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Saturday, April 30, 2011

A meeting with Sai Baba, 32 years ago

In 1979, as a 11 year-old boy, I first saw Sai Baba, in person, at the Sai Baba Headquarters in Bombay.
It was on the extensive grounds of what was called, Dharmakshetra, as the Headquarters was named.
My father, mother, and two brothers had come in around 1 pm to the vast shamiana. Though the Darshan was only to be at 5 pm, people had come in from the morning, and there was a vast sea of humanity, singing bhajans.
As time went on, the crowd kept increasing, and the excitement grew.
It was a very different and unique kind of excitement: the excitement that, at 5 pm, you would actually see God in person.
The bhajans kept increasing in tempo, and people started singing them full throatedly.
After 5 pm, everybody's attention was on the stretch of road down which Sai Baba would come in his Black Mercedes.
When he finally came, at 5.30 pm, everybody held their breath, as the Black Mercedes stopped, and there was a glimpse of an orange robe, and Sai Baba came out.
A collective sound, half gasp, half roar went through the crowd, as people strained to see him.
Some people folded their hands in veneration, and others put their hands up, palms facing Baba's direction, as though to catch the rays of holiness coming from him.
Goose pimples erupted through me, and I watched him, rapt in attention.
Sai Baba pulled up a little bit of his robe with one hand, so that it would not snag, and delicately walked through the walkways built through the crowd. Wherever he went, people in the front rows reached out to him. Sometimes he talked to them, sometimes wrote on the slip of paper they showed to him, and sometimes he took the petitions people gave him. He would hand over the petitions to orderlies coming behind him, hunched over lest they block people's view of Baba.
Occasionally, he would materialize Vibhuti, and distribute it in the crowd.
There must have been a crowd of 50,000 there, and every pair of eyes followed Baba, as he walked down the length of the shamiana.
Baba would, once in while, move his hand in circular motion, as though in wonderment at God's creation, or Maya.
Finally, he went up to the podium, and delivered a speech in Telugu, which was translated into English by an interpreter. The speech was about being good, about the need to pray to God, and about the transience of earthly life. He never referred to himself as God or talked about his miracles.
After the speech, he sat on a throne-like chair, watching us, as we sang Bhajans.
There was a sense of being his children, a sense of perfect safety and fulfillment.
When he left, there was a feeling of loss, a sense of 'what are we going to do with the rest of our life".
The kind of feeling you would get if you had actually seen God, and spent an hour with him, and then he went away.
In the ultimate analysis, Sai Baba may or may not have been a fraud or fake, but the emotions we felt, our devotion was genuine.
Perhaps, ultimately that's what matters.
What's more, I  believe that every single person who was in that crowd of 50,000 in 1981 would have   succumbed to the belief that he was divine: the electric atmosphere, the hours of singing, and the way Baba was showcased ensured that.
If you have not seen Baba in the flesh, at his darshans, you will not understand the phenomenon......

Monday, April 4, 2011

Stumbling on to Anish Kapoor in a natural setting

In February, like so many Delhiites, I went to the National Gallery of Modern Art, to see the famous modernist sculptor, Anish Kapoor's work. Like so many others, I found the circular mirrors, and the black spaces boring, and wondered what the fuss was all about. Well, last week found me taking a walk in Kensington Gardens in South London, and I stumbled onto this giant mirror in the park:


Ducks were pecking at it, and it looked absolutely stunning in its setting, amidst verdant English turf and a crystal clear pond. There were no placards saying who the sculptor was, or what the work was titled. Unmistakebly Anish Kapoor, I thought. When I went back and googled it, sure enough, it was "Sky Mirror" by Anish Kapoor, unveiled four years back. Of such stuff are serendipitious discoveries made, I thought....