Volume 14 - Issue 04
April 2016
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Posted on: Apr 28, 2016


Life with God is an endless hope:
life without God is a hopeless end

The life experience of Mr. Hari Hara Krishnan


PART 4

Part 01 || Part 02 || Part 03

 

Muharram in Karbala

The day Iraq invaded Kuwait also happened to be a day of great tragedy for the Shia Muslims around the globe. It was the day of Ashura, the 10th day of Muharram when they mourn the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 CE). Naturally, Karbala is the heart of this mourning and the ‘celebration’ of this event goes on almost for the whole month of Muharram (the first month of the Islamic calendar).

The Imam Husayn Shrine at Karbala during the second month of the Islamic calendar. One can only imagine the crowds during Muharram

Thus, when Hari’s convoy arrived in Karbala late in the evening, the city was bursting at its seams and various processions filled many of the roads passing through it. Thousands of people flocked the roads and there were no vehicles other than the three making a headway towards Jordan. Hari got nervous as the cars became the only islands in a sea of people. He told his cousin never to sound the horn. One more mass vibhuti-application ritual followed after which he requested everyone to pray that the devout followers do not get incensed by the presence of the air-conditioned luxury cars in the midst of their sombre religious observance.

In the journey so far, Hari’s mind was so preoccupied with evading death that he had not slept even a wink. Yet, he could not help but observe the great material poverty that existed in Iraq. Unless he had seen with his own eyes he would have found it impossible to believe that neighbouring a filthy rich country there could be such a poverty-stricken one! Whatever might be the political and diplomatic reasons that would be assigned for the invasion of Kuwait, Hari felt that this huge economic disparity was the silent root cause. Anywhere there is a wide gulf between the haves and havenots, conflict becomes a natural result. And this gulf seemed widest in the Gulf!

It took them more than an hour to navigate through the flooded streets of Karbala. It was another miracle that their cars seemed to be invisible to the thronging thousands. The convoy was headed towards Al Fallujah without the slightest hiccup. From there, Hari took the road that lead to the Iraqi capital. The cars reached Baghdad at about 9 pm on 9 August.

 
  The right turn that was not right. From Al Fallujah, Hari should have headed towards Ramadi instead of Baghdad. But even this 'wrong' turn showed Swami's grace

Journeying through deserts

The streets of Baghdad too were crowded when the three cars arrived. Celebrations of a different nature were on here. People were reveling in the victory and glory of Saddam Hussein. Even through the closed windows Hari could hear the melodious strains of a song with its constant refrain - Al Wallahi Saddam Hussein ( I swear by Saddam Hussein). The Iraqi President was being elevated to the level of God’s prophet! Though there were no soldiers here, the whole scene was quite unnerving for the passengers in the three cars.

Hari got out of the car and walked up to a random person. He humbly asked him,

“Sir, we are Indians and we want to go to Jordan. Which way do we drive?”

Even as he asked the question, the realisation hit Hari that so far, they had never sought any directions. It was another miracle that they had not got lost in Iraq through even one wrong turn in the dozens of crossroads that they had encountered en route.

“We are born in this country... We die... But you can escape”, the man replied.

“We came from Karbala...” Hari said.

“Wrong way! You should not have come to Baghdad. It is away from route. Baghdad will soon become ashes because of American airplanes. Get out of here as soon as possible. Go to Samarra and from there to Ramadi...”

As Hari walked back to the car thanking this gentleman, he was nodding his head in disbelief. In their entire journey of more than 1000 kilometres so far, this was the first ‘wrong turn’ they had taken. Was it a coincidence that he felt like checking with a random stranger for the first time? Hari was convinced that the nudge to ask for the route at Baghdad had been given by his Swami. Swami was taking care of his journey in the desert kingdoms just as He was taking care of his journey through the desert of life. Man often runs behind the shimmer of the multiple and myriad mirages and gets stuck, walking in circles in the same desert. Punarapi Jananam Punarapi Maranam (Birth again, death again) as Adi Shankaracharya puts it. Hari had already understood the false nature of the mirages called money, material and men in Kuwait. Today, he realised how magnanimously God had been guiding him in the ‘desert’. He expressed his gratitude to Swami for the ‘wrong turn’ that had brought about this realisation.

‘The appointment in Samarra’

Like in Karbala, it took almost a couple of hours to drive out of Baghdad city and hit the highway. The cars were now zooming faster than 150 kmph, making good progress towards Samarra. It was well past midnight and Hari was wide awake - his eighth day in a row without sleep! A sharp curve leading to a bridge came up. At that very instant, Ananta, who was at the wheel dozed a bit.The effect was immediate and terrible. The car headed straight towards the metal railings of the bridge, centimetres away from a 500-feet plummet to sure death in the valley below.

“SAI RAMMMMM”

 


This was the fate that Hari and company seemed headed towards

 

Hari’s loud-throated scream woke Ananta with a jolt. He suddenly became aware of what was happening and he tugged at the steering wheel desperately. The car swerved violently and entered a tailspin. It completed three circles on the road, crashed against the railing and came to a dead halt. It was pitch darkness outside and dead silence within the car. The front of the car was brutally smashed and yet, the headlights beamed on miraculously! Everyone in the car were violently shaken up and yet, there wasn’t a single scratch on any of them!

The first thoughts were to abandon this car and stuff themselves in the other two cars. But soon, they realized that apart from a disfigured front, the car had not got damaged in any other way.

“This is a miracle car and we shall continue in it”, Hari decided.

The Sukkah 53a of the Babylonian Talmud makes reference to how “the feet lead one to the place where one is destined to be”. Based on that, the British playwright, Somerset Maugham has written a famous piece called, ‘Appointment in Samarra’ which is a metaphor for an appointment with death. Going through that piece of literature is sure to bring goosebumps to the reader for it perfectly describes Hari’s journey. The only difference is in the ending. Maugham’s piece is reproduced below:

 

 

 

(The narrator of this story is Death)

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said,

“Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said,

“Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture”, I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”


Appointment in Samarra

Like the servant in the story, Hari was rushing out of Baghdad and towards Samarra to escape death. Little did he know about the dreadful appointment in Samarra and the relative safety in Baghdad (Baghdad actually never got bombed till the 2003 Battle of Baghdad). But unlike that servant and like the great Markandeya, Hari had been saved! His appointment at Samarra had been cancelled by the only power in the Universe that could cancel death!

Checkpost 14 - a magazine miracle

It was about 2 am on the 10th of August when the voyagers checked into a hotel at Samarra.

“We will be checking out at 4 am”, Hari told the receptionist who handed them keys to a couple of rooms for payment in Kuwait Dinars. Everyone quickly made use of the restroom and freshened themselves in preparation for the remaining journey. The children were given another dose of the cough syrup and everyone took a big dose of vibhuti which was fast running out of stock now.

At 4 am, the convoy set off again, headed towards Ramadi. Hari checked his notepad. By the time they headed out of Ramadi towards the Tarbil border crossing into Jordan, he had ticked off 13 checkposts. Two more stood between them and the safety of Amman in Jordan. Within a few hours of driving, they arrived at the Checkpost #14. Till now, Hari had been raising his hand and the gates had been miraculously opened. He did the same again. But the gates did not open. Instead, the gun-wielding soldier began to walk up to the car.

Hari lowered the glass on his door. He did not want to go out of the car unless permitted by the soldier. As the soldier came towards Hari’s window, he placed a hand on the bonnet of the car and said,

“No fuel! No fuel!”

Hari immediately looked at the fuel indicator. It had indeed gone below the ‘E’ mark. How on earth did the soldier know it? Did he make a blind guess? How on earth was the car running?

 
  It is anybody's guess how Hari's car was running in spite of an empty tank!

“More than 300 kilometres to border... Go back 2 kilometres. On the right, fuel pump... Fill car and come...”

The soldier seemed to give no other choice. It was definitely a wise counsel. Hari decided to go back, refuel and return. Even as the car began to reverse, the soldier put his head inside the car, scanning all the occupants. His eyes fell on the Mangayar Malar magazine that was lying on the front dash. He picked it up and asked,

“I take this... Okay for you?”

Hari nodded.

“As long as you don’t take our lives, take anything else”, he thought.

It took about twenty minutes for the cars to return after refueling. The soldier was still standing where he had stopped the cars. He was leafing through the pages of the magazine, poring over its contents. Hari wondered what an Arabic-literate soldier found in a Tamil Women’s magazine. Wait a minute! Was he seeing the picture of the Lord?

Hari did not get a chance to confirm because the soldier immediately folded the magazine and handed it back to Hari.

“Petrol full?”

Hari nodded.

“Good.”

He nodded and the gate was raised. As the cars were driving through, Hari got the confirmation he sought about this also being the divine play of his dear Swami. The soldier stood in attention and offered a military salute to Hari!

 
The August 1990 issue of Mangayar Malar Magazine with the page that carried Swami’s photograph.
(Picture courtesy: Mangayar Malar Archives)
 

The final frontier

It was 11 am on 10th August when the convoy reached the Tarbil Border Crossing, the 15th and final checkpost. This would be the checkpost where the immigration stamp from Iraq would be necessary. That would mean scanning of passports. And when that happened, Hari’s close connect with Mustafa would become evident. What would happen after that was anybody’s guess.

A military parade was in progress.There were hundreds of soldiers all around and dozens of large guns mounted along the border. But nobody bothered about the three cars standing on the road. Everyone seemed to be going about their own businesses. Fearing for his life, Hari pulled out a white handkerchief. Holding all the passports in one hand and waving the white handkerchief in the other, he got out of the car and approached the nearest building. There was a man with a machine gun.

“Sir, we want to go to India...”

“Ah! I have to ask my boss. Come back at 5 pm and I will let you know.”

“Whom should I meet at 5 o'clock sir?”

“Don’t worry. I am here 24 hours of the day...”

“Okay sir”, Hari said and was moving back to the car like a mouse.

“Hey listen!”

“Yes sir...”

“There is a toilet over there. But go only one at a time. If two people go together, one will be shot dead okay?”

“Yes sir...Thank you sir...”

Six hours rolled by. Not a single soul stirred from any of the cars. At exactly 6 pm, Hari pulled out the white handkerchief and went back to the man with the machine gun.

“I asked the boss... He says that nobody can go. So go back wherever you came from.”

“Sir, but we have to go to India. Please...”

Something seemed to stir in the soldier.

“Okay. Come back tomorrow morning 11 o'clock. We will see...”

Hari had no other choice but to move back to the car. He had no idea whether the soldier was making efforts for him or was playing with him the way a lion sometimes plays with a lesser prey before going for a kill. He conveyed the message to all the cars and went back to his seat.

Hari’s entourage waited for a whole day at the Tarbil Border crossing

“Swami, You know everything. You take care of everything.”

It was a prayer made in sheer exhaustion and desperation. The vibhuti stock was almost over now but there was no limit for the Namasmarana stock! Chanting of the divine name and complete surrender brought absolute acceptance and a kind of divine calm in Hari. For the first time since the 2nd of August, he slept soundly and for long!

Stumped and stamped

Everyone woke up comfortably in the morning and continued to wait for an hour before noon. Once again, with prayers in his heart and the white handkerchief in hand, Hari set out towards the building.
“Boss wants to meet you. Follow me.”

Hari was led up a flight of stairs to the third floor of the building. He was ushered into a spacious cabin which seemed to be filled with telephones. At the center was seated a huge army person at a large mahogany desk. He was picking and answering many calls, spewing orders rapidly in Arabic.

“Give me the passports”, he growled at Hari.

Hari handed them to him and stood like a child next to its strict teacher.

“Take a seat.”

Hari obeyed instantly.

“Not even a fly can cross the border without my knowledge... Do you know who I am?”

Hari had no clue. He knew this much that he was the one who seemed to control his destiny at the moment. He silently chanted, “Sai Ram Sai Ram”.

“I am the right hand of Saddam Hussein”, the man said and paused, allowing it to sink in, “where is your passport?”

This was the dreaded moment. Hari’s hand shook as he pulled out his passport from the pile. He wondered why he was being singled out because the man handed all the other passports to his deputy who began stamping them.

The general went through Hari’s passport, studying each page and soon arrived at the page that carried Mustafa’s stamp. He put the passport on the desk and looked at Hari. Hari looked back, blank and white in face. The general got up from the chair. His huge shoulders seemed to fill the cabin. Hari also stood up, quivering at the thought of what might happen next. Would he order a firing squad?

The general walked to Hari and said,

“I don’t know why... but... I like you so much!”

With that, he gave Hari a massive bear hug. Hari was in a daze. What on earth was happening?

Then, the general stamped Hari’s passport and also signed on it.

“Nobody in Iraq will dare touch a hair on your head. Come to Iraq and leave as and when you wish.”

 

 
The Iraqi seal with the general’s stamp exist to this day in Hari’s passport.
And it is right next to the page of Mustafa’s stamp.
That page has been withheld to protect privacy
 

Hari was dumbstruck. The unbelievable had happened. Instead of beheading him for being a protege of their sworn enemy, the general had stamped his passport with a personal assurance of his protection. The irony was that the stamped page was right opposite to the page where the Kuwaiti stamp was!

Victory lap

As Hari was stepping out of the general’s door, unable to believe what had happened, he heard the stentorian voice,

“Sir, how will you go? The next 200 kilometers is a neutral desert zone.”

Hari was almost paralysed. He turned around meekly and said,

“Sir, we will drive to Amman.”

“But it’s illegal to drive in those cars since they are Iraqi property. (Kuwait by now had been accepted as the 19th state of Iraq).”

“Then, we shall walk sir...”

“Are you mad? You wait till the evening. I will confirm from Saddam Hussein. Maybe you will be permitted to drive away in your cars...”

Hari did not want to stay a moment longer on Iraqi soil.

“Sir, it is alright. We will walk… We have to go urgently...”

The general must have thought that Hari was off his rockers. Nobody could survive a 200 km trek in the desert.


“Okay. Do as you please.”

Hari walked to the cars. He told everyone there,

“Just get down from the cars and follow me. Don’t do anything else or you’ll be shot.”

Hari could feel the soldiers laughing at their foolishness as they allowed them to cross over from Iraq to Jordan. They probably felt that instead of dying in Iraq, these people would die in Jordan!

Hari heaved a sigh of relief as he crossed the Tarbil checkpost. But then, this was the beginning of the neutral zone. He had no clue about how they would traverse the 200 kms in the desert.


The entire odyssey spanned more than 1600 kms and it was done with just one detour thanks to Divine Guidance

Any journey begins with the first step. Taking Swami’s name and finishing the last traces of vibhuti,, Hari and the others began the march. They had hardly walked 10 feet when they saw a bus appear in the horizon.

Within moments, the bus was by their side on the road. The conductor’s head popped out of the otherwise empty bus and he said,

“Amman... Amman... Any passengers to Amman.”

Hari was crying now. How could a desert touch him when his Swami was never going to desert him? By early evening, they found themselves at the immigration office of Amman! They were the first Indians to have got out of Kuwait and, considering their situation, they were given Visas on arrival free of charge!

The journey from the Tarbil Border Crossing to Amman is a good 200 kms and even Google maps says - Sorry, we could not calculate directions
from "Tarbil Border Crossing, Iraq" to "Amman, Jordan"

Swami’s finishing touch

With joy and gratitude, Hari walked out of the immigration office and his jaw dropped in surprise. Waiting to welcome him was Ribhi! (How Ribhi got out of Iraq is a totally different story altogether). They rushed and embraced. Tears were flowing freely and in that magical moment, they experienced the brotherhood of man. Here was an orthodox Muslim from Palestine celebrating a Brahmin Hindu from India like his own long-lost brother!

“Hari, I informed NCR on my arrival here. I had told them that you would be coming soon. All necessary arrangements have been made.”

Hari was led into a princely suite of the 5-star Sheraton Hotel in Amman. He was requested by NCR to plan for the welfare of the other affected NCR employees in the Middle East. A royal suite became his office and a Mercedes Benz was at his beck and call! But none of that impressed Hari. He just wanted to return to his motherland, the land of his God. Soon, the Indian embassy contacted him and all the Indians were flown as VIPs back to India.

The man who would be the most-wanted by an Iraqi dictator had become the first Indian to return home from the Kuwait conflict zone! Coincidentally, it was the 15th of August, 1990 - the day of the Indian Independence. Hari knew now that ‘in’-dependence was the only reliable dependence of life. Nothing else - wealth, influence, power, authority - ever mattered.

The article featuring Hari, Kirit Gandhi and Ananta Padmanabhan in the Indian Express on 16th August

More than a decade later, in 2004, Swami spoke to Hari’s son Vijay (who was studying B.Com at the Brindavan campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning). He told him to call his family in for an interview. The warden stepped in and said,

“Swami, his father is an auditor.”

“No, he is a Chartered Accountant”, Swami corrected.

“Swami, he came from the Gulf...”

“I know. I only brought him back to India”, the Lord confirmed.

In the interview that followed, Swami confirmed everything - the magazine, the soldier, the general and more than anything else, the veracity of the dozen dreams of Swami that Hari had after his return from Kuwait. Hari opened up his heart to Swami completely in the hour-long interview. Swami revealed many personal details which He had originally told Hari only in his dreams. Hari was thus convinced that all his dreams in which Swami had told him about his odyssey through Iraq to escape from Kuwait were all confirmation of Swami’s grace on him. Swami did not stop at that. Towards the end of the interview, He told Hari to follow His car to Puttaparthi!

A couple of days later, Hari drove into Trayee Brindavan and parked his car awaiting Bhagawan. Soon, Swami came out, received Arathi and got ready to leave for Prasanthi Nilayam. It was an unforgettable journey for Hari as he drove his car with his eyes fixed on Swami’s car. He knew that this drive, just like his drive out of Kuwait, was symbolic of the journey he had to undertake in life. He understood that he had to first drive away from the world with the name of his Lord on his lips. Then, he had to follow his Lord to Prasanthi, the abode of highest peace.

With this whole experience, Swami has become firmly entrenched in Hari’s heart in such a manner that Hari has never allowed entry to anyone or anything else there. Why will he? He knows that when death comes, the only thing that matters is how much he has loved Swami and how much Namasmarana he has done. And so, he continues to work. But he seeks no remuneration. The only currency he wishes to earn is that which will be accepted in Sai’s kingdom.

Hari with his wife and children is at Swami's feet in every sense. Family Interview on 5th June 2004 at Trayee Brindavan

Part 01 || Part 02 || Part 03

- Aravind Balasubramanya
Radio Sai Team

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