======================================We have heard about many a tearful farewell.Joyful farewell?No. But it was so when people of different strata of society came in large numbers to many places to bid me farewell on the eve of my departure from South Africa.Though the oft-repeated customary expression “miss you” – told or untold – was writ large on every face, yet what a joyful feeling that it unmistakably transmitted to me cannot be described. The reason was pure love. Where love is present joy must be there.Here are a few impressions:===================================Why sceptic about Farewell?In any organisation, we find it common nowadays, that an office holder when transferred to another place is given a farewell. I was always sceptic about these farewell functions. So it was natural for me to simply decline any such farewell meeting that people of diverse temperaments offered just before my departure from South Africa. The reason was that those who hold onto microphone and so speak may not be truthful enough and speak a flowery language of praise while harbouring internally inimical thoughts. Whereas the silent majority who may have true feelings of friendliness may not get the chance to voice their feelings!However I understood within a short time that such deeply devoted people cannot be put off so easily. They invited me on the pretext of a satsang which I am known to be fond of and organised incredible functions without even mentioning the term Farewell !Mixed feelingsWhen I first broke this news of my transfer to our monastic brother Swami Saradaprabhananda sometime in August 2014, I found him seated nonplussed. Slowly managing himself he uttered “I am full of mixed feelings”. He continued, “sad because I shall miss you; glad because Belur Math has decided. It’s Master’s wish. May it be so!”I was the very first President after the Centre’s affiliation to Belur Math. And it was for me the very first posting in abroad. I came to this country absolutely not familiar with its culture, its people and their mental temperaments while not disconnected from my grooming for 35 long years in “India-Indian” manners.In spite of my handicaps – real or perceived – brother Saradaprabhananda patiently guided me with utmost reverence on many an issue. I understood his loveable personality shielded completely from the purview of outside world. Only we both knew!Love that knew no wordsThe first Satsang and what was innocuously called my last Gospel class, was organised by Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre. Once the Gospel class was over, I came out as usual from the shrine hall. By that time to my great surprise, all those devotees who attended just disappeared. While I was wondering what was happening, the Chairman and other officials led me slowly to upstairs.There, in the hall, all the devotees and friends and admirers stood up in unison and welcomed me with the spiritual greetings Aum Namo Narayanaya ! Surprise after surprise! The hall was tastefully decorated. Round dining tables with chairs covered in bright white colour were occupied by the people. And lo! devotees unmindful of their age started dancing in joy around me. It was a pure, unsullied joy that I saw in every face. No lectures. No words. No tears. It was all one feeling of Love that touched my heart with joy and would remain so for ever.The second such satsang was organised by Estcourt Satsang Group. The one distinct aspect of Estcourt satsangs that I noticed whenever I was there, was always the participation of all the sects of Hindu community. Hence it was not surprising to see everyone in their best from different faiths in Swami Sahajananda Cultural hall.
The very entrance into that famous hall was heralded with girls standing in rows with diyas in their tiny hands. The Chairman with other officials and distinguished people from the Estcourt society led me in. I was glad to see Anil Bridgelal on the huge stage. He enthralled the audience by rendering soulfully five bhajans (devotional songs). The most surprising event was just to follow after my lecture. The cute children dressed up as the deities that are worshipped in the Maha Gayatri temple began to arrive one by one to the continuous applause of the audience and blessed me. I stood up reverentially to each one starting from Lord Ganesha and finally to Swami Vivekananda.Straight from the heartsAnother Satsang that stunned me was the farewell function organised by the devotees attached to Chatsworth Sub-centre. The entire program was almost one-to-one in the sense that each and every individual who attended there could come near me and talk to me. Each had the occasion to express himself/herself in no uncertain terms which flowed straight from the hearts. The event ended with of course dance recital from the vibrant youth and the bursting of fire-crackers!Other organisations too were not exempt from this farewell fever! Notable one was Sree Veerabhoga Emperumal temple in Tongaat that organised a function that struck me as most gorgeous. The devotees of the temple who were enthusiastic about my monthly Tirukkural Class were in the forefront. I couldn’t imagine that I deserved such a grand function. Take the case of reception, or the decoration or the dining or the crowd whatever one can imagine everything was organised so meticulously that it left me speechless.A solemn meeting was arranged by the local Divine Life Society members who took me round the entire campus and I felt blessed seeing the holy Ganga teerth pond. It was an inspiring moment to think of the long journey that the Holy One Swami Sivananda made from Tamrabarani to Ganga.Too Numerous to listI have too numerous to list. But I have spoken here only about a handful few. The other Sub-centres like Phoenix, Ladysmith, Newcastle and also Dundee-Glencoe devotees with their own unique ways made an indelible mark in my heart. Outside KawZulu Natal, devotees from places like Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Clarens, Stanger etc., did not lag behind. Not to mention the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram that welcomed me for a special occasion of Holy Mother’s birthday when Mataji and her devotees fed me sumptuously as a mother would do for her son!Besides these, I was invited to Home Satsangs by many, many devotees. The Chennai Ramakrishna Math has taken up a project recently to introduce the concept of Home Satsangs which I am proud to feel that the SA Centre has been doing for many years! These Home Satsangs cannot, – as a few misinformed are wont to do – be looked down upon condescendingly at any cost. I always have the presence of a group of devotees who sing and read from the Gospel followed by question-answer discussion. Spending two hours or so in such absorbing satsangs as everyone who has attended could vouchsafe, was indeed elevating. The residents of such homes felt blessed.One such home was of a student of my Tirukkural class in Tongaat. A few Tamil speaking people came together to learn the meanings and explanations of the Tirukkural verses. It was enjoyable for me to take a class in English on a Tamil classic with overtones of Vedanta as I found during my study that there exists lots of similarities with Vedantic ideas. I met this group also before my departure.I must confess that many and many more devotees who couldn’t meet me personally sent written encomiums that I went through when a flood of emails arrived. Here too the expression of pure, unalloyed love was quite evident though inextricably laced with the ubiquitous “miss you”.My heart is full with gratefulness to everyone in South Africa; I am still trying to find suitable words to express! I realise I woefully lack in vocabulary!Did I ?In all these farewell fanfare – whether glaringly glittering or solemnly subdued – what did I see?I did see the external paraphernalia in its best.I did see the congregation converge with one purpose.I did see the grace of our Holy Trio flowing through the wishes of devotees.But more than these I did see and was moved by the genuine love of the people who without any inhibition acknowledged that in some way or other I really “touched” their lives.“Did I ?”“Did I ?” was the question that lingered on when I was seated on the plane that left Durban while my mind was savouring the cheerful chant of “Durga, Durga!” that reverberated all along till I fell asleep!=====================================