Still within the teeming megalopolis of greater Chennai (imagine all the bonny folk of Eire squeezed into Dublin without any of the shimmering sublimities of the Book of Kells), cruising south along the ECR (East Coast Road), which by the way morphs into as picturesque a drive as anywhere on this earth, a must-see if you happen to be ever destined for Puducherry (Pondicherry).
On a weekend evening with throngs rushing to their leisure, if not pleasures, we’re headed to the Sai Baba Kendra, following scribbled directions garnered over an iPhone (thank you, Steve), driver and two passengers sharply scanning front and either side for critical landmarks (O Google, where art thou?).
There! the green-domed mosque, on the right. Take the left. Is it THE left? Too late — already taken — keep going, in God we trust, till we reach a T, never mind that it’s not a crossroads: turn right. Now we’re either dead right or hopelessly unlost, an easy 45 minutes, asking curiously unknowledgeable passersby or locals, whoever, the way to wherever. As it happens, without stopping or asking anybody nothing, we pass a Sai Baba mandir on the right; evening arati; temple bells. “Have no fear, I am here.” Keep going. Simple. And there it is. “Sai Baba Kendra.”
A haven. Home. Within sniffing distance of the Bay of Bengal, but any sounds of surf drowned out by the roar of exhaust fans cooling the kitchens of a multistory hotel on the other side of the back wall. Peace at last. And an ethereal satsang hall, warmly welcoming, all curvy bamboo varnished to gleaming perfection, no walls, high ceiling fans stirring the warm humidity into a more comfortable air. Devotees, gurubandhus, scattered about in informal fashion. Sweeping, elegant lines along the floor, like cosmic ripples, lead unerringly to the open altar where pilgrims may stand up close, and touch, life-size portraits of Shirdi Sai Baba and Guruji.
Evening bhajan, “Sai Baba,” in varied beat and melody, silence, and then aarati. Afterwards, there’s a buffet of prasad laid out upon the adjacent sands, simple and delicious. This evening it’s a large vat of aromatic biriyani rice, with a smaller canister of curd rice (tayyir saadam) to cut the richness of the former. Fruit, of course. Filtered drinking water. A bin to deposit the paper plates, taps at which to wash one’s hands.
The younger devotees were somewhat shaken when the previous satsang hall structure collapsed, on the day of Guruji’s mahasamadhi in November last year. The new hall has since ‘just come together,’ as such things are wont to do.
For three people, three hours later, a long and fruitful meeting under the selfsame satsang roof. A publication is on the anvil. Those who are near will hear.
I love Guruji’s quotes that drop into my inbox regularly. Like darts to the heart–there’s another story–they speak to me as if we were on his rooftop, that very first time in the early 90s when we were neighbors at the western lee of Arunachala, late into the night when there was no one else, just Guruji, my better half and me. Here’s an experimental sampling:
It is not by our efforts that we attain anything. It is by grace and grace alone.
Shun hypocrisy at all costs and beware of the gap between your speech and action.
Try to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful life that Baba has given you. It is an embodiment of his grace.
That which affects the heart is real art!
Baba is the mother, the loving mother, and the loving mother knows best what the child wants.