Saturday, October 08, 2005

Gateway to Heaven

This is the entrance to the ashram in Whitefield where Sai Ba Ba stays for some months of the year. It is a gateway to peace and contemplation, where anyone - beggar, thief of dignitary sit within the same space and breathe the same air. Where you are not allowed to bring in any cameras and you enter as you are, appropriately dressed in loose clothing and for the ladies, shawls are imperative. People were packed close together and arranged in neat rows to await the arrival of Sai Ba Ba and when he came, everyone tried to move closer in the direction that he was coming from. In my first experience of Sai Ba Ba's arrival to the singing of the "Om" hymn as I shall call it for lack of knowledge, I could feel electrical charges tingling and dancing at my finer tips as I held the palms of my hands facing out to feel the energy of Sai Ba Ba. In every darshan that I had attended with my friends, Sai Ba Ba spent at least an hour with us, listening to the singing and watching with us, the performances of the students from the school he set up. I remember that some students demonstrated how a series of yoga moves called "Salute to the Sun" were carried out. I remember thinking that those are exactly the moves that we need to do everyday if possible at sunrise everyday so that we can relax the muscles of our bodies that have hardened over years of crouching at the keyboard at work. In the evening, on the balcony of our guest house and looking across to the roof tops of other houses, I could see a group doing these yoga moves facing the sunset. What a connection with nature and the creator of the earth and all that goes with it. Sadly, we only connect with our PCs after sunrise and our TVs at sunset. I woud like to learn this set of yoga moves someday.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Children of Heaven

These two brothers work in the restaurant that we patronised while we were at Whitefield. The older brother, Mohan, took orders and served food while the younger one, Kishowe, helped around by clearing plates from the table and selling postcards to tourists. One evening Kishowe was trying to sell our group some postcards for 50 rupees. He was so patient in explaining what the postcards were about - the Miracles of Sai Ba Ba, the sights of Puttaparthi. For a kid his age (11 years approximately) he was a very good sales person - patient and eloquent. He worked so hard just to sell those postcards that I was moved to buy a pack of postards from him.

In the back of my mind, I saw my son who was about his age and twice his build, sitting at his PC, playing with his model cars and his playstation or X-Box with all the material comforts and given so much love and care by his family that I wish that Kishowe and children like him could also enjoy the same luxury of family comfort and love. Sai Ba Ba's teachings and deeds are centred around love and charity. This is my first step in wishing to give love to others - to be aware of the world outside the realm of my reality of daily existence that has gone on in much the same way for years. I think I am standing on the threshold of something that will take me away from the pettiness and grouses around me so that I can concentrate my energy on nurturing my children and give them the best that they deserve in their lives. In this way I will be able to harness positive energy that can be used to affect the lives of those around me and others who might need me to help them in one way or another.
After I bought the postcards from Kishowe, he was like in seventh heaven. He came over and shook my hand with a big smile on his face and that whas when I wished that he was just a kid just jumping about happily in a playground without a care in the world. Unfortunately, the reality was that he had to work for a living even though he was a school kid. In the dim lighting of the restaurant I did not notice that he was rather small for his age compared with kids that I know of. Looking at the pictures that he willingly posed for, I discovered that in every picture his eyes were sad and seem to speak of tiredness and resignation. Yet he faced life without any choice or anguish. Or perhaps I am presumptious that we, with our creature comforts lead a better life than those with so little to show in terms of possessions. What is a better life? I am beginning to get to the answers bit by bit as I write this journal.

The Giant Trees of Bangalore

My one regret about my trip was that I did not make any effort to photograph the gigantic trees that were everywhere especially the Neem trees and the Bodhi trees. It never dawned on me that those trees could be a few thousand years old until I came home and suddenly the biggest tree in Singapore seemed like a teenager in comparison. I looked through my photos again and alas this picture here is about the only one worthy of displaying on this blog. These trees make me realise how small and puny we are and no matter how advanced we are technologically and how powerful we are globally, we are nobody spiritually if we do not make any connection with nature in any way.

Sunday Best

I wasn't sure if it was okay to take a picture of the man and his daughter who stopped to look at us while we were taking pictures of the surroundings on the way to Puttaparthi. He gingerly pushed his bicycle towards us and I was struck by how well-dressed the little girl was and what a doting father the man must be to take his daughter for an outing on a Sunday morning. He was saying hello and I took the liberty to interpret that he would not mind my taking a picture of him and his daughter. I am really glad I did and he was happy with it when I showed him the digital image.

The boy who wanted me to buy a rose

He followed me around trying to sell me a beautiful red rose.When he refused to take 'no' for an answer, I took refuge from his persistence by getting into the car. He pressed against the window without giving up on me but I ignored his pleas to buy a rose from him or even as he proposed, to take the rose from him as a friend and give something in return for the friendship. I turned to talk to my friend in the car despite his relentless pleading. Then I heard a loud bang on the car door and what I saw really broke my heart. Instead of the lively picture of a little boy I saw a figure with head hung low looking scared and standing a distance from the car. For a moment I thought that our driver had hit him because I saw him pointing at the car window and then angrily at the boy. He was not a beggar and I had associated him with one. He was just a kid trying to make a living. I had hurt his dignity and in refusing to have any dealings with him for fear that giving him money in exchange would attract hordes of others like him, I caused him to lose his beautiful smile. The world is poorer for the sudden disappearance of a beautiful smile and I was poorer for my city mentality and failure to appreciate the joy of giving and receiving a humble red rose.

My trip to India

My favourite picture - where the earth meets the sky.

I was in India for 5 days in total. Our group flew into Bangalore arriving on Friday morning. We were taken to Whitefield where the ashram of Sai Ba Ba is in two cars. The accomodation was a 4-storey guest house that was reasonably clean and safe and was within walking distance from the ashram. We had lunch at a neat "fast-food" restaurant called Sanjay Garden where we made a feast out of a humble vegetarian meal of pizzas, fried rice and noodles and masala tea - our diet for the entire duration of the trip. In the afternoon I went to my first "darshan" to receive blessings from Sai Ba Ba and it was a good experience for me to actually not do anything stressful except to sit, wait and listen to the singing of the Barjans and to feel the energy when Sai Ba Ba came to bless us. We waited from 3.30pm to about 5pm for him to arrive and thereafter the session that followed lasted one hour. We had dinner at Sanjay Garden again although we did explore other places but found them less appealing to our needs.
Sat 18 Jun 2005
The next morning, we rose at 5am to prepare for the morning darshan at the ashram. We sat on the floor of the hall on cushions that we had brought along. Nothing else was allowed into the ashram except a small purse. We had to leave our slippers outside the hall and sat on the floor for two hours. Sai Ba Ba came and again I was blessed. While the singing was going on I closed my eyes and thought of all who were close to me wishing for them all the goodness that the blessings were capable of giving. After the darshan we had our breakfast at the canteen that was run by volunteers who were mostly foreigners. The meal was simple but filled with nutritional value.
In the afternoon, having heard that Sai Ba Ba had gone to the main ashram in Puttaparthi, we decided that we should wait for two more of our friends who were arriving late in the night so that we could all go to Puttaparthi the next day. Since the afternoon was free, we took a trip to Bangalore city to visit the famous Sri Radha Krishna temple where we had to recite the following verse 108 times before entering the temple:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
We had to say this verse 108 times and with each recitation we took a step forward to stand on a piece of square granite slab. Of course there was a direct entry to the temple but we chose to do it this way. Inside the temple we saw the statues of the Gods Krishna and his wife Sita adorned with diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and other precious stones we made an offering as a group and received blessings from the priests there. By the time we left the temple, it was already evening. Our drivers took us to a restaurant called the "Rice Bowl" where we had another vegetarian meal. One thing I can say about Bangalore is that it is a fairly clean city, the temperature is comfortable and the weather breezy. The traffic on the roads is really awesome, that is, after you have gotten used to the fact that the horn is used non-stop practically for every thing that crosses the sight of the driver. There are very few traffic lights and drivers cut into each others' path liberally and every driver possesses superb hand-eye coordination. Their reflexes are so super sharp that soon you begin to think that the car has a life of its own. After a while, I just put my life in the hands of God whom I am sure has worked out some means of protection for the passengers. If you have seen large shoals of fish swimming together without collision and changing direction in unison, you will know exactly what it means to be in the midst of the Bangalore traffic. Strangely, I had so much trust in the driver that I just took it calmly when he told me, while travelling on the highway back from Puttaparthi to Bangalore on the last day, that the dynamo was not working and the battery was not charging and therefore we had to travel for close to 30 minutes with no headlights and back lights in pitch darkness except when there were cars in front and behind us. We survived!
Sun 19 Jun 2005
With the arrival of two more members of the group the previous night, we set off in three cars to Puttaparthi about 3 and a half hours from Whitefield where we were staying. The journey there was pleasant and I really liked the vast expanse of land and sky, the colours of earth red and cobalt blue complementing each other with giant neem trees whizzing past us on either side of the narrow strip of road that led us to Sai Ba Ba in Puttaparthi. We stayed at the acommodation inside the ashram where it was peaceful and full of people who were there to just spend time to be in touch with their spiritual selves. The environment was peaceful and quiet with people who were genuinely pleased to see you. Even though we were strangers, we were related through Sai Ram. When we arrived at Puttaparthi, we had missed the morning darshan. We had lunch at a rather pricy restaurant outside the ashram and then bought some books at a bookshop next to it. We had enough time to freshen up and got dressed in our Punjabi dresses for the afternoon darshan. Sai Ba Ba arrived before time and conducted and electrifying session that left everyone immensely appreciative of the time he spent with us. He made a speech in Telegu that was translated by one of his aides and it was about a food and water distribution programme that would benefit the villages around the area and he called for volunteers to take part in alleviating the suffering of the villagers through participation in this programme. When the darshan was over, we had dinner in one of our rooms where we cooked the food that we brought along - porridge, instant noodles, canned food and ate the lovely mangoes and papayas that some of our friends bought outside the ashram.
Mon 20 Jun 2005
We attended the morning dashan and again Sai Ba Ba again blessed us with his presence. He left the hall and came back again, only to leave within a short while. Some people left and some were lingering hoping that he would return. We ladies went to do some shopping at the department store run by the ashram not expecting him to return but he did. Some members of our group went into an inner hall and to their delight, Sai Ba Ba returned to sit with them for a while. That was really great. I did not get to enjoy the good fortune to be so close to him this time but that means that I will be returning to Puttapathi or Whitefield in future. In the afternoon we rested and finished our packing. Our drivers picked us up at about 5pm and drove us back to Bangalore where we visited a Tibetan family who were friends of some of our group members. His daughter recently gave birth to the first grandson in the family and they were all very thrilled and happy at his arrival. We got to see the cute little baby and experienced the warmth of this particular Tibetan family before leaving for the airport. We boarded the plane for Singapore at around midnight arriving in Singapore on Tuesday morning at about 7am. Sai Ram!