by Annie Rikel
In January of 2009 I was enrolled in Swami Kaleshwar’s Soul University program in Penukonda, India. During my first week on the ashram I never knew what was going on and would find things out at the very last minute. One morning my good friend Kathleen and I were going to the Northeast garden to meditate. It is a short walk to this garden, down a dirt road the village residents use to come into the ashram on. As we were heading down the path that leads to the road we passed the newer ashram apartments. At the time I was residing in the older apartments. As we walked nearer I noticed that the grounds behind the new apartments had well over 100 bicycles, or rather tricycles, all lined up. They were brand new. The design of the bike reminded me of the bikes I would see in Mexico, three wheelers. I always felt this was a very practical form of transportation, an adult tricycle. It was very impressive to see all of these bikes lined up. I then recalled hearing something about Swami giving bikes to the Indians. Well, I thought, these must be them.
Kathleen and I continued down the road and entered the meditation garden. We meditated for about forty-five minutes when she showed me a text she had just received on her cell phone. Basically it read that Swami wanted everyone to come to the Mandir for our noon prayers, called Arathi. After Arathi we were to gather outside the Mandir for a presentation. Lunch would be delayed until 1:30. To be honest I had been half meditating and half thinking about lunch. I was really hungry and feeling a bit hypoglycemic. So my initial response was…what? Lunch delayed? I needed to get to my apartment for a protein bar if I was going to make it through this program. It was 11:40. I left Kathleen and walked out of the garden onto the dirt road. There were Indians on the road coming to the ashram. However, these people were not able to walk, as they were disabled. They were literally pulling and dragging themselves over the dirt road with their hands and arms. I was taken aback and surprised by this sight. I passed them and walked to my room. I grabbed a protein bar and went straight to the Mandir. Upon approaching the temple grounds I could see they were setting up for a big event. They had put up colorful awnings, 200 or so chairs and a beautiful stage for Swami.
I entered the Mandir for Arathi. Afterwards, we were given instructions to go outside and sit in chairs by Swami’s fire pit, called a dhuni. The Indians were in the area adjacent to the Mandir, sitting in the chairs under the awning. I was lucky and got a seat in the shade of a tree, close to the front. I sat and I watched. It would be another half hour before Swami would come out and begin the program. There were three tricycles in front of me. There was a man placing marigold flower wreaths on the bikes. And then, for some reason, I began crying. Tears were falling. I was feeling the energy and it was so full of love and gratitude it swelled inside of me and was released through my tears. It was then that I took a really good look at these tricycles. They weren’t like the ones I was familiar with in Mexico. They were rigged very differently. They had the chain coming up to the handlebar. The handlebars were not handlebars, but had a hand crank pedal on them. These were specially crafted bikes for the disabled, to be used by people who have no use of their lower extremities; these bikes were to be pedaled by hand. Polio remains a big problem in India, along with other birth defects and situations causing deformities. Swami had these bikes specially made for people suffering in this way. At that point I needed a tissue, as my tears were out of control.
The program got underway and all of us could feel the deepest love and gratitude that the people gathered there felt for Swami. And then, just to push me over the edge, the three bikes in front of me were being approached by three of the recipients. Two came dragging themselves up and one was carried. They were placed on these very special bikes and began to pedal them with their hands. They were moving forward, upright. They were seeing the world from an upright and elevated position. For most of their lives they have been living on the ground, looking up to see the world around them, always struggling so hard just to move. I felt their dignity rise, their gratitude palpable and their hearts so open and full of love for Swami. Such hope Swami had given them. What a gift.
With a few questions I discovered that Swami had been giving these bikes away yearly. He gave about 2,000 away that year. Swami then briefly spoke to his students. What I interpreted him to say was to respect the people, serve the people. To serve God, to respect God is done through serving and respecting humanity. So to those reading this I say to you, in your own way, be of service. Feed the less fortunate. Take care of your brothers and sisters. Be good to each other. Respect human life. It is such a gift.