Thursday, 18 May 2017

Dating and Marriage - insights from a divine drama staged by Sri Sathya Sai Baba

By the love and grace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, many opportunities have come my way to address the youth from many countries. It is a great privilege to be able to share thoughts, ideas and ideals with this reservoir of great potential - the reservoir that will be sustaining the society and world in the future days to come. My observation has been that though the themes of the different conferences, meets, study circles and satsanghs may vary greatly, the questions and problems that the youth face fall broadly into just 3 themes. These are:
  1. Relationships
  2. Money and career
  3. Practical Spirituality


Here, in this piece, the idea is to deal with ONLY the first theme - relationships (and that too dating and marriage).
When it comes to relationships (in the youth), the focus is invariably on friendships, dating and marriage. The other relations either are not given that much attention or they come into picture only because they too have a role to play in the “friendship, dating and marriage” theme.


"I shall direct My own drama to leave behind a message for posterity", that is what the Divine Thought seems to be
as He gazes into the future with a smile... 


Imagine my joy when, while flipping through the pages of my personal diary, I came across an unexpected episode that happened on the 2nd of March, 2010, in the direct physical presence of Swami, which provides many insights on this very sensitive theme of dating and marriage! I felt a thrill in my heart because I realized this was Swami’s way of helping me and, in turn, all those that have questions and doubts in this regard. So, with deep gratitude and prayers, I shall take this nostalgic ride down memory lane, to the day when Swami amazed the whole of Sai Kulwant hall with His seemingly childlike actions. Though it is very tempting to fast forward and rush to the Divine delight that drenched the devotees, it is only fair that everyone be allowed to participate in the day as it unfolded. And so, we begin from the beginning.




In the beginning, there was nothing...


That is how the history of the universe begins; that is how the Parthi Yatra (Parthi Pilgrimage) began for the devotees from the Indian states of Bihar and Jharkhand began. They had come prepared with multiple cultural programmes to be put up the Divine Presence on the occasion of the festival of Holi. Holi was on March 1st but to the great disappointment of the pilgrims, even as the clock showed 06:30 pm and the bhajans were on in full swing, there was no sign of Swami coming. It was a sort of anti-climax because on the previous 5 days, Swami had granted darshan in the mornings as well as evenings. The day ended without even a single darshan. Holi didn’t turn out to be so holy after all!


The Lord has His reasons and those are beyond the comprehension of us mortals. On the morning of the 2nd of March, Swami told the pilgrims that He would see their programme in the evening. The devotees from Bihar and Jharkhand began preparations in right earnest and with sincere prayers. Many cancelled their return tickets to stay an extra day in Prasanthi. Soon, the backdrop was in place and the children were ready in costumes. As was the practice, Veda chanting began at 4:30 pm and concluded at 5:00 pm. But well, as said earlier, in the beginning there was nothing! Nothing in terms of signs of Swami's arrival.


Then there was the Word! The word was with God; the word was God! It was at 6:30pm that there was word of Swami's arrival. And then He came!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Yearning to serve is the only prerequisite to serve - the Nepal Youth Conference 2017

When God arranges...


I walked into the magnificent Bengaluru airport gearing up for my late-evening flight to Kathmandu. This was going to be my first ever visit to neighbouring Nepal and I was both nervous and excited. I was travelling to participate in the National Youth Conference of the Sri Sathya Sai Organization there (14th and 15th of April, 2017) and I had been told that more than a thousand youngsters in the age group 16-35 would be participating. The energy and power that the youth carry is tremendous and as Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” For me, it was a slightly modified statement,
“With the opportunity to address and harness great power comes great responsibility.”
The ‘responsibility’ part made me nervous; the ‘opportunity’ part excited me.

The wonderful venue for the National Youth Conference 2017 at Nepal. (Courtesy the head of the Armed Police in
Nepal who admires Swami with all his heart!)
Taking a seat in the lounge, I made a quick, momentary prayer to God.
“Swami, it has to be all You at the conference. You alone inspire, You alone transform. May I be a good instrument.”
I had barely completed my thought when Swami responded in a startling manner. I began to hear the bhajan, “Omkara Roopini Janani Maa” in my most favourite voice - that of Ravi Bhaiya. I was thrilled and I turned around to see where it was emanating from. It was the ringtone of an elderly lady.


As she completed her call, I moved towards her and said,
“Sairam aunty. Are you coming from Puttaparthi?”
“Oh Yes... Wait a minute? Aren’t you Aravind? I have read your books. I know your mother...”
“Yes aunty. I am Aravind and I too have come from Puttaparthi. Am travelling to Kathmandu for a conference.”
“I am also travelling to Kathmandu! I am Heera Basnet and I am a permanent volunteer at Prasanthi Nilayam...”


Needless to say, a sweet Satsangh ensued and I felt the reassuring warmth of Swami’s love. The nervousness was gone, replaced by confidence in His Divine Plan. It was only excitement now.


The flight was delayed by an hour. When it finally arrived, I realized that my seat, 34B, was in the last row and would lack the pushback ability of other seats. I didn’t want to curse my luck for I felt there was a reason why Swami had put me there. But then, things started to get a little bad. The guy on my right asked for alcoholic beverages and then for non-vegetarian food. I always like to believe Swami travels with me everywhere I go and I was finding it hard to see Swami in this person.
“NO! I cannot touch non-veg food. I have specifically asked for vegetarian while booking my tickets”, boomed a voice from my left.
Hearing him argue in Nepali with the air-hostess, I realized that there was no more vegetarian meals on board! It was exhausted and would we prefer fish or chicken? Now I cursed my fate and asked for some bread and butter. Mutual frustration kindled a conversation between me and the guy to my left. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he was the former youth-coordinator, Bishnu KC, for the SSIO in Nepal!
The Conference commenced with a march by more than thousand youngsters through the busy roads of Halchowk. 

Another beautiful satsangh followed as I learned about Swami’s love for Nepal and the Nepali youth’s love for Him from Bishnu. I understood why Swami had arranged the seating in that manner for me. It was valuable prep for me before the conference.


The first miracle and a few more...


It was past 10:30 pm as Bishnu guided me out of the crowded Tribhuvan International Airport. I was welcomed by a radiant young man, Bhaskar Bhattrai, who took me to my room in his car. The streets of Kathmandu were vibrant with activity of the Rajasic and Tamasic types. Bars were in full swing and disco music was being served liberally.
“Tomorrow is the Nepali New Year day, the day of Baisakhi”, said Bhaskar, “and so, don’t be surprised to see youngsters pull all-nighters like this in the extended weekend.”

The next morning, we reached the venue at the Armed Police Headquarters in Halchowk, Swayambhu. The decorated venue amazed me.
“This place looks wonderfully done. This is how it would be if Swami was visiting!”
“Sairam brother”, said a smiling, red-eyed youngster, “it has been our privilege to work for Swami through the night to get this hall ready for Him.”
What this youngster, Sarad, told me thrilled me with delight. I silently told Swami in my heart,
“Swami, thank you for giving me the opportunity to witness a miracle. When all over Kathmandu, the youth are pulling all-nighters for wine, women and sensual indulgence, here are a thousand youth preparing through the night for You. This is a miracle Swami! Your miracle of pure love!”

Friday, 31 March 2017

The value of Darshan - a lesson learned at Tirupati

East is east, west is west and the twain shall never meet


Ever since I found my God and Master in Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, I have never felt the need or desire to go on any kind of pilgrimage or visit any temple. It is not that I haven’t been to any temple or houses of worship. But, I have never visited them with the intention to ‘propitiate’ any God or deity. For instance, I have visited the Badrinath temple because my Swami has been there. I have been to the temple at Kedarnath because I love being in the Himalayas. I have gone multiple times to Lepakshi (45 kms from Puttaparthi) because of my love for architecture and history. Having gone to these places, I reverentially bow down to the deity knowing that my salutations are reaching Swami. However, I have never been to any temple with the aim of ‘bowing down to the deity’.

Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala (Tirupati).

Thus it was that I never visited the world famous shrine at Tirumala (Tirupati) though it is less than 225 kms away from Puttaparthi. I did not find any reason to do so (nature, history, architecture etc) and I wasn’t prepared to go there only to ‘offer obeisance’ to Lord Balaji (Lord Venkateshwara). That apart, I also had several reservations against the Tirupati shrine based on what I had heard from people.
  1. Stand in line for hours to go and see God.
  2. Pay money to buy a ‘darshan ticket’ and have a quicker darshan route.
  3. Get pushed away right in front of the sanctum by temple authorities trying to speed up the lines.
  4. Pay to buy Prasadam.
The fact that Tirupati is the richest temple in the world based on donations it receives added to my hesitation to go there. (Somehow there is a bias that lots of money breeds evil. As our great epic Mahabharata shows, money and power are not the root causes for evil; the greed for money and power are. And there is a big difference in owning money/power and being greedy for money/power.)


That apart, whenever I thought of Tirupati, I was reminded of the incident wherein Sri N Kasturi (Swami’s biographer) wanted to visit Tirupati because it was his family deity. Swami had asked him then,
“Why Kasturi? Don’t you have the faith that the prayers you have placed at my feet have also reached the feet of Lord Venkateshwara?”


So, whenever my wife Pooja broached the subject of going to Tirupati, I would hardly evince any interest. After my daughter Bhakti was born, Pooja wanted to make a visit to Tirupati and I had simply asked,
“Why? Isn’t seeking Swami’s blessings in Prasanthi Nilayam enough?”
She had her reasons and I had mine but the twain would never meet.


The passport to Tirupati


We decided to apply for a passport for Bhakti. Having filled everything online, we found out that the nearest PSK (Passport Seva Kendra) for Puttaparthi was (yeah, you guessed it right), Tirupati!


“We will have to go to Tirupati for Bhakti’s passport. We should have darshan”, Pooja said.
I agreed. I felt that it would be arrogance on my part and an insult to Lord Venkateshwara if I went to Tirupati and didn’t have darshan in the temple at Tirumala.
“But we will stay there only for a day. Let us not forget that we are going for Bhakti’s passport.”
I wanted my Swami to know that I was fiercely loyal. I was going to Tirupati only because of the passport. The darshan was just incidental.
Pooja told me that she would be booking the ‘300 Rs ticket’ because it would be very difficult to have darshan along with Bhakti in the general queue.She did not want me to argue about it and I wisely kept quiet. I told Swami in my heart,
“Swami, I am not booking any tickets. My wife is doing of her own volition. I am loyal to you alone!”


The passport appointment was made, darshan tickets booked and hotel rooms reserved. We drove to Tirupati on Sunday, 12th March 2017.


Welcome delight


Beauty and divinity radiate from Lord Venkateshwara. This picture was taken in
the Shanti Vedika, Sri Sathya Sai Hill View Stadium during the
Sahasra Poorna Chandra Darshanam (completion of  seeing thousand full moons
in one's life) of Bhagawan Baba. 
It was around 5:30 pm when we reached a place called Sreenivasa Mangapuram, 12 kms away from Tirupati. We drove into the temple compound, parked the car and went in for darshan. Just before we entered the temple, we witnessed a little procession of the Utsava Moorthis, the processional idols. Seeing the Arati, we walked into the main shrine. There were about 40-50 people standing in a queue and so, within 15 minutes, we were face to face with an exquisitely beautiful idol of Lord Balaji. I was overwhelmed with the beauty and divinity that seemed to radiate all around. I had Bhakti in my arms but I could feel Bhakti in my heart too!


It was only later that I got to know, Srinivasa Mangapuram is no ordinary temple. The deity here  is replica of Tirumala deity, larger in fact. It is one of the 5 most important temples of Tirupati. It was a stroke of great good luck that we did not face any crowds. I was grateful to Swami for the beautiful experience. It had softened me a bit.


We checked into a comfortable hotel room for the night. It was going to be a big day tomorrow with visits scheduled to the passport office and to the Tirumala shrine.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam - a very special private discourse

The 3 stages of a pilgrimage

A journey or search with a spiritual significance and meaning is a pilgrimage. Frankly speaking, I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would want to visit Prasanthi Nilayam on a regular basis. If one comes as a tourist to enjoy a vacation, one is bound to get bored very soon. If one comes as a seeker of worldly comfort, one is bound to get disappointed. If one comes out of curiosity, he/she will leave once that curiosity is satiated. But if one has the slightest inclination to seek the spiritual, Prasanthi will attract him/her over and over again. For, after all, isn't the ultimate goal of a spiritual journey Prasanthi (Supreme Peace)?

That is why it is important that whenever we visit Puttaparthi, we treat it as a pilgrimage. Any pilgrimage has three stages.


Welcome to Prasanthi Nilayam... and there is Sri Sathya Sai's name greeting you even as you arrive!
The first stage is when you learn about the place, delve into its history (which is nothing short of delving into His Story) and develop reverence for it. There is faith that the journey to be undertaken is the most special one.
The second stage is the actual stay at the place with the conviction that each and every thing happening to oneself is part of a Masterplan that will help you in the spiritual journey.
The final stage is to return to one's home, carrying the place of pilgrimage in one's heart. Then, one shares about the journey to others in the spirit of selflessness. This sharing serves as the first stage for other wannabe pilgrims.

It is indeed a piece of good fortune that when it comes to Prasanthi Nilayam, we have the presiding deity speak on how one should prepare for it and benefit from it. This is a very special discourse that I located by the sheer grace of our beloved Swami. Though it was addressed to the overseas devotees, it applies to anybody coming to Prasanthi Nilayam even from within the country. Needless to say, it applies the most to people like me, who have made Prasanthi Nilayam their home. It is with great joy and love that I am sharing this discourse. It was first published in the Sathya Sai Newsletter, the 1984 Fall edition, on page 28. It is reproduced sincerely below.

Close your eyes, visualize your Swami sitting with you and speaking to you in all love. Then proceed with reading.

The unexpected call

On the evening of August 20, 1984, word was circulated within the ashram at Prasanthi Nilayam that Baba wished for all the foreigners to assemble in the mandir (temple) the next morning. So, shortly after eight on the morning of the 21st of August, virtually all of the foreigners crowded into the mandir bhajan hall. The doors and windows were ordered shut by Swami, and two translators were summoned. Mr. V K Narasimhan translated from Telugu to English, and Mr. Craxi translated from English to Italian. The transcript of that discourse follows below.


DISCOURSE BEGINS


What is the use of being a human without knowing what humanness is?


Having taken this precious birth as a human being, we must realize what that humanness means. Man means the mind. Mind means desires. The result of desires may be good or bad. You experience the consequence of those good or evil things in your daily life. Therefore, the first thing you have to do is to realize that you are human. Having been born as human beings, we must make an effort to live up to our human values. In matters relating to food, sleep, and enjoyment, the behavior of man has much in common with animals. We take food. We sleep. We enjoy the pleasures of the senses. Similarly, birds, animals, and other creatures also experience this. What is the distinction between human life and the life of other animals? What is the purpose of life?


Many people do not think about this. Having been born as human beings, we must live as human beings. There are four things in which we must behave like human beings.
  1. Discipline
  2. Manners
  3. Behavior
  4. Dress
Today we are living very much the life of animals. We think that man's job is to enjoy the senses. This is not true humanness. Compassion, love, adjustment, conduct, manners, understanding —these are the qualities that human beings should develop.


On multiple spouses...


In these days man is regarding life as consisting of sensual pleasure and, therefore, is wasting his time. You must realize that this is really animal behavior. You must develop character. Nowadays, man does not devote much attention to character. Without character man is like an animal. Animals have many husbands and wives. If man also, or woman, has many husbands or many wives, he or she is worse than the animals. So, you must develop the point of view of one husband and one wife.


What is the purpose of coming to Prasanthi Nilayam?


All of you are coming here spending a lot of money. Why are you coming? Are you regarding this as a picnic, or a holiday? Or are you regarding it as a tourist attraction? No! No! You have come to broaden your hearts. You must confirm the principle of Love. It is not a love based on selfishness. This is a love which is combined with Divinity. We must make a firm resolve to pursue the spiritual path. You must journey from the starting point of "my" and "mine" to "we" and ours." You must come to understand why you have come. You come after spending a lot of money, yet you are wasting your time strolling about and engaging in unnecessary and useless talk.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

When man's adversity becomes God's opportunity - Devesh Srivastava's tryst with death

Devesh Srivastava got into the front seat of the luxury car with a great deal of satisfaction. The task he had wanted to accomplish had been completed better than he had imagined. Savouring the sweet taste of success, he had decided to leave with his two friends, Manas and Vivek (*names changed to protect privacy). Manas was at the wheel while Vivek stretched himself in the backseat.


Devesh was on the verge of taking charge of his father’s company, N S Corporation, a talc mining firm which started with less than 25 employees in 1953. In the 40 years of it’s existence, the company had grown into the largest producer of talc ore in the present-day Uttarakhand state of India. Devesh’s plan was to make it the leading producer and exporter of high quality talc in the country with distributors in all states. Having been educated in the highly reputed Delhi Public School (R.K.Puram) and the St. Xaviers College (Calcutta), he knew that he had it in him to achieve his dream.


A glimpse of the kind of roads one encounters in these regions.
It was November 1994 and the chill descended very soon at Almora. Devesh gratefully turned on the heater in the car to complement the warmth of satisfaction he felt within himself. It would take more than 3 hours to cover the 90-odd kilometers between Almora and Haldwani (where the NS Corporation’s administrative office was located). That was because the roads in these mountainous regions were all narrow and curvy. Even an average speed of 30 km/h could be considered as good progress!

“Watch the road Manas! In your hurry to take us to the next town, don’t take us to the next world!” Vivek quipped.
“Back-seat driving as always Vivek! Just relax. I have got it all covered.” Manas replied.
“These curves and bends are treacherous”, said Devesh, “and I don’t mind if we go a bit slow...”
“Says a man who is ever so quick to reach his goals”, Manas laughed aloud, “I am just doing on the road what you are doing in life!”


A steep curve to the left was coming up ahead and Devesh felt that Manas had not slowed the car enough to navigate it safely. Manas seemed to sense his unease and indicated to him to relax. With the panache of a Formula-1 driver, Manas went to the extreme right of the road to give himself greater room at the curve. He knew that there was a deep ravine on the other side. But this would only be a momentary manoeuvre.

Like life, these roads also take many unpredictable curves!


The horror of his mistake hit him only when he was actually making the curve. What he thought was a C-curve had turned out to be a U-bend! Instead of a 90-degree turn, he had to make a 180-degree turn but he was going too fast. The car would inevitably plunge into the gorge!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 2

Heads in forest but hands in society

Bhagawan Baba never advocates giving up one’s duties to pursue a spiritual life. In fact, on several occasions, Swami has strongly reprimanded those that compartmentalise aspects of life as ‘worldly’ and ‘spiritual’. The life-experience of Prof. H.J.Bhagia is a case to point. ‘Hands in society, heads in the forest’ is the motto that Swami advocates. That is one of the reasons why everyone is attracted to Him - everybody is given an equal opportunity to pursue a spiritual life irrespective of vocation or status or any other difference.

Bejoy’s perspective of a ‘spiritual life’ had transformed without his knowledge. He now knew that it was no longer essential to ‘sacrifice’ or ‘run away’ from the world to achieve the ultimate. Wiser, he dropped a postcard to his parents informing them in brief of his adventure and whereabouts. Day later, he was accosted by Prof. N. Kasturi who, among his several other duties in the ashram, also served as the postmaster.
“So you came here without even telling your parents?”
“ I have informed them now...”
“That I can see”, Kasturi replied, “your father has sent some money for you to travel back home.”

Two English teachers in a single frame - Bejoy with Prof.N.Kasturi.

Thus Bejoy’s needs after the ‘33 Rs’ were also taken care of, by the worldly father this time!

{This is the second part of the story. It will make better meaning if you read it after going through the first part at the link below: PART 1: Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1 }

He attended his first ever Shivarathri in Prasanthi Nilayam and it was unforgettable. In the morning, he witnessed the spectacle of the Vibhuti Abhishekam. He saw with wonder as Swami swirled His hand in an empty pot upturned over a silver idol of Shirdi Baba and heaps of vibhuti poured out from it. In the evening, he witnessed Swami manifest two lingams from His stomach through His mouth. He clearly saw flashes of light before each of the lingams emerged. It was with thrill and thrall that he boarded the train to take him back to Odisha. He vowed that he would return to Prasanthi Nilayam soon. Thus it was that Bejoy fulfilled Swami’s directive of plunging back into society while his mind and heart continued to remain in the Eden that Prasanthi Nilayam is.

When he reached home, Bejoy was met by a very relieved mother. As she caressed her eldest born, the mother inquired about his well being. She didn’t scold him or seem upset with him. She was simply happy to have him back. Bejoy, with his newfound understanding of spirituality, was also happy to be back home. He now plunged seriously into his duties as a student. He had carried Swami back with him, in his heart, to Odisha and so, everything he thought, spoke or did now was different. He had found a new zest in life. He completed his education and joined as a lecturer in the prized Bhubaneswar college. (After three years, he worked in the Puri college and three years later, at the Ravenshaw College.)

Hanuman lovingly advises Vibhishana.
To love God is to live for Him

When Hanuman was on the task of locating mother Sita in Lanka, he heard the name of his Lord Rama emanating from one of the houses. It was Vibhishana, the brother of the demon king Ravana but a staunch devotee of Rama. The two meet and Vibhishana confesses with tears in his eyes,
“Hanuman! How blessed you are to constantly think of Rama and also have Rama think of you. I also chant the name of Rama always but am not so blessed. Why is that so?”

Hanuman responds promptly,
“Oh noble one! You think of Rama no doubt. But do you do His work? You have love for Him but that love finds fulfillment only when you work for Him. Rama is searching for Sita who is in Lanka. You could have pleased Him better by helping in that mission rather than just chanting His name...”
Vibhishana understands his mistake. He immediately guides Hanuman to the Ashoka Vatika where Sita is being held captive.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1

Journey to God
Bejoy Kumar Misra moved hurriedly on the railway station in the city of Cuttack. A cloth bag which contained a few clothes, a book and a pen slung across his body as he made his way towards the train that would be taking him to Vijaywada in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Excited anticipation filled him because he was about to make a journey like he had never done before. Considering his circumstances, it would also be a great adventure.

Does this look like a polio-struck 70-year old to you? Living
for God has its unique way of generating  youthfulness,
energy and enthusiasm!
For starters, Bejoy was on crutches. His left leg hung limp, afflicted with polio. Having been born in pre-independent India (1943) in the economically backward state of Odisha (formerly known as Orissa), Bejoy had been struck a cruel blow by the poliomyelitis virus. He had battled it as an infant with the help of many medicines. He won the war but lost a leg in battle. As far as his memory went, he had needed support to move around. However, that was not what made this impending journey challenging. Bejoy, with his crutches, felt as normal as normal could be. His shoulders and arms had grown stout and strong and he easily moved across barriers, climbed staircases and utilized the primitive public transport India offered in 1967. The challenge according to him was the distance that had to be travelled.  
He had not travelled anywhere in a train except between Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, a distance of just 25 kilometres. He would now be travelling 32 times that distance (805 kms) to Vijaywada and that would be just one half of his planned journey! He was doing this alone with just Rs 10 in his pocket. To make matters worse, nobody at home knew what he was up to! He had gotten out of his house saying that he would be visiting a friend.
Bejoy knew that the money he had wasn’t sufficient to even buy the ticket to Vijaywada. But then, hadn’t he decided to take the leap of faith? He literally jumped into a seat in the train and settled down, absolutely unaware of what lay ahead for him. Ticketless and filled with anticipation, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and visualised his plan. He would get off at Vijaywada and take a train to Guntur. At Guntur, he would change trains to reach Guntakal from where he would catch a train to Dharmavaram. From Dharmavaram, he would travel by road to reach Puttaparthi and, the goal of his journey, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The whole journey would span more than 1300 kilometres - a distance that Bejoy possibly had not travelled even when he put together all his train journeys so far in life.
What had spurred a 23-year old physically challenged lad to seek a 40-year old ‘Baba’? What had motivated him to embark on a journey without any preparation? How did he get the courage? All answers lay in Bejoy’s early life.
A fire rages on
Even as a child, Bejoy took great interest in the spiritual side of life; possibly the result of several previous births of yearning. Being the eldest among 9 siblings at home (7 brothers and 2 sisters), he was naturally expected to be the most responsible one. However, things in the worldly domain hardly interested him. His father was a headmaster to hundreds of children at school and to nine children at home. He was a strict disciplinarian who practiced all that he preached. For him, duty was God; work was worship. Though he expressed no outward emotion towards his children, Bejoy knew that he was a solid support in life. Being an English teacher, he inspired love for that language in Bejoy as well. Seeing Bejoy’s aptitude for the English language, he hoped that he would prove his mettle by rising higher than the father had ever done in his life. But Bejoy was least interested in a career!
He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in Odia (his mother tongue) and great proficiency in English (his father’s tongue). But then, Bejoy, to add fuel to the scorching fire in his heart, devoured books on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shivananda and Vivekananda. Gita was in his daily reading list. He hungered for more books that would satiate his innermost desire. Even among the English literature books, his favourites were those by authors and poets who had a deep spiritual side. But, however much he read, he wasn’t satisfied. Though he was always surrounded by siblings at home and friends in college, he felt lonely and had the least interest in anything.
That was when he read an article which would change his life forever! It was a piece by Dr. Sundar Rao in a 1966 edition of The Illustrated Weekly of India. (Simply known as ‘Weekly’ by its readership, this magazine which started publication in 1880 was considered to be an important English-language publication in India for more than a century. Many young students of English used it as a regular reading and guide for honing English language skills in vernacular India. It is now defunct, having closed down on November 13, 1993.)