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When I visit India I always use the same taxi driver, his name is Noorkhan.
On one of my visits Noorkhan pulled up outside the gates of the Ashram, pretty soon people began to gather around us offering their wares for sale, such as cushions and chairs that fold over for Darshan, (a meeting to see Sai Baba). I bought a chair and a cushion and started to line up with the men - it’s always men on one side and ladies on the other. As Sai Baba says, “We are here for spiritual reasons, not sexual; a man or a woman only have to touch each other and the wrong thoughts could enter one’s head.” As I sat waiting to go in, I started up a conversation with a man near me. He told me he was from Rome, and that he was working in the canteen. He said that Sai Baba had come into the canteen at 6.30am and had mildly reprimanded them, saying that they were there to provide a service, but that they must do so with love and not throw the food onto the plates. I asked him whether he knew when Sai Baba was leaving. He said no, but that they would be amongst the first to know as they would have to pack everything away, and he promised to let me know if he heard anything.
In one year Sai Baba had organized the building and construction of the Sai Ramesh Hall. The famous Banyan tree had been cut down and planted somewhere else and the hall was built because more and more devotees were coming to Sai Baba’s feet. Baba had said that he didn’t want the devotees to get heatstroke and that the hall would keep them dry when it rained. It is a breath-taking sight; there are three steps up to the hall, which has black and white marble tiles around it and a line of small black tiles which divide the rows where the men and the ladies sit while waiting for Baba. There is also an area marked out where VIPs can sit and where Sai Baba would walk to give Darshan.
While we waited, we were entertained by the monkeys who had entered the hall via the roof, walking along a steel pole that was part of the building on the ladies side. The monkeys were chattering and making such a noise, and the women sevadals used long poles to make them move out but, as they were doing that, some of the monkeys thought the sevadals (volunteers), were playing with them and started to grab hold of the poles. The sevadals were worried that the monkeys might go to the toilet over the women who were sitting below them but, as soon as Sai Baba appeared, the monkeys vanished!
It was nice to see Sai Baba again; he was smiling and seemed so happy, as he waved his hand in a circular movement, giving vibhuti (sacred ash) to some of his devotees. He seemed to be gliding around, not walking, as he approached me with a smile and took my letters. After Bhajans (Hymns), I decided to have lunch in the canteen and afterwards went for a walk around the Ashram. Climbing the stairs on the men’s side, I saw men lying on mattresses with mosquito nets around them. I got talking to one of the men who told me he was from London UK and that this was the way to live in the Ashram. I started to convince myself that I was not a good devotee; here I was, living a life of luxury in a hotel whilst these devotees were roughing it and therefore they must be better than me.
I went back and sat in line again outside the temple. Outside the temple we sit in vertical rows, from front to back. Whilst sitting the man in the front of each vertical row will be offered to select a numbered token from a bag. The number he selects from the bag denotes which order, he and the 20-30 people sitting behind him in his row will enter the temple. Once inside the temple they can sit where they like, but obviously the lower the number selected means your row of people have more prime positions to select from to get closer to Sai. The man in the front of my line must have pulled out a high number because as I got in, I found I was a long way from the front and could only just see Sai Baba.
It was time for Bhajans. The boys from the college would sing the Bhajans whilst Sai Baba would sit on a chair waving his hand in time with the music. Still feeling that I was not a good devotee, I decided to “speak” with Sai Baba, in my thoughts, from where I was sitting. I asked, “Baba, do you want me to stay here?” and to my surprise, he shook his head and in my right ear I heard him say, “No”. So I asked, “Do you want me to stay at the hotel?” I heard the word “Yes” in my ear and as I looked at him I could see him saying yes whilst at the same time nodding his head. I couldn’t believe it! So again I asked again “do you want me to stay here?” Again I heard him say “no” and I could see him shaking his head, saying no. “So do you want me to stay in the hotel?” I asked again. “Yes,” came the voice in my ear and I could see him nodding and saying yes. I was so shocked. Immediately the Bhajans and Aarthi (closing prayer), were over I ran down the steps and straight into a gentleman, almost knocking him over in the process. I told him what had just happened and he replied, “Oh, Baba can do that and can even speak to two or more people at once.” I was later to discover this gentleman was Professor Anil Kumar. Before going back to the hotel, I went and found the man from London with whom I had been speaking and told him too what had happened. He told me that the way to look at it was: would your Mother like you to live here like this? Sai Baba is your Mother as well as your Father and your Mother has made it clear that she does not want you to live here!
The following day I was back in the lines and spoke again to the man from Rome who told me that Sai Baba had came in at 6.30am again that morning and said he would be leaving the next morning after Bhajans to go to Prasanthi Nilayam. I thanked him and made a mental note to pass this on to the man from London when I met him for lunch. I was so pleased – today was a good day - even the man in the front of the line had picked the right number (he had picked the No. 3 token) and I was able to sit near enough in the front to watch the monkeys again. Sai Baba came through the door from his Trayee Bungalow and gave a wonderful Darshan. Devotees were able to take photos of him, and I was so pleased to see him materialize from his hand a Japamala in crystal beads for a woman, before going on to draw the sacred symbol ‘OM’ in chalk on a slate for a child.
I had been told that it was nearing the end of the monsoon season and that evening, as I got into Noorkhan’s taxi, to return to my hotel, it started to rain. It was so heavy that we could not see out of the windscreen; although that didn’t matter on my side as the windscreen wiper was not working anyway – not unusual for cars in India! Suddenly Noorkhan stopped the car and I asked what was wrong (if a car breaks down in India, there are no breakdown services that one can call. Nor are there any phones along the roadside. Noorkhan pointed to some ladies who were sheltering under a tree and told me that they were Sai Devotees asked whether we could give them a lift. I said yes and with that he called to them to get into the taxi. As they climbed in, they thanked me for stopping. I told them it was Noorkhan not me who had seen them whilst he was driving and that they should thank him not me. I then asked them where they came from. One of the ladies introduced herself, saying that her name was Madhuri and she was from Manchester. She and her colleagues were on their way to Bangalore to see a Swami, about whom it is said, that in meditation, he had gone out of his body for fourteen years!
The next day the hotel porters helped Noorkhan put all my cases and my shopping for the flat into his taxi and we drove to the Ashram. I told Noorkhan that I would see him after Bhajans and we would continue our journey to Prasanthi Nilayam. (In India the taxi drivers wait for you.) As I got into the lines the man from Rome saw me and hurried across. Sai Baba had gone into the canteen that morning and said he was not now going until after Bhajans tomorrow. I was shocked and numb; I had given up my hotel room and everything I had was in the taxi.
We moved in to the hall and once more, I was a long way from the front as Sai Baba came in and started Darshan. He moved around the hall, his face full of love, taking devotees’ letters and soon it was time for the Bhajans. As before, he sat in his chair as they started and I decided to ‘speak’ to him. “Oh Baba, what am I going to do. I have given up my room in the hotel because I heard that you were leaving today and I have nowhere to stay?” Again, I heard Baba’s voice telling me to go down the steps after the Bhajans and there I would find a lady named Shirley, whom I had met previously on another visit to India. I could not believe my ears! I had been there most of the week and not seen this lady at all. However, as soon a Bhajans were over, I ran down the steps and there she was, talking to, of all people, Madhuri, the lady to whom we had given a lift!
“Shirley,” I said, “Baba has said that you can help me to get a room for the night.” Shirley smiled and indicating Madhuri, said “Madhuri knows everyone, she will get you a flat. After what you did, stopping for my friend and me last night, how can I refuse.” Madhuri then said, “and how can I refuse Sai Baba – he wants me to do service”. As Sai Baba says, “Service to humanity is service to God.
True to her word, Madhuri got me a flat and invited me for dinner at her place. Over dinner I was explaining that I wanted to learn the lecture on Unity in Diversity and she told me that she could get me an interview with Professor Anil Kumar. She said she would arrange it for after Bhajans at about 10am the following day and I was to go to the college just outside the gate where he would be waiting for me.
The following day, I was so pleased to meet the professor and I asked him many questions about Sai Baba. We got on to the subject of the rings that Sai Baba manifests. He called in many of the teachers who were working at the college and each one had a different ring. I explained to the professor that I had always wanted a ring, but that when I was in the interview room and Sai Baba and he asked me what I wanted, I had said, “You, Baba.” To which Baba replied “You have got me.” However, I had had a ring made and showed it to Baba saying “I have your ring.” ”No,” said Baba, “that’s not one of mine - I will bless it.” Professor Anil Kumar then put on a tape so I could record his voice and gave me the discourse on the Unity in Diversity. I was with Professor Anil Kumar for an hour before Noorkhan and I left Whitefield at 12 noon to go to Prasanthi Nilayam.
All I could say after all that had happened was “Thank you, Sai Baba”.