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"Memories of the Grand Trunk Road" by Patrick Treacy
The Grand Trunk Road is one of South Asia's oldest and longest major roads. For several centuries, it has linked the eastern and western regions of the Indian subcontinent, running from Bengal, across north India, into Peshawar in Pakistan.
"Master Sahib, is this what you are looking for? " he enquired, thrusting the generator in my direction.
"My name is Chandrapal, and please Sahib I am travelling to Calcutta’’
"Sahib, could you please aid me in my journey?" he continued.
I looked at the holy man, tall in the crowd, his body covered in the only possessions he owned in the world, his craggy lined face worn like the sculpted staff he carried. He came towards me, grinning. I noticed how his eyes had a different quality, piercing and yet at peace, visually indifferent to the chaos that surrounded us. There was a certain aura about him and I sensed he would be interesting company en route to Calcutta. He lowered his head and looked over at Sandjit who was now busily repairing the taxi.
"This taxi is already fully booked out!" he said, without even bothering to lift his head from underneath the half-open bonnet.
"Please leave! You can see that we have no more place in this vehicle" he continued, scowling at the very thought of mixing trade with compassion. I indicated to the driver, that I would pay for the shaman’s passage, but his eyes widened further and his finger gesticulated excitedly indicating there was to be no more talk about carrying the holy man in the taxi. I then turned back to the poor man and said.
"Sorry, Chandrapal, but he’s the boss!""I’m sorry you can’t travel with us, but might I take a picture of you?" I respectfully inquired. He agreed, standing away from the car in poised silence, passing no remark on the taxi driver’s intolerance, which we both knew was probably caste driven and the unspoken way of life in India.
"Here are some rupees for the picture!" I continued.
"I never take money, I only accept food in order to live and I beg for your assistance in helping me to go about to my pilgrimages!"
"But why do you not take money?" I queried.
"I do not want to carry money, …it would buy me only trouble, you see"
"If I had your money, then the robbers would follow me and I would not sleep at night"
"But if you had my money you could pay for a taxi to go to Calcutta!" I replied.
"I never buy what kindness can be given from the heart!" he responded.
"Here, take this money from me and get an autoricksha to take you a little further on your way to Calcutta!We stood looking at each other as I passed some money into his aluminium bowl. The holy man began murmuring some haunting chant from a Hindu mantra as I got back into the taxi to continue the rest of my journey. The sun was climbing in the sky as he drifted away, walking behind a passing bullock cart, timing his step to the rhythm of the creaking wheels. From the back window of the taxi I could see him pausing and looking into the begging bowl to count his takings. Then he lifted something high in the air and gave it a fling. My money!
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The author is a travel writer with Ireland's 'Social and Personal' Magazine and an invited video contributor to many travel websites including TripFilms, Backpacker magazine and National Geographic's 'Everyday Explorers'. See website www.patricktreacy.com