Bonnie in Bodhgaya

By Nandini Sarkar

May 2014

In this charming short story, Nandini Sarkar traces the pilgrimmage of three friends to Bodhgaya, and the insights it offers them

bonni in budhgaya

Bonnie groaned and banged her head on the pile of Bare Acts stacked on her table. It was 9 pm and a senior partner had emailed her, asking for an immediate brief. One more day of reaching home at 11 pm!

Shanta looked up sympathetically. “Need help?”

“Loads of it,” said Bonnie in a muffled voice. “I didn’t bargain to become bonded labour when I joined Asia’s largest law firm. I haven’t seen the sunrise or sunset in the whole year that I’ve been here; I am on the verge of a burn-out.”

Shanta tapped Bonnie playfully on the head, “Pallavi and I are off for a weekend trip to Bodhgaya, historic site of the Buddha’s enlightenment; why not join us? Maybe you too will get enlightened!” Bonnie looked up with alacrity, “Will I get leave?” “Trust me,” said Shanta, and returned triumphantly after some time. “Leave approved!”

Shanta was in the midst of a spiritual search after her brother’s sudden death. Pallavi had witnessed the traumatic end to a six-year relationship. Both were exploring Buddhism.

“I have a vague recollection that the Buddha never spoke of God. Then why do Buddhists believe in pilgrimage?” asked Bonnie.

“The Buddha was no dry monk, preaching the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and expecting people to follow like robots. Demonstrating a great, loving heart, he spent 45 years after attaining Nirvana with the lay public, encouraging and teaching. The Buddha saw pilgrimage as a way to reinforce his message when he was not around and said: ‘There are four places, the sight of which will arouse strong emotions in those with faith. Here the Tathagata was born; here the Tathagata attained enlightenment; here the Tathagata set in motion the Wheel of Dharma; here the Tathagata attained final Nirvana. The person who has faith should visit these places.’”

The trio arrived at Gaya station on a Friday morning and enjoyed the 15-km drive from Gaya to Bodhgaya.Vast stretches of fields lay on either side of the road, and small hillocks dotted the countryside. Sun-kissed white kash flowers bloomed in the
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