In the Master’s Playground

 

On 1st March 2015, I accompanied Parvathy Maa to Baba’s ashram. From Kolkotta we travelled to Durgapur by bus, a town near Baba’s ashram which was in Sonamukhi village. From Durgapur we then drove by car. On the way, Maa stopped to buy tender coconuts for Baba, as it had become a traditional offering for her to get him tender coconuts every time she visited him. I never knew that even in that unassuming act, of offering to the Guru, can hold the potential lesson for what happens to be my first ever journey to His abode.

During early 2013, I saw Baba’s pictures only on Parvathy Maa’s website. It has two images, one where she is standing beside Baba on the day of her initiation into vairagya and the other is a very moving and intimate image of resting her head in Baba’s tender embrace. This image even to date speaks to me the simple truth of how Love holds everything together in this cosmos and how Love alone is the true binding and liberating force. After few days, like most enthusiasts do, I was keen to see if I could find any of Baba’s videos online, I was longing to see the master himself in action. After several persistent attempts I discovered a magical video where in he is sitting cross legged , holding ektara in his hand and singing in the praise of the goddess Kali. One can observe that there is also mickey mouse in the back ground! He was dancing while he was sitting, by stretching out his both arms at times, and his slender body swinging in ecstasy lost in the world of the Divine Mother. Following months I played this song countless times, watching it while I was traveling to my work space in busy Delhi Metro, my head buried into my phone screen, I listened to this song while I walked to buy groceries or any occasion where I was blessed with solitude, I watched this again and again, as it had become my constant companion to fuel my own devotion unto the aspect of the Divine Mother.

Still in the car, on my way to see Baba himself for the first time, my experiences of, watching Baba’s video countless times were, surging in my heart. In the video, he probably was in his late sixties. Now I will be meeting him when he will be in His nineties! Reaching the ashram around noon, we were received by Baba’s family members with warmth, and I especially was looking at Mira Maa and offered my pranam at her feet. It was special. Then I accompanied Maa to Baba’s room, it’s a small room, hardly any space for other people to move easily. He was sleeping on the bed which was covered by mosquito net. I found space in one corner and sat silently. Within few minutes, intuitively He woke up, as though sensing Maa’s presence. I felt that, even though he appeared sleeping when we arrived, he knew that Maa arrived, he just took some time to respond. As she went close to him, he sat on his bed, there took place silent exchange between them. As I was witnessing this beautiful moment, that special image of Maa’s head on Baba’s shoulder was emerging in my vision. She told him that I accompanied her to see Baba. I went closer to Baba, offered pranams and he then looked straight into my eyes, he seem to be looking deeper and deeper into me and the first words he spoke to me were to the point. He uttered “Your eyes say that you have a conflict inside, don’t worry, you will be fine”. Just looking into my eyes he caught the conflict that was lying deep within me. I felt deeply connected to Him, I experienced a sense of belonging in His presence. I was not feeling like an outsider, or a stranger. It appeared I was His and He was mine.

The next three days were matter of simple joy and happiness in His presence, which transported one directly to the play ground of the Divine. At 90 plus, he was so playful and joyful. I was very fortunate, as those three days He told lot of stories. He would just step out of his bed, and sit near the entrance of his room, sipping tea and meticulously breaking the biscuit into pieces to dip it in tea, he narrated how as a practitioner of Baul path and as a singer, he travelled for so long. He was saying this to Maa, reminding her about what work entails “don’t expect the Divine to give you a break, He won’t. I travelled and travelled for so long, hardly spent time with my family, a Baul is always travelling and gathering. So do not expect any respite.”

He chose one afternoon to talk to me, and narrated all stories related to his performances at Shantiniketan and how he sang for so long in All India Radio and how he travelled Europe. Amidst this flow of narration, he would unassumingly insert a deep teaching. He said in order to do work, one needs to learn how to preserve the energy. He then pointed at the tender coconuts that Maa brought for him. He said “do you see, I have not used any of them, even after 3 days. I am going to keep them like that for another 3 days, and only then I will drink one by one. It is important to keep the energy with in. To spend is easy, to preserve is difficult. It is the secret of the practice .”Art of preservation was verily visible in all the things that surrounded him. Be it very precious things like his musical instruments, or apparently mundane things like the box he used to store tobacco powder, the winter cap he was wearing, the shawl he was using, all of them stayed with him for decades. He PRESERVED everything effortlessly.
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I never saw him sit with bent spine, he sat straight and his breath was always in a spontaneous oneness with His being. What caught my attention was complexion of His skin, He appeared dark skinned in the video where I saw him first, as well as in all the images that were captured of his yesteryears, but when I met him at the Ashram, his skin had more golden sheen, as though some underlying process of unseen alchemy was taking place in His body. Yes, there is lot more unseen, unstated than what appears and of that what is perceived.

How was I to ever comprehend the depth of His teachings, magnitude of His work, which was patiently chiseled over decades. All that essence can now be felt only in the strumming of the ektara! Ah, that reminds me, in my utter enthusiasm I wanted to sing to him the song which I heard in the video. What I received in return from was nothing! he just chose instead to dip the piece of his biscuit into tea, this gesture was definitely more beautiful than my broken offering. That very day, he told me where to sit and how to hold my seat and how to give it up. When I was listening to Him keenly, and when Maa arrived to be seated, there was no cushion for her to sit. He lifted his hand stick, pointed to me and asked me to get up and vacate the space for Maa and shift to a new position. I could sense the power of unseen discipline even amidst the playful approach. In these very joy-filled moments, he took the tobacco powder and offered it to me and instructed me to put it in my mouth. The next day, during the afternoon meal, before eating, I went to him, and extended my hand, he then put the rice ball in my hand and instructed me to have it and share it with Maa. During my visit in the month of December, 2015, he observed me silently and asked me to start wearing the winter cap to protect myself from the frigid weather. He pointed to the cap on his head and asked me to wear a similar one.

Many more intuitive connections that I felt I had with him at various points in time and the events like the ones I mentioned above, which appear to be very regular occurrences, these were the treasures that I could gather at his feet in the short time I have spent with him. As I feel each of them were a blessed opportunity to remain in His playfully boundless realms. I also feel that I have been immensely blessed to see Maa in His presence. To see the Guru along with the Shishya, who remained in the path facing insurmountable challenges and still upholding the tradition and spreading the liberating joy of ever evolving Baul path, I feel it is like a rare celestial phenomenon, it is only lucky few who can witness it, experience it and far fewer who can absorb the essence and harness the unlimited joy out of it. I can say this with confidence, as I have witnessed how deeply interconnected their lives are. Its like the estuary where you cannot separate out the river water and the water of the ocean, both of them choose to let go their identities to become one.

13th and 14th of Feb were very difficult days just few days before the big Tantidhatri festival. I could sense unusual agitation in Maa, and as though in response she received call from Biswanath Da indicating about Baba’s fragile health condition. I could see tears roll down from her eyes. With a sense of complete surrender she walked to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Bangalore , to find a peaceful place to pray. With in 24 hours we heard good news about Baba’s recovery.

This again recurred when she was about to leave to Denmark just after the festival. She was unusually reluctant to make this trip, but due to prior commitment, she had to make it happen. Upon reaching Denmark on 24th of Feb, she continued to feel the unusual levels of restlessness. This situation persisted for 3-4 days. What was the cause for this relentless agitation, was to manifest soon. It was as though her inner most being was telling her about His departure.

On 28th Feb, 2016 in the early hours, He chose to let go all that which He had preserved. He chose to stop that most surcharged breath, Prana, that sustained His physical frame for over 90 years, He chose to let it go. I spoke to Maa over phone, who was now thousands of miles away in frozen weather of Denmark, figuring out how to return immediately. Miraculously we found a flight which would get her with in 13 hours. Rest all of the flights had option of more than 24 hours. In that scenario, finding a fight with 13 hour duration was surely ordained by him for her.

Accompanying her as we arrived at Ashram, though there was palpable sorrow surrounding, I did not miss His presence. He was very much there. Even as I stepped closer to his Samadhi, I felt His presence. After that for next two days, I felt His presence. The playfulness, the joy, nothing changed. All of it was just there. There was no sorrow, I just felt His unassuming yet profound presence. It is this feeling that inspired me to write these few lines in His memory.

The one whose name itself is Sanatan ( The eternal), it is probably not so befitting to write something in His memory. Because words , however profound, will be transient, but He will be Eternal.

His gaze fell on my eyes
and travelled to my innermost realms
held my conflict in His tender awareness
many deep teachings were passed
in His utterances full of playfulness and joy

I saw him again in plants and flowers that surround him
In the birds that visit him
In the sleep that follows the mid day meal

In the serenity of His gestures
in the preparation of the tobacco powder
In the sipping of the tea
In the scratching of His scalp underneath his beautiful cap
In the way he placed his hand on my head

I saw Him in this world and in another
as I still breath His breath
through another body

Infusing love through His breath
My being is charged to serve Him eternally

 


 

By: Ramachandra Roddam

Ram studied management in Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. He grew up with the philosophy and teachings of Sri Satya Sai Baba, Mother and Shri Aurobindo. At present, he does seva at Sri Satya Sai Sowbhagyam, Center for Human Development and Sri Satya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital, Raipur, which offers free heart care for children.

Since 2013, he has been closely associated with Ekathara Kalari and Parvathy Maa, and has been doing seva for the Baul path.