Below is an experience I wrote up for "Sai Sarathi" (a regional newsletter of the Sathya Sai Baba Organization), which they published in their September 2013 issue. "Leela" is a Sanskrit word meaning "the sport or play of God":
Briefly; "Sister Carrie" is the story of a young woman who becomes dissatisfied with her hometown in Wisconsin and decides to move to the Big City, in this case Chicago, Ill. She has two major affairs with older men, and eventually becomes quite famous as an actress. But there are, in fact, two scenes in the book that are quite key, both of which occur on a train, and both critical to the structure of the novel. The first is when she originally leaves home heading for Chicago and meets a traveling salesman named Charles Drouet, who's also a passenger, and with whom she has a long relationship. The second is when she leaves Drouet for George Hurstwood, the manager of a fashionable bar/eatery in Chicago, and they both leave the country, again by train, for Canada. In both cases, she is travelling with all of her belongings.
I can't tell you the effect reading this extraordinary book had on me. At first I had certain qualms about not focusing just on spiritual books as Swami (Sathya Sai Baba) sometimes advises. But it became evident that this work was not just a diversion or entertainment, as thoroughly enjoyable as it was. It was concerned with real-life issues and values, as well as with the moral choices we make, in a way not altogether different from works such as the Ramayana [the life of Sri Rama] and Mahabharata [the epic of the Pandava and Kaurava princes]. It was just on a much smaller scale, and more contemporary and "localized", having to do with twentieth century America.
Now I don't know if I had actually finished the book, or was just well into it when this happened. But I do recall that it was immediately after I had participated in the Manhattan Sai Center's monthly senior citizens' lunch service one Sunday and was headed back home to Hoboken, New Jersey via subway. I was waiting for the train right by where the tracks end on 34st street, it's final stop. As I was waiting, I noticed that a young woman in her early to mid-twenties, quite thin, had sat down a few yards from me, nearby a good deal of luggage she was traveling with. What struck me as rather odd was that she wasn't facing the tunnel through which the train comes, but was directly facing me, which was in virtually the opposite direction. Quite frankly, my first reaction was that she might be "a lady of the evening", because not only did her manner seem unusually aggressive, but I couldn't understand why such a slight woman would be traveling with so much luggage.
When the train arrived, I even avoided the impulse to help her carry the bags on board, but some other gentleman did help out. I'm not sure how, but somehow I ended up sitting right next to her. And as soon as I did, she opened up a magazine and immediately started talking to me while reading it. At first she made some comment (before she even seemed to have started reading) about the article, and then she started talking to me about more personal matters. None of it really seemed to add up in my mind. She said she was a stewardess from Seattle and had to commute to NYC for her flights, and was considering moving because of it. I was so curious about all the luggage that I naturally asked where she was headed now. She said that she had just spent a few days with some folks at the beach and was headed to Hoboken (she said cryptically) "To visit a friend." To my mind, this still didn't explain all that luggage.
When I finally put them down, I noticed that not only was no one waiting for her, but that she had no interest in looking for anyone herself, and didn't seem in the least concerned about trying to find a cab, which is what one usually immediately does in such a situation. She just stood directly in front of me, looking at me. I honestly don't recall if I gave her my card and offered to show her around the next time she was in town. But I'll never forget her offering me her hand and saying, "My name is Carrie."
Unfortunately, I didn't make the connection right away, and by the time I did, I couldn't check to see if she was still there.... Afterward I did go back to the book and tried to find every possible physical description of Carrie. And while Dreiser never went into a great deal of detail about that, the descriptions available did match the woman on the train to a "t".
As most of us who have been with Sai Baba for some time know, He is always on the cutting edge of our inner lives, guiding and directing us, in addition to encouraging us in different ways at crucial junctures. But I can't remember ever hearing of Him manifesting himself as a literary character in order to show His joy and approval at how one might be spending one's spare time..."
PS After I wrote this, I did recall that I did indeed give her my card with contact info. So, the fact that I never heard from her is further evidence that it was not just a casual flirtation. And for those non-devotees who may continue to harbor certain reservations... there is probably absolutely nothing I could say to change your mind.
(Article changed on August 28, 2015 at 14:46)
(Article changed on August 30, 2015 at 10:33)