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Robert Hirschfield gives his account of an unexpected interaction in India.

SEEING MY FIRST child monk in Bodh Gaya, I think, Way to go! Start early and you will have a mind like clear space before puberty. Not like the mind that wobbles before you, willing to pick any cherry from the spirit tree, hoping it will taste of deliverance. A word that’s too big for you. For me too. But I am not convinced of that, though I like to pretend otherwise.

Some inner something alerts you to my presence. You bow low, a small saffron fruit scraping the warm ground.

You wave me over. “You from?

“America,” I say. “And you?”

“Bangladesh.”

A stubbled monk in a saffron sweatshirt is watching us closely from the opposite end of the ledge. A gaudy father bird keeping an eye on things.

“My teacher,” you say. Teacher smiles. You tell me your name: Atish. “There is also another boy who is monk: Siddharta.”

“Tell me about your meditation practice?”

“I follow the breath. That is my practice. Breathe in, I know. Breathe out, I know.”

You are prying open Siddharta’s mouth, and I am thinking anything can happen anywhere in this world.

You close your eyes and meditate for me, as if you are demonstrating an appliance. I am impressed by how you let yourself be taken by the formless. I leave you to photograph the pilgrims collecting like ants around the stupas. When I return, you are with your teacher, and another boy in saffron, who I take to be Siddharta.

“Can you help us?” you ask.

Where have I heard those words before? Not here, surely, in the shadow of the Bodhi tree. You are prying open Siddharta’s mouth, and I am thinking anything can happen anywhere in this world. You are pointing to a bone sticking out of the darkness of an afflicted gum.

“He needs an operation. Can you pay for the operation?”

The teacher inserts his own fingers into the boy’s mouth as if to underscore the gravity of his condition. I am catapulted from my imagined role as spiritual companion to your imagined role for me as benefactor passing through.

A little seedy perhaps, but what the hell? I find your stereotype insulting, Atish. I prefer my own. Equally idiotic, but somehow more cuddly.

I say “no” six or seven times in rapid succession like one of those crazed gunman in the movies whose lover was really asking for it.

I turn and leave.

“Tomorrow morning. I will be here waiting for you,” you say, still seeing some hope for our relationship. You are as good as your word. Sensitive to my dismay of yesterday, you begin by asking me about the food, the room, the folks at the Root Institute where I am staying. I give you my answers, heavy as quarry stones.

“OK, not money for an operation, but can you buy me a new school bag?”

You show me the old one. It is frayed. You are one pushy contemplative. I hear someone other than my resisting self, clearing his throat.

“OK, I will buy you a bag.”

Community Connection

Dental problems are one travel issue addressed in this post, Top 10 Travel Health Problems & How to Handle Them.

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About The Author

Robert Hirschfield

Robert Hirschfield is a freelance writer and photographer whose work appears in Ode Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, Outlook (the Indian newsweekly), and the London Jewish Chronicle, among other publications. He has travelled most recently to north and South India, and to Israel and the West Bank.

  • David Miller

    so sweet to hear your voice(s) again robert.

  • http://vagabonderz.com Carlo Alcos

    Love this Robert…especially this: “I find your stereotype insulting, Atish. I prefer my own. Equally idiotic, but somehow more cuddly.”

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/candicew86 Candice Walsh

    Always love your writing.

  • http://www.theholidayabroad.com Holiday Abroad

    Wow, this interview is amazing!

  • Jed Purses

    Really enjoy your work Robert, this one is no different. Oddly enough I am staying at the Root Institute in Bodh Gaya right now. Leaving tomorrow, but coming back in a couple of days. I assume you are no longer in town???

  • Robert Hirschfield

    I am back in New York, Jed.
    Is this your first trip to Bodh
    Gaya?

    • Jed Purses

      Yes, this is my first trip to Bodh Gaya. It has been an interesting experience. Still taking a lot of it in. Looking forward to leaving and coming back with a fresh prespective.

  • Raymond C.

    Robert, thank you for sharing. I identify with your writing. I recently journeyed to Bodh Gaya a few months back.. and your words helped me relive my experiences as if they were yesterday. It is a delicate balance between being cautious and open.

    What part of New York are you in? I’m currently a medical student in NYC. I’d love to share travel stories over lunch or chai sometime. Feel free to contact me via my e-mail.

    By the way, here’s an interesting article if you haven’t come across it already: http://www.salon.com/wlust/feature/1998/09/18feature.html

    Interesting.. no?

  • http://example.com/ Leslie

    Amazing post, truly!

  • Arif khan

     

    Hi

     My name is Arif khan. I am
    a Student and a Tour Guide in Bodh Gaya and u need any kind of help in india u
    Call me only :- 9430406213

  • Arif khan

     

    Hi

     My name is Arif khan. I am
    a Student and a Tour Guide in Bodh Gaya and u need any kind of help in india u
    Call me only :- 9430406213

  • Arif khan

     

    Hi

     My name is Arif khan. I am
    a Student and a Tour Guide in Bodh Gaya and u need any kind of help in india u
    Call me only :- 9430406213

  • Isver

    A heartening read. The poverty in this region drives many to take up spirituality, some to find solace and some are forced as probably they might get 2 meals a day and if not, they learn to seek pleasure in remaining hungry.
    It is natural to generalize the whole population when we read a part about them. We all claim to be a hindu, a buddhist, a christian or a muslim but to what extent we follow our religions is a matter of debate. Just by draping a saffron one does not become a monk. It is a tough path. Many will get on to it for the sheer curiosity. Life puts you through many tests and temptations.

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