Disclosure: Long post, brevity would have been a compromise in singing Bhagwan’s glory, so… 

TL;DR: I prayed to the ever-smiling Sri Hari Bhagwan and he answered, in less than 30 minutes 🙂  

Quoting Swami Ji from Devotion and Grace:

But when real grace happens, the one who is very talkative, quiets down. Becomes quiet. And the one who used to do all the running around in the world, becomes perfectly still. That’s what happens in ultimate grace.

And I have felt it to my bones.

Sri Badrika Ashram is Vaikuntha and I have been beyond blessed to have spent a major part of my work-from-home here, well truly, work from HOME. I can never thank Bhagwan enough for his mercy and protection, anyone who has spent some time at the Ashram will likely resonate with my sentiments.

Back to the story, the professionally staffed and the lush landscaped Ashram with its luxurious infrastructure is only a few years old, there was a time when none of this existed, there were only a handful of rooms, a dormitory, a front office to manage the operations and a table, which used to be the makeshift book store. 

Back then, there were a lot more opportunities to volunteer and do seva (devotional service), everything was almost entirely volunteer driven. Front office, dishwashing, kitchen seva, book stall, temple cleaning and decoration, dining hall, you name it. Whenever I visited, most of my day would go in one seva or the other, along with a lot of laughter, pranks and banter. And since nothing is permanent, this wasn’t either. Around 2017, the scale and operations of the Ashram started growing multi-fold, and within 4 years, we have 100+ luxurious rooms, a full time front office, a dispensary, a 250 seater dining hall, a massive meditation hall, a modern library and a lot of flora. And for upkeep, quality and accountability, the Ashram now has it’s own permanent staff and a bunch of resident volunteers who manage their own designated duties.

But the most beautiful aspect is, this is what we see on a surface level, Ashram was serene and well managed then, Ashram is serene and well managed now, it’s the land where Mother Divine and Lord Hari walk, it reverberates with Bhagwan’s infinite sattva, the one thing, that will never change.

Swami Ji is all about good governance and on the same lines, it was great to set roles and responsibilities but what that also meant was now there were fewer opportunities to volunteer if you were in the Ashram for a few days. Paradoxically though, there is no dearth of seva at the Ashram if one really wishes to do just that, without any hidden intention. But prima facie, I was feeling distant and aloof, as I had the yearning but not many seva opportunities to fully engross myself. Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling belonged.

And this feeling exacerbated during my recent stay, I had the time and energy but because of the new norms, I didn’t know who to ask, how and what to engage in, somewhere inside, I still feel, maybe I wasn’t ready or lacked the purity of intention or both, who knows. It wasn’t like I didn’t try, I had requested to volunteer many times during the early days of my stay but nothing really came up. Frustrated and humbled, I sat in front of Sri Hari Bhagwan and prayed to be given some seva. I wanted to use my time in a sattvic endeavour and I expressed this desire to the ever glorious, one and only Sri Hari.

And boy, oh boy! Bhagwan said Tathaastu.

Within 30 minutes of walking out of the temple, I got 2 calls. One from the very gentle, dexterous and devoted, Br. Prabhu Ji and the other from, Rajiv Ji, our very own Ashram administrator. I had noticed that Prabhu Ji never asked anyone for help, he serves day and night but when it comes to taking help, he lovingly says, “Arre kyun kisiko kasht dena” (why bother anyone, let them be), but surprisingly that day, I got the call to come and help with some urgent kitchen chores. And that, was a start to finding not only seva, but walking closer towards my purpose and meaning in life. And Rajiv Ji’s call was equally special, he called me to his office and asked if I was interested in one of Ashram’s social projects and the obvious answer was, YES, for I knew whose blessing it was, behind both the calls.

I was over the moon, not because I got what I wanted, but more so, for how quickly Bhagwan manifested my desire and made his powerful presence felt. Getting into the Ashram kitchen was nothing short of a miracle, as I’m the younger and pampered one from a Punjabi family, my only visits to the kitchen at home were to hug my mother when I was happy, stack the empty bottles of water on the counter in entitlement and to decide the stuffing for paranthas. Without a tangible skill in my armour, I started visiting the Ashram kitchen everyday and started assuming to mundane things I could do, but, Sri Hari had other plans:

The Vada Story

It was the first week of my kitchen seva, my confidence around knives, peelers and graters was that of holding the steering for the first time while learning to drive, Bhagwan feels so close in that moment. Now imagine with a jittery persona like that, I was asked to come and help with frying vadas. If knives were holding the steering, frying vadas was parallel parking on Day 1. But I said yes, in excitement and with faith in Prabhu Ji’s skills. We readied the batter and off we were, poking holes in the batter and slipping them in boiling hot oil with bare fingers (I was whispering Jai Sri Hari while slipping every vada, akin to Bhagwan’s vanar sena slipping rocks in the ocean to tie Ram setu). Within a span of an hour, we had fried some 150+ vadas and not once, did I burn my fingers or had even the slightest of hesitation, I was totally in the zone. If that’s not Bhagwan holding your hand and making you do unimaginable things, I don’t know what is. In my experience, Sri Hari Bhagwan makes you do exactly what you’re not ready to do so you evolve, that’s his playful way of teaching life. Memories Below:

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Chopping Pro

I would usually get the task of washing and chopping veggies as that was the only thing I could do, for let alone cooking, I didn’t know Cumin powder from dry Coriander. It took me hours and hours to chop sometimes and the kitchen staff would do the same task in 1/3rd the time. While practice does make a man perfect, practice coupled with Lord’s grace makes that man, a pro, in no time. From someone who never held a kitchen knife to running the vegetable cleaver like clockwork within a matter of weeks was Bhagwan’s incredible and immense grace. Check out the video snippets:

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The Grand CM Visit

Ashram hosted the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh for inaugurating it’s newly built state-of-the-art meditation hall, and it was a big deal. Everything had to be creme de la creme in terms of preparation. And to my utter surprise, I was asked to take over the dining hall preparation, and that included managing cutlery for a 90 member team of VIPs and VVIPs, arranging 8 types of appetizers and refreshments & making sure everyone gets everything within 25 minutes, it was one herculean task, nothing short of hosting a big fat Indian wedding and who was put in-charge, a person who was just learning to chop vegetables. I prayed and prayed to Sri Hari, because it was Ashram’s reputation at stake to outsiders, people who weren’t necessarily devotees. I had to bring my A game. And Sri Hari didn’t desert me for a minute, I had the right team members at the right time, equally motivated and devoted to serving the officials as I was and we had put together the finest of dining settings for the officials.

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The Bhindi Saga

How do you chop more than 15kgs of Bhindi (ladyfinger) in 90 mins? During a recent Ashram event, we somehow got understaffed one day and the dinner vegetables couldn’t be chopped in time. The delivery time for chopped veggies was 330 p.m., for dinner to be served at 515 p.m. and it wasn’t until 2 p.m. that Prabhu Ji and I realized that no one has even started chopping yet. My dear friend Pavleen and I took to it and started off with great steam, but 10 mins in and we figured that there was no way we could finish over 15 kgs in 90 mins, even at superman speed. I tried calling people for help, but no one was available, I requested the staff to help but they were busy elsewhere, I called Prabhu Ji to apprise him of the situation but he didn’t have his phone on him at the time. At last, I called out to Bhagwan for sending help and he heard me. Believe you me, this is without an iota of exaggeration, within the next 8-10 mins, Pavleen and I were asked by 6 people if we needed help, and most of these people had never volunteered in kitchen before, they just happened to pass by and asked if we needed help. It was one of the most special experiences for me in my seva journey, we delivered the chopped Bhindi at 315 p.m. Volume and chopping video snippet:

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Pooris

It was time to fry again. And this time, not only fry but leaven too. When the food is lip smacking good, it finishes up faster and it was one of those days (have a look at the meal). The food was super tasty and it seemed as if a 1000 pooris (type of fried Indian bread) will not suffice. Captain Novice to the duty again. Never in my life I had leavened or fried pooris, it was the very first time and I was doing it just naturally, almost halwai style. Have a look at the video, it still is miraculous for me:

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Salad Man

Vrinda Sadhvi Ji gave me the monicker and there’s a good reason for it. Salad became the one thing that I used to take full ownership of, picked up the most easy and non critical piece.😜 Smart me! But it’s easy when you have to do it for a few people, when the volume is 30, 70 and sometimes 100, washing, peeling, chopping, assembling becomes quite a task. Sometimes, the total elements would run up to 9, managing them all at once was harder than juggling. But the best part was, I would just ask Prabhu Ji the ingredients and put together something with mostly my own childish creativity and present it to Bhagwan’s devotees & take feedback. It is one of the most fulfilling feeling to lovingly feed everyone, and it becomes exhilarating when they love what you’ve put out. I’m so glad to be the salad man, some of the memories:

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This is my story of real grace. If it can dawn upon me, it can dawn upon anyone. Sri Hari Bhagwan answers, be it seva or absolutely anything at all. I have never felt the kind of absorption, quietude and devotion in anything else, maybe because his blessings are inherent in what I’m doing. I wish and pray for all those who genuinely wish to do seva at the Ashram to experience the same joy, contentment and his unmistakable presence that I have felt.  

All glories to Hari Narayana😊🙏

[Featured Image Credit: Anukta Mukherjee Ghosh]

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