My experience with Satya Sai Baba
A chance meeting of an ordained kind
I was raised in the era when we did not have Play stations, Nintendo's, I-pods and X-boxes. There were no video games, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet and no chat rooms. We did not have the pleasure of watching 150 channels on cable TV nor did we have set-top boxes to record programs and watch at leisure. In fact, we had no TVs or computers!!
Consequently, as a student, my favourite past time was either participating in sports activities….be it cricket, football, badminton, chess, carom, TT or even gilli-danda, bhavra (tops) and patang (kites) as dictated by the season and read books & magazines like ‘Illustrated Weekly’ and ‘Sports & Pastime’.
It was the media which first scandalously introduced me to Satya Sai Baba, often describing him as a magician, an illusionist and a conman! Indeed a damaging impression that left an enduring stamp on a young vulnerable mind as gullibility constrained my thinking and coloured my mind to believe all that was stated in the print media. Undeniably, I grew up to repulse Baba!
Travel freak…an introduction:
It was way back in 1978 that I first got this brainwave, a sudden urge, to visit the Soviet Union on a motorcycle, in time for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. However, owing to strict visa-control and Soviet Government’s tourist-regulatory restrictions, my dreams came crashing down, as I was not permitted to enter the country on motorcycle. Those days cold war between the NATO forces and the East-Block countries was at its peak, the international geo-political scenario was indeed different and rather strange, the Berlin Wall existed which was like a plague on the face of human civilization that kept people of one city forcibly divided!
However, the glory and the spectacle of the Olympics had always attracted me as a student. For weeks, months and years it had been an enchanting dream, a mesmerizing obsession, to travel around the world and ‘see the world at close quarters’, visit the most exotic places, meet different people of varying cultures around the globe and of course ‘participate’ in the Olympics in a meaningful way. Since dreams don’t cost a penny and because there are no limits to the dreaming mind of the youth, I continued to fantasize till one fine day I decided to visit the next Olympics in Los Angeles – on a BICYCLE!
Visit to Puttharparthi…chance or ordained?
In 1982 my Mamaji (maternal uncle), a renowned and devout Parsi Zarathushtrian priest of the highest order, felt the need to meet Baba and asked me to accompany him to Puttharparthi. Armed with a letter of introduction from our family friend Mr. R. K. Karanjia, Editor, Blitz, I reluctantly joined my Mamaji on his 48 hrs long train journey to Puttharparthi via Bangalore. Admittedly, being a hard-core critic of Baba I was not amused to visit Puttaparthi; but given my Mamaji’s fervent persuasion, almost bordering emotional blackmail, I grudgingly agreed to accompany him but on the sole condition that I will escort him only up to Bangalore. Thereafter, he will have to find his way to Puttaparthi while I stayed in Bangalore and met my Company Directors to discuss my cycling trip to Los Angeles and persuade them to grant me leave of absence from work for an unspecified long duration!
But that was not to be as certain unseen forces plotted against me! Upon reaching Bangalore, I headed straight for my Head Office while leaving Mamaji alone to arrange for his bus travel to Puttharparthi. My supervisors and Directors were not amused by my request for long leave of absence from work and declined to accede to my fervent appeal. The Managing Director was in Delhi enroute to Singapore and was unreachable and hence, in his absence, my Marketing Director took a call and asked me to resign before my departure as he did not wish to form a precedent.
Dejectedly I returned to our temporary abode in Bangalore to find Mamaji excited to take a night bus to Puttaparthi. He yet again successfully persuaded me to join him on the trip and I unwillingly found myself on the night bus to Puttaparthi. Indeed a classic case of ‘man proposes God disposes’!!! In hindsight it does seem like I was pulled by a vortex of hidden forces to visit Baba’s Prashanti Nilayam. Period!
In the year 1982 Puttaparthi was a simple village yet to be transformed to its present spectacular state of reflected glory. As I remember, there were minimal facilities at and around the Ashram. There was no Airport those days and train facilities were almost non-existent. Bus was probably the only mode of transport and the village was seriously lacking in accommodation outside the Ashram. The Ashram itself was a simple place with a Mandir and an open area in front where Baba gave Darshan while devotees sat cross-legged on a sand bed of open area. Simple accommodation and food was provided at minimal cost to all those devotees who wished to stay within the complex.
Thanks to the letter of introduction from Mr. R.K.Karanjia, we managed to get a simple but comfortable accommodation for ourselves and after some rest, bath & breakfast we were ready to take Baba’s Darshan.
Baba appeared at a pre-determined hour and blessed the congregation as he strolled around the open area selectively accepting letters and gifts while blessing devotees. Soon a volunteer approached us, thanks to the letter from Mr. R.K. Karanjia, we were escorted to an outer room in the Mandir where a small band of devotees had already assembled around Baba’s red coloured throne. I distinctly remember feeling hesitant and distressed while being led to the Mandir and told Mamaji about my reluctance in meeting the man I felt was a ‘fraud and a magician’! But things moved very fast and within no time I was seated in the room with other devotees. Naively I thought to myself that this was my best opportunity to ‘catch the magician’ in the act, so be attentive!
After a while Baba appeared and seated himself in his chair while the assembled devotees in the room tried to out-manoeuver each other to seek Baba’s attention and blessings! The boorish behavior of the devotees truly distressed me as my coloured mind was unable to accept or understand their desperate temperament for a ‘magician’!
After talking to a few devotees and addressing their immediate concerns Baba suddenly directed his focus on us seated in the far corner of the room. Mamaji was elegantly dressed in his white priestly attire and truly looked a graceful & dignified embodiment amongst the commotion and ruckus of devotee disorder. Baba motioned us to enter another inner room and directed his Sevaks to make us comfortable inside for a private audience.
Exclusive Baba darshan
The inner room was small, simple and sparse of furnishings. Another red-coloured throne was prominently placed in the center of the room as we sat on the floor and awaited Baba’s arrival. Soon Baba appeared and the first thing I noticed was that he seemed to glide, not walk! He occupied his chair, took the clean white napkin placed on the hand-rest of his chair and wiped his face and lips before beaming a warm and bright smile at Mamaji.
Of course, I was totally ignored!!
While Baba and Mamaji spoke, my mind worked overtime as I conjured-up imaginary Bond-like situations of catching Baba in the act of performing magic tricks. I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I failed to notice Baba talking to me. It was Mamaji’s gentle shake that brought me back to my senses as I saw Baba gesturing with circular hand motions while talking to me. Baba had a peculiar way of speaking as he often gesticulated with his hands and repeated certain words or sentences repetitively. I heard him telling me in lighter vein, “I know everything about you…..going on a world tour on cycle, uh?”
Needless to mention, I was taken aback by Baba’s pointed extrapolation but soon dismissed it as a coincidence as Mamaji may have informed him of my impending globiking trip when I was engrossed in my deleterious thoughts. Suddenly Baba turned away from me and started speaking with Mamaji as if I did not exist.
After sometime he abruptly turned to me yet again and said haltingly,
“You have no money, uh? No money, numerous problems and total confusion….right?”
I was dumbstruck! How did he know that? I mumbled, “Yes Swamiji, I am planning for last three years but I have no financial help from anybody. My Employer has refused me long leave of absence and the ensuing war all across my route of travel (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iraq-Iran and Russia) almost looks premeditated and intentional. Why don’t you create a letter of introduction from thin air directing your devotees to render assistance?”
He raised his hand with palms pointed towards me he said “Don’t worry, you have my blessings.”
Novice that I was I was not interested in Baba’s blessings. I only wanted a letter personally signed by Baba and that too materialized from thin air! So I persisted with my request but Baba remained impassive and unresponsive! He continued his discussion with Mamaji as if I did not exist in the room but suddenly with a wave of his hand he swiftly materialized ‘vibhuthi’ (sacred ash) and presented me some. He advised me to keep it with me on my world tour and when faced with difficulties like hunger, consume a pinch.
Yet again, I impulsively insisted on a letter of introduction to which Baba called me closer to his chair and mocked a slap on my face and smilingly asked, “What do you want, a letter or my blessings?” I blurted “Whatever you wish to give me Swamiji”
“Then go and enjoy the world” he directed. “I have already given you my blessings. But return home within next thirty (30) months” he cautioned as we left his divine presence.
As we left his room he called out once again, “Return home within thirty months. No more”!
I did not understand his directive then nor did I care but on hindsight I am convinced that Baba was aware of certain turn of events in my future life. To cut the long story short, immediately after meeting Baba I had a series of mysterious & inexplicable positive experiences: my employer changed his mind and granted me long leave of absence, financial assistance trickled-in from unexpected sources and suddenly roadblocks seemed to vanish as within three months I left India on a long, arduous but successful globiking tour.
Experiencing the true power of Baba’s ‘magic’:
It needs to be remembered that 30 years ago geared cycles were a rarity in India and had to be imported at considerable cost. In fact, my 10-speed cycle, lovingly named ‘Flying Pigeon’, was more expensive than my Vespa scooter! Before embarking on the grueling tour I decided to break-in my newly imported 10-speed Japanese bicycle. My friend and I decided to undertake a quick 3-days tour of the Western Ghats ex-Bombay. At that point in time my brother, a serving Army officer, was based in Pune, so we decided to visit him overnight before returning to Bombay via Panchgani-Mahableshwar.
Our expedition from Bombay to Pune was uneventful as we reached safely and in good time. That night my brother took us for dinner to a restaurant and since he had only a two-wheeler I decided to cycle to the restaurant while my friend went pillion with him on his scooter. On the way to the restaurant at around 9 pm suddenly my cycle paddle came off the main-frame due to a loose nut-fitting and I felt totally helpless on the road with a paddle in one hand, cycle in another and no sign of the small nut fitting!!
We immediately tried getting the nut at several cycle shops in Pune but in vain. The exact nut-fit was unavailable anywhere as imported spare-parts were not easy to get in India. The only possibility left was to try searching for the exact nut-fit in Bombay. Needless to mention, I felt utterly dismayed and distraught to say the least.
That night before sleeping I threw a mental challenge to Baba: if you are truly what you claim to be, a Divine entity, then find me the lost nut in Pune and help me to complete my intended Western Ghats trip! That very night I saw a smiling Baba in my dreams accepting my challenge and persuading me to take an early morning walk on the same route I had travelled the previous night.
So I woke up early morning and informed my brother & friend my intention to go in search of the nut by walking on the road travelled the previous night. Initially they ridiculed me and my stupidity of expecting to find a small nut on the road side lost the previous night but sensing my seriousness my friend agreed to accompany me on the long walk. We must have walked approximately 50 meters or so down on the muddy roadside and my friend yelled out in ecstasy. He found the elusive nut by the roadside! Till date it remains an incredible experience, indeed a divine mystery as to how we located the proverbial needle in the haystack!! Imagine finding a small nut on a heavily trafficked muddy roadside almost 12 hours after it was lost?! Incredible! Unbelievable!
A suspicious mind runs on distrust, suspicion and paranoia that often leads to negative & destructive thoughts. If left unchecked it's like driving in the fast lane of the freeway blind. Although trust is a great seed and devotion is like food to the soul, we need to practice them consciously. Sadly, my suspicious mind believed more than was necessary. My experience with Baba was that of a suspicious mind encouraged & nurtured by what it read & absorbed in its formative years.
However, age has now taught me that Prophet, Seers and Saints are not mere magicians or scientists meddling with material paraphernalia. They are men with great wisdom observing life as a whole, in the canvas of their own mind and intellect, to study the great theme of LIFE, in a spirit of pure detachment. Of course there are exceptions to the rule when some cheats & tricksters find it convenient to masquerade as Swamis and take advantage of the trusting public at large. But colouring all with same brush is rather unkind & unfair!
Just as impulse is not inspiration, mere knowledge of the world is also not wisdom. Can mere media condemnation of an advanced soul ever be a positive self-expression? Even an obstinate child can emphatically demand objects like knife or poison without truly understanding the dangers or harm that it can cause. The same is true with most of us who have imperfect or limited knowledge of the scriptural teachings. While humanity may pride itself of producing some of the best Lawyers, Journalists, Doctors, Judges, Engineers, Scientists and Computer-geeks, brilliant in their respective fields of vocation, does it necessarily give them the moral right to assert their nebulous views on deeper significance of life, death and creation? In fact, some of us in the society have become so ‘enlightened’ that instead of seeking religious guidance from some advanced souls, Seers & Saints, the so-called progressive laity have instead started to threaten all & sundry with generous doses of lawsuits and dogmatic gimmickry through the media!
Sadly, in my formative days, I was a victim of coloured reporting in the media against Satya Sai Baba which shattered my faith in living spiritual Masters. I have no means of judging whether or not the reports were factual or influenced but I have now come to believe that one may not believe in a person’s Godly powers but he needn’t necessarily be abusive or offensive in his condemnations.
Traveling to the young is akin to education; to others it’s a part of experience. To me it is an equal blend of emotions and sentiments – that of education & experience, passion & peace, self-assertion & self-surrender. Travel can reconcile contrasting feelings of violence with tenderness; it can combine humility with pride and generally helps one to spread genial warmth all ‘round.
I was so caught-up in my day-to-day exploits around the world that I forgot Baba’s parting advice. I did not return home within thirty months as instructed and, till date, it remains heavy on my conscience as my beloved father passed away exactly thirty months later while I enjoyed the extended cycling tour against Baba’s advice. On hindsight I can only wish that I had followed Baba’s guidance but that was not to be as my mind was totally stained with suspicion, mistrust & doubts.
In conclusion, let me quote an anonymous teacher, “---- soon, many of you would cross the borderland to ‘old age’, and if your youth has been clean, generous and robust you will look back upon that stage of life as the most glorious, fruitful and enjoyable. The sun-set of old age maybe pleasant, but the tossing ocean of youth is a grand sight with its ripples and surfs, caverns and concealed bedrocks, vast spaces and unfathomed depths.”
****March 02nd 2012****
Adil J. Govadia, born 1954, an intrepid traveller, motorcycled across the length & breadth of India including the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal, Sikkim & Bhutan,
bicycled solo through 47 countries from 1982-85, witnessed the 1984 Olympics live (Los Angeles) and also held the Olympic torch in San Francisco. He has authored two books, namely ‘Life, Death & Rituals’ and ‘An analysis of Community Paralysis’,
presently lives in Bangalore, India and works as a financial advisor with an insurance company named Max New York Life.