It was during the early 1910s that Hemadpant went to visit Baba in Shirdi. It was then that he first witnessed the following incredible leela of Baba, and was inspired to write Baba's life story in the ensuing chapters of the Sai Satcharita.
The Old village landscape of Shirdi in 1917.
One morning, in Dwarkamai, Sai Baba sat at the grinding stone after completing His morning rituals. Carrying a scuttle-like basket in His hand, Baba went towards a bag of wheat and began taking its contents out in a rather hurried manner; filling cupfuls of wheat up to the brim and straight into the basket. Baba then spread out another empty sack on the ground near Him. He placed His grinding quern on it and attached its wooden peg firmly in place so that it would stay secure while grinding.
The wheat sack and grinding stone used by Baba in Dwarkamai
Getting Himself ready to grind, Baba rolled up His sleeves, tucked in the folds of His kafni, and then sat down near the grinding quern with His legs spread outward. "What is this sudden idea – that of grinding wheat?" Hemadpant thought to himself. Puzzled as he was, he continued to think, "To a poor penniless one, without attachment to any material possessions, why should there be any anxiety about worldly things?" However, with His head bent downward, Sai Baba had taken a firm hold of the handle of the quern. Baba kept rotating the quern stone with His own hands intensely, as if He were crushing something more than just wheat, with enmity and hatred, into the flour. "Many a saint had I met before; but here was the one grinding wheat at a quern! What pleasure could grinding give Him? Only He can understand His strange ways!" People watched Baba in astonishment, but no one dared ask Him what He was doing.
As the news of this activity travelled, residents of the village came running and a crowd gathered. The women gasped for breath as they ran. Four of them hastily rushed up the steps of Dwarkamai and held Baba's hand, seizing it as they snatched the handle of the grinding stone away from Him. Baba retaliated and began quarrelling with the women; but without paying any heed to Him they started grinding the wheat at once. And as they began, they also started chanting Baba's praises and His marvellous leelas. Touched by their genuine affection for Him, Baba's outward display of anger vanished, With tenderness and love, a pleasing smile stole over His face. All the wheat that Baba had kept there was ground. It measured a full eight pounds (four seers); the basket of ground wheat was now emptied. And then the women began to make lofty assumptions in their minds about the purpose of it all. They thought to themselves, "Sai Baba does not prepare wheat bread for Himself; to subsist on alms (bhiksha) is His actual practice. What then will Baba do with all this ground wheat flour? Moreover, Baba has no wife, no children, or family. Baba is all alone, without any worldly binding of hearth and home, or of any material possessions; what then would Baba want all this flour for?" One of them then had the audacity to say aloud, "Oh! Sai Baba is compassion itself! All this flour is only for us. Just wait and see! Baba will now distribute all this flour to us. Baba will now divide it into four shares, one for each of us!" The other women happily assumed this would happen, and were beginning to build castles in the air. But only Sai Baba knows His own ways; none other can comprehend His ultimate purpose. And yet, the women waiting there, salivating in their minds, overcome by greed, wanted to get their hands on the wheat flour! When all of the wheat grain was ground and the flour spread out, the grinding quern was put back in its place. The women began to fill the scuttle-like basket with the flour, and in their minds, they were already walking towards their homes with the flour. All this while, not a word escaped Baba's lips. But as they proceeded to divide the flour in equal parts, listen to what Baba had to say. What follows is from the original script in Marathi documented by Hemadpant. It gives an insight into how direct Baba could be when needed, unlike what many television series wrongly portray Him to be. The word Randa that Baba used for them is impossible to translate, but it gives the reader a glimpse of the intensity of Baba's words. The attempt at an English translation is given below.
"Where do you think you are taking the flour? Does it belong to your father that you are carrying it away? Go at once to the village boundary and throw all of the flour at the side of the stream there!"
"Leech-like whores! How you came running to loot Me! Was it some borrowed wheat that you wanted to claim?"
The women were ashamed of their greediness and were quite shaken up! In whispers they spoke amongst themselves trying to find consolation. Then immediately they left for the village boundary as Baba had commanded them to, No one understood Sai Baba's intention at the time. The reason for His leela that was unfolding – nobody could quite comprehend.
Waiting patiently (Saburi) and letting the event unfold then revealed the meaning of His mysterious ways! Later, Hemadpant asked people what was this leela of Sai Baba about. They then said that Baba actually banished the cholera disease and did not allow it to enter the village. It was not wheat grain that Baba ground, but it was the terrible cholera epidemic that Baba crushed in the quern. Baba had got the coarsely ground flour to be thrown away by the four women, along the stream that bordered the village. When the freshly ground flour was, thus, thrown along the border, the terrible epidemic gradually declined and the days of distress were finally over for the village. Such was Baba's mysterious handling! The disease was, thus, completely eradicated and once again the blessed villagers of Shirdi enjoyed their peace.
A rare photograph of Baba with His devotees in Dwarkamai
This marvellous spectacle of Sai Baba grinding wheat at the quern filled Hemadpant with awe and admiration. How can one truly comprehend Baba's action and understand its eventual meaning or outcome? These thoughts ran in Hemadpant's mind as he asked himself, "What connection could there have been between the grinding of the wheat and the disease? It truly cannot be comprehended! I felt that I must write a book about Baba's life and His leelas." A deep and profound love arose in his heart, like the magnificent radiant waves on the sea of milk. A strong urge was kindled within him to sing the glorious leelas of Sai Baba's life. In the next chapter, Hemadpant explains how this work was composed with Baba's grace, most beneficial to both – the listeners and to the author himself.