3 March 2003, enroute to Baroda from Mumbai, North India Tour
The setting sun turned the sky to dusk as the five ashram buses rolled along. The tour was beginning its fifth week, and our next destination was Baroda. It had been a long day of travel, with many hours remaining before we would reach our accommodation, and we were all eager for our sunset bhajan practice with Amma. But, when or where would She stop? It was getting late-why such a long delay? Some more time passed before the vehicles slowed to a halt, and our excitement grew. Are we stopping for bhajans now? Where is Amma?
Then came the surprising announcement: Amma had indeed decided on a place to rest, and this place was located half an hour away-back the same way we had come! Slowly, the buses turned around and we settled into our seats once more, holding our patience just a little while longer…. Many of us thought to ourselves, “It’s a twenty-hour drive to Baroda! Why would Amma have us turn around and go back, losing more time? Surely this must be a very special place that Amma is taking us to!”
Eventually we arrived at our designated meeting area, and as we quickly exited the bus many of us looked around in bewilderment. Normally, our travel stops are located in some quiet nature setting: in rolling green fields, or in a beautiful forest clearing, or perhaps by a river or lake. But this spot was of no such beauty. We had come upon, of all things, a busy and noisy factory area, dusty truck stop, just off the main highway!
I stared in disbelief at the row of unkempt buildings that lined the lot. Large vehicles were parked nearby, and there were piles of sand a few feet away. Workmen walked about busily, and the noise of loud voices, honking horns and machinery filled the air. Trucks roared past on the main road within walking distance. And here in the midst of all this din and activity was our beloved Amma, a serene smile gracing Her face as She sat in Her chair and gave satsang to the large crowd who gathered around Her…. I, too, watched Amma intently, taking in Her Divine beauty until I felt a tap on my shoulder. A deep voice called my name.
I turned around, and to my utter surprise and amazement I saw an old acquaintance, Anil, who was a rickshaw driver hailing all the way from Trivandrum!
I first met Anil almost ten years ago, during Amma’s Trivandrum Brahmasthanam programmes. Whenever I needed to go into town, Anil was always willing to take me, and always with a smile. He, too, was a devotee of Amma. Every year following that first time, whenever Amma came to Trivandrum I would always see Anil, who would also remember me and go out of his way to say a friendly hello. More recently, I had run into him by chance when he brought his family to Amritapuri for Amma’s darshan.
And now here we stood together, thousands of kilometers away from Kerala, at almost the opposite end of the country in the northern state of Gujarat! What was the likelihood that we would ever meet each other here, at a truck stop in a land of a billion people? I asked Anil how he happened to be here.
He explained, “I needed to earn more money. Things are very hard for me right now. Someone had offered me a job in this place, so I stopped driving the rickshaw and decided to come. My family is still in Trivandrum. I am working in the auto repair shop, right there.” He pointed to a small building nearby.
“I had heard that Amma was coming to Baroda, and so I prayed and prayed, ‘Oh Amma, please come and visit me here!’ And She did! When I saw the buses coming, I couldn’t believe it!” Anil burst out in a joyous laughter.
Looking around me once again, I had to wonder: we were truly in the middle of nowhere. There had been no apparent reason for Amma to stop here, and every apparent reason not to…
It was not long before Anil said goodbye and moved closer to Amma. As he stood watching Her and listening to Her words, his beaming smile touched my heart deeply. Anil’s fellow workers also drew forward, and he spoke to them as well. Perhaps he was telling them of this “strange coincidence.”
Later that night, as we all climbed back into the bus to continue our journey, I heard many remarks of speculation from our tour group: “Why did Amma choose that place? Why didn’t She go somewhere that was more peaceful?” I don’t think I will ever know why for certain, but in my heart one small answer was made clear: The Guru responds to a call from the heart. And somewhere in a small, industrial area in North India, one innocent devotee will have a memory to treasure for the rest of his life.