Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A memorable journey in a time machine

One of the most common questions asked to trigger a creative essay in our school days is often a variant of the following question:
“If you could travel back in time, where would you go and what would you do?”

I have read many essays of this type and they are a wonderful read because they give us a peep into the deepest desires of the writer. Naturally, when I pose this question to myself, my deepest desires too spring forth. So, here is a description of how it would be if I could spend a day in the past. The only difference between this and my school essays is while the latter were based completely on imagination, this piece is based on narratives by several devotees of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Of course, I have garnished those episodes with my imagination to produce this work of fiction. It has been presented as an autobiographical account because I wish to enjoy what those devotees enjoyed decades before. All the beautiful images here are courtesy of the wonderful book - Love is My Form.

So, are you ready to travel with me in the time machine? Let’s get on to it and turn the dial to 1945. Hold on. Within minutes, we would have traveled in time!


The journey to Karnatanagepalli

This is the village of Karnatanagepalli - cluster of houses would be more like it!The journey so far has been back-breaking to put it mildly. A train journey lasting almost four hours chugged me from Bangalore to Penukonda. From there, I had to engage a horse-drawn carriage, tonga as it is locally called, to take me to Penukonda bus-stand. An hour’s wait there was rewarded with a seat in the coal-fed, steam-driven bus which jumped and rattled along every bump and crater on a hard-mud path that the locals called as a road.

All through the journey, the locals asked me where I was headed to. The words ‘Puttaparthi’ and ‘Sai Baba’ had a magical effect on them. In an instant, they changed from friendlies into hostiles!
“You are going to meet that crazy lad? Wonder what has gotten into you...”
“It does not augur good for you to go to that boy. He is possessed by some evil spirits...”
The comments and stories went on but I turned a deaf ear. I am really keen to meet this wondrous lad who has been introduced to me as God-incarnate on earth. The bus journey of nearly two and a half hours deposited me at a big village, Bukkapatnam. Baba is said to have studied here in the government school. From Bukkapatnam, it was an hour’s journey by bullock cart to this point on the banks of the river Chitravati at Karnatanagepalli.

And so, here I am with a motley group of five other people who have traveled along with me for 9 hours from Bangalore to reach within a kilometer of Puttaparthi for the first time in our lives.  
We are told that the last kilometer has to be on traversed on foot across the shallow river. Raising up my pants, I wade through the knee-deep water, luggage in my hands. Reaching the other side, I am accosted by a few cows which are peacefully chewing the cud. How do I get to Baba’s ashram?

Friendly villager

Amidst the cows is one village lad, stroking the cow gently.
“Hey boy”, I call out. He looks at me and walks up to me.
“Could you tell me how do I get to Sathya Sai Baba’s place?”
“Oh! You have come to meet Sai Baba?”
Even as that question is posed to me, I mentally get prepared to face a volley of insults and rebuke. But surprisingly, this villager is friendly.
“Shall I take you to Baba’s mandir? I am anyway heading towards that direction...”
“Thank you”,  I reply, “that would be most welcome.”

The friendly villager takes one of my bags into his hands much against my wishes.
“We are all one family”, he says and I am so touched.
We walk for about ten minutes and soon, arrive to a gated courtyard. Within the walls is a medium sized hall measuring about 10 ft wide and 20 ft long.
“That is Baba’s mandir,” my guide tells me, “to its left is a tap where you can get water for your wash and ablutions. For drinking, you can draw water from the well behind. The water is sweet and wonderful.”

By now, a few more people have clustered around me. They too seem to be finding my guide helpful!
“The trees around will be your home. Pick any spot and spread your sheet there. Baba will come for darshan today evening by 3 o clock. There will be bhajans after that and, who knows, if things work out well, all of us will go to the sands of river Chitravati...”
“What happens there?”, a member from the group asks and everyone looks expectantly at the villager for the answer.
“That you will see for yourself”, he says and happily skips away.

I settle down comfortably under a tree trying to wonder how this Baba would look. One look at the watch which suspends by a chain from my waist tells me that I just need to wait a couple more hours to find out. Food is being served on leaves nearby by some ladies. I go there and partake it and also drink the well water. I am told that it was Baba who indicated the precise spot for the well to be dug and it has since overflowed in abundance in the drought-prone Rayalaseema region.

The first darshan

As assured by the guide, the darshan is about to happen as the clock strikes three. The first look at Baba and I am in a state of shock - it is that same village guide! He comes walking towards my tree with a broad smile,
“Are you comfortable? Hope you enjoyed your lunch. Your journey must have been long and tiresome. Rest here and stay here for as long as you want. I am so happy to see you.”

No words escape my lips. I am stunned. Needless to say, I have already been won over by this Baba’s sweetness and charm. I call out to Him,
He turns back and comes to me.
“I don’t know why but my heart tells me that you are my Lord.”
Saying so, I simply fall at the feet of this teenager. My eyes are closed and I am in tears of joy. As I open my eyes, I see that the complexion of Swami’s feet have changed. They are a shade of blue! Surprised, I look up. Instead of the cow-herding lad I saw a few hours ago, I see the cowherd boy of Brindavan from thousands of years before!

Did I turn the dials of the time machine again? No, I didn't! But then, I realize this Baba is beyond the shackles of space and time. He is that ultimate ultimate whom we refer to as God! The experience just dumbfounds me into supreme joy as Swami proceeds for the darshan.

Bhajans and divine play at the Chitravati sands

The darshan is followed by bhajans and the crowd of about fifty of us sat in the mandir. Swami Himself was leading the bhajans in His mellifluous voice. The words of the bhajan were all simple and easy to follow. Even as I sing, I look around at the newly-constructed hall. I am thinking of all that I had heard about this place from other devotees. This hall had been inaugurated a few weeks before on the 15th of December, the day of Vaikunta Ekadasi. I begin to think about the amazing miracles that Swami performed on that day.

Apparently, Swami had dug deep into the sands of Chitravati and unearthed a tiny silver vessel with a spoon. The vessel was full of divine ambrosia, the amritha. While everyone wondered who would be the lucky soul to get that ambrosia, Swami went around distributing those few drops to nearly the hundred people who had gathered there! My heart now pines to experience such miracles. The pining manifests itself as loud singing of the bhajan. I am in a totally carefree state as I sing along. Suddenly, the singing has come to a halt. I open my eyes to see Swami beckoning to me.

“Sing a bhajan ...” He says.
What do I sing? I have never sung a bhajan in my life. Out of the ‘blue’ words form within me. A tune springs forth from my heart and, even before I realize it, am singing a bhajan! That is when I realize that when Swami says something, the universe reorients itself to make it happen. Everybody follows the bhajan that am leading, including Swami Himself. Ah! What a thrill it is.

December 15, 1945. The day of inauguration
of Baba's first mandir.
The bhajans conclude with Mangala Aarthi. As everyone returns to their respective ‘trees’, there is a lot of excited chatter. Swami has decided to visit the sands of Chitravati and everyone is readying in anticipation of miracles. I too feel the excitement brewing in me. Even as it is gathering momentum, I hear a few sniggering voices. They are those never-satisfied critics.
“He would have buried stuff in the riverbed which he will dig out for us.... Hahahahaha”
“I just wonder when he goes there to bury the stuff?”
“He does not do it. He has some assistants to do that for him...”

I look at the trio. I am so irritated. Dealing with such critics is something that I will learn much later in life.  

Soon, we are walking on the sands of Chitravati. The ‘critical’ trio are closely following Swami. Swami suddenly turns to them and says,
“Pick any spot where we should sit.”
They are taken aback but they soon gather their senses and plot of a wicked plan. They decide to choose a spot in the middle of the village burial ground which was also nearby! Swami accepts the spot with a smile. All sit down and Swami asks the trio again,
“What do you want?”
They are delighted. They decide to ask for something that Baba could not have buried in the burial ground.
“We want an Alphonso mango”, they chorus, asking for the best variety of mangoes in India.

“Start digging”, Swami instructs them.
“Where?”, they ask, bewildered.
“Anywhere you choose”, is Swami’s reply.
Am now enjoying this play and I want to see where it heads to.
The trio start digging in some random spot. They dig upto three feet into the ground. In the fading twilight, one of them strikes something cold. He shudders in fright thinking it is a human skull. To his surprise, it is a large Alphonso mango!
Magical moments on the sands. 

Swami takes the mango and pulls a knife out of the sand beside Him. He slices the mango into half and gives it to one among the trio. Then, turning the mango over, He slices another half for the second member. I think that the third one is going to get the seed. But no! Swami turns the mango over and slices another half! That is followed by another turn and another slice into half. In this way, He goes on slicing till the trio plead that their stomachs are bursting. All of us are bursting with laughter. Swami says,
“Come to me and I shall fill your life with sweetness till you are bursting with it...”
I stop laughing and drink in the profundity of that statement.

Many miracles follow on the sands and am simply stunned. He pulls out a small idol of Lord Ganesha for me from the sands. Time flies so quickly that am tempted to rush to the mandir and turn the dial of the time machine backwards a few hours. But I am not a fool. Why should I go to a time machine when I am in the presence of one who is beyond time?

We return to the mandir late in the evening. Dinner follows. It is now time to go to sleep. A cot is placed in the centre of the courtyard. Apparently it is for Baba to lie down. All of us spread our sheets on the floor around The Cot. But even after an hour’s wait, Baba is not to be seen. I drift off into sleep. Sometime in the night, I wake up. I check the time. It is 11:00pm. I also see Swami. He is walking around the premises, torch in hand, performing watchman duty! It is amazing how He is the last to sleep and first to rise in the morning.

Even as I am lost in wonderment, the buzzer on my time machine is beeping. It is the alarm indicating to me that unless I board it now, it will be too late. I would b stuck in the ‘past’ and would have no chance of a return to ‘my time’. I don’t care about it. I don’t mind being ‘stuck’ in this past! But then, I feel a light on my face. It is Swami and His flashlight. He comes to me and pats me on my head.
Bangaroo, it is time to return.”
“But Swami, I want to be with you forever...”
“Don’t worry. I will be with you forever. Today is Krishna Janmashtami in ‘your time’, one of your favorite festivals. Go on and enjoy the festivities. I promise that I will be with you forever.”

Swami persuades me to return on the time machine and am back in my residence at Puttaparthi. What a trip it was!

....Golden days indeed....

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  1. Sai Ram Brother. Please keep this time machine story going. Don't stop here. Please tell me more and more and more.

    1. Surely.... will hop on the time machine every now and then... :)

  2. What a fun article! Wish we could all travel back in time with you!!

  3. Holy & Happy Krishna Janmashtami!

    Do keep taking us back in time for those wonderful memories of Bhagawan!

    Jai SaiRam

  4. very sweet.
    and a clever idea, as using the time machine, you can take us back to a myriad past wonders.

    1. Thank you Mark! I plan to ride the time machine often! :)

  5. Sairam brother. Even I am a part of the time machine. I am staying right opposite to the old mandir now and am imagining every moment of those wonderful days with the book 'Love is My Form' in my hand. I feel sad that we are not allowed inside old Mandir now. Anyway, when is our next journey?

    1. Whenever He inspires! :)
      As far as the monuments are concerned, I too feel that they should be opened to public in a possible manner. Guess there are some issues - else it would have been done.

  6. thanks a million dear for this, it made my day and am thirsty for more, make this a series. God bless you

    1. Thank you sis for the love and encouragement. I seriously am considering turning this into a series! :)

  7. Wow Aravind bhai! I agree with everyone here, please keep riding that time machine! Gosh when you spoke of knowing that He was your Lord i had tears in my eyes. So delightful!

    1. :)
      Happy that you are delighted bhai! :)
      I really thought of this as a one-off article. But seeing the response, I guess I will write more.

  8. Dear Brother ,
    Thank you for sharing the divine nectar of Swamy. we have enjoyed the divine journey.

  9. Dear Brother ,
    Thank you for sharing the divine nectar of Swamy. we have enjoyed the divine journey.

  10. Sairam, you did a great job, your efforts are blessed. Krishnakishore

  11. Sairam It was wonderful. From the chug chug gadi to the bumpy roads (back breaking &not heart breaking like those villagers), shallow waters of Chitravati waters & the surrounding hills..every moment was wonderful. Janmashtami is my fav festival too. Thank you for making it special. Oops I forgot heart is still with that Nanda baludai.....

  12. Sanchari Mahalanabish29 August 2013 at 01:39

    What a mesmerising idea! Only Swami can render this kind of inspiration. Really worth praising. Enjoyed the ride with utmost thrill...Hope to experience some more thrill soon..Keep the inspiration burning within you brother.

  13. Simply beautiful and marvellous....:)

  14. Simply beautiful and marvellous...:)

  15. sairam child! i always look for the paatha mandiram days every time i buy a saibook.when i read old devotees' experiences i wld say to swami ' was i there with you, swami, may be one of the old people in those pics, that i am reborn now' i always long to hear, see and think of the early days. but it never occured to me that i cld imagine myself that i was there in 1940s. you did it and reading it, i too rode with you. thanks child, its swami's grace to give me this exp.sairam


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