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NARAYANA SEVA BEFORE THE YEAR 2000Right from the time He was a little boy, serving others was a passion with Swami. After He declared His Avatarhood, service continued to be high on His priority list. In this way, Baba not only emphasised the importance of service but also affirmed that even for the Avatar, the first priority is service to mankind. Indeed, it should be so for all of us, which is why, times without number, Bhagavan Baba stresses that 'Service to man is service to God'. While others merely preach and teach, Swami leads by setting an example - not just a small or trivial example, but one of monumental proportions that will inspire for all times to come. The Seva Organisations, the chain of educational institutions, the different hospitals, the homes for the aged, and the various drinking water projects, all drive in the lesson of service. Shortly before the Seventy-fifth Birthday, Swami added yet another dimension to that lesson and gave it an expression, more eloquent than His own saying: "Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray."

LIVING ON HOPE : SCENES FROM AN INDIAN VILLAGEGandhi often remarked that India lives in the villages. Indeed. Not only does eighty percent of the country's population still live in the villages, but, more importantly, as Baba Himself stresses, it is the villages of India that have kept alive the country's ancient traditions and sustained Sathya, Dharma, Shanti, Prema, and Ahimsa. However, most of the politicians, businessmen, administrators, financiers, IT experts, etc., do not really bother about the country's villages. For people belonging to the upper strata, India is largely a conglomeration of advanced scientific laboratories, modern factories, business concerns, five-star hotels, thriving shopping centres, luxury tourist spots, etc., trying to crash into the Twenty-first century and take its place among the so-called 'Developed Countries'. All these symbols of modernism no doubt exist but behind this illusory façade lies hidden the real India, not visible to those who do not wish to see poverty and suffering.

LIVING ON HOPE : SCENES FROM AN INDIAN VILLAGEThe village representative of real India has no decent roads, hardly any school, not even an apology for a dispensary, no sanitary facilities worth the name, and no safe drinking water. The term village is just a name for a cluster of dilapidated huts in which are huddled people, a good fraction of whom exist not by eating food but on sheer hope, hope that God above would in some manner take care of them. Others may forget but God does not ever abandon, never.

LIVING ON HOPE : SCENES FROM AN INDIAN VILLAGE God who has come in human form in the present age chose to be born in one such village, possibly in order to draw attention to the importance of villages. While today many people leave the village of their birth to seek their fortune in big cities or even a different country, Baba stayed put in His native village and showed how, with determination and love, even a very backward village can be improved beyond recognition. Most people praise Swami to the skies but do precious little for rural uplift. And so, even as the Seventy-fifth Birthday was approaching and devotees were making great plans for a glittering and gala celebration, Bhagavan launched a service project that would direct attention to where it was needed.

LIVING ON HOPE : SCENES FROM AN INDIAN VILLAGEIt all happened rather suddenly, at least so it seemed. In October, 2000, the Yajna was duly performed and the Navarathri Festival was celebrated with the usual enthusiasm. After this came the Deepavali festival, and with it a dazzling fireworks display in the lawn facing the Poornachandra Hall. It was the 26th of October but even then one did not have much of an idea of what was going to follow pretty soon. Here and there, especially to students, Swami was dropping hints about village service, but no one knew what exactly Baba was going to do. But this much one was sure of; whatever it was, it would be breath-taking.

LIVING ON HOPE : SCENES FROM AN INDIAN VILLAGE And then, just a couple days before the month ended Baba lifted the veil. Every year on 18th November, there is a massive programme [Narayana Seva] to distribute food and clothes to the poor and the destitute, in the Hill View Stadium. This year, Swami decided to go the poor instead of calling them over. He asked the students to get organised and be prepared to distribute food and clothes in hundreds of surrounding villages and hamlets. Actually, the most difficult part of the planning was being quietly done behind the scenes by Baba Himself, unknown to most people, including the staff and the students of the Institute.
The background planning included
(1) the ground work for making over half a million food packets and laddus [a sweet dish], and
(2) the procurement of about a hundred thousand sarees and dhotis.

LIVING ON HOPE : SCENES FROM AN INDIAN VILLAGETwo days before action started, Swami came early for Darshan in the afternoon. All the teachers of the Institute were called into the Mandir Hall for an Interview, and in moving terms, Baba explained the genesis of the project. He said that despite so-called progress in urban areas, people in the villages lived in abject poverty. Recently, a mother, unable to feed her children, gave them poison instead, after which she ended her life by consuming poison herself. As Swami recalled this tragic incident, His eyes became misty and His voice trembled with emotion. He who was above all worldly feelings, was nevertheless moved. He showed how our hearts ought to melt, instead of being like stone. He then asked: "Are all of you prepared to go from village to village, from house to house, to distribute food and clothing? I want you to speak to people in a loving voice and make them all happy. You must become the instruments through which they experience Swami's Love. Are you ready?" In one voice the teachers replied, "Of course Swami!" Baba smiled sweetly and said, "Good! You have My Blessings. No matter how gigantic the task, you will succeed for I shall be with you all the way!" After this, Swami reeled out a long list of names of villages to be visited, and also the names of hamlets surrounding them, where tribals lived. Nobody has seen Swami go these places at least in recent decades, but He knew everything about them. When the teachers came out, no one had the slightest doubt about the execution. They all were beaming with confidence and full of spirit. A Silent Revolution was taking shape.

to be continued...

Volume : PDS / 02 Date : SEPT 15 2003