WALK LIKE AN INDIAN!
BY FAIZEL MOOI
God most certainly resides in India.
If he did not, all the Indian drivers would be dead and awaiting reincarnation. When we landed in Mumbia after midnight on 19th December 2005, God was most merciful, most compassionate. He made sure that most of the Indian drivers were asleep, leaving the streets relatively deserted. The journey from the airport to Coloba was therefore relatively uneventful. The only foretaste of what was to come was the dearth of lines painted on the road and the driver of the yellow and black taxi, which resembles a vehicle from the nineteen forties or fifties, moving all over the road, skipping the occasional robot and trying to force his way in front of vehicles at traffic circles. Robots in India are such a rare occurrence as to be objects of wonder, to be gaped at, not necessarily obeyed. Occasionally you will encounter an intersection with a concrete block in the centre. Standing on or next to the concrete block, you will occasionally encounter a traffic cop attired in a semi-military uniform and armed with a whistle. The whistle is purely for decoration as nobody can hear it over the sound of the constant hooting. Every now and again the traffic cop will make a gesture with his hand, and everybody in every direction will start moving simultaneously. Surprisingly enough, this little hand gesture results in perfect traffic management.
Our main driver in Dehli, Manoj, made the following apt observation: "In the India, all is road". In the 1980s the girl band, The Bangles, had a hit entitled: "Walk like an Egyptian". ("All the people in the marketplace go ‘wey yo, wey yo’ Walk like an Egyptian"). In the video of the song the band created a special dance based on the hieroglyphics in the pyramids to demonstrate how to walk like an Egyptian. In India, the locals have a special way of walking and driving. Walk like an Indian.
Walking like an Indian, or driving like an Indian, is based on a very simple premise. Stake your claim to a particular portion of the road and hold onto it come hell or high water. If you are a pedestrian simply walk. Do not look at the traffic. Do not wait for the traffic to pass you by. Have absolute faith (after all God in the form of Sai Baba resides in India) that the cars, the trucks, the taxis, the tuk-tuks, the cows and the occasional elephant will go out of their way to avoid knocking you over. Walk like an Indian.
If you are driving a vehicle, simply assume that every inch of the road is meant to be used. “In India, all is road”. Therefore it is entirely acceptable to have between four and five vehicles on a width of road meant for two vehicles. It is entirely acceptable to leave only one centimeter between your vehicle and the one next to you. On the rare occasions that the traffic authorities paint lines on the road to separate it into different lanes, assume that they are merely exhibiting a sense of humour and ride on the lines, over the lines, and next to the lines, so long as you're not driving between the lines. Because of this is rare to achieve a speed of over fifty kilometres an hour in the city and more than eighty kilometres an hour on the national roads. Drive like an Indian.
Of course, it would never do to forget to hoot. In India the hooter is the brake. Everybody hoots. Non-stop. In fact, of the many cultural weapons available in India, it is the most pervasive, invasive, ubiquitous and socially acceptable weapon available. There is of course a method to this madness. Remember, in India all is road. It is imperative that you stake your claim to your piece of the road. Therefore, if you wish to overtake another vehicle, hoot so that the other driver knows that you're coming no matter what. If you are about to be overtaken, hoot so that the other vehicle knows that you will not yield. If you wish to go through an intersection where traffic is crossing in front of you at great speed, hoot so that the oncoming traffic can stop about one centimeter before colliding with you. If you run out road, hoot so that both the pedestrians and the traffic on the right side know that you now climbing the pavement. On the national roads it is a national sport to drive on the wrong side of the road, challenging the oncoming traffic to a head on collision. Both sides hoot to prevent a collision. Driving with your hand on the hooter is so universally acceptable in India, that signage appears on various vehicles exhorting drivers to hoot. For example the following sign appeared on a truck: "Honk OK Please". On a bus: “Horn Please”. Hoot like an Indian.
In India all is road. In India all is mode of transport. There is the elephant carrying a log. There is the bullock cart in the middle of the city carrying all manner of produce. There is the tuk-tuk converted into a tiny truck, carrying stones. There is the bicycle and the bicycle rick-shaw carrying passengers. There is the ornate and highly decorated horse drawn carriage carrying tourists at exorbitant rates. And of course, there is the motorbike. In most countries you wear a helmet to prevent injuries. Not so in India. In most countries a motorbike carries the rider and one passenger. Not so in India. The mother, the father, two pre-teen children as well as a baby in arms fit quite comfortably onto one motorbike. As many women wear saris, they sit side saddle on the motorbike. Very seldom do you see anybody holding on to the motorcycle or a fellow passenger for support. Arms are normally crossed or hands are kept on the lap. All this is enough to drive the outsider insane. Perhaps this is why the following traffic sign appeared in Bangalore: "Save your head".
MUMBAI, NEW DEHLI, AGRA AND BANGALORE
The first thing that hits you when you descend from the aircraft in Mumbai is the stink. Then you spend the next two hours inside an airport terminal that looks like an aged hospital in very slow-moving queues to hand in your passport, have your baggage collected and X-rayed, to hand in various immigration forms, to book a taxi and to exchange your dollars into local currency.
Mumbai looks like Hillbrow having a bad hair day. The first thing you notice is the total lack of new paint on the buildings. Almost universally, the buildings are coloured black and grey, caused by a combination of rain and dripping air conditioning units and years of accumulated dirt. The buildings are pockmarked where the ancient paint has worn away. The pavements are a combination of dirt and ancient concrete slabs. A newspaper report stated that Mumbai has targeted 17 streets, frequented by foreign tourists, for a facelift. This was evident in the main shopping street in Koloba where new paving stones of reddish orange and yellow was much in evidence. The pavements were regularly cleaned, and except for the ubiquitous gobs of spit (drawn up from the gut and deposited with a great deal of sound-effects) offers a sharp contrast to the dingy exteriors of the buildings. The pavements are crammed with stalls offering everything from highly decorated and beaded bags and cushions to arts and crafts, jewelry and clothes. And beggers abound. Thirteen-year-old beggars with babies together with crones who are proberly in their late forties and early fifties. The formal shops, where the better quality items are for sale, are little bigger than the average bedroom in South Africa, yet crammed from floor-to-ceiling with goods. These are displayed when you enter, on a mattress on the floor. First you select your items, and then the bargaining begins. For Kiru, every price offered was an ugly price. Her constant refrain was: "charge me Indian prices, not South African prices". She would then take out the money she was willing to pay and if it was not accepted she walked out and started all over again somewhere else. Shopping is a hell on earth inflicted on men by women. Just because they can.
South Africans recommended to both myself and Kiru that we stay at the White Pearl Hotel. Kiru was suitably unimpressed by this recommendation once she saw the rooms. "It is ugly", she proclaimed! At three o’clock on the morning we arrived I did not particularly care. Really, it was not that bad. The rooms were clean, had an air conditioner, and had a toilet which was separated by a shower curtain from the main bathroom area. Of course it did have a few drawbacks. The window in the shower did not close properly. A man walked pass and then stood and stared at Kiru’s naked breasts while she was in the shower. "My first day in India and I was abused!" moaned Kiru. The mattresses, like most mattresses in India, was only a few centimetres thick, did not have any coils, and was designed to destroy the lower back. The toilet roll, like most toilet rolls in India, was quarter the thickness of a South African roll. The staff of course had to be tipped. Not just the ones who carried the bags, but everybody who was in the vicinity popped into the room at the same time to be tipped. Why? I don't know.
Brunch was at Leopold’s on the main road. This is the restaurant frequented by most foreigners visiting Mumbai. Probably because it is reasonably clean, and offers something other than Indian fare. Then it was on to Murillis. Everyone in Koloba knows Murali and will direct you to his store. Murili manufactures leather jackets. The place is constantly infested with South Africans. Everyone from Yvonne Chaka Chaka and PJ Powers to your average person from Derben frequents the place. Depending on your negotiating skills, you can get a quality leather jacket for as little as 15000 rupees or R214,00. I bought three. Kiru bought a lot more, bitched about the colour she had chosen, the design she had chosen and ended up with a lot less than she had ordered.
We then went down the road to Travel Line. After some negotiation the agent, Darmesh drew up a package for us for the sum of $1600,00 each. We were of the view that he was cheating us. We were right. He would shortly experience instant karma when I gave Kiru permission to unleash her inner bitch on him. More of that later.
I made a number of observations on the way to the airport. Shacks, some of them three storeys high line the road. People slept on the pavement. Children, either half naked or completely naked played in the traffic. A man soaped himself on the pavement. Mothers prepared food on the pavement or the edge of the street. Beggars knocked on the windows of the car. Outside one shack, two items of luxury: women sleeping on bed frames without any mattresses. And the stink ebbed and flowed like the ocean.
The pilot of the Spice jet airliner who flew us to New Dehli ascended and descended his aircraft like a rocket. The first indication of the speed at which he was flying came from the strained whine of the jet engines. The second indication was our arrival in New Dehli 25 minutes early. As Kiru observed: "the pilot is the Zola Budd of the sky!" The air hostesses were uniformly beautiful. One, with Chinese features, was particularly stunning. None would be out of place in a Bollywood movie. Talking of Bollywood movies, none of the women that you see in those movies are seen anywhere in India. I am absolutely convinced the women who appear in Bollywood movies are aliens from a different planet and are beamed up as soon as they have completed a movie!
New Dehli is clearly a well-planned city with broad main streets, a statute of a gigantic monkey, Parliamentary buildings, the Mogal gardens (closed to the public) a strip of modern buildings housing expensive shops, restaurants and hotels, and numerous buildings lacking in paint, but not as bad as Mumbai. And utterly boring. So boring that we ended up at the zoo. A pair of eunuchs dressed like women and wearing salacious features, eyed Kiru as we walked past them and one exclaimed: "very nice!" A few seconds later they accosted a man who was walking with his girlfriend or wife. They grabbed hold of his one wrist is while his wife grabbed the other wrist. A tug of war ensued. Urban legend has it that the eunuchs engage in this sort of conduct to solicit payment from the man’s partner to let him go. Shortly after that the couple left.
We were only supposed to spend two days in New Delhi so that we could make a trip to the Taj Mahal in Agra. On the morning of the trip Kiru got the Dehli belly and stayed behind to flirt with the hotel staff who could not understand why somebody wearing a "cool chick" pyjama top and all of 26 years of age, (please add eleven years to that estimate) would be hanging around with an old man like myself. I made the horrendous trip to Agra and the back in 13 hours. While we were taking a break on the side of the road two men approached, are one with a monkey and one with a bear. The bear had a rope through his nose, which his owner tugged causing the poor creature to drool from the pain and to cross his front paws in agony while he urinated. The monkey, holding a stick, then jumped onto his back and made funny gestures. For this spectacle I was expected to take a photograph and make a donation. Hell No!
Except for some of the hotels, Agra appears from the outside to be an even greater slum than Mumbai. The roads are narrow in places and extremely congested. No factories are allowed in the City in order to preserve its prize possession, the Taj Mahal. Instead the city is dedicated to arts and craft. Petrol driven vehicles are not allowed within two kilometres of the mausoleum. Cars stop at a drop off point and you are then conveyed to the final destination by tuk-tuk. I was given a guided tour of the third wonder of the world, which is surrounded by symmetrical walls, Gate's and gardens. The actual monument to love is made out of white marble which has slightly changed colour over the years, and which is in-laid with precious stones spelling out the Koran. Leading up to the monument are twenty two steps representing the twenty two years it took to construct. The monument is surrounded by four towers which are no longer open to the public as many people have committed suicide from their heights. The towers are tilted away from the actual moment in case they are destroyed in an attack. They are designed to fall away from, not against the actual monument. This is truly one of the seven wonders of the world.
The next day we were due to leave for Kashmir. There was a light fog, which delayed the planes from taking off. Air Deccan, which is surely the worst airline in India, first delayed the departure time and then cancelled the flight without any explanation; without any refund and without offering to pay for the extra day’s accomodation. The other airlines left for Kashmir. The Indians protested. Security came and merely looked on. We connected with two other couples of South African’s, one Allan, from the Durban branch of the CCMA. We debated whether we should teach the Indians how to toyi-toyi. There was absolute chaos. The airport authorities in Delhi clearly have not heard of ropes to divide passengers going to different counters. Consequently, everyone pushes their way to the front, resulting in a rugby scrum. Even at the check-in counters everywhere is road. The Air Deccan slogan is “Simplfly”. Later, on one of their flights, I defaced one of Air Deccan’s inflight magazine’s to read “Simpldelay”. After two hours of rioting Indian style (a lot of shouting, waving hands in the air like they just don’t care, and singing-but no violence) we decided to return to the hotel. Kiru’s inner bitch was beginning to awaken.
The next day we returned to a seriously foggy airport. Only at 14h00 were planes cleared to take off. We got onto the plane. Then the pilot informed us that we were number 27 on the runway. After two hours they cancelled the flight. The Indians rioted. Indian style. One South African Indian, Molly, lost it, South African style. Face shaking with anger, and with long suffering husband in tow, she made a comment construed to be insulting to Indian Indians. They retailed by implying that it was South African Indians who were responsible for the problems encountered. Cooler heads prevailed and we were allowed to leave the aircraft. The Indian Indians then proceeded to have a sit in on the tarmac in front of the plane. The South African Indians looked on in bemusement from the bus while I removed Molly’s stress by giving her Reiki.
Kiru telephoned the agent, Darmesh, and in no uncertain terms told him what she thought of him booking us on the worst airline in India in order to increase his fees, and demanded a full refund. We decided to see if we could book a ticket on another airline. All airlines to all destinations were fully booked. While she was standing in the queue a man approached Kiru and said that he had seen her on the Air Deccan aircraft. He asked what work she did and she replied that she was a magistrate. The man said that he was also in the legal field and asked where she was going to from there. She replied that she was going to Goa. He asked if she was going with her husband and she replied yes. The man said that she could chill on the beach in a bikini. He then asked if she wore bikini, yes please. “The man was standing there, oogling me and imagining me in my bikini”, protested Kiru. “What is wrong with these people?”
Back at the C Park Hotel, with my full permission, Kiru unleashed her inner bitch. The owner of the hotel (Mahesh) who is the brother of the owner of Travel Line, immediately tried to placate her by explaining that it was not their fault that the plane could not depart due to the fog. "Medem, Saar, please sit. Can I get you something to eat? Something to drink?" Favouring him with my most world-weary look I replied that I could do with a triple whisky. His eyes lit up and he immediately pulled out a bottle of whisky and soda. Here was clearly someone that he could do business with. Somebody who could control Medem. We are all entitled to our delusions. "Medem, please listen to me". Kiru: "No, you listen to me first. We spent two full days at the airport. Everybody says that Air Deccan is the worst airline in India. Darmesh was just trying to save money. I want a full refund". Mahesh appealed to me man to man. After all I was drinking his whisky. I turned sideways, took a gulp of whisky and stated with a long-suffering sigh:"I am tired of fighting with her". Saar was clearly of no help. The bottle of whiskey soon disappeared. When he realised that his negotiating skills were of no use he telephoned his brother in Mumbai after first determining whether we spoke Hindi. The brothers strategised in Hindi. We strategised in Afrikaans. Eventually it was agreed that we would continue with the rest of the tour and that they would refund us each $300,00. Instant Karma for overcharging us.
As we shared a room, and as our surnames are different, there was a great suspicion that we were not married. Earlier Manesh asked me if Kiru was my wife. I of course said yes. Later I discovered a set of rules stuck on to the hotel room door. One of the rules stated: "Lady guests of ill-repute are not allowed".
Kiru related the following story: "When I was in India the last time with my friend Vassie, the men kept looking at me and ignoring her. She became very irritated and said that the only reason they were looking at me is because I am so big and I look like a Negress". I looked her up and down and said: "You are a Negress". Now Kiru does not look like the average Indian Indian. Because she insists on wearing high-heeled shoes, and because her hair is permanently buffed up, she appears taller than me, even though I am taller than her. She towers over the average Indian woman. Then her hair is washed, curled and hair sprayed almost every day. I was under the impression that hairspray went out with the Seventies. Once her hair is done, foundation is applied then make-up, then eyeliner and finally the lips are underlined and then lipsticked. Of course, one must not forget that the eyes are expressive in the exaggerated Bollywood-style. Her features, particularly the nose and lips (pure Negress) are not typically South or North Indian. In fact I spent a lot of time examining the features of the Indians to see if I could find members of her tribe, without success. As a result, men (and women) were constantly looking at her, and if I left her alone for a few minutes, hitting on her. The men, not the women. Kiru was absolutely amazed. "I am wearing my glasses, and men still find me sexy. What is wrong with them?" I replied: "You are a hot chick". She retorted: "My pyjamas says I am a Cool Chick". I responded: "You are a Negress!"
One evening we were exploring the streets near the hotel. As we stood by one of the rare robots a bus turned the corner. All the men, clearly working class, turned their heads and leered at Kiru. A couple of them motioned with their arms for her to get onto the bus. Kiru: "A whole bus of men wants me!"
Boring as Dehli is, we were determined to find a party on Christmas Eve. After a wild and chilly tuk-tuk ride to the main shopping strip, we ended up at Blues, in the Regent Hotel. Fortune favours the bold. Coca Cola had a promotion. A prize was offered for the person who could say: "I love Coca-Cola" in the most sensual manner. After half a Bacardi Breezer Kiru was raring to go. She wiped the floor with the competition. The nearest competitor got 12 votes. The DJ stopped counting Kiru’s votes after the 14th vote. One wag commented: "That was more sexy than sensual". When she accepted have prize of a glass, a pen and candles, Kiru was asked to say a few words about Coca-Cola. "I am from South Africa, and Coca-Cola rocks!" Kiru was rather peeved when the DJ stole her line that Coca-Cola Rocks! A troupe of dancers clad in leather hotpants then gave a demonstration of their dancing skills to the latest hit: "Chill Chill, just Chill Chill". By the end of my trip I was singing: "Kill Kill, just Kill Kill!". Then we took to the dance floor, for almost three hours. Kiru fell in lust with a Baldi. All the dancers could dance really well. One woman danced the pantsula! In India. And she was and Indian Indian! An exhibitionist in dark glasses competed with a two year baby on the dance floor. Later the baby came to Kiru with a glass and asked for water. Kiru: "How cute". Mooi: "I told you he was eyeing you". Later that day we back for lunch and were served by waiters in red kilts. That party certainly made for our enforced stay in Delhi.
After a five-hour delay by Air Deccan, we flew to Bangalore on 26th December 2005. Bangalore is certainly cleaner than Mumbai and Dehli and the drivers, relatively speaking, are a lot more restrained. There is also a lot more paint in evidence on the exterior of the buildings. Again, relatively speaking. Because of the delay, we could not go to Puttaparthi that evening.
DREAMS AND MANIFESTATIONS
Concerning dreams Sai Baba has this to say: (SAI SMARAN-PAGE xix)
Whenever I appear in a dream, it is to communicate something to the individual. It is not a mere dream as it is generally known, it is a real appearance. Do not think that these incidents you experience in your dream are sketches of your imagination. I was giving answers thereby to all your doubts.
Here I must tell you one thing. Which dreams are real? Dreams relating to God are real. You see me in the dream, I allow you to do namaskaram (homage of prostration), I bless you, I grant Grace, that is true; all that is due to My Will and your sadhana (spiritual discipline). If the Lord or your Guru appears in a dream, it must be the result of his sankalpa (Divine Will) and not due to any other reason which causes dreams. It can never happen as a result of your wishes.
I will not come in your dreams just because you think of Me. Only when I think of you, I will come in your dream.
My road to Puttaparthi started in March 2005 when I read the Shri Sai Satcharita of Shirdi Sai Baba and then the Sai Samran of the present Sai Baba. On 21st June 2005 at 22h36 during a break in a spiritual course run by a muslim lady who certainly does not believe in Sai Baba I received an SMS from number 27 72 515 2297. It read: "You will go to prashanti to visit Swami when he calls u, pay attention to your dreams". Some time later I telephoned the number. The owner was never available.
At that stage it did not know that devotees call Sai Baba "Swami" nor did I know that his ashram is called Prasanthi Nilayam, or the Abode of Supreme Peace.
On 23rd July 2005 I had the first dream. I made the following notes when I woke up. After levitating across a beach I was called by my family. Then my family is in the toilet washing their hands. I am taking a photograph of my grandfather who is Sai Baba. Then they are all on the stage waiting in to see him. Sai/Grandfather sits on a throne. Then he sits in a lounge chair. Sai Baba then says to someone "you waiting since (my last time?) to see me. My family, and possibly myself, get closer in the queue. I am waiting/talking? For grandfather to get a blessing. As I get near the throne- or do I actually get there? I think "what do I ask for?" I think: "kill my ego". Was Sai Baba letting someone sit on his throne while he sat on a beige chaise lounge? Later I met Kiru’s son Saichin. When he smiled I recognised the younger version of the person who sat on the throne.
On 29th July 2005 I had another dream. I was dreaming of Sai Baba but could not see his face. Lots hair in dreadlocks. Death of the ego. Must really want it. A Forest. People - very spiritual in the Forest, but are these people or spirits? Dreadlocks? Mine? Cut off in a struggle? Sai pleased? Must fight for what I want. It is not easy. Two of the people/spirits with me. Spinning. Crying. Total change. Black? Woman and the guy taking by the hand. Very kind. Reference to huge establishment/ Forest. Seems to be walled off property by a wall. The lady says it was his place but he gave someone because too much pressure from the people? I later found that cutting of the hair symbolises cutting of the ego.
On 25th October 2005 I had the main dream. A few weeks prior to this I started Paramahansa Yoganada’s course in self realization which requires meditative prayer for a half an hour twice a day. After the first week I lapsed to one session per day. In the dream I went to visit Sai Baba in Prashanti. I got the idea that I was not been sincere. Black man. Then I dreamt I was hiding in a closet. This was after I hid under the bed. There was a man on top. Then a second man. The girl opened the closet and we were in school. The black man was at Sai Baba. He said things I cannot remember. I asked for Vibuthi. It was given to me. I saw it put into a pledge envelope with a brass or golden spoon. I return to camp? When I arrived Sai Baba was sitting on a couch? There was a coffee table in front. I got on to my knees in the prayer position. He said supplicate before me. It was almost as I was lying in bed instead. He looked me in the eye. He looked young and almost Chinese. A lot like my friend Haroun’s older son. I woke up to write. When I wrote that I was not being sincere my left eye felt grainy. I touched my eye with my left hand. My fingers felt gritty. Inside the whorls of my fingers was a black grainy substance. The substance was in my left thumb and my first three fingers. I had no doubt that it was the vibbuti that Sai Baba materialises as his calling card.
Coming from a Christian background I cannot help but doubt the dreams and the manifestations. On 24th November 2005 I had another dream. "Believe me beloved Swami is real". In the dream Kiru is saying something but I cannot remember what. Everybody is going in a circle. I am making an offering from a bowl into the centre of the ring. I am stumbling and uncertain. Then chanting and going around the circle. Man keeps filling bowl with the red stuff for me to throw in the centre. An announcement is made. Beloved Swami will make a sunset? Surprise cruise between--10h00? hours and. Someone says "not bad for a 40 year old?" Woke up with "Believe me, beloved Swami his real" ringing in my head.
When I mentioned some of my experiences to Kiru she saw it as a message to visit Swami again. So of course we went to Puttaparthi.
When the body named Raju was growing up in the first half of the twentieth century, Puttaparthi was a small village comprising of 106 persons. At the end of December 2005 it was a bustling town with numerous shops, restaurants and high-rise hotels. And populated by tens of thousands of pilgrims and locals. The first thing that strikes you is that most of the buildings are coated with a relatively new layer of paint. Highly unusual in India. Except for that favourite Indian cultural weapon, the gob of spit, the streets and sidewalks a mostly clean. Cleaning crews are regularly seen. Puttaparthi, relatively speaking, is the Standton of India.
You enter the main street of Puttaparthi through a highly decorated gate. On the two entrance pillars decorated in blue, gold and pink is a Lotus flower, and two creatures. Above that on the central column, which is painted in blue, are two elephants followed by the words "Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Giri" followed by another two elephants. Above that are statues of a Lotus flower, certain deities and winged creatures holding a disc representing Sai Baba’s a symbol of universal religion. This comprises of a Lotus flower in the centre on a pedestal; the Aum symbol on top; the cross on the left-hand side and the star and crescent on the bottom left side.
Some distance outside the main town is the music school with its gigantic guitars and sitars. All schooling in Puttaparthi is free. Medical care at the pink and white hospital with its huge central Dome is also free. Kiru, on her mother's instructions, went close to the hospital for treatment to her eyes. Both times doctors are not available. Clearly her eyes will be healed by divine energy.
The constant refrain in Puttaparthi is “Sai Ram”. Walk pass any shop and it is: "Sai Ram" Auntie. Come into my shop". When someone wants to go past you it is: "Sai Ram, Sai Ram". The beggers constantly touch your wrists, put their fingers to their mouths and follow you insistently with the constant refrain "Sai Ram, Sai Ram". The tuk-tuk drivers stop beside you: "Sai Ram- would you like a tour". Every second tuk-tuk offers to take you to Swami’s birth place-sai ram. Not much to see. A shrine has been built in place of the house he grew up in. Everyone in the hotel waits for a tip: "Sai Ram”"
The central feature of Puttaparthi is the ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam-the Abode of Supreme Peace. There are two main entrances, both next to what appears to be pyramid shaped temple. The Temple is decorated largely in blue and gold with a huge central gate with golden deities in various poses. It is constantly guarded by Seva Dals, the assistants who help maintain order at the ashram.
After you enter the main public entrance you turn right and approach the entrance to the huge hall where the devotees gather. There is one entrance for the women and one entrance for the men. The hall is divided into two sections. On the left the men are seated and on the right where the Avatar enters, the women are seated. You are searched twice upon entry. No cameras are allowed. The only items really allowed is a cushion on which to sit and a back rest made out of plastic and plywood. Pink and gold are the primary colours. In front is the stage with the ramps on both sides. On the stage is a golden throne. To the right is the room where Swami conducts the private interview. In front of the stage and facing the stage are four Golden Lions. The stage is surrounded by golden railings. Above the stage, in golden letters, is the Avatar’s primary message: “There is only one religion. The religion of love”. The rest of His message, is: "There is only one caste- The caste of humanity. There is only one language - The language of the heart. There is only one God - He is Omnipresent!"
The ceiling is made of the huge box-like indentations of green and gold. Hung from the ceiling are crystal chandeliers. When we arrived on the 27th December 2005 for the afternoon Darshan, the hall was festooned with Christmas decorations and quotations from and the Gospels. Near the stage were models of the baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary as well as the three Wise men. In keeping with His philosophy that the only religion is a religion of love, at one of His Christmas blessings he stated: "The great teachers belong to mankind. It is wrong to believe that Jesus belonged only to the Christians and that Christmas is a Holy festival for them only. To accept one of the teachers and discard the rest as belonging to others is a sign of pettiness. Jesus, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Allah, etc are for all mankind". (SAI SMARAN- DR J.J. GADHIA)
Near the woman's entrance are the eating halls, registration offices and security office. The police do not have any weapons, simply walkie-talkies. Three roads lead deeper into campus. Three-storey residences lead the way to a supermarket. There is a sign stating that women can shop in the morning and men can shop in the evening. I bought vibbuti at the supermarket. And Cereal – alloo parata and dal for breakfast just does not work. And that very rare commodity in India, a full-sized toilet roll. In India all toilet rolls are about quarter the size of a South African roll. As I stood in the queue to pay, an oriental gentleman picked up on my toilet rolls, looked at it and laughed. Close to the supermarket is the bookstore, which is only open from 15h00 to 19h00. You can obtain literature on the Avatar from between forty to a hundred ruppees. That is between six and fourteen rands.
"Baba in a discourse given to a crowd of devotees: ‘ When the moral purity of human kind degenerates, God takes form as Grace and Inspiration in the wises and the teachers’. But the intervention of Divinity goes further still. Parallel to the doctrine of the continuity of revelation lies the doctrine of the Avatars. The Sanskrit word "Avatar" literally means "that which descends from far away". The prefix AVA expresses the idea of "far", "away", "down". The root AV seems to have always stood for the idea of protection from Above.
"It is an inalterable and persistent belief, traceable in the basic religions of the world, that in moments a major crisis and world wide necessity, God reveals himself as ‘ The coming one’. At the basis of this common belief lies the ceaseless faith of humankind in the heartfelt Love of God. This is what Hindus call the doctrine of Avatars, which, in Western countries, find its correspondent in the wait for the return or rather second advent of the Christ, in Buddhism in the teachings concerning the return of Buddha Maitreya or the Kalki Avatar and in the Muslim world in the manifestation of the Divine Adventurer". (SATHYA SAI BABA-THE RELEVATION GOES ON-MARIA LUISA DONA)
We went for our first dashan at 15h00 first on 27th December 2005. I purchased my first ever kurta (made of white cotton) for the occasion and Kiru dressed in a new cream coloured punjabi. Naturally we had a photograph taken at the entrance to the hotel. After a long wait the signature bhajan which starts: "Aum! Aum! Aum!" resonated through the Bose speakers hung near the ceiling. Then a new silver car, flanked by Seva Dals on each side entered through the gate by the woman’s side of the hall. The hall was immediately abuzz with excitement. Necks craned get a better view. Devotees, instead of remaining seated, raised themselves onto their knees to get a better view, thereby obscuring the view of others. Inevitably certain people stood, and rushed forward. The Seva Dal’s, clad in white cotton, with a neck kercef in dark and light blue, motioned with their hands: "Sai ram! Sai ram! Please be seated!
The car moved slowly towards the ramp at the men's side of the hall and stopped near the interview room. A sliding door opened on the left side of the vehicle and Swami descended in a wheelchair that look like a car seat and was wheeled into the interview room. The first impression that one gets, even before He gets out of that car is the Crown of black hair, seemingly untouched by grey even at 80 years of age. The second impression is how tiny he is. According to Himself, barely 5 feet tall. That first afternoon he appeared frail. The next morning he seemed in better health and walked around, holding onto a Seva Dal. The third impression is the ochre gown. He was then wheeled to the women’s section, where he chose certain women for the private interview. After almost an hour he re-emerged, to the loud clanging of a bell, entered his vehicle and was slowly driven away. That first day I merely got a few glimpses and a profile of the crown of hair.
The purpose of going to the ashram is to obtain Darshan. "The transmuting effect of Darshan is correlated with the Will of the Master or Avatar to assist the processes of Transmutation…Baba as he assumed this bi-directional process in personal advice: ‘ When you go to Darshan, know (and feel) that you are being transformed’…Darshan=to see God. Sparsan=to touch God. Sambhashan=to speak to God". (MARIA LUISA DONA)
"Never take lightly the transformation that is taking place among you. All that my eyes fall on will be transformed. Always find a quiet corner after my Darshan, where you may enter the stillness and receive the completion of My blessings. My energy goes from Me as I pass you. If you proceed to talk with others, immediately the precious energy is dissipated and returns to me unused. Rest assured that what My eyes see becomes vitalised and is transmuted. You are being changed day-by-day. Never underestimate what is been accomplished by this act of darshan. My walking among is a gift… Be grateful. These blessings you receive will express themselves in due time. But also remember that to whom much is given, from him much will be demanded!" (SAI SMARAN)
On 29th December 2005, when Swami entered, I thought that I must tell Kiru that she would have a powerful experience if she took a Reiki attunement in Puttaparthi as the place is impregnated with holiness. At about the same time Kiru had her own remarkable experience. Before Swami came in, Kiru felt him - "like energy starting from the top of my head, going down my spine for a few seconds". At the gate, after the session, Kiru related her experience. I immediately said that Swami had attuned her as what she described sounded like part of the Reiki attunement where the Reiki energy is dropped in through the crown chakra down to the base of the spine. Immediately after she related her experience I felt energy like tingles starting from my crown chakra, flowing down my spine and then through my leg. This continued wave after wave from the ashram to the street leading to our hotel. We both felt the same sensation as we walked.
There is another possible explanation for what we experienced: "Swami’s presence confers energy and courage and a tremendous amount of strength in order to deal with the effects of past Karma. When he speaks to crowds, groups or single individuals, the vibration of His each single word reaches every open heart, with the power of transformation and transmutation. Faith and reasoning are therefore put together to explain Darshan. During Darshan it is actually possible to ‘feel’ these processes taking place; a sensation of the heat waves suddenly flowing up from one chakra to another along the spinal column and an intense tingling in the physical and subtle bodies is perceiveable to whoever has refined his sensitivity". (M.L. DONA) Later I did a formal Reiki attunement for Kiru, and she had a very powerful experience.
On the morning of 30th December 2005 we had our last Darshan. Kiru prayed: "Please let me feel your energy again". She related her experience: "Before he came in it went through me three times. Then, with the windows of a car closed, he threw water at me!"and that morning I had to my closest and clearest glimpse of Swami. The hall was full of people from different countries, nationalities and religious backgrounds. There were Hindus Buddahists, Christians, Jews, and from their headdress, Muslims.
Immediately after Darshan we bought beautiful wall hangings from a guy called a Wasim. He remembered Kiru from a visit two years ago. He mentioned that he had seen her walking past the shop over the past few days and hoped that she would come in. He pointedly mentioned that he was still looking for a wife.
Later we drove back to Bangalore. The following day, after a seven hour delay at the airport, and after the Indians again rioted (Indian style) in protest against Air Deccan, we flew on a turbo-prop plane to Cochin, Kerala. We arrived at our first four-star hotel (which had no hot water for most of our stay) about an hour before New year's Day. Our hopes of having a party as good as the Christmas Eve party were dashed. Absolutely no alcohol was served and I had my first dry New Year’s eve, and New Year’s day in about twenty four years.The party was for mainly children and teenagers and the music was not up to standard. It was amusing, after midnight, the see the men (in particular, the waiters) take to the dance floor en masse and jive like something out of a Bollywood movie with their hands permanently waving in the air, and their legs moving at lightening speed.
Kerala, in the South of India, is the palm tree state. There is such a profusion of palm trees that it looks like something out of “The Jungle Book”. It is criss-crossed by about five huge rivers. On New Year’s day we explored the Old Port area. Die boere was daar! It was a former Dutch colony, as can be seen in some of the architecture. Compared to the North of India, it is reasonable clean, almost free from awful odours, except when it emanates from grills covering the underground sewrage tunnels and the people are highly efficient. However, even when an effort is made to keep an area clean it is sabotaged by the simplest failure of planning and logic. There is a market just off the beach at Port Cochin. The fish is so fresh at the fish stalls that they were still flapping when I examined them. There are a number of open air café’s which specialize in seafood. The area is swept clean of dirt. However, instead of putting the collected dirt into a dustbin (there were none to be seen) it is piled up against trees about ten metres from the tables. Most un-appetizing.
Port Cochin had a number of chinese fishing devises anchored slightly off-shore. It comprises of a simple wooden platform with long wooden poles attached to it. Connected to the wooden poles is a huge net. The net is lowered into the ocean by means of a pully system. The only fish I saw coming out of the nets were hand sized fish, not the huge ones laying at the fish stalls. After a meal of lobster (the equivalent of seventy rand) and prawns, Kiru posed with the waiter who had “Happy New Year 2006” shaved on the back of his head. We then took a thirty kilometre drive to the beach a (one and half hour journey) and arrived just in time to experience the sun dipping into the oceon. The beach, with rustic huts and a few motels the background, was relatively packed with locals. Quite a few people took a dip into the ocean. Not a costume was to be seen. The men waded in attired in jeans and the women took a dip in their saris.
The following day we took a day trip to Munnar. This is essentially a tea farming area. The drive was horrendous, full of twisting roads, near accidents and constant braking. Kiru immediately became car sick. The view was spectacular. Munnar is in the mountains. As we ascended the palm teas and lush green fields gave way to tea planted on the mountainsides. Tea grows in the form of a stunted bush. The leaves on the top of the bush give the impression of a brush cut, although the bushes are clearly not trimmed. The effect is one of a green jig-saw puzzle blanketing the mountainside from horizon to horizon. This effect is broken by small gardens of brilliantly coloured flowers.
Just before you enter Mummar there is a spectacularly beautiful botanical garden. The botanical garden has a river or stream on two sides, with mountains raising in the near distance. Gazebo’s, one on a tiny island reached by a rickety bridge, are found at regular intervals. Unlike the botanical Gardens in Johannesburg which only have small patches of flowers or roses, this botanical garden boasted a profusion of blossoming flowers. We limited our sightseeing to one hour. On the descent a vehicle suddenly stopped in front of us leaving no space for our driver to turn the steering wheel to overtake. Our driver reversed, without taking heed of the vehicle behind us, and collided with the bulbar of the Venture behind. The other vehicle was not damaged. After a few brief words with the other driver he drove off, unconcerned with the ding to his own vehicle. No road rage, unlike in South Africa. Further on, the brakes started to fail. Fortunately we found a workshop where the owner was prepared to effect repairs immediately instead of finishing his other work.
On the 3rd January we left our four star hotel, which did not favour us with hot water for two days, and drove to the drop off point for our journey to the island of Alleppey. Before we left Cochin our driver took us to one of the rare bottle stores in Cochin where I bought a bottle of Vodka. Our driver, who drove like an Indian, looked no more than fifteen, but sported the Kerala cultural weapon-the mustache. Every man in Kerela has a mustache. On the way to the drop off point we passed a number of channels clogged with hyasin-floating bulborous plants much despised by fishermen for their un-erring ability to snag their fishing lines. We boarded a two cabin house boat. The hull and sides of the cabins are made of stained wood. The sides of the boat and the room walls are made of reeds. It is powered by a single motor boat engine, located at the back. Right in front is the steering wheel. One member of the three man crew mans the engine, another steers. After a through examination of the boat, especially of the mattresses which were only two centimeters thick I commented: “From four star to no star!”
Our boat, with two cabins was one of the smallest on the lake. Some of the house boats were huge. On the other end of the scale were the fisherman’s canoe’s just big enough to take between two and four people. Some of the canoes, right in the middle of the lake, had rudimentary sails, made out of cheap cloth. On the leisurely, extremely relaxing (after the hell of shopping and flying and driving) trip to Alleppey we stopped at a small island for lunch, and a cap full of vodka. At another island we purchased fresh water lobster for supper. I declined the kuiper, almost hand size, because of the ludicrous price-the equivalent of thirty rand a kilo-being asked.
We moored on the opposite side of the main island of Alleppey. A canoe taxi- capable of taking about ten passengers- ferried us across the hundred and fifty metre channel. Kiru, who gets airsick, car sick and boat sick, managed the trip with out a whimper. A wild, windy and bumpy tuk-tuk ride across the four kilometer island deposited us on the shores of the Arabian sea just in time for a sunset stroll through the waves. After a bout of shopping (would that particular form of hell designed by women never end?) to see if we could find a pair of shoes (unsuccessfully) to replace the pair Kiru broke, we returned for a supper of curried (by Kiru) lobster. The cabin windows opened, but had no mesh to prevent mosquitoes flying in. Sleeping under a mosquito net in a tiny cabin in over thirty degrees Celsius of heat is enough to make your sweat sweat.
The following day we returned to Cochin, to a four star hotel that actually had hot water. At the restaurant where we had supper I met my first full fledged noddy. Most of the Indians who were in the nodding habit, gave a half a head shake. Our waiter did the full noddy, moving his head side to side about three times. The next day we flew with the most efficient airliner in India, Kingfisher, to Mumbai. The service, from booking us in to taking off in time to providing a meal that was actually tasty, to getting our baggage into the airport within ten minutes of landing was awesome. The last two days of our trip Kiru shopped until I dropped. After a crazy dash to the airport in which the traffic was more congested than normal; where we saw hundreds of people sleeping under bridges. One of my last impressions of India was a corpse covered in flowers, with just his face showing, passing us by. Then it was home to a rain clogged Johannesburg.