Great Gathering

Sami wondered what Guru Baba had meant by saying he was going to change “into somebody else.” He’d also said, “I have done so before.”

Maybe he’d changed his name when he became a holy man. It was common to break the bonds of your gross life when undertaking a more subtle one. Or was it his family name, in an attempt to elevate caste? Guru Baba had told Sami about his misguided youth, where despite coming from a wealthy family, he was always getting into trouble with the law. His family may have used their influence to wash his police records clean.

Guru Baba’s utterance had struck a chord with the public. Some people had come the night before and camped outside the Transparent Temple, and many more had come at dawn. There was a seated queue of four hundred people by 8 a.m., and doors wouldn’t open till twelve.

“Hello Sophie,” said Sami. “I didn’t know you were coming today. Why didn’t you tell me? I could have got you a pass.”

“Thanks, but I am happy waiting. It’s like a long meditation.”

He saw that Shama, Dimpy and Bobby were in the queue. Shama and Dimpy sat next to each other, chatting. Perhaps they had moved beyond their divorce. And Bobby was a strange fellow, otherworldly; well suited to the spiritual realm, and certainly not suited to this one.

Sophie asked, “How many people are you expecting today?”

“It’s always hard to say. My rule of thumb is ten times the number queuing at eight a.m., so maybe four thousand.”

“You can’t fit that many in the Temple, can you? It’s only got room for four hundred.”

“Up to six hundred,” said Sami. “We’ll keep the queue moving. We’ll ask people to perform their darshan, take refreshment, and leave. They are welcome to rejoin the queue if they want more time.”

Darshan was the act of seeing a holy person – in this case Guru Baba, rather than Siva or Krishna – and absorbing their power through your eyes. Participation in this sacred act brought good fortune, wellbeing and grace.

By midday the queue had grown to two thousand. People must have taken the day, or at least part of the day, off from work. He saw the Lucerne Valley Hotel’s part-android receptionist, TJ, the Seniors’ Centre manager, Mr Amin, veteran Dr Bungawalla, Bobby’s niece Naomi – had she skipped school? – and the founder of the Botanical Gardens, known only as The Gardener. They all waited patiently.

The first four hundred people were allowed in. While they waited for the ritual to commence, a large screen showed a film of Guru Baba’s life.

The small, black-bearded, saffron-robed sage, though retired, was still thought of as one of the world’s leading holy men. His origins had not been humble. He was the son of an Indian dynasty whose businesses made airplanes, cars, computers, smartphones, spirits and soft drinks, and lived in a one billion dollar home in Mumbai.

The young Guru Baba saw how obsessed his family had become with money; it affected their physical and mental health, relationships and manners. They had the burden of wealth. He left the family home and lived in the slums, yet found that the lot of poor people was no happier than that of rich people. Poor people had the reverse burden of poverty.

He realized that the essence of life was not what you had, but what you did; how you used your time on earth. He felt that gatherings of like-hearted people were energizing and humanizing. In this way, he had brought over thirty six million people together, which was good enough for a lifetime’s work.

He could leave now.

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