„Lying down to sleep on the earthen riverbank, I thought, Vrindavan is attracting my heart like no other place. What is happening to me? Please reveal Your divine will. With this prayer, I drifted off to sleep.
Before dawn, I awoke to the ringing of temple bells, signaling that it was time to begin my journey to Hardwar. But my body lay there like a corpse. Gasping in pain, I couldn’t move. A blazing fever consumed me from within, and under the spell of unbearable nausea, my stomach churned. Like a hostage, I lay on that riverbank. As the sun rose, celebrating a new day, I felt my life force sinking. Death that morning would have been a welcome relief. Hours passed.
At noon, I still lay there. This fever will surely kill me, I thought.
Just when I felt it couldn’t get any worse, I saw in the overcast sky something that chilled my heart. Vultures circled above, their keen sights focused on me. It seemed the fever was cooking me for their lunch, and they were just waiting until I was well done. They hovered lower and lower. One swooped to the ground, a huge black and white bird with a long, curving neck and sloping beak. It stared, sizing up my condition, then jabbed its pointed beak into my ribcage. My body recoiled, my mind screamed, and my eyes stared back at my assailant, seeking pity. The vulture flapped its gigantic wings and rejoined its fellow predators circling above. On the damp soil, I gazed up at the birds as they soared in impatient circles. Suddenly, my vision blurred and I momentarily blacked out. When I came to, I felt I was burning alive from inside out. Perspiring, trembling, and gagging, I gave up all hope.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps approaching. A local farmer herding his cows noticed me and took pity. Pressing the back of his hand to my forehead, he looked skyward toward the vultures and, understanding my predicament, lifted me onto a bullock cart. As we jostled along the muddy paths, the vultures followed overhead. The farmer entrusted me to a charitable hospital where the attendants placed me in the free ward. Eight beds lined each side of the room. The impoverished and sadhu patients alike occupied all sixteen beds. For hours, I lay unattended in a bed near the entrance. Finally that evening the doctor came and, after performing a series of tests, concluded that I was suffering from severe typhoid fever and dehydration. In a matter-of-fact tone, he said, “You will likely die, but we will try to save your life.”“
Republished on The Journey Home website.
The Journey Home: Autobiography of an American Swami (Tulsi Books, 2010)