Interview by Usha Akella (2022)
Abdul Gani Ajeez Pathan (henceforth known as Gani Baba), is the great grandson of Abdul Baba, the Muslim disciple of Shirdi Baba who was closely associated with him for three decades. Gani Baba, (born on 01/04/1966) and his family generationally till today continue the one-pointed mission of the selfless seva tradition begun by Abdul Baba. Popularly known as Gani Baba the world over, he continues to serve Sai Baba much like his forefathers, doing worship at Sai Baba’s Samadhi, and spreading Sai Baba’s teachings. The ritualistic traditions which were followed by Abdul Baba and his descendants is a perfect example of Hindu Muslim Unity. The family offer prayers for the wellbeing of Baba's devotees at Abdul Baba's Samadhi and Abdul Baba's cottage in the Samadhi Mandir compound. Gani Baba's hallmark piety, selflessness and simplicity have informed his lifelong dedication to Shirdi Baba. Gani Baba can be reached by any of Sai Baba’s devotees at Abdul Baba’s cottage just outside Dwarakamai. He and his family till today continues to offer their prayers for the wellbeing of the society at Abdul Baba’s Samadhi and Shirdi Sai Baba’s Samadhi. Ghani Baba and his family members continue to spread Shri Shirdi Sai Baba’s holy message. In this interview, Gani Baba talks about his family's association with Shirdi Baba, reminiscing about his great grandfather Abdul Baba and shares many personal stories and anecdotes of his family's association with the two holypersonalities.
Usha Akella: Namaskaram Gani Baba, it is indeed very joyful to dedicate this interview to Abdul Baba and his family. Let us begin by you telling us of your relationship with Abdul Baba and share some details of your father.
Abdul Gani Ajeez Pathan (Gani Baba): My grandfather, Abdul Baba’s son Baba Abdul Pathan came to Shirdi from Nanded, banks of
Tapi river and settled down and continued to serve Sai Baba’s Samadhi, spreading his teachings and continued doing so till 1984. 14th December 1984 is the day when Baba left his physical body. His Samadhi continues to be situated on the Main Road in Shirdi.
Baba Abdul Pathan's wife’s name was Riyashad Bi. He had 5 sons and 2 daughters. Baba Abdul Pathan was spiritually very evolved and was involved in spreading Sai Baba’s message far and wide. He left his physical frame on 3rd November 1995.
Ajeez Baba was Baba Abdul Pathan’s 2nd son. His wife’s name was Bismillah Bi. He has 3 sons and 4 daughters. I am Abdul Gani Ajeez Pathan the second son of Ajeez Baba.
Aziz Baba, my father is the grandson of Abdul Baba and he was about 25 to 30 years old at the time of Abdul Baba's samadhi (death). He has observed and known Abdul Baba very closely. Abdul Baba used to tell him many things about Sai Baba. He used to say that, “Sai Baba is a very great saint, everything happens by his grace and blessings, and his Leela is limitless. Whoever worships him, Baba gives him darshan with that feeling, keep faith and keep your faith safe, Allah will give you a lot Our prayers will always be with you. “
Abdul Baba used to say many such things about Sai Baba, Aziz Baba used to serve in Nanded Grampanchayat, after completion of his service, after which he came to Shirdi and started living in Shirdi.
It was because of my father Aziz Baba that I became very close to Sai Baba and Abdul Baba. Abdul Baba used to talk to him about Sufism. My father used to tell us all these things. Sai Baba had a lot of influence in his life. Aziz Baba had also progressed a lot in spiritual life, the things that he told at that time, we still experience in our lives, and I became so close to Sai Baba only after listening to Sai Baba's miracles and pastimes. Sai Baba always makes us feel that he is with us at every step.
UA: What is the basic Abdul Baba biographical details we should know? Are there any less known personal details about Abdul Baba that you can share?
GB: Abdul Baba, was initially in Nanded, on the Banks of the Tapi River, he went to Shirdi in the year 1889 or 1899 when he was very young, just about 18 years old. In Nanded, he had a spiritual connection and served his guru, a Sufi saint Ameerudeen Baba. Sai Baba appeared in the dream to Ameerudeen Baba, He gave him two mangoes and asked him to send Abdul Baba to Shirdi to meet Baba. When he woke up from his sleep, he saw two mangoes in front of him. He realized that Baba must be a powerful personality. He related the dream to Abdul Baba. Abdul Baba got excited and wanted to meet Shirdi Sai Baba, so he left for Shirdi. Abdul Baba went to meet Sai Baba in Dwarkamai Mazjid, Baba asked him who he was, Abdul Baba introduced himself. Sai Baba said, “Oh my Black Crow has come!” And indicated that he should serve him henceforth. Abdul Baba stayed back in Shirdi doing the most menial tasks with no hesitation from sweeping the streets that Baba walked on to lighting the lamps and was the only one allowed to accompany Shirdi Baba to the Lendi gardens.
Initially, he used to beg for alms and began staying with Shirdi Baba. Abdul Baba started doing all the work like menial chores without any opposition, and assist Sai Baba. Abdul Baba considered himself to be a servant of Sai, just as Hanuman regraded himself in relation to Shri Rama. Even after Baba’s samadhi he continued living in Shirdi, doing all the work related to the Samadhi. He continued to do all the Samadhi related work till 1954. Abdul Baba gave up his mortal body in 1954 after which His mortal remains were laid to rest next to Sai Baba’s Samadhi in the same complex.
UA: What is your daily routine in Shirdi?
GB: Daily, me and my uncles follow a certain ritual which is going to Sai Baba’s Samadhi at 9.45 in the morning, first I go to Dwarkamai with flowers and perfume known as Athar, Daily prayers are conducted there. Then I go to Sai Baba’s Samadhi, the security removes the glass while the Poojari there cleans the Samadhi. Our family members apply Athar to Shirdi Baba’s Samadhi. A special
garment(chadar) is spread over Sai Baba’s Samadhi. Flowers are then decorated all over the Samadhi. Special prayers are then offered. This tradition has been followed by Abdul Baba and his descendants form the year 1918 till now. Helping to make Sai Baba’s message reach devotees, and praying for the welfare of devotees is part of my daily routine.
UA: How long have you lived in Shirdi? Do you hold any other job or is your life completely dedicated to Shirdi Baba and Abdul Baba?
GB: I have been in Shirdi since I was 10 years old. I don’t have any job. My life is dedicated in service to Shirdi Baba and Abdul Baba.
UA: Your great grandfather Abdul Baba was a blessed soul, his service to his Guru was ultimate and selfless and unquestioning. He lived in a horse stable for many years, he had no money or prosperity and was only inspired by Guru seva. How has he inspired your own life and defining your role in Shirdi three generations later?
GB: I have been brought up by my grandparents. They had been talking about Abdul Baba and his conversations and experiences with Sai Baba. Sai Baba used to tell Abdul Baba to avoid non-vegetarian food and to sleep less. He also asked Abdul Baba to not beg for food. Abdul Baba would get his food somehow. My father used to talk about Sai Baba and His greatness always but I was not inclined towards it when younger. I wanted to pursue B.Ed. and move ahead in life. My father advised me to ask Sai Baba’s permission, to which I reluctantly agreed. When I placed chits with YES and NO and I picked one, the answer was NO but being young and rationalistic, I ignored and decided to join B.Ed. The day before when I had to leave for Aurangabad, I got the news that the college was shut down. That made me realize that Sai Baba is no ordinary person. I have had many incidents in my life which inspired me to dedicate my life in service to Sai Baba and Abdul Baba.
UA: What are the changes you see in Shirdi? Why is Baba’s fame growing over the decades?
GB: It’s devotees’ experiences and prayers being answered that spread by word of mouth and His fame has been growing.
UA: What are the teachings of Shirdi Baba that inspire you specifically?
GB: Shirdi Baba’s Shraddha (devotion and faith) and Saburi (patience) inspired me.
UA: Can you share personal anecdotes of Baba’s leelas?
GB: I feel His blessings in every step as I am surrendered totally. I have seen people with so many personal problems who came to commit suicide but after Sai Baba’s darshan, they dropped the idea and everything got solved. One of the devotees had literally carried a rope in his bag.
UA: There is a mention about Sandalwood Urs in Sri Sai Satcharita chapter 6, which was celebrated in Shirdi on the auspicious occasion of Sri Ram Navami still celebrated in Shirdi. Can you elaborate and share your family’s personal involvement in this ritual?
GB: Shri Sai Sachcharitra Chapter 6 talks about Shri Sai Ram Navami Sandal Urs (Sandalwood festival). The Ram Navami celebrations were permitted by Saibaba. Sai Baba used this festival to unite his Hindu Muslim devotees, and this festival continues even today. During Ramnavami, a procession goes through the town of Shirdi. People of different religions and Abdul Baba’s family together celebrate this Sandal Urs. Till today on Shri Ram Navami, Sandal Urs starts from the hut of Haji Abdul Baba in the evening of Shri Sai Ram Navami. In the procession, all the devotees of Baba and members of Abdul Baba's family gather in the hut of Haji Abdul Baba, and from there the procession begins. A number of things are taken in procession with musical instruments in the whole village, then they are finally brought to the Dwarkamai Masjid where sandalwood is applied to Sai Baba’s photograph. The eldest person of the family along with the whole family recite Fatiha. And pray for peace of all mankind. Then it is taken to Shirdi Sai Baba’s Mandir. The prepared sandal paste is applied to the idol of Sai Baba, after that all the devotees take worship items to Sai Baba's Samadhi Mandir like Niyaz Malida sandalwood powder (Liquid of sandalwood), sheet of cloth, sheet of flowers, frankincense, incense sticks, and attar. There again the eldest person of Haji Abdul Baba's family and all Haji Abdul Baba's family members read Fateha on him and pray for the welfare of all mankind for peace for the whole world. Then sandal liquid (sandalwood powder paste) is applied on Sai Baba's Samadhi chadhars and flowers are laid on the samadhi and prasad offered. Thus, Sri Sai Ramnavami Sandal Urs which Sai Baba celebrated since the time of Baba is continued.
UA: Will your sons be able to continue in the service to Baba?
GB: Yes, my sons will continue. All the members of Abdul Baba's family live at the feet of Shri Sai Baba with great devotion and our next generations also are serving with great devotion even today. My three sons Firoz , Ejaz , Sameer and daughter Malika son-in-law Mazhar Khan my wife Salma and daughter-in-law Rumesha and Misba worship Baba with great devotion. Whenever there is a function or a marriage ceremony, all the members of the house give the first respect to Sai Baba and Haji Abdul Baba.If they want to do something new, my sons ask me, take Sai Baba's permission, only if Baba says yes, they will do something new, such is their faith and all the family members of Haji Abdul Baba believe in the blessings of Sai Baba. Abdul baba is and will be on the family and today our whole family lives in Shirdi with the blessings of Sai baba. Sai baba incarnated in Shirdi for the welfare of all mankind Baba has given his devotees the message of Shraddha Saburi and Sabka Malik Ek Hai and even today those who believe in Sai baba all over the world follow his thoughts They live their life by following the path shown by Sai Baba and by this they make their life successful and I believe that any human who follows the path shown by Sai Baba, his life will be successful.
UA: How did Baba convey this message?
GB: Whenever some decision has to be taken and there is doubt or confusion about taking any decision or any important decision has to be taken regarding marriage of children or admission, job or purchasing anything, I write two chits and place in front of Sai Baba's Samadhi, Dwarkamai Masjid, Abdul Baba's Samadhi or cottage, whatever question is asked, I pray that the correct answer should be given to that question. The two chits have Yes and No. After praying I pick up one chit and it has always been for our good. When we don't know how to move forward, then we have to be patient and remain silent and whatever answer comes, we get the right answer to every question asked till date. In this way, by asking a question to Baba, one gets the answer and he gives the right answer for us.
UA: Do you feel Abdul Baba has been remembered as much as he should, is the sansthan helping to keep his name alive? What more can be done?
GB: Yes, definitely and Samsthan helps and supports well.
UA: What can we learn from Abdul Baba’s life?
GB: Abdul Baba was with Him for 30 years. After that he lived on for 36 years. His faith and devotion itself are so inspiring especially when Sai Baba asked him not to ask for food. His life tells us that we need to just keep our faith and everything is taken care of.
UA: Do you feel the Hindu-Muslim unity that Baba stood for has been realized at least in Shirdi?
GB: Whoever follows Baba’s teachings not only in Shirdi but all over the world, live in harmony and peace.
UA: Please tell us about Abdul Baba’s notebook. It is one of the most important known documents in the Shirdi Baba saga, a testimonial by a direct disciple. What are the teachings in it?
GB: Sai Baba used to speak about everything from avatars to Adam and Eve to Abdul Baba. Abdul Baba used to make notes of it. Some pages are lost. Sai Baba had told Abdul Baba that reincarnation is there and that we are musafirs (travellers); to do whatever good we can while we are here, and that we should imbibe whatever good from all religions.