And received an outpouring of loving care, and donations from many strangers!
It was a pre-dawn morning…I had set out alone from the women’s college to the Ashram in Whitefield, Bangalore. I had walked this path alone at pre-dawn and after-dark everyday for the past week, and had no fears. Suddenly, a figure sprang out from the bushes and snatched my bag (a sturdy Nikon camera bag). Thrown off balance, I fell to the ground but hung on grimly to the bag as it had all my valuables; passport, airline tickets and money. I couldn’t leave valuables in the room as I shared it with four other women; a mad Russian, an Aussie nurse and two chatty Argentinians and there was no lock on the door.
The assailant, holding onto my bag, dragged me across the gravelly road. Just as suddenly, he was gone and I was left holding the bag strap. I had yelled for help but a couple of men came only in time to help me up. My trousers were torn and I was bruised and bleeding from the knees.
What was I to do? This was my last morning in the Ashram. I was due to fly out to Chennai the next day, to catch my plane back to Singapore. No passport, no air-tickets, no money!
Then at the entrance to the Ashram I spotted a Chinese couple whom I recognized as having been on the same flight as myself, from Singapore to Bangalore. I ran up to them and said I had been robbed of everything and could they please lend me some money. The man said, “I cannot . We just brought enough money for ourselves.” I was stunned. But by then the story of my having been robbed and hurt had gone around and a sympathetic crowd of devotees of all races had gathered. Immediately someone initiated a collection for me.
Strangers just dug into their pockets and wallets, handed me cash and walked away. There was no way for me to repay them and too many for me to note names and addresses. Then an Australian man and his partner took me to their lodgings to clean and dress my wound. As it was a festive day, the free Sai clinic was closed. My room-mates also pressed me to take some money. I was so humbled and grateful.
I also rang home to my Dad, using the public telephone (this was 1995 – before mobile phones). My dad contacted my cousin Andrew Fung who was an officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He could help facilitate getting a new passport.
Meanwhile, I remembered I had the contact of a Brigadier, Bala who was the relative of an Indian Sai Baba devotee I had got to know in Darwin, where I was living at the time with my husband Richard.
I got in touch with Brigadier Bala who immediately showed up. He bought me a plane ticket to Chennai, picked me up from the College dorm and drove me to the airport . Suddenly, he spotted a tall, dignified and elderly Indian gentleman who he pointed out to me as a well-known devotee of Sai Baba. “Let me introduce you to Mr Raja, he will help you”.
The moment the stately Mr Raja heard my story, he took me under his wing. When we touched down in Chennai airport, we were met by his staff and I was whisked off to his home, where he and his wife made me feel very welcome with home-cooked Indian vegetarian meals.
The next two days Mr Raja, an industrialist, put himself, his two cars and drivers at my disposal to get me a replacement passport, and my air ticket back to Singapore. There was even time for me to sightsee and attend bhajans in a Sai centre in Chennai.
There was just no question of my repaying him back for his hospitality. Or help. But when I finally returned to Darwin, I got in touch with Brigadier Bala’s female relative and gave her the money to repay him for the air-ticket from Bangalore to Chennai.
When I got back to Singapore, I learned that my cousin Andrew and MFA’s Singapore office didn’t have to do anything, “Betty’s good Samaritan had got everything done in double-quick time in Chennai,” they said.
This was my very first trip to see Sai Baba in India. Why did I go?
Well, when I learned that ‘God Lives in India’ – a living God, an Avatar – just like Jesus, that was good reason enough to go.
I had no interest earlier on when I heard about the celebrity Singaporeans who were devotees. But as fate would have it, my father’s best friend and colleague from Lee Plantations was Mr Ong Teck Bee and he and his wife had been to see Sai Baba.
My dad, an intrepid traveller, used to organize trekking holidays to Kashmir, Ladakh and jungle trips in Malaysia, and Mr & Mrs Ong always joined us. Wherever we went, Mr & Mrs Ong would be so adaptable, cheerful and helpful.
Once when we needed to get from our Trengganu fishing boat to shore and we had to wade chest-deep in the water, my Dad found a coffin lid floating nearby. He grabbed hold of it and put a laughing Mrs Ong on the coffin lid, and pushed her to shore.
If we stayed in a simple lodge, Mr Ong would be sweeping the leaves off the path. One day, when I commented on his being as industrious as an ant, Mr Ong said: “Hmm, this is easier than breaking up stones to repair the road to Sai Baba’s Ashram.”
“What? You were helping to repair a road?” One of their sons is Hotelier Ong Beng Seng and they had servants in their mansion in Singapore. This aroused my curiosity. Mr Ong explained that Sai Baba followers are expected to do ‘Seva’ – i.e. give loving service – to one and all.
Sai Baba has said repeatedly, “God has no need of you. Serving your fellowmen is serving God.” He also said, “Hands that serve are holier than lips that (merely) pray.”
Mr and Mrs Ong had started going to Sai Baba because a good friend’s son couldn’t walk and they brought him to Sai Baba to be healed, as so many terminally ill had been miraculously healed. “It was not his karma to be healed in this life, but meeting Baba and being there in His presence gave this young man great comfort,” Mr Ong narrated.
So I began to ask questions about this ‘Man of Miracles’, the title of a book by Dr Hislop, and in April of 1995 decided to see this ‘God-Man’ for myself. Even back in 1995, there were already a couple of thousand devotees, from over 100 countries, and so I found myself with four other women, lodged for less than S$1 a day, in a room in the women’s college. It was like being on a campus in an international University.
After that first momentous visit, I returned to Darwin and focused on creating a bio-dynamic-permaculture community in outback Darwin and setting up the first Starseed Sanctuary. It would be almost 10 years before I returned to India to see Sai Baba again.
This time I went because my husband had suddenly passed away – a massive heart attack – on Christmas Island (our new paradise home) on December 21st, 2004, just days before the massive Tsunami that took thousands of lives on December 26, 2004. Richard was only 58.
I went to thank Sai Baba because in the nearly 10 years I lived in Darwin, I had been guided by Him and his teachings of ‘Loving All, Serving All’. Seeing only the good and ‘God’ in everyone. Respecting all religions, all races and also seeing God in all of nature.
Above: Scooter Cabs – all have Sai Baba’s sayings emblazoned on their cabs.
Looking back, it was because of Baba’s teachings that so many devotees spontaneously came forward to help me. Even the Singapore couple who had refused to loan me some money tracked me down and visited me in my Dad’s house with profuse apologies. He and his wife had brought their son who had some mental problem and this so troubled him that he couldn’t respond appropriately when I asked for his help.
So now that Sai Baba has physically left his Body (April 24, 2011) many non devotees have asked “so what’s happened to the millions he amassed and hoarded?” Well, it’s probably with the Indian government. He never needed to use it to fund the many charities he set up, but he couldn’t stop people from sending money, gold, jewellery, all of which piled up, untouched, in his private rooms.
Just google and you will find that Sai Baba has returned in a ‘Subtle Body,’ while his physical body lies in his main Ashram ‘Prashanti Nilayam’ (Abode of Peace) in his home town of Puttarpathi. Since his passing there has been no winding down of His service projects and institutions. In fact, many more new hospitals, education centres and on-going projects to serve the poor and homeless, single mothers and delinquent youth, have sprung up, all over the world.
HIS emphasis, then and now, has always been that you do not need to have money to serve with love. Perhaps the biggest project that Sai Baba in his Subtle Form has initiated is The Divine Will Foundation – set up in the USA in 2013. The REAL reason for this foundation (which does not even bear his Name) is this; “My mission is not about gathering funds, building schools or hospitals – it is about the personal Transformation of my Devotees as they selflessly give loving service with no expectations of any return, and thereby progress from I to we, to He (God).
That is our purpose, from birth to birth…until we earn the right to merge with God.
Footnote: As I pen this I am preparing to return to Singapore from my home in Starseed Healing Gardens, Johor, to celebrate Sai Baba’s 92nd birthday which is on the 23rd of November.
Christmas 2005 – I joined the 1,000 strong international choir: Pictured here with dorm mate: Masoomeh, a muslim from Iran.
IN A BOX – The Future of Mankind
Sai Baba in the ‘Subtle Form’ is working ‘overtime’ to awaken us …
”Today the world is sick, poisoned by Man….and the promised Golden Age will come but there will be some upheavals (Earthquakes, Tsunamies, Fire, Floods) sufficient to uproot the evil that is so prevalent today…
Know also that the Golden Age is the creation of Man, not God…Man himself will determine the timing of the transition by his own acts and thoughts…Each has a choice, the free will, to decide his own future.
Your future is assured once you find your own Self, the divinity within.
All should play a part in bringing forward the transformation and the instrument you should use is LOVE” – an extract from Baba’s discourses over 40 years.