Going back to Parthi has always been a sad feeling for me. Since we travelled in the Orissa group, we were always the last people to go home and the first to return after holidays. The journey was quieter, and we dreaded each place as it arrived - Mahboobnagar, Dharmavaram, Anantapur, and finally the bus stand.
But this time, it was different.
We had decided to go to Parthi in the spur of the moment, at 1 in the night. Since there were no buses to Parthi directly, we decided to go to Kurnool, and from there to Anantapur, and then from there to Parthi.
After a series of obstacles, (bus breaking down, mosquitoes, crazy driver), in what could be attributed to some serious sankalpa, we approached "the hamlet that was a stone's throw away from the stone age", as it has been described in numerous speeches in the Kulwanth hall.
Narrow roads, posters of Pavan Kalyan films, and the gateways in pastel blue, pink and yellow colours with angels holding the Sarva Dharma emblems in their hands. This time though, many of the houses had Swami's photos outside their houses, and bhajans were playing on CD players.
A little further, and we reached 'Super'. We could not take the usual road from Super, as it was barricaded. Our bus took a detour and after a while, we saw the Hanuman statue.
Even though we saw it everyday, there is something about the Hanuman statue that would make us tap the person next to us and say, “See, see. Hanuman statue”
It brought a smile to my face. Hours of sitting in the stadium waiting for our turn in the 'Item-wise practice', and the conversations that came up:
“Jesus is saying, 'All of you come in line to the hotel'”
“Buddha is saying, 'Mmmm, food is super'”
“Zorashtra is saying, 'All of you come on at a time'”
“Hanuman is saying, 'If you dont eat quietly, I'll throw this mountain on your heads'”
There he was, Hanuman. Smiling and as ever ready to throw the mountain as ever.
After sometime, our bus reached the MRO office, and we got down. It was like a mela. There were people walking in both directions, the cars and buses jostling for parking space in the fields nearby, chitraannam and water packets being distributed to everybody by volunteers.
There is a new road constructed that connects the Chitravathi Road and Samadhi Road from the back, to the MRO office. That was the road we had to walk to.
Along the road, you could hear bhajans, children screaming 'Sai Ram, Water Packet Water Packet', and people would take a water packet, drink it,duly drop it there, and walk on. The walk took half an hour, but could have been done in ten minutes. We were taking in the sight. There were teachers, sevadals, Parthi locals, and students in the lines.
You always know when it is a student, thanks to some telltale signs. The hair is short (and if long, combed in a middle parting), there is a Vibhuti on the forehead, no chappals, and he is always looking around to see if anyone has seen him.
The road meets the Chitravathi Road after the steps to Kalpavriksha. The Chitravathi river was dry, and used for parking cars. From here, you had to take a left to go into the lane.
This lane has been part of numerous memories of childhood. I did not go home during winter holidays, so I would loiter around Chitravathi Road all through the day. Me and Enrico, in white dress, hopping from one shop to the other and flicking Tinkles and Big Babool Multipacks.
The lane still looks the same, only a lot busier. The Tibetan shops, and cafes with a variety of names – from the banal (Blue Lagoon Cafe) to the spiritual (Sai Hanuman Mountain Rock Cafe).
Small shops, A/C Deluxe Rooms, Travel Agencies, Kashmiri shops, watermelon sellers, 'Meals Ready' hotels, saloons that had a photo of Swami on one side and Allu Arjun on the other, Sai Studios, its still the same.
Except that now everyone has a mobile phone. While someone is talking on the phone, the other is taking a picture.
The place where buses are kept in the bus stand is full of huge vans belonging to news channels. There is a large screen right in front of the bus stand (with an ancient van from Doordarshan) that's airing the scenes inside the hall to the people outside. Every two minutes, there are announcements from people in a different language, asking their son/wife/husband to meet their mother/husband/wife at the bus stand.
We had not brought any white clothes. Upon a friend's suggestion, we went to the pavement seller outside the Canara Bank, in front of the General Hospital. This was the place where we assembled after darshan to be shepherded back to the hostel by Sailesh Srivastava.
This road was our own Hogsmeade. We used to often sneak out of the lines to buy whatever we could from these shops. The Prabhu Sai Optical Store with photographs of Chiranjeevi and Pavan Kalyan in 'cooling glasses'. This was the shop where I had got my first spectacles frame done: oval shaped and photocromatic – successfully managing to look like a hippie pimp for two years.
The Sai Joy shop, which gave us the little joys in life. The street vendors – who sold Arrow and Van Huesen next to each other in an ultimate show of Sarvadharma. And the internet cafe where I paid 80 rupees an hour to get the tackiest email id known to mankind: email@example.com
The cooler in front of the bus stand, the Satyadeep Musical store, that supplied all the tablas and harmoniums to the ashram, the watch repairer who waits for an auspicious day to return the watch you'd given for repair. It all came flashing back to me.
We bought a pair of whites each, kept our bag in the cloak room, and after a quick Pranayama session in the bus stand Gents toilets, we were ready to get into the mandir.