Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ramesh in Mumbai
The taxi ride from our hotel, near Bombay Hospital, to Ramesh’s flat, off Poddar Road, costs 40 Rupees. It’s hard to tell if that means it’s near or far ‘cause prices in Mumbai are hyper-jacked. We find the building easy, though, because we spot a bronzed-tan Westerner wearing an Om T-shirt entering one of the anonymous buildings on Gamadia Road.

We barge into the living room about 5 minutes after the talk has begun; Ramesh holds them every morning from 9 to 10:30, and today, a Saturday, there are perhaps 30 people gathered, mostly Westerners, in the large but not ostentatious living room. The windows are open, so we’re getting a nice breeze, and it’s still too early for the sweltering Mumbai heat to render all movement, all thought, all speech superfluous at best and impossible at worst. On the wall next to us are several portraits of Ramana Maharshi and one of Nisargdaj Maharaj. Among them is a portrait of Ramesh himself.

Ramesh is much thinner, much older than I anticipated. He’s frail, birdlike, with translucent, paper-thin skin that seems to be falling in on itself. I don’t know if he’s lost his top teeth or if, as he’s aged --- the guy’s gotta be in his eighties --- his upper palate has receded. He sits in a low-slung chair and is dressed all in white. As he talks, he produces small amounts of spittle, which he dabs away with a carefully folded white cloth he keeps on his lap for that purpose.

Despite his age, Ramesh’s intellect is tack-sharp. When we come in, he’s grilling a middle-aged Westerner who’s sitting in one of today’s two “hot seats,” the seats those with questions for Ramesh are asked to take.

Tara, Rowan and I sit in a swing-chair at one end of the room. I don’t know why I’m surprised, at this point and with my experience of India, but one rotund Indian man slumps in an armchair, facing Ramesh, and works a video camera set up on a tripod. He will occasionally pan from Ramesh to the questioner in the hot seat, and once or twice he pans around the room to capture the faces in the crowd.

Also facing Ramesh and sitting just in front of us is a sound guy, another Indian fellow who works the sound mixing board, adjusting the levels and volume of the clip-on microphones attached to Ramesh and, on this day, to the two people sitting in the hot seats.

Arrayed on the coffee table in front of us are stacks of DVDs of previous talks, each labeled “Anger” or “Hate” or “Desire.” After the official talk is over, but before the 10 minutes of chanting begin that will close out the day, the guy working the camera has mastered and burned copies of the day’s footage, which, the sound guy lets us know in a low-key manner, is for sale for 500 Rupees.

Ramesh has the probing, razor-sharp mind of a brilliant debater, and quickly hones in the questioners’ actual question, and in addressing the questions --- one couldn’t really say he provides an “answer,” as these are the sorts of questions that lack answers --- he espouses his ideas about reality, God, consciousness. If you want a book report on Ramesh’s take on Advaita, look elsewhere, or perhaps read Who Cares?.

(I'll give it a shot here: according to Ramesh, if one looks hard enough, long enough, one will come to realize that there is in fact no "doer"--- only Source.)

Days later, a friend asked me if I thought Ramesh had “It.” I hemmed and hawed. I must admit that I still don’t know. Based on what he was saying, I would say that he has in fact had a taste of “It.”

On the way out, I notice a wall-length rack of books by Ramesh and his protégé Wayne Liquormann for sale. I stop and browse amidst the post-talk crowd. An Indian man, the proprietor, asks me, “Yes! What books have you read?"

I indicate the Ramesh titles I've read before.

"Ah, then you need this one, this one, this one.” He puts one, two, three books in my hand.

I knee-jerk against the hard-sell, hand them back and say, “No, no thanks!” though I am interested in several of the titles.

I wrote somewhere else that India is a place where an idea and its direct opposite are both true at the same time, and Indians seem to have no dissonance holding both ideas. It is, however, a constant practice for me to remember, for example, that the cottage industry that has sprung up around Ramesh in no way detracts from his teaching.

I remember, years ago, talking to another yoga student about Tim Miller. “He’s really a great teacher, but you know,” he leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “he eats Powerbars!”