Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, March 25, 2012

It is 1983 and hot, sticky summertime in New York, and the six-person ad agency where I work is empty except for me, the girl who answers the phone, buys radio time and waits for ad copywriting scraps like a dog on its hind legs. When the front door opens, I probably look up, probably thinking it’s the bookkeeper, back to relieve me so I can head over to Mariella Pizza across the street for the slice I’ve been thinking about for the last half hour.
Instead, an Indian man wearing a turban walks in. After a few polite exchanges, he looks around and asks if I am alone, and, because I don’t feel the need to lie, I tell him I am. Do I have a few minutes to talk to him, he wants to know. He won’t take up much of my time. Sure, I say, feeling the moment thicken around me.

(I like turbans. I’d recently seen two men, one in a turban, plotting something on a cocktail napkin in a swank restaurant; and because everything about them has spoken to me of adventure, and imagination and fearlessness, I came away wanting more peripheral turbans in my life.)

The exotic man standing before me now comes to his point quickly. He tells me he can read my mind and might I be interested in seeing a demonstration of this. Since I am a child of the Magic 8 Ball, the Ouija Board, Catholic High School and the New Age Movement, I am not about to say No, holy man, please keep your extra sensory perception to yourself. Read my mind? “Yes,” I tell him. “Definitely, yes.”

He then asks me — while taking out a dog-eared photo of a large group of children — if I will donate to an orphanage if he proves to me that he can read my mind. He asks me to commit to a sum far beyond my meager means — what would be an enormous amount for these hungry children. I think about what $100 represents to a person (me) who makes $14,000 a year and spends almost $600 a month on rent. OK, I say, anyway, thinking that not only will he read my mind, but he will read between the lines of my mind and tell me who I am and what I should do with my life — my privileged, junior copywriting, pizza-filled life.

He asks for a slip of paper and pencil and writes down a few words, folds it up into a small bundle and tucks it into the upper pocket of his cotton jacket. Then he asks me to name my favorite flower, my favorite number, and the name of the man I love, and I answer him — out loud after every question — wondering if I ever knew that I liked roses best or that seven was my favorite number. At the time, I had a particular man on my mind.

When I’m done, he retrieves the scrap of paper from his pocket and gives it to me to open, and there, plain as day, are my three answers. The ones he has written down … even before I’ve been asked or answered the questions! It’s not mind reading, it’s time-space-and-beyond reading.

While I try to get a handle on what has transpired, he rummages in his shoulder bag and I fetch my wallet for what I owe. Unaccountably, no one has walked through the door during the entire exchange, which is complete when he tells me he has something special for me to wear around my neck and drops a brown seed/bead into my hand.

I know nothing about the bead except that I’ve paid $100 for it and that it’s from a super-yogi trying to feed starving children in the best way he knows how — by doing mind tricks for Americans with cash. The equation is so rich in irony and sincerity and materialism and spirit that it takes me years to figure out which parts are funny and which are profound.

A week ago, the friend of a friend shows up wearing this very bead around his neck. I flash on the story — as I have many, many times — and recount it. “It’s a Rudraksha,” Dieter says with urgency. “Do you still have it? How many sides does it have?” A few hours later, I’ve located the bead in a box at home and sit staring at its five facets by the light of a Google-search screen and the endless entries for the Vedic power bead.

After it is done soaking in water, and after it is cleaned with a soft brush and oiled and then strung on a simple red thread, would it not be best to put it on? Even for the simple reminder that at every turn are these tips of icebergs — these talismans — urging us to feel the swell of life’s mysteries, to stir the soup of space and time and matter with our crude little spoons?

4 Replies to “Rudraksha”

  1. My friend and his friend had an almost identical encounter with an indian man in Toronto this past week. I’m not sure if it’s the same person but I find it fascinating. He asked them different questions though. Do you know his name?

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