@Siliconeer #Siliconeer #Fiction #DrRaghavendraRao #Literature – In a college in Massachusetts State the undergraduate students who chose to major in Oriental Philosophy, attended lectures by Swami Gnaneswar at his Ashram in Boston.

Swami Gnaneswar was well known for his knowledge of Hindu philosophical doctrines and had authored several books on the subject. His commentary on Shankara’s Vivekachudamani had brought him accolades from scholars. It had become a standard treatise for postgraduate students pursuing Advaita philosophy. No wonder the College requested Swami to deliver lectures for the students registered in the Indian philosophy course.

In addition to attending lectures, the students were required to participate in voluntary work. The Ashram had a kitchen area which was kept clean generally by the disciples of Swami but when students were present, they took over the job. They distributed the prasadam, food items such as, curd bath, pickles, spicy tamarind rice and sweets that were offered to God Shiva earlier, to devotees for a nominal price in Styrofoam boxes. The students also volunteered to clean the premises, printed Ashram activity pamphlets and explained the visitors whatever little they knew of the symbolism involved in Indian Gods. All these activities earned the undergraduates the required credits. Mostly, students from India preferred the program because they were familiar with the Ashram system.

The first day, Aishwarya and her classmates drove to the Ashram in her red Honda Civic. She wore an embroidered Georgette straight-cut salwar suit in Beige with rose-colored dupatta, which made her exquisitely beautiful. Her parents were doctors and she was used to a comfortable life because whatever she wanted, her parents bought it. A maid attended to her daily needs.

That morning, the students listened to a lecture by Swami Gnaneswar on the topic, “selfless action,” which Aishwarya barely understood. Then they moved to the kitchen area to pack the food items. The area was warm and the pungent smell of spices was overpowering. While she worked, Aishwarya drank plenty of cool water. Unable to bear the warmth, she came out of the kitchen. Outside, the sun beat up mercilessly. Then she saw a woman walking by, clad in a white sari and wearing a rudraksha mala on her neck.

“Madam, I’m Aishwarya. My friends and I, college students, are working hard from morning until now and are damn tired,” she said to the woman.

“Namaste, Aishwarya Ji. How can I assist you?” the woman replied.

“We are volunteers and are exhausted. So, don’t you think you should provide some refreshments for us? May be some snacks or coffee? That’s the least you can do for us.”

“I’m Brahmacharini Pavitra, Aishwarya Ji. I’ll notify Swami Gnaneswar about it forthwith. Meanwhile shall I get you a glass of cool water?”

“No, Pavitra. I had plenty of it.”

“Please go to the kitchen and rest. I’ll be right back.”

Pavitra walked away briskly towards a hall. In a few minutes, she came back with a glass of lime juice. “Aishwarya Ji, Swami Gnaneswar desires to meet you. Please step this way.”

Swami sat in padmasana posture on a bamboo mat at one end of the hall in front of an idol of dancing Shiva. A soothing faint hum of “Om” percolated from a speaker in a corner. The room was warm since there was no air conditioning or fan.

“Aishwarya, please sit down on the mat. I know you are upset and tired. Please take a few deep breaths and relax.”

Soon Aishwarya felt comfortable. Meanwhile Brahmacharini Pavitra came in carrying two paper plates of Tamarind rice, sambar, a small cup of curds and lime pickle. Spicy radish sambar aroma pervaded the room immediately.

Swami placed a plate in front of Aishwarya. “Please join me for lunch.”

Aishwarya hesitated. Various thoughts raced in her mind. “Why this special attention for me alone? Will he scold me for asking for refreshments? Will my credits be affected because of my behavior?” She wiped her sweating forehead with a napkin.

Swami chanted a prayer thanking God for the lunch and said, “Aishwarya, this is not an examination. You’re hungry. Please eat your lunch.”

As they ate, he conversed. “We run this Ashram on a no-frills policy. We get remuneration from donations, selling food items to the devotees and from daily puja services. I am compensated by the University. We spend the collected money for conducting the annual health fair, offering scholarships to poor students, helping families in calamities and in assisting seniors. We maintain the priests who perform the puja to God Shiva. Practically we don’t have money left over to provide food, snacks or beverages to students or volunteers. They can bring or buy food here. I pay for my lunch and dinner here.”

“Swami, I realize it now. I’m sorry, I was rough with Pavitra Ji. Thank you for the lunch.”

“Aishwarya. You signed up for voluntary work. Do you know what it means?”

“Swami, no. This is the first time I ever volunteered. I never thought about it deeply.”

“Voluntary work is an altruistic activity where an individual or group offers their service to benefit another person or organization. The mere joy of helping others without any compensation is its reward. No financial or any other type of gain is expected. This is Karma Yoga of Bhagavad Gita. Here is an English version for you.”

“Thank you.”

“Study Bhagavad Gita. Ponder over what the shlokas mean. Try to live up to its teachings. Well, you may go now.”

Pavitra Ji removed the plates and cleaned the area. Aishwarya apologized to Pavitra, then wrote a check for a thousand dollars. She placed it at the feet of Swami.

“Aishwarya, you are a student and dependent on your parents. This is not your money. I won’t accept the check. Take it back.” Swami smiled. “Keep coming to Ashram and do voluntary work wholeheartedly. That itself is a huge donation for us. Service to people is service to Paramatma.”

Aishwarya fell on Gnaneswar’s feet out of deep respect. “Swami, you taught me a lot today. You are a real Guru.”