Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Choose God Choose Life - Dr.Raghunath Sarma's life experiences_Part 1

Thirst at first sight

In the summer of 1986, Raghunath Sarma, an exuberant sixteen year old, travelled from his hometown Pamidi to Puttaparthi with the desire to have a darshan of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He was accompanied by his sister. Swami, as Baba had been introduced to him, was a permanent fixture in his home shrine. Raghu had seen His picture since childhood and knew that his father made at least annual visits to see Him in Puttaparthi. It was surprising that Raghu had not yet been to Puttaparthi.

His heart began to beat faster even as he entered the holy sands within the compound of the Prasanthi Nilayam mandir. His mind stilled with the silence that pervaded the atmosphere. The birds were chirping in the trees above. Raghu’s spirits too seemed to soar with them, singing about happily. He understood why the place had been named Prasanthi Nilayam - the abode of Supreme Peace. It was very difficult for someone to not be peaceful in such environs.

Minutes later, a hush seemed to travel through the crowd. There were a few gasps of excitement as a figure in orange entered the sands from the portico of the mandir. Swami had come and the darshan had begun. Raghu was seated in the first line and he could feel divine energy pulsating within. It grew stronger as Swami came close. Finally, when Swami was right before him, Raghu did not know what happened. He was trembling and shaking. Tears were effortlessly flowing down his eyes. His heart was overwhelmed with the sight that his eyes were drinking in. He cried out,
“Swami... Swami...”
Swami gently patted his head and said,
Bangaru, Aedcha Vaddu (Dear one, you shouldn’t cry).”

Raghu wanted to obey. He wanted to do anything and everything that this beautiful being was telling him. But he just couldn’t help it. Tears continued to flow down his cheeks and onto the lotus feet of Swami as he took padanamaskar. Swami seemed to float away on His darshan rounds. Raghu caressed the sands on which Swami’s feet had left temporary impressions. He also treasured in his heart the permanent impressions that Swami had created.

That would only be the first of many such darshans in life for Raghu. (seen here sitting
second behind Swami in full-arm shirt and seeing Swami's feet).

Raghu then turned to see the interactions between Swami and the students of His educational institutions. He yearned to sit among them and win Swami’s proximity.
“I must be here with Swami... I must study here as a student”, he thought as he left Puttaparthi, heading back towards Pamidi.

Choosing Swami; choosing life

Raghu was a changed person. He repeatedly went back to that magical moment he had enjoyed with Swami. It was a moment frozen in time for him. That moment had built in him a yearning for a spiritual life with Swami. He stopped going out for movies with his friends. He also abstained from unnecessary talk. HIs friends teased him no doubt, but that did not deter him. It was when he expressed to them that he would study a Bachelor's course at Puttaparthi that they were shocked.
“What about your plans of doing BTech?”
“Instead of engineering, you are going to ground your career even before it takes off?”
“All the money you have spent in writing various competitive exams will go down the drain right?”
“Even if you choose to shoot yourself in the foot by opting for a BSc course, how will you manage to study English?”

All of these were valid questions to which Raghu had no answer. He was definitely worried about the fact that he had studied in Telugu-medium schools throughout his life and had not the slightest inkling of English. He was also aware that his father had put together some money so that he could apply for various competitive exams. He had secured an all-India rank of #3000. It was not a brilliant performance but it could definitely get him a seat with payment of a ‘donation’ (which his father was ready to make by selling away some family lands).

After grappling with these thoughts for several days, one morning, Raghu went to his father who was doing the morning worship in the shrine.
“Dad, if I get admission in Puttaparthi, I would like to give up my BTech aspirations and go there to Swami.”
His father seemed delighted.
“Don’t be pressured into any decision my son. Know that I will back you in any decision you take.”
The father went back to his worship while the son went back to his thoughts and walked out of the house.

It was as though Swami arrived to caution and save him. Raghu
had chosen Swami; Raghu had chosen life!
Raghu walked to his uncle’s (father’s eldest brother’s) house which was neighbouring to his. Still lost in thoughts, he sat opposite to a 20ft X 20ft wall that was being renovated. He stared blankly at the blank wall ahead of him. That was when something mind-numbing happened.

For a moment, Raghu glimpsed his Swami. It was not a dream or a vision. It was Swami, 3-D, in flesh and blood with his right hand raised in blessing. Even as he was recovering from this thrill, he felt from within a voice urging him to do something immediately. LIstening to that voice, Raghu jumped up from the floor, turned around and began to run. He had no idea why he was doing that. It seemed like pure instinct.

Even as his back turned to the wall, Raghu heard a loud crash. Though he was running, he felt something graze his back. He stopped and turned around. All he could see was a mushroom cloud of dust and dirt. It took a few moments for him to realize what had happened. The huge wall had just come crashing down. In it’s place was now a cloud of dust. It took another few moments for Raghu to realize that had he not got up and run, he would have been buried under the debris of the wall.

With goosebumps on his skin, he went straight to his father and said,
“Dad! I have been given a new lease of life because I chose Swami. I saw Swami. Like Lord Shiva saving Markandeya from Yama’s noose, He blessed me to keep me away from death’s noose. I have made up my mind. I shall study in Swami’s college and Swami’s college alone.”

The first experience of the Swami-student relationship

The preparations for the BTech examinations stood Raghu in good stead as he easily cleared all the papers in the entrance examination of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. All except for one - English. During the interview, the panel members realized that Raghu was weak in spoken English as well. The vice chancellor, Dr.Somnath Saraf asked him,
“Why did you not attach this certificate to the sheet?”
“Sir, I was checkked...it went...”
“I was checkked...it went...”
It took a few moments for him to understand that Raghu was saying that he had checked but it still went missing.
Everyone smiled at this and encouraged him to pick up good English as fast as he could.
“Can I go sir?”
“Yes. But do come back and enroll yourself in the hostel.”

Raghunath Sarma had become a student of the SSSIHL. He was to realize that Swami did not call only those who were qualified; He qualified those He called too!

The first thing he remembers after becoming a student is a memorable evening in the portico of the mandir during a darshan session. All the 1st year undergraduate students were made to sit in the front. This was because some of them would have to be leaving for the Brindavan campus in Bangalore and it made sense that they got first priority for the few darshans that they would get. Raghu however, was blissfully unaware of the fact that he would have to be going to Brindavan. That was largely because he couldn’t understand much English to grasp the going-ons.

He got to know about Brindavan in the portico that day. Swami arrived and moved among the new students. The boy beside Raghu got up on his knees and asked,
“Swami, holy ash please...”
“Ay, sit down”, Swami said before moving on.
Raghu decided to continue sitting to avoid any further such remarks from Swami. He saw that there was a group of students who had completed their schooling in Puttaparthi and had got admission into the SSSIHL. The way they felt for Swami and interacted with Him was so different from the way the absolute newcomers interacted. The school passout students seemed to feel that they belonged to Swami and were very free with Him.

“Swami, please we want to be with you...”, the boy was in tears, “there is no life without you Swami.”
Raghu later came to know that this boy was Rakesh Mahapatro, a student who yearned for Swami and expressed it through his poetry. Swami had, in fact, gifted a pen to him with which he would write his poems.
Swami was trying to calm Rakesh but nothing seemed to console him. He adamantly was pleading with Swami that he wanted to be with Him.
Swami presently called the vice chancellor and registrar (Sri K.Chakravarthi) into the interview room. When the interview was complete and they came out, it was announced that all first year students would be in Prasanthi Nilayam campus alone. Raghu was a bit confused.

“Weren’t we all going to be with Swami in Prasanthi Nilayam only?” he asked his neighbour in Telugu.
“No. We would have to go to the Brindavan campus in Bangalore. So we wouldn’t have been with Swami the way the students in Prasanthi Nilayam would have...”
That was when Raghu understood that Rakesh was seeking a prayer that benefitted many when granted. He also understood that he had barely missed enjoying a boon from Swami because of his ignorance of English. If had hadn’t come to know that he would be going to Brindavan, his heart wouldn’t have been swelling with gratitude as it was now.

Isn’t that the case with us many times - we do not express gratitude to God because we are ignorant of the blessings that are being showered on us every day?

Initial days as a student

College life was pretty smooth for Raghu. He was good in all the subjects in BSc (Mathematics) except for English. Though he struggled to speak English, he was getting better at understanding it when others spoke. Still, he knew that it would be years before he could confidently speak in English or score good marks in the subject. For now, he tried to pass the tests and manage most of the conversations using two simple words - YES and NO!

On one occasion, the registrar, Sri K.Chakravarthi, was on rounds in the hostel. This was the beautiful routine that Swami had established. He wanted everyone at the top of the University administration to be in touch with the ‘ground realities’. And He practiced what he preached. Being the Chancellor of the University, He seemed to know a lot about each student - even from a non-divine, physical point of view. He also expected that the others - vice chancellor, registrar, controller of exams, director of campus and deans - also be in touch with the students, visit the hostel, attend the morning prayers and so on. Swami wanted the elders, teachers and administrators to be role models for students to look up to.

So, ‘Chakravarthi sir’ was on hostel rounds. He came to Raghu’s room and asked,
“What is the room composition?”
Raghu knew the registrar from his college interview. He began to shiver for he thought that there was something called ‘room composition’ or ‘room essay’ which he needed to be familiar with. He was wondering what he should answer when the room leader came to his rescue.
“Sir, the room has three MSc students, a couple of MBA students and the remaining are BSc and BCom students.”
“Hmmm. Good.”
Chakravarthi sir left. Raghu had learned a new English word!  

And that is only in singulars and plurals... Imagine the whole language! 
The best hours in the day for Raghu were those that he spent in the mandir. It was for these hours that he had come to the SSSIHL in the first place.

Every time that Swami came near him, Raghu would find himself crying inconsolably. It was an overwhelming experience each time, almost like a deja vu of his first ever darshan. Dr. Kailash Kumar, his English teacher observed this everyday. One day, he called Raghu and asked him,
“Are you worried about the English exams?”
“No sir.” Raghu had learned to add a ‘sir’ to the ‘no’ by now.
“Are you sick and suffering from some problem?”
“No sir.”
“Is someone sick in your family?”
“No sir.”
“Is there some money-problem?”
“No sir.”
“Then why do you cry during darshan everyday?”
“Yes sir...”
“Sir, I just cry. I feel to cry. Seeing Swami, I get tears... No problems.”

The vision of the Divine charges up our being with so much energy that we are unable to express what we feel. Tears are probably the commonest and easiest way to express the love, gratitude, joy and peace we are feeling. Raghu was experiencing that on a daily basis till the time Swami told him very lovingly during a darshan session,
“Ay! Don’t keep crying.”
Swami did not want him to waste the expression of the inner peace, joy and gratitude in this manner. As will become evident with the progress of this story, the Master wants us to express these not by tears but by overcoming fears and living a life embodied with peace, joy, love and gratitude.

After that day, Raghu curbed his tears. His eyes would still become moist and heart would get overwhelmed during each darshan. But he held back the expression of that Divine energy, choosing to express it in other ways in his life.

The ‘form’ boy

Swami showered on Raghu many opportunities of interacting with Him. Here He
gives him a tray for distribution . No wonder that his classmates and roommates
 called him 'form boy'. 
In the days that followed, Raghu became a ‘form boy’ as per student lingo. The term ‘form’ is borrowed from the popular Indian game, Cricket, where a player in form has everything going for him. In the SSSIHL, a form boy was one with whom Swami would interact! Raghu enjoyed the close darshan and the precious words he got to exchange with Swami. These conversations were all in Telugu, much to his relief. One evening’s conversation however, simply thrilled Raghu into grateful silence.

“Where do you come from?” Swami asked him during the darshan.
“Swami, Pamidi...”
“I have been to Pamidi... I have stayed there for many days...”
Raghu nodded in agreement.
“How do you know?” Swami asked.
“My mother told me Swami...”
“Hahahaha. She was not yet there when I visited your home.”
Raghu was amazed that Swami knew this. Though he had complete faith that Swami is God, the revelation came as a bolt from the blue. What struck him was the connect Swami made between him and his ancestral home in Pamidi when he had not revealed this fact to anyone at all!

Swami also narrated many episodes that took place during His visit to Pamidi in the 1940s. Raghu was aware of some instances and unaware of a few others. He listened in rapt attention and all love and Swami spoke of his town, his family and his grandfather. The entire conversation lasted more than ten minutes. In the hostel, Raghu got elevated in status from ‘form boy’ to ‘super form boy’!

It would be wonderful to journey down memory lane to that Pamidi visit of Bhagawan Baba. But that will have to wait for the next part.

to be continued in Part 2 which is published at the link below:

Choose God Choose Light - Dr.Raghunath Sarma's life experiences_Part 2

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  1. Sairam brother Aravind... yet another great narration and bringing the scenes in front of our eyes...thank you very much for it... cant wait till 21st Oct...

  2. Sairam, what a super Tuesday!
    Thanks Barru, as always

  3. Very insteresting. Always a pleasure to read your article. Sai Ram.

  4. Awesome. We cannot wait till october 21st. This is the Raghu I saw soon after our interview at Admin block in 1987. Kailash Kumar Sir class my god many times I was in trouble!!

    1. Sairam brother. Raghu sir remembered you fondly as "Baali" and mentioned how you had to stand like a statue for almost half hour near the other door of the room when you tried to avoid the gaze of the person on rounds. :)

    2. Sairam Aravind,He calls me "Bellu" Raghu is an example of "if you do anything perfectly that reaches GOD and pleases Lord" He did a perfect laugh (roar) of valmiki in the introductory scene of the drama after which Swami called him valmiki all the time.Lot to talk about this wonderful friend of mine your blog space may not be sufficient. I love your amazing writing, hope to see you and hear to you sometime in US Sairam

    3. Sairam Aravind, Raghu calls me Bellu.we telugu medium rural village boys came from Eswaramma High school had lot of trouble with English. Only with Swami's grace we survived. We used to get scared of hostel visits by registrar, had no clue about what he said also. lot more those funny experiences I will share with you in person.

    4. Oh Yes! My bad… :) That's what he had told.

      And yes, we will meet in person and you can share those experiences…. So you too were one among those students not knowing English… Hmmmm

  5. Lovely. Raghu being my former classmate as well as my room mate, and me having been present during the same incidents makes me get a different perspective of the same experience. The write up is beautiful ! God Bless !

  6. Pleasure reading . awaiting super form boy's experience

  7. Sairam Aravind enjoyed reading every word of the narrative and now eagerly awaiting part 2 of the narrative.

  8. Well said .. Nicely narrated asusal.. waiting to hear from
    You more and more.. Sairam . -Sheela Krishnamurthy

  9. Wish I had read this earlier.. amazing as usual!


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