The life of a sadhu
There's little to do when a baby is born with fever – not meaning fever of the ordinary sort but of a spiritual kind. When Santosh Chandra Kumar was born with fever most of a century ago in Manikganj, his parents considered it a miracle.
His father ran a rice wholesale business in Aricha. Together with his mother he accepted that his newborn son was blessed. They refused to let him cut his hair.
As a young man, Kumar disappeared suddenly from his family home to begin his geographic and spiritual journey.
Some twenty years ago it led him to Shahargachhi village in Dinajpur's Ghoraghat. He still lives there, in a tiny hut on a small plot of land donated by the local administration – part of a cemetery in a community peopled by ethnic minorities.
As he never married, Kumar lives alone.
“The villagers caught me,” he says to explain the cessation of his wanderings. His life had changed by then: no longer was he Santosh Chandra Kumar. He'd become Ranjeet Babu, a Hindu ascetic, called a sadhu, which literally means “good man”.
He never cut his hair. Ranjeet Babu, who says he is over eighty years old, has thickly matted locks that measure twelve feet and are so bulky he carries the final portion in a cloth pouch.
“There's something spiritual about him,” says one of his neighbours, senior village police officer Sree Jamlal Robidas, 60.
According to Robidas when Ranjeet Babu first arrived, local police made enquiries in Manikganj and ascertained he was of good character. They also located his family, but when asked if they wished to reconnect with their son, they said they had long since forgotten him.
Their reply is unsurprising in the case of a sadhu, whose focus is on meditation and contemplation of brahmacharya, the unchanging reality of the world and beyond – although it is said brahman cannot be fully defined. A sadhu's aim is to reach the fourth and final stage of life, in the process achieving liberation called mokha. Theirs is a life of renunciation.
There are up to five million sadhus in India forming different sects. They are considered to be dead unto themselves. Becoming a sadhu sometimes involves attending one's own funeral. They are legally dead to the country of India. As such, perhaps Ranjeet Babu's Earthly age is of no consequence.
It is usual for sadhus to adopt a new name. It is not out of the ordinary for them to reside in cemeteries. Some believe they can commune with ghosts.
Sometimes Ranjeet Babu receives visitors who cook his food. At other times the local community provides it.
The community constructed a small Kali temple beside his hut and gave him rings of panna (emerald) stone, which is believed to keep one cool.
Asked what a good life is, Ranjeet Babu expresses concern. “Who's asking?” he says, “I can't say it openly.”
“I'm living a hard life,” he continues, “for others to have a good one. I want that everyone should be happy. I am nothing.”