Late in 2004, I received a telephone call from my elder sister Bhooneswari. She informed me that she had just arrived in Mumbai from South Africa and asked if I could meet her at the airport in Bangalore the next day. I was living in my little flat next to the maidan in Whitefield at the time.
Mustak and I met her at the old HAL airport in the city and we drove back to my flat amidst the market gardens. Eschewing his auto rickshaw because I said my sister would be uncomfortable in it, Mustak had hired a friend’s taxi. It was a large Spanish car, then made under licence in India. It was much more comfortable than the jurassic Morris Cowley which was then made in India to an old British design and re-named the Ambassador.
The old and the new; the Ambassador flanked by newer models
On the drive back to Whitefield, Bhoona explained that she was on a tour with friends. She had asked to be excused for two days so that she could visit me and perhaps fit in a hurried trip to Puttaparthi where Swami was at the time. I asked the driver and he said we could do the trip to Puttaparthi and back in a day, provided that we left Whitefield at about two in the morning. He could have us back in Whitefield before nightfall.
My sister and I said that the arrangement would suit us and we confirmed that we were engaging him for the trip the next day. He gave me a business card with his mobile number and said he would be at my flat at two a.m. or shortly afterwards the following day. My sister paid him for the airport trip and gave him a generous tip.
We went to bed early that evening but hardly slept. Bhoona was already up when I awoke. She had showered and made a light breakfast of coffee and buttered toast by the time I rose at 1.30. She had also made some tomato and cheese sandwiches and a Thermos of coffee for the road. I showered, dressed and joined her for breakfast. By two we were ready and waiting, but even half an hour later, the taxi had not arrived. I dialled the driver’s number but there was no answer.
I made several calls to the driver’s mobile telephone after that but there was still no answer. All we could do was wait, our hopes of making it to the morning darshan in Puttaparthi rapidly fading. Finally, well after 4 o’clock, a sleepy female voice answered. It was the driver’s wife. She apologised for both she and her husband had overslept. She said that her husband was in the bathroom and that he would be at my flat shortly. Nearly an hour later, he had still not arrived, so I called once more. His wife said that he had already left and that he should be close to my flat.
He finally arrived close to 5.30. I was not pleased and I told him so. He apologised but insisted that even though we might not arrive on time for the 7 o’clock darshan, we certainly would be there before it ended at nine. If we were lucky, Swami might deliver a discourse, in which case the darshan could stretch well beyond nine or ten o’clock.
I was still sceptical. In the best of times, that journey took at least four and a half hours, even five. The new national highway to Hyderabad had still not been built at the time and we had to travel on back roads through farming villages around Whitefield to Chickballapur, then on the old highway after that. My sister, not as familiar with the roads as I was, was still keen to go, so we left Whitefield. It was 5.30 a.m.
Our driver seemed to know the back roads and farming villages well for he drove at a snappy pace and we reached Chickballapur surprisingly quickly. We turned onto the main highway where, thankfully, the day’s traffic was not yet heavy. We made slightly better progress, but I had given up hope of reaching Puttaparthi even before nine that morning, though I did not voice my misgivings for my sister’s sake. It was well after 6 o’clock.
I must have dozed off after we turned onto the main highway, for after a while, I became aware of an eerie quiet. Thinking that the vehicle had stopped, I opened my eyes and tried to see outside. All that was visible was a blur with occasional electric lights flashing by, so we were moving. I presumed that we were passing villages and isolated farmhouses that I remembered from previous trips, hence the lights.
I thought that our vehicle must be travelling very fast and glanced at the speedometer. The needle indicated a steady 50 miles an hour. I was puzzled. At that almost snail’s pace, why were the landscape and the villages flashing by in a blur? And what had happened to the road noise? I wondered whether something was wrong with the speedometer and asked the driver. No, he said; there was nothing wrong with it and he was driving at his usual 50 miles an hour.
“Then why’s everything outside flashing by like lightning?” I asked.
“Everything is normal, sir. Nothing is flashing by and I can even read the movie posters on the shops.”
It did not occur to me then that he could not see what I was seeing. I was to make the discovery only years later that I often saw what others did not.
everything was flashing past…
We were in a cheap, mass-produced vehicle not anywhere as well-insulated as more sophisticated motor cars. In previous trips to Puttaparthi in those vehicles, I had been aware of the road noise and stiff suspension. Now there was only silence and in addition, I could not feel any bumps and shakes. It was as smooth as though we were floating on air. Trees, villages and electricity and telephone poles were still flashing by in a blur.
I had no idea where we were, for familiar landmarks were impossible to recognise in that flurry of rapid movement. Yet my wrist watch showed that it was just after 6.30, and that meant we were still far from our destination. I turned towards the back seat to look at my sister. I wondered whether she too realised that something strange was happening. She was fast asleep. Perhaps it was a good thing, for she tends to become anxious. I let her sleep, The speedometer indicated a sedate 50 miles an hour, but everything outside continued to flash by as though we were flying.
We went around a bend in the road and another surprise waited. A white arch across the road indicated that we were entering Puttaparthi. Astounded, I looked at my watch. It was ten minutes to seven. I was completely bewildered. We had left Whitefield less than an hour and a half previously and here we were entering Puttaparthi! I could find no rational explanation for what seemed an impossibly-fast journey.
we were entering Puttaparthi!
The driver turned towards me and said, “ I told you not to worry, sir. We are actually early.” He did not seem to realise that we had lived through a miracle that morning, so I let it be. Only much later in the decade of my first sojourn near Swami did it dawn on me that I often saw things that others did not. I saw everything outside the taxi flashing by; the driver saw only the road and villages to which he was accustomed – and the speedometer registering a steady 50 mph.
I was too stunned to speak anyway. My sister had woken up and was still sleepy, so she did not quite realise that something extraordinary had happened. I was more puzzled than awed. Having arrived in India less than two years previously, I had not realised at that stage that I would experience a series of inexplicable events throughout the course of my stay. It was only towards the end of my first decade in India that the full, amazing picture begin to emerge.
The driver left us in front of the Ganesha Gate of Prasanthi Nilayam. My sister and I separated at the Ganesha shrine after arranging to meet there when darshan was over. She would follow the ladies queue to the women’s section while I went to the men’s side. Both my sister and I were happy to find that we had excellent positions in Kulwant Hall because we had arrived on time. Swami entered the hall shortly after we were seated My sister told me later that she had been so close to Swami that she could have touched him. She was in ecstasy because He had looked into her eyes. We met after the darshan and went to breakfast in the Western canteen.
It would only be a ten years later, recovering from a life-saving heart operation in South Africa, that I would look back and evaluate my strange experiences. Only then would it occur that I had lived through a decade of miracles.
Only then would the awe and wonderment come, when it gradually dawned on me as I lay in my bed in that quiet Highveld farmhouse, why those experiences had happened and who the Doer was, that in my Indian years, I had walked beside God.
Om Nama Shivaya,
Om Sai Ram
Republic of South Africa