The ashram has been blissfully quiet for a couple of days; very few people moving in and out, very few phone calls, and more time sitting quietly with Gurudev.
When we arrived today the shoe cubbies outside were nearly full. Inside, there was a large group conducting a class or discussion on the side, plus the spots near Gurudev were all full of people. After washing our hands, Shambho and I made our way upstairs to the big room, or what I call the Devi Temple, which has many images of the Devi (goddess) on the alter - including a picture of Dakshineshwar Kali with images of Ramakrisha and (his wife) Sarada Devi below. There are also pictures of saints and deities in this room, as well as Pahadi Baba. It has a clean, quiet energy and feels far away from the hustle and bustle of downstairs, and we spent a couple of sessions there before being invited to lunch (rice, dal, subji/vegetable, chapatti and a deep-fried speciality-prasad, just for today).
When Shambo and I walk to 1.5 kilometers the ashram, we are usually bombarded by rickshaws seeking our business (we are in a tourist area, where foreigners are usually keen to see the sights). They make a beeline straight for us (it feels a lot like being a target in a video game, to see these three-wheelers careening straight towards you). The driver usually gestures and insists we get inside and suggests we go to Amer Fort or another popular tourist destination. We usually say decline (although in the intense heat we’ve been occasionally saying yes; by negotiating, we’ve managed to get the fee reduced from 150 rupees to just 20.... although our goal is 10). Sometimes locals will engage us in conversation, or try to get us to buy coconuts or sugar cane juice or dress up in traditional Rajasthani clothes for a photo. Others (usually young men) yell “HELLO” to us as they pass by on their two-wheelers
Pranava decided to go to the ashram with us after he arrived on Saturday. No one bothered us once during the entire walk. He is a 6’5” South Indian from Mumbai.
Once day Shambo and I decided to have lunch at Sree Suraj Restaurant, which had been recommended to us. We were ushered way, way, way into the bowels of the restaurant by a waiter who spoke English and encouraged us to eat in the AC room (which involves a 30-rupee per meal surcharge). We said no and took a table in the corner, under the fan. The waiter recommended the Special Thali (meal) as being the least spicy, so we each ordered that and fresh lime soda - an old favorite from my time in Mysore. The meal came, and we ate. Shambo had some bread and pulao (rice) left and we asked them to pack it. Nothing happened. We asked for chai and were told “No — the restaurant is too busy.” We asked again to have the food packed. Nothing. The bill came and was for 590 rupees. “Pay 700” our waiter told us. Not understanding, but wanting change, I handed him a 2000-rupee note. He brought it and the bill to the cashier/manager and returned with change... for 590 rupees and stood there staring at me, waiting for his tip. “No tip until packing” I said, pointing to the leftovers. “You pack, I tip.” He left. I put the bread in my bag, and we got up. I walked around with a 50-rupee note, looking to give it to him. Finally a manager asked me if I was looking for my waiter, and offered to give him the tip.
Last week there was a medical camp (free medical care) at the school next to the ashram, which meant the ashram had to feed lunch to over 100 doctors. So we returned to Suraj for lunch. This time a manger ushered us to a front table, and explained that the “Regular Thali” was also not spicy. So we got a special and a regular, plus the fresh lime soda. While we were eating, he asked us how the meal was (so good that Shambo almost finished his). When we were finished, he asked if we wanted chai or anything else (we didn’t). Then he gave us a bill for the proper amount and bid us a fond farewell when we left.