Friday, 20 January 2017

The story of a blue baby and the Kali Yuga Avatar

Thondapu Arun Kumar relaxed as he steered the car onto the AH-43 and headed towards Puttaparthi. The traffic snarls at Bengaluru had been left behind and it would now be a smooth and speedy drive towards the abode of highest peace - Prasanthi Nilayam.

Arun always wanted to be at His Lotus feet. Swami proudly blesses him when
he secured a high All-India rank in the GATE CSIR examinations.
Arun was a regular at the abode of his Swami, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, ever since 1998 when he had enrolled for grade XI in the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School. In the 9 years that followed as a ‘Sai-Student’, he had completed his schooling, under-graduation, post-graduation and an MTech degree from the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Even after embarking on his career path, he had made it a point to regularly visit Puttaparthi to pay obeisance and gratitude to his God and Master. But this visit in the September of 2015 had an added agenda. Arun had come to pray to Swami to bless him and his wife, Keerthi, with a child. That was the prayer he made as he knelt at the Sai Sannidhi, the sepulchre also called as the Mahasamadhi of Baba.

Trying to conceive a child is probably one of the most fertile events to make one realize the truth in the Bhagawad Gita's statement by Lord Krishna,
Karmanyavadhikaraste Maa Phaleshu Kadachana
(You have the rights over action alone and not over the fruits of action).
In the true sense, one can never ‘plan’ a baby. The baby happens when it is supposed to happen irrespective of the intensity of efforts (or its apparent lack) thereof. And so, every child, whether conceived naturally, in vitro or adopted, is in fact the gift of God!

For Arun and Keerthi, the wait after the prayer was very short. In October 2015 itself they got to know that Keerthi was carrying a baby and their joy knew no bounds. Arun was sure that the baby was Swami’s gift to them. Keerthi was convinced that it was God’s gift; she wasn’t sure about giving the credit entirely to her husband’s ‘Swami’ who she considered as a good human being. Arun was not bothered. He knew that just like the baby, faith in Swami also would happen when it was supposed to happen. As of now, the couple celebrated the gift of love that had been bestowed on them and began preparations for the delivery 40 weeks down the line. As the baby grew, so did their eagerness and joy.

But all that came to a sudden halt in the middle of January 2016 as the New Year heralded dreadful news.

Transposition of the Great Arteries

The routine ultrasound anomaly scan that Keerthi underwent in Hyderabad took an unusually long time to get completed. Arun noticed that the doctor was keenly observing one particular portion of the scan repeatedly. He sensed that something was not alright. His feelings turned out to be true.

“The foetus is exhibiting a transposition of the great arteries”, the doctor said, which is a defect due to the improper development of the fetal heart...We don’t know why this happens exactly... It is a random occurrence, by chance, but it needs urgent attention.”

Arun and Keerthi looked at each other in bewilderment. The doctor explained it as simply as possible.
“See, there are 4 chambers in the heart. The upper two chambers (auricles) receive blood while the lower two chambers (ventricles) pump it. Circulation of blood happens like this - Blood is pumped from the right ventricle to the lungs via the Pulmonary Artery. This blood gets oxygen and returns to the left auricle and falls into left ventricle. From there, it is pumped to the whole body via the Aorta. In your baby, the Aorta and Pulmonary Artery connections have interchanged. So the good oxygenated blood is circulating in a loop between the heart and lungs while the bad de-oxygenated blood is stuck in a separate loop between the heart and the rest of the body.”
TGA explained diagrammatically
She paused for a moment to allow the couple to digest all that.
“The baby will need life-support as soon as it is born because there is no way oxygen supply can reach the body. There is also a high risk of some abnormality or retardation in the child which we cannot predict now. Usually, in such cases, the parents decide the drop the baby.”

“No!” screamed Keerthi within herself. She could not even imagine aborting her child. For Arun also, dropping the baby was intuitively out of question.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

If you need me, you deserve me - Baba in Bahrain

“If it is okay with all of you, I wish to stay back. I’ll take care of little Gopal and stay at home...”
“But it is Patel, a close friend of Dwarkanadh. How can we not go?”
“You can go. I really don’t feel like coming”, Mrs. Pankajam Sundaram persisted, “do not force me to come along please.”
“It is okay if she wants to stay back”, her son in law, Dwarkanadh, interrupted, “My friend would not like to be the cause of discomfort for anyone. Plus, she may be eager to spend time with little Sai...”

The father in law looked at Sai Gopal and then turned to Pankajam,
“If he says so, then stay at home. But we may get late at night.”
“It is okay. Manama is a very safe city... and I don’t plan to step out of the house anyway”, Pankajam replied to her husband.

Mr Sundaram, Mrs Pankajam Sundaram with little Sai Gopal. 

Dwarkanadh knew that the main reason his mother in law didn’t want to come for dinner was because his friend was a “Sai devotee”. Pankajam was an orthodox and staunch follower of Vaishnavism and she considered Vishnu as the only supreme Godhead. She naturally didn’t want to be associated to a ‘person’ who was adored as an Avatar of Shiva! This was possibly the reason why she preferred to address her grandson as ‘Gopal’ leaving out the ‘Sai’ prefix.

Mr. N.R.Dwarkanadh, on the other hand, was a sincere devotee of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In fact, a couple of years before in February 1981, he had founded the first Sai Samithi in Bahrain along with a few other devotees. When a son was born to him in February 1982, it was natural that the parents christened him with the prefix ‘Sai’. The doting grandparents, Dwarkanadh’s in-laws, had travelled from the Indian capital New Delhi to Manama to attend the boy’s first birthday. The father in law had taken to Swami the way a fish takes to water. But Pankajam had her reservations against dining at a Sai devotee’s place!

Thus it was on the evening of 17th of March, 1983, Dwarkanadh, his wife and his father in law left for the friend’s place at about 7:30 pm. Pankajam and the year-old Sai Gopal stayed back at home.

Unexpected visitor

Grandmother and grandchild spent a couple of happy hours in each other's company. Past dinnertime, the child seemed to get hungry. Pankajam fetched the feeding bottle and started giving milk to her grandson. Gopal contentedly settled with the bottle in his cradle, suckling at it with gusto. That was when there was a knock on the door.

Pankajam ignored it at first. She didn’t know anyone in Bahrain and so, the house could practically be considered locked as far as any visitor was concerned. However, the visitor was quite persistent with the knocking. Pankajam thought that it was her son in law’s cousin and his wife who were staying next door. They might have come to check on her to see that she was fine. The knocking continued and finally, Pankajam rose from the chair at the dining table. She walked to the door. She unlocked the door and opened it. Instantly, she realized that she had been totally wrong in her guess of who it might be. Her face turned pale and she instinctively moved to slam the door shut. So fast was her reaction that she hurt her hand in the process.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The best gift a parent can seek for a child - Bhakti (devotion)

December 15, 2015

The day turned out to be a landmark one in this lifetime of mine. Poetically speaking, it was the day when a soul in the heavens above decided that Pooja (my wife) and I would be the appropriate beings as its parents in its earthly sojourn. Prosaically speaking, it was the day when I became father to a baby girl. But however prosaically you may state that, the experience is always poetic! I felt a thrill like never before and my first sounds were similar to the ones that the baby made -
The innocence, detachment and purity with which the baby seemed to look at everyone around reminded me so strongly of my dear Swami.  So, the first thing I felt like doing, even before carrying the baby or cuddling her, was to gently touch the lotus feet. Ah! How soft they were and so similar to Swami’s. It was indescribable divine joy.

The baby is the easiest and closest that anyone can come to experiencing the Divine. With a baby, you become like a baby!

As parents, you want to give your child the best things in life. But what is the best thing in life? Both Pooja and I felt that the greatest gift we had received from our parents (and grandparents too in Pooja’s case) was ‘Love For God’. Having love for Swami is the greatest treasure, a bounteous blessing and the most intelligent investment that a parent can gift a child. And so, ever since we had come to know about the baby, all of us at home had the same prayer,
“Swami, let this child be one that will love you with all it’s heart...”

What’s in a name? Everything

Even as the baby grew from a single cell into an embryo, we began discussions on the choice of a name. The name is a very important part of life. It will possibly be the most-heard word for the being and therefore, it is vital that it be something inspirational and aspirational. No wonder that all societies in the world spend considerable time and effort in naming a new-born.

Our plan was to make a list of boy and girl names and then choose the most appealing one. Though we started like that, somewhere along the line the plan got changed into me naming the baby if it was a girl and Pooja naming it if it was a boy. Thus I began focusing on girl names. My pick was “Vibhuti”. Having sought vibhuti, the holy ash from Swami all my student life, I felt it was a perfect name because, more than anything else, it symbolised Swami’s prasadam (a gift blessed by God).

I had this feeling that Pooja was carrying a boy. That is when I discovered that ‘Vibhuti’ is a unisex name! Irrespective of the gender of the baby, ‘Vibhuti’ could be used. One day, I asked Pooja,
“What do you think about the name ‘Vibhuti’?”
She was silent.
“You like it? Or you don’t like it?”
“See, Vibhuti is a unisex name...”
“Exactly my point! If we agree on it, then we needn’t search further...”

She wasn’t in conformity. She wanted a female name for a girl or a male name for a boy. Unisex names didn’t appeal to her.
“We have decided na that if its a girl it's your choice and it's my choice if it's a boy?”
I agreed though I was feeling defeated because of my gut feeling that we were going to have a boy. In that case, Pooja would win the naming rights. Pooja was smiling with a gleam of victory. Intuitively, she also felt that she was carrying a boy and knew that she had already won in the ‘naming choice’.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Second Coming - Indications of the Sathya Sai Avatar in Christianity

An artist's impression of the second coming of the Christ.
(Actually the advent of the Father of Christ...)
A word on the specialty of Christianity

Being a follower of a Master who emphasizes the unity and divinity of all religions, I go through the various aspects of different religions when their holy days or holidays arrive. So, I spend some time in Christ’s life and teachings whenever it is Christmas, Good Friday or Easter.

Christianity is a fascinating religion in many ways. One of the special things about Christianity is that a lot of information is derived through the writings of the apostles of Christ. The religion offers the aspirant different perspectives or views of the same master, Jesus Christ, through the eyes of many. Thus, we have the Gospel according to Mark, Gospel according to Matthew, Gospel according to John and the Gospel according to Luke. None dare say that one is better than the other for each is the Truth in itself and battling by quoting one against the other, we would be like the blind men fighting over their respective descriptions of the elephant!

Munde Munde Matir Bhinnah”, says my Master and God, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba who many lovingly call as Swami. In spirit, this translates into ‘there are as many interpretations of the Truth as there are heads’ because everyone is allowed an opinion. So, when I read through the description and interpretation of the same life of the Master through ‘different heads’, rather than get confused and upset at things that do not match my perspective and opinions, I celebrate the grand diversity and beauty of the Master. The Master’s concern is always for the individual and therefore, there are as many ways to God as there are individuals. The Master allows the aspirant to seek a path most suited for him/her to progress spiritually. Thus, I try to enjoy the perspectives and interpretations for none of them are wrong - all are right because ultimately, there is only Truth and nothing else.

The second coming

Among the different things I was reading, one subject that interested me tremendously was that of the second coming of Christ. Why did that interest me?
I would love it if God were to come on earth in physical frame once again! I have been blessed to have enjoyed the proximity of my dear Swami and I know how wonderful, holy, elevating, uplifting, sanctifying and fun Divine company can be. And now that He took Mahasamadhi on Easter Sunday, 2011, I look forward to anything that says anything about Him ‘coming again’!

(My belief that 24th April 2011 is a day of His ‘departure’ was shattered through a miraculous experience that happened exactly an year later - on the 24th of April, 2012. Swami showed that it is a day to mark His ‘arrival’ into our homes and heart(h)s!)

You just have to do an internet search for the term, “The Second Coming” and in a span of 0.36 seconds you will see nearly a billion results hit your computer screen! That should suffice to say that it is an intensely discussed and possibly debated topic. There are interpretations galore. Such was the abundance of the interpretations offered that I decided to go to the actual ‘Book of Revelation’, the final book of the New Testament, credited to the apostle, John. Again, there are so many versions and I referred to the King James’ version of the Bible, chapter 19. What I found there simply thrilled my heart. The reference to the descent of the Father of Christ or the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” was so wonderful. (Christ is considered as the son of God by John.)

And here, I shall present these as stated in the Bible and any Sai devotee will immediately grasp the cause of my wonder, thrill and joy. (The relevant passages from the Revelations have been presented in bold.)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Yearning to Learn; Learning to Yearn

An evergreen song - Ek Radha Ek Meera

There is a popular Hindi song comparing the love of two devotees of Lord Krishna, Radha and Meerabai. These two are possibly among Krishna’s greatest devotees. The first few lines go like this:

Ek Radha Ek Meera, Donon Ne Shyaam Ko Chaahaa
Antar Kya Donon Ki Chaah Mein Bolo
Ek Prem Diwaani Ek Darash Diwani

{Radha and Meera, both desired for Krishna.
Tell me what is the difference in their desire?
While one longed for His (physical) love, the other sought to see Him (darshan). }

What makes the song interesting is that Radha was a contemporary of Krishna while Meera lived in an era thousands of years after Krishna’s physical passing. In fact, everything about their lives is different - totally. And yet, what is common is that both achieved their ultimate goal of union with their beloved. That should be an inspiration for us because it shows no matter how different we are in the way we love God, we all are equally capable of achieving Him. What matters is how we yearn for Him ALONE. There are many instances of yearning for God being more important than experiences with God and this post will be an extension of those thoughts.

Hear the beautiful song in the golden voice of Lata Mangeshkar.

Personally, the song brings solace to my heart that pines for and misses the physical form of my Sathya Sai Krishna, my Swami. It encourages me to keep the flame of yearning going with the oil of devotion till the wick of my body burns away. It soothes me with the assurance that though all do not get the opportunity to be a ‘Radha’, everyone can grab the opportunity to be a ‘Meera’.

Every now and then, it is not uncommon for me to feel a spiritual void, a disconnect with my Swami within. At such times, I try to focus on Swami in everything I do. Like a faithful dog, I stand barking at the door of my Master, refusing to lick the juicy tidbits He throws me because I know that when all else fails, He will surely come out of the door and pat me. It is one such experience post the ‘Mahasamadhi’ of Baba that I would like to share.

The void

It had been several weeks since Swami had come in my dreams. It had been nearly a month since vibhuti manifested in the altar at home. Of course, my work at Radiosai involved seeing videos of Him, hearing His discourses and thinking about Him. And yet, I was feeling a void. I realized that while with yearning and personal sadhana, work becomes worship, without them even worship becomes a work! Thus I felt that I need to pine more for Him.

I confided into my wife, Pooja, and told her that I was missing Swami a lot.
“It was so easy when He was here. Why did He have to leave?” I asked her rhetorically.
“Swami knows best”, she replied before encouraging me, “the very fact that you are yearning for Him is a blessing from Him. Be grateful and keep praying.”
“Sane advice indeed but it does not help my crying heart...”
“If you love Swami, instead of just feeling for Him start doing something for Him”, she egged me on.
“I am doing many things right...”
“But you still are not satisfied” she cut me, “then do more for Him. See, I am planning to do a week long Sai Satcharitra reading.”
“Where do you have the time?”, I asked wonderingly because she would have to manage our daughter Bhakti at home apart from the 7 hours she would have to put into the work-from-home job.
“I will make time...”

Friday, 11 November 2016

Sai's Geeta - the extraordinary tale of an elephant that rose to the level of God

Sai Geeta's relationship with Bhagawan was beyond that of the love
between a pet and the master.
The Extra Sensory Perception of an elephant

It was life as usual in the Sri Sathya Sai Senior Boys’ Hostel, one fine day in the early 1990s. As the students were getting ready to go to college for the noon session, they heard ‘the alarm’. It was the trumpeting of Sai Geeta, the pet elephant of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who was residing in a huge vaulted roofed enclosure right in front of the Senior Boys’ Hostel. The excited trumpeting could only mean one thing - their Swami was headed that way!

As they rushed out of the hostel, they saw Geeta rushing towards the gate and had it not been for her caretaker, she would have crushed it. She was out on the road even before the boys lined up. She seemed unduly excited that day, making it difficult for her mahout to hold her in check. Swami’s car approached and Sai Geetha moved forward. Instead of raising her trunk in her customary salute, she rested it heavily on the bonnet of the car, effectively blocking its progress.

The glass window beside Swami slid down noiselessly and before anyone could crowd around, her trunk slickly slid off the bonnet into the window and ever so gently touched Swami’s cheek and hair. Swami stepped out of the car and immediately the flapping ears stilled to a gentle wave. She undulated backward as Swami moved towards her, murmuring endearments while her trunk reached to caress His feet. He touched her and the ones closest could see a ripple run across her huge frame as she rejoiced at the blessing.

“Come on Geetha, I have to go,” He said, patting her trunk.
She protested softly and her trunk rose to lie on the bonnet again. It was a very loud “No!”
“I want to go Geetha, come on, come on, move,” said Swami, reaching up to stroke her cheek. And suddenly a diamond glistened, a dew drop that was the coalescence of her love for Him, a silent expression of her feelings: a tear found its way down the very cheek upon which His hand rested.

“Okay, okay, I will not go!” said Swami sympathetically.
Immediately the ears moved a whisker. She had not stirred an inch. Perhaps she did not want to break the contact.
“Will you go back if I return to the ashram?” asked Swami.
She stepped back a fraction – but only a fraction - her trunk still lay on the bonnet.
“Okay, okay, I will not go, I am going back to the ashram. Are you happy?” He asked her.
She visibly trembled with joy and replied in her own language in the affirmative. He, of course, understood.

“Good girl, good girl,” said Swami. Then turning to all the students gathered there, He announced,
“I had planned to go to Brindavan (Bangalore ashram) today. She knew it, she sensed it. She somehow figured out Swami was leaving and she was crying, Paapam (poor thing)!”

Friday, 28 October 2016

Choose God and God chooses you - Dr. Raghunath Sarma's life experience -Part 4

The interview

Bhagawan returned to Brindavan from Kodaikanal with the entourage of students. Raghu was among the few students blessed to stay in the special accommodation beside Swami’s residence, Trayee Brindavan. The ‘Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality’ would be starting soon and this ‘privileged accommodation’ served to smoothen the transition from the Kodai life to normal life.

Raghu was in for a surprise as his entire family landed in Brindavan one fine day.
“We felt like having darshan and also seeing you. So, we came. Please tell Swami to grant us an interview...”
“Woah! Do you think it is that simple?” Raghu asked incredulously. There was no answer but Raghu realized that his going to Kodaikanal had raised the hopes of his parents who had several worries which, according to them, only Swami could solve.
“Okay, I shall ask”, Raghu said. He had nothing to lose.
The next day, during darshan Raghu got up on his knees and told Swami that his parents had come to Brindavan. Swami casually told him to go in for an interview! It had indeed turned out to be quite simple.

It was a special thrill for Raghu’s father who was speaking to Swami after nearly 3 decades. But the way Swami spoke with love and trust, it felt as though they had been in touch on a daily basis. (Isn’t that the truth anyway? We are always in touch with God directly. It’s just that we refuse to acknowledge or try some roundabout way of seeking him.) Swami assured the parents on all the different issues that were bothering them. They seemed comforted and had just one more issue. Raghu’s brother had not fared well in the undergraduate exams and it was doubtful whether he would get a seat for post graduation in Swami’s University.
“Swami”, the mother prayed about Raghu’s brother Vishwanath Sarma, “what about his younger brother?”
“The University is meant for you”, Swami assured, “but then, there are some rules and regulations that have to be followed.”

Everyone understood what Swami was saying. He didn’t want people to mix issues of admission in the University and relationship with Him. But the mother persisted,
“What about his future Swami? What will happen to him?”
That was when Swami made a statement that all of us ought to enshrine in our hearts.
“See, he has acted in several dramas. He has donned the roles of Ravana and Yama and given me great joy. When someone gives me even the minutest of joys (showing the tip of His fingernail), can his life be anything other than good and prosperous?”

In that question, Swami had given a beautiful assurance and a powerful message. All that one has to do is please God. Then, goodness and success are bound to come. (It is interesting to note that Vishwanath Sarma went on to complete MBA and was the first among his siblings to get a job. After working successfully in several MNCs, he is currently working as a senior manager in Capgemini,  a global leader in consulting, technology and outsourcing services.)

{This is the final part of a 4-part story. Enjoy it to the fullest after reading the first three parts.

The parents were overjoyed. That was when Swami asked pointing to Raghu,
Veedi katha emi? (What about this fellow?)”
The mother spontaneously replied,
"We do not think about him anymore as we have given him away to You. He is Yours as he has been so far."
It is a practice in many families in India where one child is offered to God. This usually is the child with the maximum spiritual aptitude. As the mother stated this, a broad smile came on Swami’s face. He seemed very thrilled to accept Raghu as his own. For Raghu, things seemed moving too fast. He had not anticipated any of these things happening. At every stage of his life he had made great efforts to choose God. Finally, it felt like God had embraced and accepted him completely.  
“What will you do?” Swami asked Raghu.