As the talk veers towards the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—Nathu Ram himself is wearing a mask—he says that “for me the world itself has been a mahamari (pandemic) but I don’t try to run from it.
Nathu Ram hasn’t been in touch with relatives and friends for a long time. He wonders if his parents are still alive.
Even so, “I feel no anxiety,” he says.
This morning Nathu Ram is walking through a central Delhi bazaar. The shops are still shuttered. The market arcades are empty except for stray dogs sleeping around here and there. Which is fine: Nathu Ram says he is detached from the world.
Indeed, he’s partly dressed in the attire of a mystic—he has a saffron turban. He spends his day wandering around city lanes, singing devotionals and playing music in his ektara (which he’s holding in his hand, but not playing for the moment); and receiving tributes of money and sometimes fruit from people who appreciate his rendition of popular bhajans.
Not wishing to disclose where he sleeps at night, Nathu Ram admits that he isn’t completely cut off from “duniyadari (worldliness). “I depend on people to give me money and food… I still have one moh (attraction) left in the world, my ektara.”
A native of Alwar, Nathu Ram acquired the stringed instrument “many, many years ago” in a Rajasthan town whose name he can’t remember. The instrument is patched up with cello tape at various places.
The street musician refuses to share his age but says “I left my home to be a baba when I was very young.” Never feeling the urge to meet his family again, Nathu Ram says that “when a man becomes a baba, he grow apart from his parents, his brothers, his sisters, his wife if he has any.” Indeed, during the course of his wanderings Nathu Ram has passed through Alwar many times but he never thought of “taking up the street that goes to my home.”
As the talk veers towards the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—Nathu Ram himself is wearing a mask—he says that “for me the world itself has been a mahamari (pandemic) but I don’t try to run from it.” He explains—“I have no hope, so no fear… I’m in no hurry to die or to live… I look after my health but not worried for the day when I’ll be ill.”
He now walks away, still not playing his ektara.