Monday, 9 June 2014

Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future - Part 1

A story of Himalayan proportions


It was Oscar Wilde who said,
"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."
For long, it was the story of Kalpagiri stood testimony to the truth in this statement for me. After I became a student at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, I came to know of many more such stories. Among the hundreds of stories of Swami’s grace and love that I had heard in my student days, one story stuck in my heart for its uniqueness. And that story brought new meaning to the Oscar Wilde quote. It showed that there are instances where even a sinner has a glorious past. But that glorious past is forgotten due to complete indulgence in the world. The soul starts blundering and floundering in life till God's compassion descends and reveals the Truth.

A file photograph of Sanjay Sahni speaking in the Divine
Presence at Brindavan, Bengaluru.
I first heard of this experience in Swami’s presence, in Trayee Brindavan, narrated by lecturer Sri.Sanjay Sahni who is the principal of the Brindavan campus of SSSIHL as on the date of writing of this article. Listening to the incident and seeing Baba’s rapt attention was such an experience in itself. I again heard this incident narrated in Prasanthi Nilayam a few years later, this time by another lecturer, Sri Ruchir Desai. His was a 15-minute speech and so he didn’t go into the details the way Sahni sir had done in his 45-minute talk. But since then, the incident was etched in me and what a wonderful opportunity it was to hear about it from the protagonist-witness himself! The first-hand narrative from Mr.Prithviraj is definitely a story of Himalayan proportions.

Mr. Prithviraj was an advocate from the Indian state of Orissa and he had prospered well in his career to soon find himself serving at the apex court in India. As an advocate of the Supreme Court of India, he had a very busy and fulfilling life. The fulfilling part came from his devotion to his God and master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and his annual service at Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi. He came face to face with the most fantastic and thrilling story of his life during one such visit to the abode of highest peace (that is what Prasanthi Nilayam translates into) as a member of the Seva Dal (the service corps of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization).

It was the year 1989 and as always, he was serving at the South Indian canteen of the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram. He was accosted with great familiarity by a man in a white shirt and a white pant.
“Sairam sir, do you remember me?”, he asked with a gentle smile, “you had given me tea.”
Having tea with strangers in order to extract their story with Swami was nothing new to Prithviraj and so, he was unable to recollect this face.
“I am Mohammad... remember? The cigarettes...”
In a flash, he remembered everything. A quick travel down memory lane brought before his mind’s eye everything about Mohammad and his extraordinary life. The time was about five years ago, in 1984.


Mohammad violates the Ashram rules

The Gopuram Gate of Prasanthi Nilayam, the setting for the scene.
Then too, Prithviraj was doing seva in the same place.  He was exiting the South Indian canteen having partaken his lunch when he heard a lot of commotion at the northern gate of the ashram called the Gopuram Gate. Since he was one of the coordinators for the Seva Dal, he rushed to the spot to see what it was all about. He was shocked with what he saw.

There was a Muslim gentleman holding a cigarette in his hand. With his other hand, he was warding off a sevadal volunteer who was apparently trying his best to snatch away the offending and smoking roll of paper. Anyone who has the slightest idea of Prasanthi Nilayam will know that smoking, drinking alcohol and eating meat are strict no-nos here. But so are arguments and fights! Prithviraj stepped in, spoke lovingly and softly to the man and whisked him out of the ashram gate.
"I know that the only boss in this place is that person with the curly mop of hair! Swami has given me this cigarette and I don't know why you people do not understand me..." the man protested even as he was being pushed out.

The 'curly mop' who is in charge not only at Prasanthi Nilayam but in the whole Universe itself!
As far as Prithviraj was concerned, he could smoke as much as he wanted outside the ashram. He had ensured that the offender had not smoked in the ashram premises. However, the Muslim man's reference to Swami, his Lord, piqued his curiosity and interest in the man's story.
"Would you mind having some tea with me?" asked Prithviraj, hoping to spend some more time with him. That man’s name was Mohammad and he agreed to the proposition. Soon, both were sipping away at some hot cuppa. It was unbeliveable that a person who had such a ruffian-like appearance had today greeted him in such a sweet manner, wearing a sober vesture! Prithviraj’s journey into nostalgia continued.

"Did Swami really give you that cigarette? I find it so hard to believe that..."
"No! Not just a cigarette - He gave me three. What shall I say? The cigarettes are the least you will find hard to believe. I am in a daze myself. Do you have some time?"
"Oh yes!", replied Prithviraj and decided to lend his ears completely to Mohammad. He began his story.
"I am from Calicut (Kozhikode today) and the most wonderful moment of my life came when I unwittingly accepted an assignment that involved smuggling drugs into Bombay", said Mohammad relishing the look on Prithviraj's face.
"It happened in such a casual manner. I was approached by three men who said that if I was ready to transfer a crate-load of packets to Bombay, they would pay me Rs.50,000 on the spot. They also promised me another sum of 50,000 once the delivery was done in Bombay. This was surprising for me because I did not even have a proper motor boat. Rowing all the way from Calicut to Bombay was really a tough ask but there was so much money to be earned. I agreed to do as they asked. They even offered help but I refused, saying,
'Aapan Akele Kaam Karta Hain; Kisika Madad Nahi Leta' (I work alone and I don't take help from others.)”

The story unfolded from there on and Prithviraj had not the slightest idea of the bizarre twists and turns that it would take. But  he sure felt that Mohammad should have been on the Indian rowing team to the Olympics if he really did undertake that journey!

A 'chance' meeting

Mohammad loaded and readied his boat for the huge journey to Bombay. He was dying to know what was in the packets that had been given to him. He slit open one of them and that was when he realized that the contents were illegal drugs! A tinge of fear came in his heart but the lure of money overpowered it. He decided to complete the journey and quickly earn the remaining money. (In the 1980s, Rs.50,000 was a real big deal, especially for an ordinary person like Mohammad!) The preparations he made were elaborate and thus they took time. This was based on the advice that his three ‘masters’ had given. He first placed a layer of sand in the boat on which were kept the hundred or so packets of hashish. A layer of sand and was added over to cover the drugs. Then, he added a layer of coconut leaves to act as a cushion! Another layer of sand followed and the final layer was made of coconuts. Some of these coconuts had been laced with bombs as per instructions and these could be used in case things got ugly with the coast guard. Of course, he also packed some eatables to serve him when he was at sea. Satisfied that things were in order, Mohammad got into the  boat and with a prayer to Allah, started off. He did not know then that his Allah had decided to actually respond to him and save his soul.

This is possibly how Mohammad's boat would have looked - ordinary holding extraordinary wealth! 
The journey was uneventful and in a couple of days, rowing with all his might, Mohammad reached the Goa coastline. Now, only the last leg of the journey was left because Goa is the little neighbor of Maharashtra of which Bombay is the capital. Then, the trouble began. He noticed that at a distance from his boat, near the coastline, the coast guard was assembling several patrol boats. It was only a matter of time now before a search party would land on his boat. Mohammad hurried to choose those coconuts that would be his only chance of escape. That was when another big boat, a motorboat, thundered towards him and Mohammad saw one of the most peculiar sights of his life. On the stern of the boat stood a tall fakir, beckoning to him. The motorboat neared his boat and the fakir spoke,
" I know what is there in your boat! You are in a hopeless situation and only if you take refuge in me, can you be saved."

The fakir's voice was calm but firm. There was something about him that soothed Mohammad and took his mind away momentarily from the assembling patrol.
“Do you know that all your bosses in Bombay are behind bars now? They cannot help you and you will not get anything even by reaching Bombay!”
In his gut, Mohammad knew that this person was definitely not related to the police in any way. He just kept hearing all he said and his next statement actually stunned Mohammad,
“You are killing children with what you are carrying. That is why you have no children of your own.”
Mohammad was shell-shocked. How did this tall stranger know so much? However, he answered the fakir with a question,
"Pray tell me how you can save me?"
"There is no time for that. Just listen to me. Get on to my boat and I shall take yours. Everything will be fine, trust me."

The fakir was standing at the stern of the boat and He appeared quite stern.
There come those moments in life when a decision has to be made in a split second. The way the rest of the life unfolds shows whether that decision made was good or not. Mohammad's decision, taken purely by gut instinct was to jump into the stranger's boat and allow him to take charge of his precious cargo. Soon, the coast guard surrounded both the vessels at sea.  Mohammad had a pretty decent view of all the happenings on his erstwhile boat. Suddenly, the fakir did a crazy thing.

A few members of the patrol entered the boat in raid alertness. Pulling out a raw mango from his jhola (shoulder bag) and a knife apparently from thin air, the fakir made several slices. Then, he dug through the layers of coconuts and sand, fishing out a packet of the deadly hashish. Ripping it with the knife, he took the white powder and applied it on the mango slices.
"Would you all like some raw mango with salt? The mangoes have been specially brought from Kerala.Try it... It is tasty..."

The patrol officers were bewildered because the white powder was indeed salt. Why would someone transport salt to the city of Bombay which had access to the expansive Arabian Sea? It was obvious that the person had added some decoy packets filled with salt. So, the patrol members began to scan through each and every packet on the boat. The fakir was just smiling at their bewilderment. Mohammad, at a distance, was more bewildered than all the patrol officers put together. And why would he not be? He had personally supervised the packing and loading of the hashish and if the patrol officers were convinced that it was salt, it must definitely be salt there! He could see that the coast guard people left after an animated conversation with the fakir. Soon, they were gone.

Striking a deal

In amazement of his close shave, Mohammad returned to his boat. With his magical powers, the fakir had indeed changed the drugs into salt. As a last favour, maybe he could ask him to change it back into his valuable cargo! More than that, wouldn't it be wonderful if he could strike some kind of a long-standing business deal with him?
“I would like to do business with you. I shall do all the hard work while you just sit with your powers. We will make great profits. Lets split the profits 50-50. What say?”

"I don’t do this kind of business. Mine is the business of the heart. Are you ready for that?”
Mohammad began to think furiously, “So this person smuggles organs!"
That was a far riskier business but with the kind of magical abilities that the fakir possessed, any business was bound to be a success.”
“I am ready for any business. Tell me how it is done”, he said aloud.
“It is very simple. You give me your heart and I shall give you mine”, said the stranger.
“But will both of us not die then?”
“Hahahahaha”, the fakir laughed aloud. “It is not the way you are thinking. You give your heart by loving someone, by loving God. Are you ready to do that?”
That question stumped Mohammad into silence. This fakir seemed to have some kind of esoteric wisdom for life too!
When one is on the true spiritual path, all roads lead to
the same Truth. 

“Now, listen to what I say...”
Mohammad was all ears as his tongue was tied. The stranger began to dump all the packets into the Arabian sea and they began to dissolve in the expansive waters.
“Return home now. There is nobody waiting for you in Bombay. Take my boat with you and start fishing for a living. Do not lead this kind of life.”
Mohammad could not believe this lucky break. Apart from the Rs.50,000 advance which was with him, he had also been gifted a new, large motor boat. And his benefactor was almost rowing away.
“Wait!”, he called out, “Can I have your address please?”

The fakir handed over a piece of paper to Mohammad. It was a visiting card with an address citing some “Congress buildings” in Bombay. Then, he was gone in a jiffy, just like the way he had come. How could someone row a boat so fast? Mohammad did not understand. But there were so many things about the old man that he didn't understand. He got into the newly acquired motor boat and began his long journey home.


to be concluded in Part 2 which is at the link below:

For all readers:


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20 comments:

  1. Sairam brother! Thanks very much! Waiting with baited breath for Part 2! These posts have the effect of jolting one from mundane existence into a state of utmost and eager anticipation! Please post soon!!

    Sairam!

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    1. Loved the way you described the impact of the post! :)

      Will surely have the second and final part out in a couple of days...

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  2. Sairam,

    Wow what can one say about Swami's leele, too stunned. Waiting for the next part with bated breath. There is no doubt this is a thriller in real life, but once Swami strps in anything is possible. Viswanathan

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    1. Absolutely... It would do us good to reminisce all these wonderful leelas and have faith in God when our time of reckoning arrives...

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  3. Wow what can one say about Swami's leele, too stunned. Waiting for the next part with bated breath. There is no doubt this is a thriller in real life, but once Swami strps in anything is possible. Sairam

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  4. Raghu Ketharam Iyer9 June 2014 at 10:57

    Jai Sai Ram!

    Brother Aravind...you are soooooo bad! for stopping this great story at a crucial part & making us wait for the part II ;-), hope you give it to us soon. listening to our beloved Sai's stories are far more addictive than any drug in the world. but this 'drug' is a 'good' one, for, it provides faith & bliss to its users.

    With Love & Best Wishes,
    Kr

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    1. Sairam brother.... When you write of Sai's stories as a drug, you will also accept that every drug has its own dosage. :)

      The part-wise delivery of the drug is nothing but good dosage. :)

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    2. Raghu Ketharam Iyer11 June 2014 at 11:10

      Jai Sai Ram! as always you are too good with words :-) by SAI's grace, your way of story telling is so engrossing that it literally takes us through those wonderful incidents. though, people like me are not fortunate enough to experience such miracles first hand, it helps in keeping our 'deepak' of faith burning. thanks a lot, please do continue providing us with such interesting divine episodes/incidents.
      With Love & Best Wishes,
      Kr

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  5. oh my god... where's part 2 ???? this is like Jeffrey archer novel !!

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  6. Esha Narayanan9 June 2014 at 11:44

    oh my god !!!! i thought the link to part 2 must be somewhere below... this is like jeffrey archer novels...please upload the second part ASAP :D

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  7. If I remember correctly this incident was narrated by Indreshwar Sirohi (is my spelling right?) during his speech in Summar course 1991 or 92 before Swami. I remember that speech because he had a style where he took this one story for his entire speech, in between wandering into other areas of interest with explanations of Swami's philosophy and again continue the story from where he left.

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    1. Did he narrate this? That is good to hear because I was not a student ion 1992. When I meet him next time, I shall try to see if he remembers this speech. Thank you....

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  8. visalakshy swamy9 June 2014 at 17:31

    Sairam.Unbelievable, isn't it? I was looking forward to this day when I would see these stories in black and white, for Prithwiraj is my younger brother and we have witnessed and heard many stranger truths and miracles of both the avatars. Prithwi has been blessed by Swami so much that we'll have many a book filled with stories of. such divine leelas from him. visalam

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    1. Wow I would love to read more stories like this!

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  9. Wow what an excellent thriller article showing Swami's unconditional love and timely help!
    Waiting for a more thrilling part-2...
    “So this person smuggles organs!" - Can't help but LOL :-D

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  10. Thanks for sharing this Miracle with us .waiting for the second part. I like ur simple yet detailed way of narrating the stories. Sai ram

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  11. Arghhh brother Aravind this is why I refrain from reading your part 1s.. Too much suspense! But this time couldn't help it :) eagerly awaiting part 2!

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  12. Can't wait for the second part. Please Arvind bhaiya post the second part soon..

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  13. Amazing one brother. ..just can't wait for 2nd patt

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Please do take some time to leave your valuable thoughts and feedback here. It will be an enriching read for me. :)