I was wandering the dried out bed of the Yamuna river in Agra when I found Amardas. Wild looking hair and little clothes to speak of, it was apparent he was a sadhu, or Hindu holy man. As soon as we made eye contact he motioned to come and sit with him. So I did. I've waited to share his story until now, because I was intrigued, and had wanted to return and find out more. But my travels and other projects have and will continue to prevent me from returning to Agra, so I will share what I know from my encounter with this man.
It seems that from a young age, Amardas was enthralled with things spiritual. As a boy of only 8 years, he left home and became a disciple of a guru at a Hindu temple in Vrindivar. Turning from the life his parents wanted for him of success, career, achievement, marriage, and comfort, he desired to worship. To live a life in worship.
As a teenager, he made up his mind that he was going to take money from the rich and give it to the poor. He joined a gang, and they supplied him with a gun. He attempted to rob a doctor in a tuk-tuk, only to find that the briefcase the doctor was carrying had nothing but papers inside, and at that moment god spoke to him. He realized the wickedness of his actions, and that money would never fulfill him. He threw the gun in the river and set out to seek what it meant to truly know god.
In the hour I was with him, I was unable to understand the rest of his life beyond the present. The conversation drifted and bounced around, Amardas spoke quickly, not giving any break for my friend to translate his Hindi into English. What I do know, is that he found his way to Agra and spends most of his time there. Now in his fifties, he can neither read nor write, but cares for orphans and the homeless, helping all who ask for it in whatever way he can. He bathes in the Yamuna river each morning, and worships at a small temple on the banks. He has stories of spirits and ghosts, souls of the dead that have unfinished business from the cremation ghats nearby that wander through the river at night. He dodges venomous snakes that live in the river bed, trusting god will wake him in the night should he be in danger. In the monsoon season, he lives across the street from the river. He sleeps in the open, and in the temple when it rains (or is too cold), exercises regularly, and eats when he can from the charity of others.
Amardas said some things that I find beautiful: we are all one big family, all of humanity. He thinks often about the world, how people are divided. Muslims and Hindus fighting, countries divided, but as he traveled throughout India, he found that we are all really the same. That there is no distinction between black, brown, white, Muslim, Hindu, American, or Indian. We all toil, and we all need love. And we all turn to dust at the end of our lives no matter what we achieve while alive. As a photographer, one of the things I want to do with my work is show the human moments, the human elements, the things that make us who we are. I love photographing people, because I believe we are the image of something greater. I want to know what it means to be a human being on earth, in all of our faults, failures, differences, and beauty. And I want to put it in front of my lens and capture it. It's why I found Amardas's story so intriguing.