Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 3

God's Award: The only singer with the rare distinction of having sung during both, Baba's 60th Birthday and Baba's
85th Birthday. Here, Swami gives Ravi a shield in December 2010.

The qawwali nears completion

Time seems to fly very quickly when one is enjoying oneself. Every time that I have heard Ravi sing this beautiful qawwali, it has always felt too short. I am sure there are many that would have resisted the temptation to seek an encore because of two reasons:
1. It would look so undignified to do so in Swami’s presence.
2. The only way Ravi would do an encore was when Swami asked him to. In fact, the only time Ravi sings the qawwali is also when Swami asks him to.

Thus, every time the qawwali nears completion, one is always left wanting for more. On one occasion however, things took a different turn. I can never forget that day.

( The above photo collage video has as its background audio, the 13-year old Ravi's rendering of the immortal bhajan, "Brahmanda Nayaka Baba." The story behind it is so beautiful and thrilling and to know it, the reader must visit Part 2 of this story. Actually, this 3rd part is best read after completion of the first two parts which are presented in the links below:

1. Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 1

2. Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 2

To enjoy this concluding part better, it is recommended that the reader goes through the beautiful scenes of the above two parts as well.)

It was the 21st of May, 2006. Summer vacations were on and the students who had decided to stay back and not go home were enjoying the wonderful Trayee sessions at Brindavan in Bangalore. When Swami used to be in Brindavan, staff members from the various institutions in Puttaparthi would travel to Bangalore on the Sunday holiday to enjoy a day in His physical presence. May 21st was a Sunday and the staff from the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences had come to Brindavan. Among them was Ravikumar too. After the evening bhajan session, all of us went into Trayee Brindavan. Swami arrived and sat on the jhoola (ornate swing). He spoke with a few people seated nearby for a few minutes. As soon as He saw Ravi, He asked,
“How are you Ravi?”

As always, the response was just a smile. Swami turned to a student and asked him to sing a song. As soon as that song was complete, He told Ravi to sing and the mellifluous notes of the qawwali filled the air. The next five minutes passed like a breeze everyone in the hall was devotionally charged. Swami smiled, looked at Ravi and said,
“Sing a high-pitched bhajan now.”
Krishna.... Krishna... Krishna...” began Ravi and followed it with the bhajan - Madhava Mohana Shyama Gopala.
“Nice, now sing another high-pitched song”, was the divine command.
Ravi responded with the Telugu song, “Namo Sathya Sai Baba.”
Swami now asked him to sing another song, one which everyone could follow and sing. Ravi waited for further clarification on the song which Swami wanted. Swami added instructions,
“The song goes high in pitch and fast in beat.”
Ravi was still silent. All of us began to whisper and mutter, guessing the probable song which Swami was hinting at. Swami then said that it was a qawwali. Sri.B.N.Narasimhamoorthy, the then warden of the Brindavan campus made a guess,
“Sai Ke Darbar Mein?”
“No, not that”, said Swami. Looking at Ravi, He again said,

Ravi smiled at indicated the pitch of the song to the harmonium player. He sat up straight, closed his eyes and began the song Swami was seeking:
“Mohabbat Ki Kami Dil Mein...”
It was the SAME qawwali that he had sung right at the beginning. So, that was Swami way of asking for an encore. As Ravi hit the high notes of the qawwali, Swami closed His eyes too and lost in a trance! Needless to say, the following was thumping and the whole Brindavan reverberated with the qawwali. Even as he completed the qawwali, Swami got up with a satisfied look. He asked for Arati! The session was over because Swami seemed to have felt that it was ‘complete’!

In the bhajan hall, as Ravi came to the last line of the qawwali, he hoped that Swami would get up and leave. However, Swami did not get up to leave this time. He continued to stay.
Man Mandir Se, Jao Na Sai...
Chain Na Aaye Mohe, Chain Na Aaye.
(Oh Sai! Please do not leave the temple of my heart. Without you, I will be restless, without peace of mind.)

Ravi at once realized that in his song, he was actually asking Swami to stay in the mandir - the mandir of his heart! His thoughts quickly travelled back to the day when Swami had apparently tested him.

Nearness or dearness?

Ravi had got delayed at hospital (where he worked) that day. By the time he reached the mandir, the bhajan had begun. He sat in the last row and sang no bhajans that day. After the Arati, Swami sent for him and asked him,
“Why did you not come for bhajans?”
“Swami, I came. I was late and so I sat behind.”
“So what if you are late? You should have walked up to the front and sat in your place...”
Ravi gave no response. He only smiled and shook his head to indicate that he would not do that.
Swami egged him on saying that it would not be a problem if he came front.

Now here was an opportunity of a lifetime. Swami was saying that no matter what time he arrived, Ravi could royally walk up to the front and sit near Swami. Anybody in his place would have jumped at it and why not? Was it not the Lord Himself making the offer? But Ravi stuck to his stance. He again smiled to Swami and mentally said,
“No Swami, that isn’t right. The bhajan session is always the most important and not me. The song is more important than the singer. The Lord is always the top priority and nobody else.”

Swami had read his thoughts. Though no words had been exchanged, a lot had been communicated. Swami had patted him, smiled and said,
“Good boy.”

Ravi definitely had given up the chance to sit near Him but had grabbed the opportunity to be dear to Him with both hands! And that is another important lesson - strive to be dear to the Lord. To be dear means to follow what He says - to do things the way He would like them to be done even when nobody is watching or even when the Lord permits you to ‘violate’ the norm! And that requires great wisdom, humility and maturity. But if one manages to do that, Swami gifts him/her with the greatest blessing ever - Himself.

A Mother of mothers

The most poignant memory of the qawwali for Ravi however remains the 27th of September, 2004. Having been diagnosed with serious illness, his mother had been bravely battling on the health front. Swami had stood as a strong pillar of support during these troubled times. In fact, Swami had told the legendary Dr. H.S.Bhat to take charge of his mother. Though a Urologist, Dr.Bhat had invoked his numerous contacts and Ravi’s mother was receiving the best possible medical care. A major surgery had been scheduled for the 27th of September, 2004 at the SSSIHMS specially for her (at Swami’s behest).

That evening, as Ravi sat outside the operation theater in the hospital waiting for his mother, Swami had sat on the dais in Kulwant hall waiting for Ravi! In between the bhajans, He even asked about Ravi and was told that he had not yet come to the mandir. As the operation concluded successfully, Ravi rushed to the mandir in joy. He was not sure if he would make it in time for the Arati. He actually just made it in time!

Swami, having received Arati, had just got up to leave. Ravi, as was his practice, walked in from behind and sat in a corner. Sri Nitin Acharya, who was assisting Swami then, saw Ravi from the corner of his eye. He told Swami,
“Swami, Ravi has come.”
Immediately, Swami beckoned to him and Ravi moved up to Him on the dais. Swami enquired as to how the surgery had been and Ravi update Swami with a smile saying that everything was fine by His grace. Swami sat back on the chair and told Ravi to sit in front of him, in the first line of the bhajan group. Looking into his eyes, He made a subtle movement. Ravi closed his eyes and began the qawwali.

Ravi’s heart was filled with gratitude at what his divine mother had done for his earthly mother. He had been so nervous and worried about his mother and Swami had quelled all his worries. At a time when it seemed that everything was wrong, Swami had indeed shown him that He was always by his side. The words flowed out effortlessly,
Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye.

When he completed the qawwali that day, there was pin drop silence and Swami seemed to be drinking deep into the beauty of that silence. In fact, when the priest rose to give a second Arati (for every session, as a rule, must conclude with Arati), Swami told him to sit down. As though carrying the beautiful vibrations of the qawwali, Swami just retired for the day without speaking a word with anyone else.
“Swami has that special ability - to make you feel that you are the world for Him. I felt it that day and I knew that He was the world for me!” completed Ravi.

The Lord and devotee share a moment through their eyes during the Prema Pravaham programme,
performed during the 85th Birthday Celebrations.

Parting thoughts - ones to treasure

Ravi’s parting statement reminded me of my own experience where I felt that I was the world for Swami. I am sure that each and every one has received an experience like this in some way or the other where Swami has shown him/her that he/she is the world for Him. Isn’t that the reason why we too join in the qawwali, singing aloud,
Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye
Chain Na Aaye Mohe Chain Na Aaye
Even as the qawwali gathers momentum, the singer climaxes into an Alaap,
Isn’t that so natural? When the heart is full, words are few but when the heart overflows, there are no words at all!

Little wonder that Ravi realized the secret of life through the song of his life. The song begins with an apparent mourning,
Mohabbat Ki Kami Dil Mein” (the absolute lack of love in the heart).
But it concludes with the state of ecstasy where there are no words because the heart is overflowing with His love and grace - Aaaa....aaa....

Sitting in the bhajan hall and singing the qawwali of his life in front of the goal of his life, Ravi realized that he would never ever feel a lacuna in his heart because his Sai was always there. He only had to turn inward and he would see that his Swami is waiting for him there. There was no need for a separate and special darshan session any more - every moment of his life would be a darshan session for Swami.

Is it any surprise that he rarely sings this qawwali any more?

...because he is internally singing it every day of his life.

After his final programme performance in Swami's physical presence, Swami materialized a gold chain for Ravi and
placed it close to his heart. A symbolic gesture indeed.

Wouldn't it be great to learn bhajan singing from this humble devotee of the Lord? Radiosai offers more than 150 bhajans taught by brother Ravikumar in its popular Bhajan Tutor page. Do check it out.

For all readers:
(If you enjoyed this and wish to subscribe to this blog, please go to the right hand side and choose the last 'box' which says subscribe. Also explore the 40-odd 'previous articles' listed month-wise on the top right here. Another blog which I maintain with more than 225 articles on it is at http://aravindb1982.hubpages.com. If you wish to be added to my mailing list, please email me via this page with the subject "ADD ME TO MAILING LIST".

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Thursday, 20 February 2014

Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 2

In Kodaikanal with Swami, 1992. 
Change of worlds

As Ravi completed his 5th grade at Ooty, his father received the shocking news. There was no way Ravi could continue his schooling in Ooty any more. The administration had started the school with grades 1, 2 and 3. Progressively, every year, they had added one more class. In 1981 however, they felt that it would not be feasible to add 6th grade to the school. Having enjoyed the beautiful proximity of Swami for 3 years, Ravi was now facing prospects of not being a ‘Sai-student’ any more.

{This is actually part 2 of Ravi's story. To appreciate it better, it is highly recommended to read Part 1 from the link below and then continue with this.

Well, that had his father restless and worried more than him. What was to be done next? Instinctively and intuitively, they went to Puttaparthi. Hope dawned there as it always does to those who look towards Puttaparthi as their first and last recourse. The Smt. Easwaramma High School had been inaugurated and running well and Ravi’s father decided to enrol his son there. There was one problem however - the school had the Telugu language as its medium of instruction and Ravi knew as much Telugu as he knew Mandarin or Hebrew!

A special exception was made for these children who had arrived from Ooty and the teachers explained in English as well. Also, the subject Telugu was replaced with another language, Hindi. So, Ravi's (and the others') academic difficulties were greatly reduced. On the whole, Ravi was happy in school because he saw many of his Ooty classmates there. (Apparently, many other parents too had turned to Puttaparthi as their recourse like Ravi’s father!) Ravi’s mother had mixed feelings - her little boy would be still staying away from her but now, he was much ‘closer’ to Swami since he was in Puttaparthi itself. Ravi had no idea about the difficulty that he was about to go through.

There was no Sri Sathya Sai Primary School or the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School in Puttaparthi then. And so, all these children who enrolled into the Easwaramma School were accommodated in the college hostel itself. These were going to be the most challenging 2 years of Ravi’s life as he moved from a hostel where everything was done for him into one where he had to fend for himself completely! Forget the chores of washing his own clothes, Ravi had not got accustomed to even washing his plate and tumbler after meals. Fending for himself put tremendous pressure on him and that was when he began to get worried and restless. He began to lose weight and wonder how his little shoulders would bear so many responsibilities. Today, he realizes that it is only the searing heat and tremendous pressure that turns a piece of carbon into a diamond. Back then, he only felt the heat and pressure. Wilting under it, he felt weak and finally fell sick. For some strange reason, he had got severely asthmatic in hot Puttaparthi having flourished without any medical problems in cold Ooty. Asthma brought him down on his knees and confined him to his bed.

He wondered why he was doing all that he was doing? Why couldn’t he just go back home to his parents? He could not because
Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye -
He could not stay without his Sai. He thought of his beautiful days at Ooty - days when Swami was just meters away from his room door. How he missed those days!
Chain Na Aaye Mohe Chain Na Aaye
He was so restless without Sai.
Even as he felt thus, he could hear a rush of excitement from the room windows. Getting up from the bed, he went to the door. He could not imagine that his imagination of a few minutes back would transform into concrete reality. A few meters away from him was his Swami!

Swami came to him and enquired about his health. How did He know? Ah! What is it that He does not know? Just because Swami does not show that He knows on every occasion does not mean that He does not know. And yet, he was asked and so Ravi answered that he was not feeling well. The divine right palm went a-circling and lo, there was fragrant vibhuti in an instant. The vibhuti was bitter to taste but Ravi was all smiles. When it is the Lord who is gifting, what does it matter if it is bitter or sweet?

On several occasions, Swami blessed Ravi and gave him vibhuti but the episode in the hostel was like
a life-changer!
That was another lesson for life that made Ravi the epitome of calm and composure that he is today. If he could take everything in life as a gift from Swami, he would always be able to smile irrespective of whether it was bitter or sweet. It didn’t matter where he was - Ooty or Puttaparthi because Swami was with him in all places, in all worlds!

Living for God is true devotion

Ravi continued to sing in the bhajan hall, not opening his eyes even for a moment. He did not want to see the prostrate form of his Swami before him. Instead, he chose to ‘see’ Swami with his eyes closed. And that was when he realized that whenever he had sung the qawwali, he had always kept his eyes closed - even when Swami was physically present in front of him. He had done that so naturally till then and today he understood the divine wisdom behind his seemingly unconscious action. Swami wanted him to always search for Him within. Is that not what SAI stands for - See Always Inside?

But he wanted to see Sai outside too! Though his eyes were closed today, he could not help ‘knowing’ that Swami was not sitting on the chair in front of him. He might never hear Swami speak to him the way He had done always.
Why Swami? Are you upset with me? Are you ignoring me? Won’t you speak to me? I am ready to die for you if need be but please be with me always...

Mith Mar Jaye Tujhpe Hamse Na Roothe Tu
Zindagi Saump De Ham Charanon Mein Tere Yun
( Sai, please do not be upset with me for I am ready to die, to lose my existence, for you. I(we) offer my(our) life at your lotus feet.)

Memories galore flooded his heart. Memories in which Swami had asked him to sing on numerous occasions. One memory stood out vividly.

He was in grade 8 now and had got enrolled in the newly inaugurated Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School after 2 years in the Smt.Easwaramma High School. Swami regularly made him sit in the front lines and asked for him to sing a bhajan now and then. During the Dusshera festival of 1984, Ravi got a chance of his life.

He had picked up a new bhajan, “Brahmanda Nayaka Baba, Parthi Purishwara Baba.” When he had sung it in the hostel, everyone had got thrilled at the melody in the voice and the soul in the song. Ravi also thoroughly enjoyed singing that bhajan. But he never imagined what would happen next.

A live bhajan recording of Ravikumar rendering Brahmanda Nayaka Baba

The Dusshera Yajnam is conducted every year for the peace and good of the whole Universe (Brahmanda). And the deity receiving the prayers is the Brahmanda Nayaka (Master of the Universe) himself. That year, in 1984, as Ravi sat with his classmates in the Poornachandra auditorium, he got an excited summon. Looking up, he realized that Swami was calling him on to the stage. Trembling with excitement and with adrenaline rushing, he went up the stage to Swami. Swami asked for a mike to be brought. There was a rush on the stage and one of the college students requested a Veda pundit to lend the microphone in front of him. The mike was placed before the 13-year old. Swami told him to sing the bhajan,
“Brahmanda Nayaka Baba.”

Standing beside Swami, closing his eyes and praying for His grace, Ravi began the bhajan. The whole hall got enveloped in raptures of devotion. The following was simply terrific. But even then, the little boy did not get excited. He just wanted to make his Swami happy. He completed the bhajan and looked at Swami. He had definitely achieved what he had sought to do - Swami was so happy - and proud. Well, the ‘proud’ part is what I am inserting for Ravi never said that. He never accepts that Swami is ‘proud’ of him and it is my emotion that makes me use that word.

As he mentally leafed through that memory, one thing became very clear for Ravi. Swami had always wanted him to sing for Him - even at times when He seemed ‘upset'. He never wanted him to be silent. That was another powerful message for Ravi - never cease doing what you do for the Lord, even if the Lord seems upset or silent. He felt that even as he told Swami that he was ready to die for Him, Swami was gently reminding him that He wanted him to live for Him! Dying for God is relatively easy because it is a one time thing. Living for God, on the other hand, is a lifelong commitment and that is what Swami expects from each of us. We have to continue our ‘singing for him’ throughout life, irrespective of what happens. That is why Swami tells us,
“Living for God (and not dying for God) is true devotion.”

The qawwali comes alive

The qawwali of Ravi’s life - Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - came into existence in 1988. Ravi had completed his schooling then and was in the 1st year of his undergraduate studies at Brindavan, Bangalore. A group of students wrote the lyrics for a qawwali and composed a tune for it. They wanted this qawwali to be offered to Swami during a music programme. Two singers were chosen to sing it in the Divine Presence. One was a 3rd year undergrad student, Rajendra Kumar and the other was Ravi.

They did sing it together. Swami seemed to like it too. That became evident when, months later, Swami again asked for that qawwali to be sung. This time however, it was during the summer vacations and Rajendra had gone home. Swami asked Ravi to sing it alone. The rest, they say, is history.

Ravi actually has no count of the number of times he has been asked by Swami to sing the qawwali. But he surely knows that Swami made several changes to the length of the song. It went through several iterations of ‘Divine editing’ before being accepted in its current concise avatar.

Ravikumar singing and dancing as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. During that drama, Swami asked Ravi to sing the 
same qawwali! Just imagine Chaitanya Mahaprabhu singing a qawwali! The qawwali was modified as
"Shyam Bina Raha Na Jaaye" and Ravi indeed sang it as a grand finale! 
After playing the role of Krishna's gopika, Yamuna.
Slowly, Ravi began to get opportunities to act in many dramas in Swami’s presence. Needless to say, his roles in the dramas, like in the drama of life, were inextricably intertwined with music. Those were days when there was no pre-recording of dramas and both, the dialogues and songs, were delivered live. Thus, most of the lead actors (who had to do singing) were all good singers. That was how Ravi got the chance to play the role of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a role that he performed with great devotion and elan.

I feel that the Chaitanya Mahaprabhu role was symbolic of the role Swami envisaged for His Ravi. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is considered as one of the main pillars of the Bhakti movement (Devotion revolution) and a pioneer of the Bhajan Sampradaya (tradition of singing bhajans as a means to achieve God). Ravi being given that role in the drama was also being given a hint about the role that he had to play in his life too - to become a pillar of the Bhakti Movement via the Bhajan Sampradaya. Ravi, as always, shrugs it away and says,
“Swami gives us the opportunity to play such roles so that we are inspired by such pure lives.”

Did I not say the same thing?

Ravi continued to sing the qawwali and it now progressed towards a change in tempo. From now on, it would move towards it’s climax. A thousand feelings coursed through Ravi’s heart and many in’sai’ghts began to dawn...

to be concluded in the next part

Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 3

For all readers:
(If you enjoyed this and wish to subscribe to this blog, please go to the right hand side and choose the last 'box' which says subscribe. Also explore the 40-odd 'previous articles' listed month-wise on the top right here. Another blog which I maintain with more than 225 articles on it is at http://aravindb1982.hubpages.com. If you wish to be added to my mailing list, please email me via this page with the subject "ADD ME TO MAILING LIST".

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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 1

S.Ravikumar with Swami in Kodaikanal, 1992

Singing a qawwali like never before

Ravikumar sat in the bhajan hall at Prasanthi Nilayam. This was a place that was so dear to him for it held in its bosom a million of his most cherished memories - his memories with his God and Guide, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba or Swami as Ravi refers to Him. The ten avatars of Lord Vishnu seemed to look down at him from their mini altars on the northern and southern walls of the hall with the same benign attention as they had done so for the past 25 years or so. The main altar at the western end of the hall was decked and resplendent as always and the two Babas, Shirdi and Parthi, stood in calm poise in their silver-framed, life-sized portraits. The whole hall was silent as the harmonium churned out the introductory notes for the special song that he was about to sing.

A song becomes ‘special’ because of several reasons. Either the lyrics are unforgettable or the tune touches deep within one’s very soul; either it has magical memories associated with it or it has the ability to clear one’s mind completely, rendering it almost thoughtless. The song that Ravi was about to sing had all the above reasons to be called special. And yet, none of the above reasons were what made it truly special for him. The actual reason why the song was (and is) so special for him was because whenever he had sung the song, he had done so at the personal behest of his Swami! A subtle flick of His finger, a gentle nod of His head, a knowing smile from His lips or even that direct gaze of His eyes - any one or a combination of these served to indicate to Ravi that his Swami wanted him to sing that special song.

And today, it was another occasion where he prepared himself to sing that song. But Ravi was not happy! He was feeling a severe vacuum within himself. As sorrow enveloped his entire being but tears refused to flow down his cheeks because the eyes seemed numbed by shock. After nearly three and a half decades of singing bhajans and songs for his Swami, he never had thought that he would be singing on such an occasion. And that too, the special song! It seemed so unreal. He was singing ‘Swami’s song’ without any of the usual  indications from Him. But how could He give an indication? He was lying peacefully in the ice-cold casket in the very same bhajan hall which He tread energetically for decades!

The Mahasamadhi of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba had numbed Ravikumar into a state of near thoughtlessness like it had done to millions around the globe. The one whom he had considered as all, apparently was no more. But Ravi had got His indication. It had arrived very mysteriously as Ravi battled between the simultaneous experience of a longing loneliness and a serene solitude.It had arrived as a whisper from deep within, a whisper from eternity. And he had decided to sing the song before the supine form of his Swami.

Mohabbat Ki Kami Dil Mein
Agar Ehsaas Hota Hain
Zara Jhanko To Paaoge
Ki Sai Paas Hota Hain.”

Listen to Ravikumar's soulful rendering of the qawwali

Those were the lines that served as a slow prelude to the actual qawwali that he was about to sing. He had sung this qawwali at least five hundred times before. But the meaning of the first two lines of the prelude had never hit him so hard as they did today for they spelt,
“Whenever you feel a lack of love (an emptiness) in your heart, (don’t despair), just look within you and you will find Sai there.”

If anybody (other than Swami) could 'patent' this qawwali, it had to be Ravikumar because, believe it or not, 'almost nobody' other than him has sung it in the physical presence of Swami. It was as if this qawwali and Ravi were meant to be together like a word and its meaning. And today, for the first time, Ravi was able to gauge the depth of meaning in the qawwali.

Suddenly, the next two lines seemed to flow out of him with renewed energy,
O Karishma Ye Usi Ka Hain
Ki Duniya Khoobsurat Lagti Hain.”
“It is indeed the miracle (of Love) of Sai that the whole world feels so beautiful!”

The emptiness of Ravi’s heart slowly began to fill with Swami’s love and he sang on.

With Swami, one's heart and hands are always filled! (At Kodaikanal, 1992)
Swami’s “unexpected” entry

It was in the summer of 1978, when Ravi was a 7-year old, that his father decided to send him to Swami’s new primary school at Ooty. The letter inviting little Ravi for the entrance examination had reached their family home in Madikeri (Coorg). Mistaking this to be a confirmation of admission, his father had taken him out of his previous school and got his luggage packed for the hostel life in the Sri Sathya Sai School at Ooty.

Ravi’s doting mother was not at all comfortable with sending her son to a hostel. It was not as if his father was any pleased to be away from him. He felt that being in Swami’s school was the best thing that could happen to his son. The mother, however, had allowed her heart to rule over her head and was probably secretly hoping that her son is not admitted at Ooty! The family got into the Ambassador car and started the 250 km journey to Ooty. Along with them was a family friend, a staunch devotee of Baba. Enroute, they were driving through the Mudumalai bio reserve, when they saw a red color Mercedez Benz in front. Through a gap between the window curtains of Benz car, Ravi’s father espied on the orange-robed, curly-haired figure in the back seat. Realizing that this was Swami’s car, he told their driver to follow it as closely as possible, without allowing any other vehicles to come in between them!

Swami’s car took a little detour in the Mudumalai reserve and the Ambassador car followed Him to the forest lodge He drove up to. They alighted from the car and stood outside the lodge. Soon, Swami walked out and spoke to the family friend. He enquired into his well-being and the reason for his presence. On getting to know that they were enroute to the Ooty school, He said,
“I too am going there - to inaugurate the school!”
Then, He asked Ravi's father where they were coming from. The question was in Kannada and so the reply too was given in that tongue,
"From Madikeri, Swami... in Coorg."
Swami nodded. He then told them that food would be arranged for them before going back in.

Ravi’s mother whispered to his father,
“Swami is supposed to know everything. And yet He asked about our plan? He knows we are Tamil-speaking. And yet, He addresses us in Kannada?”
The father replied,
"We also speak Kannada right? How does it matter what language Swami speaks to us in?"
Soon, a hearty meal was brought to all those who were sitting outside the lodge. The only people there were the occupants of the Ambassador car. What good fortune indeed!
After their lunch was done, the family waited for Swami to leave. Not knowing the precise location of Nandanavanam where the school was located, Ravi’s father thought it best to follow the Lord’s car - a great idea indeed. (A wonderful idea for life too because, often, we are not aware of our destination. If we just follow the Lord, we can reach surely and safely!)

Nandanavanam, Ooty, in 1978. This is a picture taken by Ravi's father as he sat in the darshan lines.
Swami walked out after a few minutes. Coming straight to Ravi’s mother, Swami asked,
“Saaptacha?” (“Have you had your food?” in Tamil!)
She nodded as she exchanged a meaningful glance with her husband. Ravi was enjoying this journey which had included a nice picnic. It only got better as they drove on towards the school along the beautiful, winding mountainous road. When Ravi went in to write the entrance exam for admission into 3rd grade, his father realized the mistake he had made by getting Ravi’s transfer certificate from the previous school - Ravi was actually not assured of a seat in Swami’s school. That however, made Ravi’s mother happy for there was actually a chance for her to take back the apple of her eye home.

It was destiny that Ravi cleared the entrance exam and was selected to join 3rd grade. All the selected children gathered in Swami’s presence. Ravi had no idea that it was going to be a defining day of his life - the day when Swami would choose him as His singer! It happened so simply. From the chair, Swami looked at Ravi who was wearing a woolen skull cap to shield himself from the cold.
“Ay monkey cap!” Swami called out.
Ravi looked behind him and to his sides.
“I am calling you only”, said Swami pointing to him.
The little boy stood up in his place in the Ooty bhajan hall.
“Sing a bhajan.”
Taken aback at this request, Ravikumar sang the first-ever bhajan of his life in the Divine Presence. Closing his eyes, he sang in his shrill boyish voice,
“Bolo Narayana Jai Jai Vitthala.”

The parents were filled with joy. Ravi was also happy. The school would be beginning the next day and he was liking this place. That night he slept like a baby. However, there were two people crying in his room - his father and mother. Though they both hid their tears from the other, they were finding it hard to return to Madikeri without their beloved little son. The next morning, something amazing happened during the darshan before their departure. Swami walked up to the mother and, in Tamil, assured her,
“Don’t worry. I shall take good care of your son.”
She knew that Swami was aware of her tears the previous night and thus felt a surge of relief in her heart. Imagine her thrill when, after darshan, the father came up to her and confided that Swami had told him also the exact same thing during the darshan! It was only then that they got to know about each other’s tears the previous night. And it was then that they realized that Swami would love their little Ravi like a mother and a father!

The addiction called God

Ravikumar continued the qawwali with a smile acknowledging the beautiful memory,
Jab Se Dekha Tujhko Sai Mere
Darash Ke Pyase Naina Saanjh Savere.”
(“From the moment when I set my eyes on you Sai, they constantly thirst to have your darshan day and night.”)

Swami gifted little Ravi with a memorable Polaroid picture in
the Ooty school days.
From that day in 1978, that was what even the little Ravi realized. The school was super-fun when Swami was there. The children’s dormitory door was just beyond Swami’s and many were the occasions when they had stormed out of their dormitory in their night pyjamas to join Him for breakfast! Swami would be the indulgent mother, allowing her little ones to join in the dining session. He would serve them sometimes and always talk and interact with them. His presence was definitely an addiction, something that Ravi realized during the times when Swami was not at Ooty. It was at such times that he would miss his parents and home. So, though it was not exactly as if his eyes thirsted for Swami’s darshan, his heart definitely rejoiced when He was there. And the reason for that was very simple - Ravi was addicted to Swami and he had pledged the most special corner of his heart to Him.

Ravi did not know either of these ‘famous’ quotes when he pledged his heart to Swami. But with God, it is not as if you must ‘know’ everything to achieve Him - a sincere intent will suffice. Ravi’s sincerity won him a permanent special corner in Swami’s heart. And in the bhajan hall too!

I remember an unforgettable episode that happened one evening in the bhajan hall. Those were the days when, out of the blue, Swami would walk in to the bhajan hall, much before bhajans. At that time, all the front places reserved for singers used to be occupied in a hurry by the students who would rush in to get as close to Him as possible. Of course, after the interaction and before the bhajans, Swami would go back into the interview room and the bhajan group boys would occupy their places in front. Ravi would complete his work at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (he serves as a manager in Radiology there) and arrive just in time for the bhajans. So, naturally, he would miss most of these pre-bhajan sessions with Swami.

One day, when Swami entered the bhajan hall, I rushed and got myself a seat in the 4th line from Him. Swami, before beginning to speak, looked at the corner where Ravi would sit every day during bhajans. There was another student seated there - a student desirous of getting some physical proximity and interaction with Swami. He got what he desired but in a manner that nobody expected. Swami called him and said,
“Ay boy! That is Ravi’s place. Don’t sit there.”
Immediately the boy moved back and the space was left vacant!

I realized one truth that day - If I reserve a place for Swami in my life, Swami reserves a place for me in His life too! I narrated this episode to Ravi bhaiya (elder brother) and he just smiled and shrugged it off saying,
“That is Swami’s love. He is the only one who can have a special corner in His heart for each and every one!”

The first few lines of the qawwali become so easy to understand when one experiences the Divine and boundless love that Swami has.
“Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye
Chain Na Aaye Mohe Chain Na Aaye.”
(I just cannot live without Sai.Without Him, I am constantly restless, without peace.)
Singing those lines, Ravi could not help but recollect that moment of intense restlessness when Swami had calmed him, granting him the boons of fearlessness and peace.

continued in Part 2 at:

Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - I have no life without Sai (experiences of S.Ravikumar) Part 2

You could also enjoy these stories of Swami's other singers:

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