Wednesday, 26 November 2014

God's plans are the best for us - the story of Siddhartha's enlightenment_ Part 1

A Gratitude Programme in the offing

The students in the final year postgraduate class in the Prasanthi Nilayam campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning (SSSIHL) were an excited lot. The day was going to be a very special and memorable one for them. The 16th of March in 2009 had been chosen by destiny for them to express their feelings towards their Chancellor and their Swami, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The ‘Gratitude Programme’ had become an annual opportunity wherein every batch which was passing out (School students from Grade 12, 3rd year Undergraduates and 2nd year Postgraduates) would, via skits, songs and speaking, convey their gratitude to Swami. On His part, Swami would often make this into the most memorable session for all the students. It was therefore natural that Siddhartha’s heart was bursting at the seams with excitement.

However, mixed with that excitement was also a tinge of nervousness regarding his participation in this programme. Every year, the students try to get increasingly innovative in the portrayal of their gratitude to Swami and Siddhartha (aka Sid), with a few of his classmates, had evolved a novel idea.  The plan was to play a game of pass-the-parcel in its classic version in Swami’s presence where a ‘punishment’ lay hidden within each layer of wrapping over a ‘gift’. Each of these punishments would be something interesting which Swami enjoyed seeing. For instance, one of the participants in the game was a mimicry artist and he was ‘fixed’ as the second boy to get ‘punished’ with the task of performing mimicry. Sid had got this idea while seeing an old tape of Swami’s visit to Kodaikanal where Baba had thoroughly enjoyed the game which the students played. But this was not the cause of Sid’s nervousness.

An evening when Swami gave great joy to Sid and Sid gave great joy to Swami...
A particular punishment had been fixed for Sid - to sing the verse which Swami composed as a teenager to market a wonder medicine called Bala Bhaskara. The rationale behind the punishment was twofold - that Sid was a good singer and that the verse seemed very dear to Swami’s heart. To add Swami’s involvement in this, Sid was to act as if he had forgotten a few lines of the verse hoping that Swami would ‘help’ him with the lines. It was a nice and sweet plot to involve Swami but the warden had his own worries,
“See, the plan can backfire if Swami chooses to remain stoic. So, don’t overact. In case you do not get any reaction within a few moments, act as if you have suddenly remembered and complete the verse...”
Sid had agreed to it But secretly, he actually memorised only the first two lines of the verse:
Dorike Dorike Bala Bhaskara, Balan Lara Balaku Lara

Deep within, he had the conviction that Swami would really help him out of the situation! He just hoped that his ‘gamble’ would pay off. The final ‘punishment’ of the game was to be a question,
“When did Swami last visit the hostel?”
The answer to that question would be the indication for all the boys to pray together for Bhagawan’s visit to the hostel. Then, they would all sing a song, pleading to Him to answer their heartfelt prayers. The plan seemed so perfect.

A day to remember

That evening, Swami came for darshan in His chair and after a round of the hall coupled with a brief visit to the Bhajan Hall, came onstage to begin the programme just after 5.30 pm. The programme started with speeches and the boys spoke to Him as they would to their best friend - straight from the heart and without any flowery words. In addition to a musical tribute and short speeches in various languages, the boys presented an innovative dumb charade of the events in Swami's life. Then came the turn of the game. Sid and the others came forward and began passing the parcel to the tune of a background music. The whole thing had been well rehearsed and the boys knew the exact pace of passing just as the students playing the music live knew when to stop. Thus, each of the ‘punishments’ played out and Swami seemed to be enjoying the whole thing. That fateful moment arrived when the parcel was in Sid’s hands and the music stopped. Sid’s heart too seemed to come to a momentary halt as the gamemaster asked him,
“Sing the jingle which Swami used to provide ‘word-of-mouth marketing’ for a medicine...”

Sid picked the mike, looked at Swami and began,
Dorike Dorike Bala Bhaskara, Balan Lara Balaku Lara...”
Then, he looked down and then back at Swami. He seemed to have gone blank. Those who knew the ‘plan’ were full of appreciation for his natural acting. But they did not actually know! The acting was not natural; Sid actually did not know the next few lines. He just was looking at Swami but no help was forthcoming. He looked down again and somebody possibly realized his predicament. He could hear someone whispering the next line of the poem but he could not make it out.  

“Do you want to make use of a helpline?” asked the gamemaster.
“Oh yes please,” replied Sid in relief.
“Would you like to ask any friend here for help?” he asked hoping that Sid had someone in mind.
“The only friend I know is Swami...” he replied pointing out to the lovable form in orange.

Swami helps out Siddhartha with the verse on Bala Bhaskara
Instantly, a big smile blossomed on Swami’s face. With His finger, He beckoned to Sid to come near. Sid rushed to his Lord and sat by His side as He told him,
Adi Ekkada Ani Adigeranna, Adi Adigo Kote Subbanna...
Then, smiling at him, Swami said,
“Now, go and sing it out...”
Quickly memorising the lines, Sid went downstage and took the microphone in hand. He sang out the lines he had just learned and Swami was so happy. He was also bursting with joy at this special opportunity. Swami had not let him down. He had stood by him when he was clueless.

The programme went on for a few more minutes after which a few boys moved up the stage and asked Swami for group pictures. It was late in the evening, but Swami agreed for a quick round of photos as the bhajans went on. After that, He retired for the day, receiving Aarthi. As everyone gathered around Sid congratulating him for the beautiful chance that Swami had bestowed on him, he narrated the actual story with wet eyes. It had been an evening that he would never forget.

Academic allergies

As he lay on his bed at night, his whole student-life flashed before his eyes. It was his experience as a student which had given rise to the conviction that Swami would never let him down, come what may.

Academics had never been a strong point for Sid - especially the Sciences and Mathematics. He had barely managed to clear the Grade 10 Public Examinations in these subjects. In fact, his alma mater had requested his parents to enroll him as a ‘private candidate’ rather than as a student of the school so that the school could obtain cent percent results! This had put tremendous pressure on Sid and his parents, especially his mother. Adding to this was the pressure from the fact that Sid’s elder brother, RP, was an excellent student always obtaining the highest grades.

In his defence, it must be said that Sid excelled in the Arts. Not only did he take a liking towards subjects like Social Science and Psychology in school, he also specialised in Theatre, in the metropolis of Chennai. Gradually, he also discovered his ability to sing and became a regular bhajan lead-singer at Sundaram, the Prasanthi Nilayam of Chennai. He enrolled into a Bachelor of Arts programme and actively pursued his hobbies in acting and singing. That was when his brother enrolled for the MBA course at the SSSIHL. That was also when Sid got to know about the wonderful chances that the students got to put up cultural programmes and sing songs in the Divine Presence of Bhagawan Baba. The SSSIHL now became a destination of choice for Sid to pursue academics because it gave him an opportunity to offer what he thought were his strengths to the Lord. In fact, in the summers of 2005 and 2006, when Swami visited Kodaikanal, Sid also went there. During the darshan sessions, he expressed to Swami his desire to sing for Him.

The only Masters course being offered at SSSIHL which Sid was qualified to pursue was MBA. But that meant facing his old nemesis - Mathematics - which he had given up for the past 5 years. Thankfully, Maths was the only enemy that he had to face in the form of Quantitative Aptitude as the other subjects - English & Reasoning - along with the Group Discussion and Interview were all good. It was evident that his strengths had amply covered up his major weakness as Sid got through and became an MBA student in ‘Swami’s college’ in the June of 2006.

Swami came to Puttaparthi from Brindavan on the 8th of June as recorded beautifully in the Prasanthi Diary. By then, Sid had already convinced the in-charges of the Prasanthi BHajan Group that he had it in him to sing in Bhagawan’s presence. That Sunday, the 11th of June, Swami called Sid and accepted his letter. He also gave him permission to begin singing in the mandir. That Thursday, the 15th of June 2006, Sid sang the first of his many bhajans in Swami’s presence. His debut was made with “Sai Jagannatha” and with that, he was convinced that his life was made.

“You can paint a donkey stripes and pass it off as a zebra but it gets revealed in the first rains,” is a common-sensical statement. The first CIE (Continuous Internal Evaluation exam) proved to be the first rains as far as Sid was concerned as he flunked the QM (Quantitative Methods) paper. As soon as he got to know the results, he confessed to Swami that he had failed. Swami didn’t seem concerned as He just told him one word, “Sit”.

Months flew by and it was now time for the end-semester exams. Sid shivered at the prospects of sitting for two of the exams - Financial Management and Quantitative Methods (FM and QM). On the day before the FM examination, Sid realized that he knew nothing nor understood nothing! He tried to indulge in group studies but he was all at sea in any group; he was the weakest member even in the weakest academic group of his class. He felt like a Taushiro-speaking person in Mandarin-speaking China! He got up, fetched himself a glass of milk and went to the Vidyagiri stadium for a walk. Sitting alone on the steps of the gallery, he looked at the towering Hanuman statue and spoke to the monkey-God as he would to a dearest friend,
“It is going to be all over soon. Tomorrow will be a day when I will blank out in the examination.”

It was a similar experience before the QM examination too. To Sid’s pleasant surprise, he failed only in the QM paper. Apparently, the FM paper that year, had multiple theory questions which Sid managed to answer decently well in excellent English. That had ensured that he scraped through in FM. Grateful to Swami, Sid moved to the second semester. He wrote the supplementary examination for QM that semester and scraped through. He had successfully completed one semester of MBA.

Academic disaster

The even semesters in the SSSIHL are full of cultural activities. Beginning with Dusshera, the semester includes the Convocation drama, Bhagawan Baba’s Birthday festivities, Christmas and the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet. Needless to say Sid plunged into overdrive, revelling and thriving in the atmosphere that gave full vent to all his hobbies and talents. The spurt in cultural activities in that semester resulted in a proportional drop in Sid’s academic performances. The first year as an MBA student ended with the summer vacation after which the new academic year began in June 2007.

It was between a class on a Thursday afternoon in the July of 2007 that the results of the end-semester exams were announced. As was his practice, Sid told two of his friends,
“When you see your results, please see mine too... Tell me that I have somehow scraped through...”

Both his friends were class-toppers, in contention for the gold medal and their friendship with Sid added credence to the theory that opposites attract. Sid sat alone in the classroom as all his classmates rushed out to check the results. Within minutes, his friends were back. Seeing them a bit grave, Sid assumed that he had done it again - failed in QM.

“Sid, QM paper...” began Chandru.
“Hmmmm, okay. This was expected. I feel bad for Bhagia sir who strives so much to teach us...”
“That is not all,” interrupted Krishnakumar, “MAC too has let you down...”
“What! Management Accounting also? This is not good... Supplementary for two papers...”
“Sid,” exclaimed Chandru, “you have also failed in HR (Human Resources)...”
“What!!??” Even Sid was shocked now. How could he possibly have flunked a descriptive paper?

He sat in silence absorbing the impact. He would have to write half the number of papers in the Supplementary Exams. How would he be able to manage the workload? That was when Chandru told him about the University rules which helped such students manage the workload,
“You will have to repeat that semester Sid. You will not be allowed to continue as a 2nd-year student till you complete the 1st year successfully. You will be expelled from College this year and will have to join as a 1st-year student in the next semester...”

That hit Sid like a huge truck. He could not bear the thought of the ignominy he would face at home - yet another failure; a failure which would be taking him away from the SSSIHL, from his cultural activities and, most importantly, from his Swami! He got up from his seat and began walking towards the hostel. There was no way he could attend classes in this mood. He met the warden on the way.

“Sairam sir...”
“Sairam Siddhartha... I just wanted to ask you when would you be vacating the hostel?”
“Sir... but...but... I wish to submit my HR paper for revaluation...”
“Hmmm... okay,” said the warden who knew that nothing much would come of it, “but just start packing your bags anyway.”

This was because the answer sheets of a failing student would automatically be re-evaluated to see if there had been any error. Failing in an exam meant that the student had surely failed with almost no hope of result-change. That is what exactly happened in spite of the revaluation. Sid had failed and it was time for him to quit hostel and the college for a few months before he could enroll as a classmate to his juniors. He was so scared of the reaction that his failures would ignite back home that he never conveyed the news to his family. The tension and pressure festered within him and lead him to fall very sick.

That was when he got news that his mother had started to Puttaparthi to see him. He was amazed at how a mother’s instinct always told her when her child needed her. Sick, tense and ignored by Swami, Sid waited for his mother to arrive.

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

For all readers:

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  1. Sairam Brother... Eagerly waiting to know our dear Swami's Suspense Package for Sid... No wonder Swami was saying.."My only properties are my Students.." Gratitude Programme, Trayee Sessions, Convocation Day .. and list goes on and on.. so much interactions have been blessed by Swami to His dear Students... Great...

  2. always the Divine love of the Mother comes to rescue....

  3. Sairam Arvind...a beautiful story as usual..but why do you make us wait so much for the concluding half?...waiting is agonising. :)

  4. Waiting eagerly for part 2 of Sid's story..

  5. How nice....his broad smile says it all....btw, the first time I heard him sing was on the youtube video of the May 1, 2012 Mumbai Tribute program - his and S. Ravikumar's qawwali ["Tere Darbar mein....."] was such a high-energy rendition, and yet filled with such deep emotions. I remember thinking, 'who is this kid', and later came to know his name...... great voice; and of course now we see him/hear him singing all the time. So, not to preempt your part II of the story, but I am guessing he survived the academic tempest and stayed on at Parthi :). lol.


  6. Very gripping indeed. To know that Swami will save him is the best part because we all know Sid is really one of the best upcoming singers in the bhajan group. I myself have sung his bhajans, and his narratives are also superb.

    1. Aha! You know the ending of the story but I promise you that it'll still be wonderful going through the story...

  7. Sairam Aravind, waiting eagerly for the second part. Keep the articles and talks coming.
    Best wishes and love,
    Madhusudanvithal Nori

  8. So beautiful brother. So happy to read the beautiful experiences of Brother Siddhartha. Especially, in times of distress and pain, only HE can give us the true love and Succor. Only Divine Mother can understand the pangs of Separation the child goes through. So much to learn from the person who experienced the experience and also from the person who expressed the thoughts so beautifully.

    May Swami continue to Shower His loving and choicest blessings on all of us. Sairam Brother.

    Awaiting for the next part.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Oh oh!! It is not as if a spiritual life gives ONLY success in the world. It makes success and failure irrelevant for joy and peace.

  10. Sairam! Hope you feel better!


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