Friday, 9 January 2015

Being God's driver - The life and story of Padmanabhan with Sri Sathya Sai_ Part 2

Everything happens with a reason

It took about 4 hours for Padmanabhan to drive from Bangalore to Puttaparthi through the narrow winding roads which meandered through many villages along the way. Who would have thought that a tar road would be connecting Bangalore with a tiny hamlet in Andhra Pradesh?
“Today, the Asian Highway 43, the National Highway 7 and a State Highway form the series of roads connecting these two places. I never thought it would become like this then!” says Padmanabhan with a smile of amazement.

The client had a day’s work to accomplish in Puttaparthi and Padmanabhan spent the night in the car itself. The next morning, even as he was going for his ablutions, the client rushed to him,
“We need to get back to Whitefield as soon as possible. I wish to be there in time for darshan!”
In a hurry, Padmanabhan got the car started and began th journey back towards Whitefield. It was literally ‘godspeed’ for them because they were speeding to be in time to see God!

{This is the second part of Padmanabhan's story. In case you have arrived directly here, it is recommended that you read the first part first! That is at the link below:

Being God's driver - The life and story of Padmanabhan with Sri Sathya Sai_ Part 1 }

The car neared the Brindavan ashram and all the signs outside indicated that Bhagawan Baba had come out to grant darshan.
“Yes! Stop right here”, said the client as he got off from the car and rushed in to have darshan. Padmanabhan too was desirous of having darshan but he had not bathed and washed for nearly 24 hours. He thought for a moment and decided that the ablutions could wait. He parked the car nearby and rushed under the welcoming shade of the Sai Ram shed. Even as he sat in the last line, possibly the tenth one, in the gents’ section, Swami had neared the gents’ side of the tree having completed the ladies’ side. He seemed to hurry towards where Padmanabhan was seated and began to look at him from a distance of more than 20 feet. Padmanabhan could feel a tingling sensation inside him. He just sat down when Swami raised His finger and told him,

Padmanabhan feels that his spiritual growth has been complete in Swami's presence, though not in the way he thought.
Every delay and even denial from Swami only got him closer to Swami and helped him evolve spiritually. 
23rd March 1992 is a day embedded in Padmanabhan’s memory for ever because it is possibly the only day he had gone for darshan without any of his ablutions in day-old clothes and Swami picked him straight for an interview! The joy was heightened because this gift was totally unexpected. Expectation is such a terrible thing - it makes you morose if not fulfilled and feels normal if fulfilled. On the other hand, living each moment with no expectation is divine - it never makes you morose but adds extra joy when you are gifted something! Padmanabhan walked towards the interview room with a spring in his step.

As soon as he was alone with Swami, the Lord smiled and patted him on his back.
“I did not call you yesterday because you would be having to rush to Puttaparthi. I wanted to spend more time with you...”
Padmanabhan was overwhelmed and did not know what to say. This was his first experience of everything in life happening for a reason. Keeping his emotions under check, he told Swami what he had been holding in his heart for a long time now,
“Swami, I love you so much. But I am unable to accept you as God. Please convince me that you are God so that I can worship you with all my heart...”
What Swami did next was something that Padmanabhan never imagined in his dreams even. There was no waving of hand or reading of minds. A kind of sadness swept over Swami’s face and looking at him, the Lord asked,
“No faith in me?”
Swami’s words were slow, deliberate and filled with pain.
“Swami! I love you a lot... But this is my problem...”

Now, Swami began to turn His palm in circles. He seemed to ‘snatch’ a silver ring from thin air. It was a ring His picture on it where He had raised His right hand in Abhayahasta. He held Padmanabhan’s hand lovingly and slipped the ring into the ring finger. He smiled at patted him. It was as if it did not matter to Him whether Padmanabhan had faith or not. Faith is not something that God benefits from. It is something that benefits the devotee! God seeks only love and whether that is given with or without faith does not matter to Him.

An interaction between a student and Swami is worth recollecting here:
“Swami please let me be steady in my faith...” the student prayed.
When Swami enquired as to why he prayed thus, he replied,
“Swami my faith in you trembles at times. I don’t want it to collapse.”
Bangaroo (My dear), do you love me?” Swami asked.
“Yes Swami. I love you.”
“That is enough. There is no need of faith. If you love me, you deserve me.”

Suddenly, floodgates seemed to open up within Padmanabhan. He just went to Swami and embraced Him ever so tightly. He was crying like a baby and his tears were all over Swami’s shoulder. Hugging Swami, he kept saying, “Swami, I love you.” The interview had concluded but not Padmanabhan’s experience. Even after coming out, the feeling of overwhelming and overpowering love stayed with him. His tears continued to flow and anyone who asked him what the matter was, received a hug and profuse tears on his/her shoulders!

On several occasions after this interview, Swami would lovingly ask Padmanabhan, pointing to the heart,
“How is it now?”
It was like a concerned doctor asking about a patient’s progress. The illness of doubt (shaky faith) does not affect the Divine Doctor. It is His concern for the patient that makes Him so Patient. How much Shraddha and Saburi (Faith and Perseverance) He has in us!

Two months later, by the June of 1992, the Prasanthi Travels service shut down. While all other drivers chose to seek greener pastures in terms of a career, two of them - Padmanabhan and Rajendran - chose to stay back. They were inducted as drivers in the Central Trust now.

“For me, it was really Prasanthi Travels - an excuse which had been created to make me travel to Prasanthi,” says Padmanabhan with his sweet smile. He today knows that everything that happens, happens for a reason. Therefore, he does not question anything happening in life. He quietly accepts it and also tries his best to celebrate it because it is Swami’s plan for him.

Prasanthi Travels was an instrument for Padmanabhan to travel towards his supreme peace (Prasanthi), where
he seated his Lord on the throne of his heart. 
Delightful divine-drive debut

Life as a driver of the Central Trust involved less travel out of Puttaparthi and increased work in terms of maintaining vehicles. A couple of trucks and other heavy vehicles also came under Padmanabhan’s maintenance jurisdiction. All the while, as he worked, he had a secret regret - that he had been foolish in asking Swami for proof when He was available all to himself in the interview room. He could have asked for anything but he chose to express his doubts. Why couldn’t he have asked a boon to be near and dear to Swami always? Wasn’t that the reason he had come to Prasanthi Nilayam in the first place?

He experienced Swami’s love and care on several occasions after that. For instance, whenever he wanted to go home, Swami would call him and enquire about the nature and duration of the trip. Then, He would give him sufficient money so that he would not have to spend even a pie from his earnings.
“I will take care of everything”, is what Swami had told him when He took him under His wings and He was certainly living up to His word. When there was a need of any sort in the family, Swami would promptly send the necessary aid for Padmanabhan, sometimes even without him asking for it! All this made him grow in his love and devotion to Swami such that the next time Swami pointed to His heart and asked him,
“How is it now?”
Padmnabhan replied,
“Very happy Swami...”
That answer resulted in a very happy Swami!

In the June of 1993, circumstances arose that made Swami shift from the tiny 8 feet by 6 feet room in the mandir  to a slightly bigger room in the backstage area of the Poornachandra Auditorium. That was also the time when the privilege of driving Swami’s car was gifted to mainly two people - a certain Apparao from Coimbatore and, in his absence, Rajendran who was Padmanabhan’s colleague.

Padmanabhan was so happy for Rajendran and he asked him several times on how it felt to drive the Lord’s car. The answer was silence and Padmanabhan was unable to decipher it. This made his desire to serve Swami directly even more intense. For 3 weeks every month, Apparao would be Swami’s chauffeur. He would go to visit his family in Coimbatore for one week every month and that week would be Rajendran’s turn to drive the Divine.

Padmanabhan’s first break came early in 1994 when Swami set out to Brindavan, Bangalore and he was asked to drive one of the cars in Swami’s entourage. Padmanabhan was thrilled at this opportunity. It was a wonderful feeling to drive a car for more than 150 kilometers knowing that Swami’s car was just a few feet away! On reaching the destination. Padmanabhan was provided accommodation in the building right beside Bhagawan’s residence. Padmanabhan definitely felt near to Swami but he was desperate to feel dear as well. That magical moment arrived in a very sudden manner.

Rajendran’s had gone to Puttaparthi, driving Jogarao sir there for some official work. Sri Balaram, the devotee who often drove Swami around in Bangalore was away because of some unforeseen circumstances and Apparao, the regular driver, was in Coimbatore. Swami wanted to visit the Rajmata of Jamnagar. He summoned Sanjeev, a student who was privileged to serve Him then and asked him to summon the car.
“Swami, Balaram sir, Apparao and Rajendran are not here... Shall I call Padmanabhan?”
“Will he drive a foreign car?”
“Swami he has experience in handling, driving and maintaining so many kinds of foreign cars abroad. He will surely drive well...”
Swami smiled and Sanjeev came running to Padmanabhan with the keys to the Lord’s car.

The maroon Jaguar which served as the car for the first drive for Padmanabhan.
In five minutes Padmanabhan found himself in the driver’s seat of the maroon Jaguar car, waiting in front of Trayee Brindavan with a thudding heart. Swami walked out of the residence and into the back seat of the car. Padmanabhan felt as if He entered his heart! It was a wonderful feeling to look at the moon-like face of his beloved in the rear-view mirror. In an instant the rear-view had got transformed into a rare-view!
“Hmm... let’s go”, Swami said and Padmanabhan gently stepped on the accelerator of the auto-transmission car.

It was a magical 3-minute drive to the Rajmata’s house - a dream come true for Padmanabhan. He was so mesmerised that the half an hour Swami spent with the sick Rajamata seemed to fly by. It was another magical 3-minutes as he drove Swami back to Trayee Brindavan after His visit to the dear devotee’s house. As he stopped the car, he was anxious for feedback from Swami. He was watching Swami from the ‘rare-view’ mirror as He stepped out of the car. Once Swami was outside, Padmanabhan turned and looked at Him. Swami had a broad smile on His face and He too was looking at Padmanabhan alone! He raised His right palm in Abhayahastha and that thrilled Padmanabhan. He remembers that moment with crystal clarity even to this day.

The first drive as chauffeur to the Lord had been signed off by Him as a thumping success! Padmanabhan had become an approved stand-in driver for his Padmanabha (Lord Vishnu who was his God before he came to Swami)!

Permanent appointment after a unique ‘probation’

“When was it that you moved up the ladder from a stand-in driver to the first-choice driver?”
That was my next question to him.
“Oh! That happened in a very simple and straightforward manner...” Padmanabhan replied,
“One day in 1994, as Swami came out of His new residence in the Poornachandra auditorium, He looked at me and said that I should drive the car. It was evident that He was going out somewhere and the fact that He picked me when the others - Apparao and Rajendran - were available gave me the first indication that this was something big! I was very happy and I rushed to the car.”
“Wasn’t Apparao there?” I queried.
“He had just returned from Coimbatore. I think his responsibilities there were rising and Swami told him to settle in Coimbatore and perform his responsibilities well.”
I was now beginning to understand.
“Aha! You were the only unmarried driver and so you became numero uno...”
“No! Not like that at all. I was already married then...”
“What?! When? How?”
That story turned out to be an awesome one, the details of which we shall explore later. But it all began with Swami calling Padmanabhan in Brindavan in June 1994 and telling him,
“It is time for you to get married. In the next 15 days, find a bride, get married and return.”

That was as drastic and sudden as one could expect!
“As you wish Swami”, replied Padmanabhan, “but where should we hold the wedding ceremony?”
“We will have the ceremony in Puttaparthi... in the interview room.”

The next day, (remember this happened before Padmanabhan became a ‘permanent’ chauffeur) Padmanabhan got another opportunity to drive Swami. During the drive, Swami told him,
“See, it will be difficult for all the elders to fit into the interview room. Have the wedding performed in Puttaparthi and then come to the mandir. I will bless you.”
This was communicated to his mother and brother in Kerala. They had zeroed in on a bride and were making arrangements.

“Why don’t you have the wedding in Kerala itself?” Swami asked him the next day.
“As you say Swami...” Padmanabhan agreed.
But that suggestion was valid only for a few hours as Swami said that it would be good to hold the wedding in Bangalore.
Padmanabhan was thoroughly confused. His mother and brother were desperately telling him to make up his mind quickly. But what could he do?

Then came the question of the date of the wedding. The calls from home became more frequent and Padmanabhan kept asking Swami whenever he could for a possible date. Swami ignored him at first and then, when he persisted, Swami said,
“Oh! Urgency to get married eh?”

Padmanabhan just smiled there. But he returned to his room and, holding Swami’s photo, prayed,
“Swami, I don’t want this marriage at all! It is simply shattering my newly found joy of driving you. When you were my focus, it was all joy. Now, when the wedding is the focus, it has been all confusion and sorrow. Let us just forget this whole thing and go back to status quo.”

Swami might have just laughed in His residence at this prayer because the gift of spirituality that He had planned for Padmanabhan was going to get conferred on him. But it would not be without its share of shocks and tremors!

What happened next is indeed filled with moments that are high and low but poignant without a doubt. We shall enjoy them in the concluding part of the article posted at the link below:

Being God's driver - The life and story of Padmanabhan with Sri Sathya Sai_ Part 3

For all readers:

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  1. Beautiful! Waiting very eagerly for part 3. How I wish Jan 12th would come up right away... :) :)

  2. Jai Sai Ram, thank you. God Bless!!!

  3. Beautiful and very interesting article. Can't wait to read the 3rd part. Eagerly waiting for it. Om Sai Ram.

  4. Dear Aravind, this is a beautiful article. It simply touches the soul and brings forth tears of joy knowing how one gets immensely satisfied by Swami. Please continue to share these amazing experiences allowing us to bask in their divine experience as well. Thank you very much.

  5. Dear Aravind, this article has been very inspiring and touched my heart directly bringing forth tears of joy knowing how one gets immensely satisfied by Swami. Please continue to share these amazing experiences allowing us to bask in their divine Sweetness. Thank you very much.

  6. Dear Aravind, Sai Ram. The way u r taking the story of Padmanabhan comes to a close when u mention to wait for part 3 like that. It is so intersting. Expect more in the next issue. A rear blessing to Brother Padmanabhan.

  7. Sairam arvind. Not often one would wish to the weekend to end sooner and approach monday with such audacity.

  8. Awesome Bro. ..3rd part please

  9. Sairam Aravind......what a great narrative...waiting for concluding part..... Blessings and Love..:-)


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