As usual, I was early to reach the Madras Central Station. This was something that was not unusual. So much so, it was a talking point with the family and friends. I had the onerous duty of sweeping the station, said one. He has to inspect the tracks, said another. Divine retribution came in the form of a missed train when the spouse, one of the pack leaders of the tar and feather Nanda campaign, was in charge of the departure time and arrangements for travel from home to the station. The destination was Mangalore and then on to the Mookambika temple.
The Ganga-Cauvery Express was just being shunted into platform 13A. From there, she would gather into her innards, hordes of people, a plethora of baggage and leaky fish which would finally end on a so many plates, cooked and spiced. Bags of mail carrying the hopes and despair of millions; my head was reeling with all these statistics.
An obnoxiously rude porter brought me to my senses by yelling out that I was impersonating a steel girder holding up the massive roof of the station. Rude, but imaginative, I thought!
I travel first-class, if I can help it. Anyone who is over 6ft tall and overweight and stiff at the joints will understand and appreciate the agony and the pain to get on to one of those upper berths of the 2nd class compartment. Not to mention the series of cramps after the strain.
And not to mention the sound and the dust and the heat and the vendors'the list just goes on.
But I was not so lucky and had to settle for a 2nd class air-conditioned coach. Kept the noise out but nicely hermetically sealed odors, food and all.
My seat was 36A and being a window seat I settled nicely, my suitcase under the seat, bottle of water into the cup holder by the window, and magazines in hand.
My co-passengers started trickling in. As usual, they were a motley crowd of medical representatives, traders, and since this train was going to Varanasi, several old couples who felt that their salvation lay in the sacred waters of the Ganga.
Sacred waters? To them, definitely yes but to me it was a river that was murky and polluted. Some tried to bring in a scientific explanation of the holiness saying that the waters of the Ganga had a particular species of phagocytes that ate up disease causing bacteria and so on. I am not a disbeliever but a practical spiritualist. I am not willing to go by hand-me down theories. It would have been easier for me to accept the pure pristine waters of the Ganga as holy water but not in this state.
You know how it is. Deep in thought lost to the world, staring blankly into the tinted glass and an unfocussed area beyond, time just slid past. With a jerk the train started moving and that brought me to the awareness of my surrounding.
It was then I noticed that the seat opposite to mine was occupied. He had a smile of recognition on his face. I was quite used to it by now. Every time I am introduced to a stranger, the first remark of most people was that they have seen me somewhere before.
Must be an exceedingly common face, is what I had reasoned.
But this was not that kind of a precognitive smile that was on display. It was as if the familiarity went deep into time, into lifetimes. I felt a vague sense of d'j' vu. A similar such encounter but when and where I was not able to fathom. I just brushed it all away and told myself not to be so hyperactive about such things. But I was sure that he was not an ordinary person.
'Hi, I am Venu' he said. I managed a weak smile and gave him my name.
'Looks as if we are going to be together for this journey' said Venu.
Must be clairvoyant I thought. I was so eager in seeking miracles, I had started to look at everything as a miracle. I started to ask him how he knew when he pointed out to an outdated airline baggage tag of my previous journey to Varanasi. I nodded and asked if he was headed to Varanasi too.
'Oh yes' said Venu. ' Heading for Varanasi and to the not-so-clean waters of the Ganga' he said, with a laugh. Man, this guy was playing the proverbial cat and mouse game, I thought. Was it intentional or was it a coincidence?
First, as though to deny my clairvoyant theory he points to the baggage tag as a reason and now he talks about something that went inside my head. It came to me as a flash that even what he offered as an explanation was a mind reading in itself. Again, I blamed it all on my enthusiasm to find a miracle man.
In fact I was on this journey in search of one. An acquaintance told me of spiritual conference that was happening with participants from world over.
Where better to find a guru asked my logical brain.
I went back into my magazine and into the world of politics. I felt comforted. It was then I realized that while talking to Venu, time almost stood still. It was as though only that moment existed. A very intense 'now-ness' is what prevailed and I appreciated this only when I got back to my magazine. It was a feeling that I came back to ground level. And this was strangely comforting.
Although Venu was out of my direct or peripheral vision, his presence was effulgent and extended beyond the physical space he was occupying. It was something like sitting next to a bright light. I did not doubt the existence of the aura. Electro-magnetic radiation exists! And for those of you who want photographic proof, auras or energy fields have been photographed using a technique known as Kirlian photography.
Saints and holy men have gatherings, which was essentially having people sit in the immediate presence of their aura. Such meetings were called satsangs. The aura of such people extended onto a wide area and people in their immediate presence felt good. This can be easily experienced. At the very elementary level, the feeling of wanting to go back to the satsangs is because at some level we have enjoyed the experience.
There was a time when seeing the aura was nothing extraordinary. Most paintings of saints had a brilliance painted around them. Paintings of Christian saints and angels had a ring of light above their heads. Science supposedly gave mankind a lot of benefits. But in reality did it? We depend on cell phones to aid communication. Did it not substitute clairaudience? Pranic energy cured people. Did not modern day medicine try to replace it with chemicals? Have we found cures for every disease and condition with chemicals?
At one point in time, I am certain that the two paths, the physical and the non-physical, will converge. Awareness to non-physical existences is increasing and scientists and doctors are willing to look at many things that their professional ancestors pooh-poohed. Near-death experiences are being investigated and documented. A new branch of interest is the science of medical astrology. Are some of us prone to certain diseases? Having been pre-warned thus, can we take measures to prevent the onset of the disease by prophylactic remedial action?
The Aquarian age we live in is the age of humanity and unity. This age is the time to go back to the true sense of freedom. The age of materialism is over. Happiness with riches is on the wane. It may not very obvious now but it will become more and more evident. Many of us are caught in this transition. While we, deep down know that riches are not the answer to our happiness; we need money to live. This is the root of the confusion during the transitions.
An old Tamil proverb goes like this. The one who planted the tree will also remember to pour water. What it translates is thus. The universe is a fountainhead of abundance. We create shortage or abundance in our lives. Much as it is difficult to accept this into our lives, it is true. The first step in believing this is to accept that there is such a theory and keeping our eyes open for signs to validate this theory. To most of us, this has happened already. When we wanted something in all earnest, it materialized almost from nowhere.
The train suddenly screeched to a halt and that is when the most amazing thing happened. There was chaos all around as the train lurched around quite a bit before it came to dead stop. With the news of the Rajdhani derailing a few days back fresh in my mind, the first thing that struck me was if this was another of those accidents.
A child who was sleeping on the upper berth to my left was pushed out of her berth and fell out. I instinctively started towards her when time kind of slowed down and everything was happening in slow motion. I have read that when calamity strikes, the people involved feel that things begin to happen surrealistically. The child who rolled off, stopped mid way and was waiting for me to catch her. There was no way I could have traversed the distance of ten feet between my seat and the trajectory of her fall before she hit the ground. It was then I was certain that Venu was not just another man.
I handed over the child to the parent in the next cubicle with a few words of advice and returned to my seat,
'Good job' said Venu. I looked at him.
'Venu, you know I didn't do it. I couldn't have reached fast enough. It was instinct that got me reaching out and you did the rest,' I said.
'C'mon, shed the modesty,' said Venu with a twinkle in his eye. 'You are a hero in everyone's eyes and you say I did it?' 'I did not even move an inch,' said he.
'Venu, I am confused and I do not know the answers to many things but when something like this happens, I have enough awareness to recognize that what happened was out of the physical world I live in'
Venu laughed not in scorn or disdain but like an indulgent mother. 'You relied on instinct and you got there. If you had relied on logic, you would have not because you would have never believed that you could have caught the child. Your logical brain and your intuitive consciousness are not on the same plane.'
' Many times in this lifetime and before, your intuitive consciousness has manifested so many things around you' he went on, 'Learn to live with your heart; love and compassion are the sure fire cures for all your confusion'
With these words, he started singing a song. He had a deep voice that reminded you of somebody you knew but you couldn't guess. It had a strange, magnetic quality and it was as if the sounds of the train aligned itself to the beat and scale of his song. I still remember the words as though they were burned into my brain.
The song ended and there was this atmosphere of intense peace and quiet in the silence that followed. I was immediately reminded of how the spaces between two successive chants of Om gives the same feeling. The same feeling that happens while retaining the breath between inhalation and exhalation in Pranayama.
I savored the moment as long as I could.
'Venu, I wish I could sing like you,' I said
' Why? You should be singing like yourself,' said Venu. ' Most of us try to be somebody else and end up being a nobody.' 'Each of us is unique and should strive for excellence in the talents that we have' said Venu.
'We are born on earth to live our aspirations and fears.' ' Each of us has the required skills to be happy. ' Venu went on to say how it was important to tune in to our hearts and realize the purpose of our life. 'A musician should live music; eat music and breathe music and nothing else.'
I remembered a book I had read long back. Apparently it looked like it supported casteism but in reality it did not. It said that people should stick on to the trade, which was practiced by the caste they were born into. The reasoning was that skills were passed down from parent to progeny. Thus a jeweler's offspring would have the skills of the parent and what he learnt during his apprenticeship. This is what Charles Darwin theory of selectivity was as applied to everyday life. For the trader, the heat of competition in the market nourished the skilled man while the less skilled just withered away.
Skills and memory were encoded in protein. There was an experiment conducted to prove this. A worm that was conditioned to react to light was fed to a fish. It was no surprise when the fish reacted to the light too.
'Why don't we remember our past lives?' I asked Venu.
'Don't you have enough memories of bad and good in this life?' asked Venu. On reflection it became clear to me. Just imagine if we had to relive the trauma of birth, the problems we went through in our previous lifetimes ending with the trauma of death. It would be terrible. There was this well documented case of a girl in a village in Kolkata who remembered her previous birth. At the age of five she insisted in seeing her husband and children. Apparently she had died during childbirth.
'You remember your past lives only after the physical body dies.' said Venu. ' You see all of this life and the lives before, juxtaposed against the purpose which you set to achieve in this life. You begin to clearly understand why you chose to be born, the family you chose to be born into and the friends who helped you in life and those that gave you trouble! ' Venu broke into a laughter and said that those that caused you trouble were the ones that taught you valuable lessons in life. 'For nothing happens without a purpose,' said Venu.
'Why go through all this Venu, cannot the soul just learn everything from the spirit guides and evolve on the spiritual plane without ever being born? ' I asked.
Just then the catering vendor entered into our cubicle.
'Meals saar ' vegetarian or non-vegetarian?'
I repeated the question.
'Why go through all this Venu, cannot the soul just learn everything from the spirit guides and evolve on the spiritual plane without ever being born? ' I asked.
'The soul is never satisfied with theories,' said Venu. 'Direct experience is required for learning and earth is not the only physical plane in existence for gaining the experience.' 'There are numerous worlds such as where we live in and where the soul gains experiential knowledge,' he said.
'So why am I not aware that I am the indestructible soul and not this physical body with all its trials and tribulations?' I asked thinking that life would be much easier.
'Intellectually, you know you are the soul and not the body,' said Venu. 'You have to get the direct experience of this, until then you will never be convinced' 'For, once you gain the experiential knowledge that you are not the body but the soul then you have finished with this chapter of your lesson on earth.' 'After learning this, some choose to remain the length of time of their destined period on earth and help others to reach that state, while others just move on shedding their mortal bodies,' said Venu.
'Why does God play hide and seek with his devotees? Why can't he just appear in all His glory and help us all out in these turbulent times that we live in? I asked with a certain amount of exasperation. 'Why doesn't he put and end to all these wars and killings instead of showing Himself through so-called miracles' I went on.
I was referring to all the shower of sacred ash from the photographs of the Gods in some houses. In some cases some devotees go into a trance and foretell the future; speak in strange voices, strange languages, all of which is quite common these days. Would it not be desirable to just zap the brains of the troublemakers and make them see reason?
'That's a nice theory,' said Venu. 'Slightly better than what you had wanted in school. Since you hated math you wanted to zap the teacher!'
Embarrassed to the hilt, I ignored this barb and went on to ask him about the large numbers of holy men and woman showcasing their spiritual powers to all. All of them had some physical manifestations to prove that God was their personal property. Some had a miraculous rudraksha that manifested itself during their prayers; some others spoke about a fossil with divine markings that suddenly appeared in the prayer room and so on.
'The manifestations that you see and hear are all creations of the lesser evolved spirits, and not manifestations of the Eternal.' said Venu. 'Just as we like to be recognized by our feats and acts, egos exist in the spirit world too! '
'So are these acts to be recognized as something authentic or fake?' I asked Venu.
'The best test is that if such acts are being done for self-aggrandizements of the individual practicing it, or if it is done for making money, you should stay away from such people and places.' was Venu's answer.
He continued, 'Some spirits remain earthbound and don't go the ethereal plane where they can continue with their education. Such spirits still seek earthly pleasure and for this they need a body. So to gain power over you they tell you, using the medium, irrelevant details about your life thus gaining your confidence'
'Hey, but isn't God or at least our guardian angels supposed to be protecting us against such psychic invasions' I asked indignantly.
'You can be certain of one thing,' said Venu. 'You cannot be invaded thus without your permission.' 'Generally people who indulge and seek such help are usually trying to get something they are not entitled to, in the blueprint of their life. Some seek to wreak revenge on their enemies by using the powers of such entities.' Venu continued 'Such people by their acts make themselves defenseless against such attacks as they are verily inviting trouble!'
I had read about a theory that what ever you give the Universe, it returns to you threefold.
'All of us have an aura that protects us and the best way to maintain a strong aura is to have a clean and pure life,' said Venu. 'Jealously, hatred, and other such negative emotions thin the aura making holes which allow entities to feed on such vibrations that these emotions generate.' 'Once an entity gains entry, you become an empowered source of negativity and you begin to sap the energy of those around you and it then becomes more and more powerful,' said Venu.
I listened to all this deeply and somewhere deep within I realized that a lot of questions were answered. And like every other situation the solution was so simple. Lead a clean and pure life; love your fellow human beings. Help all and love all. It was all so simple. No complicated mantras, no eye watering homas, nothing. I was passionately thankful to what I had learnt. I had never felt so alive.
The train started shaking again and this time very violently. A booming voice that started from afar raced to the present moment. I found myself staring at the ruddy face of the conductor who was shaking me out of my sleep. I had reached the New York Penn Station and he was asking me to get off the train.
'Hey, you knocked out or something?' the conducted asked
God, was this all a dream? It was all so vivid, the train, the child, Venu and what he spoke to me, and the song he sang'.
There was long queue to the elevator to the first level of the station. Still in a daze, I was absently staring ahead; a businessman was rushing to get to his appointment on time and was weaving his way through the rows of parallel queues to the escalators.
As he passed me he gently pushed himself through and asked me with a wink, 'So you did not get to Varanasi, after all'
I stood transfixed. The man faded into the crowds before I could even react.