“Va, Makkale!”

9 February 2002,Leaving Amritapuri

Nobody ever suggested that Mother is predictable. She’s not even schedulable. Even when She’s about to leave home for two months, nobody knows either the time nor the mode of departure.

This morning, after the tour group travelling by bus departed (about 5:00 a.m.), the ashramites who would be staying behind began to wait, some at the foot of Mother’s stairs. The camper was there, a pujari anointing it for an auspicious journey. People stood or sat, marked their places with asanas when chai time came (six a.m.), returned to watch Mother’s window, chant their mantras, feel incipient loneliness, try to understand what they hear so often from Mother: that She is not this five-foot body, and She feels no separation from any of Her children when She is away. If only we all could reach that experience!

A bit later there was a stir: the camper’s motor was started. She must be about to leave!

No. The camper left, but She didn’t emerge from Her room.

Had She already left? Like that time She slipped out in the middle of the night when everyone thought She would go in the morning?

No, someone had heard Her voice recently. She was still here.

Now the hedging of bets: if the camper is going around to the mainland side, it will take almost forty five minutes to get there. So maybe we should go for breakfast and then come back. But what if She decides to come out and sit with us. Remember when She did that once, having them carry Her darshan cot out to the back area (this was when it was still a sandy-floored coconut grove)? And then again, here we are at the foot of Her steps. What if She goes up to Her kitchen level and crosses the bridge over to the temple and goes out the front way? Some people choose to perch on the spiral steps, from there you could see Her, albeit only for a few seconds, whichever way She left. But you couldn’t hope for a touch nor probably even a glance. So you go back down, but then you go back up. This waiting for Mother is anything but passive!

On all the balconies with any view at all of Amma’s possible exit routes, Her children stand watching and waiting. Some step into their rooms for a few minutes, but can concentrate on nothing, so they step back out, lean over the railing to look down; check their watches, try to guess, try to pull themselves away to DO something-as if waiting for God is not doing something!

As the sun that was just rising at the beginning of all this climbs higher, people begin calculating: Mother has a program tomorrow morning in Mananthavadi, and the tour people are well on the way now and expecting that She will join them for lunch or chai en route. Surely She must leave soon. The crowd grows. The silence of so many people: now, inside, they are chanting their mantras; when She emerges it will be time enough for calling out “Amme!” and “Ma Ma Ma!” and “Parashakti!”. But first the silence.

Suddenly there is movement: She must be emerging! No. A message: Mother is calling the residents for darshan. In Her room!” Stampede towards the steps! Burst through at the bridge! Crowd into Her room, and into Her lap! Ashramites are old hands at moving towards Mother: queues are formed up each side of the steps, and down through the middle come those who have had their hugs. Excitement, eagerness. No one had expected this! It had been enough to imagine seeing Mother come out and go to the camper; when it was clear that She would walk to the dock, that was even better-more time to see Her! But this-darshan in Her room-what a gift!

Suddenly again there is movement. This time She IS emerging. It is unexpected. The queues are still long. Anticipation turns to disappointment: for many of us, no darshan after all. But a chance for reflection: the trouble with expectations is that when they’re not met, we’re disappointed. How clear that is now! Just a few minutes ago we weren’t feeling sad that we wouldn’t go to Amma’s room for darshan; why, we hadn’t even thought of it! So why are we sad now? Expectations.

Mother just doesn’t stop teaching; not even at a time like this.

But hurry-She IS coming down the steps, right between the two lines of people on their way up to Her room! She stretches out Her arms, touching as many of Her children as She can. We touch backstroke Her passing shoulder, let our fingertips meet Hers, caress Her cheek. And if we can’t do this with our hands, we use our eyes. Because our Mother is going away now and we must drink in enough to last us two months.

At the bottom of the steps, suddenly She turns. Raising Her arm high to be sure that all see, Amma calls out:

“Va, makkale!”

It means, “Come, children!” and of course it is what we all wish we were doing! It makes us feel as if She wishes it too, and we stampede behind Her: squeeze between the water tank and Her house, hurry past the Kalari, spread out into the open area in front of the temple so that we can see Her, and race to the flats, so that we can walk with Her

Although the crowd is huge, it naturally parts as She strides purposefully, covering the distance from Her house to Her father’s in less than a minute. He stands at his doorway, and She pauses, gives him a kiss, strokes his chest, caresses his cheek -and moves on swiftly: family ties don’t hold back One like Her. North India, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia are waiting for Amma, so She crosses the last bit of sand to where the shuttle waits. She immediately embarks, letting the rest of her entourage, if they aren’t quick enough to jump on board as the boat pulls away, take the next ferry.

There is the gunning of the motor, then a soft and steady purr; smoothly the boat carrying away our Mother glides out into the backwaters, leaving behind a shore lined with faces at once joyful and sad. Someone is crying; someone else is calling “Om Parashaktyai Namaha!” and Mother is not seated safely inside the boat but standing right at the edge, leaning out, reaching back towards us with Her arm stretched just like our hearts.

And ahead, another shore, also lined with Her children-the local villagers could figure out what was happening when they saw Mother’s car drawn up near the mainland dock, and already a big crowd had gathered to greet Her, receive Her blessings, and send Her out, as did the fisherfolk She grew up among, to bless the rest of the world.

“VA, Makkale,” She had called out, but She left, and we stayed.

Now we have two months to work on “feeling no separation”. Most of Her children in the rest of the world get to practice developing this skill, reaching this state, most of the time; now it is our turn. We think of the song that gets new verses every year, the song of her teachings. The last line of its refrain is: varu omana makkale vegum. Come quickly, darling children.

Away, She wants us with Her. We want the same. We’ll try.