Six-year-old Maahir Sheth, who undertook the 44-day fasting Siddhi Tap, received accolades from everyone in the Jain community. But the fast is no child’s play, as it is observed by drinking only boiling water, and that too within a stipulated period of the day.
On Friday when he went to an Aradhana Bhavan of Jain Sangh, Dadar, many patted on his back and even received a watch as a gift. Maahir was silent, and had droopy eyes. His father carried him in an embrace while walking up and down to ensure that he did not get tired unnecessarily.
It was Maahir's 32nd day of the 44-day of Siddhi Tap. He was at Aaradhana Bhavan (Derasar or Jain temple) to take pachkan (vow/resolve) and continue his fast. In Siddhi Tap, after the first day’s fast, there is a day’s break. The number of fasting days increases by one until the next break, till an eight-day fasting stretch is achieved. Eventually, a person fasts for 36 days on boiled water with eight days of break.
At the Derasar, when the Jain saint administered him pachkan, Maahir stood with folded hands. "He must have done some sadhana (accomplishments) in his earlier life which is why at a small age he had a desire for such tapasya," said Acharya Abhay Shekhar Suriswarji Maharaj Saheb (MS) who administered him the resolve. He added, "Nobody forced him to do this, he is doing this on his own." When asked about the health issues the child could face, Acharya MS said, "For that we are giving him a pachkan for a day so that if there is a problem, he can stop anytime."
As soon as the pachkan is over, the family takes him home. It is time to give boiled water that Maahir last had a day before at 6 pm. "He can have only boiled water after 10 am until 7 pm," informed Maulik Sheth, his father.
When FPJ tried talking to him at the Derasar, Maahir was a bit shy. "I am feeling alright," he said. When asked why did he fast, he said, "it is good and that he will get punya." When asked if he felt like having food in his friend's company, the child did not answer. On the one-day break, he can have food twice (7.30 am and 4 pm), he makes it a point to tell his mother what he wants in advance.
"For the next break he wants pizza and paneer chilly, which we will make at home," his mother Avisha Sheth said. "He went to school till the 24th day of his fast. After that he has been at home also because his school is shut," said Avisha. With no school, he sleeps two hours in the afternoon beside the 10-hour sleep he takes in the night.
Coming from an upper-middle-class family that is into the business of garments, Maahir has an elder brother and a six-months old sister. Maahir's parents say that it was the child's wish to do the fast. "One day, there were two boards at the temple, one was about this fast. He said he wanted to do it. We were surprised to hear it. But when he wanted to, we went along," said Maulik, who has not done the fast himself.
"The maximum I have gone is eight days 11 days," said Maulik smiling. But what about the child not understanding what he is getting into and parents stopping him from doing the fast? "That is why it is one-one day. In fact when we told him to not continue mid-way, he was angry. In Jains even having an ice-cream is considered paap. So it is like when you do not stop him from doing that, this is a good deed. We only keep in mind that he is in good shape," said Maulik.
The Sheth household is decorated with messages lauding those fasting. In a joint family, there are four people in all doing the Siddhi tap. In Dadar, there are over 350 people who are doing the Siddhi Tap all over in Mumbai. But it is Maahir who is getting most visitors and accolades. "Almost 200 people may have come already by now to see him. They are surprised thay he is doing it at such a young age. Wherever he goes, he is praised," said Maulik, a proud father.