Hands Down the Most Ridiculous Story I’ve Ever Heard

From Radhanath Swami’s book The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami, which chronicles Swami’s years traveling around India in search of a spiritual guru:

In Kandahar, the people greeted me warmly.  One man in particular, Hariz, took a special interest in me.  tall and well groomed, he was an educated man who had acquired wealth and respect in the trading business.  Through his economic ventures and holidays, he frequently traveled abroad.  After guiding me on a tour of Kandahar, he invited me into his spacious home.  One quiet night while we sat on his rooftop terrace engaged in a philosophical discussion, he calmly said, “Mr. Richard, please excuse me for a brief moment, I have an obligation to attend to.”  Suddenly, he jumped up from his chair, cocked his head to the moon and began to howl like a wolf, “Aaauuuwww, aaauuuwww, aaauuuwww.”  What was going on?  Had this distinguished gentleman gone mad?  He grabbed a long rope with a loop at the end, raced to the edge of his rooftop and hurled it down to the road.  What in the world was he doing?  With rapt attention, he slowly reeled the rope in.  To my amazement, he had fished up a wriggling rodent the size and shape of a ferret.  I watched in wonder.  This was a mongoose, which, it turned out, wandered the town by day, and each evening, responded to Hariz’s howl, by crawling into the loop of the rope, where he was hoisted up, and spent the night on the roof.  As my friend and I resumed speaking, I felt the mongoose scaling up my back with his sharp pointed claws.  He crawled under my long hair until he reached my head.  There, he burrowed himself in my thick locks, making his nest, and went to sleep.  Feeling his warm body deeply breathing on my head, I experienced another kind of culture shock.

I looked to my host for help.  “What do I do now?”

My friend laughed.  “Mr. Richard, he found a good nest in your hair.”

My neck felt as if it were breaking from his weight.  “Please take him off.”

Hariz became serious.  Under the starlit night, he sipped his tea and narrowed his eyes, warning me, “There is an ancient truth: Never wake up a sleeping mongoose.”  He set the teacup on the table and told me the animal was sacred to the ancient Egyptians.  “The mongoose is a ferocious killer when angered.  In battle, a mongoose will slay the cobra, the deadliest of serpents and symbol of death.”  Hariz sipped his tea again and leaned back, “If you suddenly wake him, he may tear your head to shreds.  Mr. Richard, do not even slightly move until he leaves on his own.”

Hours passed as I sat motionless, fearing for my life.  From time to time, the mongoose moved, digging his claws into my scalp.  Hariz could no longer stay awake, so with many apologies, he left to sleep.  I sat alone now.  That dark sleepless night in Kandahar seemed never to end.  My neck throbbed with pain, but I was too terrified to move.  The mongoose on my  head was like a time bomb that could explode at any second.  I was quickly losing the attachment I had to my long hair.  If only the immigration officers in England had acted on their threat to shave my head, life would be so much safer tonight.

I tried to console myself.  At least someone appreciated my hair!  But the mongoose had not come alone.  Ravenous insects started biting into my scalp, obliterating these noble thoughts.  Why was this happening to me?  Feeling my vulnerability, I strained to control my emotions.  Then, contemplating, I tried to make sense of it all.  I realized that our free will could convert a curse into a blessing or a blessing into a curse.  Yes, ludicrous as it was, this mongoose may have been sent to teach me the sacred virtue of patience and forbearance.  To bear difficulty and turn to God was a priceless blessing.  To transform a crisis into an opportunity was true wisdom.

The rest of the night was spent in an unusual state of gratitude.  Little did I know that what the mongoose taught me about crisis would give me strength in the hard times that awaited me.  By the time the sun finally rose, my uninvited guest had enjoyed a good six hours of sound sleep.  He awoke, crawled down my back, and jumped to the floor.  He then did something that moved my heart: the mongoose stared at me with an innocent affection as if thanking me for my hospitality.  turning from me, he crawled into the loop of the rope where Hariz, who had just awakened, lowered him down to the street for another day.

Hariz smiled at me.  “Mr. Richard, I beg forgiveness for the inconvenience you suffered.  Nothing like that ever happened in my home before.  But please be happy to know that in our culture it is a pious deed to offer hospitality to one of our mongooses and you did so without any of the mechanical formalities.  This morning he looked so happy and well rested.”

My aching neck numb from strain and sleeplessness, I considered his words.  Had I heard him say mongooses, in the plural?  I decided I really didn’t want to be around the next time he cocked his head toward the sky and howled like a wolf.  Scratching my bug bitten head and itching to move on, I sighed.  “Hariz, thank you very much.  You’ve already done so much for me.  But I think I best be on my way.”


One Response to “Hands Down the Most Ridiculous Story I’ve Ever Heard”

  1. Matthew Levy Says:

    This happened to me in Greenwich once. Strange evening.

    On Monday, 15 August 2016, Itinerantdaughters Blog wrote:

    > itinerantdaughter posted: “From Radhanath Swami’s book The Journey Home: > Autobiography of an American Swami, which chronicles Swami’s years > traveling around India in search of a spiritual guru: In Kandahar, the > people greeted me warmly. One man in particular, Hariz, took a specia” >

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