He never talked intelligibly; he uttered sounds but not words. He remained sitting in one place and never moved from that place. In his village people had known him for sixty years. There were old people who knew that when they were very young this man had come, and since that time he had been sitting on a cot in the porch of the house of the landlord, the richest man in the village. He had not moved from the cot, and for sixty years all that they had heard from him was his bell.
I went many times to see him, at different times, to figure him out. He used to drink tea continually; that was almost his only food. He would drink half the cup and then offer the other half to anybody who was there to see him. This was thought to be prasad, a gift, and people enjoyed this gift because it was very rare. Hundreds of people were seeing him every day; only to a few people would he offer the cup. But always first he would drink from the cup itself, then the remaining he would offer. But people thought he was enlightened, so something that he had tasted was blessed.
The more I watched the man, the more I was convinced that he was simply mad; and not totally mad either, because his madness had a certain consistency. It was not without any purpose that he was ringing his bell; it was always to attract the attention of people. Slowly people started understanding that he needed something, perhaps a cup of tea – that was the most needed thing – so immediately they would bring tea.
Those who had been serving him for years had even started understanding the language of his bell: how many times he rings when he wants tea; how many times he rings when he wants the crowd to leave him alone, how many times when he wants people to be allowed to see him, how many times when he wants to go to sleep. It was a language, a code language, that his disciples who lived with him knew.
Now this man was not totally mad, although certainly a little insane. And as I watched him I found that he was half-paralyzed too, because when I saw him sipping the tea it was always from one side of his mouth; the other side never moved. One day, when he was alone, I took his bell from his hand and put it in his other hand. The bell fell, because the other hand was paralyzed. Now it was clear why he was not moving from the cot; it was nothing to do with any austerity.
People thought that it was some ascetic practice; perhaps he had taken a vow that he would remain sitting in the same posture for so many years, or his whole life. But it was simply that he was paralyzed. In fact, that seems to be the clear reason why he was not able to utter intelligible sounds: half of his mouth was paralyzed. With half of your mouth you can make sounds, but to make words is very difficult, almost impossible. You may try but the other will only hear some unintelligible gibberish.