Those of us who are Sai devotees can never imagine what Shirdi was seventy years ago. The year 1917 saw the fame of Sai Baba spreading far and wide and seekers on hearing about the Saint of Shirdi hastened to the little village of Shirdi which had been hallowed by the presence of the “INCREDIBLE SAI BABA’ as Arthur Osborne calls him. Among those that flocked for SAI’s darshan was a young handsome man who was on the verge of finishing his college education in Wilson college, Bombay. On completing his education this young man joined Bombay Government service under the British Raj and after a short stint resigned in response to the call of Gandhiji and plunged into the freedom struggle. The young man like all satyagrahis courted arrest and suffered imprisonment, as did his wife Gujraben. At the time of introduction of Provincial Autonomy in 1937, he became a minister in the first cabinet of undivided Bombay state and later its Chief Minister. He was later called to the capital where he was a Union Cabinet Minister for quite some years. The climax of his career reached when he was called upon to lead the nation of being elected as the Janata Party leader.
It is Shri Morarji Desai who is being referred to. He is among the blessed few who saw Sai Baba in flesh and blood and had his darshan seventy years ago. A couple of months ago when I was told that he was among the few surviving individuals who had Sainath’s darshan, it was also suggested I meet him and find out about his Shirdi visit as a student. I therefore called on him at his Marine Drive apartment on 27-11-87 and asked him a few questions which he readily answered and I record them here for posterity.
Q. When did you meet Sai Baba?
A. Sometime in 1917 in Shirdi
Q. How did you go there?
A. By Train as there were no planes or buses in those days
Q. Did Gujraben (wife) go with you?
A. No, I went alone
Q. How long did you stay there?
A. I reached there in the morning and spent the whole day near Sai Baba and returned by the night train.
Q. What made you go there?
A. I was always interested in meeting saints because of my inclination towards spiritual matters
Q. How did you find Shirdi?
A. It had a holy atmosphere about it. Sai Baba sat in the open and received those coming for his darshan.
Q. Did you talk to Sai Baba or did he speak to you?
A. No, but I sat and heard with interest what he was telling the people around him.
Q. Do you remember what the talk was about?
A. No, I do not remember as it was seventy years ago.
Q. What did you feel when you sat before Sai Baba?
A. I felt that he was a highly evolved soul who had ascended great spiritual heights. I could feel his greatness.
Q. What was Baba wearing at the time?
A. A white dhoti worn lungi style, a pehran and his head was covered with cloth like you see in his pictures.
Q. What other saints did you meet?
A. In 1935, I met Raman Maharishi; I also went to Shri Aurubindo Ashram and met the sage of Pondicherry. Ma Anandmayi I met too and she called on me when I was P.M.
(Note: Most of the conversation was in Gujarati and the above is the English Translation)
December 1987 Sai Leela
(Morarji Desai served as 4th prime minister of India between 1977 to 1979 in the Government formed by the Janata Party. Born on 29th February 1896 at Bhadeli Village, Bulsar district in the Bombay Presidency (now in Gujarat) was the oldest of eight children. His father was a school teacher. Morarji Desai was a Gandhian follower, social worker, institution builder and a great reformer. He was the Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith. Even during his term as the Prime Minister he used to visit and stay at Vidyapith during the month of October. He lived simple and used to write post cards himself even when he held the office of Prime Minister. Sardar Patel deputed him to conduct meetings of farmers in Kaira district which finally led to the establishment of the Amul Cooperative movement.)