Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Travels in foreign lands-XX (Discovering America-III)

After dropping my bag at Muzaffar's flat, I went straight to the Indian Consulate. The Consul General enquired about the status of the case from the concerned officer but was told that the verification had not come yet.
I informed him that our Deputy Director Tourism in New Delhi had informed that the verification details had already been sent through the diplomatic bag. The Consul General directed me to the concerned officer and asked him to check once again. I was told that all diplomatic mail comes to the Consulate through the Indian Mission in UN. The officer asked the UN Mission to send the latest mail to the Consulate as they usually send it once a week. On receipt of the mail it was revealed that the verification had already come. The Consulate staff was very much surprised for getting such a quick response. According to them, such verifications took months and it was for the first time that they had received a reply within a week! They told me to collect the new passport in the evening after surrendering the Emergency Certificate.
It was a great relief to get a new passport for my sister. Now, there was another problem which seemed to me more difficult than getting a new Indian passport in a foreign country. It was getting all the visas on the new passport. Suddenly I remembered Gurumayi. She was the head of a global trust and had ashrams all over. Her secretary George, a Lebanese, had already invited me to California where she was staying. I had told him that I would do so at the end of the visit. I called George and told him about my predilection. He told me not to worry and informed me that one of their members William would meet me next morning in Manhattan. Late in the evening he called me and we fixed a rendezvous in Manhattan where we would meet around nine in the morning. He met me after parking his car. He suggested it would be better to use taxis than parking the car at every place we had to go. We started with the British consulate. William just went in and met first secretary there. He filled the requisite form and asked me to wait in the waiting room. In just twenty minutes he returned with a multiple entry visa stamped on the new blank passport! I was surprised how he could do it. It was the same story with all the visas and in a matter of three hours or so, we had all the visas except the Canadian one on the new passport of my sister. The Canadians told him that she needed an American I-92 card attached to the passport before she goes to Canada as it will not be possible for her to re-enter USA. William contacted someone in US immigration services for getting the new I-92 card but was told that my sister was not yet on the computer. There was a backlog of two to three weeks. Unless she was on the computer, it would not be possible to issue a duplicate I-92 card. We decided to skip the Canada visit for her. In the evening, I thanked William for his assistance without which it would have been impossible to get all the visas and that too in a single day! I could not imagine this thing happening back home in India! Was this due to the reach of the Gurumayi cult members or due to her spiritual powers? It is difficult to say!
Next morning I left back for Boston on the greyhound bus. We had now a choice, to visit friends in Buffalo or go west to see Gurumayi first. On my arrival in Boston, I got a call from George, the secretary of Gurumayi that they had asked the head of their mission in Boston to contact me. Well, next day I got a call from the head of the Ashram in Boston. He came in the afternoon to take us to show the Ashram. The mission is housed in a huge Victorian style building situated in a beautiful garden. It has many halls for meditation.
Everywhere we could see huge photographs of Gurumayi. The followers of Gurumayi seemed to come from the upper strata of the society. Interestingly, most of the members were top intellectuals, lawyers, scientists, bureaucrats, and judges. It is said that the trust has over 500 ashrams all over the world and the assets run in thousands of crores. Unlike other similar organisations, it appeared quite well organised. They seemed to be more practical and down to earth. The stress is on meditation and the members are like normal people not having any saffron clothes or strange hairdos like the Rama Krishna followers. However, everything seemed to have a price tag! It was pure commercialisation of God. One could attain spiritual bliss and nirvana for a price. This commercialisation somehow created revulsion in me and put me off! The revulsion had an outburst that evening when the head of the mission dropped us home after visiting the ashram. He informed us that George had arranged our return tickets to California for meeting Gurumayi after two days.
While leaving he handed me an envelope full of hundred dollar bills and said it was a gift from Gurumayi to take care of our expenses. I was stunned and in a fit of rage handed him back the envelope and asked him to tell George to cancel the tickets as we were not going to California. On his insistence, I asked him to leave and told him to ask George to call me. Late in the night George called me and tried to convince us to fly to California. I straight away refused and asked him to thank Gurumayi for the assistance William had rendered in getting visas for my sister. We decided to visit our friends in Buffalo and accordingly arranged tickets for flying there next day.

(To be concluded)

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