As usual, I was early to reach the Madras Central Station. This was something that was not unusual. So much so, it was a talking point with the family and friends that I had the onerous duty of sweeping the station. He has to inspect the tracks, said another. Divine retribution came in the form of a missed train when the spouse, the pack leader of the 'tar and feather Nanda' campaign, was responsible of getting to the station in time.
The Ganga-Cauvery Express was just being shunted into platform 13A. From there, she would gather into her innards, hordes of people, a plethora of baggage and leaky fish baskets which would finally end on a so many plates, cooked and spiced; the diners unaware the unhygenic conditions it went through before it reached their table, bags of mail carrying the hopes and despair of millions, I stood transfixed oblivious of my surroundings, just being a mute spectator at this mini universe of activity.
An obnoxiously rude porter brought me to my senses by yelling out that I was impersonating as a steel girder holding up the massive roof of the station. "Move saar" he yelled. Rude, but imaginative, I thought!
I travel first-class, if I can help it. Anyone who is over 6ft tall and overweight and stiff at the joints will understand and appreciate the agony and the pain to get on to one of those upper berths of the 2nd class compartment. Not to mention the series of cramps after the strain and to relieve the cramp, I would have had to do several moves and jerks, that would have startled even Michael Jackson!
And not to mention the sound and the dust and the heat and the hawkers at every station: the list just goes on.
But I was not so lucky and had to settle for a 2nd class, air-conditioned coach. Kept the noise out but nicely hermetically sealed odors, food and other by-products of digestion.
My seat was 36A and being a window seat I settled nicely, my suitcase under the seat, bottle of water into the cup holder by the window, and magazines in hand.
My co-passengers started trickling in. As usual, they were a motley crowd of medical representatives, traders, and since this train was going to Varanasi, several old couples who felt that their salvation lay in the sacred waters of the Ganga.
Sacred waters? To them, definitely yes but to my logical brain, it was a river that was murky and polluted. Some tried to bring in a scientific explanation of the holiness saying that the waters of the Ganga had a particular species of phagocytes that ate up disease causing bacteria and so on. However, my spiritual side questioned the fact that 'pollution' and 'murky' were just labels that the mind conjures. Is there something called dirt that can be not part of this creation? If it were part of creation, was it not just another form of the same consciousness as I am? So am I dirty too?
You know how it is. Deep in thought lost to the world, staring blankly into the tinted glass and an unfocussed area beyond, time just slid past. With a jerk the train started moving and brought awareness of my surroundings.
It was then I noticed that the seat opposite to mine was occupied. He had a smile of recognition on his face. I was quite used to it by now. For every time I am introduced to a stranger, the first remark of most people was that they have seen me somewhere.
I must have an exceedingly common face, is what I had reasoned.
But this was not that kind of a precognitive smile that was on display. It was as if the familiarity went deep into time, into lifetimes. I felt a vague sense of deja vu. A similar such encounter but when and where I was not able to fathom. I just brushed it all away and told myself not to be so hyper-imaginative about such things.
"Hi, I am Venu" he said.
"Looks as if we are going to be together for this journey. I am going to Varanasi too!" said Venu.
Must be clairvoyant I thought. I was so eager in seeking miracles, I had started to look at everything as a miracle. I started to ask him how he knew when he pointed out to an outdated airline baggage tag of my previous journey to Varanasi. I nodded and asked if he was headed to Varanasi too.
"Oh yes" said Venu. "Heading for Varanasi and to the not-so-clean waters of the Ganga" he said, with a laugh. I heard a thud. It was the sound of my jaw dropping. How did he know what I was thinking?
First, as though to deny my clairvoyant theory he pointed to the baggage tag as a reason and now he talks about something that went inside my head. It came to me as a flash that even what he offered as an explanation was a mind reading in itself. Again, I blamed it all on my enthusiasm to find a miracle man.
In fact I was on this journey in search of one. An acquaintance told me of spiritual conference that was happening with participants from world over were meeting at Varanasi and that included some tantriks of the left and right-handed paths.
Where better to find a guru, asked my logical brain.
I went back into my magazine and into the world of politics. I felt comforted. It was then I realized that while talking to Venu, time almost stood still. It was as though only that moment existed. A very intense 'now-ness' is what prevailed and I appreciated this only when I got back to my magazine. It was a feeling that I came back to ground level. And this was strangely comforting.
Although Venu was out of my direct or peripheral vision, his presence was effulgent and extended beyond the physical space he was occupying. It was something like sitting next to a bright light. I did not doubt the existence of the aura. Electro-magnetic radiation exists! And for those of you who want photographic proof, auras or energy fields have been photographed using a technique known as Kirlian photography.
Saints and holy men have gatherings, which was essentially having people sit in the immediate presence of their aura. Such meetings were called satsangs. The aura of such people extended onto a wide area and people even in the periphery, felt good. This can be easily experienced. At the very elementary level, the feeling of wanting to go back to the satsangs is because at some level we have enjoyed the experience.
There was a time when seeing the aura was nothing extraordinary. Most paintings of saints had a ring of brilliance painted around them. Paintings of Christian saints and angels had a ring of light above their heads. Science supposedly gave mankind a lot of benefits. But in reality did it? We depend on cell phones to aid communication. Did it not substitute clairaudience? Pranic energy cured people. Did not modern day medicine try to replace it with chemicals? Have we found cures for every disease and condition with chemicals?
The Aquarian age we live in is the age of humanity and unity. This age is the time to go back to the true sense of freedom. The age of materialism is over. Happiness with riches is on the wane. More people are realizing it. Look at what greed has brought on us. See the suffering that the oil spill is causing to our ecology. It may not very obvious now but it will become more and more evident. Many of us are caught in this transition. While we, deep down know that riches are not the answer to our happiness; we need money to live. This is the root of the confusion during these transitions.
An old Tamil proverb goes like this. The one who planted the tree will also remember to pour water. What it translates is thus. The universe is a fountainhead of abundance. We create shortage or abundance in our lives. . When we really want something, it materializes almost from nowhere.
The train suddenly screeched to a halt and that is when the most amazing thing happened. There was chaos all around as the train lurched around quite a bit before it came to dead stop.
A child who was sleeping on the upper berth of the next cubicle to my left, was thrown out. I instinctively started to run and reach out when time kind of slowed down and everything was happening in slow motion. The child who rolled off, stopped mid way and was waiting for me to catch her. There was no way I could have covered the distance of ten feet between my seat and the trajectory of her fall. All this struck me after I sat her down, between her grateful parents. People all around clapped and looked at me in admiration.
It was then I was certain that Venu was not just another one of us.
"Good job" said Venu. I looked at him with a certain feeling of vulnerability.
"Venu, you know I didn't do it. I couldn't have reached fast enough. It was instinct that got me reaching out, and you did the rest." I said. "You slowed time for me to get there"
"C'mon, shed the modesty" said Venu with a twinkle in his eye. "You are a hero in everyone's eyes and you say I did it? I did not even move an inch" said he.
"Venu, I am confused and I do not know the answers to many things but when something like this happens, I have enough awareness to recognize that what happened was not part of the physical world I live in" I said.
Venu laughed not in scorn or disdain but like an indulgent mother. "You relied on instinct and you got there. If you had relied on logic, you would have not because you would have never believed that you could have caught the child. Your logical brain and your intuitive consciousness are not on the same plane."
"Many times in this lifetime and before, your intuitive consciousness has manifested so many things around you" he went on. "Learn to live with your heart; love and compassion and soon all will be revealed to you" he said.
With these words, he started chanting something. He had a deep voice that reminded you of somebody, something; vaguely familiar but you still couldn't guess. It had a strange, magnetic quality and it was as if the sounds of the train aligned itself to the beat and scale of his song. I still remember the words as though they were burned into my brain.
The song ended and there was this atmosphere of intense peace and quiet in the silence that followed. I was immediately reminded of how the spaces between two successive chants of Om gives the same feeling. The same feeling that happens while retaining the breath between inhalation and exhalation in Pranayama.
I savored the moment as long as I could.
I just remained in the moment and somewhere deep within, I realized that a lot of questions were answered. And like every other situation the solution was so simple. Lead a clean and pure life; love your fellow human beings. Help all and love all. It was all so simple. No complicated mantras, no eye watering homas, nothing. I was passionately thankful to what I had learnt. I had never felt so alive.
The train started shaking again and this time very violently. A booming voice that started from afar raced to the present moment. I found myself staring at the ruddy face of the conductor who was shaking me out of my deep sleep. Half-asleep I looked out of the window and I shocked to realize that I had arrived at the New York Penn Station. Wasn't I supposed to be going to Varanasi?
"Hey, you knocked out or something?" the conducted asked
God, was this all a dream? It was all so vivid, the train to Varanasi, the child falling, Venu, and what he spoke to me, and the song he sang. I got off the train still perplexed.
There was long queue to the elevator to the first level of the station. Still in a daze, I remembered I was actually going to BH Photo-Video store to buy some memory cards and a tripod. As I was making my way towards the elevators,a businessman rushing to get to his appointment on time was weaving his way through the rows of parallel queues to the escalators, bumped into me.
Just as he passed me, he asked me with a wink, "So you did not get to Varanasi, after all, huh?"
I stood transfixed. The man faded into the crowds before I could even react. Later I realized, it was Venu.
All Rights Reserved By the author
(New World is very happy to welcome Mr. Nanda Nayar to our team of esteemed writers. Mr. Nanda Nayar is an airline executive who has now his own studios.He produces movies and videos also. We are thankful to him for this wonderful story and very much excited to have Mr. Nanda Nayar in our team.)
New World Editorial Board