beauty, bliss and blessings
....of Sathya Sai in Chennai
By Prof. G. Venkataraman
Dear Reader, this is the last of the trio of articles covering Swami’s historic and memorable trip to Chennai in January 2007. We had the first and second article in March and April 2007 issues of H2H respectively [The links for which are given below to refresh your memory]. In the present cover story we offer you a very comprehensive coverage of the aspects of the Divine Visit not dealt with in the previous instalments, and also more interestingly, an 'insider's view' of Swami's 13-day stay in Sundaram. Over to Prof. Venkataraman:
If you recall, in the first article, I concentrated mainly on the Citizens’ Conclave arranged to express the collective gratitude of the millions who were saved by Swami’s intervention in Chennai’s acute drinking water crisis that was becoming endemic. Since then, two things have happened that merit attention. Firstly, following the request from the Tamil Nadu Government, Swami has ordered that the Tamil Nadu section of the Sai Ganga Canal also be restored fully, so that there is no loss of water as it flows from the zero point [at the TN-Andhra border], to the Poondi Reservoir.
Secondly, water now regularly flows from the Kandaleru Reservoir to Poondi, which means that the citizens of Chennai do not have to worry about drinking water. In fact, this year, while many cities across the country have been facing drinking water shortages [Bangalore, for example], in Chennai they say they get water every single day - this after years of facing nothing but dry taps! If this is not Swami’s Grace, what else is it? Think about it! I do hope that those who were born in Chennai but now live elsewhere, would, when they visit their hometown next, take a minute off to thank Swami, when they drink water.
Bhagavan presiding over the Chennai Citizens' Conclave - a galaxy of leaders with the single Supreme Unifying Force,
at the centre. To read the complete story of this event again, please click here
With that intro, let me now get back to the task on hand, which is to deal with Swami’s visit to Chennai in January 2007. Before I proceed further, I must mention two pertinent facts.
The first is that there is an “official” account of this trip published by the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust of Tamil Nadu. Entitled Digvijayam, this book offers not only a diary of the Divine Visit but also gives a lot of background information, related not only to Swami’s long association with Madras/Chennai, but also concerning the preparations made for the Yagna, the Yagna itself, and the impact the visit has made.
The second point I wish to make is that though I carried a couple of notebooks in my pocket to make on-the-spot notes during the visit, I must sadly confess that I have misplaced them! Thus my recall is essentially from my Hard Disc, which means that my account would be rather personal and impressionistic; in a way, that might not be too bad, and, together with Digvijayam, I am sure readers can get an overall and comprehensive view. With that preamble, padded duly with appropriate caveats, let me get down to business.
Early Madras Memoirs
Numerous are the visits made by Swami to Chennai, starting way back, in the late forties I understand, maybe even a bit earlier. You might recall that till Independence and indeed for sometime thereafter, Madras, as Chennai was then known, was the capital of the composite Province Madras.
This Province, a relic of the British Raj spanned territories that covered many ethnic regions – Tamil-speaking region, Telugu-speaking region, Malayalam-speaking region, Kannada-speaking regions, plus a few where certain dialects were spoken. Madras of those days was therefore a very cosmopolitan city, a fact that lent it a very unique character.
Swami must have gone to Madras in those days for a number of reasons, ranging from the call of devotees [always a prime concern for Him] to sorting out administrative matters relating to the Ashram, etc. We must remember that Anantapur District which is now a part of Andhra Pradesh was then a part of Madras Presidency, which meant that for administrative clearances of certain kinds, a trip to Madras was necessary.
Many are the stories of those times that have filtered down to these days, some narrated by Swami Himself in His lighter moods, some by devotees who have witnessed those historic events and so on. I do hope some historically-minded person would come forward to systematically chronicle those wonderful stories. For my part, I cannot forget a couple of stories that I have personally heard Swami narrate.
Swami’s Exhilarating Drive to Madras
One of these relates to Swami driving down to Madras in a Morris Minor [if I can recall]. Yes, in those days, Swami was often His own driver! The story of how He got a driving licence when He was younger than the statutory age is another story!
Swami would get into the car and ask late Mr. Seshagiri Rao to go along with Him. If I am not mistaken, Mr. Rao is the father of the dentist Dr. Padmanabhan, well-known in Bangalore, especially because he always walks behind Swami during Darshans. I believe, Mr. Seshagiri Rao used to preside over the formal Poojas in the Mandir in those early times.
As Swami tells it, the two, Bhagavan and Mr. Rao, would generally leave in the evening so that they could be in Madras city early next morning, leaving the day free for work. Swami would recall, with a huge twinkle in His eyes, that He was a fast driver! [Not for Him the caveat about driving slowly! But then He is different, is He not?!]
Fast driving may be nice to watch from the safety of the sideline but to be actually in a car that travels fast on roads that often were so only in name and that too at night? Mr. Seshagiri Rao, Swami says, did not relish that one bit – one can understand why! Mr. Rao would simply close his eyes and go on chanting Sai Ram, until Swami taps Mr. Rao and says, “Open your eyes; we are in Madras!”
For Mr. Rao, that was when the nightmarish dream would end! The way Swami would regale boys with this story; it was a real WOW! How can one who has heard and seen all this actually believe that Swami is God? He is so different from what we all normally believe God to be – a super Cop, always watching our mistakes, and recording it all in notebook so that punishment could be given at the appropriate time! But that is a part of the Leela of the Avatar, trapping us all in web of Maya!
Swami says God is not a Punishing God, adding, “You are God; would you ever punish yourself, unless of course you have gone mad?” God is Love and He simply spreads Love. Through such wonderful examples of Divine intimacy, the Lord teaches us that everyone can easily rise to the level of the Divine. He says: “Just smile and spread happiness without sweating over it. By being friendly and helpful to all seeing God in all, you raise yourself to the level of God. God is no strange object or entity; He is the best friend; be the best friend for all and God you become during those moments at least. Love all without exception, and to the level of God you rise during those moments. Fill all with joy, and earn the Grace of God.”
Mistaken for a Film Star
Another Madras story that Swami sometimes tells is how during one visit, His host took Him in a car to Marina Beach. It was famous then and has still kept some allure, though its pristine beauty has been scarred with statues of all sorts – sculptural monstrosities would be a better phrase.
There was the car parked on the Marina Beach Road, with Swami sitting inside. In those days, Swami used to chew paan or beetle leaves, that made His lips look red; some of you might recall old photos in which the lips look redder than they ought to; that was because of betel leaf chewing. Swami has narrated a wonderful story about how He gave up this chewing habit -but that story is not for now.
I should in passing mention that chewing betel leaves is not a bad habit provided one does not chew tobacco along with it. In fact, calcium which is spread on the betel leaf is good for the body and the leaf itself is a good digestive which is why betel leaf used to be ceremonially offered in the old days after a big meal, especially after marriage lunches and dinners. Also, betel leaf chewing was mandatory for young mothers in the pre and post-natal periods by way of providing calcium supplement.
Back to my story of Swami on Marina Beach. Swami says shortly before He arrived in Madras, there was some kind of a disaster in the Province, maybe a big flood [I don’t recall], and by way of collecting donations, many film stars would come to the Beach carrying a box, to make collections. Movie stars are always an attraction, and naturally big crowds gathered on the beach to see these glamorous heroines of the tinsel world going about making collection. One small group of boys saw Swami’s car and looking inside, they say a person with a big crown of hair and red lips.
I am not sure, but perhaps Swami was also wearing sun-glasses to avoid the glare from the beach sands. So it did not take long for the crowd to mistake Swami for a celebrated actress, and soon a big crowd surrounded the car, shouting and whatnot, asking the star to come out! It was getting to be a nuisance and to ward it off, the local host, Transport Commissioner Hanumantha Rao, if I am not mistaken – he always figured prominently in many of Swami’s stories – came out of the car to tell the young admirers of film stars that the one inside was not a movie star but the One who created the real stars!
That was not exactly the way Hanumantha Rao put it, but he did say something about the identity of the person in the car, that He was Sri Sathya Sai Baba and not a movie star. One reason why I am mentioning this story is that on that day, people went to see movie stars and stumbled on Swami. These days, people come in tens of thousands to have Darshan of Swami and see movie stars queuing up to get the blessings of that very same Swami!
After a Decade, Sai in Chennai Again
Back to the main stream of my narration. Yes, in the old days Swami visited Chennai frequently but when Swami went this time in 2007, it had been many years since His last visit. A huge hunger for catching even a glimpse had built up and the rest of the narration will revolve largely around how that hunger manifested and how the Lord appeased that hunger. As I look back, there are three dominant memories that linger – the manner in which Swami used the opportunity to be intimate with the lucky and blessed group of students He had taken with Him, the Grace that He showered by visiting the houses of devotees, especially those who had been with Him from a long time ago, and the incredible spectacle of the Nara-Narayana relationship that was seen during the Chennai visit. All these I shall try and top off with a footnotes, hopefully spicy enough to make the reader happy!
If there is something extraordinary and unique about the Sathya Sai Avatar, it is His longstanding relationship with His students. Prior to 1968 [which was when the first college was established by Swami], the Lord gave Himself up almost fulltime to His devotees; that monopoly ended once the colleges started springing up. Especially after the Brindavan Arts and Science College came up in 1969, students began to get the kind of intimacy few others received; it was just unbelievable.
It is said that when the Lord came as Sri Rama, the Devas (divine beings) who hungered to be with Him during His incarnation, were born as Vanaras [monkeys]. Likewise, when He came as Lord Sri Krishna, the Gopalas were supposed to be Rishis (sages) reborn because of Divine Grace. Maybe I am wrong but one thing is for sure; whichever group is most privileged, it is certainly not made up of ordinary people, though to mortal eyes it might seem that way.
Incidentally, once some years ago a student told Swami during a visit to Kodaikanal, “Swami it must be that either we or our parents must have accumulated a lot of spiritual merit for us to enjoy such amazing proximity to You.” Swami looked at that boy and replied, “You are not here because of the merit earned either by you or your forefathers. That would not have earned for you what you are now getting. This proximity is all simply the result of My Grace!”
Yes, as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa once said, “God is simply unfathomable. He would shower His Grace on someone we all think is most undeserving while someone else whom we believe ought to have received it is apparently ignored!” I mention this in passing because we all had better learn how to count our blessings and try to deserve them at least post facto.
On this trip, Swami took a small band of students and a couple of old students, apart from Mr. Giri, Mr. Anil Kumar and myself [I am sure you can figure out how I got in – obviously, it was unmerited Grace and nothing else! I am sure you are complaining but please direct your complaints to the right quarter!] Superficially, the criteria for selection were the same as Swami uses when He picks boys for His Kodai trips. The boys must be smart; must be able to sing and/or speak fluently as well as with conviction before large audiences; be shining representatives of His University; be exemplars of humility, discipline and decorum, etc. Obviously, there are a very large number of students who meet the norms but as always, it is only a few who win the jackpot. But Swami never leaves anyone out - everyone gets his chance sometime, in some manner or the other that is something one should never forget.
This visit was obviously very different from a regular Kodai trip, which is invariably during vacation time; by contrast this one was during the middle of a Semester, and that meant that Swami could not take a big group. Also, since He was staying in Sundaram, which is not designed to accommodate large groups, the size of the party had necessarily to be restricted.
I recall though many years ago, when Swami went to Madras as it was known then, the entire MBA class went there. The students were accommodated in a house elsewhere, and they went there to attend a course of lectures by experts on management and finance; in other words, the students went to Madras for a training course. This time, they went with Swami and formed a legitimate part of His group.
Why did Swami take a select few? Was He not going there to be present at the Yagna? That of course was part of the reason for His trip but not the only reason. Swami is always thinking of students and He never misses an opportunity to be with them, to help them, to guide them, to advise them and to groom them. That is what makes being a Sai student such a rare privilege and sign of Divine Grace. On this occasion, Swami took a select few not only to show them off as a proud mother would – and we should never forget that though He is the Avatar, He is also a Proud Divine Mother, when it comes to students! In fact, we in the party and indeed the city itself got a stunning demo of this when on 21st January, suddenly towards the end of His Divine Discourse during the Chennai Citizens’ Conclave, Swami suddenly said, “Hey Boys, where are you?” or something to that effect! There He was in a formal public gathering that had assembled to express gratitude to Him but there He was feeling more proud of His students than about providing water to millions!
Starting the Day with Love
It is no surprise then that almost every day started in some manner or the other around the students, even as most also days ended with students. Everything happened rather casually, informally and without any set routine, schedule or script. Our typical day would go like this: We would all be ready quite early – there was no telling when Swami would come out. While the students would be in their quarters somewhere upstairs – I never got to see it – Mr. Giri and myself who were lodged downstairs near the entrance, would get ready and move to the room just outside which served somewhat like a reception hall, where only about two or three were allowed the privilege of gathering. Naturally, they were persons who were in charge of the Yagna on the one hand and Swami’s visit in general on the other. All the others, however big they were, had to wait outside – and this applied to movie stars, cricket star, and judges, whether they served in the High Court or the Supreme Court! This alone ought to give an indication of what a great responsibility it is to receive Swami’s Grace; the question which constantly nags me is: “What should we do to justify all this?”
OK, let me carry on; there we would be some upstairs and some downstairs, all of us eagerly waiting for the crucial signal. Also waiting would be a small group of youth specially selected to serve in the dining room, and in Sundaram in general. Suddenly the signal would be received: Swami has come out. Silently, all of us downstairs would go up, and even as we did so, we would see students going into the dining room and taking position, shall I say? The last to enter would be the so-called elders, just about half a dozen of us, including those who had come from outside. The room was small, not permitting a large crowd, which was a blessing in a certain sense since a small gathering made it so much easier to have an air of intimacy.
Swami would be seated on His chair in front of a table that served as His dining table. In front of the table and on either side of the room and close to the two walls would be planks meant for seating people who be eating with Swami. And close to the wall facing Swami’s table was a small table meant for seating about four or five elders. The number of planks provided on the floor were not enough for all the students. So they divided themselves into two batches, taking turns. While one batch would sit with Swami for breakfast, the other batch would sit for lunch and so on; the batch opting out would eat separately somewhere near the kitchen.
The proceedings would start typically with someone standing near Swami trying to get Him interested in the newspapers stacked up on one side of His table. There was no shortage of news concerning Swami but Swami generally showed little interest. Thus, when it looked like the newspapers would have to be set aside, the signal would go to bring the breakfast items. There were two teams deputed to do the serving; one team took care of Swami while the other team attended to all the rest in the room. The items would be brought one by one, and placed before Swami in His table. Usually, it was Satyajit who attended on Swami but at times, Mr. V Srinivasan who always was in respectful attendance would stand in for Satyajit if the latter was otherwise preoccupied. It must be said that Satyajit had the heaviest load, though the most coveted one.
While Swami was being served, service to all the rest of us also would commence; when enough had been served, a small signal from Swami and the boys would lead the Brahmaarpanam chant. After that, the eating would commence. Everyone would eat in silence, as is the tradition but sometime during the middle, even as Swami is checking with those serving Him about some item or the other, the evergreen Anil Kumar (AK) would make the first bold move to pitch in by strongly advocating to Swami some breakfast item or the other. It takes some guts to do that; I, for one, would never dare to do that, but then AK had the Divine license!
Ever Effervescent Anil Kumar
In narrating the story of the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar, one can miss mentioning the name of anyone but not that of Anil Kumar (AK). How beautifully, tactfully, colourfully and resourcefully he manages situations, no matter what they be! At times it might seem as if Swami is withdrawn; AK alone would be able to break the ice.
At times, Swami might be annoyed with some breach of discipline and even as we would be fearing the worst, AK would skilfully save the day by bringing up some subject that would ‘distract’ Swami’s attention and make Him smile again. On other occasions, with a few strategic moves, AK would brilliantly shift Swami into a story-telling mood, recalling great events of the past.
I have had the honour and pleasure of watching AK at close quarters on many occasions, adjusting to the changing moods of Swami with unbelievable speed, injecting life and gaiety whenever required, as only he can. Blessed are those who are able to share intimacy with the Lord, but among all these, AK is not only special but uniquely so.
Others might fail to get mention in many versions of the Sai Bhagavatham that undoubtedly will be treasured in the centuries to come, but of one thing I am absolutely sure. No version dare miss mentioning him; I would go so far as to say that any Sai Bhagavatham without mention of AK would be incomplete!
Meanwhile, the boys who had yielded place to eat separately downstairs would hurry to Swami’s presence, crowding into the already crowded room. That’s when Swami would start asking questions about who ate what and how much for breakfast. This was always a lively session since Swami would make humorous comments all the way. He would then turn to the elders, sparing most but never missing AK.
Used as he was to this routine from so many trips, AK would be at his unabashed best, praising many a dish and making a full disclosure of what all he ate. I am tempted to recall here my experience while visiting Delhi and Bombay in 1999 as a member of Swami’s party, with AK as my unforgettable roommate. In Delhi, Swami stayed with the Kulwant Rai family [yes, the same Kulwant Rai after whom the Sai Kulwant Hall is named]. At breakfast time we would all be seated around the same table, with Swami of course at the head of the table.
He would finish His Divine nibbling very quickly and then go round the table for a chat - a kind of roving Interview! He would walk towards where AK and myself were seated and standing behind both of us, would make enquiries about what he ate and what he did not.
AK, of course, was the veteran of many such trips and he would therefore carefully skip many items in the first round of serving, to be in readiness when Swami came around. And sure enough Swami, like a concerned mother, would start ordering various items to be served to AK. Fortunately, Swami would be so focussed on AK and that would mercifully spare me!
I am a poor eater and simply cannot face up to overeating. AK, on the other hand, would be ready with a sufficiently empty stomach, to deal with this kind of situation, taking great care to make Swami very happy by accepting everything that was served to him on specific Divine command. It was a command performance really, most entertaining in view of the lively dialogue between Swami and AK, and gave all of such wonderful memories and stories to tell for years! God knows whom to choose for what part in His Divine Drama!
First Fortunate Visitors
Even as the cross examination about the breakfast menu and its quality wound its way to an end, the people in charge of the day’s program would slowly inch towards Swami, trying to catch His eye. Recognising the anxiety of these people, Swami would gently turn to them and give them a hearing. While Mr. Ramani [the State President] and Mr. G.K. Raman [Convenor of the Sri Sathya Sai Trust of TN] would brief Swami about the program planned at the Yagna site, others would try to check with Bhagavan what His plans were regarding visits to the houses of devotees. Needless to say there was a long list of applications, with some making their prayers in person at every opportunity that presented itself. Soon things would get sorted out and the day would start unfolding itself.
The day’s program having been given some shape, Swami would withdraw briefly to His room only to reappear a little later and come down. He would then go out through the door to the outside and that is when the day’s events would formally commence. Typically, some VIP or the other would be waiting, often with his family, right on the veranda facing the public area. There were a whole string of VIPs who got a precious minute of Divine attention, which, I am sure meant for them a lifetime of Grace. One celebrity who so came seeking Divine blessings was Cricket’s Master Blaster, Sachin Tendulkar. He showed up one day in Sundaram and was of course duly blessed. What was interesting was that Sachin, a favourite of cricket fans in all continents, extended to Swami a box full of cricket balls asking Bhagavan to bless. There were rumours that these were the balls to be used in a forthcoming matching between India and a powerful rival! I cannot vouch for the story but this much I can say; as always, Sachin’s visit was big news!
Spellbinding Sundaram Darshans
A few words now about Darshan in Sundaram premises. When the Yagna was planned, it was assumed that everyone would make a beeline to the Yagna site and seek Swami’s Darshan only there; on this basis, minimal arrangements were made for Darshan at Sundaram itself. This is a reasonable assumption and one cannot fault the organisers for this. For example, in the old days, the Birthdays would invariably be celebrated in the Hill View Stadium; that was where Darshan would be granted and the Discourse delivered. Nevertheless, a handful, would gather in the Mandir, waiting for Him to give Darshan there, which of course He always did. Based on this historical experience [and other similar ones], it was expected that attendance at Sundaram would be rather small. So it seemed for a day or two but soon devotees had their own plans.
Big crowds began to gather, and some barriers and crowd control measures were put in place. Even so, it seemed that Swami would at best just bless them as He got into His car before driving away. Something like that happened maybe once or twice but soon, Swami being Swami, decided to give an extended Darshan in Sundaram itself.
It might have been January so-called wintertime but Chennai is just about 13 degrees north of the Equator, and every season is hot, especially around 10 o’clock in the morning. So quickly a shamiana was put up offering protection to devotees from the heat. However, the story is not so simple as that. What really happened was that one day [before the shamiana came up] when Swami gave a leisurely Darshan, the boys who were with Him quickly produced an umbrella and held it above His head to prevent the sunlight beating down. Swami instantly reacted, a bit testily, one must add.
Later the boys told us that Swami took them to task for offering Him an umbrella when the devotees were being roasted by the Sun! Word quickly got round and in a jiffy, shamianas sprang up everywhere, for the devotees, for the VIP devotees, and of course there was a covered space for Swami also so that He could sit and listen to Bhajans. Having “captured” the Lord and “bound” Him with Bhajans, the Sundaram crowd was no doubt in ecstasy but I am sure the Yagna crowd [which surely must have got the news via cell phones] must have become upset! There is no end to the Leelas, even if they are of a different variety compared to what one saw in earlier days.
In recalling the Darshans including extended ones in the Sundaram premises, I must not omit to mention one important feature, especially because it highlights the wonderful relationship that the Lord has with His devotees. Once it became known that Sundaram too was a venue for Darshan, the crowds quickly grew to the point where they spilled over to the road outside, packing both sides for almost a kilometre I would say. I thought these poor people would at best get a fleeting glimpse as Swami’s car sped away to wherever it was Swami was going. But then, has not Swami said, “Love My uncertainly”? Thus, soon we saw Swami going out into the road, even as the security people were tearing their hair. Be that as it may Swami was very happy, as of course were the devotees cramming the road outside.
It would need a writer far more gifted than me to capture the wonderful nuances of those roadside Darshans! Does one go into raptures describing the joy the Lord felt in being so close the devotees, or does one plunge into a poetic recall of the momentary bliss that devotees etched into their memories to last a lifetime? I simply cannot do either, but what my limitations prevent me from doing, the camera has mercifully caught for your and posterity’s pleasure.
We offer a selection of the photos taken during such “roadside Darshan” and what amazing scenes they portray! A boy in the crowd being given a chain, a policeman on duty being given vibhuti, people going into raptures just because Swami looked at them for just a fraction of a second, an old woman whose only possessions seem to be a stick and an aluminium “tiffin box” gazing at Swami – their faces tell all. With due apologies to all the great poets of the world, the digital camera has made many of them redundant!
Blessings Out of the Blue
Aren’t these series of pictures of Swami’s picking a boy out of the blue from the roadside and blessing him profusely fabulous! Actually, we did not know anything about this boy, who he is, from where does he come, etc. But interestingly, now we know, thanks to the Cover Story on the “Prema Jyothi” Exhibition that we had in the previous issue of H2H.
Reading the cover story of the September 1st issue of H2H where we had mentioned about this incident and also illustrated it with the picture of the panel from the Exhibition that carried this series of pictures, to our surprise, the father of this boy, one Mr. K Kalyanaraman from Chennai wrote to us sharing the experience of that wonderful day, and this is what he writes:
“On 26th January 2007, I, along with my wife and daughter, (Jaya and Rohini respectively) and son, Saiprasaad, were standing from 7.00 am on the road next to Sundaram. Swami came out around 10.10 and came straight onto the road. People flocked around Him and He could not come further. We were standing beside the yellow line as directed by the sevadal volunteer. Later, Swami turned and went inside Sundaram campus. We felt sad as we could not get a good glimpse of Him in spite of our long wait. Now, the crowd who had His darshan slowly fizzled out, and we moved further and now had an opportunity to stand near the gate. Having finished His darshan rounds, Swami was now enjoying the Bhajans sitting on the dais. Nobody expected Him to go for Darshan rounds again, but He did!
Suddenly He came out and the crowd again flocked. But this time, we were near the gate and hence we had His darshan at close quarters. I was holding my son on the hips. As Swami came near, He started staring at me for quite some time. I instantly burst into tears. I was literally weeping aloud. The Lord now waved His hand and beckoned my seven year old son to Him. He lovingly spoke few words to Saiprasaad in Tamil, and then with a gentle motion of His hand materialized a gold chain. It had in it a Coral Ganesha Dollar and Swami now with a lot of love and affection, slipped this priceless gift onto his neck and then inserted it with care into his shirt. And finally was a beautiful smile and hand raised in blessing. What a moment! I have no words to explain the feeling.
Even today, we are all thrilled, excited and expecting Swami to guide us further in our life. We have absolutely no words to express His Divine Love.”
I should, of course, not forget the huge crowds that thronged the road that Swami travelled by every day on His way to the Yagna site. His routine was most uncertain and unpredictable but that did not deter the devotees; they stood firm and waited long hours just to catch a glimpse. That spoke volumes about the hunger of the devotees who are really starved for Divinity. For people like me so used to the sight of the Lord, these scenes were a strong lesson of how priceless is the gift and blessing that we receive every day and take so much for granted here in Prashanti.
A Sight for Gods
Recounting the mesmerising memories of these ‘Darshan on wheels’ as Sai moved on the roads of Chennai, Sri Shashank Shah, a student who was blessed to be part of the Divine entourage, says,
“On the road outside Sundaram where Bhagavan used to move around and give Darshan and the roads leading to the Yaga Shala at Thiruvanmiyur, there were unprecedented crowds chanting “Sai Ram Sai Ram” which almost echoed all through the city of Chennai. It would take the convoy almost 15 minutes to reach the final lap of 1 km leading to the Yaga Shala. On either side of the road, thousands of devotees – young and old, the physically challenged, women with infants in their hands, all trying to strain their necks for one glimpse of Bhagavan as He passed in His car. They would feel so sanctified, with tears of joy in their eyes after having that one single glimpse. It was a sight for the Gods to watch. While at Tirupati and other pilgrimage places, the devotees stand in long lines to reach the Lord in the sanctum sanctorum, here we had the Lord of the Kali Age – the Avatar Himself, going in the midst of the long line of devotees giving them His Darshan and fulfilling their lives… On seeing these overwhelming sights of the devotees’ devotion and longing for their Lord, we realised the greatest blessing that we, the students of Bhagavan have been receiving in the form of the Divine Motherly Love that Bhagavan has been tirelessly showering on us for the last four decades.”
Fortunate Few Receive Swami at Home
One other aspect of the trip that I should not forget to mention is the visits that Swami made to the houses of a few select devotees. There were, as is to be expected, a long list of requests, but only a few got the privilege. This does not mean that God showered His Grace on only those people; far from it. We would all do well to count the innumerable blessings that each of us without exception receives in many ways. The problem is that we often fail to recognise what we receive, even it is very precious. For example, I have slipped in the bathroom many, many times, but managed not to fall and smash my head, or break my hips, hands etc. Was it due to any smartness on my part? Not at all. It was the invisible hand of the ever-present Lord that saved me.
But how often do I recall and thank Him? Similarly, I have narrowly missed being hit by moving vehicles on the road, all over the place. Invariably, someone or the other, often someone I did not know, would warn me or push me even. Was it just luck or something deeper? Do I have to tell you? I am mentioning all this because people tend to “rank” devotees using various arbitrary yardsticks, saying ‘so and so’ is close to Swami and receives plenty of Grace. All of us do; only, we do not bother to recognise it.
Every house visit of Swami is not only a sign of Divine Grace but also an expression of Pure Love, which only He can shower. I saw plenty of this in the Delhi visit, when Swami would visit three or four houses one after the other, having tea in some and dinner in others! Imagine that, so many meals in one short spell of time; and believe me after all that tiring outing, when He returned to the house where He was staying, He had to please the hostess by allowing her to serve dinner so that she does not feel she has been denied Grace! I am sure even gifted sages like Valmiki and Vyasa would be stumped trying to describe this unique Kali Yuga style of the Avatar!
Serenading Sweet Sai
Almost everywhere Swami went, He took all of us too, although almost invariably we just melted into the background, unless instructed otherwise. This was because visits were supposed to be private, by and large, that is. And yet, one could never know when we would be summoned to be close! Thus, the music boys, and there were a few of them, made sure they always had their instruments like harmonium etc., wherever they went like Mary’s little lambs! One admired the boys for their uncompromising devotion in being ever ready. I mean imagine running around carrying a fairly big harmonium from place to place, a whole set of percussion instruments, and a big guitar!
As it turned out, the boys were not called upon to sing in any devotees’ houses during this trip but since that has happened for example in Kodai, the boys had every reason to be ready; over here, we try to take seriously Swami’s injunction: Love My Uncertainty. I can’t say we have quite learnt to love the uncertainty – sometimes it can be very difficult to (!) – but we do try and make sure we are not always caught by surprise. However, I do recall Swami asking the boys to sing once or twice at the Yagna venue.
When it comes to performances by His boys, especially musical performances, Swami can be very demanding. On this occasion, I think the word went out that He would like an improved performance and that made the boys get immersed in intense practice.
They might not have got enough chances, but they certainly worked very hard, practicing all the time, taking advantage of every free minute they could get. I have seen the same happen in Kodai and this is one indication of how deeply involved the students are in trying to please Swami.
While Swami might demand the best of performances, He is at the same time very concerned and protective of His students. He makes sure that they get looked after wherever He goes. Added to this, He gave, as He invariably does when He takes students to Kodai, each student hefty “pocket money” to go shopping, making sure locals would take them to the right spot for making the purchases. On one occasion, when we were headed to the house of a devotee in Mylapore, I found we were taking a rather long road that took us all along the beach.
If I remember correctly, that day was 26th January, celebrated as Republic Day. Earlier that morning there was the regular ceremonial parade, procession of floats, etc on the Marina. However, by the time we were taken for a drive along the Marina [it was around 11 AM or so], the roads had been cleared and also there was very little traffic. Thus, all of us were able to enjoy a good look of the beach and the sea. I think Swami deliberately selected this route – He knows the roads of Madras like the back of His palm – so that the boys get a good glimpse of the famous beach.
By the way I am told – I am not able to confirm this but this is in keeping with Swami’s style – many decades ago, when Swami first began to drive cars, He took Mother Easwaramma to Madras just to let her have a glimpse of the sea. I believe she was simply stunned by the sight. No wonder. For a person who has grown up for years only hearing about the sea but never seen it, the first look – the broad sweep, the majestic shoreline, the waves crashing on the shoreline, the foam – all these must have seemed awesome and yet beautiful.
Returning to the house visits I can only offer a few random notes. When we went to the house of Mr. Venu Srinivasan [Chairman and Managing Director of TVS Motor Company] we were all swept away by the wonderful ambience. I am sure Mrs. Mallika Srinivasan, a prominent figure in the business world herself, must have had a lot to do with it. As we entered, the first thing that impressed me immensely right away was the wonderful musical atmosphere that filled the house.
The music was not coming from a recording but from a leading singer, Bombay Jayashree, accompanied by two young disciples. The songs she sang were not only appropriate but mellifluous, and I for one felt quite uplifted. One of the songs sung was a Kannada song composed by Saint Purandara Dasa in which he pleads for Krishna to come quickly. Apparently, hearing the song, Swami told the hostess, “I have already come!” What a sweet gesture, and what a gentle way of reminding those around of His identity, if such a reminder was needed!
I really cannot catalogue all the various visits, but I must mention a few, for special reasons of course. One of these pertains to the visit to the house of Susheelamma, an old devotee, who along with her husband Venkatamuni, had the pleasure and privilege of having Swami stay in their house whenever He visited Madras in the old days, before Sundaram came up that is. Even when Swami was closeted with the family, all of us eagerly barged into the various rooms where Swami stayed, slept and so forth. It is a small house on a small road with a small compound.
Apparently, Swami used to stand in the upstairs veranda and give Darshan while devotees gathered in the compound below; what I am trying to drive at is that in those days, the number of people who came to have the Darshan of Swami was small. Those were different days; I was told [but I cannot confirm this though the story rings true!] in those days, people would phone to check about the Darshan time. The phone was in the room reserved for Swami and guess who answered the phone?! Below, we offer some recalls by late Kasturi about the Grace Swami showered on the family in the good old days.
Amazing Instances of Grace to Venkatamuni Family
Prof. Kasturi has narrated amazing instances of grace showered by Swami on the Venkatamuni family. In ‘Sathyam Sivam Sundaram’, Vol. I, he writes:
“…Devotees who have gone to far away places including England, France, Canada, the United States, Japan and Germany, have felt His protecting Hand. Mr. and Mrs. G.V. Venkatamuni, for example, proceeded to the Continent and planned from there to attend the Coronation Ceremonies of Queen Elizabeth II. They were shopping in Paris when they discovered, to their utter dismay, that the bundle of traveler's cheques they had was lost! They could not locate it in spite of their desperate and thorough search not only in their purse and luggage but even in the most unlikely places. They were overcome with sorrow when they contemplated their plight in a strange land. They turned to Baba, as they always did in distress. Baba heard their pathetic cry - thousands of miles away! The next day, while looking in the self-same purse for something else, they were amazed and overjoyed to find the entire bundle of traveler's cheques intact!”
There is another by Prof. Kasturi in Sathyam Sivam Sundaram, Vol IV and it goes like this:
“…A rosary was given by Baba to Shrimati Venkatamuni of Madras. When her aged mother-in-law approached the threshold of death, her bed surrounded by many of her kith and kin, she placed the rosary on her chest and prayed for her recovery. Her mother-in-law did regain consciousness and sat up to greet the dawn of another day, curious to know the reason why the house was so full of people. When her own son, afflicted with frequent fits since childhood, was dangerously on the verge of death, Shrimati Venkatamuni ran to her room to bring the rosary. But her fingers could not hold it; it slipped out of her grasp again and again. When she could at last hold it and take it to her son, it was too late. The illness was a form of repayment of karmic debt which, when repaid, gave him release. Baba told her later that her son was here to liquidate the balance of his debt and he had now attained the region of everlasting bliss. ‘If you have genuine affection for him,’ He said, ‘be happy that he has been relieved of the body that gave him no peace.’”
I should not forget to mention that Susheelamma along with Mrs. Vidya Srinivasan was almost all the time in Sundaram [except when they went home at night and for the brief periods when Bhagavan visited their homes]. And what is it they were doing in Sundaram? Making sure that not only was food prepared the way it ought to be for being offered to the Lord, but also that proper food arrangements were made for all members in Swami’s party. They reported in the early hours of the morning, and could be seen in Sundaram throughout the day, busy in the kitchen, of course.
Their only moment with Swami came usually late in the evening when on some days, they were able to offer Arathi to Bhagavan before He withdrew. Hardly anyone knew about the incredible service they were rendering; that is the hallmark of real Seva. I am sure there were many others in that team whom I do not know of; great souls all of them. Like Tyagaraja sang, I offer my salutations to all those Mahanubhavulus (great souls) also!
I must also refer to the visit Swami made to the residence of Mr. A. Ramakrishna, the former Deputy Managing Director of L & T Construction Company. Mr. AR has been doing projects for the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust for well over a decade, ranging from the Sai Kulwant Hall, to the ashram North Blocks, to the Super Hospitals and the large number of drinking water projects, and of course the airport.
Mr. AR’s residence was quite a distance from Sundaram and it was really a great sign of Grace that Swami took the trouble of riding all the way through evening traffic to spend time with AR’s family [all of them had gathered, some having come from long distances in anticipation of such a Divine visit].
The interesting part of the visit happened before the visit rather than during the actual visit; if I recall correctly, Mr. AR had just about a couple of hours notice! I should imagine the poor gentleman and his family did not even have enough time to love Swami’s uncertainty! But such is Divine Grace that even with such little notice, things fell into place, and at the end of the day hardly anyone remembered the short notice – no surprise in that; the joy that Swami spreads sweeps away all other memories!
Seeking Divinity in New Zealand
Talking of short notice, I think the story that takes the cake is one narrated by Hislop during his tour of New Zealand in 1993, which we reproduce below. It is taken from the book Seeking Divinity, published by the Books and Publications Trust, Prasanthi Nilayam.
SWAMI AND ANGELS
BY DR. JOHN H HISLOP
“In the early days, Swami used to go to Madras often. There was a family in Madras at whose house Swami usually stayed. At that time, He also drove His own car, although now He does not. Now He always has a driver who takes Him everywhere, in a car which somebody has put there for His use.
But before He had His present car, Swami had an old Chevrolet Station Wagon. He used to drive one of the cars Himself. When He would go to Madras to visit devotees there, other devotees would gather along the road at various places to see Swami drive by. The car would be coming along at a very fast clip and sitting behind the wheel was Swami with His arms folded, with the car going along about two inches off the road! Not even touching the road!
One time, Swami went to Madras and arrived unexpectedly at the home of His hostess. You know, when the Avatar comes to visit your house, I am sure you would have something with which to greet Him - some flowers or a tray of food or some way of welcoming the great man to your house. That was the case with this hostess too.
Swami came to the door and knocked. The hostess answered, saw Swami standing there and exclaimed, “Oh Swami, Swami! I am so happy to see You. But Swami, You didn’t tell me that you were coming, and I don’t have anything to welcome You with. I don’t have flowers or fruit. I don’t have anything.” The poor lady was quite distraught. So Swami said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry.” Then He turned around and beckoned at the car.
Out of the car came two angels with wings, carrying a big silver tray, loaded with fruit and flowers and everything the hostess would need to welcome Swami. The angels brought the tray up to the house and gave it to the hostess. Then Swami turned to the angels and waved back to the car. They floated back to the car, folded their wings, got into the car and disappeared.
Later on as the years went by, Swami acquired another vehicle. He had a bus, and He would take students for excursions in the bus. One time, He took them on an excursion to Madras.
First, He went to the house of the hostess where He would be staying; the students would be staying someplace else. When the hostess came to the door and saw the busload of students, she went back inside and brought out the silver tray. It was still there, and she told the students the story of the angels that I just told you.
At the Conference this weekend [National Convention of New Zealand, 1993], I told this angel story, so that people could tell their children. A man, about 55 years old, a big strong fellow, came up to me and said, “Would you mind if I tell you my experience?” I said, “No, no, of course not.” He said, “I was sitting in the audience when you were talking, and on the stage behind you was Swami and two angels.”
Whether or not it was only in his mind, I do not know. But there were a number of people who told me later that they had seen Swami on the stage during that Conference. Undoubtedly, He is here right now. Everywhere you look, Swami is certainly there.”
Maybe I could add a personal foot note about Swami and New Zealand, though it does not involve angels. It happened in 1995, when I visited New Zealand, to participate in the same National Conference that Hislop had addressed earlier. It was the opening day, and I gave my talk in the morning. After my talk there was a short break and those assembled went out for refreshments being served outside. The podium was at the other end of the hall, near the altar, and I could not go out easily partly because there was a big crowd trying to go out and partly because people gathered around me asking questions.
When practically all had left and I was more or less alone, one devotee who was earlier shooting my talk on videotape came to me and said, “You know something? Towards the end when you were making some passionate and loving reference to Swami, He actually came out of the photo over there and stood near this podium!” It was clear that others had not seen that happening – I had not – but on the other hand there was no reason to disbelieve this person. He was clearly reporting something he had personally seen, not visible to others. All this seems to happen more frequently than we realise.
Keeping an Old Promise
Getting back to the main story, perhaps the last house visited during this visit was that of Mr. Ramani, and this happened if I am not mistaken on the last day. It was late in the morning, and if I am not mistaken, Swami, having finished His Darshan at the Yagna site, was due to return to Sundaram. Meanwhile, back in the house of Mr. Ramani, the family members sans Ramani were all waiting tensely [Ramani, of course, was following Swami like a shadow, as his father did many years ago].
Particularly tense was young Sravanam, son of Ramani, a sound engineer, who had set up his own audio recording studio. It was located on the upstairs of their small home in a suburb near the Yagna salai. He very much wanted Swami to come and bless his studio. Earlier, Swami had blessed the idea of a studio when father and son came to Prashanti; Swami even approved the floor plan. The question now was: “Would He now come and bless in person the Studio He had earlier approved or would it be in one of those mysterious and subtle forms?” The family was ready for both but definitely preferred a visit in the human form; who would not!
Swami going to the Studio which was upstairs? How is that possible? For Sravanam, that was not an issue; he had a ramp built all the way to the first floor instead of the usual staircase, and he was sure that Swami would come in His car chair as usual. Deep faith never fails, and sure enough, Swami found time to make it to Mr. Ramani’s house. He went up the ramp to the Sravanam’s studio, blessed it and spent some memorable moments intimately with the family.
As a part of His unfathomable drama, Swami often keeps everyone guessing. At times, He acts as if He has forgotten a promise He made. God never forgets and it is man who forgets, mostly because of weak faith. The Ramani family is different; come what may, they have deep faith in Swami. I am not tossing words for I know what I am saying. I have had many conversations with Mr. Ramani on many occasions concerning many matters, and he has never failed to stun me with his incredible and unwavering faith in Swami. We should learn from such people; God sends such people to us in subtle ways as messengers. If our look is superficial, we would miss the free lesson and tuition by a mile; but if our focus is on God, every one becomes a messenger of God with his or her own package of love, compassion and lesson.
To get back to the mainline, do you know what Swami told Mrs. Ramani once He was closeted with the family? He said, “Do you remember the Interview I gave your family when I came to Madras in 1988? I said I would come to your house and today, I have done so! You might have forgotten about it but I never forget My words!” Dear reader, we should all take a few minutes off to reflect on the promises the Lord gave in earlier Avatars and in this Avatar too. As Krishna He gave many assurances but they were sort of conditional; that is to say, they were the ‘If…..Then’ kind of statements that one has in logic. But in this Avatar, God in human form has dropped all conditionalities. He knows how frail humans are and says even if you forget Me, I shall help you and come to your rescue. Even if you go away from Me, I shall pull you back for your own good. Who can say God is not Pure Love?
One small footnote. Wherever Swami went, there was always a crowd, along the road traversed, and near the house visited. Such is the hunger for a glimpse of Divinity that people did all they could to see Swami even for a fleeting second. A picture presented elsewhere, captures for you the intensity of love God evokes in all.
Swami’s Visit to Mr. GK Raman’s Home
My account of Swami’s family visits would not be complete without some reference to the visit Swami made to the residence of Mr. G. K. Raman. Those of you who have read the second article in this trilogy, [Click here to read again] would know who Mr. Raman is and how he gave Mr. Giri and me a grand conducted tour of the Yagna site the night before the commencement of the Yagna. In recent years, whenever Swami visited Kodai, He invariably visited Mr. Raman’s temporary home there and this time, Mr. Raman prayed to Swami that the Lord should bless his regular residence, a two story building not far from the Yagna site, where Mr. Raman lived upstairs while his doctor-yoga teacher and son lived downstairs, using his residence also as a clinic. As usual, Swami kept Mr. Raman guessing but one day, He agreed to pay a visit.
And so we all went like saints marchin’ in as the song goes, and of course Swami got a warm welcome. I shall skip all the details but one thing I must mention. As Swami was about to leave and came to the porch to board His car, Mrs. Raman drew Swami’s attention to a small group of people gathered there. They were the people who worked in the house, rendering various services ranging from taking care of the garden to assisting in the clinic. I still remember what Mrs. Raman told Swami. She said, “Swami, these are people who are supposed to work in this house of Yours. But for me, Swami, they are all members of my family. Swami, they too want to have Your Darshan and since there was not enough space within, they are all waiting for You here. Please Swami, bless them and make all of them as well as me happy. It is only when they receive Your blessings that Your visit to our humble home would be complete!” I was stunned. I could not believe that in this Kali Yuga there still were people who could speak with such love and sincerity.
Prayerful Respects to a Sorely Missed Soul
There is a particular reason why I am placing this incident on record. With much pain and deep sadness, I must report that Mr. Raman suddenly passed away when he came here recently. It all happened like this. Around 24 August or so, I got an e-mail from him to say that he would meet me on the 26th to discuss some matter I had raised with him earlier. On the evening of 26th I looked for him in the veranda but could not spot him. I had to rush after Bhajan and so told myself that I would meet with him the following day. Next morning I had a class and so went to the College skipping morning Darshan, as all of us teachers have to do, reluctantly of course.
When I came back I first went to the Studio as I do always do and someone said to me, “Do you happen to know Dr. Krishna Raman’s phone number? It seems he has changed it recently.” Krishna Raman, I repeat is Raman’s son and he has been helping us a lot with photos, including many appearing here. I replied, “I do not have his number but I have his father’s number somewhere. May be we could call Mr. Raman and find out.” This is what happened next.
“Mr. Raman? He is gone.”
“What do you mean gone? He is just supposed to have arrived. He can’t go before he has arrived, can he?”
“No sir, he is no more!”
I was stunned. I did not know what to say except to remind myself how transient the world and indeed life itself is. Which is why we should always have the Lord’s Name on our lips and His image in our Hearts so that we can be ready whenever the call comes. That certainly seems to have been the case with Mr. Raman, for he gave up his body even as Swami was coming for Darshan to the sound of Vedic chants. Just as He was coming in Mr. Raman suddenly collapsed, completely and without warning. Till a moment earlier he was talking to the person next to him but in a flash, he collapsed. Doctors in the veranda rushed and started helping. Meanwhile Swami came near Mr. Raman, called out to him and gave him some water with tulsi leaves. He then ordered Mr. Raman to be shifted to the hospital for emergency support. That was immediately done but the time had come.
Shakespeare said that all that lives must die, passing through here to eternity. For Raman, that journey to Eternity happened in the presence of Eternity. He had a Darshan of Swami for which he had come, then went to the hospital and from there made the final journey to be eternally with Eternity.
I had the privilege of knowing Mr. Raman quite well during the last few years, and he was a jolly good man. On many occasions during our Madras visit, he would ride with us in the car meant for Mr. Giri, AK and myself. And believe me, when AK got the stimulus of Mr. Raman’s lively company, the car would be filled with the sound of roaring laughter. Thus it was we forgot all about traffic jams and delays and the strain of tiring schedules. All of us miss a noble soul and I, in particular, miss a person with whom I was supposed to do many things for spreading the Message. May his soul rest in Peace.
Rashid Khan’s Heavenly Concert
A few more random notes, and I am through. Let me start with some brief references to the Yagna. I am sure many of you must have seen scenes from Yagna streamed via the internet. I shall therefore skip the standard details, confining myself to some aspects that merit special attention. I shall start with the astoundingly uplifting music concert on 26th January, India’s Republic Day. The concert was given by Rashid Khan. The musical rendering was out of this world no doubt, but what to me was stunning were the songs chosen my Mr. Khan. He started with a song on Sai! Imagine that!
A Muslim musician who was singing for the first time in Swami’s presence beginning with a moving song on Swami Himself! I have heard many concerts rendered in the Divine presence and it is not unusual for singers to sing songs in praise of Swami towards the end, but this man did it right at start, and with stunning effect too. I was absolutely thrilled. The songs that followed were equally electrifying and clearly even Swami was touched.
How do I know? From the fact that Swami did not wait for the concert to end to show His appreciation. Suddenly He called the artist and materialised a ring for him. A little later He similarly asked the tabla player to come forward and materialised vibhuti for him. The whole concert was memorable, packed as it was with beautiful songs, including of course Meera Bhajans, always a favourite with Swami. I was particularly thrilled to learn that two members of Mr. Khan’s party were actually from Pakistan! Here was a Yagna being performed for promoting global harmony and here on the stage, Swami was using art to create a blissful atmosphere of that very same harmony!
Another thing that made a deep impression was the talk given in chaste Tamil by one Mr. Nambi, a poet. What made this talk quite significant was the fact that in earlier days, Mr. Nambi was a rather aggressive atheist and a member of a socio-political movement that protested the inequities of the caste system in a rather abrasive manner. That same person, once a party to obnoxious campaigns against religion and all that, was here now on the stage, speaking in Swami’s presence, not only in most respectful and reverential manner but also stressing, religious, moral and spiritual values in every breath. Who says there is no hope for the world?
A Sai Bed in Every Hospital
Another day, the dominant part of the evening proceedings was a speech by a local doctor who, on behalf of the metro was outlining the plans the city had for providing a measure of Sai care to deserving patients. Essentially over a hundred hospitals and nursing homes in the city with different specialities [I do not remember the exact number but the number really does not matter], had pledged to set apart one bed in their institution, every day of the year, for a person in need of medical help.
This help would be provided free of charge to any needy and deserving person, recommended by the local Sai Organisation. Seen in perspective, it is essentially creating a free hospital with over a hundred beds. Now that is something. And by way of showing His appreciation and as a sign of His love, Swami then distributed a medical kit consisting of a stethoscope, BP apparatus etc., to over a hundred doctors. God sure works in His own subtle ways all the time!
Fast forwarding, on 30th January which is observed as Martyr's Day [in memory of Mahatma Gandhi who was assassinated that day in 1948], Swami asked all in the Yagna site to observe two minutes silence at 11 AM, as indeed the Nation as a whole did. The message is clear and simple. Being spiritual does mean disconnecting with the rest of Society but being in it harmoniously, and serving it positively.
Divine Compassion for a Dear Devotee
One other recall and this too is related in a way with the Yagna. As January was coming to a close [and so was the Yagna], speculation was at a peak about when exactly Swami would return to Puttaparthi. Around 29th, we got the information that Swami would leave on 1 February. On the evening of 29th, at the Yagna site, Swami called the All India President and was in conversation with him for a while. Apparently, Swami was telling Mr. Srinivasan to announce that Swami would leave Chennai on the morning of 31st.
This was clearly different from what we had been given to understand earlier and so understandably, Mr. Srinivasan was not sure if Swami had got the dates wrong by chance. [God can never make a mistake, but at times at the human level, as a part of His inscrutable drama, there is a bit of confusion about some matters.] However, Swami was very firm, and in accordance with Divine instructions, Mr. Srinivasan made the announcement.
Thus it was we actually left on the morning of the 31st, after being all set earlier to leave on 1st February. Now any reason why I am making a big deal about this? Sure, and it has to do with an aspect of Divine compassion. Let me go back to the night of 29th. Anil Kumar received word that his mother was critically ill in Hyderabad, and admitted to an ICU in a leading hospital there. This AK learnt through a phone call from his younger brother, himself a prominent doctor. AK was told nothing was certain and if possible he should try and come to Hyderabad to be at his ailing mother’s bedside, ASAP.
Needless to say that Anil Kumar was troubled by the news, although he showed little sign of it externally. But Swami, the Indweller, knew what was happening and asked AK even without being told, how his mother was and what plans he was making to go to Hyderabad. AK was deeply touched by Swami’s concern and replied that having come with Swami, he would not go without Swami’s permission. In any case, he wanted to delay his departure as much as possible so as to be available should he be needed. He had come with Swami and his first priority was to serve the Universal Mother. What AK was hinting at was that he would like to be around in case Swami chose give a Discourse as the Yagna drew to a close.
Swami, at the human level, was moved by AK’s expression of such steadfast love and loyalty. I do not recall exactly what happened immediately but this much I am certain of. There were many scenarios concerning what might happen on the 30th. One possibility was that Swami might deliver a valedictory Discourse on the evening of 30th, following the Poorna Ahuti on the morning of the 30th. AK’s well wishers [who were a legion] then began making active plans about helping AK to leave for Hyderabad, to match every conceivable scenario, including catching a flight at night, as soon as the Discourse was over. The general idea was that AK would go the Yagna site with his suitcase, and as soon as the Discourse was over and Aarathi given, he would hop into a car and rush to the airport to catch a flight leaving around 9.30 P.M and be in Hyderabad by night.
Came the 30th. In the morning, the Poorna Ahuti was duly completed in Divine presence and with Divine blessings. And in the evening, Swami went again to the Yagna site and gave His Discourse, with of course AK doing the live translation as he always does.
But meanwhile, by Divine Grace, the condition of Anil Kumar’s mother had improved somewhat and AK’s brother phoned to say that he [AK] did not have to rush immediately. Thanking Swami for the mercy shown, AK then stayed back and left for Hyderabad only after coming to Puttaparthi along with Swami.
Swami Leaves Chennai
Well, I have almost come to the end of the story. Came the morning of D-day and while all of us were packing and taking instructions about when we should leave and in what vehicle, the Youth group associated with the Chennai Yagna brought the Lingam from the Yagnam site, covering the last mile in a ceremonial processions to the accompaniment of Vedic chants and Bhajan singing. On arrival in Sundaram, the Lingam was taken to the Bhajan Hall where Swami inspected the Lingam and blessed the Youth.
Meanwhile we hurried through breakfast and handed over our luggage as per instructions issued earlier. All that remained was to pile into the cars and drive away, which we soon did, ahead of Swami of course. On arrival at the Airport we went through Security and when we went through the departure gate we were surprised to see that the person in attendance on behalf of Paramount Airways, whose chartered aircraft we were flying, was an alumni of the Anantapur College!
Leaving the departure building we boarded an airlines bus to be taken to the waiting aircraft. This was parked right next to the old air terminal building that has survived from the forties. As we approached the aircraft, I was surprised to see a posse of policemen forming a circular cordon, as a part of the security drill. I have seen a lot of security all over the place, but this is the first time I saw a circle of policemen surrounding the aircraft. I guess most of them manoeuvred this drill so that they could have Darshan of Swami! Anyway, we were all quickly boarded and soon Swami too was on board. While Mr. G.K. Raman accompanied Swami on the forward trip, Mr. V.Srinivasan had the privilege of accompanying Swami back to Puttaparthi, as a representative of Chennai devotees.
After the by-now-familiar quota of photo clicking by the ground staff, the cabin was cleared of the ground staff and the plane got ready to take off. Not surprisingly, the crew were the same as the outward journey! Soon we were airborne, and the Captain as a special gesture took us right over Poondi Reservoir so that we could all rejoice to see how full it was! And when we landed some time later, the pilot obliged us once again by flying in such a manner that those who were on the right side could have a wonderful view of the Divine valley, complete with the Indoor Stadium, the Hillview Stadium and the Ashram etc.
We then flew over the Hospital, took a turn and landed from the Hospital side, ending up close to Yelumalapalli village. A U turn and the aircraft slowly taxied up to the parking station, where, when the plane came to a halt, Swami deplaned, using the special elevator kept in readiness. Of course, while the plane was in flight, Swami went through the regular routine of in-flight Darshan, plus in-flight interview for the cabin crew!
And so by about noon or little later on the last day of January, we were back in Puttaparthi, with Chennai having become yet another set of precious memories! With Swami, every second is a unique and precious experience and it is never easy to capture all of it. I do hope, nevertheless, I have captured the highlights of the Chennai visit in a reasonably satisfactory manner for the benefit of not only contemporary readers but also for devotees who might chance to read this in the future and experience living with the Avatar, who, for us is a reality, but who, for them, would be an unbelievable legend!
Thank you for your patience and God Bless.
Jai Sai Ram.
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