Tuesday, 13 January 2015

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

Padmanabhan driving a unique vehicle during
darshan. This epitomises his life with Swami.
Though he was His driver, it was always
Swami in the front seat and him in the
Wedded for life

Swami had brought up the topic of Padmanabhan’s wedding in June 1994. October had already arrived but Swami had not yet given a date for the wedding. The months of grappling with uncertainty had given way to a kind of resigned serenity in Padmanabhan. He had stopped fretting and was accepting Swami’s ‘vagaries’ as they came about. That is when he made an interesting discovery. When he was amenable to Swami’s ‘vagaries’, those very same vagaries seemed to fade away!

In fact, Swami had told him with complete confirmation to hold the wedding in Kerala. Now, as his mother and brother pestered him for a date, he told them that he would inform them as soon as Swami gave one to him. Just a few days before the wedding, Swami gave him a date - the 24th of October. Padmanabhan accepted it with humility and conveyed it home. A new debate cropped up,
“Wouldn’t it be better to have the wedding on 23rd October?”
“Swami said that it should be 24th October”, Padmanabhan replied.
“23rd is advantageous on two counts. It is an auspicious day based on the Panchangam. It is also a Sunday which makes it easier for all friends and relatives to attend the wedding...”
Padmanabhan, who was totally in sync with Swami’s words, replied,
“If it is inauspicious, I am the one affected right. I have no problem with it. And if people are unable to come, I still don’t bother. What matters is that we follow what Swami says.”

His was the final word and the wedding was fixed for 24th October. Padmanabhan informed Swami that he would be leaving for Kerala as per His command. Swami called him in and blessed him. He gave him enough money to cover most of the expenses of the wedding. He also blessed him with the jewellery and Mangalsutra which he would have to gift his wife. Padmanabhan was in tears. Swami had told him that he would take care of everything, of course. But here, He was taking care of him more than a parent; more than a close friend; more than what he would himself do for him! With gratitude oozing from the heart, Padmanabhan left for Kerala.

{This is the final concluding part of a 3-part story. To enjoy it to the maximum, it is recommended that you read this after the first two parts. 

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

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

A gentle rainfall in India is considered auspicious. What happened in Kerala on 23rd October was something drastic. Possibly it was an ‘over-auspicious’ day and the fury with which the rains lashed out was unbelievable. Everyone was thankful that the wedding had not been fixed for that day because it would have meant a severe ‘washing away’ of many well-laid plans. In

Kerala everyone is usually prepared for rains but this kind of torrent was unexpected! The whole day was filled with this torrential rain. However, in the evening, the rains came to a complete standstill and the skies were clear till 5pm on the 24th of October! It was only after all the wedding festivities were completed that the clouds opened up again, as if in celebration of the wedding.

The family deity for Padmanabhan was Krishna at Guruvayoor. The same Lord had come as his Sai Krishna, holding up an invisible Govardhana hill to protect his wedding from the fury of Lord Indra!

The experience of his wedding reassured Padmanabhan that the best option in life is implicit obedience to Swami.
Always listen to what He says and do it without the slightest doubt. 
Days, weeks, months and years as Swami’s driver

Padmanabhan returned to Puttaparthi with his wife immediately after the wedding. Within months, his responsibilities grew because Swami gifted him five children to care for. He had freed himself of all ties and come to Prasanthi Nilayam for spiritual growth but Swami had added multiple responsibilities! The five children were the Jaguar, the Toyota Carina, the BMW, the Saab and the Mercedes Benz. These were actually gifts of love that Bhagawan’s devotees had begged Him to accept and Padmanabhan took care of them as he would take care of his own children. Whenever Swami asked him to fetch the car, he would use each of them in rotation. He did not want any of his children to feel left out!

Swami too echoed his sentiments. Padmanabhan once observed that the BMW was the car which was the easiest for Swami to get into. (Let the reader not forget that Swami’s body was nearly 70 years of age in 1995!) So, he began to make use of only that car. After a few drives, Swami mentioned,
“Why are you fetching the same car always?”
“Swami, this car seems to be the most comfortable for you in terms of its height. So...”
“Nah! You don’t worry about that. Use all of them.”
Thus, his children were back to serving the Lord. It was around this time that Padmanabhan got the good news that his wife had given birth to a beautiful daughter!

An MBA student, Satyajit by name, had been picked by Swami to serve Him. In 1995, Swami instructed Padmanabhan to train this boy in driving the BMW and Saab.

“Driving these cars is actually easier than driving other cars. What I had to do was to acquaint him with the different switches, buttons and controls in the dashboard. For the Sports Meet, Satyajit would drive the Saab in the stadium,” Padmanabhan says before adding, “Even now I am ready to train a couple of students every year to drive Swami into the stadium during the Sports Meet. It will be a wonderful opportunity for the students...”

Swami would relate the stories of His driving days!
But how was it to drive Swami for so many years? Surely there would be many stories to narrate?
“It would all depend on Swami’s mood. Most of the times Swami would be talking in a lively manner on various topics. Sometimes it would be Organization matters; sometimes it would be stories of His driving - especially the Morris Minor; still other times, it would be about some devotees. Sometimes he would speak with the occupants of the car about their life. Once He asked me where I hailed from. When I said ‘Calicut’, He became nostalgic and recounted HIs visit to the same place. The other times, Swami would simply sit quiet and there would be absolute silence in the car.”

It was with a touch of laughter that Padmanabhan recalled an incident involving a senior administrator. Swami had blessed this gentleman with the opportunity to sit beside Him in the car for a journey. During the journey, Swami also gave him a banana to eat. Having consumed the banana, out of sheer force of habit, the gentleman pulled down the window glass and threw out the peel! Swami was furious.
“Don’t you have common sense?? Is this what your education has taught you - to eat a banana and throw the peel outside like this? There are many devotees outside and how bad and ugly it is to throw a peel at them!”
Swami lambasted him. The administrator apologised profusely for this act which he had committed inadvertently by force of habit. Early in his ‘Sarathi’ career itself, Padmanabhan had learned how much importance the Lord gives to His devotees. He had accepted multiple banana peels and even eaten them when the devotee Vidura offered them in place of actual bananas during the Krishna Avatar. When the same peel was flung instead at His devotees, He was not happy!

It was in 1997 that Padmanabhan got the opportunity to do his longest drive with Swami - from Bangalore to Madras (today, it would read as Bengaluru to Chennai). It is usual that people feel a little drowsy during long drives. Even on that drive, Swami did not sleep for a moment. In fact, Padmanabhan has never seen Swami sleep during a journey throughout his 18 years of service. Instead, Swami would often check upon the driver and speak to him also to ensure that he wasn’t feeling sleepy! Even as late as 2009, when the Divine body was nearing 85 years, Swami did not take rest during long drives, for instance from Pune to Hadshi or from Pune to Mumbai.

{The whole of the Hadshi-Mumbai Visit has been documented in great detail in an article of 11 parts. If you have not read the same, please visit the first part at:

Those of us who have seen Padmanabhan drive Swami have always admired him as a very careful and skillful driver. So, I couldn’t resist asking him something that I have always wondered,
“Sir, please forgive me asking this. Have you ever had any accidents or mishaps while driving Swami’s car? I know that there is nothing major but was there any minor things?”
Padmanabhan smiled.

Getting ready for the drive from Brindavan in Whitefield, Bangalore. 
“With Swami in the car, I would always be on such high alert that it was almost impossible for any mishap. However, there are times when even the best of human efforts are not enough. It was during a drive from Bangalore to Puttaparthi in 2000 that I committed what can be called my only accident.

I was driving at a steady 80-90 km/h. We were travelling to Puttaparthi after a brief halt on the road at Muddenahalli. The devotees there had offered the choicest of fruits to Swami and Swami had stashed them behind Him in the rear deck. As we moved ahead, I saw a buffalo crossing the road at a distance. I did not bother much because it was quite far away. Behind it, a calf jumped on the road and began to cross. In my estimate, the calf too would have crossed the road by the time we reached the spot. However, suddenly, the calf turned around and stood in the middle of the road! Now, I was headed bang into this calf. I slammed the brakes. Swami seemed to be taken by surprise. He held on to the front seat. All the fruits from the rear deck flew everywhere inside the car. Though I slammed the brakes, the car went and gently hit the calf. The calf fell down. I was horrified. But to my relief, the calf then got up and ran to its mother. It had only received a shock but no injuries.

Satyajit, who was seated behind with Swami, told Him that if I had not slammed the brakes the calf might have died. Swami nodded and He gave me a congratulatory pat on my back. God sees only our efforts and intent. He then takes care of the result. When my intent and effort had always been on pleasing Him, He ensured that everything was fine and blessed me even when I had committed an accident!”

This was so amazing to hear. This was pure Bhagawad Gita which the Lord had taught His devotee as his charioteer. Now, the Lord was teaching it to His devotee who was His driver!

There is also this rare episode where the usually cool Padmanabhan lost his temper! It was in Bangalore and a new police pilot-escort had been added ahead of the Swami’s car. The driver in the pilot vehicle was new and, therefore, not an expert driver. When the cars would  come to a halt (as in a traffic signal) and the road sloped backwards,  the pilot car would also move backwards towards Swami’s car before taking off. A few times, it came very close to hitting the Divine vehicle as well. Padmanabhan lost his cool then. He began to shout angrily at the police driver. After a while, Swami told Padmanabhan,
Ay, Nor Musko...(Ay! Keep quiet...)”
But that was it. Swami did not scold him for He knew his intention to give Swami first priority always.

The greatest testimony to Padmanabhan’s devotion and service to Swami is the fact that apart from the fortnight (when he suffered from chickenpox early in 2002), he never missed even a single day of duty. That and when Swami ‘got upset’ and ‘suspended’ him from duty in 2003. It was the greatest learning of his life.

Always see the bigger picture

After His fall, Swami began to come for darshan in the ‘golf cart’ car.  Padmanabhan now had the daily duty of driving Swami for the darshan rounds. This was in 2003. Suddenly, there came a period when it seemed that Swami was intent on scolding Padmanabhan at the slightest pretext. That was a time when Swami was coming for darshan in the ‘golf cart’. On one occasion, Swami even went around the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram in the golf cart. Padmanabhan was nervous because he had seen devotees, in their enthusiasm, thrown flowers and even coconuts at Swami’s car. Now that there was no protective glass, Swami could get hit. He courageously told Swami that He should not use the golf cart like that in the future. The golf cart should be used only within the Sai Kulwant hall. In spite of his apparent audacity, Swami agreed.

Driving Swami during the darshan in the 'golf-cart' car. This car was also called 'buggy' not because it was a lightweight
automobile with sparse bodywork but because it was chariot to "Bhagawan". :)
The next time Swami wanted to go out on a drive, Padmanabhan got a bigger, covered car. Swami got in and told him,
“Let us go to Puttaparthi.”
“This is Puttaparthi Swami...” Padmanabhan suggested.
That was it. Swami scolded him and told him to do his duty properly. Padmanabhan felt sad. He did not want to upset his Lord in any manner. He just drove on in silence.

However, this was not an isolated episode. Several times later too Swami told Padmanabhan to take Him to Puttaparthi and Padmanabhan had no answer. Again, he got scolded for not answering. Padmanabhan was at its wit’s end. The ‘death blow’ was dealt early in October 2003. During the bhajans, Swami told Padmanabhan to get ‘the other car’. He promptly returned the golf cart to the stable and fetched the big car. In the meanwhile, Satyajit came and told Padmanabhan that Swami would be returning to the residence and there was no need of the big car. The golf car was again brought to the mandir.

After the bhajans, when Swami came out, He was upset to see the golf cart. He looked angrily at Padmanabhan and said that he was not understanding even simple things! The Lord decided not to use the car for darshan any more because He did not want Padmanabhan driving Him. Satyajit intervened and tried to tell Swami that it was his fault. But Swami was in no mood to listen. Padmanabhan had just been fired from his daily job!

On the face of it, it appears as though Swami was upset with Padmanabhan. But with God, one has to remember that everything has a bigger picture. Though it was a trial by fire for Padmanabhan, it was a blessing for humanity and Padmanabhan understood this. It was only because Swami had jettisoned Padmanabhan that He began to go for darshan in the wheeled chair itself!

The devotees rejoiced as they got back the physical proximity and time that they had lost when Swami chose to give darshan in the car. Seeing this Padmanabhan consoled himself. He chose not to break the news to his wife who was pregnant with their second child now. He waited patiently and silently.

One day, it was raining heavily and there was no way Swami would be able to go for darshan without the car. Of course, there have been innumerable instances where Swami has stopped the rain. But this time, the Lord chose something else. He chose to go for darshan in the Vice Chancellor’s car - a Maruti Esteem. Thus it was that the Vice Chancellor’s driver got an opportunity to become Swami’s driver! Once again, Padmanabhan consoled himself seeing the bigger picture and telling himself that another person was getting the beautiful opportunity. That became the norm then - Swami would arrive for darshan either on the chair or in the Maruti car.  But why was Swami using the Vice Chancellor’s car? Had Padmanabhan lost even the blessing of preparing Swami’s car for Him?

He now began to write letters daily to Swami. He couriered them, faxed them and even posted them. In the letters he poured out his heart’s feelings and sought pardon for whatever mistake he had made. He was forced to tell his wife what had happened when she asked him to inform Swami of their second child who was nearly 3 months old by now. She was shaken but Padmanabhan calmed her. In the next letter, he prayed very intensely,
“Swami this is the 70th day since you have cut me out from the greatest blessing of my life. Please bless me with strength and love. Please keep us at your lotus feet forever.”

The ordeal was far from over. It carried on for months after that. Towards the end of March 2004, Padmanabhan had tears in his eyes. It had been more than 150 days since the test of his life had begun. He held Swami’s picture and asked,
“Swami, will you not take me back to you? Have I lost your grace and love?”
The response came that very evening.

“Swami was talking about you inside Padmanabhan...” an elder told him.
“What did he say sir?”
“He asked to summon His driver. When word was sent for Govind, the Vice Chancellor’s driver, Swami said that He had not referred to him. Different names then cropped up - Balaram, Apparao etc. and Swami just kept saying ‘No, No’. Nobody had the courage to take up your name...”
“Naturally sir, I have done some big sin. I am a no-good person...”
“Don’t say like that Padmanabhan. Swami then said to call His driver. ‘My driver’, He referred strongly. Then your name was told and Swami was happy. He nodded. So, from tomorrow onwards, please be at the Residence.”

Padmanabhan derives the greatest satisfaction from the fact that Swami called him as "My Driver" and that he could
serve Him continuously for 18 years with just one 'illness-leave'. 
From the 30th of March, Swami began to use His other cars and the Maruti Esteem’s good karma seemed completed! Padmanabhan had tears in his eyes. He was speechless. He realized that Swami had not entrusted anyone else with the cars. More than anything else, He had given him the epithet, “My driver”! 

Later, Swami blessed his second daughter too who was not even a year old!

From that March of 2004 till the 24th of April, 2011 when Swami made His final physical journey from the Super Specialty Hospital to Prasanthi Nilayam, Padmanabhan served Him with all love as His driver.

True spirituality is equanimity

Padmanabhan says that throughout the 18 years he did not gain anything ‘spiritually’ in terms of meditation, bhajans and other practices.
“I am nothing spiritually. I just go about doing my daily work with a prayer to Swami in the morning. At the end of the day’s work, I finish off with another prayer. That is all I do.”
“But tell me sir, don’t you feel that you have now been ‘downgraded’? You used to drive the Lord around and today you are back to driving tractors, vans, trucks - what not?” I asked him sincerely.

“Hahahahaha. See, if at all there is something that I have learned here, it is this. One should never get elated with anything nor should one get distressed and depressed about anything. The results of whatever we do is in Swami’s hands. Why bother about them? We have to keep doing some work - that is our effort. It does not matter what work we do but what matters is how muh effort we put in. Swami sees only efforts. Now tell me, how does it matter whether I maintain ‘Swami’s car’ or a tractor as long as I do them both with the same sincerity and effort?”

“Sir!” I exclaimed, “if as you say, you are ‘nothing spiritually’, I wouldn’t mind being a ‘nothing’ too!”

Well, Swami has not said that directly but that 
is what I have derived that He says seeing
 how patient, compassionate and  
forgiving He is... :)
Padmanabhan had answered my question with several thought-provoking questions of his own and I had my answer. Spirituality does not lie in what we do but in how we do what we do. It is about doing everything for the love of Swami, without expectation and attachment. And how do we recognize whether we are doing that? By the equanimity we possess! When we do everything in this spiritual manner, then we are not affected either by joy or sorrow; by profit or loss; by victory or defeat. Such a stithaprajna (one with equanimity) is the one who is dear to the Lord.
This is what happens by sublimating the ‘I’ to ‘We’ to ‘He’ finally. 

Padmanabhan finally understands what Swami means by saying, “Let us go to Puttaparthi”. Puttaparthi is not a ‘place’ or ‘town’. In Swami’s words, Puttaparthi is a much larger thing. It is a state - a state of egolessness where one has sublimated the I.

"Puttaparti stands for Put-apart-I"

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy the stories of these people of Swami:

For all readers:

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  1. Absolutely wonderful brother. Beautiful lessons. Thanks so much for bringing to light the experiences of Mr. Padmanabhan. My humble and loving pranams to him also.

    1. It was a pleasure and privilege for me to chronicle this life... :)

      Glad you enjoyed it....

  2. Thank you dear, for making it so clear

    Jai Sai Ram

  3. Thanks Aravind every account you write is also teaching- never thought of put apart i- or that we can pick one of Krishnas list and its Okay

    1. "Put-Apart-I" is full credit to Swami! He coined that phrase while speaking to some westerners.

      As for the "follow any one teaching of krishna" part, that is not Swami's quote directly! That is what I have derived based on Swami's love, compassion, patience and forgiveness... :)

  4. Sairam Brother Aravind!!! Superb Article... Brother Padmanabhan's Devotion and Dedication is a true inspiration.. and what a way to end the article... "Puttaparti stands for Put-apart-I"... JAI SAIRAM...

  5. Another beautiful story between the Lord and His Devotee...Thanks Bro.

  6. Absolutely marvellous!!!! Esp the definition of Puttaparthi. .thoroughly enjoyed it...thank you Arvind...God bless you for sharing such wonderful experiences with us...Sairam

    1. Sharing is caring... :) Whomsoever shares, I feel great pleasure and privilege in sharing to the world... :)

      Just hoping that slowly these gems who have served Swami start sharing more and more... :)

  7. May we all put apart the i! His will, his lecture, his love! Thank you Aravind, thank you Swami! Om Sai Ram!

  8. What a wonderful article Aravind. Please thank Mr Padmanabhan for sharing these stories. One always wonders, how Swami chooses the ones who serve him directly. What a blessing !!! That too for 18 years. Thank you Aravind for the great narrative.

  9. Thank you brother Aravind! Excellent!

  10. Dear Arvind, Wonderful article. Felt very happy reading it.

    Just one humble suggestion: Swami's name right below the quote ("follow any one teaching of krishna") gives the impression it was directly from by Swami. The description you had written ("Well, Swami has not said that directly but...") below the picture is in small font and is not noticeable. It is possible that some readers might get confused.

    1. Dear (I didn't get your name :) )

      A valid point there. I have increased the font size so that it just cannot be missed... See it and I think that the problem is solved...

    2. Beautiful narration Arvind as always. How much there is to learn from this writeup!

      Keep up the good work.

      With love and blessings, Dheera Aunti

  11. Sairam Aravind,

    What beautiful writing! I always have tears in my eyes as I read...I don't know why! This blog and the your hubpages articles are verily my gita/vedas for they renew my spiritual fervor in times of doubt. Thank you!

  12. Sairam Brother Aravind,

    Gandhi said that he read Gita in times of misery. Similarly, I read your beautiful articles when I'm in misery and how wonderfully they help!! Thank you, thank you!

  13. When I read the first part,I was like,"So Swami's driver hails from my city?Yaaaaay!"
    But when I read the last section of the third part(True Spirituality is Equanimity),I don't know why,it deeply touched me,that is irresistibly moving!

  14. Amazing....truly a result of very very good karma in earlier births to be so near to the lord.

  15. Sairam! This whole article gives us the best message that , whatever work we may do , it must filled with sheer dedication and love for swami. Wonderful ... No words to express his dedication.

    Thank you brother Aravind for sharing this fantastic article. SAIRAM...

  16. Sairam brother... amazing experiences of Sri. Padmanabhan. What a valuable lessons and messages from his life... wherever we work do it as his work and rest will be taken care... Lovely brother..


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