Friday, 12 September 2014

God grants everything but should never be taken for granted - Amey's experience with his Swami_ Part 1

Amey Deshpande was ecstatic as held the piece of paper in his hand. He fondled it reverentially as if it was one of the greatest treasures on earth. As far as he was concerned, at that point in time, it was indeed the greatest treasure on earth. It was his ticket to the feet of his Master, his God - Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The letter intimating him about his selection into MBA (finance) at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (Prasanthi Nilayam) had just arrived and Amey’s joy knew no bounds. This was the moment he had been waiting for many years now.

Regular readers of this blog will be well acquainted with Amey, my dear Sai-brother and neighbour who is currently an assistant professor in the same department where he acquired his MBA degree. I have lived through several of his experiences, thanks to his vivid and detailed narratives and it is a wonder that I have penned down only three of his stories so far. Amey took his ‘baby’ steps into Swami’s heart as early as 1984. After that, he had several memorable experiences in the Sri Sathya Sai Primary School. Life however, was not all rosy and he was abruptly expelled from the school. That was a defining experience in Amey’s life when he learnt that sometimes things go horribly wrong before going right and that sometimes one has to move away from God to move closer to Him!  

While that was the defining experience of his life, his days as an MBA student at Swami’s lotus feet taught him many lessons. One of the most unforgettable ones among those was that God should never be taken for granted.

A beautiful ‘honeymoon’ period as a singer

For all the readers who have not read the other narratives about Amey or have taken out time to click on the links above (yes, thats almost an ad to make you scroll back up, click on those links, read them and then continue from here), this much has to be said that he is an excellent bhajan singer. He was an integral part of the Brindavan Bhajan Group in Bangalore and would sing twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays, in Swami’s presence at Whitefield.

The Brindavan Bhajan Group (BBG) consisted only of members of the Seva Dal (the volunteer corps of the Sri Sathya Sai Organization). It was special in the sense that it was the only unit of the Seva Dal that regularly got an opportunity to sing for Swami. That opportunity was almost entirely belonging to the students of the SSSIHL. Among the singers of the BBG, Amey was considered special.

He definitely was one of the best voices. But what made him very special was the attention, love and grace that Swami showered on him. Swami almost seemed to look forward for Amey’s bhajans! On one occasion, Amey had to miss the Thursday morning bhajans in order to write an important ‘Accountancy’ exam at his college. The next Sunday, during the bhajans, Swami came up to him and enquired why he did not attend bhajans the previous session. Amey was stunned that a thing as little as his absence had been noticed and replied,
“Swami, I had to write an accountancy exam...”
“You did not do well in it... You could have as well come for bhajans.”
Amey actually flunked that exam!

Invariably Amey would get selected to do the ‘Trayee duty’. This required him to act as security for Trayee Brindavan, Swami’s residence in Whitefield. The Trayee duty was a great opportunity because Swami often interacted with these volunteers on a regular basis. The probability of such divine interactions increased whenever Amey was on duty! That was why the Seva Dal members also ensured that he was there most of the times - it increased chances of everyone’s interactions with Swami.

Among the different ‘duties’ of a Trayee boy, there was a special one - opening the door for Swami to enter the stage in Sai Ramesh Hall. This was a ‘duty’ that all volunteers took turns doing because it brought them in close physical proximity to the Avatar of the Age. When it was Amey’s chance, Swami always made it extra special. He would ask him whether His hair was set alright. On another occasion, He enquired whether His robe was fine and not crumpled. In short, there was no doubt that Amey was the apple of Swami’s eyes. The two years that he spent as a singer in Brindavan were filled with interactions and experiences galore. It was indeed a long ‘honeymoon’ period for the devotee with his Lord. Amey felt that things would get better once he entered the portals of the SSSIHL. They did become better actually, but not in the manner that Amey expected.

Continuation or cessation?

The path to becoming a bhajan singer in the Prasanthi Mandir Bhajan Group (PMBG) is indeed an arduous one. The first step involves getting into the list of probables from among the hundreds that seek to adore the Lord through this path. (Understandable for the Lord is Ganapriya, a lover of music.) Once in the probables’ list, one has to practice long hours to stand out among the others. The teachers in charge then listen to them and decide whether they are ready to sing in the mandir in Swami’s presence or not. Once the teachers are satisfied, the student is given permission to seek permission from Swami to sing in the mandir! The boy has to somehow seize an opportunity to speak with Swami and get His approval. Even then, the future of the singer hinges upon how well the first bhajan is rendered.

For Amey, it was a straight and direct entry. He was famous even among the students and teachers of the University. He had to undergo no tests, selections or seeking of permission. Swami arrived to Puttaparthi from Brindavan on the 9th of July, 2003. Amey sang his first bhajan as a ‘Sai Student’ on the 15th of July, 2003. There was no looking back after that.

While all the other singers felt that Amey had raced along the fast track, as far as bhajan singing was concerned, Amey did not entertain any such thoughts. He felt that it was natural that he would get his chances to sing - that had been his experience over the past few years. he also had no doubts that Swami’s interactions with him would continue just like those days at Brindavan.  For a few days, Amey sang but Swami did not speak to him. He felt that it was only a matter of time before Swami started speaking to him. He was proved right when, one day, Swami called out to him as ‘Bangalore Boy’ and spoke to him at length. Amey was happy no doubt, but he was not satisfied because he was here to prove himself as a ‘student par excellence’. (To understand this, one definitely has to read the blog of his other experience!) Swami allowing him to sing bhajans and speaking a few words with him was something that he took for granted.

That was the mistake he made. And he ‘paid’ for that mistake nearly an year after he enrolled as an MBA student.

It all started so casually in 2004. That day, Amey was slated to sing the seventh bhajan of the session. As the microphone was passed to him and he was about to begin his bhajan, Swami rose from His chair to receive Aarthi. Taking the help of a student (Swami had fractured his hip then), He moved out of the bhajan hall into the waiting car.

The next day, it so happened that Amey was to sing the sixth bhajan. ‘Coincidentally’, Swami received Aarthi after the fifth bhajan that day. The day after that, the pattern repeated with Amey being slated to sing the fifth bhajan and Swami getting up after the fourth bhajan itself! This was just too much and several others noticed this correlation between Amey’s planned singing and Swami’s getting up for Aarthi.

The dreaded ‘pink slip’

On the day Swami rose to leave after the fourth bhaian, the in-charge of the bhajan group summoned him.
“Amey, it is time now for intensifying your bhajan-singing practice...”
“I know sir. I have already started spending hours in practicing...”
“You should also intensify your personal sadhana (disciplined and dedicated spiritual practice).”
“Hmmm... Yes... I too feel so...”
Then came the death blow.
“You needn’t sing for a few days. Take time off to learn whatever it is that Swami is trying to teach you.”

As Amey walked back to the hostel, the magnitude of the ‘punishment’ hit him. Something that he had taken for granted - Swami’s interactions and singing bhajans - had been taken away from him in a trice! He was feeling like the director of some company who is given a pink slip at short notice. He was shocked and sad. And he felt that way because he didn’t realize then that the colour of the ‘slip’, pink, was also the colour of the aura of pure love. It would take him some time to realize this.

A few days passed as Amey pined for the opportunity to sing in the Divine presence. He would practice for a couple of hours daily, hoping that he would get his break soon. Everyday, as he sat in the bhajan group, he would look out for a smile or at least a glance from Swami. He got neither. On the other hand, some other singers were basking in Swami’s grace. The contrast was too painful for Amey to bear, but he laboured on. At last, he got a break!

Break, oh heartbreak...

“Amey, you sing the Ganesha bhajan today...”
It was the bhajan in-charge and it appeared as though he was convinced that Amey’s ‘punishment’ was complete.
“Thank you sir”, was all that Amey could reply. Finally, the singing-drought was about to end. A smile came over Amey’s face at the thought. The smile got broader when he realized the in-charge’s masterstroke. There was no way that Swami could rise for Aarthi before his bhajan because it would be the first bhajan! (It is practice to start any bhajan session with a bhajan on Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles.)

That day turned out to be a very different sort of day and it was memorable for so many students and devotees. Swami completed the darshan rounds and continued to sit on the dais, listening to the Veda chants. While the usual practice was for Him to go into the interview room after a while and then attend bhajans in the bhajan hall, He did something that delighted all the devotees. He continued to sit outside granting darshan.

The children from the Sri Sathya Sai Primary School had come for darshan and, as always, they brought in a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the session. They were chanting the Vedas so loudly and energetically that Swami seemed very impressed and pleased. He began to call the children individually and in groups and made them chant the Vedas. Swami was like a proud Divine Mother showing off Her children to the assembled thousands. He also made a few students give extempore speeches.

As all this went on, Amey’s eyes went to the wall clock. The time for starting bhajans had already passed. He was sure that there would be no bhajans! But that did not alarm him.
“If there are no bhajans, the cause cannot be ascribed to me. It is just that Swami is in a ‘Veda mood’ over the ‘Bhajan mood’ today...”
He turned to see the bhajan in-charge. He understood that he too shared his thoughts - if there were no bhajans sung today, it would not come on Amey’s head simply because he was slated to sing the Ganesha bhajan. Relieved at this and hoping against hope that he would get to sing the next day, Amey sat seeing the Primary School kids.

Then came the statement that he was waiting for. Swami said,
“Now, let us have bhajans...”
Amey straightened up and adjusted the microphone in front of him. The Aumkaaram started. Then, Swami delivered the heartbreak.

“Let the children of the Primary School sing bhajans...”
In great excitement, dozens of children, the best singers from Primary School, filed towards the dais and sat in front of the PMBG members. With hearts experiencing a thrill and voices that were shrill, they began to lead the bhajans for the whole hall to follow. All the devotees were so happy to witness this unexpected shower of love. Also, since Swami was seated outside for the bhajans, they could enjoy an extra session of darshan! Everyone was happy - all except Amey.

He was heartbroken. He looked at the bhajan in-charge and both of them had the same thought,
“It is not as if Swami chose Veda chanting over Bhajan singing. It is just that Swami wanted bhajans by the students of the Primary School over the same by the PMBG! And there could be only one possible reason for it - Amey was singing the first bhajan.”

After the session, the in-charge came up to Amey. He patted him on his back and said,
“No more singing now... You need to do some deep introspection.”

This was terrible. Not only had a ‘pink slip’ been delivered to him but it had come along with a ‘restraining order’ preventing any future attempts at ‘gainful employment’ in the PMBG! What could he do now? Dejected and defeated, he walked back to the hostel.

He cried that night.

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