Just when everyone thought they had me pegged as “Mr. Plastic,” I had resolved the plastic issue in my mind and it quickly began to shrink into one element of a much broader, all-encompassing vision.

Why not do all kinds of crazy acts of kindness and service along the way and just use picking up trash as our default plan of action? We could still gather the plastic up and deliver it to The Man if that seemed like the best strategy.

During this time, Mark and I were serving food every meal to all the people staying at Nareshwar. There were quite a few colorful characters staying there. One man stood out in particular. He was a small, elderly man with a crooked back. His appetite for food was extraordinary. We fed him and fed him and fed him more and
he consumed and consumed and consumed. Time went by and he kept eating, and wanted more even as the hall was closing down. His appetite just seemed unearthly.

gollum_1Mark and I both felt intuitively as if he were placed there in the dream as a character for us to process. We had no idea what this really meant or what, if anything, would come of it, but we both just had suspicions.

Sure enough, the following day, we were outside the ashram and ran into him. He came up to us and asked us for money to get back to his home. We found out that it wasn’t too far and offered to give him a ride. He wasn’t at all interested. All he wanted was money.

One concept I had been working with since before we left on this trip was the simple one that there is just so much people-power in India and so
many people looking for work. Likewise, there is just so much work to do. The cost of labor is also extremely cheap. It would simply be foolish to not just create jobs and fix up the country.

For us, this was always an option.  We could simply create jobs at will and pay people to do them. If someone asked us for money, we could say “If you clean the street from this tree to this one, we will pay you 10 rupees.” They get money; they get esteem; the world is beautified; everyone is happy.

So we wondered how to deal with this man and decided to offer him a job cleaning the bus stand where we were sitting. It was pretty gross, so we volunteered to help him (as we usually did anyway). Coincidentally, we found some brooms and a basket, but he wasn’t willing to do any work. He just wanted money. We figured that we had played the dream well and could do no more, so we were content leaving.

Finally, he agreed, but let us know that our idealistic notions were useless and that he just wanted money. So we all started cleaning. After a short while, he insisted on a tea break. I bought him a cup of tea and some biscuits. I shared the rest of the pack with everyone else sitting around. He sat down and indulged in his tea and biscuits and television as we waited… and waited… and waited… until we eventually realized that he was going to keep us waiting indefinitely. He got far more than he put out and was on the winning side of the equation.

manavsadhna1We decided to clean it up ourselves. If he didn’t come back, the job would be gone. Some kids brought us some better brooms and even started to help us. We did a pretty thorough job and eventually the crew from Manav Sadhna came out to get drinks or something and saw us stirring up all kinds of dust in the middle of the street. True to their natural style of service, they quickly joined in and we not only cleaned up that bus stand, but the one next to it and the whole side of the street. Mark and I looked like heroes, but it was totally orchestrated by this dream figure.

Meanwhile, he sat unaware, or pretending to be, of the whole drama unfolding behind him.

On this day, I was given such an extraordinary lesson about the ability to just start sweeping and cleaning on the streets in the middle of the day. Clearly, this could be part of our walk. To this, I owed this ‘Gollum’ everything. Just as it seemed that we had been taken advantage of, I realized what an amazing gift he had given to me personally and I went over and paid him for the job. Everyone was shocked that I actually paid him, but I walked away happier than anyone, knowing that he was worth every rupee. He got his money which, like he said, was all that was ever really required of him.

Afterwards, I was left with the strong feeling like I had met this creepy man before – like perhaps he was the same angel in disguise that allowed Loveleen and I to meet.

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