Ashtavakra comes to the rescue of Shivaji Museum

15th April, 2010

It was one of the hottest days in Pune. The scorching wind blew in our face.

And gray dust too: we had been drilling the whole day for water, near the peepul tree that His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had planted two months earlier during the Bhoomi puja ceremony of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum of Indian History.

But in vain. The huge mechanized bit dug 20 feet, 50, 100. But it was just hard rock. Slowly, as the diesel engine of the drilling truck deafened us, the stone chips gave way to a grey dust that was penetrating everywhere: our eyes, nostrils, clothes and was even laying a thick film on our beautiful bougainvilleas which we thought would die. 150 feet, 250, 400, 405... At 7.30 pm, as darkness engulfed us, we reconciled ourselves that we will not find water and that the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum of Indian History would have to be built elsewhere.

Next day, Ashtavakra came. He was a priest from a nearby mandir. A dwarf, with a misshapen body, stunted limbs, and a distorted face, that didn’t even allow him to speak clearly. He was also a water diviner and our last chance. Bare headed in the blistering sun, barefoot on the rocky, thorny earth, he took out a packet from a fold of his dhoti; closed his eyes and let some vhibuti ashes fly in the wind. And then, unhesitatingly, he walked towards the mouth of the well we had dug the day before. Out of the corner of his mouth, he said in Marathi:

- There is water here.
- Impossible, we all replied, not a drop of water came out yesterday and we drilled 405 feet.

Ashtavakra just smiled, picked up a stone and dropped it in the opening of the tube.

We all bent forward and heard the stone drop for a long time. It ricocheted on the walls of the PVC pipe laid by the workers, then bounced off noisily the narrower GI pipes. And after what seemed an eternity, we heard distinctly the splash of the stone hitting a deep source of water. We could not believe our ears and thought our tiredness had deluded us. So again Ashtavakra smilingly picked up a stone and dropped it. And again, after a long, long ricocheting fall we heard, the magic splash, its echo reverberated by 405 feet of narrow acoustic.

Like children, we all laughed and hugged each other. And all of us kept throwing stones in the well and laughed even harder when we heard the splatter of the stones hitting deep water 405 below our feet.

When we were saturated. We turned around to thank Ashtavakra.

But he had gone...

- Francois Gautier