01 May, 2011

"The Standing Babas" in the novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

By Jorge Reyes

I am reading an almost 1,000 page novel titled Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The basic plot of the book, loosely based on the author's own life, is about a man who escapes from prison in Australia (where he was serving a 19-year sentence for armed robbery, which he committed to maintain his heroin addiction) before fleeing to India. By fleeing, he in essence becomes a lifelong fugitive. In India, among many things, he reinvents himself and becomes a "doctor" for people living in a Bombay slum of twenty five thousand families.

The novel, full of amazing stories within stories, describes a religious sect known as the Standing Babas, who have vowed to remain standing for many years. Here's a quote from the book about them.

''Bajrang Das, a 'standing' baba, who never sits down, day and night. He sleeps standing too, hanging over this swing. A metal chastity belt covers his genitals.

''A ‘standing’ Baba, who is called khareshwari, has taken the vow not to sit or lie down for twelve years. He may rest one leg by hanging it in the sling under his swing. It is a painful austerity: the swollen legs and feet tend to develop persistent ulcers.

''Khareshwaris may walk about, but usually just hang in their swing in their corner -- and stand.''

I have yet to finish reading this beautifully crafted and complex novel. But thinking that the standing babas was a fictional ploy, I researched them online and to my even greater disbelief I discovered that the standing babas are real.

As I quoted above, members of this religious group actually make a vow never to sit, not even to sleep. They stand for a specified number of years, 12 years seems to be the target, or they commit themselves never to sit for the remaining of their lives.  To read that particular chapter on the standing babas is to almost to feel the pain and misery these people must endure for their religious beliefs. 

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