Satyam was his “spiritual name.”
Back home in Canada he was probably an awkward Alan or a socially-inept Ian.
But at this Westernized ashram in India, he was Satyam.
At mealtimes, he patrolled the dining hall, ordering people into uniform rows and attempting to squelch all speech.
Um, Om Namah Shivaya, he’d say over the microphone, twisting his ankles and fidgeting.
Hello, Om? Yeah, um, we usually don’t talk in the dining hall during meals, so, could you like, keep silence? Okay, thanks. Om.
His eyes were ice blue, his gaze slightly hostile. Asking him a question invariably resulted in awkward hand fluttering, cutting looks that communicated his displeasure at being bothered, and a final inconclusive answer.
Though Satyam was a cold motherfucker, he was also strangely empty. Zombified. I sometimes wondered if these so-called “spiritual leaders” had been poisoned or hypnotized. On their paths to enlightenment, they had acquired a queer, blank-looked expression in their eyes.
One day, I needed to print some visa documents. The printer in the shop was broken, so the girl at reception directed me to the back office. Stepping into the office, I encountered Satyam. Uh oh. He was sitting in a wheelie chair, intently web-surfing. He looked up, startled.
Hi, I said, noticing the empty computers just waiting to be used. Satyam looked at me with those expressionless blue eyes, and I couldn’t tell if he hated me or was just looking through me. He didn’t utter any encouraging words, so after a moment of silence, I continued.
The printer downstairs is broken, and I was told that I could print out a visa document here. Would that be alright?
He stared at me blankly. After a moment, he seemed to shake himself out and wake up.
He wet his lips and raised an eyebrow. I was clearly infringing on his territory.
They told you WHAT? he asked.
I repeated myself.
He stared coldly.
Then he turned back to the screen and seemed to direct all of his negativity towards it. His lips moved violently, though no sound came out, and I noticed they were very tight and white around the edges.
WHO exactly told you that you could use the printer? he asked, as I took the seat he was so loathe to offer me.
It was the American girl, I said simply. Satya.
I knew that he would instantly figure out the offender’s identity if I didn’t tell him. He made a disgusted sound, and began jabbing at the phone with his bony white finger. He straightened up, put his hand on his hip and waited, tangibly emanating bad vibes in my direction. I was somewhere between mild discomfort and growing annoyance, but I tried to focus on the task at hand. Then his voice broke in.
Um hi, Satya? It’s Satyam.
Um, yeah, there’s a girl in here, and she said that you said she could print some documents…?
Um, yeah, well actually, that’s not okay.
He was standing a foot away, speaking directly in my direction.
Oh, the other printer’s broken? Okay, well, yeah, I understand that, but you’ll just have to direct people to the next town over if they want to print things, because we can’t just have students coming back here any time they want and printing stuff, okay?
I kept typing.
Yeah, okay, well, I just thought that you should know that. Okay, yeah, thanks. I mean, you’re welcome.
Satyam fumbled on the phone for a moment, his sudden burst of courage and valor draining from him. Then his voice changed and he did something that made me want to laugh and puke at the same time.
Ommmm… he sang sweetly into the phone.
I’d had enough. I stood up, shouldered my bag and walked out the door.
Um, so, did you get to print that document? Satyam called to my retreating back.
No, I said. I’ll just do it in the next town over.
He nervously fingered the edge of his white dhoti.
Well, it’s um, okay if you want to print it here, he offered in a small voice. He reminded me of a prissy little brother who has just gotten you in trouble and kind of feels bad.
I shook my head.
No, I’d rather not, I replied, and turned away from his strange, spluttering alien sounds.
Despite the cost and inconvenience of traveling to the next town over, I felt mildly vindicated. I hadn’t taken Satyam’s spiritually-devoid bullshit.