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How to mess up your karma

Instructions from our colleague, who took part in a Germany-India exchange.

india Updated: Dec 16, 2011 19:07 IST
Danijel Majic

It's hard to tell which of us has the more honeyed words, the slightly stocky yogi in the red turban, who addresses me abruptly on the corner of Sansad Marg and Tolstoy Marg, or me with my friendly attempt to make him understand that I am an atheist with no intention of changing my world views within the next ten minutes. "Do you believe in God, sir?" he asks me. A far from small belly shows under his black shirt. "No. I really have to go now. Sorry!" I look expectantly at the only pedestrian light far and wide. It stays red. "Oh, that's no problem!" the yogi says cheerily. I somehow knew he'd answer this way.

He fishes an old black and white photograph from his worn notebook. It shows a group of about 30 men, naked but for loincloths and garlands of flowers, whose white beards reach to their chests. His finger comes to rest on one of the faces in the middle. This was his teacher, a true holy man, he says. A broad smile shows under his full beard. I had good karma, the yogi claims. There is a lot that he still wants to tell me. The light is still red. If only I had looked again at the city map, then I would already be with my colleagues from the

Hindustan Times

.

India is a must for European esoterics, which I am not. And even Delhi won't make one of me, even if the city offers plenty of occasions for it. A ride from the Red Fort to the Old Iron Bridge with a tuk-tuk, one of the famous motorized rickshaws, for instance, is a good opportunity to rediscover one's spirituality. The way to the shore of the Yamuna River is an adventure in itself. Two days prior to my encounter with the yogi I tried it for a press date. A lorry to the left, a lorry to the right, ahead a street covered in potholes, behind us an impatiently honking Bentley. At the wheel is a driver who seems to try out every gap and apparently is saving up for new shock absorbers. According to Indian mythology, bathing in the Yamuna eliminates one's fear of death. After five minutes' ride, I sure would like to try that.

My yogi finally has me. I put out my right hand. "Oh, you are a very honest man," he says in his loveliest Indian singsong voice. I will live to be over 90 years old. Why, oh, why did I come to the city centre? Why to Connaught Place, this historicized eyesore built by the British colonial powers? Everything arranged around a huge roundabout, in the centre of which a handsome park attracts visitors.

Whether I believe that he is a good yogi, my companion wants to know, after "seeing" the name of my girlfriend and my age and writing them on a slip of paper. I had told him both five minutes earlier. "No!" I say. He smiles; I do not. I will achieve my goals. But, sadly, I ponder too much. It's the fault of a woman who once broke my heart. He could purify my karma, the smiling turban-wearer claims. All I need to do is place some "sacrifice money" in his black notebook. I reach for a 100 rupee note (1.50 euros), hoping I will finally be rid of him. "Big one, big one," he says and points at a thousand rupee note.

Keep smiling

It's only near Connaught Place that I have been accosted like this so far. Two days earlier, the rickshaw driver actually let me off at the old railway bridge, right in a slum on the shore of the Yamuna. It was early evening. The people in their shelters, covered with makeshift rice sacks, first looked surprised, then smiled and went back to their business: sweeping the path, cooking their food. An older man offered me his plate of rice and scant vegetables. I smiled, said thank you and continued on my way.

My yogi, too, smiles the whole time, even as I throw the strongest language I can think of in English at him. "You're a good man, a wise man. Two children. Very lucky," he babbles after me. I try it with German insults, to no avail. For only 50 euros he will pray for me for 21 days. Finally, I curse at him in Serbo-Croatian in words that my mother would even today ground me for using. Suddenly the yogi comes to a halt. Serbo-Croatian must sound like one of India's 1,600 languages...or perhaps it just sounds coarse and threatening. "Luck," he says, "sometimes goes up, sometimes goes down." Then he disappears around the corner.

Danijel Majic is an FR intern who has swapped workplaces with a journalist from the Hindustan Times for four weeks.