Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Take one step towards me and I shall take ten towards you

Two lads and their tears

It was late in the day and the sun was setting over the horizon in the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. Two lads stood in a temple dedicated to the Goddess Kali, praying to the divine mother. Their eyes were filled with tears and hearts with aspirations. They were hoping to convey to the Mother what they wanted through the language of the eyes. But both of them were experiencing something very strange. In the presence of the Mother, though the tears continued to stream down the cheeks, their tongues did not seem to gather sufficient energy to seek what they actually desired. Instead, the tongues seemed to pray for something which was totally unexpected, but something that their heart truly wanted. The two boys indicated here belonged to two different eras separated by more than 100 years. And yet, so similar was their situation that a single paragraph could be written about their plight and duplicated to describe the other!

The first lad was the 21-year old Naren who later grew into the world-famous Swami Vivekananda. His father had suffered a sudden demise in 1884 and the burden of staving off the family bankruptcy by repaying the dozens of creditors had fallen on Naren’s shoulders. Unable to bear the burden and unable to find a good paying job, he approached his new-found guru, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
“Master, Mother always listens to you. Why don’t you ask her to provide me and my family with sufficient financial resources to live a happy life?”
“My child! You suffer from the false idea that I am close to the Mother and you are not. Why don’t you yourself go to her and seek what you want?”

It was this goading that had resulted in Naren standing in front of the Mother. But as he stood before Her, he felt the warm trickle on his cheeks turn from tears of sorrow and lack into tears of gratitude. Without his knowledge, his tongue sought,
“Mother! Grant me discrimination... grant me devotion... grant me renunciation...”
He walked out of the temple and his Master reprimanded him for not seeking from the Mother what he immediately needed. He sent Naren back into the temple reminding him to remain focused on his wants. However, the lad was unable to do anything different even the second time. The drama repeated for a third time too when Naren realized that the Mother’s supreme love for him had made him seek what he truly needed.

(Here is a video of the beautiful dramatization of that episode between Naren and Mother Kali by the students of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.)

The second lad was standing before Mother Kali but not in the Dakshineshwar temple. The year too was totally different, this one being 2000. However, Saptarshi Chatterjee’s tears too were as hot and sorrowful as Naren’s when he entered the temple. He too had lost his father’s support, in a different manner though. Seeing his below average marks in the Grade 12 exams, his father had called him and told him,
“See Sapto, the way you have been faring in high school is very depressing. If things go on in this way, you will not get admission into any decently good college even! I have no money to get you an admission by paying hefty donations to these educational institutions which have become businesses today. It is good that you try to find a job and get employed next year.”
The father’s words had bred regret and struck terror in the 17-year old’s heart. With God as the last resort, he had walked into the temple of Mother Kali in the evening after school. Swami Vivekananda was Sapto’s hero and he knew in his heart that he should not ask the Mother for anything worldly. Yet, so heavy was his heart that, unlike Naren, he poured out to the Mother,
“Mother, I am your child forever. Keep me safe and happy always by keeping me close to your bosom. But also ensure that I get higher education in a good Institute.”
And he cried and cried till his tears dried.

That was more or less Sapto’s schedule almost every day.

An Institute education and much more

Naren’s story of his growth into Swami Vivekananda is well documented. Saptarshi’s journey is bound to be interesting and inspiring for the modern youth who find it hard to emulate Swami Vivekananda though they wish to do so!

Unknown to anyone, Saptarshi had something in his life that Naren never had - a girlfriend! In the teenage years, he had experienced love at first sight. So powerful was the effect that he did not know whether she was an attraction or a distraction. Nevertheless, he felt that there was atleast a great traction in their relationship. In fact, it was she who seemed to bring the solution to his problem. She informed him about a very good Institute, the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (SSSIHL), which promised great academic adventures and degrees without charging even a single penny as fees! Sapto was instantly interested and, seeking an application, he applied to this University in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh.

In Hindi, there is a popular saying which goes thus,
Dane dane par khanewale ka naam likha hain.” (Every grain of food has inscribed on it, the name of the person who will eat it.) The saying intends to heighten the importance of destiny in one’s life. Sapto found out that, apparently, every seat in the SSSIHL also had on it the name of the person who will get it! There was no other way to explain the miraculous sequence of events that led him to get through the entrance examinations, group discussions and the interview to actually procure a seat in the prestigious B.Com(hons) course at the Brindavan campus of the Institute. He called up his dear friend back at Calcutta to convey the good news to her. She also rejoiced. He wished he could go back home to give her a hug but the joining date did not permit a return journey back home.

Saptarshi performing a mimicry for his Swami in Kodaikanal
Sapto did not realize that he had won an admission into an Institute of HIGHER learning. However, as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Sapto came under the divine umbrella of the little orange robed figure, the Chancellor the the University, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Each little interaction with Him, his Swami, seemed to take him a step closer towards his unconscious yet ultimate goal of ‘Higher’ learning. Like hundreds of students before him, Sapto too wanted to become a ‘form boy’, the hostel lingo for a student who got the privilege of regular interactions with the Master. In the meanwhile, he also experienced the blossoming of his hitherto unknown talents of mimicry, mono-acting and dramatics.

Turning point

Sapto had not forgotten his love in Calcutta. She too sought admission in Swami’s womens’ college at Anantapur. The two hearts seemed to have come closer. However, Sapto was still undecided on whether she was an attraction or a distraction. He took the safe route of directing all his love and feelings towards his God, his Swami. In fact, he developed an irrepressible urge to sing a Bengali Rabindra Sangeet for Swami.

It was the year first week of October in the year 2004 and Sapto, having graduated with honours in the B.Com course, had enrolled for the MBA programme at Puttaparthi. During one darshan session (when Swami moved around the entire Sai Kulwant hall, blessing devotees and interacting with them), he gave Swami a letter expressing his desire to sing a Rabindra Sangeet for Him. Swami accepted the letter. Swami looked into his eyes and asked him,
“Do you want to sing it only to me?”
It was a song of love set in a melodious tune. Sapto had no second thoughts as he nodded that he indeed wanted to sing it out only for Him. Swami smiled and called him in for an interview. Sapto was pleasantly shocked! He could not imagine that the Lord was as eager to hear him as he was to sing for him. This was the first time in four years that he was actually entering the hallowed precincts of the interview room.

Seeing Swami from so close, Sapto had no words to say. He just sat in front of Him, dumbstruck. Very causally, Swami told him something that completely overwhelmed him,
“I have seen you come to me every evening and praying for good education. Your longing for me has impressed me. That is why I gave you this chance in my institution.”
Sapto’s mind was in a tizzy. What did Swami mean by that? He got to know Swami only in the year 2000 and he had done nothing like what He had said since then.
“Swami, I got to know you only when I joined here. Before that, I did not know you”, Sapto said before adding, “even in photographs!”
“Who do you think you have been praying to near your house? You think that she is only an idol? Her heart melted for you! She told me to take pity on you and it was on her request that I took you in!”

Now Sapto was reeling. How on earth did Swami know something that he had not shared with anyone else? Even as his head was spinning, he got a scary thought - this Swami knew everything about him. Getting on his knees, in a shaky voice, he said,
“Swami, I have committed many sins in the past...”
“Past is past! Forget the past. All your sins have been washed the minute you stepped into Parthi.”
Sapto was feeling that he was in some ethereal dream. Everything was happening so beautifully. Swami continued,
“I know that the girl you love is in Anantapur. But listen to me. Her family will not be suitable and amenable to you. When the right time comes, I shall give you a good girl, a girl who loves God. Remember, don’t run for sex! Run for Sai.”

The mind was blown to pieces and Sapto felt completely blank. He did not feel the need to say anything. Swami smiled and said,
“You want to sing something right?”
Sapto was unable to answer even that question. He was absolutely tongue-tied and washed away in the floods of Swami’s omnipresence and love. Swami smiled again. He took his right hand in His left hand and placed it on His chest. He then placed His right hand on Sapto’s chest.
“Sing now. It is heart to heart and you will get the tunes.”

Such was the surge of inexplicable bliss that Sapto’s heart began to serenade on its own! And to his great joy, Swami began to sing along! God and devotee, Master and disciple became one in that song of love. The words flowed effortlessly from both lips till the final line in the song, “Tomaro Madhuro Preme” (Your sweet love). Swami then said,
“See, how sweet My love is?”

A personal photograph overlooking the lake in Kodaikanal. 

Swami’s Vivekananda

The interview ended but not Sapto’s divine romance. He had goosebumps when Swami selected him as a principal actor for the upcoming Convocation drama on the 22nd of November, 2004. What was to be his role? Of Swami Vivekananda!!

Sapto (in turban) as Swami Vivekananda offers
a card to Swami before the Convocation drama.
The story of how the drama developed is another beautiful chapter in Saptos’ life but the fact remains that when he had to speak forcefully as the fiery monk seeking only divinity, Sapto could do it with great ease and natural flair. His pining for Swami and Swami’s reinforcing grace had indeed made a Vivekananda out of Saptarshi - a lad who was enjoying Ananda (bliss) because he had been conferred Viveka (wisdom)!

As he completed his narrative, Sapto told me,
“Aravind from that day till today I have received that Madhura Prema (sweet, divine Love) in various ways. My heart melts remembering that moment of my life as I write it to you. Whatever I have in life; am in life is because of Swami and Swami alone. Apart from pining for him (in some other form that too), I don’t know what else I have done. But what He has done and is doing, I can never repay even in a million lifetimes. I have a good family, a lovely job and everything is so smooth and fine. Even when things seem to go wrong, I know that it is just a part of His Masterplan! No complaints at all... no questions... no doubts. Just enjoying every moment that has been GIFTED!”

His narrative taught me the importance of always pining for the Lord. It also brought to my mind the statement Swami had made about the youth in modern times. That statement was made during the famous and historic discourse in 1976, in Ooty, when Swami materialized a medallion with a map of India on it.

I shall prepare individuals capable of spreading the Bharatiya culture and spirituality to the whole world. In the case of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, he had to use only one or two persons (for the fulfilment of Ramakrishna’s mission), Vivekananada and Brahmananda, who were sannyasis (renunciants). You don’t need to become sannyasis. In this particular task of Mine, I am going to use you young people in a large measure, as you are, putting you on the right path. I will use you as My instruments for doing all that is intended to be done.

Ah Swami! How loving you are! You seek nothing from us and yet promise to achieve everything through us. The modern world will surely see many Swami Vivekanandas for anyone who calls “Swami” with love and faith, you make a “Vivekananda” out of him/her.

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  1. Wonderful narrative:-)"Even if things go wrong that z indeed a part of his Masterplan!"Beautiful is God and his ways.

  2. very very touching, beautiful, please i a PDF format these kinds of episodes Devotees experiences be made and published

  3. I don't know how to thank you! Tears rolling!

    Your timing is better than Laxman's!

    1. Sairam Sravan... Having got to know what you have gone through in life, I can only feel grateful to Swami that this article helped you and made you feel better. :)

      Sai bless you always brother.

  4. So beautiful .. Thank you so much Sapto and Arvind for publishing these, infact only thanks to Swami who made me read this

  5. Superb superb words really.

  6. OH SWAMI ! No words to explain the feeling i am in after reading this article, as I too underwent a similar experience in Chennai in 2007 when SWAMI visited. He landed in front of me from no where as i was pining for him and picked up the letter from my hands and I was DUMBSTRUCK.
    Absolutely true brother, that no prayer, no pining goes unanswered. HIS LOVE IS ALWAYS SWEET.


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