It was midnight and Katju was exhausted. He owned a quaint little Italian restaurant at Ashwem beach and had spent the entire day waiting tables. Raju, his only waiter, had been dipping into the till and Katju had recently sacked him.
With a glass of Pinot Noir and a grilled ham and cheese sandwich at his elbow, he opened ‘Forty Rules of Love’, a book that described the relationship between a wandering dervish and the famous thirteenth century poet, Rumi. He had about fifty pages to go and decided to finish it and turn in.
The Goan summer was in full swing and it was blisteringly hot inside his wooden shack. If he could pay off his bank loans by the end of the year, he would splurge and install an air conditioner. He had just turned forty-five a couple of days ago and decided to allow himself a few of the worldly pleasures that would make his life more comfortable. This meant upgrading his Royal Enfield motorbike to an air-conditioned jeep and hiring a part-time maid to cook and clean.
As he sipped the wine, his mind began wandering into the world of Rumi and he vividly pictured how the enlightened dervish, Shams of Tabriz, inspired Rumi to write some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.
Katju had always wanted to write a book. Not just any book – it would be a spiritual guide that would change people’s lives, a modern day Bhagavad Gita, a Bible for Generation Y and Z. Yet he could never put pen to paper. It wasn’t that he wasn’t smart or well read, it’s just that nothing had ever inspired him to write.
“When will my Shams of Tabriz arrive?” he thought to himself.
The desire to write a book came from his family Guru, Maheshavatar Baba who lived in the caves of Dunagiri in the Himalayas. During a childhood trip to Ranikhet up in the hills of Uttarakhand, the Guru had visited their holiday home. The house was surrounded by apple orchards and perched atop a picturesque hillock. As the Guru arrived, Katju’s father explained that Maheshavatar Baba was an enlightened soul and rumored to be a hundred and thirty years old.
When young Katju laid eyes on the Guru, he looked no more than forty-five years old with a complexion that glowed with ruddy good health, as if he had fairy lights beneath his skin. He was tall and slender and walked lightly on his feet like a young deer. His aura entered the room much before he did and Katju immediately sensed that the Guru had something important to tell him.
As Katju touched the Guru’s feet, he looked Katju in the eyes and said gently, “You are destined to write a book that will change the world and show humans the path of enlightenment much like what Paramahansa Yogananda did with the ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.”
Katju was only eight years old then and excitedly asked, “How old will I be when I write it Guruji?”
The Guru replied without emotion, “Don’t be in a hurry, son, because it will be the last thing you ever do.”
As Katju reminisced about this childhood event he fell into a deep slumber with only a few pages of ‘Forty Rules of Love’ left. In his dreams, his soul left his body and flew away into the Himalayas. It soon came to rest at the opening of a beautiful cave high up in the mountains. He could hear the sound of a waterfall nearby merging with the whispers of other souls who had come on the same journey. As he got closer and looked at the other souls, he noticed that many of them were his family and friends.
He perched down to rest on a flat-faced rock when suddenly his ethereal body began to vibrate and a great warmth filled it. He looked up to see a three-dimensional film playing where the mouth of the cave had once been. All the other souls began watching the film intently. Katju noticed that the film was about his life and some of his major life events. He began to have an uneasy feeling that he was at a crossroads and that this was a life review.
In the film he saw himself as a twelve-year-old boy skipping school and smoking cigarettes in back alleys and parking lots. He saw himself oversleeping while other kids woke up early to prepare for end-of-term examinations. He saw himself as a renegade making fun of anyone who stuck to the status quo. He saw himself consciously choosing battle-hardened kids with questionable ideals to be his inner circle of friends. He saw himself growing older and choosing a life that was filled with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
He saw other kinder souls in his life offer him work, stability and love but just as he was about to take advantage of these opportunities, temptation got the better of him and he slipped again. He noticed that this cycle of events seemed to be occurring in a continuous loop throughout his life.
The other souls soon began shaking their heads in disapproval at Katju’s choices when suddenly the film went black. Maheshavatar Baba miraculously appeared at the entrance of the cave seated in the lotus position. He had a knowing smile on his face as if he had seen the film before and knew how it would end.
“I have heard your call for a spiritual guide and have decided to give you a companion who will inspire you to write the book you are destined to write,” said Maheshavatar Baba in a gentle, enigmatic voice.
A serenity suddenly enveloped Katju and he knew that everything would be all right from now on.
Katju woke up the next morning with a smile on his face. He went through his morning rituals humming a Pearl Jam song and opened the restaurant at sharp 9 am.
The chef was to arrive soon with the day’s groceries and Katju would help him prepare brunch. As he waited, he walked out to the entrance, erased the specials from the blackboard and wrote in big bold letters, ‘We’re Hiring’. He then put a pot of coffee on and began arranging the cutlery and napkins on the tables.
It was an extremely hot day and not many customers came for either brunch or lunch. The restaurant next door had air conditioning and was filled with eager customers. It was unfortunate because unlike the air-conditioned restaurant, which used Tabasco sauce and ketchup to flavor most of its dishes, Katju’s food had subtle flavors that were the right mix of exotic herbs, vegetables and meats.
At about 3 pm, Katju began shutting up shop for the afternoon when out of nowhere a tall, slim, curly haired woman walked into the restaurant. She wasn’t conventionally beautiful and had a sharp nose and a freckled face. Yet her appearance was striking and she behaved with unabashed confidence as if she were the only person in any space. She spoke with a pronounced British accent and Katju soon realized that she possessed a wisdom way beyond her years.
“I’m here for the summer doing research for a book and I’ll take the job if it’s still available. I can waitress from 10 am to 3 pm and 7 pm to 11 pm. The rest of the time I work on the book. I don’t need cash. You can pay for my shack next door and give me three square meals a day,” she said in a businesslike manner.
“Slow down, lady! What’s your name and what’s this book about?” Katju asked intrigued.
“I’m Natasha and I’m writing a spiritual book that argues for a systemic change in human culture towards a barter system but not just material barter, spiritual barter too,” Natasha replied.
“I’m not sure I follow you. What is spiritual barter?” he asked.
“Let’s put a pin in that for now. We have all summer to discuss it. So do I have the job or not?” she said somewhat mysteriously.
“Sure, I guess. I need someone as soon as possible,” he responded tentatively.
She nodded, smiled and said, “See you tomorrow, hon. Try not to miss me too much while I’m gone.” And she left as quickly as she had entered, leaving a bemused Katju behind, wondering what had hit him.
At 10:30 pm, Katju shut up shop and decided to take a walk on the beach. He would generally walk south towards Morjim but something instinctively told him to walk north towards Mandrem. He had hardly walked five hundred meters north when he saw a figure seated on the sand illuminated by candles. The air around the figure smelt of freshly smoked hashish. As he got closer, he saw Natasha sitting deep in meditation with her eyes closed.
He decided not to disturb her.
Just as he began walking past stealthily, she called out to him without opening her eyes or turning in his direction.
“I was expecting you, Katju. What took you so long?” she asked.
“How do you know my name? I never mentioned it,” he answered in disbelief.
She laughed, stood up slowly, stretched and said, “Maheshavatar Baba sent me. You remember him, don’t you?”
“I dreamt about him last night,” he responded, not sure what to believe.
“Yes, at your life review. I was there. You’ve been a naughty boy, Katju. It’s time to change. Grow a pair and do something meaningful for once,” she goaded him.
“I don’t know who sent you or what you’re doing here but this is just too weird. I’m leaving,” he replied uneasily.
As he turned to leave Natasha took him gently by the hand and suddenly a calmness enveloped him. He felt as if he were being welcomed into a higher consciousness. All his distrust vanished and he experienced a mental clarity he had never had before.
“Come and meditate with me and when you’re ready, I’ll make you meet Maheshavatar Baba and the rest of the guides,” she said excitedly.
“But Maheshavatar Baba is dead,” he responded in disbelief.
“He may have let go of his physical body but his soul lives on. Unlike us, he is enlightened and has escaped from the cycle of life and death. Think of him as a spiritual guide and think of this as an initiation of sorts. You’re destined to write a very important book and you need guidance,” she explained.
Over the next few hours she showed him several meditation techniques, made him let go of his mental blocks and taught him how to tap into a higher energy.
“I think you should sleep now. We’ll start the real work tomorrow,” she said just as the sun was about to rise.
From the next morning, Katju and Natasha began spending every waking moment together. They worked in the restaurant, meditated and had long discourses late into the night.
Finally, after about a month, Natasha said, “I think you’re ready now.” It was a moonless night and, in her traditional circle of candles they sat facing each other.
While in a deep meditational state, she summoned Maheshavatar Baba, who smiled at Katju and said,
“Understand the concept of spiritual barter from Natasha. It will be the premise of your book. When we die, our soul has something known as a life review. In this life review with the help of other souls in our soul packet we choose paths, events and experiences in our upcoming life that dictate our actions and our choices. This system has worked for thousands of years yet we have recently found that the system is flawed in our current time. In our life review, the soul tends to choose the most extreme of circumstances. This causes some to have wealth and power in abundance and others to be disabled both mentally and physically. The spiritual guides want to change the system so that we have ongoing life reviews throughout our lives while being in a conscious state. This way we can make holistic choices or spiritual barters that allow us to lead more balanced lives. Natasha is well versed in the concept. She will explain it to you during her stay. After she leaves you must write the book.”
“But I thought you were writing the book,” Katju said to Natasha on their walk back to the beach shacks.
“No; it is not in my destiny. I have a different path. Think of me as your spiritual guide. Your very own Shams of Tabriz,” responded Natasha kindly.
A week later, she woke Katju early in the morning and they sat on the beach sipping black coffee and watching the sunrise. She was very excited and spoke to him as if he were a little child about to learn the ways of the world.
“Spiritual barter is a concept based solely on elevated consciousness. Our lives are designed like a game of poker. We are each given a set of chips when we start out. Some of us make safe bets and stay in the game while others make dangerous bets and go for the jackpot. Going for the jackpot for you, Katju, could mean being intelligent, healthy, uber-rich, good looking and having many beautiful women by your side. If you win the jackpot you have all of these things and some people in this world do have all of these things. But if you lose all your chips in the beginning of the game you could lose everything – the health, the wealth, the girl and the looks,” Natasha explained.
“But what about karma then? How does that fit into the scheme of things?” asked Katju.
“That’s a stellar question. The law of the universe states that everything must balance out in the long run. So if you lose all your chips at the beginning of this life and are born physically disabled and poor, the universe will have to provide for you in abundance at some point in the future to balance things. After your life of suffering is over and you go into your life review, the spiritual guides will ensure that you will hit the jackpot in your next life and have an abundance of wealth, health and good looks. But this is where the system is really flawed. In order for you to balance your karma and hit the jackpot in your next life, some other poor sod will have to lose all his chips and live a similarly disabled life,” explained Natasha patiently.
“That is absolutely bogus. Who would design such a system?” Katju exclaimed angrily.
“And that’s why the guides are trying to change it through spiritual barter. They want to ensure that you make smaller, safer bets with your limited chips so you can carry on making these bets throughout your life instead of going for all or nothing. As human consciousness is expanding in generation X, Y and Z, the guides are realizing that people can consciously take part in their life reviews, make safer bets and spiritual barters while they are living instead of only doing these things in between one life and the next. The guides want to monitor the flow of chips between humans so that they can be more equitably distributed. They also want to put a limit on the extent of the bet you make in between lives so that you have enough chips left to cash in for good health even if little else comes your way,” Natasha responded.
“So why is it called spiritual barter then?” asked Katju
“Spiritual barter will create an organized system where you can undo some of the bad bets you’ve made before you were born by trading the few things you have in abundance for other things in life that you need more such as good health or food on the table. Spiritual barter even allows you to trade material things such as property or money for non-material things such as health, happiness, an athletic body, etc.,” Natasha said excitedly.
“How is that possible?” asked Katju, by now thoroughly confused.
“Well, let’s take the example of two siblings – let’s call them Rajan and Kiran. Rajan being the only son inherited his parents’ entire estate of one hundred million rupees while Kiran married a poor man and was given nothing. A short while after Rajan received the money, he was diagnosed with cancer and discovered that his wife was having an affair. On the other hand Kiran was poor but full of life, healthy and happily married. She had cashed in her chips for good health and a happy marriage while Rajan had cashed in all his chips for material wealth. Yet this was not a conscious decision because this was how the wealth had been divided by their parents. If Rajan had realized that he was going to lose his health and his wife by trading in all his chips for material wealth he would never have done so. The elevated consciousness in the system of spiritual barter would have allowed him to foresee the situation and gift half the wealth to his sister so that they could both trade in their chips for health, happy marriages and some wealth. This is just a simple example but it gets much more complicated in real life. Spiritual bartering requires an elevated consciousness and active participation,” said Natasha.
“Does that mean that if you don’t lose your chips in between lives and are born with a handful of chips, it’s easier for the guides to guide you?” asked Katju.
“Yes, exactly. The guides have realized that the more chips you have in hand the more elevated your consciousness becomes. Therefore, by distributing the chips more equitably throughout the human race, mass consciousness increases and spiritual barter becomes easier,” responded Natasha with a contented smile.
The rest of the summer flew by and Katju became a changed man. He shed his excess weight, began waking up early and was excited simply to be alive. Natasha had inspired him to become the best version of himself.
Katju became so engrossed in Natasha’s discourses and her world that he forgot that his time with her was limited. Just as the monsoons set in, he woke up early one morning to the sound of raindrops splattering against the roof of his shack and quickly made a pot of coffee. With umbrella and coffee in hand he went to wake up Natasha so that they could watch the rain from the balcony and talk. As he reached her shack he noticed that the door was open. He peered inside to find that Natasha and all of her things were gone. There was a note on her pillow, which read,
Our time together has been nothing short of amazing. I haven’t had this much fun with someone since I was in grade school. It’s time for me to bid you adieu and it’s time for you to write. Remember one thing when you’re writing – write from the heart not from the mind. You have a big, kind heart and you’re full of passion. Transfer the passion onto the page. Email me the draft when you’re done – email@example.com.
After Natasha left, the monsoons arrived in earnest and Katju shut down the restaurant for the rainy season. This gave him a lot of free time to do as he pleased. Two weeks of doing absolutely nothing went by and Katju had not written a word.
One evening, he was craving a glass of pinot noir. He decided to take a bike ride to Arambol and buy a bottle of French pinot noir from Jana, a Russian woman who sold some of the best international wines. As he was riding it became dark and started drizzling. The narrow road to Arambol wasn’t lit and visibility was almost zero.
Something told him to turn his bike around and go home. As he was about to do so, a jeep came speeding towards him. It was swerving from left to right. The driver had clearly lost control. Katju had about a second to react as the jeep was about to hit him. To save himself, he impulsively turned to the left and rode straight off the road.
As luck would have it there was a huge pile of sand on that side of the road and his bike got stuck in it. He was flung off the bike and landed safely on his buttocks on the soft sand. As he hit the sand, he blacked out and all he could hear was Natasha screaming, “Don’t waste any more time. Write the book now.”
He immediately went home and began writing. He didn’t leave his shack for ten days. He didn’t sleep or eat. He drank black coffee and wrote on his laptop. As he wrote, the words started pouring out of him as if by divine grace. He experienced a mental clarity he had never known before. Even before he finished writing he knew that these pages would make him immortal. The book would change the tenets of human society and would create a better world for many generations to come. After he finished the last page, a profound sadness enveloped him and he wrote an email to Natasha.
Herein is the book you inspired me to write. Writing it has given me more joy than anything else I have done in my forty-five years of life. Meeting you was a close second. Yet as I finish these pages I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel as if I have served my life’s purpose. What now for me? You’re my Shams of Tabriz. Do tell!
After sending the email, a sudden hunger overcame him and he decided to take a walk to Morjim beach and get a hamburger. It was 10 pm. If he was lucky he would make it to Burger Factory before it closed.
He walked out into the street lost in thought. The restaurant was twenty minutes away. He felt Maheshavatar Baba’s presence close to him, almost as if he were walking by his side. His mind travelled back to the first time they had met at Ranikhet and he kept replaying the event in his head. He turned a bend in the road and suddenly saw headlights blazing towards him. A speeding jeep appeared, swerved off the road and ploughed into him head on. The driver was heavily inebriated and on hallucinogenic substances. He had lost control of the vehicle.
But Katju had a serene smile on his face when the paramedics took his body away.