MORE SKIRTS? AND ONE MORE PAINTING!
While this new request for additional skirts from Bala did not really surprise me, I thought I had sufficient time to carry out this task. After all,Navarathri wasn’t until September. I had enough time to carefully plan and carry out this project of stitching more stone-studded skirts in various hues.
I was, of course completely wrong in making assumptions about anything, especially where Bala is concerned.
I have said at the outset that this trip to India has been filled with many unbelievable events. These are continuing to happen even as I’m typing up this incident.
I have forgotten to mention another interesting episode that happened earlier. On that auspicious ,Friday ( May 1st), when Renuka first called me from Australia and told me that Bala had asked me to bring in a new skirt for her, there was yet another surprising revelation.
I put down the phone after my initial conversation and went ahead with planning the skirt.
Within 20 minutes, the phone rang again. It was Renuka once more. She said “ Uma, I was in my kitchen just now making prasadam, when Puttaparthi Sai materialised in front of my eyes. He says you had planned to see him in Puttaparthi but did not make the trip. He wanted me to tell you that Bala and he are the same. He is waiting for you in Puttaparthi to give his blessings”.
Wow! Absolutely no one was aware I was even “thinking” of visiting Puttaparthi and then cancelled it because Bhagawan might have gone to Kodaikanal. I was completely at a loss for words. Later, I felt this was a calling for me to visit Puttaparthi after all!
However, Swami had just gone to Kodi on April 23rd. I wasn’t sure how long he would remain there. I made some enquiries on Monday, May 4th and found out that Bhagawan had left just that moment from Kodi back to Puttaparthi. My informant did not know how long he would stay in Prashanti Nilayam and said if I left Chennai on Tuesday morning, I might be lucky to get an evening darshan. I knew this was no mere coincidence. After all, Sai had mentioned to Renuka he was waiting in Puttaparthi to see me. Furthermore, his departure from Kodaikanal at the precise moment I called seemed to be nothing short of extraordinary.
So, I embarked on a two day trip to Puttaparthi. I left Chennai early on Tuesday, May 5th and reached Puttaparthi by lunch time. The trip took 7 hours and for most of the travel time, I was watching videos of Sri Ezhilmani’s Bheema Ratha Shanthi function ( 71st birthday) and various other DVds I had purchased in Nemili. My thoughts were concentrated only on Bala and her family,
We reached the hotel in Puttaparthi by 2 p.m. and I was informed that I should get to Prashanti Nilayam by 2.30 p.m. if I wanted to join the queue to see Bhagawan during the evening darshan at 5 p.m.
It was an extremely hot day and by the time I took my place in the queue , there was already a long line extending out of the main prayer hall. I sat on the hot stone steps for a few hours waiting to go inside . There was a further wait in another seating area for an hour before I could actually sit inside the vast, airless and hot prayer hall. All around me people sat patiently waiting for Bhagawan to make his appearance.
I had not eaten lunch since I had dashed almost immediately to Prashanti Nilayam. It was hot and stuffy inside the hall and I was hemmed in by people on all sides. I closed my eyes and saw Bala, Sri Ezhilmani Mama and Baby Amma. I held on to this vision for a long time. It seemed they were there whenever I closed my eyes.
Finally, at 5 p.m. a car drew up at the entrance and Sri Sai made his appearance.
The adulation of this vast crowd was extremely touching to behold. To the background music of melodious Bhajans, Swami was wheeled along slowly in his wheel chair. He appeared quite frail and his eyes were completely devoid of any expression. There was neither a smile nor a frown on his face as he slowly moved in his wheel chair through the aisles. People who were fortunate to sit in the front rows were in ecstasy and kissed the ground he tread. I was sitting seven rows behind and although I did get a good glimpse of him, I was quite disappointed that Sai had not turned in my direction.
For a full one hour we listened to Bhajans. Sai was conversing with some people as he sat on the dais. At the end, he departed in a special car and left the grand hall.
The crowd started to disperse and I got up rather painfully from my cramped sitting position.
The hotel I retired to that night, Sai Renaissance, was of extremely poor quality. The food was inedible and I went to sleep feeling totally let down by the entire experience. I had felt absolutely no positive vibes from Bhagawan at all. Perhaps, I thought to myself as I drifted off to sleep, I have not been fortunate to recognise his greatness! Somewhere, in my mind’s eye, I could see Bala smiling. I held on to that tightly.
I returned from Puttaparthi the next day and decided to visit Nemili the following day since it was a Thursday. Renuka had called me several times and requested me to take a photo of Sri Bala in her stone skirt. I promised I would take in my camera and e- mail the photos.
So, on May 7th, I set off to Nemili in the afternoon, reaching there by 4.30 p.m. I took a few photographs of Sri Bala in her new skirt and then requested Mohan to take a few close-ups since he is an expert photographer. By this time, it was past 5 p.m. and Baba.G who normally observes a Mouna Vratham ( vow of silence) on Thursdays, walked in. I asked him if I could take a photo of him too, so I could do a portrait for his 42nd birthday, coming up on June 13th.
Sri Baba.G was happy to pose for me. So, there we were right in front of Bala with Sri Baba.G placing his hands in the precise manner Bala had instructed him to do so for this special photo. I requested Mohan to take a few shots with my camera and while he was doing so, I prayed fervently to Bala that I should be capable of doing this portrait.
There was a special reason why I had this urge to complete Baba.g’s portrait. On two occasions previously, I had attempted to draw him but failed. The first time, the painting did not turn out well at all and Bala asked me to put it aside and concentrate on portraying Sri Ezhilmani and his wife. The second time when I intended to depict Baba.g, Bala told me to instead draw nine images of herself on various animal mounts. So, this was my third opportunity. I felt if Bala gave the green signal, I shouldn’t have a problem.
I started work on this painting the very next day. It had been my intention to do this as a pencil sketch similar to the portrait of the “divine couple”. However, Bala had other plans.
I was to make this painting as “unique” as possible and when I went to purchase charcoal pencils, the well informed sales person in the art store suggested I use a combination of light and dark brown pencils to gain a natural effect. Since I confessed I had no knowledge how to work with these pencils or blend in the colors, he gave me a book with special instructions. I thanked him and left. Needless to say, this book was never used.
For this painting too, or rather, especially for this painting, Bala was completely in command.
Although I’m not an artist, and not at all experienced in drawing portraits especially using these particular type of charcoal pencils, this life-like portrait of Baba.G was made possible only through Bala’s divine grace.
I actually finished the drawing very quickly, within a few days. Bala insisted I draw a slight “glow” around Baba.G’s right hand placed on his heart. There is no doubt at all that both the eyes and hands are the two most important facets of this drawing. Bala has made sure I emphasised both these features . Nevertheless, it was while drawing Baba.G’s face that Bala taught me an important fact within a split second.
It happened this way. I was working on Baba.G’s face late at night. It was close to 10.30 p.m. and I was trying to get his chin just right. Working at close quarters with his face, something started to happen in front of my eyes. The cheek line and jaw line appeared to look more gaunt and for a few seconds, I had the distinct feeling I was drawing the face of Shirdi Sai Baba. It was as if Bala was telling me “ There’s absolutely no difference between this Guru and the most revered Sai of Shirdi.
I suspended work that night and went to bed. The next morning, when I came down to take a look at the painting all I could see was Baba.G as his normal self, right hand on his heart with his deep eyes looking intensely and directly at me. Although I heaved a huge sigh of relief the memory of those few seconds last night when Baba.G had given me a vision of Shirdi Sai Baba is unforgettable indeed.
The painting of Baba.G turned out better than I expected. Perhaps Bala wanted this done perfectly since it was a birthday gift to her favourite son. In any case , she made me change the background color three times until it was the perfect shade of blue. Similarly, the border around the painting also changed hues several times until I chose red. Finally, Bala made me fill in the azure blue , sky-like background with a myriad of tiny gold dots. “ These are my child’s blessings raining down from the skies to alleviate the suffering of everyone who comes to him and places trust in him”.
Baba.G’s portrait was framed and completed on Thursday, May 14th, exactly one week to date from the time I took his photograph. I took it with me to Nemili and offered it to Bala for her approval before handing it over to Baba.G . He was amazed his portrait had come about within such a short space of time.
It was an extremely happy moment to witness this portrait also take its place alongside the wall in Bala’s very own home. As Baby Amma remarked “ Only now, this Peetam is looking really full. All these paintings give a sense of richness to this dais”.
Could I ask for a better compliment from Bala?