By Nandini Sarkar January 2013 Surely there is not one among us who has not been helped by a stranger in a critical period in our lives? Nandini Sarkar explores the mysterious ways the universe supports us through unknown quarters Jesus was sitting in the midst of a crowd when a messenger arrived, saying, “Your mother and brothers are outside, asking for you.” Looking at the people around him, Jesus said, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers, but those who do the will of God.” Mark 3:31-35 Have we met before? This story provokes the question: Who do you consider family? I have heard people from dysfunctional families say that their friends and colleagues have been more supportive than family, and people from happy families say that the turning points in their lives came from chance encounters with people they barely knew. Inthe Biblical story, Jesus tells the crowd they are as much his family as his own mother and brothers, because they are connected by a common love for God. The Buddhist scriptures tell us that no one in the world is actually a stranger. Each soul, in its journey through countless lives, has been linked to every other soul through different family roles. In her book, Dancing in the Light, Hollywood diva Shirley Maclaine reveals the instant bonding she felt with an unknown Russian director who was new in Hollywood. Eventually, through past-life regression, she discovered they had been connected in past lives as mother-son and as husband-wife. Against this backdrop, people whom we label ‘kind strangers’ are perhaps those who have re-connected with us in this lifetime through spontaneous demonstrations of fellow feeling. In Shankar Mahadevan’s classic Breathless song, which is about people meetingbriefly and then separating, there is a line that goes: ‘Hum jo mile hain hume aise hi milna thaa, gul jo khilen hain unhe aise hi khilna thaa, janmo ke bandhan, janmo ke rishtey.‘ Each soul, in its journey through countless lives, has been linked to every other soul through different family roles. Roughly translated, this means, ‘Flowers bloom because they have to and we have met because we had to; my friend, these are the bonds of lifetimes, the relationships of lives gone by that have briefly re-surfaced.’ How often I have remembered these lines in the course of myriad meetings over the years with myriad strangers in myriad settings, for my company, C-Quel. Such encounters lend a great charm to the already rich tapestry of life. Pulitzer prize-winner, Tennessee Williams, immortalised this concept of kind strangers in his play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The central character, Blanche Dubois, a disillusioned person with many skeletons in her cupboard, says, “All my life, I have depended on the kindness of strangers.” Soni, a staunch devotee, learns through experience that the Divine is playful and as part of the Divine leela, strangers come to delight and surprise us. Soni was eagerly looking forward to the visit of her guru, Neem Karoli Baba, to a family wedding feast. After waiting for hours for Baba to show up, she finally gave up in dejection. A big, black dog had strayed into the gathering, nosing around the scraps of food thrown in the litter area. Angrily, she shooed it away. Some days later, meeting Baba in his ashram, she asked why he had disappointed her. Baba replied with his luminous, captivating smile: “Oh, but I did come! I was the dog that you turned away!” Vinayak Lohani, whose family of underprivileged childrenrun into thousands One day, during a school tifin break, I was craving an ice-cream but had no money. Suddenly, I saw my brother Partha in the distance, gorging on an ice-cream cone. I ran up to him to claim a share, then happily ran back to my waiting friend, Pallavi. Back home, when I narrated the incident to our mother, my brother flatly denied either having the ice-cream or meeting me in the break. I called Pallavi and she testified having seen me eat my brother’s cone. But my brother whipped up a frenzy of denial saying he had carried no money that day, a fact supported by my mother who checked our bags each morning and who was very strict with pocket money. Besides, he had no reason to lie, as mother did not ban ice-creams. For years into my adulthood, I thought over this incident. Finally, I concluded that it could have been another boy, Narayan, in our school, who was my brother’s age and looked a lot like him. But how could I have mistaken Narayan for my brother in broad daylight and how could Narayan, with whom I was certainly not friends, passively tolerate my licking his ice-cream? Whoever it was who shared his ice-cream, thank you, through these pages! I have never forgotten that act of kindness on a hot summer’s day! Stranger guides As a child, I had a strong feeling about being loved and protected by an invisible presence. I was brought up in a caring family, so it was not that I was starved of love and seeking it from imaginary sources. This keenly felt circle of protection gave me great confidence to do things that people considered reckless or foolhardy, such as standing up against ragging or against powerful bullies. Later, as an adult, I read about unseen angel guides. I wondered who my ‘stranger guide’ was, who had taken care of me through my turbulent teens, never demanding anything in return? Even in my spiritual life, I found help from ‘stranger’ guides, who were outside the Kriya yoga ‘family’ of teachers that I follow. I was not acquainted with their philosophy and was not in their family of followers but they manifested in my life through various incidents of benediction. Sai Baba of Shirdi showed up ever since my company, C-Quel, was formed. In 2001, after a business meeting in Raipur, the client insisted I visit the famous Sai temple close to their office. There was nothing to do in sleepy Raipur, so I decided to go. There was a long line and I stood by myself, a stranger in Raipur. To my surprise, the priest beckoned me to come forward, asked me to spread out my dupatta, then proceeded to dump a coconut, flowers and prasad into it. I was puzzled, wondering why he had singled me out, but taking this to be a good omen for my venture, I soon forgot about it. Some years later, I was in Hyderabad, nervously waiting to meet a difficult customer who was known to send people packing with fleas in their ears. Looking around idly, I saw an upturned Sai Charita Manas on his table. When he returned, I asked him about the book just to break the ice. The dour, reserved man was completely transformed and started speaking animatedly about Baba. In the course of our conversation, he suddenly summoned some of his staff to the room and asked me to give a talk on the spiritual life! Seriously, I did not know if he was sane but I gave a 10-minute talk in a daze because there was no exit route. After this, the man helped us to implement a critical project. At the start of another major project in Bangalore in 2008, I asked the caretaker of the guesthouse if there was a nearby temple I could visit before my client meeting. This time, I was not surprised when he told me that I would find a Sai temple two hundred yards away. Thankfully, over time, the Bangalore project proved to be a success and opened new business avenues for C-Quel. This time around, shaking off my complacency about Baba’s help, I visited Shirdi and offered my grateful thanks for his loving presence in my life, completely unsolicited but so graciously granted. Before my son’s birth, which was going to be through Caesarean section, I was a nervous wreck lying in hospital. My daughter had been born a year-and-a-half ago, also through Caesarean section. I was wondering, belatedly, whether it had all happened too fast and whether anything would go horribly wrong with the baby because my body had not been allowed enough rest after my daughter’s delivery. A young nurse entered my room to prepare me for the operation. We started chatting and I told her about my fears. She made an unexpected disclosure, gently stroking my head, “I am the great, great grand-daughter of Sri Sri Ram Thakur. Look, this amulet that I wear around my neck has been handed down directly from the Master to various generations of my family. Let me offer his blessings to you through the amulet.” Reverently touching the amulet, I took it as a sign of divine assurance. My son was born a healthy baby and my fears proved unfounded. A few months before my son’s birth, a colleague of my husband had literally dragged us to the Sri Sri Ram Thakur temple in Javadpur, Kolkata. I tell my son Riddhiman that Sri Sri Thakur is his stranger guide because no one in our family knew about him. Each time we discuss this, my son jokingly says, ‘Now Mum, no tears, please,’ because he knows, that even today, the memory of the loving assurance I received from a stranger, makes me weep. My personal experiences have convinced me that the invisible Masters, who may be complete strangers for us, are nevertheless with us, on our Earth journey. They send us signs to assure us that we are indeed loved and encouraged to move on, no matter what adverse circumstances we find ourselves in. In the face of this amazing support, freely offered without any preamble or introduction, ‘O death, where is thy sting, O grave, where is thy victory?’ Science of compassion Robert Levine, Professor of Psychology, has studied the likelihood of people assisting strangers in need, in different cities and countries. In one series of field experiments, he compared helpfulness toward strangers in 36 US cities; in another, across 23 countries. Professor Levine has conducted conferences on The Science of Compas
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