In October 2004, work took me Nasik, a city I had never visited. To reach Nasik from Baroda, I preferred going through Mumbai. A direct rail connection was not available and 12 hour travel by bus is not my idea of safe and relaxed travel. So, I decided to take a night train from Baroda which would drop me at Dadar (a locality in Mumbai) at 4:30am. And from Dadar take the 6:30am bus that drops me at Nasik 4 hours later.
I left office at the eleventh hour and rushed to Jyotsnaben’s residence. Jyotsnaben runs a meal service and I have been eating at her place for the last few years. Her food might waver in quality on occasions, but she invariably more than makes up with a healthy dose of affection. Truly, she serves more than one can pay for. Even with a fortune. As I rushed through my dinner, I was telling her of my travel to Nasik and she happened to mention that since I am going all the way to Nasik, I should also plan to visit Shirdi and pay homage to Sai Baba. I replied to Jyotsnaben’s suggestion with haste and maybe even some disaffection. I said something like “who has the time for a visit to Shirdi?” Something inside me shouted “mistake!” but since she did not react, I too kept silent almost wishing she had given me an excuse to undo that thought.
Food over, I proceeded to the railway station and boarded the train. I was asleep in no time and was woken by the clamouring of passengers eager to get down at Dadar. I hurriedly collected my senses and belongings and soon found myself yawning and stretching on the platform and proceeded towards the exit that would take me to the bus stop.
The early morning air was balmy and one could feel a lightness and life in it. Mumbai probably never sleeps and true to this image there were people scrambling about even at this early hour. There was a certain bounce in my walk, helped by the idea of travel and the wonderful FM music on air. What else could I have asked for? Hardly aware of the luggage I was carrying, in no time, I reached the spot where I was to board the bus. My eagerness to be on the move made waiting a less than exciting idea. Or maybe it was because I wanted to walk some more? But the salubrious morning had plans of which I had no clue. I looked around for a place to settle down because the bus was due only 2 hours later. As I scanned the area, my eye caught sight of a small inviting structure with stairs in front. It was under a tree, unoccupied and ideally located along the walkway. That means a ring side view of people as they hurry about their morning. Perfect!
The absence of natural light prevented a clear view of what the structure contained. Upon reaching the spot I could make out that it was some kind of temple. I settled down, stretched my legs and continued to enjoy the FM music. The DJ was wishing good morning in her honeyed voice. Good morning! I replied, almost aloud. She went on to feed details of the water pipe that had burst and how it was causing hardship to residents of that locality. My attention moved on to the hawkers who had appeared to take their negotiated places on the walkway. The shop nearest to me belonged to a paan-wallah and it was fun to see him arrange his wares with military precision. In no time, red, blue, green, and yellow boxes announced he was ready for customers. Out came the betel leaves, the spittoon and with that ambled along his first customer. Mumbai was ready to receive another day of spittle trajectories, I thought, and giggled. Beside the paan-wallah appeared the newspaper-wallah. The rainbow effect of the paanshop now starkly contrasted with the almost Black&White newspapers. And it just wasn’t about colour. While the paan depicts an ancient India, the English dailies portrayed our new ambitions. India and Indians had truly arrived at the world stage. Lock, stock, paan and barrel.
To add to my joy, the morning milieu added a tea vendor to its order. Tea! I said to myself, sprang to my feet and crossed the road eager to sip some of that invigorating liquid. The first cup disappeared in no time and I needed a second to relish the indescribable joys of a well brewed cup of tea. Cup in hand I ambled back to my rest and heaved onto the stairs with my eyes focused on balancing the tea in the cup.
Many more vendors appeared to occupy the walkway. One had shirts and scarves on sale. Another had footwear. I passed the next thirty minutes juggling my thoughts catalysed by the drama around me and the DJ’s sweet banter and love marinated songs. Soon the sun had peeked through the darkness and there was a cozy light around. The need for a third cup of tea made itself felt. I got up and crossed the road. This time the tea vendor smiled, recognising me as good business. I smiled back, paid for the cup and hurried back to my spot.
The shock came when I reached to the stairs which had been bearing me for the last 60 odd minutes.
The stairs and the structure was a temple of Sai Baba.
For a few seconds I just stared. And in those moments, I was grounded into dust. My Self felt washed away and in some strange manner loved. My nonchalance of the last evening flashed by and I rarely felt ‘smaller’ in my life. Once I got through the shock, a smile broke upon my lips. A silent thank you was said somewhere within my being. Not only for the generosity contained within the universe but more for its utterly unique and impressionable style of teaching a lesson. It is said there is no teacher greater than life. I agree.
After this episode I made another two visits to Nasik. On each occassion I sunk into the pleasure of sitting on the same stairs. Each time I was reminded of my lesson. Each time I felt loved and wanted. Each time I felt truly connected and belonging to the universe. Time did not permit me a visit to Shirdi. Hopefully, I have still been lucky to realise a truth and be blessed.
Each of us, every single day, is touched and caressed by Life. One need not read any book if one can read the book of life.