Friday, 6 February 2015

Faking it

Hakim, the fakir was renowned throughout India as a wise old mystic and in his later years he was much-consulted by Mahatma Gandhi as he pondered the nation’s fate and the great passive resistance campaign against the British Empire. In fact it was Hakim, in 1906, who had first proposed and then helped Ghandi develop the principle of satyagraha, or insistence on truth, which sustained his resolve and eventually brought independence to the nation.

Hakim’s was not an easy life. Born as a humble Dalit, outside the caste system, his life chances were limited; the best ‘untouchables’ could hope for was an existence unmarred by violence and resentment in the hope that they might return as a barely improved Shudra and live to serve the higher castes. But Hakim took another path and set out to travel the length and breadth of Mother India and give himself over to the spiritual life.

It was during this long sojourn that he first met Bapu, the future father of India on one of his own long exploratories; Gandhi later adopted Hakim’s humble mode of dress and Hakim gifted the Mahatma his own hardy sandals. From that time on, Hakim strode barefoot about his mission, his feet becoming gnarled and horny as a result. Their paths were to cross many times and Gandhi would occasionally seek out the older man’s counsel when his burden became too great to share alone.

They would spend many hours in meditation and then retreat to a simple hut to quietly consult. It was in these close confines that Gandhi first became aware of the old man’s only difficult feature. On a diet consisting almost exclusively of lentils, Hakim was a flatulent old fakir, but far worse than his trombonic flatus, when the old mystic beckoned Bapu lean in to hear a whisper, the full force of his truly appalling breath became almost too much to bear. Seeing the reaction, Hakim grew angry at himself for subjecting the Great Soul to such abuse and vowed to exile himself from the company of man.

Hakim grew older and Gandhi became busier and by 1935 they saw each other but rarely and never in close company. The last time they met was on the fakir’s death bed and Gandhi was ushered into the rude bedchamber to see the wizened old man as he breathed his last noxious breath. Gandhi stood vigil at his side and surveyed the skeletal body; the leathery skin, feet scarred by a thousand miles of barefoot endeavour and that kindly face, smiling even as he neared death. One last sulphurous burp and Hakim was finally gone from the world.

Bapu, the Great Soul
Fancy a stroll

The loyal servant of India was afforded a simple grave and an equally simple ceremony, which Gandhi attended to deliver the eulogy. Amid the tiny gathering Bapu praised the old man’s simple life and credited him with originating much of his own philosophy. At the end they all kneeled and bowed their heads to say a silent prayer and offer their last farewells to the super-calloused fragile mystic, vexed by halitosis.


  1. See that picture of Homer Simpson in your 'About Me' bit? That's me. Now.