Karan Bajaj is the #1 bestselling author of Keep off the Grass (2008) and Johnny Gone Down (2010). He was selected among India Today’s 35 Under 35 Indians and nominated for the Crossword Book of the Year, Indiaplaza Golden Quill and Teacher’s Indian Achievers (Arts) Awards. Born and raised in the Indian Himalayas, Karan now lives and works in New York. His interests in travel and Eastern mysticism are key writing inspirations.
The Seeker (Penguin India, 2015) was inspired by Karan’s one-year sabbatical backpacking from Europe to India by road and learning yoga and meditation in the Himalayas. It will be published under the title The Yoga of Max’s Discontent by Penguin Random House US in 2016, and is Karan’s first international release. Below you can read an excerpt from The Seeker. Courtesy: Karan Bajaj
This excerpt is from when Max, the protagonist, leaves the ashram where he has learned yoga in the south of India.
His ATM access had indeed been blocked due to account inactivity. They needed the exact amounts and dates of his last three ATM withdrawals to verify his identity.
“Is there another way?” said Max. “I haven’t withdrawn money in years. It will be hard to tell the exact dates.”
“I realize the difficulty, Mr. Pzoras, but Capital One bank’s international fraud protection policies aim at safeguarding customers’ interests first and foremost,” said the efficient male voice. “Alternatively, we request a notarized letter stating your reason for not using the bank account. We will process it within seven business days of receipt and reopen the account.”
Fraud protection. Safeguarding. Notarized. Process. The words of the world sounded heavy and difficult. Max paused, trying to understand everything.
“Notarized by whom?” he said eventually.
“Any recognizable US body. Like an embassy or a consulate in your country of travel,” the voice said.
The nearest consulate was probably in Chennai, another ten hours away and there would probably be more red tape there. Nor did he have money to get there. The yogic test had been performed. Max was now clear that it would utilize far less prana to perform samyama, a blend of deep concentration and meditation resulting in complete merging with the object of focus, on the withdrawal dates. In the last year, Ramakrishna had taught him to practice samyama on his body to understand the working of the cells that made up his vital organs and the interconnected masses of veins and nerves that supplied blood and nutrients to them. Knowing his body would allow him to keep it fit and functioning, making it a sturdy temple to worship the soul within. Now, Max would concentrate on his memory with the same intensity.
“Could you hold for just a minute?” he asked.
Max closed his eyes, shutting out the curious crowd outside. He inhaled and exhaled, concentrating on the Ajna Chakra in the center of his forehead, the storehouse of all memory. First, he drowned out the lingering images of leaving Ramakrishna and the previous twenty four hours of walking and bus journeys. Next, he zoned in on the ATM trips he had made more than three years ago, and finally, he retained his breath, flowing his entire living, breathing energy, his prana towards the Ajna Chakra, merging with the man who walked into the ATMs many years ago.
He opened his eyes, weak and breathless. His shirt was soaked with perspiration. He gripped the phone tight so that it didn’t slip from his sweaty grip and rested his head against the stained glass door.
“Dec 3rd, 2010, 4:57 p.m. EST. New York. $200.
Dec 9th, 2010, 12:31 p.m. Rishikesh, Indian Rupees 20,000, US $443.75.
July14th, 2011, 2:19 p.m. Pavur, Tamil Nadu, Indian Rupees 100,000, US $1907.30.”
“Yes, yes, yes, exactly right. Date and withdrawal amounts are both correct. I don’t have the exact time or place printed in front of me. Thank you for confirming, Mr. Pzoras. Your account is now unblocked,” the customer service representative said. He paused. “I can’t believe you’ve kept the receipts all these years. I wish I was that organized,” he added in a slightly embarrassed tone.
Max thanked him and set the phone down. The crowd watching him outside had swelled. Max stepped out of the phone booth and sat down on the side of the road. He felt dizzy and depleted. If remembering three dates had taken so much concentration, so much prana, how much more would walking on water and levitating demand? Yes, Max could do much if he performed deep samyama on something. But Ramakrishna was right. Pursuing extraordinary powers broke the laws of nature and distracted one from the goal. Every breath spent on clinging to the earthly realm took energy away from merging with the divine. Just like sending waves of prana to heal Sophia from afar had left him weak and feverish for months. Now he understood his urge to finally leave Ramakrishna more than a year after his kundalini had awakened. The veil separating him from pure consciousness had thinned, but to penetrate any further into it, he would have to conduct his own experiments with truth. Only when he verified the knowledge he had received with his own experience would it fuse into his every breath.
“Photo, photo, photo.”
People jostled to sit beside him on the pavement. They put their arms around him and asked their companions to click pictures on their phones with Max. One, two, ten, twenty, Max clicked pictures with kids, shopkeepers, vegetable vendors, newspaper sellers and their customers, too weak to resist their attention. He recovered his breath after more than an hour and walked back to the ATM. This time, his card worked. He withdrew the money he wanted, bought pens for the kids from one of the newspaper sellers, and began walking towards the railway station.
People rushed towards him.
“Thank you, Thank you, Jesus Christ. Come again, Jesus Christ,” shouted the delighted kids, shaking his hands.
The vegetable vending women touched his feet. “Bless, bless.”
A legless beggar on a wooden cart scrambled next to him. He tugged Max’s cargo pants, urging him to put his hands on his head.
The phone booth owner prostrated in front of him.
More people joined him. Now, a crowd of folks lay before him.
“Stop, please stop,” said Max surprised and still dizzy.
“God, God, God,” chanted a short, fat woman in a yellow saree.
Others picked up the chant. More people joined them.
The noise overwhelmed him. “No, I’m nobody. Stop, stop, please stop,” said Max.
A woman in a bright dress came forward and showed him her small phone-camera with the picture she had just taken.
“Look, you are God. Light. Shining,” she said.
Max looked at the image on the woman’s phone.
He smiled and exhaled slowly.
Ramakrishna had taught him well. Despite the holes in his well-worn clothes, his unkempt hair and tired face, Max’s skin glowed like a lamp—though it was a pale reflection of the ethereal glow on Ramakrishna’s skin. There was a lot more distance to cover.
“No, not God,” said Max. “Just a yogi. Or trying to be one.”
He walked away from the surging crowd, towards the railway station.