December is the Month of the Mother! The 155th birth anniversary of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi is celebrated all over the world. Here in South Africa our Sub centres and Satsang groups did not lag behind. On 1st December Verulam celebrated; on 7th Glencoe; on 14th Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville; on 16th Ladysmith; on 20th HQ; on 21st Pietermaritzburg where, in all the places, I gave key-note addresses.
This week it was an inspiring trip to Ladysmith in Northern Natal during the celebration. In all the centres, the devotees were enthusiastic, keen and were interested to know more and more. Several sessions of discussions at different devotees’ places were held.
On the tithi puja day, from 6 am to 6 pm a relay japa yajna was joined by families of devotees. After hawan, in the evening, when my turn to speak came, I dwelt on the ever compassionate Mother who was so sympathetic to feed the hungry. Her grace transcended the rules and regulations and embraced the people living in dire poverty as Her own.
I was moved by that anecdote told by Swami Apurvananda in his reminiscences about Holy Mother, an extract of which I reproduce below:
In the evening when I went to her again, I found her on the veranda of her mud hut cutting vegetables, with her legs stretched out… We chatted for some time and then she wanted to know how famine relief work was carried out. From her words it was evident that she was much distressed by the plight of the famine-stricken.I described how we went from door to door distributing coupons among the poor, how we gathered information about their needs and miserable circumstances, how they collected rice in exchange for coupons, adding that women were also given saris sometimes. In this context, I narrated an incident which moved Mother deeply.I described how one morning, when out on a tour of the villages where relief operations were being carried out, I discovered that none of those receiving rice from us was at home. Obviously, they had gone out to work. Those who worked were not eligible for the dole of rice. So I proceeded to investigate and found most of them sowing paddy in knee-deep slush in a paddy field outside the village.On advancing in that direction, I noticed from a distance a woman labourer leaving the field and hiding herself behind a pile of paddy saplings. On enquiring from others, I learnt that she had delivered a baby that previous night, it was with that baby she had come to the field to work. Driven by hunger she was sowing paddy, leaving the infant wrapped in a rag in the corner of the field. If it was known that she was working in the field, she would not get rice from us. So having seen me from a distance, she was trying to hide from me.I was much disturbed thinking of the dire distress that could compel a woman, who had given birth to a child just the night before, to come to work in the field with the newborn. It was a terrible shock. I approached the woman, and in a choked voice, just said,”Do not worry, Mother, I shall not stop your quota of rice.” This helped her muster enough courage to fold her hands and say, “Sir, I’m going through unbearable hardship. That’s why I’ve come to work.” For one days work in the field she would get two seers of paddy.Mother shuddered with horror on hearing the story. Almost in tears, she exclaimed, “What are you saying! So fresh from childbirth she had come to work in the field! It is not right to stop the dole of rice in such circumstances. Son, you did the right thing. Master will bless you.” Then she prayed to Master, as if hurt, “Master! Can’t you see all this? Such suffering of people! How can people carry on in such miserable conditions! You have to do something for their deliverance!” Her anguished words still seem to ring in my ears. Mother was compassion personified – a fervent prayer incarnate.
Feeding the hungry has become part and parcel of our religious Order all over the world. Swami Nischalananda, the late Founder and the First President of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa initiated a much needed Nutrition Program in 1953. This Program did play an important role in alleviating hunger and suffering, not only amongst children, but also adults in all communities. Working in the midst of impoverished communities and a wide range of organisations, the Program has been successfully able to reach the poor, destitute, unemployed, abused and disabled. The Centre and all the sub-centres and satsang groups are engaged in feeding programmes in their respective communties with remarkable precision. The Youth members of the Centre, at HQ and all its branches take pride in assisting this feeding program and perform it as Karma Yoga. The contributions from the willing donors, small or big, have made this Scheme eminently reachable to the unreached.
On a weekly basis, sandwiches, fresh fruits and vegetables are distributed in the greater Durban area. Further, cooked nutritious meals are served regularly in these areas. A monthly distribution of 2 tons of rice, 800 kg of dhall and 100 kg of salt is maintained by the Centre and supplemented with assorted vegetables and fruit, canned foods, basic grocery items, lentils etc.
Food Hampers consisting of: rice, dhall, salt (both coarse and fine), cooking oil, canned foods, jam, dried beans, sugar and cake flour are distributed to over 1000 indigent families during Diwali. Several sub-centres and satsang groups of the Centre were provided with grocery to augment their own hampers for distribution in their respective areas. In addition to hampers, cooked meals are served to needy families.
The following are beneficiaries of the Centre’s most popular Nutrition Programme: