The streets may be their home, but Amma is their Mother

Bharata Yatra 2004

Especially during Amma’s programs held in metropolitan areas, many curiosity seekers come to see what all the commotion is about. Among them are dozens of street children—kids from 12 to 2, in rags, with runny noses—many of who often wind up joining the darshan queue.

When they come to Amma’s lap, they get their hug, their kiss—maybe even a laddu—and then they are off on their way.

But, often, you will soon find them in the queue a second time. Maybe the smart ones have somehow snuck back in the line past the point where the brahmacharis are collecting tokens—perhaps even squeezing their way through the jostling legs of VIPs.

So, one more kiss, one more toffee, one more laddu—and a heavenly smile. Why doesn’t Amma ever ask these children, “Second time?” No matter how many times they come, She never seems to mind.

*****

Amma’s 2004 program in Prabhadevi, Mumbai drew more than 30,000 people and continued until past 9:00 a.m. As soon as the sun rose, dozens of the area’s street kids, started racing about with boxes and old sacks, trying to collect as much plastic trash from the ground as possible—discarded chai cups and used plastic water pouches. They earn money this way, selling what they collect to recyclers.

After the program finished, Amma started driving away in Her car. Although to the street children the trash is so valuable, when they saw Amma’s car driving through the park grounds, they threw down their sacks and boxes and came running. Many devotees were lined up along the path of Amma’s car, though, and the children had difficulty getting through. But Amma saw all this and had the car stopped. She then told everyone to let the children up to Her window. With eyes beaming with compassion, She smiled at them, reaching out to stroke their arms and to squeeze their dirty hands. It was only for a moment, and then Amma’s car continued on. But what an effect that moment had on those children; they seemed unable to believe what had just taken place. They forgot about their work, and simply sat down where Amma’s car had been, many of them crying.

******

Little Feroz of Kolkata is another street kid whose heart has been stolen by Amma… By the time the disciples and devotees traveling with Amma reached their accommodations in downtown Kolkata, it was almost 1:00 in the morning. The streets were dark and dreary and quiet. As the road-weary travelers alighted from the buses, they were welcomed by some of the local coordinators—and one child in rags. But he was not the usual street kid angling for money. No, he was greeting everyone by saying, “Nomoh Shibaya,” in a typical Bengali accent and asking everyone about Amma.

“Is Amma coming here?” he asked. “Will She be giving darshan here?” Little Feroz, obviously an urchin from the city streets, was eagerly waiting for Amma. He had first met Her a few years before at a program held nearly two kilometres from the accommodation.

Amma’s love for the poor does not stop at providing food and shelter. She opens their hearts, something ordinary philanthropists don’t even think to try.

—Tulasi

Amrita Nidhi voices of Mumbai

Wednesday, 3 March 2004 -Mumbai, Maharashtra

Amrita Nidhi, Amma’s pension programme for widows and destitute women, grew dramatically during Amma’s 2004 India Tour, expanding from three to 11 states. In each city Amma gave darshan, She and various dignitaries personally distributed pension checks to several representative beneficiaries. During Amma’s  programme in Prabhadevi, Mumbai, many were enrolled into the monthly pension scheme.

Smt. Lakshmi Nayar, 60, has been a widow for 20 years. She never had any children and has no living relatives. “I live in one of the suburbs of Bombay,” she says. “I work there doing small household chores like washing and cooking for a family. I sleep in their kitchen. I cannot work long hours, so the people I work for pay only by giving me a roof and food. I have no income of my own. Through Amma’s pension scheme, I now have at least some money of my own to spend on clothes or puja .

Beneficiary Mara Baivatkarra could not come herself because she could not leave her husband alone. So her oldest daughter, 20, came to receive it in her behalf. “My father has been paralysed for the last 10 years due to a stroke and has not been able to provide for the family,” she says. “My mother has to care for him all the time, and she is a little sick herself, so she could not come. I was very excited about meeting Amma. It feels great. Amma is like a god; it makes me feel good within.”

T Parvati (35) is a widow. Her husband died from alcohol-related illness. “He used to spend his wages on drinking and that made life very difficult,” she says. “I have two daughters of 13 and eight years old. I hope I can use some of Amma’s money to pay for their school fees. I am really grateful to Amma. She is so loving. And the darshan made me feel peaceful. If Amma comes again to Mumbai next year, I will surely come and see her again!”

Arpak Tankar 47, has been a widow since her husband died of cancer 10 years ago. “I can work only little because I have to take care of my two daughters,” she says. “It is very difficult to earn enough money to support them. My greatest worry is if I can find them a suitable husband because we are so poor. I hope this money will help.”

Amritakuteeram voices from Ajanta Nagar

Monday, 1 March 2004 — Pune, Maharashtra

Mata Amritanandamayi Math, in connection with the local and central government, is in the process of rehabilitating slum dwellers of Ajanta Nagar. The project involves the construction of 27 blocks of four- and five-story apartment buildings where on top of what used to be a nine-acre slum.

Walking around with the brahmachari in charge, we had a chance to speak to some of the slum’s residents, all of whom will receive new houses between May of 2004 and the end of 2006.

“This brings so much hope to my heart. Now I know that if I die our children will live in better homes. I am so grateful to Amma because She gives them shelter,” says Chabubai Diwar, a 60-year-old grandmother who lives in one of the Ajanta Nagar slums. She currently still lives in her slum dwelling, a stone house with a roof made from rusty iron plates thatched with plastic bags. “My oldest son was in an accident four years ago,” she says. “He cannot do a full days work anymore.”

Her other son makes about Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,500 a month doing odd construction jobs. Chabubai herself hand washes clothes in the nearby neighbourhoods. It is hard work. It brings her an average of Rs. 500 a month.

For the past 14 months, Baskar Sampad Tayde has lived with his wife, Kamal, their three daughters and his all-but-blind mother in one of the Ajanta Nagar transit houses set up by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math. They will be among the first of the slum residents to move into a new flat when the rehabilitation-project’s first phase opens in May 2004. Every day Baskar reports to a local contractor to find out if there is any work available for him. No work means no money.

He gets work on the average of 10 to 15 days per month, making around Rs. 200 to 250. Hardly enough as the cost of living here is about Rs. 5,000 month.

Nonat Ganpath is 34. Since he broke his back in three-story fall he can no longer work construction. With no medical insurance and no disability pension, life is hard. He still suffers from quite a lot of pain but is able to make Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 per month ironing. He lives in the slum with his daughter, wife and mother. His wife earns money sweeping the floor in the nearby hospital.

Mullah Shvik [the man with the white hat] used to work as an electrician but lost his leg in an accident. He shares his slum house with his wife, their daughter, and his son’s family of four. The whole family depends solely on the Rs. 2,000 the son makes as a construction worker.

In one of the slum houses, Dr. Meenakshi runs a small health clinic. Wanting to help Pune’s poor, she set up the clinic after completing her medical studies. “I want to work for my satisfaction,” she says, “and here I really feel I can contribute.” The main health problems in the slum are hygiene and the seasonal fevers, she says. Many children get sick from contaminated water, so there are many cases of dysentery.

Dr. Meenakshi charges little for her work. A check-up costs Rs. 10; medication is sold at its cost price. “I am very happy to see the renovation work progressing so fast,” she says. “It can really benefit the people. Their life standard will surely change; now most of them live in very unhygienic circumstances. The new houses invite for more hygiene, but the people need to change too. I hope they will change their lifestyle too.”

As night falls in Ajanta Nagar, women start cooking. Many dress up to go to the Pune ashram to listen to Amma sing bhajans and to receive Her darshan. Renovating slums lies not only in the rebuilding of houses; it is in the relieving of pain and suffering; it is in the transformation of lifestyles and the providing of hope to people who have been beaten around their entire life.

— Kannadi

“Every time Ammacomes to Delhi, Delhi Is blessed.”

Bharata Yatra 2004

16 March 2004 — Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, New Delhi

Amma’s first program in Delhi was in the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium,   just across the street from Raj Ghat, the samadhi site of Mahatma Gandhi. A number of dignitaries from the nation’s capital graced the dais for Amma’s satsang and bhajans, including Smt. Sheila Dikshit, the Honourable Chief Minister of Delhi, who said, “Every time Amma comes to Delhi, Delhi is blessed.”

Five more ministers were on hand to help Amma distribute Amrita Nidhi pension checks to Delhi’s destitute widows and one handicapped man. The ministers included Shri. Vikram Verma, the Honourable Minister of Youth Affairs & Sports; Swami Chinmayananda, the Honourable Minister of State for Home Affairs; Shri. Chaman Lal Gupta, the Honourable Minister of State for Defense; and Shri. Vijay Goel, the Honourable Minister of State for Youth Affairs & Sports.

Smt. Indu Jain, the Chairman of Times of India Group, also participated in the check distribution. She then delivered a speech, where upon she said, “Today people are coming to India from around the world to receive spiritual knowledge from Amma.”

Shri. Vijay Goel, the Honourable Minister of State for Youth Affairs & Sports, also gave a speech, saying,   “Amma meets everyone, big or small, with the same attitude of Mother’s love.”

Two books were released during the function, a souvenir of visit to Delhi and Amritavarsham50, a retrospective of the four days of celebrations surrounding Amma’s 50 th birthday. Participating in the release of the Delhi souvenir were Shri. Chaman Lal Gupta and Shri. Ashok Ganguly, Chairman, CBSE. Participating in the release of the Amritavarsham50 book were Shri. Vikram Verma and Smt. Indu Jain.

Other dignitaries seated on the dais included Dr. Sanjay Paswan, the Honourable Minister of State for Human Resource Development; Shri. I.D. Swami, the Honourable Minister of State for Home; Shri. O. Rajagopal, the Honourable Minister of State for Defense; Dr. A.K. Walia, the Honourable Minister of Finance, PWD and Urban Development; Shri. M.R. Singhal, the Honourable Minister of Industry, Labour, Employment, Land & Building; Shri. Haroon Yusuf, the Honourable Minister of Transport & Power; Professor Jagdish Mukhi, MLA, Leader of the Opposition, Delhi Assembly; Mrs. Tajdar Babar, MLA; Dr. Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to the Govt. of India; and Capt. Krishnan Nair, Chairman of Leela   Penton Group of Hotels.

—Sakshi

You showed me the path

Bharata Yatra 2004

Monday, 15 March 2004 — Raj Bhavan, Jaipur, Rajasthan

There are things that should not happen in this world, but they do: a child set on fire, a girl thrown down a well. Are there words to comfort someone who has survived such a thing?   What do you say to a seven-year-old boy who now has no face?

When such people come to Amma, most often She does not speak. She cries. She cries their pain. She cries the pain of their families. She cries the pain wrought by the horror this world can hold.

This is what happened as Amma gave what comfort She could to the people gathered at the Governor of Rajasthan’s home in Jaipur. With money drawn from the Governor’s Fund, His Excellency Shri. Madanlal Khurana gives 250,000 rupees every week to Rajasthan’s poorest of the poor—some of who have fallen victim to unspeakable abuse. Monday, he invited Amma to Rajasthan’s Raj Bhavan to help him distribute checks on Her way out of Jaipur. After all, he said to Amma, “You showed me the path.”

No one in Amma’s small entourage really knew what to expect, but when Amma arrived at the mansion, some 800 people were waiting—with papers in hand—ready to plead their cases for relief. Some were standing, some were sitting in wheelchairs, several were lying on their sides.

One such person unable to sit or stand was a girl of about 18 named Ankita. Except for a space left open for her to pass urine, her entire body below her chest was in a cast. When her new husband’s family realised her parents were unable to pay the stipulated dowry, they threw her down a well and she broke her legs and her back.   As Amma knelt by the girl’s side and was told her story, the tears came—to the girl, to the girl’s father, to her brother and to Amma. Amma touched the girl’s arms gently. She stoked her hair. With wet eyes, the girl did what she could to lift her arms in pranam.

The case has not yet been confirmed. But Amma told the governor to get Her all the girl’s papers, all her medical records. Amma said She wants the girl brought to AIMS, Her hospital in Cochin, for free treatment.

Next was the seven-year-old boy, Adarsh, who caught fire when someone torched his parent’s hut in a property dispute. He has no eyes anymore. No ears. Just a button-size hole where his nose used to be. Amma tried to comfort him as much as She could, but his pink body was really too tender to caress. With incredible care, She lifted him, kissed the side of that featureless face and set him down again. With tears in her eyes, Amma said, “When someone dies, Amma does not worry so much—it’s just the body that is gone, the Atman never dies. But when they have to live like this—in such pain and suffering—it is almost impossible for Amma to bear.”

As Amma spoke with the people assembled at the Governor’s mansion, the Governor repeatedly told Her how it was Amma who’d inspired him to begin serving the poor in this way. His Excellency first met Amma in the mid-1990s in Delhi, when he was the state’s Chief Minister, and has been a devotee ever since. As they spoke, Amma told him She wants to help anyway She can—be it through the building of free Amritakuteeram houses or through the allotment of more free Amritanidhi pensions. When it was time for Amma to get back into Her camper for the drive to Delhi, the Governor prayed to Her, saying for a third time, “Amma it was You who showed me the path. Please grant me the strength and courage to continue.”

—Sakshi

Amma in the Pink City


14 March 2004 — Jaipur, Rajasthan –Bharata Yatra 2004

Jaipur, the Pink City of Rajasthan, has been blessed with Amma’s presence several times. But 14 March 2004 was only the second time Amma had given a program there. As usual, a number of local politicians were on hand to greet Her, including Shri. Ghanshyam Tiwari, the Honourable Minister of Education; His Excellency Shri. Madhanlal Khurana, the Governor of Rajasthan; and Sumitra Singh, Honourable Speaker of the Rajasthan Assembly, among others.

It was a nice, cool evening with a clear sky. Upon Amma’s arrival, fireworks were shot into the air, casting lights of gold and green and red. It reminded some of the time in 1997 when Amma was in Jaipur for Holi, the North Indian New Year celebrated by the spraying of powdered paint. Then, Amma walked the streets with Her disciples, dancing and singing “Hari Bol!” That time, the residents of Jaipur did not know who was moving among them. But Sunday, more than 23,000 came to receive Her darshan.

—Sakshi

A housing free project for blind and disabled

Vellanure Village, Chennai

M.A.M Chenai started an Amritakuteeram project to build houses for the poor and disabled in Vellanure.

Sambandan, an ex-train driver, and volunteer at the Madras Ashram, assists Br.Vinayamrita and gives all his time to co-ordinating the project. He said, “We sifted through 2,000 original applications and after lots of consideration we visited 100 homes to select people. We invited them to visit the site. We spent a lot of time making sure people were happy. Finally all the houses were allocated. The first residents have moved in and soon there will be a group of 15 blind people settling there.

Vellanure Village was developed as a community with 60 houses over 1.5 acres of land located in the countryside about 35 kms from the city of Madras. The  houses were built with a communal bathroom block, made roads and organised for water and electricity connections from the nearest village.They also have a  community hall.

All the people here are poor or disabled in some way. MAM is looking at ways to help them become self-sufficient by setting up a registered co-operative society for self-employed people. Some residents want to make candles, chairs, bags, and incense sticks. The committee will help them to get big orders and to find the materials they need. One member has donated a lathe for making bottle caps.

Jnanashekar is a businessman. He spends all his spare time working with Sambandan. He said, “The people were living in small rooms, mostly in slums, and were paying exorbitant rents, as much as Rs. 300 a month. Sometimes even more, up to Rs. 700 – that’s more than a month’s wages for them. They were very ready to leave those places, the conditions were so bad. We found the very poor people and selected them for the house.I am very happy doing this work. When we do Amma’s work then we start reflecting and try to think like Amma. So we must do the work very precisely and very correctly.”

Because the housing site is a long way from the nearest village, it is very expensive to make the electricity connection. Amma’s devotees are making a donation to cover the costs. Another devotee will act as caretaker for the site and he will live there and run a community shop.

Ghaziabad Housing Colony

The housing colony at Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, made up of 161 homes in an enclosed area, is one of Amma’s offerings to the homeless and destitute.

Here you can see the entrance to the prayer hall. Other amenities inside the colony include a dispensary and an education centre.

A spacious courtyard greets the visitor to the colony.  Shrubbery lines the walkways that organise the 161 houses.

“We love Amma not because of who she is, but because of who we become in her presence.”

Bharata Yatra 2004

12 March 2004 — Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

No one really knew how many people would come to see, hear and be touched by Amma in Bhopal. She had only visited the Madhya Pradesh capital once before in 1989, and then only a few hundred came to have Her darshan.   As it would turn out, a crowd of some 70,000 was waiting at the program site upon Amma’s arrival and She was formally greeted by the state’s Governor, Chief Minister and two former Chief Ministers, as well as Bhopal’s mayor and distinguished representatives of MP’s Christian, Hindu and Islamic communities. Actually, Amma was an official guest of the state and, as such, She was greeted at the border by the District Collector of Jabua and given a police escort all the way to Bhopal.

Chief Minister Uma Bharati—a sannyasini initiated by Madhvacharya Vishwesha Tirtha of Pejavar Math in Udupi—spoke beautifully about Amma, welcoming Her “not as the Chief Minister, but as Her child.” She said, “We love Amma not because of who She is, but because of who we become in Her presence.” She later added that Amma’s love was like the rays of the sun, the coolness of the moon and the flow of a river—She gives it to all, without discrimination.

The state’s former Chief Minister, Shri. Digvijay Singh, was emotional during his speech, recalling how he had been waiting for quite sometime to see Amma and how his desire had now finally come true.

Shri. Babulal Gaur, MP’s Honourable Minister for Urban Administration, Housing & Development, said the citizens of Bhopal were overwhelmed by Amma’s presence. “She is the embodiment of a mother’s love and protectiveness.”

Chief Minister The Arch Bishop of Bhopal, His Grace Dr. Pascal Topno; the Sahar Qazi, Abdul Latif Khan; and Swami Atma Bholananda of the Ramakrishna Math all presented Amma with purnakhumba  and prayed to Her for world peace, calling the 70,000 men, women and children surrounding Amma to join in chanting the mantra lokah samastah sukhino bhavanthu .

Uma Bharati also joined Amma in presenting free pension checks to Bhopal’s destitute widows, as part the Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s ever-expanding Amrita Nidhi program. The Math also gave away 700 saris to impoverished women and provided free food to all who came to the program. At the time of this posting, more than 40,000 people had taken tokens to receive Amma’s darshan.

—Sakshi

Amma, a pearl in India’s guru tradition – Narenda Modi

10 March 2004, Ahmedabad, Gujarat

The Honourable Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri. Narendra Modi, opened his speech at Amma’s Ahmedabad program by saying that the state is still indebted to Amma for the way in which She came to its aid in 2001. The Honourable Minister was referring to the three villages the ashram completely rebuilt in Kutch following the devastating earthquake there. “If we look to Amma,” he said, “we can understand what service is that is given irrespective of caste, creed or religion.”

Shri. Narendra Modi went on to say how the nation is made up of Rishis, Saints and Gurus—not by politicians—and that any development the nation is seeing is only due to such holy ones. “Amma is a pearl in India’s Guru tradition.”

Also receiving Amma on the dais was the Mayor of Ahmedabad, Smt. Aneesha Begum Mirza, who prayed to Amma to bless Gujarat and make it always a place of peace.

Before Amma began Her satsang, bhajan and darshan, the Honourable Minister assisted Her in distributing checks to a number of women, representing the thousands of destitute Gujarati widows who will now begin receiving free pensions as part of Ashram’s Amrita Nidhi program.

—Sakshi