By Rachna Singh Chopra July 2003 Shirdi Sai Baba. The name was fervently on my lips when I got up from my dream. The familiar face, soft with wrinkles, and eyes dripping with love, were his. He came and sat with me along a charpai in a stony cave. Holding his hand, I said “Baba” (as though I knew him since ages, or for as long as I knew myself). “Baba, what is my connection with you? How is my spirit linked with yours? Tell me!” I urged. His gaze poured unto mine as a long deep pouring of love from one vessel to another; and his words melted into my ear like solace soaks unto a grieved soul: “In a matter of 10 days, the secret will be revealed to you!” With a sprinkle of hope on my parched heart, I kept quiet. The dream ended, and the wait began. Ten days passed, 10 weeks passed, 10 months passed without a clue. His 10 days would mean my 10 years, it seemed. The secret remains under wraps. A thin fine veil stays between my ignorance and my knowing. But once in a while, with the whimsical gait of the breeze, the veil lifts a wee bit and reveals glimpses. One such day crossed my street while journeying to Bangalore on the Karnataka Express, when fever unexpectedly swept over me and rose high enough for me to ponder over getting off the train. Manmad was the station where I descended, and inquired about a place to halt. A villager informed me that Baba’s abode Shirdi was a mere hour’s drive from the station! Well indeed, how could he see me cross his gate without stopping for some rest and tea! So there I was, tumbling forth in the direction of Sai Samadhi, rolling in a strange fever I knew now to be a friend. As Shirdi neared, I felt a cool current sweep over me. The ripples of his love had begun to reach, caress and comfort me. The sleepy village soon made its appearance. Time seemed to have slept here since the time the sage blessed its soil. Who can say that Baba has left Shirdi? His presence is more palpable here than the stories of his sojourn. Checking into a room near the Shrine, I strolled out near the neem tree (Gurusthan) where Baba first appeared in 1854 as a tender boy and under its shade spent hours in contemplation. I visited Dwarkamai, the mosque where Baba lived for 60 years begging oil from grocers and lighting earthen lamps that burnt through the night. I saw the legendary dhuni incessantly burning, whose ash Baba distributed as prasad to remind his devotees that death sleeps in life. I entered temples of Dattatreya (whose incarnation Baba is believed to be), Ganesh, Shani and Mahadev that Baba visited daily. Flashes appeared before my eyes of the times when Baba used to stroll on this soil and perform dhoti-poti, a hatha yoga technique wherein he would take out his intestines and hang them up to dry. Or perform khandyoga, separating his limbs from his trunk. The echo of the numerous Naam-Saptahs held in the village amidst these very lanes fell on my ear. I started moving, bare soul, towards the Samadhi. This is the spot where Baba sat in silence for twelve years so that he could speak to his children ever after! The queue was long till the steps of the fakir. Yet, wait seemed dear. I stood patient and watchful, not even waiting for the serpentine queue to get shorter. What are a few hours, when I had been prepared to wait for years! Besides, he was with me even during the wait, I knew. I had heard tales of Baba’s life, and seen landmarks where he smoked chillum, amazed devotees with his miracles and wet their eyes with his compassion. But I had neither read what he said, nor worshipped his feet. I knew no hymns or prayers which others were so comfortable chanting. Yet, I felt no stranger to the gathering. For all I knew, Sai preached no religion other than that of love. And my folded hands contained thin lines of my entire destiny as offering. Just then his lifelike idol swept ahead of me. My head bent low, and the wish waiting at the threshold of my heart since long leapt forth and clung to his feet. O fakir, who reigns over the entire world wearing rags, bless me with the wealth of your renunciation! Suddenly, from that vast void which is Baba, I got the strength to stand truly alone for the first time, and say: “Hail, come! Come storm! I am ready, not just to take you on but move in spite of you!” I recognised instantaneously what chains are all about. I knew that everything I own is bondage. Anything I ask for keeps me chained. Anything that I hope for keeps me thirsting for the mirage of birth and death. I wish to carry just one baggage—that of an overflowing heart. Give me courage, Baba! I prayed. The fire of renunciation flared up in the dhuni of my existence. I was on my way to get consumed by the great desire to give up.
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