Volume 6 - Issue 06
JUNE - 2008
- A Garden of Divine Blossoms
By Mr. B. K. Misra
“Sai Anandam”, (meaning ‘Sai Bliss’) is the apposite name for a home for destitute children, set up by former students of Sathya Sai Baba in the north-eastern Indian state of Orissa, near Barang, 12 km from Cuttack, and 20 km from Bhubananeswar, the capital of the State.
“Why such a name?” I asked Mr. Lala Susant, a young man in his early thirties, who holds the reins of management of this orphanage and lives nearby. Susant completed his Bachelors of Arts from the Sri Sathya Sai University in 1994, and his Masters from the prestigious Delhi School of Economics.
“Well, it is a small effort at recreating the happiness we felt when we lived in the physical presence of Bhagavan at Prashanti Nilayam. The virus of loneliness, born of alienation from God, is destroying the world. Some of us, students of Bhagavan, wanted to share our Godly joy with the world, by trying to create an oasis of love and service - for that is what happiness is all about - in a desert of lovelessness. Thus, with the inspiration of Swami was born “Sai Anandam”.
“Why did you choose to set up a home for destitute children? You could have worked on any other project”, I queried again.
Rescuing the Ravaged and Neglected
“We thought this is the best way to create an environment of love and service. Children are the best gifts of God to humanity, and we were shocked to see how so many kids receive so little care in our ‘civilized’ society. So we made inquiries and found some children who were disadvantaged by having only a single parent, or had no parents, or due to utter poverty, were living almost on the streets. If they were allowed to grow with this emptiness in their lives, with no remedial action taken, they may either remain as a burden on society, or turn into criminals. We wanted to bring to them Bhagavan’s Love and show them the light of happiness that guides our lives.” Susant looked joyful; satisfied with himself for having made a good decision.
I remembered a Vedic hymn where the rishi (sage) declares at the top of his voice, “Beyond all this darkness, I have seen the Light of God, which is a thousand times brighter than the sun…..” (…vedahametat purusham mahantam, adityvarnamtamasah parastat...) I knew in my heart that the Light of God alone can transform our lives. Ananda (bliss) is the only food that can restructure man into God, and who can do that better than Bhagavan’s students, who have experienced so much at the Feet of the Lord? Doesn’t Swami often reiterate ‘Ananda is My ahara’ (Bliss is My food)?
We enter the unassuming campus of Sai Anandam. A small arched gate, a courtyard flanked on both sides by two blocks of very modest halls divided into two or three rooms each, an asbestos roof covered with hay for fighting the terrible summer heat, and ten pairs of tiny feet, eager to tread the path to love and happiness they had missed all their lives. Guiding them with great affection are a few young men in their twenties and thirties. This is Sai Anandam. They don’t have an office, no furniture except a few plastic chairs for guests. But what they do have is - big hearts, the passion to build men of virtue out of homeless urchins.
Replicating Prasanthi School
Of the two blocks, one contains the kitchen and a room for the older inmates. The other block is divided into two rooms, 15 by 12 feet, and 20 by 12 feet. The smaller room serves as the puja room, where the inmates say the suprabhatam (morning prayer) and other prayers. In the other larger room, they study and sleep. Mats spread on the floor are their beds, and they share and care for each other in every way.
They clean the campus - their home, and wash their own clothes too. To study, they go to a nearby school, and in the evenings, play together indoors. Everyday, on the onset of dusk, they sing bhajans, and listen to stories of Swami’s life. As they are starting almost from scratch in formal education, a retired teacher voluntarily coaches them to remedy the long years of neglect. They rise at five in the morning, and slip into sleep at ten every night.
“We wanted to give them the schedule we lived at Puttaparthi”, explained Satyaswarup Patnaik, another former Sai student involved in this noble project. Satyaswarup did his XI and XII grade from the Higher Secondary School at Prashanti Nilayam in 1998, and went on to study medicine. A medical graduate (MBBS) now, he is currently pursuing his Masters (MD). “Early to bed and early to rise, keeps a man healthy and wise, Bhagavan used to tell us”, he continued, “besides, it gives one enough time for a planned life. So, we introduced the same schedule. They start the day with prayer, and end it too with His Name on their lips. We want to recreate here our life with Bhagavan at Prashanti, for what can be better than that?” he said, his large eyes looking even larger.
Experiments with Love
We are led to the bigger enclosure which is the ‘boys’ room’. Here they live and laugh, study and sleep. It was a wonderful feeling. We felt closer to deprived humanity, and our well-pressed clothes humbler. A couple of older inmates sat around us, while others went to oversee the lunch session. A funny idea struck me and I wanted to find out the level of understanding of these boys. After the boys sat down, face to face, in two rows, for their lunch, I asked one of the young men there to tie a foot long stick to their right hands in such a way they can not bend it at the elbow (which is needed if you want to eat). Six boys were chosen for the experiment.
After it was done, I asked them to start eating. Suddenly a tiny hand outside this group shot up with a cry of joy, “I know, I know what to do!” Our eyes turned with excitement and expectation. Someone asked him, “So, what is the idea?” He simply said, “Feed each other”. Thrilled, I looked at him. A ten year old cherubic face, his eyes bubbling with enthusiasm. You would never believe if somebody said this boy had lived in very depressing conditions, before being picked up by Sai Anandam team a few months ago. I continued to carry out the lesson and asked them, “What does this teach you?” Now, many voices spoke of words and concepts that we, elders, have forgotten, busy with pushing the world to the brink of a precipice: “friendship, helping each other, love, sharing…”
I felt chastened, and appreciated the effort of the youth guides there, but they simply said, “It is all Bhagavan’s work. The boys are learning very fast”. It must be true. The presence of love was palpable in the campus. He is the head of the family, looking after their physical and spiritual needs.
“What else do you teach the boys?” I asked Lala Susant. He pointed at another exemplary student of Swami, and says, “Manas comes here every Saturday from Bhubaneswar and teaches them tabla (percussion).” A young man in his early twenties, Manas Das did his tenth from the Higher Secondary School at Prashanti Nilayam in 1999, and is currently doing his Masters at ICFAI (Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India) in Bhubaneswar . I asked Manas, “Why do you take the trouble of traveling more than 15 km every Saturday to come here? Softly, he said, “I like to come here and do something for the boys. I always feel Swami’s Presence here. I think this is the best way to remember Bhagavan.” “We teach them the Bal vikas course too,” Susant added.
Yes. The best way to remember God is to do what is closest to God’s Heart. And what could be closer to His heart than loving service? A small story of Jesus popped up in my mind. Once Jesus asked his disciples, “A father had two sons. The elder one always stayed with his father, [and] followed him wherever he went. The younger one, came to his father in the morning, took instructions for the day’s work, and went away. He came again to his father in the evening to report about work. Who do you think was dearer to father? The one, who said, ‘Father, Father’ all the time, and did not do his bidding, or his brother, who called him once or twice a day, but did his bidding?” And Jesus answered his own question, “Obviously the younger one”. Bhagavan says, He is as far away from us, as we are from His words.
Sai – The Support and Soul of Sai Anandam
“How do you meet the daily expenses of the ashram?” I asked Susant. They call it an ashram. Swami says an ashram is a place where one does not feel the burden of shrama, or work. Swami has identified three types of work: work without love; work with love; and love without work. “When you come to the last type of work, the burden of work ceases, and what remains is sheer love. That alone is selfless service”, Swami explains. I was sure I felt the aroma of this ‘love-without-work’ at Sai Anandam. “Do you have any source of steady funds?” I continued. “Yes, we have a very steady source on which we depend entirely, and it has never failed us”, he said with a twinkle in his eyes. I was attracted by the smile which lit up his entire face, and asked, “What is it?”
“Bhagavan Himself!” he answered.
“What do you mean? Does He send you money every month to run it?”
“From the inception of the ashram, it has been Swami’s project. We have felt His guiding Hands at every stage. He is the Doer, we are the deed”, Susant whispered aloud with great reverence.
I was determined not to be taken by this sort of sentiment. To run a place like this needs more than devotional sentiment. You need money, and things that money alone can buy. So I continued, “Well, to depend on God is good, but how do you convert devotion into money?”
“You don’t have to. It is done at the Bank of God, and we receive currency notes for His work. We were only one month old, and one evening I discovered our cash box was empty. We didn’t have a rupee to buy our next meal for the boys. I went to our puja room, and told Swami about it. I told Him it was His job now to feed us. Next morning, I received a phone call from a Sai brother to come and collect five thousand rupees for the boys. You never know the power of surrender until you practice it,” Susant assured me.
I had no words to contradict him.
“We started Sai Anandam on August 2007. Till now, we haven’t run into a blind corner. We have never felt the need for asking anyone for donations. All that we need comes unasked. Doesn’t a mother know the need of her child?” The joy in the eyes of Susant was infectious.
“However, some of our fellow students contribute some amount on a monthly basis. One of them saves from his Ph. D scholarship for us, another from his pocket allowance his father gives him, for he is still a student. A third has a small job, but remembers her monthly offerings. One more student pays the salary of one employed worker. Of the six alumni who regularly contribute for the cause, one lives in Prashanti Nilayam. There are some Sai devotees too who help us on a regular basis. We never forget Bhagavan, and He never forgets us”, Susant concluded.
Growing Saplings in a Field of Love
I shifted to another area. “You are completing a year of Sai Anandam this August, and as I understand it, the boys have come here at various stages. Do you see any perceptible improvement in them?” I asked him.
“Yes. There is an appreciable improvement in their conduct. They have been picked up almost from the streets, so they came here with that culture. But now they are very decent in their behaviour. What gives us great satisfaction is that they have grown to love and depend on Swami. One of them tells us that he prays to Swami even to solve difficult mathematical problems - and He does that for him!”
I wanted to verify his statement, and called a tall boy from among them.
“What is your name?”
“Susanta Behera” he answered politely.
“Do you like this place?”
“Sai Baba is my Father and Mother. These brothers love us. They give us good food and send us to school. They have given us a nice house to live in. I am very happy here”. This boy has lost both his parents.
“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I want to be a Doctor, so I can serve poor patients, like these brothers are doing for us.”
I was pleased to find that the idea of service had already made an impression on his 12 year old mind.
I picked up another boy.
“What is your name?”
“What profession would you like to join when you grow up?”
“Any profession I am found suitable for. But I would join the Sathya Sai Organisation to serve people.”
“If you meet Swami, what will you ask Him?”
“Swami is already in my heart. He knows what I need, and He will give me whatever is good for me. I need not ask for anything in particular.”
I was pleasantly surprised.
Then there was this Naresh Beura, an 11 year old. He has no father, and his mother works as a daily labourer. He wants to take a job soon to look after his mother.
Prashant Behera is a ten year old, whose father has deserted his mother, leaving her with chronic mental ill-health. He also wants to grow up fast to care for his mother.
Manoranjan Moharana’s father is serving a life sentence. His mother is supporting another son and a daughter by daily labour, but is very happy that Sai Baba is looking after at least one child. Manoranjan would ask for Sadbuddhi (Good intellect) if he meets Swami.
Nigam’s father is a blind beggar, and his mother suffers from Tuberculosis. They have given up even occasional non-veg eating after their only child joined Sai Anandam. Nigam was a terribly depressed child before he joined this place, but not now.
Saiprasad Khatua is a Vibhuti child. His parents are Sai devotees, and early in life when he was on his death bed, Vibhuti saved his life. He is the youngest of the group, at 8 years old. This is the boy for whom Swami solves even mathematical problems.
The Future is in His Hands
There are 12 boys in this divine home. “What are your future plans for these boys? How long would you support them?” I asked Susant. “We generally think of supporting them up to X or XII grade. Then we will give them vocational training, and set them up in a job. But if we find anyone really worthy of pursuing a higher course, and Swami enables us to support him, we will gladly do so”.
“Aren’t you thinking of expanding this little place, and giving them more space to grow up?”
“Of course we would very much like to. This place does not belong to us. A benevolent Sai brother has allowed us to use this house of his rent-free, until we build our own campus. We need at least 5/6 acres of land to build our own house to serve around 25 children. All this would cost us 40 to 50 lakhs. But all in its good time. When Swami wills it, He would help us expand.”
Silently listening with us to this beautiful story of love and service, was Dr. Mohapatra, a self made artist and sculptor, a senior Reader in Commerce at Ravenshaw College , a deemed University in Cuttack . He immediately offered to come to the ashram at regular intervals to teach the boys art and artistic values, and help them in some handicraft projects. We were very glad. Bhagavan’s Hands were visible.
They felt the unseen Presence of the Lord even more when, all of a sudden, the All India President of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations, Mr. V Srinivasan, paid a visit to this Sai home of service on January 18 this year (2008). It was a memorable day for Sai Anandam. The distinguished instrument of the Lord spent about 45 minutes with the inmates, and even delivered a short address to the inmates and the people gathered there. Before he left, He generously contributed to their resource-pool and also distributed T-shirts to the boys.
Hand in Hand with Love and Service
“You said you have a paid employee at the ashram. What does he do, and how much do you pay him?” I asked Lala Susant. “Is he single or married?”
“He is married, with a daughter who is six years old, and we cannot pay him more than Rs. 2,000 a month. He looks after the boys, stays with them the whole day, eats with them, and returns at night. Sometimes his wife also comes to help with the boys.”
“But this is very meagre. How does he manage with such a small amount?”
“We know this, but he insists on coming. Both of them say, ‘You give us less than what we need. But we get great satisfaction in working for God’s children’.”
I met the young man. Dukhishyam has done his XII grade, gave up his earlier job in an iron and steel company to join Sai Anandam. A tall youth, with a well defined face, always eager to learn how to be more useful in moulding the boys into useful citizens. This is the only way he could serve Swami, and hopefully get closer to Him, he says. I met three other local young men who help with the boys in various ways. One of them is doing a Bachelors in Computer Applications, who teaches them bhajans and mathematics. Kalindi is a graduate, associated with the Home from the beginning.
He is paid Rs.1,500 per month, stays most of the time in the ashram, and does any odd jobs. He is happy to be associated with this home of love and service. He says he has improved spiritually to a great extent after joining the ashram. Rakesh is doing his graduation, and pursues videography as a profession, but spends all his spare time with the boys, teaching, and looking after them. A happy and carefree young man, he is grateful to Swami for his association with the Sai students, which saved him from the usual evil ways of the modern youth.
It is a great love story, I thought.
Sai - The Eternal Inspirer
Mr. Vivekananda Sahoo, an alumnus of Sri Sathya Sai University, who too visited this nest of love, reflecting later on this ennobling experience, said, “These children, like tender saplings, need a protective fence. What they need, more than food, clothing and shelter (though they need these too, desperately) is to feel wanted. It is their label ‘outcast’ that imposes upon them the most agonizing frame of mind.
Denied of love by the world around, these saplings perish. A few who live through all harsh reality, bearing the deep scars which are the gift of their cruel home, are often deemed misfits in society. Who is to be blamed: The tender saplings or the merciless world around them? Are we a part of this cruel world or can we make a difference for these less fortunate blossoms?
“On a cold winter night, it seems, a man saw a child shivering on the road. She was hungry and her clothes were in tatters. The man was very angry with God for letting this happen to an innocent child; why isn't He doing anything about it? That night He came in his dream and quietly said, ‘I certainly did something for it. I made you!’
“The Sai Avatar has taken three vows:
1) To foster all mankind and ensure for all of them lives full of Ananda (bliss).
2) To lead all who stray away from the straight path, again into goodness and save them.
3) To remove the sufferings of the poor and grant them what they lack.
“Eighty years and more, and He has never sat down and slackened His Work to fulfill these three vows. The more I look and read these promises, the more it dawns upon my heart the purpose of our lives and the reason why Sai Anandam was born. We are the miracles of Life here to make a difference in the world! That is our Mission! To make His life our message, the above vows are ours too. And as I left the compound of Sai Anandam, I knew He was smiling at us. His children were emulating Him and walking in His footsteps. The Journey had begun and this is far more wonderful than the reaching of the destination.”
As I pondered over what I saw and experienced, and the reflections of another inspired Sai student, I realized why the world doesn’t end with a bang, though it is said to have started with one. It is because such love stories, amazingly designed and developed by the Divine, never end. The good and kind Lord lives in His devotees, who live for Him.
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Vol 6 Issue 06 - JUNE 2008
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