- Conversation with Dana Gillespie, British singer, actress and song writer

Conversation with Dana Gillespie, British singer, actress and song writer -A COLOURFUL AND COSMIC CONNECTION WITH SWAMI
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Ms. Dana Gillespie is a musician of international repute, who has emerged as an ambassador of Sai message around the world. In this interview, she explains how she takes her music to remote places to share Sai love with diverse groups and in the end, comes back home realizing how little she knows of her enigmatic Sai.

This British singer, actress, and song writer and blues diva has been performing in the Divine Presence of Bhagawan Baba since the past 16 years. Her first performance in Prashanti Nilayam was at the time of Baba’s 70th birthday. She has 46 years of music background with over 61 albums to her credit. Her career has combined her music with radio, theatre, film, and sports.

Although her life has become synonymous with her music, in the 1970s, she became well known for her appearances in London’s West End theatres. She played the original Mary Magdalene in the first London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

The versatile Dana who seems to have been there and done it all things creative comes from a family of do-gooders and social activists. Her family was attached to the Church of England. Her ancestors were Quakers and included Elizabeth Fry of the prison reform fame. Yet, this trailblazer foresaw her personal journey as a musician early in life, a journey that has seen her share the stage with the likes of Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger, among others, and entertain audiences all over the world.

Presented below are select excerpts from a conversation recorded between Dana Gillespie and Radio Sai's Karuna Munshi in March 2011 at the Radio Sai studio.


Listen to the Audio Interview





The Making of the Star - Dana Gillespie

Radio Sai (RS): Sairam Dana, and welcome to Radio Sai!

Dana Gillespie (DG): Sairam Karuna, and a pleasure to be here!

RS: As a young girl of 11, you told your parents that you wanted to change your name and you chose your name — Dana. Where was that coming from?

DG: My real name, which I don’t really like to divulge is an old family name that comes from the Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker line of the family. So all of the women in this line have this name. And I said to my parents, “I think I’m going to be famous when I’m older. So I’m going to give myself the name of Dana right now. And so, henceforth on, can you please call me this?”

And it flows very nicely off the tongue.

RS: But, at 11, how did you know that you were going to be famous?

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DG: I’ve always functioned on the instinct side. Musicians have to. I just knew that music was the thing for me. I was a very normal child. I was interested in chocolate and animals and music, and that was about it. And so, I just followed my dreams. The first blues song I heard was when I was 11. I didn’t understand a lot of the lyrics but I used to sing along to them. And I felt this music very intensely. And you know, blues music is something that is very simple and I think that if one can talk about reincarnation, I must have lived in that era.

The moment I heard Ms. Bessie Smith sing and she was the heroine, the icon of the old blues women in the ’30s and ’40s, I felt I had come home. And in the ’60s, blues was very important as a lot of the bands that we might know now like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, they started out as blues bands because it’s basically 3 chords and 12 bars. It’s music that is born out of pain. Anything that is done without having to read notes like classical music where you’ve got to read, it has to come from the heart.


So all the blues musicians I work with, they work from the heart; they do not work from the head. If you’re sitting in a bhajan group and it’s your turn to sing, I always go “Oh Swami, please help me get the right note” and hope that He gives me, because if you start too low or too high, the bhajan is ruined as you then land up in a squeak or can’t find the deep note. So, you have to function on instinct. And bhajans plays a large part of my life.

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Ms. Dana Gillespie in the Studios of Radio Sai, March 2011  

RS: You’ve had quite a journey as a musician. You released your first album at the age of 15 and it was folk music. And the many genres of music you have traversed through could not have been possible without a personal journey, because as an artist, you’re intensely involved in your work. You write most of the songs you sing yourself.

Tell us about this journey, about the evolution of Dana Gillespie.

DG: Well, I suppose musically, I started as a folk singer because I couldn’t afford a band. And I wasn’t even allowed to be in the school choir as I was far too much of a giggler. I knew I had an okay voice and I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure whether it would be theatre or film or anything. I just knew I was meant to perform.

So, I took any job that came my way and I really did some awful musicals and some pretty terrible old films.

At 15 I was a sports girl for four years and was in the snow ski team as well, until an avalanche swept me down and damaged my leg. Hence, I often walk with a limp. Then sports got the backseat and also, I realized very early on that you didn’t make money out of sport and I’ll have to survive. I lived at home until I was 30, which is very late for anyone.

RS: In the west.

DG: Yes, it is. It’s extremely odd but I had such a good relationship with my parents and so, I just lived in the basement flat. I had a piano and a drum kit and a bass guitar and a little kind of a sound recording. They had two tracks to record, which was quite revolutionary then and musicians used to drop by and so, a lot of them were… are famous now, but then, they were just sessional musicians. They weren’t famous to me.

RS: Any names?

DG: Well, David Bowie used to walk me home from school and carry my ballet shoes when I was 14. Jimmy Page is still an old friend who’s founded Led Zeppelin. He played, he produced a track on my first album as you said when I was 15. So, these guys were just normal guys. They then stuck to their music and became more famous.

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I left regular school at 15, and went to a theatre school, because I was working in the evenings, raising money to afford a drum kit and drum lessons in a record store. And in the mornings, between 5 and 6.30, I was delivering newspapers so I could get enough money to buy this drum kit.

So I formed a band when I was at the theatre school; I was 14 then. I was the drummer, of course. And on one of our first big gigs, the singer was ill; didn’t even bother to turn up. And I knew the songs. We got another drummer and then I became the singer.

RS: By chance!

DG: Well, yeah, but then is anything by chance, really? So, I knew I couldn’t really be a drummer because my drum teacher was an extraordinary man called Buddy Rich, and he would take me to see this world-class drummer. And when I saw how this man played, I realized I could never play like that. And I’ve always worked on the premise that if you can’t do something really well or be the best, then do something else.

An Out of the World Experience During the Musical, Jesus Christ Super Star

I was doing, as I said, terrible musicals, weird films, and nothing really that my mother would have ever been proud of. And this is the yardstick in my life – would my mother like something – because I had an amazing mother. She used to come here to see Sai Baba as well even at the age of 84. Anyway, the moment I landed a role in Jesus Christ Superstar, she was able to go “Ha! My daughter did something valid and great!” And that sort of changed my life in a way.

And what’s so strange about that is the fact that I knew I was meant to be Mary two years before it happened. I tried to audition for one thing. They couldn’t take me for some reason. And then, I went to America to try and audition there. No, they wouldn’t take me without the union card. Then, I was actually taken as the chorus in Jesus Christ Superstar and while we were rehearsing, I kept thinking “I know I’m meant to be Mary.”

And the week before the show opened, they asked me if I’d sing to try out for the understudy. In those days we used to get two pounds extra in the understudy. But I thought, “Well, ok, maybe, my dream will come true.” And I went. They called me back to come in the next day at nine in the morning to sing the main song which is “I dunno how to love Him”. And something happened to me, something took over my body. I stepped out in front of the biggest theatre in London and took the microphone. I’d never sung this song before, I had to learn it the night before because Mary sings alone on the stage. The chorus do all the dancing, leaping about.

And as I started to sing, I can honestly say, I had almost like a God-like experience. Something sang through me. It was amazing. I’m not saying this pigheaded.

I came on stage with tears in my eyes, with my knees shaking, because I’d never heard my voice alone with a piano in a huge theatre. And I waited for half an hour in a little room in the side. And the director comes in and says, “We’re going to make you Mary. We’re gonna have to buy out the other girl”, who was bought out. And I took over the role. And it was an amazing experience. But the show was a hit and my mother was proud of me. I was the talk of the town.

But that wasn’t satisfying for me because you’re doing something that somebody else has written. I knew I’m meant to sing what I’m feeling. So when it was over, I went to America and started touring there. Then, I had my band. So I just kept recording from there.

RS: And you’ve had a hand in radio as well, from Austria, Vienna?

DG: Yes. Now, that was one of the joys of my life.


It was called ‘Globetrotting with Gillespie’ and it ran for 11 years and I specialized in Indian, African, Arabic, and blues music. Nobody else was doing it then across Europe every Saturday night. So every taxi driver in Vienna knew me and my voice because they were all foreigners. And so, I played something from the Ivory Coast one day or a bhajan. I used to sneak the odd bhajan in, which made me rather happy. I actually thank God for that experience, because if you can understand other countries’ music, then you can understand the people better. And when you understand the people better, there’s no need to have wars and fights with them. I’m a great believer in pacifism. It’s so important, this understanding that we are all one.

And music is the great communicator and I know that because 35 years ago, I was sitting on a camel in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan when I went to one of these camel safaris with the camel man who did not speak one word of common language. So he started sort of humming and I had just learnt a Pankaj Udhas song. So, I sang this to him. He immediately perked up. He recognized the melodies. So, he sang a song, I sang a song. We spent the next 8 hours singing songs. So, we were friends and he taught me about the power of music.

The Journey to the Lord and the Long Wait Thereafter

RS: Dana, as an artist, you’ve lived a full and exciting life. Now, where does the chapter on Sai Baba fit into the life story of Dana Gillespie?

DG: When I first read a book on Sai Baba, which was ‘Man of Miracles’, it was about 31 years ago, then I did something I never do. I instantly went to get a ticket. Actually, my father bought it for me. He said, “I have a feeling you’re meant to do this.” So three weeks later, I leap on a plane and head to India.

I had this feeling that Sai Baba was going to say when I got here, “Hello! I’ve been waiting for you. You are the chosen one.” But of course, not a bit of it. He ignored me for 12 years. I slept in the sheds, got eaten alive by mosquitoes, had extraordinary experiences, coincidences, things that a non-believer will go, “Well, that’s just a coincidence!” But you know, when you have Baba in your heart and you have faith, then you realize that nothing is a coincidence. I had quite a few unusual experiences.

And they were enough to keep me coming back sometimes twice a year to sit and be crushed at the back. My leg was bad. So, the first time I came here, I actually walked into the place and left in a wheelchair instead of being the other way around, because I was determined to sit cross-legged.

It was agony. And I often have walked using a walking stick when I’ve been here. I don’t mind. It’s just the body. I’m not bothered about it at all. Pain is a nuisance because it drains your energy and it can distract you from getting on with loftier, godlier thoughts.

But I have to thank this leg pain because every step I take, which is painful, I have to say ‘Sairam’. Every step going upstairs, I have to hold the railing or find somebody who might be on the step below me and I’ll put my hand on his shoulder and say ‘Sairam! Thank you’. So for that, I’m extremely grateful and I know that Sai Baba has said for every trouble we have, we should thank Him, because that makes us turn to Him more.

If I’d have had a ‘bed of roses’ life - a happy husband, and children, and the rest, which doesn’t go actually with the music business, I wouldn’t have wanted to find anything higher. I would’ve been content with the samsaric (worldly) view of life and that has never been my goal. I’ve wanted to fly free.

At the end of the forty minute programme, as a token of Divine appreciation, Bhagawan presented a beautiful memento, a replica of a Phoenix bird, to Ms. Gillespie. (The Phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird that can be found in the mythologies of the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese etc.)  

RS: Through these 12 years of anonymity in the ashram, as this westerner with red hair sitting at the back of the Sai Kulwant Hall, with no particular physical attention from Baba, what kept you coming back? Isn't that a fairly long period of waiting?

He Fosters the Tender Faith with Subtle Experiences

DG: Well, He did little things, small things. One time, I left Bangalore for Puttaparthi and I had lost my passport. So, I thought, well, I’ve read this story about Swami who’s found somebody his traveller’s check or passport in Paris. I thought, “Well, I’ve got a choice – either I go back and they’ll think I’m stupid because I know I haven’t left it there or I go on and He will find it for me and something will happen.” So, I get to Puttaparthi and try and register for a shed accommodation but of course, I get an earful from the men at the accommodation office “How dare you …? Go to the police station!” And to make matters worse, my ticket was also in my passport.

I was desperate, thinking, “What am I going to do?” And then, a group of Austrians from Vienna said, “Oh, come in with us. We’ll smuggle you into the shed. Nobody’s gonna notice.”

So, I thought, “Right, okay.” And because I was really frazzled and shaking over this experience, I plonked down. I didn’t have a mosquito net. I couldn’t find a bed roll. I mean, I was completely unprepared for this occurrence. And I couldn’t find a torch and in the days, when you could do Omkaram, go round the mandir, I thought, “I’m gonna have to get up, I’m gonna have to ask Swami for help.”

I leapt out, ran outside and sat behind the mandir; it was all dark, and I was sitting there, there was nobody around. And then I managed to see, you know, under a bit of a light. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning! I had come out far too early. So I sink down on my knees and I go “Swami, You have to help me.” And I had my hand sitting there. And suddenly, a jasmine flower plopped out of nowhere. There was no wind, there was no jasmine flowers around. It just landed there and I heard this noise, really like a 'plop' as it appeared in existence and landed there. I thought, “My goodness! I know He’s gonna help me.” I had the faith, because I’ve always known everyone else is gonna let me down in life. Only God cannot. He has to be your best friend!

So I thought, “Well, I do not know how He’s going to do it but I know He’s going to do it.” And then, at the next darshan, I’m ignored, of course. Well then, I’m a bit disheartened.

And in those days, when you could walk up at the back, I always used to walk up there alone. They always said, “Don’t go. There’s snakes and scorpions.” But I used to think “Oh, if I sing bhajans, nothing’s going to bite me.”

I’m up there in this cool breeze and I’m watching the eagles flying around. And when I’m up there, I suddenly hear this - like a voice saying, “Go straight down now to the main street. Go now, NOW!” So, I rush down and as I’m going past the accommodation office, a man is coming out with my ticket and passport in his hand. And he’d found it. He tried to return it but because I wasn’t registered, they didn’t know who to give it to. So, we met, and in those days, that street was always very crowded.

RS: Did you find out where the man found out your passport and ticket?

DG: No, because I looked down to check if it was my name and when I looked up, he was gone. It was one of those great stories! And I’ve got another little one like that.

You know, when I first came here, the first thing that hit me about seeing Sai Baba was I must never eat an animal again. Meat is off the menu for me.

RS: It was instinctive?

Narrating the background story of another piece, "Play The Game, Be Happy", the graceful singer explained that the piece was based on an Interview Room conversation with Bhagawan. Utilising an opportunity granted by The Lord, the singer had posed a "million dollar question" unto Bhagawan concerning life as to 'what is the purpose? what is the meaning? ... of life?' and pat came His reply: "Play The Game; Be Happy!", and thus a beautiful, meaningful song.  

DG: Yeah. He was quite far away, He was always a bit of an orange dot in the distance, although there were less people. But it just hit me and I was looking to be a vegetarian, although I’ve never been that keen on meat. But it just hit me. So I came back full of beans from my first trip to Baba, saying to everyone, “I’m going to be… this is Mother Teresa, step aside… the spiritual life for me, I’m going to be fantastic, I’m helping little old ladies across the road, whether they want it or not.”

And I enrolled as a helper at the main cancer hospital, pushing trolleys and I was all trying to do good. And then, my father said, “I think you should go back again.” He had married again. He wanted me to take his wife, my stepmother.

We go back and in these 3 days, I’m trying to show her Puttaparthi. Somehow, all the wonderful things that I had wanted to be fell by the wayside. My promises were broken left, right, and center and I felt so miserable that my word was not my bond, to quote Shakespeare. I sat one day in the bhajan hall in Whitefield, actually, in floods of tears.

I was about 20 rows back and Swami’s up on the chair and everyone’s happy and He’s beating time with His right hand the whole time. He’s happy and I got my glasses on. So, I can see Him really clearly and I want to sink down low behind the woman in front of me. And my clothes were soaked with tears. I have never cried like that, it was like a tap had been turned on. And I now know when they break a coconut, you know, you’ve got to break the person so that the milk comes out from within.

This was my breaking point. I was a broken person totally dripping wet (from crying). And every now and then, Swami would look at me and He’d go like this as if to say, “Calm down!” and I kept thinking it was for the person behind me or in front. And He’s still beating time like that and then He’d come back and do this gesture to suggest “Calm down!” After this went on for 15 minutes, and by this time I was wringing wet with my clothes. I really couldn’t stop the tears...

And then I made the inner connection with Him and said, “Look, if You are everything I’ve read about and if You can know exactly what I’m feeling at this moment, I demand a sign.” And all I could see was that He’d never moved His left hand, He’d just been beating time with His right hand. So, I said, “Just beat with the left hand once for me.”

And He looked me straight in the eyes and went once with His left hand and then carried on with His right hand and never moved His left hand again. So, this was very good for me, because it made me realize His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence!

I’ve had to learn stage by stage and if He’d have welcomed me that first trip, going, “Yes, here you are! You’re the chosen one!”, I hate to think what my ego would’ve grown to, because I come from a profession where they judge you on your looks, which I’ve always thought was pathetic. I don’t judge anyone on how they look. I look at their heart. 


The Surprise Invitation to Perform, and the Performance During Baba's 70th Birthday  - Part - 2

Radio Sai (RS): After 12 years of learning and evolving and taking baby steps to understand yourself and Baba, building this relationship… suddenly, you were catapulted into limelight. You got to perform at the 70th birthday in the Divine Presence. From this anonymity to the celebrity status, how did this change occur?

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Ms. Dana Gillespie in the studios of Radio Sai, March 2011  

Dana Gillespie (DG):: Well, I thought it was going to occur because I’d made my first bhajan CD. There was this marvelous music and I thought the Westerners must get to learn it, because in those days, there was only those Bhajanavali cassettes. And if you bought them in India, they were broken by the time you played them once. It was before the days of CDs and I thought, “If I can make this music a bit more acceptable to the Western ear, I might be doing some good.”

So I put it on a cassette and it was my last day. And Swami had never spoken to me. And I never spoke to anyone here. Nobody knew I was a singer. I’m not really the sociable type. I was just happy to be in His presence, albeit at the back. So, I just managed to smuggle this cassette in, which I’d hidden under my shirt. And as I said, I told nobody. And He came straight over to me. It was my very last darshan of that trip. And I’d wanted to present it. He said, “Ah! The singer! Give me the cassette!”

And so, I had to produce (from its hiding place) this hot and sweaty thing and hand it to Him and He took it into the mandir. He’d finally accepted this little offering.

So, I did go ahead and press the first CD, which I made three under the name of ‘Third Man’. I didn’t want to confuse the blues fans who might have mistaken it to be a new blues CD from Dana Gillespie and put it on, “Oh! What’s this?” So, I had to change my name. Then, of course, they started releasing it here with a sticker saying “Featuring Dana Gillespie”. Now I don’t bother with ‘Third Man’.

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  The many music albums by Dana Gillespie through which she expresses her love for Bhagawan
and spreads His message of Love.

So when I get a call in London saying, “Would you be interested to come and sing for Swami’s 70th birthday?” from somebody connected with Brindavan in Whitefield, I said, “Well, Yes!” and I was convinced they wanted bhajans. I was imagining me with my trancy, groovy rhythms… this is bound to be the thing and I was told, “No no! Swami wants you to do the Western music.”

So, I had to search around for musicians that could actually help me out because half of my band said, “We’re not going to go to a place where you can’t eat meat, smoke a cigarette, or have a drink.” That was quite difficult. But, I managed to get an odd assortment of guys together and that was my first experience. And it was an amazing one, because when we arrived there was somebody meeting me at the airport with the sign 'Artists'. The crowds parted. We were looked after. Everywhere I went, I was being fed, couldn’t believe my luck.

RS: You’d had a huge changeover in your life in Puttaparthi now!

DG: Yes, but it wasn’t always a bed of roses. I learnt some interesting things. I got a terrible flu-like thing two days before. I had no voice at all on the day of the concert. I couldn’t see my band, since they were in the men's section, I couldn’t tell them and I didn’t want to worry them because they had no idea what they were doing. They knew they were coming for some sort of weird Indian experience but this was beyond their realms of imagination. And also, you know, everything was chaotic. And I learned a very good lesson.

The performance which was about to go on before me, was axed at the very last second. So, all these little children with mascara trailing down their faces were really unhappy. Anyway, I said to Swami (I’d learned to talk inside by this time) and He was sitting in the Shanti Vedika: “Listen, I’ve got no voice. You’ve got me all this way. You’ve got to help me. If you’re going to help me, would you please look at me now?” And He turns His head and looks at me.

So then, two minutes later, somebody came up to me and said, “I think you should have these five cloves.” And then somebody else came up to me and said, “Here’s some vibhuti for you”. And I must say when I stepped out on stage to sing, I probably had about 60 percent of voice but that’s enough for blues. I had no idea what I was doing.

“Dear Lord, will You swing while I sing?”

Everyone had said, “Don’t worry. The day after the concert, all the artists get an interview”, which, of course, when you don’t know anything, that seems to be your goal — “I must get an interview.” It took a while to realize that the inner view was the better way to be. So, the next day, we’re all lined up — the women, the artists, the men. Swami comes out and He picks every single person except me. I’m the only one that sat on my own for once in full view of everyone, wanting to die.

RS: That must’ve been so hard!

Ms. Gillespie performing during Bhagawan's 75th Birthday, Sri Sathya Sai Hill View Stadium.  

DG: Well, it was. Even as I tell you this now, I can almost taste the blood in my mouth where I chewed my gums so as not to cry, because I basically just wanted to howl and fall to pieces but I was in full view and I’m British. So, you have to have the stiff upper lip. So, I chewed my gums and I had to hold my head up high and walk out of that place knowing that I was the only one who’d been rejected. Awful! Awful feeling!

RS: What was going through your head? Were you self-introspecting or wondering what went wrong?

DG: Well, I thought everyone hated me anyway for singing blues. Don’t forget that at the moment that He’s swinging on the jhoola, there’s blues going on. And I know 99.9 percent of the Indians are expecting marvelous holy music with sitar or something. So, I thought they’re going to hate me.

And in fact, a day or two later, a German woman said to me (didn’t know it was me), “Ah! That dreadful Western music when He’s on the jhoola!” And I said “Well, actually, it was me!” And she went the color of a tomato but I understand people’s reaction.

They’d never heard blues because most people don’t know how spiritual blues actually is and it is a thing that is very heartfelt. So, He didn’t tell me, but I felt… yes, the nice thing is He answered a prayer. And this is the other thing. If you do pray to Him, He does answer your prayers. And we forget this.

Well, about five years earlier, at the Sai center that I went to, and still go to, a man was talking about the significance of Krishna playing the flute, the nine-holed instrument, and when we are empty like the flute, then obviously the Lord plays the best melody. And then, he said, “And the reason you have the Lord swinging on a jhoola is because He should be swinging in your heart.” And I remember thinking, “I like that symbolic thing of the Lord swinging in your heart.” And I just made a prayer, “Dear Lord, will You swing while I sing?”

And five years later, He’s on the jhoola.


RS: And you’re singing to Him!

DG: Yes, although I was probably still hated by 99.9 percent of the audience. But, they’ve slowly kind of got used to me. I mean, I’ve performed in the Poornachandra Hall with backing tracks. That’s also rather an unusual thing. I’ve never seen anyone with backing tracks.

RS: But if I may backtrack, how did you make sense of that moment where Swami didn’t pick you as an artist? How did you convince and console yourself and come back? I’m sure you felt terribly rejected and sad at that moment.

DG: I felt small, lonely, and unloved. It’s quite difficult for me to feel small. But, I certainly felt it then, went home to my room and howled into my pillow. But then, I remembered about this prayer (to sing when He was on the swing). So, I knew that He’d answered it.

But of course, I was still yearning to have an interview… but I went home and it was still a great experience. I came back a few months later and He did actually give me an interview. He didn’t say very much to me, but I think He just knew I was yearning to see what the inside of the room was like, anything, I didn’t know what I wanted.

I’ve never known what to ask Him because I don’t know what I want. He knows! He did ask me once, “Any questions?” and as usual, I can’t think terribly intelligent. So, I just said to Him, you know, “What is the point of it all? What’s this thing called life? What’s it all about, basically?” And He just said, “Play the game, be happy!”

RS: Very significant words!

Traveling to the Corners of the Globe as an Ambassador of Sai's Love

DG: But so many people forget it. And I travel all over the world as you know, singing at Sai centers and places that most people don’t know where they are. And I always tell this to people because when you’ve got terrible times and things are hard, and all of us have tough lives, I mean, nobody escapes without pain and, unhappiness or death or illness - absolutely nobody. We have to remember that it’s He that pulls the string. In a way, we’re like puppets. This is very difficult for the West to accept. They consider surrender a sign of weakness. Well, about 10-12 years ago, I started getting calls and people would say, “Can you come and sing here?” If I’m not there with my blues band and I’m actually free, I’d say, “Yeah, okay, why not?”

RS: So, you’ve flown to countries people haven’t heard of?


DG: Well, have you heard of Dagestan?… though it’s not technically a country. It’s a part of Russia. But it’s on the Caspian Sea, next to Azerbaijan.

Also, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Siberia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Hungary, Poland, as well as the well known destinations like Australia and America. But, I love these countries that are Muslim. They’re Russian-speaking, but the Muslim countries I adore. And Swami once said to me… He was talking to somebody else. He suddenly looked to me and said, “The Sufis are very good.” And then He carried on talking.

And this got me thinking because I’ve always liked the aspect of Sufi thought. You know, it’s not a religion. It’s not organized. Its religion is the religion of love. And there’s no intermediary like a priest. You need somebody to speak to God? No way, it's ridiculous! Let me go direct to the big boss, which of course as we know is inside. And the Sufis function like that.

And I was quite cheered that He should say this and I’ve had quite a few interviews when I was surrounded by Iranian Muslims when I’ve been in there, which were quite rare in the old days. There were not so many of them. I’m happy to see there are a lot more now. So, I have a feeling that’s why He’s always made sure that I’ve enjoyed these bhajans like ‘Allah ho Akbar’ and ‘Salam alaikum’. It’s a very old bhajan over 50 years old.

RS: And when you go to these countries which are former republics of the USSR, with a majority Muslim population, how do people react to your music and to the message of Sai that you take to them?

DG: They adore it, they absolutely adore it. I think they’re quite happy that anyone is mad enough to go to these places. I mean, because some of them are villages in the middle of nowhere. I’ve slept practically on floors and it’s not just me alone. It’s with the heads of Zone 8.

RS: Russian-speaking countries of the International Sai Organization?

DG: Yeah. And one of them is a Dane - Steve Picolo. And one of them is Valerie, the Russian. I’m not sort of thrust into the world on my own. I’ve got a little bit of a team around me. And they react amazingly. And because I’m not shy or timid or nervous in front of a camera or a microphone, because it’s what I’ve been doing, for me, it’s like breathing, I make people feel at ease when I talk to them or sing to them. And I think people can react to this. Even when I sing in front of Swami, I talk how I’m talking to you now because that is communication and it’s from the heart.

Ms. Gillespie presenting Bhagawan with one of her albums before her performance
in the divine Presence, December 2010

So, they react to this and I have a chance later on stage, I tell them the words of the songs that I’m singing. So if it’s a bhajan, obviously, they usually know them better than I do.

People of these countries are so starved of religion, they having been depressed, compressed, pressed down.

RS: Repressed with communism all these years, Godlessness.

DG: All these years of Godlessness… now they are flourishing, blooming like flowers and absolutely ready to imbibe it. And the amazing seva that they do to homeless people, to animals... Swami has said the Russian-speaking people have an amazing heart and it is very similar to Indian hearts. And they react amazingly. So, of course, from the moment I start off with ‘Allah ho Akbar’, they’re beaming away and little old Muslim men with orange beards and a stick and a hat popping up and down, which is unheard of.

And sometimes, they get up and dance to the bhajans which of course I’m quite pleased about. I always say this. It used to make me miserable, but the first bhajans I ever learned of these Bhajanavali cassettes, came with one bhajan book - it had a list of rules at the beginning saying ‘Things to do and not to do’ when you’re singing bhajans. And one of them is that you must sit rock-still. This used to bother me as once the music’s going, I can’t sit still. And Swami once said, “Yeah, Dana, she dances like this.” And He did me better than I do me.

What a sense of humor He has! So, He knows I’m not going to sit still and I know probably it (my swaying to the beat) wasn’t very popular in the beginning.

Well, bhajans in the early days were for people who knew about Swami. But my job is to take His message to people who don’t know about Swami. And not everyone can get the hang of bhajans. So, I’ve made them slightly groovier for your man in the street… A lot of Indians in America, this is about 15 years ago, would come up to me and say, “We love your ‘Third Man’ albums because our kids who don’t like bhajans are now listening to it because there’s a beat.”

But I was worried in the early days as I did a version of ‘Prasanna Ho’ with a disco beat and I performed it in the Poornachandra Hall and I was thinking, “Oh, Swami’s going to be furious that I’ve taken some holy music and put this beat.”

And not only was He not furious, at the back of the Poornachandra, some people, were up and were dancing in the Poornachandra Hall. I thought that was pretty amazing. So now, in the Russian-speaking countries, I tell them this story that people have danced to bhajans and they all go “Yes!” and they’re all up and dancing. So, I do it usually as the last number and they’re all going “Prasanna Ho!” and they’re all raving around like this because music has to be joyous and it has to uplift the soul.

RS: And it’s a celebration of divinity!

DG: Yes, absolutely!

Swami is Already There

RS: When you go to these countries, how do you introduce Baba to those people? What do you tell them? Have you had any experiences telling people or showing His picture? How do you go about it?

DG: Well, I do two different types of concerts. I will do concerts or talks at Sai centers. So, I don’t have to introduce Him. He’s already known. But somewhere like Uzbekistan and Tashkent, it’s not technically allowed. And Singapore too, you can do an insider’s concert; so, that’s no problem; don’t mention Him. So I just mention His message of love and for me the message is more important. He Himself keeps saying that. So, it’s very easy for me to talk about His message to these people.

RS: Has anyone heard of Him before?

dana gillespie  

DG: Sometimes they have. One example was in Samarkand, we’d gone there with a team of people.

That’s in Uzbekistan. And I think this was where… I think it was Stein Picolo who pulled out a photograph and showed to a little Muslim woman and she said “He’s God! We’ve been waiting for Him” and tears poured down her cheek. And then, an 11-year-old boy came and said “But I was playing football with Him in the street yesterday.”

Then, we were in Dagestan again with the same merry troupe and we’d heard that there was a Sufi guy living in a far-off village, basically with a few huts around him. And so, we take up lots of fruit and things as gifts, drinks - non-alcoholic obviously, and he’s in the middle of nowhere, with no television or anything with him. And we were sitting, waiting for him, because he’s got to come back from the mosque as it’s Ramadan. We were waiting for sunset. And again, Stein or Valarie says, you know, “Have you heard of Sai Baba?” and he goes, “Have I heard of Him?!”

He produces a picture himself from his pocket. He’s got Sai Baba key ring, and he said, “But He’s been here”. And the Sufi gentleman brings us into his kind of prayer room, if you could call it, and there’s a big picture of Shirdi Sai Baba and Sathya Sai Baba on the wall, which for a Muslim, who won’t have a form, is a pretty big deal.

RS: And Swami has been there physically for him.

DG: Yeah, physically, yes, he’s seen Him.

RS: And carried him gifts with a picture and a keychain?

DG: These things are inexplicable for me. But they’re as inexplicable as… the vibhuti pouring off pictures in various parts of the world or the amrit dropping off things. I know these things aren’t in the big picture that important. But if you are living in a village somewhere in the middle of nowhere and suddenly, I’ve seen this in a man in Dagestan, Vibhuti appears on His photograph. I mean, the joy that it gives is incredible, this omniscience thing is incredible and I actually am more moved by devotees who have never seen Swami in the flesh than those that come here and see Him. And those that see Him in the flesh can easily be misled and think that He is this in the flesh.

It’s a very easy mistake to fall into, you know, everyone’s wanting to get up the front because they think “Is He going to see me, look at me?” It’s so easy to fall into that trap. But over there, they don’t have this possibility. So, they’re seeing with inner vision.

In July this year (2010), I was in Russia, with Valerie in St. Petersburg and they’re doing seva; they’re doing up the houses of little old ladies who are of 80. One had only one leg. They’ve got no windows, they’re broken, holes in the ground or the floor, who’s going to cut their wood at winter time? And it’ll be -30 degrees at winter time. These people, their selfless service is amazing, they were giving out food packets. I’m humbled to the size of an atom when I see what these Russians do and I’m so grateful that I’ve been given the chance to do this and to bring some joy. And so, I was giving a concert wherever I go.

And I never have enough CDs, I can’t physically carry enough, you know.

RS: There’s such a demand.

DG: Yeah. And I just get on stage and I say, “Listen, make copies. Bootleg, pirate, do it.”

RS: No copyright!

DG: No, no, because I think for bhajans, it’s Swami’s music. It should be global. I long for somebody to come into my life and go, “Let me handle your whole stock of CDs and I’ll do a catalog” because I’m not a businesswoman. I’m a musician and I can’t find anyone that knows how to do it or has had enough oomph to come to me and say, “I can do it.” But, one day, He’ll send the right person.

I can carry in my bag maybe a 100 pieces and then you’ve got over the limit of your luggage. I must carry the right clothes for looking presentable, because one is actually representing the Lord and bringing good news.

  dana gillespie
  Since her first performance at the time of Baba's 70th Birthday, Ms. Gillespie was blessed
to perform during many following Birthday Celebrations.

RS: Swami seems to have put you in this role where you’re going to these Muslim countries in the former republics of the USSR because you have a very strong Sufi connection from a long time ago. Even your book ‘Mirrors of Love’ has beautiful sayings from various faiths which actually resonates what Swami says. And a lot of the content is Sufi. Where did that connection start?

DG: Well, I suppose I found it more logical for me that all is one.

RS: But Dana you’re a Church-of-England girl.

DG: I was born but I always felt uncomfortable with that. I actually never… really like the sign of the cross, because for me, it represents pain and suffering. Every English church has Jesus, with blood dripping off Him, looking agonized. And over here, everything is joyous and lovely.

And as a child, I used to really be unhappy being told by the priest, “Only through Jesus you’re going to find salvation. The rest of you are going to hell and damnation.” This as a child I could not accept. And so, after I was confirmed, which, I must tell you, I only did because my mother paid me 30 pounds to go through this ritual. And I did it for the money because I could have some more drum lessons. I’m being honest with you now over this.

But, I always felt uncomfortable with what I felt were lies. But the moment I started to read any of the Sufi writers, if you read Al-Ghazali, Ibn Arabi, there, love is so completely all-enveloping.

RS: Very strong Bhakti element there, huge focus on devotion.

DG: Absolutely! And it’s not with any rituals. You don’t need a ritual. There are some great saints in the Sufi tradition who were doing things that Jesus was doing. But because the Church of England, back in England, probably didn’t bother to read about them, they thought that He was the only one. This was how it affected me. I’m happy if everyone else feels how they feel. Everyone should be free to choose whatever form they want. But I didn’t feel comfortable, because as you said, I probably was in a past life strongly connected…

RS: A very old soul connected with Sufism.

DG: I think so. I probably lived in a desert. I can’t even eat a date now without feeling a bit nauseous. I probably lived on dates. And I’ve got this passion for camels.


Part - 3


- Conversation with Dana Gillespie, British singer, actress and song writer 


RS: Dana, you’re a huge fan of India as well, much like Max Mueller who said, “What India cannot teach me, I do not need to learn.”

DG: Yeah, I endorse that entirely. Actually now, I have to spread it a bit further, because now the whole world teaches me that. Again, it must be a reincarnation thing. I remember as a child of about five or six, my parents used to take me to watch polo at the Royal Windsor Grounds outside of London. And most little girls would be interested in the horses. I was probably interested that I was going to get an ice-cream. But the main thing was that the Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur would always be there.

RS: Oh, Gayatri Devi?

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DG: Yes, in their full gear. And I remember always just going “Lord!” and looking, yearning and being fascinated by them, their clothing. And then, in the early ’60s, in ’63, because I was seeing a lot of the early musicians, like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, and we’d go to concerts with Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, anybody, anything to hear Indian music.

I’d been to India once before I’d been to Swami. So, I was already in love with the country. The moment my feet touched Indian soil, I knew I had come home. And you know for me, glorious Bharath is exactly that, glorious.

Swami once was asked, “Why is it that the Vedas are sung here? Why are only the great leaders, spiritual leaders, born in India?” and He had said, “Because only in India do they know how to live the message of the Vedas.” I mean, you’re not going to find some sort of saint being born in the outer suburb area of London or in Detroit. It just doesn’t happen. It’s because this country is so special.

RS: Very sacred!

DG: Yeah!

RS: It’s very interesting, you said, as a little girl, you used to watch the Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur. I think perhaps somewhere there in that little girl’s heart, there was an admiration for the regalia they wore, because in later years, Swami has decorated you with a lot of gifts which have a very strong Rajasthani flavor.

DG: Maybe. I love color. Nothing is more boring. I don’t do grey, for example. You haven’t seen me in any. Or browns. Because it’s not my way. I love splashes of color. I’ve always been colorful when I came here. He did once give me eight beautiful sarees in a week.

RS: Prior to the sarees, you used to perform wearing your Western clothes and a dupatta?

  dana gillespie

Tell us about that.

DG: Well, He often would come backstage, just to see that the dupatta was pinned properly because you know, with all my movements, you can’t have this thing flying off, everything had to be and it still is covered. And rightly so, actually. But you know, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was quite capable of rushing out and forgetting that I should put a dupatta on, because I always feel in my soul that I’m a bit like a Labrador puppy that wags its tail, knocks things over, and is happy to talk to and see everyone. There’s nobody that I don’t love because I love everyone, everything, even if people don’t like me, I love them. So, that’s alright. So, it’s just this kind of happy state, I’ve always been a bit like that.

RS: And then came the sarees, all of a sudden - switch to sarees?

DG: Yes, I did. Well yeah, I was called… to that little room at the side by the old kitchen, not His interview room and there He gave me a stack of sarees. But one of them was the one I wore for the 80th birthday. It was about 5 years before this. He gave me this thing that weighs a tonnage. It’s heavenly — rainbows and gold. He put it into my hand and it was so heavy I dropped it. And our Lord was down on the floor, picked it up faster than I could get down and I move pretty fast. And I knew as He gave it to me that I should wear it for the 80th birthday. I just knew it. Sometimes, you know things.

RS: Intuitive knowing, it’s very clear.

DG: And I’m grateful when He gives me that because every time I thought I’ve known it, I’ve made some terrible blunder. But when I really take time to listen inside and I know it’s Him, then you can’t make a mistake. And it’s our duty as humans to tune our inner radio channel to the radio receiver, you could say, to the best channel, because when we’re in tune with Him, we then get the best programs back. It just makes sense.

RS: Very true! It does.

The experience of performing with His Students

RS: You have performed with some of the finest musicians around the world, but I understand Baba gave you an opportunity to perform with musicians from glorious Bharath, our local crop of musicians?

DG: Oh yeah, Prashanti boys.

RS: How was that experience?

  dana gillespie
  Performing in the Divine Presence, April 2009

DG: Fabulous. It was great. The first time was about nine years ago. And in fact, I was about to arrive with my own musicians and two days before with my ‘Mirrors of Love’ album.

And this was kind of Indian feel but sung in English. And my musicians said, “Oh, we’ve heard there’s an outbreak of plague. We’re not coming to India. Here’s your tickets back.” And I was totally stunned. So, I arrive and no musicians. But I knew I was meant to perform. Somehow I knew. And Swami comes straight over to me and says, “Well, where are your musicians?”

I said “Swami, I haven’t got any with me.” He said, “I will send boys.”

RS: Hmmm!

DG: So, boys were sent. The house where I stay, there’s a room at the back. And we started practicing there. And I had about six-seven boys and they had never played that style before. And everyone worked a whole lot better and I said, “You know, on stage, I’ll introduce you all by name.” And they went “No no no, we can’t. We’re Swami’s boys. No names, please.” And Swami came and sat in the room at the rehearsal. And the first thing He said, “You introduce each one by name.”

We used to perform in the Poornachandra Hall as well when it was empty. And I’d be sort of sitting facing them and they’d all be facing the curtain, as they were wise to the fact that Swami might have turned up. I didn’t know about that. And they’ll be playing away and suddenly all the music would just sort of peter out and stop and I’ll turn around and He’d be peeping through a crack in the curtain, sometimes He’d be peeping down there, sometimes just a little bit of hair would come through and then, they just sort of stopped. So, this was great experience.

One day, He said, “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m coming to the house on Thursday. Be ready.” And I said, “But, can I tell the boys?” “Yes, you tell the boys.”

So, the boys were told. And I had to tell the house because things were prepared, everything was polished, clean, and the silver was brought out and there was a table, laid out with, you know, about 15 plates of savory stuff and 15 joyous bowls of payasam, which I’m mad about.

And I’d been worried about how they were going to learn this in time, because this was absolutely not the style of music that they did. And in fact, Sai Prakash was on sitar and this was early days of his playing the sitar. He’d only been playing for two years. Swami used to make him play before the bhajans in the afternoon. And I’d been saying to the lady of the house where I stayed, I said, “You know, I do not know how this sitar player’s going to do. I mean, he’s really not on the board. It’s never going to work.” And this used to bother because the other instruments were somehow merging in.

Sai Prakash, a student of Baba who has accompanied Dana Gillespie on many
of her performances in Puttaparthi.

On the day when Swami came, one could feel His presence as He was coming in. We were just doing our songs and He walked in the door and as usual, everyone stops playing and there He is.

And He sits in the chair and the first thing He says to me is, “What do you think of this boy?” And of course, it was Sai Prakash. And I was thinking, “My God! What am I going to say?”

So I said, “Well, Swami, he’s really trying very hard. He’s practicing very hard” was all I could say. But I actually thought He’s going to be pretty out of tune on the day and I hoped nobody could hear him.

And then, we played the songs and He made comments. And actually after the performance of doing the ‘Mirrors of Love’, He actually said to me “Divine words” and that’s because I’d taken the words of the Sufis and put them to music. Anyway, after the practice, we all go into the outer room and there’s all the food laid out and Swami’s handing out the savory plates and I’m standing right behind Him and I’m thinking, “Oh, I don’t want any of those savory stuff. Cut that. I’d just love a bowl of that payasam!”

He just goes straight there, gives a little stir, smile, hands it to me and then goes back to the savory stuff.

So, you have to be careful what you think because you may get it. In this case, I was happy to get it.

Then, there was a row of chairs and Swami was sitting down. Suddenly, Sai Prakash, (the student playing sitar) went into the other room and came back with a little silver pot of cloves. And He looked up at Swami with such love in his face that it really stunned me. I have read and I know somebody had said that if you really want to see Sai Baba, you look at the love in everyone else’s face and there you can see the Lord.

And I looked in Sai Prakash’s face and I remember thinking at that time, “This look is so amazing! I don’t care if He hasn’t even got any strings on his sitar, it’s worth it for that look alone.” Actually, he was fabulous on the night and everyone played perfectly well.

But I learn in all these little signs, I feel as if God is taking me step by step to learn from little things, really, small things.

RS: And how important love is! It overcomes everything in the end, including musical imperfection.

DG: Yeah, but he landed up perfectly. But, this was a great experience. So, I’ve had the boys come and play with me for I think about six times.

The first time, they were very kind of… slightly stiff and uncomfortable. And I said “For goodness sake, musicians must look happy.” I even said it last year — “Whatever you do, boys, don’t sit there like blocks of stones. Look happy! Because nothing is more depressing for an audience to look at people who aren’t joyous with what they are doing.”

RS: I’m sure it was a great learning experience for them to work with you.

DG: Yeah, and for me to work with them too, especially at the 80th birthday. I’d told everyone, “Please put up a tent over the place where the musicians play” and they all said, “No no, it’s not going to rain.” I said, “I know it’s going to rain.” So, they put a shamiana on, but only for people who played were sitting down and I stood out in the rain, got rained on, and they sat under the cover.

Dana Gillespie performing at the Sri Sathya Sai Hill View Stadium during
Bhagawan's 80th Birthday Celebrations

But these boys… I’ve been honored to work with them - the dedication, the staying up late at nights - they’re working on their drama thing and they’re working on a load of other things. I learn from them too. It’s a joy, it’s an honour.

Her Music was Her Service to the Society

RS: Dana, you are so passionate about Swami and His teachings and your love, it just comes through in everything you say. And yet, for some of us, it’s very hard to make sense of the fact that you perform your music in places which are quite dark.

DG: Extremely dark!

RS: And where people are not generally contemplating upon God — in a club or a pub where you’re performing. How do you reconcile the two?

DG: Well, because I love everyone. I adore them. You know, I’m singing in places where, let’s face it, half of the audience might be completely drunk and a lot of them might be smoking cigarettes. But if you’re sorry for people that don’t have the joy of knowing about Him, the least I can do is uplift them a bit with blues music and if they’ve come out of that saying, “God! That was a really great evening!” even if they’ve had a few beers, then, job done as far as I’m concerned. And I’ve always liked Swami’s description about in the morning, when the sun rises over the water lily pond, not every flower is out. This is how I see the audience.

And they are as loved by Swami as anyone else. Once somebody said to Swami, “Ah! so and so person, he’s very close to You.”

Swami said, “No no. Nobody is more close to Me than anyone else is close to Me. Everything is equal.” And this is how we have to be, non-judgmental. You know, I’m a little funny with alcohol because I hate alcohol personally and I’ve always hated it even as a child. That’s the old Muslim of me coming out. So, I don’t quite know drunkards are going to react. I’m a bit nervous. But, if they’re enjoying the music, then, I’m giving them some pleasure.

So, I’ve sung in appalling places, but blues music is good music and it’s honest music and it’s spiritual music. So, if one man in there goes home and thinks, “I’ve had a great evening”, even if he’s not thinking of God, one day, he will and one day, his lotus blossom heart will be opened. So, I’m just entertaining him till he’s ready.

RS: When you’re performing, in your heart, are you thinking of Swami while doing it?

DG: Often, yes. Well, if I think that maybe it’s going to be a difficult audience, or it’s going to be… maybe it’s a huge outdoor beer festival, sometimes we have to do these things, because my musicians have to eat, we all have to earn our living and I think it might be tricky. What I usually do is I imagine Swami’s hair like a big umbrella over the crowd so there’s sort of a black cloud. So, it always goes better. My musicians aren’t devotees. But, I sing songs… a lot of the blues, it’s a bit like a ghazal. If you’re young, you can think it’s physical love you’re singing about. If you’re older, you realize it’s divine love. And blues is exactly the same.

80th Birthday Celebrations - Bhagawan seated on the dais at the Shanthi Vedika in the Hill View Stadium. The artists performed on a stage specially erected in the eastern side of the stadium.

RS: Very in your face, yes.

DG: Yes. Absolutely! So, they might think I’m singing about… it’s like I said that song I sang “Your love is true” a few days ago.

RS: The other day in Bhagawan’s presence.

DG: They’re all thinking I’m singing about some mere mortals, I guess. But I know who I’m singing about and I know who I’m writing about when I write. So, sometimes if I can get a line in like in “I sigh for you, I can get if I take one step to you, take 10 steps to me”, well, every devotee’s gonna know who I’m singing about, which is what I did in Singapore. There were devotees dotted around this audience. So, they know lines like “Why fear when I am here?” or “Love all serve all” might be slipped into a song or “Soham”, they would think I’m probably singing a word they’ve never heard of. It doesn’t matter. So, I have a good time and I know what’s in my heart.

RS: And when you sit to compose your music and write your songs, it’s always God you have in mind, Swami?

DG: I suppose it is but I don’t think of it as clinically as that. Sometimes, a melody might appear from… could be from a car horn or a cat meowing. Suddenly, I get an idea or I might hear a beat. Usually, I write when I’m in Italy. I spend a lot of time there, when I’m not in London. In London, my house is too full of telephones, there’s a television there, there’s electrical wiring. And it’s a very small house. Swami once said to me, “You live in a tiny little house”, He said, almost like that.

But, I’m aware that London is masses of static energy and I don’t write well. I go to Italy and I’ve got 180 degrees of sky and it’s peaceful. You get a germ of an idea and then you work around it. And I’m often thinking of… I don’t really think of it as God. It’s just a idea people might feel good listening to.

RS: Positive.

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  Ms. Dana Gillespie in the studios of Radio Sai, March 2011

DG: Positive, yes. Mostly I sing ‘up’ subjects and I just want people to feel good. That’s my duty on the planet and it should be everyone’s duty, you know, to make everyone else feel good.

But I had a mother who instilled these amazing things. My mother was full of wisdom, always saying pithy sayings like “Blessed is He that expecteth nothing, for He shall not be disappointed”, stuff from the Bible. She used to drive the car, taking me to school, singing hymns at the top of her voice.

RS: Hmm! And your mother did accompany you to see Sai Baba?

DG: Well, when I came back the first time, nearly 30 years ago, full of enthusiasm, I thought everybody…

RS: In the world should know about this.

DG: The good news! He’s here, you know, I must tell you about it. They said “You’re out of your head.” The only ones that believed me were my parents.

They said “We know you and if you’ve seen something, we believe you.” My parents had remarried. So I had two sets of parents, they were both great. My stepfather’s fantastic. My mother said… he wanted to go. So, I accompanied them. Within the first year, I came three times — once alone, with my father’s wife, and then my mother and stepfather.

My mother came after her husband's passing; he was 10 years older than her. She was in tears a lot. And Swami didn’t talk to her - I think she was too fragile emotionally. And I’ve noticed too that He wants us strong and He makes us strong from far off, sometimes. So, the second year after my stepfather died, my mother was stronger.

But then, we were called in and we had quite a few interviews together, and I often would sit very close so that I could interpret, because sometimes my mother wouldn’t know what ‘Abhishek’ meant or things like that. And she had quite bad arthritis which you know of course I had gotten and He stroked her hand.

With Bhagawan after her performance, December 2010  

I went, “Swami, I’ve got it too.” And He’d gently push my hand away and go, “I’m dealing with your mother now.” I mean, He’s got such a way. But He wants us to be happy. And my mother was happy at the end.

He said to her, “What’s your religion?” and she was quite surprised by this question. She said, “Church of England”. He immediately gave her an amazing crucifix. He was great with her.

"I don’t know what He is."

RS: You’ve known Swami for 30 years. You’ve performed for Him. You’ve integrated Him in your life, which for many, is very divergent from a spiritual path, because you’re in a business that involves glamour and money and entertainment. At the end of it all, how do you relate to Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba ?


DG: The more I come here or the more I think about him when I’m traveling or at home, I realize that I know absolutely nothing. I mean, I can talk till I’m blue in the face but I know nothing about Him.

And I now know that the emptier I am of having no desires and not wanting anything is by far the best way to be. I just have to try and hope that the things I do are the right things and that they are guided by Him. I don’t really want to mess up any more than I have done in my past. But we all learn probably the worst mistakes are our best learning curve.

I don’t know what He is. You know, many people who come here all say they feel His presence so much more when they go back home. I’m talking about the Westerners and probably a lot of Indians. And I think this is a good thing, because we have to realize the body is so unimportant, His body or any of our bodies. In the end, it’s unimportant. It’s the spirit and it’s His message of love. And this is the thing… there’s so much literature on Him and I’m always happy when the Sanathana Sarathi drops on my doorstep.


Often when I’m on a bus or a plane I suddenly catch the glimpse, I think I’ve seen Him over there. And then, I see, no, it’s just a bit of orange and black above you on an advertising board or something. But I see Him often but not like He looks. It’s not that, it’s not Him. But, He’s always in the back of my head and even as we are talking, or if I’m talking to anybody, I’ve got in the back of my head, “Swami, Swami, Swami.” It just keeps going on in the back of my head. And that’s the name. That is how I speak to Him – as ‘Swami’. Some people say ‘Baba’.

I just keep asking “Swami, please guide me. Is this the right thing to do?” If I get offered a job, and I look in my book, should I take this and I will think, “Is this ethically right? Swami, help me.” And I think, I hope that He gives me the right decisions.

RS: Emotionally and spiritually, you are so dependent upon Swami through the course of your daily activities. And at the same time, you say you still have no idea of who He is. How would you explain this rather irrational dependence to somebody who did not understand Baba?

DG: Well, I try. I’m no scientist, but I try and explain. And I go back to quantum physics that we’re all matter and energy. In other words, we are all one. So He is the same as us. Only He’s more than us. I know He’s always said if He appeared in His truly cosmic form, we’d all burn to pieces. And there’s this famous Sufi saint who said “If I told you what I really know, everyone would shrivel up and die.” And it’s true, we don’t need to know. We’re limited. We can’t… our brains aren’t big enough to take in that whole thing of what He is. So I just try and explain… for people who don’t know, I say He’s a spiritual Guru... It happens to women my age, and they might think, let me get on with my crazy life.”

But, if they’re interested, I try and explain about the second reincarnation, there’s a third one to come. And if I see them glazing over, they can’t take that information, I back off a bit. But, I try and talk to people as they can understand it.

Mohamed himself said, “Only speak to people at the level that they can understand.” And, you know, from a leaf to a snowflake being all over the world completely different, how amazing this is. We are all one. And when you know this, and when you know it, not just read it, but you actually know it, and it’s in your selves, you function differently. I mean, I don’t function through life as I used to 30 years ago. But I’m also aware that He could take this feeling away. Any moment, I could be slung back on that heap of non-understanding, the Sufis call it a state of contraction and expansion.

And I’m aware that pride will be a terrible downfall, pomposity the most awful one or thinking you know anything - terrible. These are for me the sins that would destroy me. And so, I could be back down there in a state of absolute non-grace. I don’t take anything for granted. If I feel this way is joyous, it’s because He’s given it. There’s nothing I’ve done. I don’t do anything. I just sit here and chat away.

RS: Dana Gillespie, it’s been such an honour to listen to you and have this conversation with you. Thank you for sparing us your time!

DG: Well, thank you. It’s been a great honour to sit and talk to you, Karuna.

RS: Thank you, Sairam.

DG: Sairam.




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