(I started writing this on April 27, 2012 but found time to complete it only on April 29)
Yesterday was April 26 and it brought back heart-wrenching memories. I remember sitting beside Bhagawan's crown of hair as He lay there in disturbingly deep silence. Will He end it now? When is the drama going to move on to the next scene which is bound to be exhilarating? What a day it was in Prasanthi Nilayam in the July of 1963 when Swami in an instant shook off the debilitating malady that had crippled His body for a week! It was as if every devotee was born anew. When is the Lord going to replay that scintillating sequence? And imagine how fantabulous that moment would be! Million times thrilling than even Lingodbhavam.
I waited impatiently and prayed piteously as I gazed at His pure face. Will the eyes open now? Did His toes move a bit? Is He about to gesture something with His right hand? Will the much-awaited, much-prayed and much-pined-for revelation happen now?
As I sat there eagerly anticipating for that mother of all miracles to happen, I heard murmurs about the impending visit of the Prime Minister of India. He along with many other dignitaries from Delhi were to come that evening to pay their final homage.
“Now it is going too far,” I said to myself. “Is Swami still going to continue with the drama?.... Or, is this the reality!?”
My body shook with fear and piercing grief. I did not want to believe this but... did I have an option?...
I had no interest in who was coming to seeing Him. How does it matter? If Swami is really not going to be with us again, if He is truly not going to stop this mysterious play, then I am better off not being in Mandir, I said to myself.
I had in my hand an incense stick and as I noticed how this thin strand of wood slowly and steadily destroyed itself, little by little to make the lives of those around it fragrant, I said to myself “there is no use of me idly sitting here when my Lord has systematically sacrificed every bit of Himself to make my life and the lives of millions like me worthwhile.”
I walked out of Sai Kulwant Hall into the streets of Puttaparthi. The endearing scenes of caring and moving instances of devotion that I witnessed that day remains evergreen in memory. It was as if love was virtually flowing in the streets of this holy hamlet. Everyone was out to help the other.
If there was a shopkeeper doling out cookies to everyone standing in that never-ending serpentine queue, there was another generously handing out butter milk in plastic tumblers to anyone who was thirsty. The third was a middle-aged Mohammedan with the characteristic white cap on, who along with his sweet daughter was gladly serving spiced rice to every pilgrim standing in the rows.
Suddenly a dynamic man met me and lovingly invited me to go along with him; he wanted to show me something. Once I reached his house I saw how he had created a big cooking area beside his home where food was being prepared continuously. I was moved. I took a few pictures and thanked him for his love.
As I continued to walk I noticed a youngster panting for breath; I took him out of the queue, arranged a place where he could rest and then promised him that I will be back soon with some medicines.
I had actually walked far beyond the Hanuman temple, little beyond the area where the usual Saturday vegetable market happens. My hunt for a medical shop brought me all the way almost to the Gopuram gate as except Appollo Pharma no other shop was open that day. I ran back to him having procured the tablets. Fortunately he was still there in the same location and was delighted to receive the pills. I moved on.
The queue did not seem to have an end. People were sad, dejected, tired and restless too. The PM's visit had only added to their woes; the lines had stopped moving for quiet a while. Many asked me, “Can we have darshan? We have come from so far...”, “When are they going to close Mandir? Can I see Swami today?” and so on. Softly and sweetly I assured them that each one was definitely going to see their beloved Swami.
Then I noticed some very senior members of the Sri Sathya Sai Trust, Kerala having a tough time in the queue. They were people whom I have been seeing for years in Mandir verandah. I felt sorry for them. “Come with me please,” I said to them and escorted them to Mandir through some short-cuts. Somehow everywhere there was an obstacle the police were very cooperative with me. It took half an hour to drop them inside Mandir premises through Ganesh gate but it was worth it. I was satisfied.
I returned to the streets and corners of Puttaparthi. And then I saw one scene which is ever fresh in my memory. There were a group of Sai Youth from Andhra who had set up a temporary kitchen and were serving fried rice and curd rice, and there was this boy shouting at the top of his voice, with the entire energy of his vocal chords, pleading people to have Swami's prasadam. His passion to see that no one went hungry because of grief or unavailability or any other reason moved me to bits.
In every lane and bylane, home and hearth, shop and godown, there was this overpowering stream of camaraderie and kindness. Even though my heart sank with sorrow whenever I thought of Swami, I consoled myself saying, “At least I am doing what Swami would have liked me to do – helping someone in need and documenting this touching saga of Puttaparthi. The only way I can mitigate my sorrow to a little extent atleast is by service... That is what His life was all about and that is what my life should also be about...”
And the next day when the final ceremonies of His body were done I cried and cried copiously.
But whenever the tears stopped I remembered the incense sticks. Even now whenever grief grips me those thin fragrance-exuding martyrs inspire me. Life, they say, is worth living when it is lived for others just like my Swami did, smilingly year after year for more than eight decades. We can then shine as sparks of His love and our lives too would become sublime and serene, fragrant and vibrant.