In Love With Buddha
My next major spiritual adventure occurred when I was about thirteen. It started when I saw a picture of the Buddha in a history book at school. This picture illustrated the period of his life when he tried to live on only one grain of rice a day. The face was very beautiful but the body was skeleton-like, all skin and bone. I immediately felt a great attraction to him, even though I didn’t then know anything about his teachings. I simply fell in love with his beautiful face and decided that I should try to emulate him. In the picture he was meditating under a tree.
I didn’t know that at the time, in fact I didn’t even know what meditation was. Undeterred, I thought, ‘I can do that. I can sit crosslegged under a tree. I can be like him.’
So I began to sit in a cross-legged position in our garden under some rose bushes that grew there, happy and content that I was harmonising my lifestyle with this person I had fallen in love with.
Then, to increase the similarity even more, I decided that I should try to make my body resemble his skeleton-like frame. At that time in our house we would collect our food from our mother before going off to eat it separately. This made it easy for me to throw my meals away. When no one was looking I would go outside and give all my food to the dogs in the street. After some time I managed to stop eating completely.I became so weak and thin, eventually my bones began to stick out, just like the Buddha’s. That made me very happy and I became very proud of my new state. My classmates at school made my day by nicknaming me ‘the Buddha’ because they could see how thin I was getting.
My father worked for the railways. At this particular period of his life he was working in Baluchistan as a stationmaster. Because his job was a long way away, we only ever saw him when he came home on leave. About a month after my fasting began he came home on one of his regular visits and was shocked at how thin I had got during his absence. He took me off to see various doctors and had them examine me in order to find out what was wrong. None of them suspected that I was deliberately fasting. One of them told my father, ‘He is growing tall very quickly, that is why he is getting so thin. Give him good food, lots of milk and dry fruits.’
My mother followed the advice, adding a bit of her own: every day she would say, ‘Eat more butter, eat more butter’. The dogs on the street got very fat and happy because the new diet went the same way as the old one.
My mother only had three saris. One day, fairly soon after I had taken the white one, she washed the other two and started looking for the third because she needed to wear it. Of course, she couldn’t find it anywhere. She never asked me about it because, since I was not a girl, it did not occur to her that I might have had any possible use for it. She eventually decided that she must have given it to the dhobi,and that he had lost it or forgotten to return it.
The final phase of my Buddha impersonations came when I discovered that he used to preach sermons in public places. This excited me because it was a new facet of his life that I could copy. I knew absolutely nothing about Buddhism, but the thought that this might be a handicap when I stood up to preach never occurred to me.
There was a clock-tower in the middle of our town and near it was a raised platform where all the local politicians used to give their speeches. It was very much the centre of Faisalabad because all the routes to other towns radiated out from it. I put on my usual disguise, strode confidently up the steps, and began to give my first public speech. I cannot recollect anything that I said—it couldn’t have been anything about Buddhism because I knew absolutely nothing about it—but I do remember that I delivered my speech with great flair and panache. I harangued the passers-by with great gusto, occasionally raising my arm and wagging my finger to emphasise the points I was making. I had seen the politicians gesture like that when they made their speeches.