Sunday, December 18, 2005

A one-on-one with the 'Guru' of millions worldwide

Sri Sri Ravi Shanker (Art of Living Guru) and me at his ashram
on Friday 16th December 2005

Most of his followers would give an arm and a leg for the experience I had on friday. People flock by truckloads and travel from afar to just get a glimpse of this 'God-Man'.

I, on the other hand had the opportunity to spend 20 undivided minutes of his time in his personal meeting room. While there were other devotees sitting around, no one uttered a word while we spoke.

Sri Sri Ravi Shanker started a movement called the 'Art of Living' 25 years ago which has grown into a worldwide way of living with devotees worldwide ranging from presidents of countries, to heads of multi-national corporations right to ordinary people like you and me.

I have never attended the 'Art of Living' course but its something that my mother has been urging me to attend for the last couple of years. Lethargy and busy work schedules coupled with the fear of being sucked into a cult kept me away from the programme.

Two weeks ago, a random e-mail popped into my box from the chairman and president of my company. I had been picked to work on a campaign for the 'Art of Living' (I work in advertising).

This got me to start reading up on this 'God-Man' and his 'way of life'.

A week passed and I got a call from the chairman of the company. He said that my campaign had been appreciated (there was more than one agency pitching for the campaign). He went on to say that 'Guru-ji' (repected teacher in hindi) wanted to meet me and that I was to fly to Bangalore to present the revised campaign (few changes that he requested) myself.

To cut a long long story short. I finally made it to the ashram on the outskirts of Bangalore city.

It was beautiful!

An oasis in the middle of nothingness...

A stunning meditation structure - lawns - little cottages, a setting sun with hues of pink and orange and weather to die for...

I was made to wait outside his private meeting room bare foot with hundreds of people standing around just waiting - waiting - waiting...

The energy around was even more than what I had felt at the live Michael Jackson concert years ago...

People just stood waiting...for a glimpse of their Guru. Hoping that he would see them. Hoping that they would be blessed by him. Hoping that they would be able to hand over the little somethings they had brought as offerings...

I stood there with my portfolio bag waiting and watching...

I saw a car approaching from the distance.

I saw everyone suddenly scurrying around.

I saw his secretary hurriedly working her way to the front of the crowd in her bright red sari and pashmina shawl. She wasn’t much older than me but had been living in the ashram for over 15 months. She, like me was a Bombay girl who had studied at a good convent school in Bombay and had pretty much been brought up like me… (except I did not go to convent school).

The car halted.

And what a mad rush there was.

Everyone ran to try and open the door while the secretary struggled to hold onto her pashmina, her folder, her mobile phone and the mobile charger.

Guruji stepped out of the car. And everyone bowed. They crossed their hands, they bent and took his blessings.

He slowly inched his way through the crowd and finally reached the spot where I was standing. The volunteer standing with me said “Guruji, This is Anuja. She has come from…”

Before she even completed her statement, Guruji said “Ahh yes. Anuja from Bombay. You arrived today. When are you scheduled to leave?”

“I have a flight at 11 pm” I said.

“I’ll call you in soon” he smiled.

And with the hundreds of people’s ears on tenterhook to hear what he was saying to me, he disappeared into the meeting room.

The crowd did not seem to disperse but rushed toward his volunteers to try and get a private meeting with Guruji. A few started rushing toward the meditation hall to get good seats close to Guruji for the satsang (the musical prayer).

I continued to stand there waiting and watching.

It couldn’t have been more than 3 minutes and the door opened.

I had been summoned.

People cranked their necks at the open door hoping for another peek at their beloved Guruji.

I was led right in and the door was bolted behind me.

It was dark out and the lamps inside the meeting room gave a nice warm hue.

The room was carpeted and at the far end sat Guruji on a couch with a tiny round table filled with sweets and fruits.

On the carpeted floor was loads and loads more of fruits and sweets (all to be distributed I assumed).

People sat on the carpet all over the room leaving the sofa’s on the edges of the room empty.

I worked my way to the front of the room.

I really cannot describe the next 20 minutes.

I sat there and discussed work with this ‘God-Man’.

People around me sat in silence.

We continued to talk.

He smiled.

We continued to talk.

He smiled some more.

At the end we just spoke – not work – just spoke.

He smiled even some more.

He gave me a choice between Indian sweets and bananas.

I chose bananas.

He offered me bananas with his own hands.

I accepted graciously.

I asked if I could take a picture with him.

He laughed and smiled even more.

His secretary said “No flash, please”

I nodded.

Guruji moved the table in front of him away to give me place closer to him for the picture.

I kneeled and smiled.


My work was done.

I got up to collect my things still holding onto the bananas.

As I turned he said “Why are you leaving, stay with us tonight”

I didn’t know how to react. What to say… I was confused. Shocked. I don’t even know what…

“Guruji” I said.

“I have not come prepared to stay this time. I will come back.”

I smiled this time.

He smiled back.

“Okay” he said.

And I left.

When I left his private meeting room all his volunteers and his secretary came rushing up to me to remind me (again) and tell me how lucky I was to have such time and conversation with Guruji especially considering that I had not even attended the Art of Living course.

Maybe I am so lucky.

A very close follower of Guruji said only one thing to me when I told her about the whole experience.

She said “Anuja, now that you’ve met him, I just want you to do one thing. Start counting the coincidences in your life in the next couple of days…”

Twenty minutes later bang – coincidence no. 1 occurred.

Call that a coincidence. Call it whatever.

I’m still counting.

I am.