Late comers had to park their cars outside the massive iron gates of the house. Inside the high walls of the garden were parked the cars of the early arrivals. All the cars, within the garden and outside were of the most luxurious, most elegant and latest models. Some of the new models were not yet available in the market.
The drivers were gathered in little groups, sharing their experience with the new cars, new gadgets in the cars, or the next car that they were going to drive. They were carrying mobile phones, to be summoned by the owners at all times and be ready to start the cars, switch on the air conditioners and be waiting when the master was ready to leave.
"When do you think this would be over" one driver, dressed in white shirt and white sarong, asked.
"The time to leave is nine thirty six" replied a driver in white shirt and black trousers.
"Is that an auspicious time" another wanted to know.
"I don't know. That is what our mahattaya told me, to be ready at that time"
"They get these times and the programs from the Saadhu"
"I have to pickup baby-mahattaya at ten" the man in white sarong said.
The house was in a secluded area of the city. There were large exotic trees and open spaces around the few houses, each competing with the other, in design, elegance and luxury. The trees have only what is believed to be an aesthetic value, but hardly any other benefit, as none of their parts were edible either for humans or animals or birds and could not be used for any health or cosmetic preparations. The residents in these houses would not know their indigenous names but only some fancy name given by the landscape designers.
The gardens have very large open green spaces. The main purpose of the garden would be for open air parties and barbecues. Most of the houses would also have several dogs, who were very often pure bred, with their pedigrees running back for decades. The money spent on food and drugs for these dogs could have easily fed an entire village, according to the servants working in these houses.
An outsider passing through, or the neighbours who had not been invited, would have dismissed it as another party or a dinner at this house, but only those who were inside now were aware of what the occasion was.
On this occasion, the visitors had to enter the house barefooted, leaving their shoes at the entrance, and step inside on unaccustomed bare feet. They walked as if they might trip over the floral design on the carpet. All were trying to get a peek into the shrine room, which was well lit. Those who were fortunate enough to get close to the door could see the statue of the Saadhu, recognizable anywhere, anytime, by his flowing beard and bald head. Around the statue were smaller figures of other religious leaders and gods of the Hindu pantheon. There were also pictures of the same holy figures, framed in gold, silver and carved wood.
Ariyadasa Perera was a consultant surgeon at a private hospital in Colombo. He used this house only on weekends and whenever he had to invite a large number of people. During weekdays he lived with his family in a luxurious bungalow in the heart of the city, a few minutes from the hospital, as he did not want to spend even an extra minute on the road from home to hospital. His wife and daughter would sometimes come to the bungalow in the suburb in the evenings to play badminton or to have a swim in the pool with some of their friends.
Not all the invitees that day were from their usual guest list for their parties and dinners. Ariyadasa had to invite several businessmen, junior executives in mercantile firms and several public servants. These guests could easily be identified by their dress, by the way they stood around, hesitant to talk to the other visitors, feeling they were out of place. Ariyadasa did not mind the public servants, because he knew they would be useful someday, when he needed a favour or to bend a rule a little, in his wide and varied business activities, which generated more income than from his medical practice.
"We have not seen you for some time" a tall well built man walked upto a young man who had just come in.
"I was in London"
"No. I went to buy some machinery. I met your brother there"
"How is he" the tall man asked. "He has not called me for several weeks"
"He is o.k. Same old Jaliya we knew in Colombo"
"He will not change, even if he lives in London for fifty years. You know he still likes to eat plain buns with butter and sugar, like he used to, at the college canteen?" the tall man asked another person who joined their conversation.
"Did you attend the Saadhu prayer meetings there?" the newcomer asked.
"No. I didnt have the time. I was invited for a teleconference with the Saadhu, organized by the London Saadhu Samaja, but I had to fly to Paris that day for a meeting"
"Theja is setting up a new teleconference studio in Wattala and is planning to offer free studio time for Saadhu Samaja"
The shrine room was full of fragrant fumes of agarbathis and camphor and warm with the burning oil lamps.
At the feet of the statue, on a velvet cloth over a silver plate was the sacred object that had attracted this crowd. In any other shrine room this would have been placed on flowers. The Saadhu had prohibited the plucking of flowers for offering and worship, and they were a conspicuous absence.
The object of veneration was a compact disc, in its plastic cover with the photograph of the Saadhu.
As the clock on the wall sounded its chimes for eight o'clock, Ariyadasa entered the shrine room and walked upto the statue. He knelt down with his palms together and touched the feet of the statue with his forehead. He gathered the silver tray in both hands, held it on his head and walked backwards, bowing three times to the Saadhu. His wife, Savithri, guided him to the door of the shrine room, where he turned to face the sitting room and walked briskly to the computer that had been set up in one corner.
His daughter, Minnie, had already switched on the computer and the peripherals. Ariyadasa lowered the tray, for his wife to open the cover and take the CD out. Minni worshipped the CD, before taking it from her mother, and placed it on the CD drive most reverently, as if making a pooja, and worshipped it again. Someone who had been waiting at the light controls dimmed the lights. Minnie tapped a few keys on the keyboard and clicked the mouse.
A soft music invaded the silence, slowly, gathering into a crescendo. At the center of the room, a red glow gradually brightened to form in to a life size image of the Saadhu. The Saadhu greeted the gathered devotees who were on their knees, bent forward, with their foreheads touching the ground. They sat up, on hearing the Saadhu's voice.
The Saadhu began his sermon, which was in English. The devotees sat on the floor, motionless, their eyes fixed on the virtual reality image before them.
Once the sermon was over the Saadhu slowly faded away. The lights came on and Minnie shut down the computer after pressing open the CD drive. Her father worshipped the CD drive and picked up the CD with both hands and placed it inside the cover and on the tray.
The devotees got back on their cramped feet, most of them with great difficulty. They found comfortable chairs as the servants brought in trays loaded with food. The guests were used to having these vegetarian snacks, made of Soya, cottage cheese and mushrooms.
Ariyadasa invited Herath to the table where the silver tray was kept. Both of them worshipped the CD. Ariyadasa took it with both hands and walked out, followed by his family and the other visitors. Herath was a leading lawyer in the city and was known to be very powerful and influential.
They were all chanting the hymns composed by the Saadhu. At the main door, four men were holding a white cloth above their heads. Another cloth was laid on the ground. Herath walked on the white cloth, under the cloth held above him, with the tray on his head. He went upto his car and placed the tray on the front seat with great respect and devotion. He worshipped the CD before straightening up. He took the key from his driver and got in behind the weel.
The driver opened the car parked behind it, for Herath's family to get in. The others got into their cars, as they were driven up, one by one, to the entrance. At a signal from Ariyadasa that the time was nine thirty six, Herath started his car. They left, followed by the other cars.
"I got a new DVD of Saadhu's visit to New York" Piyaratne told Ariyadasa, as he took his leave.
"We have not seen that" Mrs. Perera joined in.
"Why don't you drop in next prayer day, we can watch that and go out for dinner at the new vegetarian hotel at Darley road". Mrs. Piyaratne invited them.
"That is a good idea. We have not been to that restaurant yet" Minnie said.
The time for the sermon, the time for the departure of the procession, and the person next in line to hold the CD, was available to them on the website, www.saadhu.com.
The CD would remain at Herath's residence for that night, to be handed over to the next devotee.