Humorist Robert Benchley once said that "The free-lance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps." Maybe we should add “perplexed,” too, in the case of Oliver Broudy, an American journalist who — spurred on by the “claustrophobic statusphere” of New York — skipped the leap-of-faith stage to take an impulsive and uncharted lunge tantamount to a “grubby gesture of existential defiance” when he signed on to accompany and chronicle, in the eBook The Saint, the spirituality erratic collector James Otis' international apology tour (they’re not just for U.S. Presidents anymore!).
After James triggered a controversy by putting up for auction some of Mahatma Gandhi’s belongings in March 2009, the 45-year old gentle giant, a millionaire several times over and heir to a few family fortunes such as the Otis elevator riches, felt the need not only to express regret but also to make amends personally for unwittingly offending Indian sentiments. In addition, he wanted to make clear that money generated from the auction would go to organizations promoting Gandhian values.
“This is going to be an adventure,” James prognosticates. “I have a feeling both of us are going to be very different after this.” Certainly we see the changes and strains upon Broudy, who sees loyalty as “the last sure bulwark against confusion and despair,” as his duties expand beyond the chronicling of the trip and its tribulations. Indeed, he steps in more and more to take on the role of confidant, PR agent, and travel guide – responsibilities that assume more magnitude as James gets more frazzled during a 23-day fast undergone in a bid for atonement and attention, to be halted only upon the say-so of the Dalai Lama. After all, figures Broudy, the saintliness James strives for demands an extreme nature rather than a practical one.
At the same time, Oliver Broudy has to concede that no matter how skewed James’ thinking is, how naïve or wrong-headed his “indifference to reality,” it amounts to some irreconcilable differences whereby his variety of nonviolent action allows for such head-scratchers as negotiation with dictators; the overthrowing of a government for half a million dollars “so every celebrity [would] fund one”; and simultaneous, multilateral 50 percent cut in military budgets worldwide. At the same time, however, Broudy has come to admire the fact that people seem more human around the affable James. The world he lived in was completely different: “Where mine was grubby, bent, and only occasionally limned with radiance,” Broudy states, “his was like something out of a fairy tale, where every cab was a crystal chariot, and every man a prince."