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Summer continues here in Whitefield, the sun rising early in the mornings, the skies turning grey at about 5.45 am, now. Birds chirp, and people stand out the front of their houses cleaning their teeth, having a first look at the world in the fresh morning. They stand and really move the toothbrush around for a few minutes.  Children go the the taps and fill buckets with water for their morning ablutions. Shops open, dogs run around and trucks lunge through the puddles left by the overnight rain. Not too much mud this morning, I can fairly stride down the road.

The shoe racks for the men are outside on the footpath beside the ashram entrance. Yesterday the seva dals put up a guard against the shoe racks to stop the pandemonium after darshan. As I walked past, I see chappals hung in neat rows in plastic bags. Tokens for chappals given out. I give it a try and put my shoes in for token number 714.

Into the ashram, I greet the seva dals doing leg checks, and say hello to the familiar face with the metal detector, who looks over me cursorily and waves me by. Clutching my cushion, I go through the second security check and wander down the largely empty 'outside' area with the raised floor. Looking across, I see the Russians who always choose that 'outside' front row, right where the back fence to the darshan hall used to be. Go through the last security check where my pockets are patted. Turn and go into the darshan hall, and take a place in that big last block of men. Look around, it feels a bit stuffy and warm here, so I get up and walk over to the side aisle where I normally sit. Its about 7AM and the darshan hall is about 2/3rds full.

The man beside me has his eyes closed, hands gently clasped in his lap, meditating. Two rows ahead, a young man in sleeveless jumper turns around and and reaches out to a very young boy who has taken the space in front of me, with his father. Stranger shyness, the young boy claps his father. Devotees arrive sporadically. Seva Dals gently guide people to their seats. Looking at the aisles, I see that they are wider now, with the corners of blocks trimmed to allow a vehicle to turn. Infirm men come and sit on the benches, some head over there nod off to sleep. I spy Dr Chandarban Singh softly reciting his poems, down on the staff bench. Students stroll down behind the benches to take their place at the front. Many students carry a small mat and fat textbooks. Some carry musical instruments. Silence reigns in the darshan hall; I listen to birds calling in the trees surrounding the Institute of Higher Learning.

Time moves along quickly, the darshan hall fils up, I observe one short man, about 30, possibly from Greece, its his first time here, he goes to sit in one of the aisles, and a seva dal swiftly moves him to a side seat. Another man, short, old, white stubble of hair, bent over, an aged face. Determined. Unshaven, sparse white beard. A bit wobbly sitting down, getting up. Shaking slightly.  He comes and sits in farther in front of of my area. Seva dals move him into the crowd. He gets up and moves to a seva dal seat, a seva dal lets him sit there. Some moments later, the head seva dal comes, takes this old man by the arm and walks him right down, across the front of the very block, puts him right in front of the VIP area, smack bang in the middle of the darshan hall, Best Seat In The House, and I marvel at Swami's guiding love and compassion moving through His seva dal volunteers.

Lights come on on the stage, about three minutes to eight. Seva dal sit down. Shortly, the music comes on. Music stops. All sit up. Students lead three Oms. Paramshiva, who rings the bell during arathi, moves nimbly towards the front of the hall. Ganesha bhajan, the curtains in the two doorways behind the Krishna idol are pulled aside, we continue singing. Watch the fat policeman outside Kalanya Mantap stand to attention and present arms with his rifle. Hmm, Swami is coming.

Shortly, the beige wheelchair enters our view, and Swami, wrapped up in a shawl, arrives, holding a letter in his hand. Up goes his hand, with letter, he is making those lifting up, up, up motions as he moves in. Hand keeps going around, the letter going up, up, up.  Swami is wheeled right to the front of the stage, right next to the railing. Satyajit places a small side table next to Swami, with tumbler of water and places one kerchief on the arm of Swami's chair. Swami is keeping time with the letter in his hand. Satyajit takes his place behind Swami, along with Sri Nagaiya and Dr Padmanaban. Bhajans continue. Swami is looking straight down the darshan hall.

The speakers seem to be very loud this morning, the bhajan leaders sound a bit distorted to me, and I struggle to follow the bhajans. Swami, however, sitting up there in the thick of things, is having a jaunty old time of it, shifting and moving in his chair, hand rising and keeping time faster when the second round of the bhajan starts. Puts the letter down. Looks over to the students, side, then turns; long glances at the ladies side, almost a whole bhajan, quite some time, Swami is looking toward the ladies. Turns and looks down the darshan hall again. His hair is thick, his face that light brown colour, the shawl wrapped around him encloses his right arm, and folds from his neck down, across to the other arm, where Swami is gently keeping time.

More distorted bhajans. I wonder if its me and reflect on the last 24 hours. Look to Swami. Men in front of me doing that slow double clap to one kinda waltz like bhajan. I look across to the Kalanya Mantap where Swami's white retinue is standing. Down the hall, at the sides, Swami's escorts stand, holding walkie talkies. Sri Nagayia, Satyajit, Dr Padmanaban, all looking intently towards Swami as they sing the bhajans.  Men in front of me clapping enthusiastically. That very young boy, he stands on his father's leg, and puts his hands above his head, joined, in tiny pranams.

Look toward Swami, Rama Sita Sai Ram bhajan. Swami is looking straight down the darshan hall; my eyes drop down to the front of his chair, I can see just a glimpse of his brown,t, the lungi with the gold border, and his robe, and another shawl all reach down and obscure the vision of the Lotus Feet. There is a foot rest there, with all these garments reaching down. Look at Swami's right shoulder, it doesnt seem so tightly bound up today, Swami appears to be sitting just that little bit more comfortably, just that little straighter, if I can capture some essence of his form presence in that chair.

Swami looks to the side of the darshan hall, boys commence arathi. One student runs up, and lights the arathi lamp, and commences waving, Swami looks over briefly, looks down the darshan hall, and then gives the signal to Sri Nagaiya to go. The arathi lamp is put down, and Dr Padmanaban walks out with Swami. The escorts run around the darshan hall to pick up Swami as he comes outside.

Narayana Narayana Om Sathya, the arathi chant continues. Some men and little boys stand up. Perhaps 4 seva dals half arise and vigourously gesture to them to sit down. Little boys go up and down like pogo sticks, confused. Loka Samasta fills the darshan hall, and the arathi lamp goes out right on the very end of Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Outside, it is pandemonium getting the shoes with token 714, I had to stand in mud and reach through a surging group of men to get my shoes. Hmm, mud, I won't stand in that again to get my chappals, I thought to myself. Police stop the traffic and allow us to cross the road. Darshan is over, the daily round of dharmastaphana, the restoration of righteousness with the love and service of devotees continues.

Sai Ram on a mild, sunny day in Whitefield.