Friday, 18 December 2015

A Double Helping Of Divine Blessing

This morning I got an update on my Times Of India news app. Yes I have downloaded that particular app because I need to know exactly what is happening in MY country and of, course, about the important events taking place around the world. This morning's news brief said that a second miracle performed by Mother Teresa, who passed away in 1997, has been recognized by the Pope and soon sainthood will be conferred on her. India was her adopted country and she lived, served and breathed her last there.
Saints and sainthood are not new for India and Indians. The Hindu religion is absolutely filled with them and it is their devotees of that period who have elevated them to this status, after witnessing many miracles first hand. We have even happily embraced saints of other religions, having understood the basic fact that good people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of religion! The long lines of people, many of them Hindus, outside famous dargahs and churches are a mute testimony to this fact. Whatever and whoever helps you to understand life and its vagrancies and helps you live it to the fullest, teaches you to cope with its heart breaks and tragedies and helps you remain down to earth even at the pinnacle of success, is the one who is a representative of God or a saint for most people.
I, too, visited the holy city of Shirdi last July, where the shrine of a famous siant is located. It is a few hours drive from my home town Pune and every time I meet some one new from India and mention where I am from, the almost standard reply is " Oh yes, we have passed through your city on our way to Shirdi!" Since I had begun visiting the temple of that saint that we have here in Nairobi, I was determined to visit Shirdi in the last holidays and even more determined to drive there myself!
My husband was in Nairobi and he laid down the condition that even if I drove myself, I had to hire a driver to accompany me, in case something went wrong along the way. I agreed ONLY because I cannot change a flat tyre to save my life, an error I am determined to rectify when my children start learning how to drive. I have told them they must learn to change a tyre first, before getting anywhere near the wheel! My older sister in law agreed to accompany me and everything was set for our holy trip.
Since I teach at my academy during the two months that I am at home, I had a class the evening before we were supposed to leave. My car was parked right outside our gate, as I had taken it to top up the fuel tank for the next day's journey. (I say 'my' because it was a gift from my husband to me when we moved back to India from Tanzania and my children call it my 'third' child and I just need an excuse to get into it and take off!) I stepped out of the gate and as I looked up at the heavy black monsoon clouds that laced the sky, the first few fat drops were just beginning to fall. My classrooms are a four minute walking distance from my house but I did not want to risk getting wet as I was travelling the next day.To be honest, getting wet never affects me and I usually prefer to walk to class, as it helps me make the transition between home and work, but, like I said, any excuse to drive! So I slid into the car as I had my key in my hand bag and, well, took off!
As I came onto the main road where my class room is located, I spotted my Yoga teacher. She was just hopping onto her scooter, after buying something from the corner shop. I waved to her and went and parked a bit ahead of my classroom. Since we had not met since I came back to India, and we share a deep friendship and a reciprocal teacher student relationship too, she had followed me and she stopped her scooter to talk to me. Understand that if I had walked to class as I had originally planned, instead of jumping into the car at the last minute, we would have missed each other by a couple of minutes as she would have left by the time I rounded the corner on foot. Miracle no 1.
We share a deep connection on all matters spiritual too and she is responsible to a great extent for my spiritual development through the yoga class I have attended for years and so I excitedly told her about the trip I was taking the next day. She asked me if we had a 'pass' to enter the sanctum sanctorum as the next day was a Sunday and it would be even more crowded than usual. I replied in the negative and said we were leaving really early and were mentally prepared to stand in the queue for as long as it took to reach inside.
Thursdays and Sundays are the two days when the maximum number of devotees throng to this temple from all parts of India. A really busy day could see anywhere between seventy thousand to eighty thousand people in ONE day! My teacher said her husband's cousin was a Shirdi native and could organize VIP passes if told in advance but even he had warned her to avoid asking him for a Thursday/Sunday pass! She said she would call him all the same and she did, standing right there, outside my classroom. He said he would get back to her. I said goodbye and walked into my classroom to start my class. She promised to message me when she heard back from him.
Half an hour later the message on my phone said two passes for the main noon 'Aarti' (the part where the Gods are venerated at a fixed time every day) were waiting for us in the temple office, despite the short notice and for such a super busy day! Getting passes meant not only bypassing huge queues but  getting passes for the Aarti meant that we would get to spend a substantial amount of time in the main temple hall, as a Darshan (blessing/worship) pass would have allowed us just to file past the saint's statue. Miracle no 2.
5:00 am: a cool, rainy, Sunday morning. The driver reported for duty very punctually, was appalled to know he was on stand by and was being paid to NOT drive, but I gave him no choice and soon we had picked up my sister in law from her house and had hit the highway. A few short hours and a coffee and shopping break later, we were in the busy temple town of Shirdi, teaming with people, vehicles and animals. As cell phones and cameras are not allowed in the temple, we left everything with the driver in car park. That's also the reason I do not have a single picture of our trip for this post!
A short queue later we were at the pass counter and our names were checked off the list. My teacher's brother in law had really done the needful! I paid for the passes and soon had the coveted pieces of paper tucked safely inside my purse. We entered the huge temple complex and were told to go towards a particular entrance since we had passes. We could see never ending queues forming on the other side, despite the fact that it was so early in the day. That's where we would have been, had it not been for my 'accidental' meeting the previous evening!
We showed our passes to the policemen guarding that particular entrance and were allowed to enter and join a queue. (Police protection has been granted as this, being one of the most popular and richest temples in India, is under constant threat of a terrorist attack...) Yes, even with the passes there was a huge crowd of similar pass holders!
Our line inched forward, up and then down a flight of stairs, through a corridor, a packet each of 'Prasad' (blessed food) was thrust into our hands and then finally we were in neat lines that crawled forward towards the statue of the saint. I realized why the collective noun says 'a crush of people'! People from all walks of life had merged to worship together. The rich, the poor, the disillusioned, the disheartened and the blessed ones who came to offer thanks with loads of gold! We took a quick Darshan (worship and blessing), said quick prayers and then I realized that everyone was being ushered forward, towards the exit, so how and where were we supposed to wait for the noon Aarti? I showed our passes to an usher and was told we should go back quickly and join the Aarti queue and come in again as it was scheduled to start soon! Our passes were torn in half already but he just told us to explain to the person checking the passes. An 'error' had been made by people who do this job day in and day out! They had 'accidentally' misread our passes...
So we rushed out, joined a much shorter line, as very few people were privileged enough to have been granted Aarti passes and soon we were back inside the main hall! We enjoyed the divine aarti blissfully for the next twenty minutes and worshipped to our heart's content and also got two more packets of Prasad! People plan for days, travel miles, stand in queues all day and get a quick glimpse of the saint's statue before they are asked to move on. My sister in law and I, in a span of a couple of hours, had managed to entered the sacred space not once but twice! Miracle no 3!
What a lovely double helping of divine blessing! And it tastes so much sweeter when you go with no expectations at all and are just willing to accept what God chooses to dole out to you on a particular day. But then, that's true of everything in life, isn't it?


  1. Thought of Dr Marion Hillard who said' Faith is the antidote'.

    1. I need to read her book again. I must have read it 30 years ago! Remind me in June.

  2. Thought of Dr Marion Hillard who said' Faith is the antidote'.

  3. Faith and miracles go hand in hand.


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