Love without a price tag, conditions attached or the fine print of debt
At the age of five or six years, I told my Dad that I would never ever opt for an arranged marriage, especially the transactional ''bride seeing'' ceremony, where the bride is paraded around like a fancy showpiece before a bunch of curious strangers, who are more interested in how much gold she is wearing than her IQ.
Dad, being my ever patient, serene hero, just smiled that calm, soothing smile that some of you are already familiar with and he said, ''Sure, that's fine."
I was expecting a full flung family drama, a storm, maybe even being thrown out for the audacity of breaking the much-treasured family tradition. How dare a girl even say such a thing to her parents, right?
Nothing happened. Dad was so cool. Then it struck me - maybe I am adopted. That's why it doesn't matter so much to him.
I did manage to summon the courage and ask Dad several times, "Ami an adopted child?"
Dad would laugh and ask, "What do you think? Whatever you think is the right answer."
That put me in a fix. What ami supposed to think, huh?
You can imagine - World Wars 2 and 3 happened over some of those statements. You can imagine who won. Of course, the younger one always wins - do you have any doubts about this time-old Indian tradition of the elder one bowing out?
Okay, so coming back to what we were talking about.
As the years passed and my longing to join the spiritual order in Prashanti Nilayam grew by leaps and bounds, I told my parents when I was sixteen years old that I intended to serve Swami and embrace a life in the ashram forever.
They were cool about this too. What mattered to them was my choice.
Dad and Mom told me, ''First, you have to complete your education and then lets have this conversation again. If you feel as strongly about this as you do then, we won't stand in your way.''
The same year, when I prayed to Swami with tears in my eyes at the ashram in Kodaikanal, He completely ignored me and looked the other way. I went on crying and crying. Finally, through my tears, I heard his voice clear as crystal, ''Do you even know what it takes to be My student or disciple? You have no idea, no eligibility and no traits for ashram life. You are not even remotely eligible."
I was completely heartbroken. This is not what I expected. I had thought that Swami would be delighted to accept me. I was crushed. Or more accurately, my ego was crushed beyond recognition. I couldn't stop the tears from flowing. I sobbed like a child. I probably looked like a complete idiot.
Then I heard his voice again, brimming with love, "I shall protect you always as the eyelids protect the eyes. I am always with you - isn't that enough? Ashram life is not for you - enjoy what the world has to offer and come back to me. Come back only when the time is right, but not in many, many years. I will call you. I will send you a sign - only then. Do you understand? I know what is best for you. Have faith."
No, I didn't understand but then I didn't have a choice but to understand.
Looking back, I see that Swami was right. At the age of eighteen, I fell deeply in love with Sanand Ramakrishnan and my life took a completely different direction. On His part, Swami knew everything but He asked no questions about it at all.
The first time Swami came face-to-face with Sanand, He looked deeply into his eyes for several moments. I like to believe that Swami was ''checking him out'' like a parent does when checking out a prospective bridegroom for the daughter. Not only that, many years later, Swami went to the exact spot where my father was seated in the last row behind a pillar and asked him, not once but twice, for my marriage invitation! He took the invitation letter, blessed my father with an intense gaze and walked swiftly back. Within moments, the volunteers came out running with several prasad packets for all devotees in Whitefield ashram - at the time, this was unusual as it was not a time of any festival then.
I asked Seva Dals, ''What is the reason for the special prasad?"
They told me, "We don't know what the occasion is but Swami is very happy today. It must be related to a devotee."
I felt that the special prasad that day was for me. Just for me.
I also understood then what Swami said about my eligibility for an ashram life. He was right.
That one choice He made was for my happiness - it was not a rejection of me.
He took that decision for me out of absolute pure love and gave me the absolute freedom to live my life on my own terms for my own happiness.
As a parent, I know this - when you love your child deeply more than anything else in this world, you put your child's well-being, growth and happiness first.
In the end, it is the power of love that triumphs above everything else. For me and many others on the path, Swami's love came without any conditions, any price tag. He gave so much love and so much of Himself to us that we took His love and His attention for granted. He did not ever like us to talk about Him or ''advertise'' Him as He used t say, but He was there for all who came to Him. He gave all grace to all those who sought Him, keeping nothing for Himself.
I learned the power of Love through Swami's rejection. But the words still echo in my heart, ''Come back only when the time is right, but not in many, many years. I will call you. I will send you a sign - only then."