Simply surrendering to the Shirdi Sai Baba, in my opinion, solves all human problems.
Believe me, He hears, understands, cures.
My first time in Shirdi was in the company of what had been my extended family …
This is what I wrote in 2007:
I was being frisked at Chennai’s air terminal in Meenambakkam as a prelude to my emplaning into the flight to Mumbai by a burly sub-inspector in the employ of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
The officer looked at my trimmed beard and grimaced.
Probably he thought I am a Muslim because of my trimmed beard.
Then he noticed the ID issued by the Government of Tamil Nadu hanging around my neck which proclaimed the fact that I am an accredited journalist. It also gave my name – something that proclaimed that I am a Hindu.
On a platform parallel to me, another uniformed man was checking was a person who obviously had an Islamic denomination betrayed by his attire, longer beard and cap.
Commuters travelling by an aircraft are not supposed to carry incendiary devices. But, the cop waved me away – though the offending lighter was still in my pocket. Probably my profession disarmed him. Maybe, the fact that I belong to the majority community also did play a role.
The other guy wasn’t so lucky.
In spite of the fact that the x-ray machine had not found anything suspicious in the Muslim’s hand luggage, a constable went through it for almost five minutes, looking at the passenger condescendingly all the while.
“These idiots will check harmless ones like us, but real terrorists will be allowed to get through with enough armaments to blow us out of the sky. We have become unwanted in our own land,” the Muslim gentleman said a little later as we stood in the queue to enter the aircraft.
The question as to whether India had become the Hindu Bharat intolerant of other religions propped up in my mind like a red neon light.
Can this sort of attitude result in all Muslims acquiring a ghetto mentality?
The next day, a walk through the totally “Islamised” Kasaiwada (butcher's colony) in Kurla (a northern suburb of Mumbai) where I had played carrom in the by-lanes as a kid provided some insight into some aspects of this nagging feeling.
It was a Friday and the afternoon prayer had just ended.
I sported an Indian style short called kurta a bit longer than usual without any pre-meditated design that day.
I was greeted by a number of Muslims in their traditional method mistaking me for being one of them.
I greeted them back appropriately as I had learnt it during my youth.
Strolling past the mosque in Pipe Road, I noticed that all the small once-Hindu-owned grocers’ outlets, eateries and teashops had been taken over by Muslims.
Though the huge slum behind the mosque had morphed into a multi-storied complex, there were some remnants of the old Chawls (tenements) in the neighbourhood.
Before long, I realised that a small crowd had gathered and began murmuring with menacing intent. A young man with a skull-cap shouted in Urdu that as I did not have the all-important black scar on the forehead (something prominent in devout Muslims these days because they repeatedly pray) I was obviously an infidel.
In a jiffy, I saw angry lads pouring out of the nearby abattoir with swords and cleavers.
Suddenly I heard a familiar voice.
“That is Hari Bhai, my friend from childhood!”
I turned and found Mahmud, my childhood mate who always used to beat me at carrom. He was dressed in an Achkan – something usually donned by the atheist Nehru.
Mahmud also sported a long, greying beard.
“Uncle, don't you remember that one of our boys…”
Mahmud quickly silenced the objecting young whippersnapper.
“Shut up! Do I have to remind you that I lead the prayers here every day? And by the way, what harm can a single unharmed Hindu do to us? Even if he could and we manage to kill him in “anticipation”, what would be our gain other than police raids, cases and more grief? Go away!”
Mahmud always had a booming voice.
But I had never heard him shout before. His gaze was fierce.
The younger man looked away.
The crowd thinned.
“Come in Hari Bhai!”
Mahmud's wife brought us tea as we sat down on a settee.
I noticed she wasn't wearing a veil.
As I had migrated to Chennai (then Madras) in 1976,
I had not attended his marriage.
In fact, I had never bothered to visit that quarter since then despite my periodic trips to our financial capital.
Mahmud showed me pictures of his children – four boys and three girls.
Three of them were doctors, two were professors and two were engineers.
All of them had married and settled in various places in Mumbai amidst better surroundings, my friend wryly said.
“I could have shifted to a better house, but didn't. Somehow, I want to be surrounded by the smells and sounds of this quarter,” Mahmud averred.
We briefly talked about acquaintances I had lost touch with.
Two of them had relocated to Thane district, one was in the Gulf, a third was in prison (a bully in the old days who had now become a felon), and a few others were in the Middle-East except one who had died after a lifelong drug abuse, Mahmud offered casually during the ensuing small talk.
The nearby slum had been taken over by someone from the underworld outside who seemed to have an endless supply of money and it turned into a complex making several crores of rupees in the bargain, Mahmud continued.
“Later we came to know that he was connected with the terrorists and the underworld. Mercifully, he is now in prison. All of us hated him anyway,” Mahmud added flatly.
The topic shifted to the general metamorphosis of the Muslims – from a docile lot I knew in the Bombay of old into an aggressive group in Mumbai.
“In the medieval ages we were lording over a better part of the earth stretching from Spain in the west to Indonesia in the east spanning three continents. Our emperors – be it my namesake – the marauding Mahmud of Ghazni, and one of his predecessors Chengez Khan the Mongol or the benevolent emperor Akbar, the first secular monarch who ruled India much later, we were feared and respected,” my pal began.
“Slowly, Christianity, crusades, colonialism, capitalism and communism ate away our real estate. Now, the same is being done in the name of democracy – a system of governance in which Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) had excelled by uniting several thousand tribes of nomadic shepherds who did not know anything about the wide world. The cunning capitalists took away everything one by one including Palestine.”
I could discern anguish in his voice.
“Before long, our people began living as refugees in the very lands they owned – only to be reviled, taunted, slaughtered and forced to live in conditions worse than sties. In spite of having won a war against the better-armed, Godless communists in Afghanistan, our brothers have been subjugated and finally called terrorists of the globe after the west used, abused and discarded us like useless, wasted, chattel.”
Now the tone had turned bitter and angry.
“We are fighting against ourselves in Iraq, betraying our cause in Turkey by currying favour with Europeans and have forgotten the lost world of Kurdistan even as our oil is short changed to fulfil the needs of a hungry set of self-seeking shysters. Now, our youth – left with no possible vocational future since they only know their culturally rich mother tongue Urdu – they have decided that they will call the bluff of the world with belligerence. Some here have decided to control the underworld, others have turned guerrilla fighters in the Middle East and our brothers in Iran are working on the Islamic nuclear weapon and so on. The manifestations of the pent up anger are different, but the underlying angst and anger are the same. We simply want our respectful haven in geopolitics back because the long era of slavery has shamed us. The same realisation will dawn on Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and all similarly betrayed national identities with a heritage to cherish.”
Mahmud had become emotional.
I could see that he had changed from a peace-loving carrom player into a rabid fundamentalist.
Though I could have argued for days against his strange logic, I decided against it because it would be fruitless. Mahmud may have a newly acquired persecution complex but he still was sane enough to share his thoughts with an old Hindu friend.
I bade him goodbye.
I was scheduled for a pilgrimage to Shirdi – a village in central Maharashtra I had visited long ago. Its only claim to fame was a secular saint who simply called himself "Sai Baba" and spent a lifetime in the early part of the 20th century preaching universal brotherhood. He had lived in a mosque and begged for alms, yet was loved by the rich and poor – Hindus and Muslims.
A six-hour drive took me there.
The small shrine had morphed into a huge complex – almost another Tirupati – complete with winding sets of staircases leading to the sanctum sanctorum housing the Baba's grave, his huge marble icon draped in ochre silk robes and several priests and security personnel milling around harrying worshippers.
The village’s once sleepy lanes had become noisy rows of shops selling bric-a-brac and mementoes. Several restaurants serving various kinds of ethnic local food at fancy prices, huge guesthouses, inns and four three star hotels had sprung up into the rapidly developing township.
Instead of the dubious “special darshan” arrangements in return for higher denomination currency notes a la Tirupati, there were ad hoc passes that helped the occasional, rare, exception and bane of all faiths – the VIP jumping the queues.
The state government had taken over the trust that had overseen the administration of what had become a big temple, but mercifully, had ensured that other icons hadn't been erected to pander to the taste of the Hindu majority, which visits the place. There indeed are a few, rare Muslims, the occasional Sikh and sizeable number of foreigners to be found at Shirdi.
And yes, signboards prohibiting the entry of “non-Hindus” were conspicuous by their absence.
At least, the new management had desired to honour the Baba’s important yardstick for belief in the Ultimate – everybody is ruled by a single God. He didn't specify such an entity's identity except naming him Allah - and stressing on the meaning of the word which is omnipresent and omniscient. Baba considered himself equally close to all epithets of universal supernatural powers – be it Bhagwan, God or Allah.
The growing numbers of worshippers at Shirdi revealed that faith needn't be monotheistic at all.
Hindu Bharat is yet to adopt a completely blinkers on attitude – at least for the time being, thank God!
I was in the sanctum sanctorum for a brief few seconds…
A flash passed through me … and I knew something pleasant inside me had happened.
Till then, machinations of some of my family members had forced my dependence on mind numbing drugs.
That disappeared within a week.
Within a month, I was the chief of a national news agency’s Tamil Nadu bureau.
My life took a turn for the better.
Some of those personal stumbling blocks put in place by others began disappearing … quickly, one by one.
Obviously, in my past, I had sinned.
So, the punishments too came … but with a kind of kindness … that instilled in me a will to fight … and fight to win.
Seven heart attacks … a vicious vilification campaign by certain sections of the Tamil Nadu police … political fixers … backstabbing by those who sadly are still my relatives … and the friends who have turned fiends … yet … if I am fighting fit … it is the Supreme Mercy of The Sai.
I wrote this after my second visit in 2009.
Ethereal Divinity – properly sought, responds with compassionate, instantaneous alacrity and efficiency to address one’s emotional and physical needs.
The immediate, real humanity around us, more of often than not, does the exact opposite.
This dawned on me after being blessed yet again by the infinitely merciful Apostle of Universal brotherhood – the immortal Saint Sai.
I undertook the pilgrimage to Shirdi to obtain His clearances for several epoch-making career and business decisions.
As always, the call from Him was sudden.
The air and train tickets materialised out of nowhere in a jiffy.
The Mumbai leg of the journey went like clockwork.
The ensuing train travel from Mumbai to Nashik – the major railhead nearest to Shirdi was unbelievably comfortable.
The glitches began outside the railhead around 9-40 pm Saturday August 8 2009.
Three-wheeler drivers ceaselessly short changed me.
I was bluntly informed that transportation from Nashik to Shirdi are ‘difficult’ after 8 pm upon arrival from Mumbai around 10 pm.
A share-taxi operator dropped me off at the entrance of the temple town citing non-existent “rules” after collecting a tidy sum by 11-45 pm.
When I began approaching hotels for rooms, I was turned down brusquely.
The first three simply said, “full”.
The fourth offered its master suite – for Rs.7,500 for just the night.
Attempts to find simpler accommodation left me confused.
“Single persons are not given rooms in Shirdi at all,” innkeepers told me with grim regularity – one after another.
Attempts to discern the reason produced strange results.
“It is the terrorist problem, you know...” one guy remarked.
“Sometimes, emotionally afflicted single pilgrims commit suicide...” another person offered.
“Local police officials have issued prohibitory orders. Single persons should not be given rooms at all,” some 9 lodge owners averred.
Police officials were evasive during subsequent enquiries even after seeing my government issued press identification.
“We discourage unaccompanied single males in Shirdi as per orders,” a head constable in the police station said curtly without elaboration.
Finally, at the outrageous price of Rs.2100 per night, I was given an ‘air-conditioned’ room whose contraption was in the wrong mode – rendering the accommodation completely uncomfortable.
A cup of tea and bottled drinking water cost me Rs.30!
Not having slept for over 24 hours, groggy despite a cold shower, I levitated towards the temple to join a long queue of ardent worshippers keeping awake with an effort.
Television screens installed along the winding, barricaded path beamed live pictures of the ‘Kakkad Aarti’ from 5-15 am onwards.
Devotees began jostling from 4 am itself.
During my two minutes’ physical presence within the sanctum sanctorum, Baba’s benign grace not only bestowed a strangely serene freshness in me but also accorded an immediate mental tranquillity and helped me arrive at simple solutions to several complex work-related and personal issues.
Being human, fleeting moments of anguish and anger clouded my judgement upon being repeatedly fooled by the hoteliers, transport operators and other minor cheats – all out to make a quick buck at the pilgrim centre owing to difficult financial conditions prevalent throughout the world at this point in time.
I speak most Indian languages and passable English, am well informed/connected and generally bold.
I even am acquainted with the Trustees of the Sai Temple.
Yet, I was helpless while being surrounded by greedy frauds in Shirdi.
While the worry of what other lesser, unsuspecting mortals would undergo under similar circumstances daunts me, I am at peace thanks again to the ever benign Sai.
He attended to my needs as He does in the case of every one of His devotees with quicksilver reflexes, unerring care and diligence expecting nothing in return.
The final leg of my journey back home to Chennai by road and air proved comfortable, satisfying and excellent in terms of business indicating He had begun working on my problem immediately.
The temporary mad urge to complain against my recent human tormentors was quelled by orders from my Sai.
“Some of my children sometimes do err. It is My duty to help such persons turn a new leaf sooner or later. Corporal and/or other punishments are for misinformed people who wrongly think that such measures work. Complaints only generate hatred. Will you emulate My love or chase mirages to mete out a chastisement that you may feel at different times is deserved virtually by the entire world?”
I could hear Sai's words as the Kingfisher jet took off from Pune airport in the evening towards Chennai as I began ruminating on my tour.
“Why don't you copy the magnanimity of different organs of your own body? Does hunger render your brain to malfunction as a protest against the stomach’s failure to store food? Will you cut off a finger or limb after a minor itch, a small boil or the odd fracture? Minor/major irritants in one's body are nodded towards a cure. Treating irksome fellow human beings similarly is a similar exercise as our mortal body is a miniature of the entire Universe. The endeavour would make them as properly functional as one's physique in a user friendly manner till necessary or turn them better reducing global suffering and strife!”
The voice faded away and I woke up after 40 tired forty winks during the plane ride as it made a feather-touch landing at Chennai.
The next visit was in the company of my good friend and journalist Ayyappa Prasad.
I had passed through the roughest of phases of my life.
Some money was due … and badly needed.
I had managed the trip in the company of Ayyappa.
We managed the darshan in a very facile manner …
The trip itself had been part-financed by Ayyappa’s son, Unny.
We were blessed by the Love Personified Sight of the Baba facilely.
We also briefly passed through the temple for Saturn – some 70 km from Shirdi in a village called Shingnapur.
Just as I entered the temple … my mobile phone rang.
The long overdue money had been deposited into my account.
“There are two transits of the Saturn as per the Hindu calendar,” another of my pals – movie director Vijaya T Rajendherr had said a few weeks earlier.
“Because of your birth star, star-sign etc your life tortuous phase has almost ended. The first Saturn transit in the north Indian calendar will give you a pleasant shock and life will become easier. It will be further eased when the event happens as per the southern almanac,” the bearded multi-talented director – who unlike most movie-men does not smoke, drink, womanise … just works, works and works he had added.
It exactly happened.
When I narrated this to rationalist friends of mine, they laughed.
“You never were completely scientific and continue to believe in a lot of mumbo jumbo. But, it is also true that you are an honest, stubborn idiot. The honesty and stubbornness paid … and it only you got you back some of your own money … and remember a lot of people owe you a hell of a lot of money … and all your divinities’ combined help haven’t netted you 10% of what is owed to you,” a Marxist-Leninist friend had remarked.
The following thoughts occurred to me:
Do lunar movements not affect us?
What about the Sun-spots that cause celestial magnetic waves then?
If a gigantic gravitational pull of the Sun can keep all its planets obediently revolving around it to a set pattern that has remained unchanged for billions of years … if the similar, scaled down forces generated by the latter can keep their satellites revolving around them and when their combined energy affects life’s seasonal conditions and evolutionary process on earth, is there a method to the madness of astrologers?
If little cells within the human body can be created and killed in thousands every second … if the ancient wise men had correctly guessed that the human body is a miniature of the ceaseless evolution of the universe, are the stellar formations, evolutions and revolutions affecting human life in a strange, yet to be fathomed way?
When I said this to my friend, he laughed louder.
“This is yet another silly attempt to convert rationally thinking persons to commercial charlatanism. You were involved in a company that propagates Hindu religion. Many of us know you strove hard … but those who now own the company … your own brothers and sisters repeatedly stabbed you in the back and made your life a misery. Many of their published work – that includes the odd one penned by you … too peddles tripe and makes people believe that buying gold on Akshaya Trithiya will help it multiply three-fold. It is a stupid trick to jack up prices of the precious metal that day. Similarly, what are routine harvest and threshing festivals have been turned into religious events like Pongal and Diwali … and the whole system was created by feudal landlords to keep the serfs under control by a show of benevolence but also as a cruel reminder as to who is the boss. And you Hindu religious cheats even are propagating other festivals and propitiations to non-existent deities for pure pelf and profit,” the gentleman passionately argued.
I raised my eyebrows at his diatribe.
“In spite of the vehement rationalist line, you were, you are and you will always be a friend,” I began.
“That much is true … for you had stopped the police encounter that could have killed me when I got arrested. And you sought to correct some social ills on our say so breaking age old false beliefs,” he said.
“Religions do not preach mutual hatred, the immortal Urdu poet Allama Iqbal who opted to stay in Pakistan – a nation created purely on religious hatred later in his life had said. How many times have Hindu deities been quoted as saying that there is nothing as superior or inferior in a caste system that has no religious textual sanction? One can quote the instances of Saint Nandanar in Chidambaram, the Muslim Consort of Lord Vishnu in Srirangam temple, the innumerable instances of Christian priests aiding Hindu and Muslim religious festivals not only in Tamil Nadu but all over India and perhaps throughout the world! In Wimbledon, London, UK, Lankan Tamils acquired a church, retained its exterior shape and created a Ganesh shrine inside! Worship goes on uninterrupted. We in India demolished a mosque … saying it was on the site of the birth of Lord Ram. Archaeological excavations have proven that a temple did exist in Ayodhya and that a mosque was built in its place … after demolishing the original structure. Prophet Mohammad [PBUH] has been quoted as saying in the Koran that some 124,000 prophets have walked on the earth before him and that he has merely condensed the goodness of all that good preaching. He took many women into his household … more due to their being abused by lecherous men in the name of Islam after the husbands of those women had been tortured and slain by the enemies of the Prophet. Since he did not want anyone to accuse Him of living in sin, he took them as ‘consorts’ or so the Koran says! Even if the Prophet did take them as his wives … can any human being today emulate what He did … converting a few hundred thousand persons without shedding a single drop of blood in Mecca when he came back from exile? Is there a single Muslim anywhere in the world who would work in the kitchen along with the womenfolk, clean utensils and even footwear as his ‘wives’ did? Do those in Saudi Arabia consult women in every decision taken within the household, society and the nation as the Prophet did – which is what the Koran says? On the contrary … women are being denied rights in the name of the Koran … which also quotes the Prophet as pointing out flaws in the weaker sex. But, the same Koran also prohibits any kind of suicide or taking the lives of non-combatants. Doing so, the Koran avers, is prohibited and those who indulge in such activities shall rot in hell even beyond Judgement Day, it says. Therefore, as some Islamic scholars have said, the suicidal Jihad [the fourth one termed one of the Holy Sword] is a forged fraud on the faithful! If all of us are willing to accept that Lord Jesus Christ beseeched his Heavenly Father to forgive those who painfully crucified him, can anyone realistically justify religious wars called Crusades? Hindu God Krishna has been accused of promiscuity – taking some 16,000 women as his ‘wives’. Are those who point that out as a wrong, willing to accept that the same Lord Krishna lifted an entire mountain with his little finger? And can those who cite Lord Krishna as an example to be lecherous today create an egalitarian society as He did in the role of a king-maker, despite hailing His from a community that was only known to exist in the no-man’s land between 2 nations with the only possible vocation of breeding cattle? I agree with you, my friend, when you say that religion has become the opium of the masses. That conversion of one’s faith into a hallucinatory substance meant to generate sinful profit through unholy means is the handiwork of those who twisted religion for personal aggrandisement since the past 2000 years! If one looks hard enough, the good amongst communists like you are saying the same thing in a different way as is being mouthed by the passably decent amongst believers like me! Yet, there are rationalists who actually feed on the social inequalities to foster the abomination for political purposes. Like a human body takes food through one opening and ejects the waste from another, good and bad coexist everywhere on earth. Just as the waste is a by-product of the intake sustenance and the same waste can be put to good use to rejuvenate the soil to regenerate more sustaining substance, the co-existence of the good and the bad cannot be wished away and have to be applied productively as the human body does … just as the Saint of Shirdi … conveyed to me … during my earlier trip’s homecoming,” I told him.
“While you have a point …” the argument with that friend went on … and so it shall endlessly.
Meanwhile, as a matter of ample precaution, here are a few tips to devotees who visit Shirdi:
Do not travel alone to Shirdi if you plan to stay the night
Unless you have prearranged transport, avoid travel at nights after 8 pm from Nashik or Pune
Jostling might disturb your fellow devotee – perhaps as mentally peaceful/ troubled as you.
Book your accommodations in advance after confirming all prices. Forgive minor transgressions against you by fraudsters and leave to the infinitely better judgement of Baba. It will make you and your tormentor human beings.