BUDDHA AT THE WALDORF — RISHEE BATRA

Day One: He gives away his complimentary salad—the chef’s best case for the value of material pleasures—to some huddled mass of blankets on the street. Who eats it too quickly to savor the evenly chopped walnuts, the twist of lemon peel. Then Buddha sits on the pavement, crossing his legs in lotus and closing his eyes until the sky blackens. When he emerges from meditation, passers by have left him: two dollar bills, a handful of coins, a boxed salad from Duane Reade.

Day Two: Buddha is unimpressed by opulence. Golden suite, atop New York City, a bed built for a king. “Look how big your suite is!” say the hotel managers. Buddha smiles, gestures out the window, replies, “Tiny compared to this jungle.” The managers throw up their hands, but they have achieved, unwittingly, a minor victory. Buddha has tasted Fiji water, and he finds it remarkably crisp.

Day Three: Suite 4416, at the Waldorf Astoria, now harbors the highest concentration of homeless people in Manhattan. Shocked managers knock at the door, and Buddha asks, “Am I not allowed to throw a party?” “This is not a party!” “But it is—these are my friends.” Room service, perfectly professional, comes by to drop off a hundred and two Waldorf salads. “A hundred and two?” a manager asks. Buddha smiles, lifts two plates off the cart, and hands one to each manager. They want to throw up their hands, but they’re holding expensive salads. Plus, they’re kind of touched. 

Day Four: The head of hotel operations, manager of managers, opens the door to the uncapping of a hundred bottles of Fiji water. His moustache bristles in bemusement. “Mr. Buddha, we have to ask you to leave the hotel. Your credit card has been declined.” In addition to his stern glare, he has brought a posse of gun-toting officers. “Well,” replies Buddha, “I know that’s not true. But if you send us to the street, you will see us in the street.”

Day Five: Buddha, alarmingly, makes his body go limp. Mind over matter. Have you ever tried controlling a body that does not twitch? A body with no reflexes, that accepts its contortions like water. The cop’s knee drives into Buddha’s back, the back bends, does not return force, is he still breathing? A picket sign lies next to him: Excess Is Injustice. A line has formed: guests at the Waldorf, snug in their down coats. They are patient, unworried. This is a small ripple in a vast lake—easy to look away. The cop cars drive off. Buddha’s friends return to their corners, set out empty cups.


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Rishee Batra spends much of his time writing. Other activities include gazing, meandering, and slumbering. He lives in Chicago.