding him of his recently-revealed gory past. “Babaji, how heart-broken were you when your follower was arrested for the murder of a journalist probing shady deals inside your ashram?!” I asked him. Baba Ram Rahim was left speechless. The term ‘flabbergasted’ may have been coined for just such a moment. To this day, the encounter ends up bringing a smile to my face.