Chapter 9 : The Pilgrimage
'Amara...Amara...' Gunasiri tried to wake his wife, in the middle of the night.
'What is it?' Amara asked annoyed.
'I saw Saadhu. He was here in this room, calling me by name'
'So where is he?' she asked
'He disappeared soon as i opened my eyes'
'You woke me up just to tell that' Amara turned her back on him and curled up again.
Gunasiri could not go back to sleep. He spent a restless night and fell asleep towards dawn, to be shaken awake by Amara.
'You will be late for office' she told him, leaving his cup of tea on the bed side table. Gunasiri looked at the time. It was 6.45. He jumped out of bed, gulped down the tea and rushed to the bathroom.
'What do you think was the meaning of my dream' he asked Amara, munching on a slice of bread.
'How do i know. Ask your friends'
As Gunasiri was leaving she told him that she would be going out to visit her sister in the afternoon.
Gunasiri managed to reach the office on time. He telephoned Mrs. Sugathadasa, the convenor of their Saadhu Samaja, and told her about his dream.
'Saadhu has called you. You must go' she advised.
'How can i go, just like that'
'Why, what is your problem'
'It is not one problem, but many'
'Saadhu will arrange everything. You will have no problems' she said again, with confidence.
'I don't have that kind of money. I don't have a passport. Then i have to get visa. Then apply for leave' he started listing out his problems.
'Mr. Gunasiri, now calm down. Let us take one problem at a time. You have to get the passport first. So get an application, and get a passport photograph today. We are meeting this evening, and let us discuss details then' she told him.
Gunasiri did not want to tell anyone in his office about his plan. He knew they would laugh at him. Even the few people who knew why he had become a devotee of the Saadhu, would tell him, that if they want a child, Amara should go, alone, to the Saadhu. They had that kind of crude sense of humour.
During the lunch break, he went out to the passport office to get an application form. The counter was closed for lunch. Several men were selling application forms, but Gunasiri had heard that it was risky to buy those forms. If he waited for the counter to open, he would be late to go to office. He was looking around, not able to decide, when a young man approached him.
'Are you waiting to get an application form' the young man asked.
'Yes' Gunasiri replied, cautiously, knowing that there were many con men hanging around this place.
'I have an extra form. I can give it to you' the young man offered a form to him. Gunasiri hesitated. 'Don't worry. Take it. I have to wait here any way to get my passport in the afternoon. I only took two more forms for my friends. I can buy one later when they open the counter.' he offered the form again.
Gunasiri paid for the form and thanked him. He thought that may be what Mrs. Sugathadasa told him was true. If not, why should a total stranger offer him an application form.
On his way back to the office, he went to a photographer who had a notice outside offering same day service for passport photographs.
In the evening after office, Gunasiri went directly to Mrs. Sugathadasa's residence, where they held their weekly meeting of the Araliya Saadhu Jana Samaja. There were several Samaja, functioning in Colombo, in different areas. Each Samaja was identified by a name of a flower.
Most of the members of the Aralia Samaja were senior executives in government ministries, public corporations. There were accountants, engineers, managers and marketing Professionals among them. Some of them came in their own cars, while the more senior officials came in their official cars with their drivers. Others arrived by bus, if they could not get a lift from a member who came by car. Gunasiri sometimes felt out of place among all the successful public servants and professionals. He felt out of place even among his family members and relations, because they were very successful, in what ever field they had chosen.
Gunasiri, often felt he was a failure. He did not have any future at his work place, the management had no confidence in his ability, his colleagues had begun to laugh to his face now. His M.Phil. was just another certificate in his file. He would have been a total wreck and would have given up his job or committed suicide by now, if he had not received this introduction to the Saadhu Samaja. It was the Saadhu that kept him going now, that gave him a little courage to face the world.
Mrs. Sugathadasa lived in her ancestral house, left to her by her parents, where she lived alone. It was a large house, with a wide verandah all around it, facing the garden, which would have been well cared for a few years back. There were many varieties of fruit tree and flowering plants.
A room opening out to the verandah on one side was set aside for the Samaja. It was a very large room. The only furniture in the room was a table on which were several statutes and a burning oil lamp. There were mats spread around the walls of the room and more mats rolled up in a corner.
Most prominent in the room was a life size picture of the Saadhu on the wall behind the table. The rest of the wall was covered with paintings of the Buddha, the gods Kataragama, Vishnu, Saman, Lakshmi and Ganesha, as well as a painting of Jesus Christ. There was a statue of the Buddha on the table. In addition to the oil lamp, there was a tray for burning incense and camphor and a tray of artificial flowers.
At 5.30 the prayers began. First by lighting the lamp and the camphor. Next was the offering of flowers, to Buddha, which they were unable to do, because of the prohibition by the Saadhu to pluck flowers. They had to settle for offering the flowers which were on the trees and be satisfied with the tray of artificial flowers on the table. The Christians among them prayed silently. It was over in five minutes and then began the prayers to the Saadhu. The hymns were all in English, and they believed them all to be have been composed by the Saadhu himself. The reason given for the use of English was to cut across all language barriers.
After the singing of the hymns, they began the discussion. Each member had his turn to lead the discussion and choose the subject for the day. After the discussion the floor was open for any other matters.
'Mr. Gunasiri has been summoned by the Saadhu' Mrs. Sugathadasa told the gathering.
'How lucky he is' one lady said.
'When is he going' another asked.
'I suggested that he should go as soon as possible' Mrs. Sugathadasa added.
'Is there any problem' an elderly gentleman asked hesitantly, looking towards Gunasiri, who was looking down at his feet. They waited for Gunasiri to speak. But he remained silent.
'He doesn't even have a passport' Mrs. Sugathadasa spoke again.
'That is not a problem, you can get it in one day'
'I think he has collected the application form' Mrs. Sugathadasa was Gunasiri's mouthpiece.
'Fill it and bring it tomorrow to my office, i will attest it for you and call the passport office. You will not have any problem' the elderly gentleman said again. Gunasiri continued to look down at his feet.
'Going to India is not like a visit to Kataragama. You need a lot of money' another member joined in.
'The ticket to Madras would be around Rs. 10,000. Then cost of the train journey, food and lodging' the first speaker began adding up.
'I would say about Rs 20,000 altogether would be the minimum'
'Are you going with your wife?'
'No' Gunasiri said.
'I will buy your return ticket to Madras' offered another. Gunasiri looked up at Kumara, who stood out among all the others, he was still wearing his tie. Gunasiri thought he had never seen Kumara without his tie or in a wrinkled shirt or trouser.
'I can get you another ticket, so you could take your wife with you.' Mrs. Sugathadasa offered. Those who knew about Gunasiri and how desperate they were to have a child, were glad that a solution had been found. To Gunasiri, it was the Saadhu, who was making it possible, who was making these people be so generous, and he did not think it was necessary to thank them individually. He thanked the Saadhu, instead.
'So you have to get another passport' another member added with a laugh, now that the tension had eased.
The next hurdle for Gunasiri was the visa, once he had got the passports. He had to go early morning and wait in a long queue to get the two application forms. Next day Gunasiri and Amara queued up once again to submit the visa applications.
'How long do we have to wait' Amara asked him.
'I don't know'
'At least another one hour' said the person behind them.
Gunasiri was worried that someone from office would see them. So far he had managed to keep this little secret and he did not want his colleagues to learn about it now. Gunasiri tried to keep his face towards the stone wall, so the passersby would not be able recognize him.
'Hello, machan, Gunasiri' he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he turned, silently cursing. He recognized an old friend, Wilfred.
'What are you doing here?' Wilfred asked.
'Waiting to get a visa' replied Gunasiri
'That i know. What i mean is why are you going'
'We want to visit the Saadhu' Gunasiri said in a low voice.
'It is simple. Come with me' he beckoned them.
'Won't we loose our place in the line' Amara asked.
'You don't have to worry. Leave it to me' Wilfred told them, as they followed him to the entrance.
The security personnel appeared to know Wilfred well. He told them that Gunasiri and Amara were with him and the gate opened for them. He took the couple to the visa section, took their passports along with several he already had with him and went inside. Gunasiri waited with his wife.
Less than ten minutes later Wilfred came out with a smile on his face.
'We can go now' he told them
'Our passports' Gunasiri asked.
'I will collect them in the afternoon. You can collect it from my office in the evening'
'Where is your office' Gunasiri asked.
'Sorry. Sorry. I thought you knew. I have my own travel office, now, at Bamba. It is on the third floor of Al Aram building' here you can keep my card.
'Thank you very much. I thought we would have to wait the whole day here' Amara told him. Gunasiri once again accepted this favour as he had done all the others, knowing that it was the Saadhu who had guided Wilfred to this place at this time.
At the next meeting Mrs. Sugathadasa handed him the two tickets, while several other members who had made a collection gave the money to Gunasiri.
'Budu saranai. Saadhu pihitai' they blessed him.
'It is really thanks to the Saadhu i think, that we are able to make this visit' Gunasiri told the gathering.