This is a bit off of the usual scope of this blog, but since I’m away, far from my records, photo files, scanner and the various crap I use to produce these entries, I thought this subject might interest a few of you. Most especially those with sore feet.
I first became aware of the Standing Babas through Gregory David Roberts’ incredible novel Shantaram (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003), an autobiographical novelization of his life story.
In a short, an Australian junkie takes to armed robbery, goes to prison, escapes, makes his way to Mumbai (Bombay), ends up living in a slum then falls in with a faction of one of that town’s many organized crime gangs. At one point in the book, new to Mumbai, his friend and guide takes him to the temple where the Standing Babas live, worship, and sell hashish.
The Standing Babas are a Hindu holy sect, often men who are retired business men, military officers, politicians, etc. who have taken a vow to stand for the rest of their lives as a sort of pre-death penance. They even sleep standing up, in a type of sling that looks like a playground swing. To support themselves they sell hashish, which they smoke constantly. From Shantaram:
“The Standing Babas were men who’d taken a vow never to sit down, or lie down, ever again, for the rest of their lives. They stood day and night, forever. They ate their meals standing up, and made their toilet standing up. They prayed and worked and sang standing up. they even slept while standing, suspended in harnesses that kept the weight of their bodies on their legs, but prevented them from falling when they were unconscious.For the first five to ten years of that constant standing, their legs began to swell. Blood moved sluggishly in exhausted veins, and muscles thickened. Their legs became huge, bloated out of recognisable shape and covered with purple varicose boils. Their toes squeezed out from thick, fleshy feet, like the toes of elephants. During the following years, their legs gradually became thinner, and thinner. Eventually, only the bones remained, with a paint-thin veneer of skin and the termite trails of withered veins.The pain was unending and terrible. Spikes and spears of agony stabbed up through their feet with every downward pressure. Tormented, tortured, the Standing Babas were never still. They shifted constantly from foot to foot in a gentle, swaying dance that was mesmerising for everyone who saw it, as the sound-weaving of a flute player for his cobras….…the Babas were also comprehensively, celestially and magnificently stoned. They smoked nothing but Kashmiri– the best hashish in the world–grown and produced in the foothills of the Himalayas in Kashmir, And they smoked it all day, and all night, all their lives”.
The rest of Shantaram is as equally colorful, and I recommend it highly. India is a funny place,
and sometimes not such a funny place. Were else can you find eunuchs (called hijaras) with a union? For more on that subject may I refer you to Zia Jaffrey’s The Invisibles: A Tale Of The Eunuchs Of India (Vintage, 1996). But the story of the Standing Babas really sticks in my mind.
The above clip, from a U.K. tv show called Culture Shock and the scene in Shantaram at the Standing Babas’ temple, immediately worked its way into my subconscious, the end result being some very disturbing and also some very funny (and sometimes both) dreams.
Next time you can’t find a seat on the subway, or get stuck in line at the Post Office, don’t allow yourself to get angry or well up with self pity, just think of the Standing Babas.