The year was 2014 and the beginning of winter in Varanasi. During my usual stroll along the ghats of Kashi in search of photo-stories, I came across Baba Shiv Das enjoying the warmth of the rising sun with a cup of tea in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The instinctive photographer in me couldn’t resist clicking a few candid shots, though I had an apprehension about the invasion of privacy. To my shock, the Baba suddenly turned his head, gave me an intense gaze, showed a gesture with his index finger and called, “Hey! Come here.” Ignoring my gut feeling about certain arrogant Sadhus in the past, I took a decision to meet him. To my surprise, he was very kind, peaceful, soft-spoken and advised me that it is an inappropriate way to photograph people without their knowledge. When I offered my apologies, the baba was very generous to grant the permission to make some close-up shots. I was fascinated by those charming blue eyes which glittered like pearls through my view-finder. When I mentioned that the river ganga could be seen flowing through his eyes, he busted out laughing and I quickly captured that moment too on film. Soon after the photo shoot and a brief conversation, the whole episode was completely forgotten and the pictures got buried in my hard-drives.
A recent youtube video about Baba Shiv Das brought his memories back and made me dig out those pictures taken 7 years ago.
Way back in 1974, an Italian citizen named Alessandro landed in India for the first time. The 22 year old lead guitarist had a passion for music and the search for that brought him to Varanasi. Anyhow, Alessandro was overwhelmed by the magic world of spirituality and got immersed in it. Realizing that his destiny brought him to Varanasi, he decided to dedicate his life as a Sadhu and adopted the name Baba Shiv Das. He had been living a saintly life ever since. He never missed the daily bath in Ganga at 4:30 in the morning, followed by the Ganga worship and visit to Kashi Vishwanath Temple every day. Unfortunately, in May of 2020, at the age of 68, he was diagnosed with severe chest infection which turned out to be fatal for him. His mortal remains were immersed in Ganga and the Baba who loved to live in India became a part of Indian soil. May the departed soul rest in eternal peace.