- Scintillating Moments with Sweet Sai
By Mr. Mayur Pandya
An alumnus of Sri Sathya Sai University, Mayur joined the erstwhile Sri Sathya Sai Arts, Science and Commerce College in Brindavan, Bangalore in 1978 for his Bachelors in Commerce. Later, he pursued his Masters in Commerce in the Bangalore University. After Bhagavan unfurled the Sri Sathya Sai University in 1981, Mayur served as a lecturer in the Brindavan campus for a year.
Later, he moved to the Prasanthi Nilayam campus and completed his Ph. D in the area of Banking in 1989. After this, he served for a year and half in the Prasanthi Nilayam campus as a lecturer, and later, moved to the corporate sector, and since then has held managerial positions in various companies in Mumbai, Los Angeles and Vancouver. Currently, he works as a Technical Writer in the HSBC Bank of Canada. Additionally, he is also the President of the Vancouver Sai Centre.
1978. I remember the year vividly. It was a time when my entire family - my parents, elder brother and younger brother – were devotees of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. But I was the black sheep in the family. In fact, each time my mother urged me to come into Swami’s fold, I would walk up to His picture anchored on the wall, reverse the photo, and tell my mother, “If Swami is God, let Him turn the picture around. Then I will believe.” And my mother would shake her head in resignation, saying “this boy is a write-off”.
Mr. Mayur Pandya with his Master
At that time, I studied in a college in Bombay (now Mumbai) which was reputed for its fashion shows rather than academics. And I had a lot of friends. So I did not really care about spirituality. But after such a frivolous time, I felt some kind of a vacuum inside. So I began to frequent a beautiful Shiva temple right on the ocean in Navy Nagar (in suburbia Colaba). I would pray to God to help me out and would even shed tears in agony.
The Transforming Telegram
It so happened that my neighbor’s son wanted to go to have Swami’s darshan. As he was a young boy, my neighbour requested me to chaperon his son to Bangalore. This was a few days before the festival of Shivarathri in 1978. We reached Brindavan (Baba’s ashram in Bangalore) but found that Swami had left early in that morning for Ooty with a group of students. I was nonplussed. I couldn’t care less because I was off to do sightseeing. We returned to Bangalore, had a good time, and then a few days later we learnt that Swami was back.
Soon, we were sitting in the darshan lines in the Sai Ram shed. Swami came out of the Brindavan gate and as He passed by, He gave me a very casual glance. It did not have a deep impression on me, but I did feel something happening inside. That, perhaps, was the turning point.
We went back to Bombay. But I still continued with my flippant ways until the following June. Meanwhile, my elder brother, who was spending a lot of time with Swami, was deeply impressed by the students of Baba’s college in Brindavan. So what he did was this: he took an application form, forged my signature and submitted it at the college. I did not know about this.
I still remember the Thursday in June 1979 when a telegram suddenly came from the Principal of Baba’s college, Prof. Narendra, saying, ‘Come immediately for interview’. I do not know what happened; I was not ready, and it was just any other normal day. I read that telegram and simply broke down. I decided I wanted to go. I went downstairs, grabbed a few clothes and left. I had a hippie look then. And as I had been told that sporting long hair was not permitted in Swami’s college, I put a lot of oil to flatten it out. As I went and sat in the unreserved compartment in the train, I felt as if some power was taking over me.
Welcome with a Bang
I remember seeing the beautiful woods of Brindavan, sitting in the autorickshaw itself. At that time, the big and striking cement lotus on the crest of the college building could be seen from many miles away. When I saw that, my heart was filled with excitement.
I remember I had to sleep overnight in Kadugodi village because the interview was scheduled the next day. Then, I found to my surprise that no telegram had actually been sent out from the Principal’s office! Nevertheless, I got admission, and the first thing Principal Narendra said to me was, “Go to Kadugodi village and get your hair cut.” I can never forget the feeling when I joined the hostel. It was as if I was born again, because everything there was so new and different.
My first darshan as a student of Bhagavan was also very unique. It was about three weeks since Swami was in Puttaparthi, and the college had already started. It was morning. I had just finished my shower, and was combing my hair, a towel wrapped around my waist.
Suddenly there was a thundering sound and I was alarmed because it seemed like an earthquake! I looked out of the window and I saw everybody charging out of the rooms. The Brindavan hostel has three flights of steps, two on the sides and one in the centre, and I saw boys pouring out of their rooms and sprinting down the stairs.
Out of sheer impulse, I ran out myself only to be caught by my room leader who said, “You are not wearing your trousers!” So I ran back and put on my clothes, and in time reached the door of the hostel to see Swami’s car.
We all ran behind the white Mercedes Benz. The car reached the Brindavan portico and stopped. Swami stepped out. He then climbed on to the foot board of the car, looked over at all of us and said, “Horses, horses.” And then He asked, “How many new boys?” The next moment, looking at each of us with a beaming smile, He said, “Very happy, very happy.” That was my first close darshan of Swami. I remember it very vividly.
The Enigmatic ‘Window Darshans’
Days went by, and it was a sweet saga of getting oriented to an altogether different routine. Interestingly, when Swami was around in Brindavan, the highlight was not the regular darshan, but instead, the window darshan. This was something unique to Brindavan. The mandir was such that there were so many windows on all sides and one could have darshan throughout the day - six, seven, eight times – depending on how savvy one was with regard to Swami’s movements – knowing where to stand, what time Swami came and the like. It was almost like a research project. Each of us vied with the other to get the coveted darshan.
I remember the first two years of my college when we undertook extensive gardening, that too by Swami’s window. Gardening was the extra-curricular activity Swami chose for me because I just took a liking to it. As we would be tending to the garden there, very often, Swami would come up to that window. The moment Swami came there, all of us would stand up.
The moment two or three of us did this, it was a cue for everybody that Swami was giving darshan. So all would come running and enjoy that special darshan. It happened almost every day, especially in the afternoons when very few boys were around. It was the time when Swami would be getting ready to come out for tiffin. And He would part the curtains and give this darshan.
Young and raw that I was, somehow, it got into my head one day that I should have Ekaanth Darshan, meaning, I should have the fortune of a special darshan of Swami exclusively for myself. So one day when Swami was up there, the moment Swami gave darshan I hid behind the wall so that Swami could see me but none of the other students could. And, from up there, Swami held the curtain and kept staring at me for what seemed like eternity. It was the most beautiful feeling; of Swami’s eyes looking deeply into mine. I was alone and Swami was not in a hurry to go away. After quite a while, He finally dropped the curtain. That image is still vivid in my mind.
Young and raw that I was, somehow, it got into my head one day that I should have Ekaanth Darshan, meaning, I should have the fortune of a special darshan of Swami exclusively for myself. So one day when Swami was up there, the moment Swami gave darshan I hid behind the wall so that Swami could see me but none of the other students could. And, from up there, Swami held the curtain and kept staring at me for what seemed like eternity. It was the most beautiful feeling; of Swami’s eyes looking deeply into mine. I was alone and Swami was not in a hurry to go away.
Hide and Seek
Swami would even play tricks on us occasionally, when He would have us sprinting from the front to the back windows, and the vice versa. How it worked was like this: Whenever Swami would drop the curtain, it was a cue (for us) that we could seek Him at the next window. Sometimes, Swami would drop the curtain, and knowing we would all make a beeline to the other window, remain there and open the curtain again.
Meanwhile, realizing that we had been ‘duped’ by the Divine Trickster, the thirty or forty of us would rush back to the previous spot, only to find that Swami had left that window and gone to the other window! And then He would open that curtain again and call out ‘horses, horses’. Occasionally He would press His nose against the grills and smile at us. We even got scolded many a times.
Cultivating Cosmic Lessons
Coming back to gardening, there were three gardens we were working on – the Brindavan mandir garden, one in the hostel quadrangle, and also a botanical garden spear-headed by Dr. Lakshminarasimham, our Botany professor who was the Head of the Department. There was a huge tract of land just outside the Botany department that had a lot of cement because ours was a newly constructed college.
We took it upon ourselves to make that into a botanical garden, even getting some UGC (United Grants Commission, a government body) funds. So those three gardens were a full time effort for us. We were a whole group of students, who would spend every moment of the time available on these plants, forsaking even leisure and play for manual labour and hard work.
The author with Swami in the
good old days at Brindavan
And Swami would appreciate us working. When we would be watering the garden, He would look from the mandir window to see how hard we were at our job. We would bring the first rose to Him and He would say, “Yes, isn’t this the first rose?” When the botanical garden came up, He inaugurated the garden by planting the first Tulasi plant, spreading a few seeds for the flowers. He constantly gave a lot of encouragement. And this became a conduit for even some spiritual awakening.
I remember a time when Swami would come out of the interview room and call for me, “Eh, Mayur idhar aao (Mayur, come here)”. And I would walk up to Him. He would then ask, “How is your garden?” So I would give a detailed explanation of the progress at the garden – ‘Swami, I just weeded this place, we were watering this plant …’ and the like. After a full five to ten minutes of patiently hearing me out, He would again ask, “How is your garden?”
And I would be left wondering as to what I had missed out! By the time I found a satisfactory explanation, Swami would walk away. I would then start replaying the conversation in my mind. And then the answer would strike me, from a discourse given by Bhagavan earlier, of how we should cultivate the seeds of devotion in the garden of our hearts.
Thus, the next time Swami asked me the question, I would be ready with the answer He desired. Pleased with my response, He would say, “Ah, manchide, very happy” and would walk away.
In the same strain of initiating introspection, He would enquire, “Where is your father?” And again the answer would elude me. I would reply, ‘Swami, he is a lawyer, he is in Bombay, fighting all these cases, etc..’ and again He would say, “How is your father?” until I told Him, “Swami, You are my father.”
Those were the first seeds of educare, wherein He could have given me the answer but, instead, He chose to, sort of, bring it out of me.
“How is your garden?”...
By the time I found a satisfactory explanation, Swami would walk away. I would then start replaying the conversation in my mind. And then the answer would strike me, from a discourse given by Bhagavan earlier, of how we should cultivate the seeds of devotion
in the garden of our hearts.
The Lord on Patrol
Giving second chances was typical of Him. I can never forget the day He gave me a glimpse of His omnipresence. Our money orders from our parents would arrive at the Kadugodi post office. Whenever these money orders arrived, we had to seek permission from our teachers to collect them, as we were generally not allowed to leave the campus premises.
That particular afternoon, I still remember, none of the lecturers were available. Finding a valid excuse to go, I decided to finish off my work, come back and then inform my teachers. After all, I had been informing them every time.
So I set out all alone sans permission. As I was walking in front of the portico, I reached a particular spot when something impelled me look up. Good grief! It was the good Lord! Swami was standing in the balcony looking at me! I froze in terror because I was caught. And I knew what I was doing.
Swami saw my face and the reaction. And to my utter astonishment, He smiled, diffusing away all the stress. Swami continued smiling and then walked inside the building. I headed back straight to the hostel, only to get caught red-handed! Swami had let me off, no doubt, but not without a little chastening to remember.
The Omniscient Master and Mentor
If He chastised on one hand, He also counseled and corrected. Yoga classes were an integral part of our hostel curriculum. In fact, after I had joined Swami’s college, I learnt about Hatha yoga, the various yogasanas, and also about the Kundalini Shakti. So I was really fascinated by it. I read a lot on the subject and I yearned for a mystic experience. Just around that time, Swami gave a luminous discourse about Jyothi Meditation. I really took it very seriously and set off on a determined mission of a transcendental expedition.
Months passed. I still had not got ‘that’ experience. Then one day while I was meditating, the flame became brighter and brighter, and much warmer. It got so hot suddenly that I opened my eyes thinking that this was ‘the experience’, only to see the card board, the candle and
everything caught up in flames!
At that time, the main hostel building was completely occupied but the S. N. Singh block, next to that, was free. So I would go into one of the empty rooms there, lock the door, light a candle, and sit down for meditation. Initially, the candle flame kept flickering. So I took a 200 paged, hard cover note book and positioned it like a ‘V’ behind the flame so that the candle would not flicker and would continue to burn for at least an hour.
Months passed. I still had not got ‘that’ experience. Then one day while I was meditating, the flame became brighter and brighter, and much warmer. It got so hot suddenly that I opened my eyes thinking that this was ‘the experience’, only to see the card board, the candle and everything caught up in flames! Evidently, the thick cover had caught fire, leaving behind only cinders of my unfulfilled aspirations. I was so thoroughly disappointed that I gave up the meditation.
One day, a few days later, I was standing in the portico along with 300 others, waiting for Swami. Those were the portico sessions, precursors to the Trayee sessions, wherein Swami would come down the stairs and spend a lot of time with the students in the portico, just before He went to the Sairam shed.
Swami would stand there, joke with all of us, and would spend so much time. We would vie with each other to grab that fragrant green creeper with the flower, which grew on the arches, and offer it to Swami. And Swami would smell the creeper and give it back.
That day, when Swami was standing in the portico, He suddenly said, “Eh Mayur, come here. Neeku knack ledu ra. Nuvvu crack ayi potadu (You do not have the knack. You have become a crack.)” I was completely taken aback, wondering why Swami was calling me such in front of so many people.
Then He called me closer and said, “If you go on staring at the candle, you are going to become a nervous wreck.” After this, He gave a beautiful discourse for an hour and a half on Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. He spoke of the eight-fold path to yoga and emphasized that first the foundation had to be very strong. Only then could one progress to the higher stages.
This was really another telling incident of the Lord’s omniscience. I was thrilled because I was doing some wrong sadhana (spiritual practice) in a corner, unknown to anyone. But Swami, who was aware of everything, corrected and taught me in His own unique way.
(To be continued)