TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

Chapter Sixteen

The next morning I arrive at David’s ghat early. I barely slept last night, despite the Valium I downed when I got back to the hotel, and woke up at the crack of dawn. Those monkeys in my mind were going more nuts than ever. I couldn’t stop imaging how it’s going to be with David when I’m finally able to tell him who I am, about how we’ll go on trips of self discovery around Asia together, about how I’ll take him to the Buddhist Centre with me when we get back to Sydney. This is my dad, I’ll say to the class, who’ll all be completely blown away by how spiro he is, then David and I will look at each other and laugh like teenagers, giddy with happiness. Lame, I know, but that’s what went down in my head last night.

I spot David sitting by a fire with another sadhu in his usual spot.

“Namaste Ram Baba.” I do the respectful prayer hands thing to him and smile serenely as I walk over. I wonder what he’s thinking about my ensemble: white harem pants, cream cork wedges, a white tee and a psychedelic rainbow scarf thrown over the top for a pop of colour. Spiritual chic, I call it. I thought he’d be impressed, but he just nods at me without saying a word and starts walking down the filthy steps to the water with the other sadhu in tow. This one’s all covered in grey ash and looks even weirder than the others. I have no idea where we’re going but I follow them anyway, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as we walk down the slimy steps to the water. When we’re close to the bottom, David and his sadhu mate both stop and stand straight and tall facing the water. David motions for me to sit down on the steps, which I gingerly do, then he starts chanting. It’s droney and serious and I’m not quite sure whether I’m meant to be joining in or not.

At this point, the sadhu next to him starts to untie his loin cloth and suddenly, with a flourish, he whips it off, exposing a skinny, bedraggled-looking penis. I gasp in horror as he stands, completely naked, right in front of me. A moment later he crouches down and grabs hold of the huge rock he’s standing next to. Using all the strength he can muster in his toothpick arms, he hoists the rock up and ties his loin cloth around it, before dropping it back down again. Then, before I even have time to scream, he grabs his penis, wraps it underneath the knot of his loincloth, then staggers to his feet triumphantly with what must be 40 kilos of rock hanging from his dried hokkien noodle of a dick.

I clap my hand over my mouth, stifling the scream and its expletive friends that have finally managed to make it to the top of my throat. Some of the other sadhus gathered around us nod their heads in reverent respect. I just sit there, slack-jawed and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

Five seconds later, the rock’s back on the ground and the little sadhu is limping up the steps, a peaceful smile on his face.

“Ok I’m sorry Ram Baba, but… What the fuck was that??”

“That, Magdalena, was to teach you something important about the sadhu’s way of life. 15 years ago, that man entered into a nine-year period of self-imposed celibacy, after which he was initiated into what we call the Naga practice of penis yoga.”

Uncontrollable laughter bubbles out of my mouth. Childish, I know, but I just can’t help it. “Sorry what did you just say?”

“I understand it may sound funny to you, but it’s a revered ritual amongst holy men in which certain nerves of the sadhu’s penis are broken, making it unlikely that he will ever have an erection again.”

“But… Why?” I ask, shaking my head in complete confusion.

“It is to demonstrate the complete transcendence of sexual impulses,” he says, bowing his head reverently.

“Oh God…” I’m so shocked by what I’ve just seen that that’s about all I can utter. “So…” And then the question that I really, really don’t want to ask, but that all the cows in India couldn’t drag me away from asking. “…are you into penis yoga?”

“Yes child, I am.” And with that, he sits down and begins meditating while I try not to freak the fuck out. I take a deep breath, telling myself to calm down and to focus on the task at hand: coming to terms with the fact that my estranged father has broken his penis forever in order to prove he’s interested in sex. Nup, it’s still too crazy to comprehend right now. Instead, I close my eyes and try to meditate, but pictures of withered penises won’t stop floating around my head. I mean in a way I get it. Sometimes I’d love to just put a firecracker up my vagina and blow the whole thing up just so I don’t have to think about relationships anymore, and then I sure as hell wouldn’t have to worry about whether I was going to have a baby. I suppose it would make things a whole lot less complicated. Actually, now I start thinking about it, I kind of admire him for doing it, as weird as it is.

“Just concentrate on your breathing,” whispers David. Shit. Either he’s a mind reader or I’m fidgeting like mad. Either way, I guess he’s realising how much I’m struggling over here.

I try to do as he says, focusing on my breath, pushing away all the little penises, and trying to remind myself that there’s no such thing as a bad meditation. There’s just noticing and accepting what’s going on inside you and just letting yourself be. There’s no Nirvana to reach, I tell myself. All you have is here and now. My breath and my heartbeat eventually start to slow, the incessant cawing of the crows fades away, and then, miraculously, everything just stops and my mind goes completely still and quiet. Then David starts chanting again, just as he did for the penis yogi, aka Rock Hudson, earlier.

“Ooooom, shanti, shanti, shantiiiii.”

This time, I join in.

“Ooooom, shanti, shanti, shantiiiii.”

All is peace, all is light.

“Ooooom, shanti, shanti, shantiiiii.”

I open my eyes, take a deep breath and swivel my eyes around to David. He’s looking directly at me and smiling. Not just in that serene I’m-a-sadhu-I-should-be-smiling-so-I’m-smiling way, but really smiling. Like he somehow knows I just finally, for the first time ever, found some proper space inside myself. Like he’s proud of me.