Arvinddas was a carefree ascetic who chose to wear white instead of orange. He traversed the country on motorcycles and bicycles, carrying no material possessions. He encountered trouble, offended people, made friends, and shared his experiences and fortunes with generosity. To my family, he was the wanderer who popped randomly in search of food.
One winter morning, as I tended to the trees and plants, Arvinddas arrived on his platina, after months of being absent. His arrival felt ordinary, and we exchanged no pleasantries. “Come! Come!” was my only invitation, met with his eager response, “Yes! What are you doing? Do you need help?” Despite his weak lungs and age above 60, he was eager to assist me in pruning trees and removing weeds.
He went inside and took his place on the sofa. In a few minutes my father happened to enter the hall and saw Arvinddas sitting. They exchanged conventional pleasantries. I heard only bits of what they were talking about. Putting pieces together, I gathered this time he went to Haridwar first and from there to somewhere in MP. It took him many days to reach Haridwar because he had no plans, no train tickets, and no money. He said he woke up one morning, did not feel like being in Bhuj and took his bike. I don’t know how he managed to pay for fuel and food, but apparently in about 15 days he reached Haridwar.
Somewhere in Rajasthan, he found himself in a kerfuffle. Having spent the night beneath the sheltering branches of a banyan tree along the highway, he washed his face near a roadside dhaba the next morning, unintentionally causing the dhaba owner’s wife to erupt in anger. Unfazed, Arvinddas requested soap, which only further enraged her, threatening him with a beating. Her husband intervened, leading Arvinddas away, calming his wife in the process. The husband shared his own tales of aiding people like Arvinddas, finding ways to help without stirring trouble with his wife. He even offered financial support.
Arvinddas regaled us with marvelous stories from his recent time in Madhya Pradesh while a glass of chhaas was prepared to welcome him. Soon he requested lunch. Despite being advised by a doctor to avoid certain dishes, Arvinddas opted for khakhra, khichdi, and a specific dish designed by my mother just for him. He always ate alone, and after finishing his meal, requested a cold drink. We happened to have a few forbidden, sugar-filled bottles of coke.
He rummaged through his bag, assessing if he had enough clothes. Finding the answer to be in the negative, we offered him a dhoti and a tote bag. He sat beneath the fan for a quarter of an hour, sharing rambling tales of politics, however incoherent. He expressed the pain of his deteriorating health, only to declare it no longer mattered to his liberated mind. This launched him further into the exploration of his philosophical ideas on human body’s purposes, techniques to shape and control both the body and mind.
As he prepared to leave, he inspected my garden work and offered tips. He possessed a knack for it. I always maintained my concern about the risks he faced on the road, both for himself and others. He should not have been driving a motorcycle.
I have known Arvinddas living in huts devoid of running water and electricity, in large two-story houses entrusted to him by absent tenants. I have seen him construct makeshift shelters in remote locations and settle amidst decaying farmlands. He lived in ashrams at Dhinodhar, Haridwar, Rishikesh and other obscure places. I recall his repeated pilgrimages of “Narmada Parikrama”, each time catching one disease or another. I have known him to be a man striving for independence—repairing houses, gardens, roads, experimenting with his own health, and abandoning places at whim. His religious beliefs underwent countless transformations, each iteration a new blend of the previous.
My family observed Arvinddas’s unconventional ideas from a distance, refraining from expressing opinions on his views. He held some questionable—and sometimes offensive—beliefs regarding women, one of which I take credit of breaking him away from by uttering the simple statement, “Is that what you think of my mother, who is cooking for you right now?” I vividly recall the flow of changing expressions as he pondered my words. Eventually he said “You are right, that is wrong”. It was a small victory, having swayed an old man grappling with religions and his internal dialogues.
Some months ago, the carefree ascetic departed from this world, his lungs succumbing to the passage of time. He was at the Kachchhi Ashram in Haridwar, and his body was hastily flown back to Bhuj. His passing went unnoticed by those unaware of his existence. But for us, it feels as though an infinite period stretches out ahead before he unexpectedly returns, seeking sustenance once again.