(The book is available here)
An excerpt of Chapter 24, "The Circus"
"... He had crossed the Majestic area and reached a point where, abruptly, the dense concentration of buildings thinned, and every street ended in a broad dusty road, almost empty of traffic. He walked across the road and stopped dead in his tracks, staggered.
In front of him, lay a vast expanse of wasteland, spreading from the foot of a short cliff; a drop of maybe thirty metres. The view from his vantage point overlooked a sweep of flat land the size of several football fields, and beyond, the dense city resumed itself. A few cows and goats grazed on occasional blades of grass, and rare passers-by walked across the barren ground. But this was not what had caught his attention.
Down below, in the middle of this no-man's-land, scintillating under the mid-day sun, stood a huge multi-coloured circus tent! Lionel froze, stunned. It was marvellous, beautiful, ethereal, yet real at the same time. The sight was like an oasis turning up in the heart of a desert. The golden aura surrounding it was not of the sun, but the more subtle love-light of a Million d'Oiseaux d'Or (Myriads of Golden Birds), as sung by poet Arthur Rimbaud. It hit him in the heart like a burning thunderbolt. In a moment of instant recognition, a silent voice in him screamed: This is it! This is what you have been looking for!
The pure, divine beauty of such moments swiftly wipes away the debt of extreme miseries accumulated along one’s journey. All prior sufferings, regardless of their intensity, dissolve in that instant. If only one could retain a newborn's innocence and understand the divine language, there would be no need for pain along the way. One could walk the sunlit path at all times…
"Yes, there are happy ways near to God's sun;
But few are they who tread the sunlit path;
Only the pure in soul can walk in light."[Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, VI-2]
It was now crystal clear that this was what he had been searching for without knowing it, wandering aimlessly through this city for the past two days.
Lionel caught his breath and looked around. There were steps going down. He used them to reach the bottom of the cliff. Everything suddenly seemed very peaceful around him. The sounds of the city reached him, but in a muffled manner. He walked towards the circus. Many vehicles, trailers, cages, and smaller ancillary tents surrounded it – the usual circus scene. On most of the trailers he could read, printed on their sides in bold calligraphic letters: BOMBAY CIRCUS. As he got closer he could smell the odour of wild animals – felines, elephants, horses and camels. He heard the occasional roar or trumpeting.
It was an idle time for the circus, the shows were later in the day. All was quiet. Next to the main circus tent there was a large open canopy without side-walls, sheltering a group of three elephants, peacefully chewing on a bale of hay. A little apart, a man sat crossed-legged on a mat, having just started his lunch, brought on a large brass plate by an aide. He had a clean-shaved head, and was simply dressed in work pants and kurta. He looked up and waved at Lionel to come and join him. Lionel's gaze met the man’s sun-like burning brown eyes, and he sat down on the mat in front of him. The aide returned with another thali for Lionel. There were two chapattis, rice, dal, a small cup of curd, and some mango pickle. It was simple but well prepared and very tasty.
Not a word was said.
The man did not speak till the meal was over. Lionel felt close to him, and had no desire to converse either, merely grateful for such an enjoyable meal. He felt so good in that exceptional moment under the circus tent, in the company of this unknown-known man, near the powerful elephants, that he did not wish for it to end. He had been very thirsty. When he drank the plain water in a brass mug, it tasted like nectar. The aide returned and took away the plates.
At this point, the man asked Lionel in Hindi, "Aap kahaan ja rahe ho? (Where are you going?)"
Lionel did not know what to say, so he pulled out his map, intending to use it to explain that he was going to the Himalayas for a retreat as a sannyasi. He unfolded the map and went on spreading it out between them on the mat. But before he could turn the map and orient it so that South was on the man's side and North on his, while it was still upside-down to him, the man put his right index finger on a specific point on the map; a map about six square feet in area.
Keeping it there, he looked straight into Lionel's eyes, with fiery intensity. "Vahaan! Aap vahaan ja rahe ho. (There! You are going there.)" He paused.
Lionel leaned forward to look at the map. The man's finger was pointing at the most North-Western state of India. More precisely, his finger was set right in the middle of the crown-jewel of the Indian Himalayas: Kashmir. When the man finally lifted his finger, Lionel read the name of the town he had been pointing to: Anantnag.
Seconds went by. Speaking now in remarkably clear English, the man said the cryptic words: "He is waiting for you."
"Waiting? Who is waiting?" asked Lionel, shocked.
But the man would say no more on the subject. After another moment of silence, he continued in a quiet voice, expressing what he perceived as a natural truth: "I can see doubt in your mind; you think you are weak, feeble, sick, and in a way you are right. But never forget this: you, I, and him as well, are all valiant vibhutis, powers incarnate, emanations of larger beings unbound by time and space. And these beings have chosen to send a small portion of themselves to play seemingly insignificant, yet powerful roles, now and many times through history. You too, have chosen your part in this undertaking."
After another pause, he said: "Have faith; your strength matches your challenge."
Under the impact of this revelation, Lionel's mind was in turmoil, but before he could ask any questions, the man spoke one last time: "Now you must go. You have a long journey ahead. Do not waste time. The railway station is just a few furlongs that way." He pointed towards the buildings at the opposite end of the wasteland.
They both stood up. Lionel thanked him for the meal and then took his leave. Still puzzled on his way out, he turned back and saw a last image of the man casually tending to the elephants.
Shortly thereafter, Lionel reached Bangalore City railway station. On platform number 2, an express train was ready to depart, engine steaming, bound for Hyderabad. He climbed into one of the crowded third class carriages and sat down at the wide open door. The conductor, standing on the platform, whistled vigorously several times, and within seconds the train noisily set itself in motion. As the train gathered speed, the conductor expertly grabbed the handhold beside the carriage door and jumped in, hopping past Lionel with a smile."
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