nathanielkidd on 1223117285|%B %d
We first met Sashi one morning after breakfast, as we left the Grand Sindhi Restaurant. He was sitting outside by the road with three or four of his friends.
“Hey, I like your tie!” he called. This was nothing new; everyone in India likes my ties.
“The yuppies have invaded Pahar Ganj!” he continued. “You work for IBM? Motorola?”
I definitely hadn’t heard that one before.
“Let me take your picture,” he said. He took a little digital camera out of his backpack and had me pose with one of his friends, a very rotund Indian gentleman wearing a pink polo shirt.
“Speen-itch,” boomed the large man, as he handled my Popeye-themed tie. His voice was the deep, gravelly rumble that comes from years of chain smoking.
“It’s Popeye,” hooted Sashi. “You know Popeye?”
“Pop-eye-ee,” droned the large man. He made a noise that was half way between a cough and a chuckle. “How much?”
“For the tie?” I asked, confused. “I don’t…”
“In Europe, I pay five, maybe ten euro for a tie like that,” Sashi replied on my behalf. He said something in Hindi, and everyone at the table shared a hearty laugh.
“Come, come,” he insisted, “Sit, sit, sit.” It was a puzzling command, considering all the chairs in the vicinity were occupied by his friends. But before we could question him, he had emitted a short burst of Hindi, and his friends disappeared.
“You want chai?” he asked. Of course, in India, it’s never quite clear whether such a statement is a question or a command.
I took a good look at Sashi. He had a mane of silver hair, and skin the color and texture of weathered leather. In context it was pretty clear he was Indian, but if I had run into him in Colorado, I don’t think I would have been able to tell from his coloration and accent whether he was Indian, Mexican, or Middle Eastern. He was casually dressed, his t-shirt bearing the witticism, “Breath= Inspire/Don’t Breath= Expire.”
Sashi’s name is from the Sanskrit for moon, and, like the moon, he has made many trips around the world. In his fifty-three years he has lived in America, Japan, India, Germany, and Thailand, and visited countless other countries. He’s been a taxi driver in San Francisco, a carpet trader in Tokyo, and a hostel host in Colone.
He says he has friends wherever he goes, and it’s no surprise. He is incredibly hospitable, tremendously gregarious. In our time sitting with him, we were joined by several other of his friends: a couple of women from Holland, and a lady from France. He also overflows with wisdom from his years of life and travel.
“This is freedom,” Sashi announced to us, gesturing to the crowded streets of Pahar Ganj. A cow wandered past us, and he gave it a paternal pat on its flank. “If you want to sell bananas, you buy bananas, and you set up your shop. In the US, or the EU, you need a license. And you cannot get a license, unless you are a big corporation. The US may be clean. It may be rich. But in India, we are free.”
He had a lot to say about the corruption and greed and shamelessness of the rich, and of political leaders. “They say they want to help people. Come here, and clean up these streets. Do what Mother Theresa did. She helps people. Politicians, they shake a lot of hands, and make a lot of promises, but after election, they fly around in helicopters, and take lots of pictures, and enjoy the power, only the power.”
“Everywhere there are good people. But politicians: they are not people. They do not care about human life. Particularly in America. In America, the politicians do not consider the people living in other countries. America will pay for this one day.”
“Americans are very educated. But they cannot think these things, because they are not free. They have to think about how to pay all the money they owe to the bank. Me, I have only high school education. But I see things they cannot, because I see the life, and I meet many people.”
Indians, Sashi included, have a fascinating take on the upcoming American election. They generally think that Obama will be the better president, indeed, most of them can’t even name his opponent. But for his sake, they don’t want to see him elected. They are pretty confident that, if elected, Obama’s first act as commander in chief would be to get himself assassinated.
Beyond his strong opinions, he has a wonderful sense of humor. “Let me tell you an old Indian joke about wearing a tie,” he said. “One time, there was a boy who decided to wear a tie around the house. His friends asked him ‘Why are you wearing a tie around the house?’ The boy responded, ‘Someone important might stop by.’ He also didn’t wear any trousers. His friends ask him, ‘Why, then, are you not wearing any trousers?’ The boy shrugged and said, ‘They might not come by.’”
I’m not sure where Sashi gets the money to fund his adventures. “I am like Ali Baba,” he joked, “Every time I need money, I just rub my magic lamp.”
He did give some indication in the course of our conversation: he’s been selling carpets on and off for over twenty years. “Once, in Japan, I make over one-hundred fifty thousand dollars in one day. I say to myself, ‘This is too much money! If I become rich, I forget about being human.’ So I travel, one year, two year, until all the money is gone. Then I find another job, and make more money. Money is nothing. It is only the friendship that matters, only the people.”
He told us about how he started a kitchen at a hostel in California. “I just started cooking for everyone. Eating alone, it is like a punishment. I didn’t want anyone to be eating alone. And so in a few days, people also come and help me. By the end of a week, I am just the head chef, telling this person, ‘Chop the onions,’ and that person, ‘Boil the tomatoes.’”
“But all the people were very grateful. I learned something very important in that experience. Before, I think only the poor people need help. But the truth is, everyone needs help.”
I have never met a person who so simply and casually fulfills the evangelical ideal. He is goes about like the wind, blowing from place to place, and to all it is a mystery where he has come from and where he is going. Yet wherever he goes, he is full of infectious love and hospitality, eagerly and insistently sharing with everyone he encounters.
We have enjoyed our conversations with Sashi. I do not know if we will meet him again. He is headed tomorrow or the next day for Japan, then to Thailand, and then Nepal. And he says his home is in Germany at the moment. But it has been a blessing to meet him, to experience his generosity and friendliness, and peek inside his understanding of the world.