Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The story behind the 'Memoirs of a Sai Student' - Part 1

The ultimate author is God alone

The epitaph of Benjamin Franklin, the inventor who was
a printer by profession speaks of God
as the Ultimate Author!
It is almost impossible to understand how events will unfold in the future. The future is a deep mystery. It is also impossible to change the way things have happened in the past. The past is history. The present is something that I can influence. It is a gift from God. That is why it is called ‘the present’. However, it is not as if the ‘present’ is any less unfathomable than the ‘future’ or the ‘past’. Many times, I come across situations in day to day life that I do not understand; that frustrate me, irritate me, depress me and anger me. And I don’t understand why or how they are happening. While it is true that we have to focus on the present, that focus must be backed by a keen eye on the lessons from the past and a strong faith in the hope for the future. The present is, after all, the seed which has arrived from the tree of the past and is the precursor for the tree of the future.

The present serves as a very good point in time to look back in retrospect.  Thus, any time is a good retrospection time! When done honestly and sincerely, such retrospection leads one towards recognizing the immense blessings received. It also makes one humble and grateful. More than anything else, it makes one understand that the mind is too tiny an instrument to fathom the mysterious workings of the universe, let alone God!

I say all this because today, I am introduced to people as a ‘writer’ or an ‘author’. When that happens,  I smile within myself because becoming that was not in the wildest imagination of my most distant dreams. And yet, there are two ‘successful’ books along with two ‘popular’ blogs to my credit. The ego is a very subtle and silent fellow. He has the ability to disguise even selfishness as selflessness. Then, what can I say about the easier task of disguising pride and a swollen head as gratitude and a broad mind? Many have been the occasions when a pat on my back has resulted in my head swelling up! What modern science can explain this connection between the head and the back?

The "Memoirs of a Sai Student" about which this story is all about is available on Amazon also now. Just scan the
QR code in the right-hand corner of this image to go directly and buy it!
It is at such moments that I sit back and look at my life in retrospect, to realize that it has solely been the working of my best friend, master and God rolled into one, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, all through. I am a zero without Him; but a hero when I have Him by my side. That is why, I decided to write this story - as a reminder of that truth to myself and to anyone else who might mistake me for an ‘author’ or ‘writer’.

The source of all writing content

It all started when I joined the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School in 1998. I was convinced that I would be enjoying a rare privilege - of studying under the direct guidance of Divinity. I resolved to treasure each moment that I spend in Swami’s presence. As an expression of this cherishment, I started to maintain a diary in which I would record my thoughts, feelings and experiences almost on a daily basis. I imagined how it would have been had the cowherds of Krishna’s time, the apostles of Jesus or the disciples of the Buddha had maintained daily records of the happenings with Divinity. I felt that these diary entries would be of no less significance for they concerned the Avatar of the age, my Swami. In the nine years as a student, I accumulated more than half a dozen diaries after which I shifted to virtual version of the diary in Google Docs. When Swami granted me a job at Radiosai, I got the opportunity to maintain the Prasanthi Diary section of the site, which seemed just like an extension of my diary-writing habit. Thus I had two virtual diaries to maintain - the Prasanthi Diary for public consumption and my own personal diary for my record.

The year 2009 had just begun and the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet of the Sri Sathya Sai educational institutions had concluded. The atmosphere all around was one of gratitude and the air seemed to abound with offerings being made by the students to their dear Swami.
“Why shouldn't I also make an offering to my Swami?” was the thought in my heart.

But what was I to do? I was a photographer and I put my heart into photography on the Sports day. What could I give Him that would make Him most happy?
“You can never ‘give’ anything to Swami because to ‘give’ you must ‘own’ something. When everything you have belongs to Swami, what can you give Him?”
That was a point to ponder indeed. The thought continued,
“Whatever you have in life is Swami’s gift to you. The manner in which you use that gift wisely will be your gift to Him.”

Then, in an instant came an inspired idea.

“You have recorded every aspect of the Divine Romance with Swami in your diary. Why don’t you spend time contemplating on those beautiful experiences and insights? It will help in your own growth and the efforts you put in that loving remembrance will be a beautiful offering to Swami.”

That was when the foundations for writing a book were laid. I decided to write a book of my experiences with my Lord as a personal sadhana for growth and an offering to Him.

Divine Go-Ahead

Even as the decision was made, the doubts started to come.
“Is it not audacity on your part to think of writing a book? Look at the kind of people who have written books on Swami. Do you match up anywhere close to them?”
“Haven’t you heard of the grandiose experiences and opportunities that the students of yore have enjoyed? Don’t your little experiences pale into insignificance in comparison with them?”
“You are young and enthusiastic no doubt. But is your youth making you over-confident?”

I hesitantly shared this idea with a friend and fellow-photographer, Ranjit Kumar. He was then working with the Sri Sathya Sai Books and Publications Trust.
“Very nice thought. Don’t worry about anything. You just write it first. Let Swami decide what has to be done with it.”

I have noticed that how much ever encouraging a person might be, doubts that rise in me can only be quelled and quashed by the Lord - no one lesser than that! So, I decided to ask Swami about it. I wrote a letter to Swami about my strong desire to write a book reminiscing my student years with Him. It was the 13th of January, 2009. The students of the Brindavan campus of the Institute were going to put up a drama on the life of saint Potana on that day in the Divine Presence. Being a photographer, I was seated on the steps of the dais on which Swami too would be seated during the programme. I hoped that I would get an opportunity to offer my letter to Him.

I waited in eager anticipation for Swami to arrive. When He actually came, I was disappointed because He came in the Porte car! That drastically reduced the probability of Him accepting letters compared to when He would come out for darshan in the chair. The car passed through the ladies’ section of the hall and then moved through the centre where the stage had been set. It then entered the gents’ section of the hall before coming back to the centre in the front where I was seated. As Swami’s car neared me, I noticed that His window was half-open (or half-closed depending on whether you see a glass half-full or half-empty)! Still, it was too much to hope that He would take my letter. I could plainly see that He was not accepting letters from anyone that day.

“Swami, this is a big decision for me and I would really like You to make it for me. Whether it is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ will depend on how you treat this letter of mine...”

I had nothing to lose and, so, when Swami’s car neared me, I stretched out my letter towards Him. Though the window was half-open for me, it was half-closed for Swami who would find it physically difficult to put His hand out of it!

Swami arrived for darshan in the car that day. Here, the car can be seen passing by the centre
where the stage has been set for the drama by the Brindavan students.
That was when the magical moment happened. I remember it in slow motion because it means the world to me!

Passing by me, Swami turned and looked at me directly in the eye. Then, He looked at the letter in my hand. Instantly, He raised His left hand and allowed it to hang by two fingers on the glass of the half-open window. Such was the suddenness of His movement that His chauffeur slowed the car to almost a halt. At precisely that moment, with His eyes, Swami indicated to me to give Him the letter. I quickly got up from my seat and, with a heart full of joy, gave the letter to Swami. It indeed had been a ‘half-open’ window for me. The car then continued on and now, both Swami and me were smiling.

It is said that when God closes a door, He opens a window. Just when I felt that my Swami had gone beyond my reach by staying behind the closed door of a car, He had half-opened a window which was enough for His grace to flow through. My doubts were dispelled in an instant and I knew that Swami was happy with the offering I had thought of. He had given the prodding to maintain diaries; He had inspired the idea of writing a book; He had also dispelled the negativity I had entertained about the endeavour.

That was just the beginning.

Slight change in plans?

I have noticed that with Swami’s support, it is easy to make a decision or undertake a resolve. However, the persistence and patience needed to execute the same are not easy to come by. So many distractions pop up and things which seem urgent, though not important, gobble up all the precious time that ought to belong to things that are important though not urgent! The book was an important endeavour; but it was not urgent. So, it got postponed repeatedly.

The year just flew by. It turned out to be a very memorable one for me and I got my first-ever chance to travel along with Swami - to Hadshi and Mumbai in the October of 2009. Then came the second chance of such a travel - to Delhi and Simla in the April of 2010. I had just started writing a few pages of the proposed book and it made me feel guilty that I had delayed it for so long. God’s delays are not His denials but what about our delays? Today, I realize that even the ‘delays’ in our own lives are actually part of His Masterplan.

I sat back to think of the daunting task ahead of me. How was I ever going to put on paper all that had happened over a decade with the Lord? That was when I thought of a compromise.

I had made detailed notes on both the divine visits - of 2009 and 2010. I had also written a series of articles about the Hadshi-Mumbai trip for the website. Why not make a book about that divine visit itself? It was more than half done and was also a recent event - a theme that was in vogue! That was the marketing journalist in me thinking. I felt that I should offer the manuscript of that book at Swami’s lotus feet on my birthday, in the month of June, that year.

Re-focusing on the job at hand

On the morning of my birthday, I had the manuscript of the book on the Hadshi odyssey ready. I woke up early and quickly readied myself for darshan. 2010 was a special year because it was around this time that Swami had permitted the staff to sit at His door at Yajur Mandir to receive birthday blessings. In fact, it was this special chance that made me feel confident about getting the manuscript blessed by Swami. However, 2010 was also the year when morning darshan had become a rarity. I thought that I would get my blessings in the evening.
Birthday blessings at Yajur Mandir...

Suddenly, my phone started to ring. It was a call from Vedanarayan sir and, at this time of the day, it could mean only one thing - Swami would be coming out for darshan. There is a silent signaling that goes on to alert those on duty about Swami’s arrival. One among the various signals is that a little light outside Yajur Mandir comes on. That is a signal from a servitor inside Yajur Mandir to those standing outside that Swami is coming out. The regulars in Kulwant hall (and Vedanarayan sir is one among them) knew this. The moment they saw the light glow, they would perform their own signaling service - via ‘missed calls’ to all those who might have a chance to make it to Kulwant hall for darshan.

I rushed, but not towards Kulwant Hall. I went to the door of the Yajur Mandir and thankfully, it was still closed. I sat down there panting, with the manuscript in one hand and a bowl of akshatha grains in another. Within a few minutes of my arrival, there was the sound of the magnificent wooden door of Yajur Mandir opening. The whole environment became alert and there was perfect silence. The door slowly opened and what a sight it was! It felt as if I was seeing the orange sun rising over the eastern skies.

As Swami came out, I knelt in front of Him. Swami showered the akshatha grains on my head and allowed me to take padanamaskar. Then, I thrust the manuscript on His lap. He looked at it. As I gently leafed through it, He looked on. I told Him that this was a book I planned to offer to Him. Technically, He saw most of the pages of the manuscript. But somehow, I felt that the spark of excitement was missing in His eyes and voice. He spoke nothing and I got a feeling that He wasn’t happy.

Chakravarthi Sir who was standing by the side, indicated to me to take back the manuscript and allow Swami to go ahead for darshan. That was another indication for me that Swami was not ‘enthused’ by my effort because if He had been engrossed in the manuscript, then Chakravarthi Sir would not have indicated in that manner. I realized that this was not what I had resolved to do. In my enthusiasm I had sought His blessings for a book on student-life but I had compromised and, even after a year and a half, had only a got a travelogue ready.

Swami browses through the manuscript of my proposed first book. But He didn't seem very enthused or excited about it. 
That did not deter me from making efforts to get it published. But it all came to nought and that book never saw light of day. (The book on the Hadshi-visit is today an 18-part article on the blog.) I remembered what Swami says about the Lord of Obstacles, Ganesha.

It would be a journey longer than I imagined. But the happenings along the journey convinced me that happiness is not a destination but the journey itself! 

More about it in Part 2 which is published at the link below: 

The story behind the 'Memoirs of a Sai Student' - Part 2

For all readers:

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. The part where you describe the magnificent lord walking out of the Yajur mandir moved me to tears. I had that darshan in my heart!!

    1. Oh yes... That sight was like that... Its your love for Him that grants you darshans even in descriptions...

  3. Madhusudanvithal Nori17 June 2015 at 16:09

    Sairam Aravind. Waiting for the second part of your engrossing narrative of events before writing the two books. Reading your article transported me to Prashanti Nilayam as if I was physically there witnessing the events. I forgot that SWAMI is the ETERNAL WITNESS and we are the puppets playing our parts to the script written and directed by the MASTER. Best wishes and Love....

  4. always your articles brings me closer to Swami and make me feel blissful...thank you

  5. Dear Sairam,

    Close Proximity with the Lord is Poorva Janma Punyam.....

    Every (So called?!) Devotee Like Me.... Longing....

    Reading the above itself "BHAGYAM" - Grace of our Loving God.... SWAMI.... SWA... ME....

  6. Bhayya,it's so inspiring. “Whatever you have in life is Swami’s gift to you. The manner in which you use that gift wisely will be your gift to Him.”-that is what I liked the most!


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