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.)

Two pages of the 3-page article in the Illustrated Weekly of India were in colour. It was authored by Dr. Sunder Rao, 

The third page had statements that intrigued Bejoy
and created an urge in him to meet Baba. 
The article
Turning the pages of the magazine, Bejoy came across a large photograph of an orange-robed figure with a fuzzy mop of jet black hair. It was fascination at first sight. As he read the article penned by the future warden of the boys hostel at Brindavan, Dr. Sundar Rao, he found his fascination growing. The article described how a wonder-boy in a place which was a stone’s throw from stone age had grown into a World Teacher. He claimed to be the reincarnation of the Sai Baba of Shirdi whom nobody had heard of. He worked many mind boggling miracles that drew people to him. However, miracles seemed to be only His calling card for He emphasized on something deeper and more profound. The article proclaimed,
“He has guided many on the path of Self realization and several such leading sanyasis of the country as Swami Abhedananda have acknowledged the uniqueness of Baba's spiritual guidance. ‘Self realization can come only through egolessness, deep devotion to the Supreme and selfless action. A mere theoretical knowledge of the Truth is useless unless it reveals itself in action,’ says Baba."
Bejoy had felt a kinship as he read the article. His deep yearning for spiritual truths drew him towards this most handsome person so powerfully that it became irresistible. The next sentence he read kindled in him the desire to travel and meet this Baba.
“It is at Prasanthi Nilayam, in a private room on the ground floor, that Baba gives 'interviews' daily to hundreds of people.”
“How wonderful it would be to get an audience with Baba”, he wondered, “Is he destined to be my Guru?”
The leap of faith
Bejoy could no longer hold himself back. He felt he must meet the Baba and seek Him as his Guru. When the calling comes, one must be ready to take the leap of faith. That is precisely what Bejoy did. He knew that his parents wouldn’t allow him to travel such a distance alone nor would they accompany him. Placing complete faith in the unknown and his yet-unseen Guru to provide for him, he decided to ‘run away’ from home (and the world) to the abode of highest peace, Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi. It was mid February in 1967 when Bejoy actioned his plan.
He sat looking out of the window as the train gathered speed. The journey had begun and there was no turning back. Strangely, Bejoy sensed no fear in himself. He didn’t have the slightest doubt about how he would be able to do all that he was hoping to with only Rs.10 on his person. He was ready to trust Divine Providence to take care of his whole life. What then, was this 3-day journey compared to life? He hadn’t bothered about financially equipping himself. And there was no way of informing his parents also now. {Remember, this was 1967. It was as late as 1960 when India got its first ever subscriber trunk dialling (STD) route between Lucknow and Kanpur. Having a telephone was a luxury of the ultra rich in select parts of the country only. It is difficult to comprehend that scenario in these times when internet connectivity has almost made the terms ‘STD’ and ‘ISD’ dinosaurs of the past!}
Before the train crossed the Odisha border to enter the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, he had an encounter with the redoubtable TTE, the train ticket examiner. He stood before the lad and asked for his ticket.
“Your ticket”, he ordered.
A great man like a TTE never requests. And pat came the reply,
“It is with my Father in the next compartment”.
The TTE was satisfied and he moved on. Bejoy was to realize later that these were prophetic words indeed for they nearly defined his relation with his future Guru.
As per plan, Bejoy changed trains multiple times to reach Guntakal. The changing landscapes outside his window seemed to indicate the changing landscape of his life too. At Guntakal, he decided to buy a ticket to Dharmavaram because he would need to produce one to exit the railway station. He also decided to buy a bun. Such had been his spiritual hunger that he had forgotten worldly hunger for almost two full days!
He was in for a disappointment when he landed at Dharmavaram. He did not know the state language, Telugu, nor the national language, Hindi. When he managed to convey his desire to travel to Puttaparthi, he was told that the only way to get there was via Bukkapatnam. So, he took the last bus to the town which was ‘5 kms away from Puttaparthi’. It was almost 7 pm on the 17th of February 1967 when he arrived at his penultimate destination. He was a stranger in a strange land with no idea about what he would do.
First glimpse; first magic
For anyone courageous enough to take the leap of faith, Providence always ensures a safety net! Even as Bejoy walked through a narrow street in Bukkapatnam, he was accosted by a stranger.
“Have you come to see Sai Baba?” he asked.
“Yes... How can I reach Him?”
“It is too late now. We will go there tomorrow, across the river. Now, we can rest in this temple here at night.”
All this had transpired between them in sign language, for neither knew the language the other person spoke.
Bejoy was hungry but his fatigue was greater. Gratefully he slept in the temple, eager for daybreak. Nobody knew exactly when a bus to Puttaparthi would be available. So the stranger (who had not yet introduced himself) hailed a bullock cart. The cart driver wanted three rupees as his fee and the stranger paid it promptly. An hour and half later, Bejoy and his benefactor were across the Chitravati river in Prasanthi Nilayam. Baba had already finished the morning darshan. So, Bejoy went to the river and completed his ablutions. Then, he presented himself in the mandir where all the other people were seated.
Every time he saw Swami, Bejoy would experience something indescribable.
That continued for decades after the first darshan as well.
The first time he saw Baba, he had mixed emotions. On one hand, he was instantly attracted and hooked to this Master; on the other, he felt that ‘Swami’ did not fit the bill of a ‘Guru’, at least in appearance. Reading so many books, Bejoy had his own image of a Guru. And it was nothing like what Swami appeared. But still, he wanted to converse with Him and learn more.

After this first darshan he met a friendly middle-aged oil-mill owner from the city of Lucknow who had travelled all the way in an ambassador car with his wife, a servant, and the driver. This gentleman, Sriram Jaiswal, was impressed by how this young boy from Odisha had jumped into God’s basket. So, he invited Bejoy to share his food with them. The ‘Father’ who had his ticket to travel into the unknown, also had his ticket to sustain his fragile body for the unknown !
Bejoy  waited for a chance to interact with Baba for several days. He slept at nights a few metres away from the coveted interview room. His little bundle was his pillow and the floor, his bed. (This was where many devotees would stay - in and around the darshan grounds itself. The verandah and portico of the mandir was used by devotees for sleeping at nights. During day they would neatly roll up their belongings whenever Swami came out for darshan!)  
Needless to say, Bejoy had exhausted all the money he had in spite of the meals at the canteen being available for just one rupee. After a couple of lunches with the kind gentleman from Lucknow, he decided not to accept any more generosity.   
“Having left everything to depend only on a Guru, it is not right for me to go back to dependence on the world”, he thought.

His magical moment came on the 22nd of February, 1967. Swami walked out of the interview room. Bejoy quickly sat up straight in the verandah. He was sitting 2-3 people away from the door. Swami came straight to him and spoke to him in Telugu. Bejoy did not understand a word of what He said. He shook his head to say ‘No’. Swami then walked away.
Instantly, Bejoy felt alarmed. What did Swami say to him? And why did he shake his head in a negative response? He saw two men standing at the interview room door. He went to them and asked,
“What did Baba say to me? I did not understand at all...”
“It would be best you write a letter to Him then...”, they advised.
Heeding to their advice, Bejoy borrowed a paper and wrote a letter to Swami that he didn’t understand what Swami said. Soon he got his reply - Swami had told him that he would speak to him during the bhajans. Bejoy felt blood started rushing into his heart faster!
The first interview and first experience
50 years after that beautiful day in February 1967, Bejoy does not remember all that Swami said. He was simply transfixed and moved at the same time by what Swami was in the interview room that day. He realized that Swami knew him for ages and had been directing his path. He was unable to explain or justify to himself why he felt so. But he surely felt completely reassured and secure. He felt that his search for a Guru had culminated in him finding a being who was more than a Guru.
“Somebody else also can pat you and hug you. But when He did that, it was a completely different experience. The only thing I can describe is that it was overwhelming. That day, he became everything for me. When I came out I thought I was going to burst!”
Another hug that Bejoy received from Bhagawan (on stage in the University auditorium at Puttaparthi) when he pleased Him with a song that he wrote which the students sang during the prize distribution ceremony.
The only thing that Bejoy remembers Swami telling him is
“I am with you always...”
He is convinced that if he remembers just this one thing, it is enough for this life and all the other lifetimes to follow!
Swami then waved His hand and materialized an oval medallion. It had the image of Swami as Lord Maha Vishnu, recling on the Adi Sesha (the Divine serpent).
“Do Abhishekam (worship with water) to it and drink that Teertham (holy washings)” Swami advised.
“For how long Baba?” Bejoy asked.
“Do it for 15 days,” came the reply, “but always ensure that it is with you.”
Bejoy nodded his head. (That medallion stayed with him for about 2 years after which it broke and then, got lost). Just before the interview was complete, he asked Swami,
“Baba, I don’t have money. How will I go back?” Now strangely he was thinking of home where he must return. His spiritual perspective, unknown to him, had changed. When he left home a week ago, he had no thought of crossing the threshold a second time. Was it a subtle indication of what Swami means to the world?
“I will give you money”, Swami said. When he came out bhajans were going on (those days morning bhajans took place from 11 am to 12 noon). The interview ended. Bejoy walked out trying to digest this magnificent experience. A few minutes after the bhajans got over, and people migrated to the canteen, one of the tall doorkeepers of Swami came to Bejoy, and handed over to him a closed cover, saying Swami had sent it for him.
He opened the cover to find it contained Rs 33, three tenners, a two rupee note, and a one rupee note. “Thirty-three! But I need thirty five to reach home! “ Bejoy tried to figure out the mystery of the missing two rupees.
“Doesn’t Swami know how much it costs me to go home. Instead of 2+1, one fiver would have been enough. Probably, He does not want me to go now...”
Bejoy’s train of thoughts were interrupted by the same Lucknow gentleman who came to him overjoyed that Swami had called him. When Bejoy mentioned to him about the mystery of missing two rupees, he broke into a laughter and said,
“Arey! Don’t go home now... Don’t you know that the festival of Shivarathri is round the corner?”
“What is Shivarathri?”
“It is the day when Swami does the Lingodbhavam and the Vibhuti Abhishekam to the idol of Shirdi Baba...”
Bejoy had a puzzled look. The gentleman explained the terms and Bejoy’s jaw dropped in awe and amazement. He was clear now that Swami wanted him to stay on and witness the Shivarathri. The 33 Rs were for his subsistence in Prasanthi Nilayam for a couple more weeks.

Ah! What a masterplan it was! Surely the Father does not explain everything! He broadcast grateful prayers to his Divine Father, his dear Swami for having done so much for him. He felt light of body, light of mind and light of spirit. He was almost floating across Prasanthi Nilayam in gratitude and joy.

It is said that God’s grace is capable of making the lame jump across the mountain (Pangum Langhayate Girim). With Swami’s love, one need not even 'jump'. He will carry us as the wind beneath our wings.
It was only a matter of time before Bejoy would be in Prasanthi Nilayam with his entire family!
Bejoy had no idea about Swami's plan for him. The future would show him how he would overcome all kinds of handicaps and float across several mountainous obstacles.

to be continued in the 2nd part at the link below:

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  1. A griping read and as usual very inspiring.. Thank you Aravind Sir... You are a great blessing for all of us..

  2. Sairam dear Bala,
    Just finished reading your narrative about dear Bijoy, whom I have been seeing in PN for ages and suddly feel bonded with him.
    No suitable words to express my gratitude to you for sharing and bringing one more of Swami's chosen instruments in my life.
    May Swami bless you ever.
    During our short pilgrimage to PN in Jan, I missed you but could not meet you.
    Remain blessed and continue doing a priceless seva as a chosen instrument of Swami.
    With fondest love from both of us to you and your family.
    Barry Uncle

  3. Aravind,two hours ago I was requesting a relative of mine to chant Mookam...When they told me about their concerns for their child's delayed milestones. Thanks..So well timed and only my Swami can do this.

  4. Yet an another fantastic narrative brother... looking forward to the next part... thank you is a very small word to express my gratitude for the great service that you do.... may Swami continue to shower you with his special blessings always...

  5. Sairam Aravind, great to read the article and waiting for the next part of story to unfold. Feeling blessed.......

  6. Dear Brother, as usual too good, but u test us, in making us wait for the next issue. Thank You keep writing such stories which will in next 100 year be the Bhagavatam Stories

  7. Sairam Aravind,
    wonderful article as always. Have had the good fortune of being taught by him. Used to look forward to his post darshan gyan sessions. Your article took me back in time.
    However, you could have used a better description for the culturally rich Orissa than " economically backward"

  8. Beautiful. Can't wait to read the rest!

  9. Excellent as always. Eagerly waiting for next part. Sriram.

  10. He is my teacher.. didn't know all this about him till i read this. Thank you.


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