The man who stood with the tree

He came one day and settled under the Banyan tree that grew in the garden of my building but branched carelessly into the street. Clad in saffron clothes as many wandering holy men do in India. Nothing special except if you looked carefully, his legs were unimaginably swollen as if he carried the weight of his self in his legs. Strange that it did not bother him at all.
We were curious, especially as he seemed to decide that the tree was his home. This after all was no forest. It was Juhu. Smack in the middle of one of the more chaotic, bustling and yet up market real estates in suburban Mumbai. And there he stayed, night after night. Curiously never, ever sitting, or lying down. Day or night, the man always just stood. No wonder his legs were so swollen.
Khare Baba ( The standing holy man) as we affectionately began to call him, fashioned himself a kind of children’s swing which he slung over one of the many branches of the tree. And late at night when we would come back from drunken parties, Khare Baba as would still be standing, but with his arms strung through the swing, so that he would not fall down if he fell asleep. We would hoot greetings, while he would just look disdainfully at us, or sometimes raise a hand back in an affectionate greeting. Khare Baba soon became a fixture.
If you asked him why he always stood, he would just say that it was his penance. To never again sit or lie down. To never rest again. What sin could a man have committed in his 20’s that required this kind of punishment upon himself ? He never told us. And as is believed in India, if a man is going through his Tapasya with such extreme penance, then he deserves to be worshiped. And so people from around Juhu would come to be blessed by Khare Baba. Into the same tree they carved a small temple to him. Khare Baba would calmly bless anyone that came, but at no time did he ask for anything. People just gave him food.
I remember sitting silently with Khare Baba late into the night waiting for dawn to come. Smoking hash sometimes, but never saying much. He would in any case refuse to talk about himself. And one day we suddenly noticed that Khare Baba had disappeared. Not just gone wandering around Juhu. He did not return. We never saw him again. We never found out where he went, but then we never knew where he came from either.
The temple is still there. Occasionally I see Coconut shells and lit incense sticks, so I know that the temple still lives. People probably do not know the origins of the temple after 20 years since Khare Baba left. But so what ? it’s a temple in a flowing Banyan Tree, and how many of those are left in Mumbai ? The temple ensures this beautiful tree will never be cut down as thousands others are in Mumbai. And perhaps that was Khare Baba’s purpose. To stand tall with the tree, for when did a tree ever rest or sit down ?
And when people ask me why I keep coming back to India, I tell them the story of Khare Baba. Anywhere else in the world, the people would have been frightened by this man. They would have complained and worried that he maybe a child molester. The police would have come and taken him away, put him in jail. But in India we never questioned the wandering spirit. Just accepted his arrival with the same ease as we did his leaving.

37 Responses to “The man who stood with the tree”

  1. Madhulika Garg says:

    I liked this post a lot as it has few messages in it…just as a coin has two sides I see irony in this story .First,Blind Faith of Indians(common people) and second Faith of Indians ( Pujaris.saints ,etc. )
    This is how one tree was saved.How will we save the others?

  2. Vibes – That silently says Accept or Reject And we accept or reject. We have powerful vibes And we know when we are right And when we are wrong or when they are right And when they are wrong.

  3. Deepak R says:

    Simply Beautiful. Thank you shekhar.

  4. In a way, don’t we all have khare baba deep down inside. I think I do, standing forever in the sands of time.

  5. Roopa says:

    We had our own Khare baba outside our building complex. I watched him over time, huddled by the side of the street, with deep set eyes and long flowing beard. He was revered by many in the area. People gave him fruit, packets of food, and old clothes. Occassionally, you saw him scribble on paper and mutter incoherantly. Most surprisingly, several city celebs came to him with folded hands. He always took the food and never money. He was happiest with paper. Several stories about his past circulated during that time. Some said he could foretell the future. Some said he was blessed. Some others day he was a raving lunatic who was poisoned by his wife. Anyway, one day he vanished. I still wonder what became of him!

  6. Horst Vollmann says:

    Hello Shekhar:
    These are the encounters that have helped shape the man you are today. Khare Baba was there for a reason and when you had sat with him waiting for dawn you communed with your spiritual self, with a side in you that was being awakened by the presence of this wondrous sage. What he had left behind is much more than a temple in a tree, much more than a fond memory for a young man who even back then seemed to have had the ability to look beyond the mundane aspect of this man’s existence. He had left behind a reminder that there is a love that goes infinitely beyond our concept of emotional attachments. The purity of this man purified those who saw in him more than a saintly, albeit quirky figure who may very well have carried the weight of this world and the need to do its penance on his shoulders, far transcending his own sins.
    Such encounters stay with us, help us reflect when the burden of our daily challenges seems to be too perplexing to realize what the essence of our purpose to be in this world is really all about.
    This story will reverberate for a long time to come. Thank you for telling it.
    Kind regards.
    Horst

  7. yayaver says:

    “But in India we never questioned the wandering spirit. Just accepted his arrival with the same ease as we did his leaving. ” The crux of all… Loved this tale from your life.

  8. ruchi says:

    Beautiful story with equally beautiful spirit:)

  9. Chaitali says:

    I want to know where he went….

  10. kavitha says:

    “…I remember sitting silently with Khare Baba… waiting for dawn to come…never saying much…”
    such a beautiful imagery. most beautiful experiences are through silence!

  11. Atmapreeta says:

    Beautiful post, Shekhar.

  12. Saadhak says:

    Interesting memmoir! Thanks for sharing.
    First impression came to be silently enjoy the tale. Then felt to write two observations often seen in life.
    Two things are solidified from this account of events.
    (1) Such incidents happen around people who have some relation with spiritual quest in their life and they seriusly encounter the eternal questions of life, death, existence.
    (2) such incidents happen but not all will pay attention to these. Only with an inherent tendency will have desire to look into the eyes of wandering seekers like Khare Baba.

  13. Murali says:

    The last paragraph… amazing closing… shall remember this always. Thank you for writing it.

  14. I must after reading your blogs that you have had rich encounters and experiences in life.

  15. brahmastra says:

    Wonderful story!! India has been one of the most hospitable societies for those on the spiritual path. But, off late it seems we got these posers taking advantage of that..check out this guy below called Ichaadaari Sant Bhimananda (the guy who ran a prostitution racket out of a temple) doing the naagin dance..this guy is so out there and true to his name – a Ichaadaari – it is quite entertaining than anything else..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIUza8p1C1E

  16. Amita says:

    Reading this was an experience…it is full of Indianness…We value the message here, and we value teh few people like you who spread this message!!

  17. DQ says:

    Shucks we humans will never tire of making fables
    .
    to go to the extent of seeing someones purity
    .
    ufff
    Im sorry I am not able to connect to such conversations
    .
    .
    nevertheless have a grt day Shekhar
    Cheers…

  18. chaitanya kulkarni says:

    This one was too good, i would say an important post.. thank you

  19. srini says:

    We Indians like to hear such stories and enjoy such experiences.I think we always tend to reach out for the “other world” but end up neglecting the one we live in. That is why we are ready to spend millions on temples and rituals but not ready to feed our hungry. But Still I enjoyed the story, myself also being an Indian.

  20. This is a most beautiful post. Your story telling style is so unlike your ponderous yet substantial films. I love how many layers this simple story, and its telling, has.

  21. bsnkarthik says:

    nice post, loved it

  22. Trupti Shine says:

    Speechless…This is the story which I was longing to read from long time.
    Thank you Shekhar, for sharing this one.

  23. DQ says:

    I dont know why…this man is irritating my thoughts…MF HUSSEIN
    .
    Shekhar you talk of being liberal etc etc…
    tell me how would you feel if he painted your mother copulating with a horse? Hope you will take it liberally too?
    what of jesus copulating with mary? its all expressions is it not? Showing jesus naked on the cross is nothing close to jesus shown as a copulating figure with mary…
    allah copulating with a pig what say? its artistic expressions after all is it not?
    .
    for petes sake you are talking on those levels where your mind has reached a stage where you see sense in most of the things but can you see it from a perception of a child? a young person?
    .
    someone who looks up to these figures as mothers?
    I agree I dont believe in them, but these pictures could be giving a lot of strength to those who are lost or feel these serene pictures/idols of god can atleast bring some solace some balance in their minds..
    have you thought of that?
    .
    do i understand that if my neighbour an artist starts painting his mother with his neighbours dog etc etc…it is called liberal thoughts? expressions?
    I mean what liberal thoughts are we talking of shekhar?
    .
    I understand the gravity of expressions but not to the extent where one is trying to distort the entire human structure where such tender thoughts are instilled to make balance between us humans…you are trying to break all walls…at this age!!!! because you dont mind…seen it all done it all…but what of the structure of people who are still to understand life…should they start distorting their thoughts because elders like you and him are making sense of it? RUBBISH
    .
    .
    Try not to distort the entire expression which could be suitable for you or this retard, being a good artist does not prove he has rights to distort things to this extent…you he may be able to percieve such openness not all!!!
    .
    I would certainly wanna thrash this old fart, for trying to be cheeky while his feet is in the grave…wanting explosions before he falls dead is it?
    .
    I would surely love this one episode of public burning him down eh heh
    .
    such hatred for him because I have looked into his eyes…and i felt thank god he has his art for which people could be looking up to him…
    .
    Frustrated pig he is…
    .
    .
    .
    And shekhar you calculating his success in the manner that you do…I must say…i felt sad that a man of your category sees someones strength, integrity through these values…
    .
    He has art/riches in him I understand…but does that make him a balanced mind?

  24. The last para was an insightful summation – the wandering spirit is a blessed one I think. Reminds me of a story I read in school – Baba Batesar Nath I think. About a tree that was a silent spectator to the lives of those who lived around it. I moved from India to London this December and I miss its ways, its fuzzy logic, its heart, its faith, its madness, its spirit. Khare Baba Ki Jai.

  25. There are many reasons and moments to experience when I read this post!
    The title reminds me of the chipku movement… perhaps saving the tree in a human spirit.
    ~The faith or belief is a very enchanting experience. And sometimes you really don’t know what life holds back in the next moment.
    Often there are people who do nothing yet are remembered and some do so much yet been ignored.
    ~Life has its own value of making choices though there are still few who just gets hooked without choice!
    ~I really wonder, what reminds YOU of Khare baba…
    ..is it the spiritual side of khare baba…
    ..or the mystery surrounding him..
    ..or the illusion of his survival..
    ..or the disappearance in the blinks..
    ..or indeed was it the giant tree…
    …or the RUMInating Sidereal of Yours
    ~I know U love reading RUMI:)
    ~Wonder if the life is all about only to wonder..the wonders of Life!
    Perhaps, You been really successful in capturing one of the apt mesmerizing wonder of life!
    …..ishhhhhh….Indian..Nothing Official about it..Aha!
    ~Keep the spark Alive..
    ~CreationRachana πŸ™‚

  26. There are many reasons and moments to experience when I read this post!
    The title reminds me of the chipku movement… perhaps saving the tree in a human spirit.
    ~The faith or belief is a very enchanting experience. And sometimes you really don’t know what life holds back in the next moment.
    Often there are people who do nothing yet are remembered and some do so much yet been ignored.
    ~Life has its own value of making choices though there are still few who just gets hooked without choice!
    ~I really wonder, what reminds YOU of Khare baba…
    ..is it the spiritual side of khare baba…
    ..or the mystery surrounding him..
    ..or the illusion of his survival..
    ..or the disappearance in the blinks..
    ..or indeed was it the giant tree…
    …or the RUMInating Sidereal of Yours
    ~I know U love reading RUMI:)
    ~Wonder if the life is all about only to wonder..the wonders of Life!
    Perhaps, You been really successful in capturing one of the apt mesmerizing wonder of life!
    …..ishhhhhh….Indian..Nothing Official about it..Aha!
    ~Keep the spark Alive..
    ~CreationRachana πŸ™‚

  27. nimikhanna says:

    THE DANCE OF THE GREAT MUSTARD TREE
    Each time I yearn
    I yearn to become a seed again
    Tiniest of them all
    a Mustard grain.
    Mixed with the darkest deepest soil
    a state of Shunya I remain.
    The winds blow
    the storms pass
    the first drop of rain alas!
    My skin wrap stains
    it rustles and falls,
    My two halves split
    the tender sprout awakens
    the curling energy now insane.
    pushes it’s head abOve.
    The blue sky beckons
    The gentle breeze ready to sway
    THE DANCE OF THE GREAT MUSTARD TREE ON IT’S WAY.

  28. sashi menon says:

    love you.

  29. Sanjay says:

    Very moving!
    Some lines from one of the Manoj Kumar’s song.
    Itni mamta jahan nadiyon ko bhi mata keh ke bulate hain.
    Itna aadar insan to kya pathar bhi poojay jate hain
    Is dharti pey maini janam liya yeh soch ke main itraata hoon.
    Regards!

  30. Amit says:

    My oppositions for M.F. Hussain being called liberal for his act. I won’t use dirty words like someone above used to express in a very long comment. BUT, I take that article as your view of world and that by default is not the universal.
    This would bug me for a while what could be the sin of that wanderer.

  31. rahul says:

    Shekhar you said that you are willing to argue on MF Hussain issue. People are still posting comment. But u are not responding.

  32. Sqn Ldr Manuj Sharma says:

    Sir,
    I need to meet you. I request your email id or the phone number to apprise you of the private details. Thank you. Regards.

  33. Pooja says:

    Strange how Bombay accepts just about everything that comes into it… Isn’t it??

    http://transitinlife.blogspot.com/2008/09/ode-to-mumbai.html

  34. icenice says:

    …………………………..beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  35. icenice says:

    …………………………..beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. This can be my first time i visit here. I found thus many fascinating stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the heaps of comments on your articles, I assume I’m not the only one having all the enjoyment here!

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