Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Life is a game; Play it with God - a chess champion's journey_Part 1

Life is a game, play it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is love, enjoy it.
  • Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

There is no doubt that the greatest game to have ever been created is the game called Life. No other game can beat it in its ability to stretch the mind and body, in the variety of outcomes it offers, in the infinite opportunities available for comeback and, most importantly, in the fact that every player can emerge a winner. However, if one had to pick a distant second best, my choice would be the game of Chess.  Chess seems to be the game which comes closest to mirroring life, rich in its metaphors for human experience. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a few:

  • Sacrifice: You must be willing to give up the things you love the most to be able to come up trumps at the end.
  • Forethought: To succeed in the long-term, it's crucial to plan well in advance
  • Equanimity: It's vital that you never suffer or celebrate in the middle of the game which could lead to lapses.
  • Valuing time: The end-time of the game is already fixed and you better ensure that you achieve fulfillment before the timer runs out.

Chess, like life, gives hope for the lowest to rise to the highest level.
I am sure that spending a little more time and thought, one can come up with many more. It was only after listening to the story of a little Chess champion that I realized how Chess could help one attain the Ultimate in life too - that too at a tender age. Having been born in 2005, it is not as if she has dozens of years of experience under her belt to justify her attainment. But then, that is another specialty common to Chess and Life - the smallest pawn, with perseverance and faith, can become the most potent piece on board, the Queen. Maybe, that is also one of the major differences between Life and Chess. In Life, as Swami puts it, with faith and perseverance (Shraddha and Saburi), one is able to become the Ultimate (the King piece) also!

With that introduction, it is time now to dive into this magnificent story that spans a decade and is still being written by the Divine Script Writer.

Start Early

When a baby girl first opened her eyes to the world on the 24th of April, 2005, the parents were beside themselves with joy. The father, T.S.Ravi was an International Master (IM) in Chess, having played many times with the Indian legend Vishnwanathan Anand. The mother, Sai Meera,  was a Women’s International Master (WIM) in Chess. They both felt that they had made their best moves in life to get an angelic daughter.

“It is only by the grace of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba that this child has been gifted to our family”, proclaimed the maternal grandfather, a sworn devotee of his Swami. To signify the watchful protection Bhagawan Baba under which the baby was born, she was named Rakshitta.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Delhi-Simla Memories- Part 17 - A concert in the skies and homecoming

18th April 2010 - The Grand Finale

As the day dawned to greet the Lord for the final day in Delhi, in our hearts too, the realization dawned that soon it would all be over. We were told that our flight was at 1:30 pm and that we should board by 12:30. We had no idea about what the morning session would be like. So, we got up, showered and had breakfast like any other day. Returning to the room, we began to pack up. In sharp contrast to the packing I had done before taking off from Puttaparthi, this was no fun at all. Packing up for this visit had been so full of anticipation-joy However, I must say that in spite of all that, landing back at Parthi and going back to life there was an exciting prospect. How ever far the bird might soar, it has to return to the nest for rest.

By 9:15 am, we were all at the lift landing area outside Swami’s room waiting for Him to arrive. Sai Krishna got busy planning with all the singers to sing some songs of love and gratitude to Swami. The plans were quickly made. In a short while, Swami came out of the room in the normal wheelchair. He saw all of us seated and indicated that He would soon come to us. Then, Swami went back into His room for a short while. When the door reopened and Swami arrived, we started off with the song, “Dayaku Premaku”. Swami was welcomed into our midst with that song and He seemed to be very emotional even as He arrived. Quickly we moved towards Him and gathered around His feet. Sai Krishna and a few others around His feet began massaging them too, drinking deep in the bliss of Padasevanam. Swami sat listening to us as all the elders stood around, forming the perimeter of the circle of love.
The 'last supper' with Swami in Delhi turned out to be a 'lasting supper' in our memories.

Even as the first song was complete, we began, “Madhura mohana”. That song has become sort of a “Prema bandham anthem” ( Anthem to express the bond of Love) between Swami and His children. Even as the song was going on and Swami was emotional, He was calling a volunteer and enquiring whether the food and all other preparations were ready. Swami asked us as to who the composers of these songs were. The answers were given and Swami moved to the dining hall. All of us too went there and Swami said that He would have lunch with all of us. To spend time with us and make it memorable, Swami did not even go down for darshan.

{This is the 17th and final part of an ongoing series. You can read the previous part at this link:
Or you can read from the beginning of the serial where each part is linked to the next. The link to Part 1 is here:

We were all so happy. We had just finished breakfast a couple of hours ago, but dining with Swami is always a privilege and pleasure. We chanted the food prayer and the lunch session began. It was over in a span of 15-20 minutes. Swami told us to get up and wash our hands. Once we did that, we all all returned to the dining hall and Swami seemed to be giving some final instructions. Many of the boys went and gathered around Swami’s table as He told that He would receive Aarthi and then come to the airport. Phaneendra was standing closest to Swami and thus, he became the interpreter. Accepting what he said, we all turned back and made our way to our rooms.

Swami issues final instructions as everyone gathers around His dining table.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Delhi-Simla Memories- Part 16 - Goodbye Shimla; Hello again Delhi

Dressed in the traditional attire, we took a parting picture at the altar to carry the love and divinity of Shimla with us.
17/04/2010 - We will miss you Shimla...

Though located towards the west in India, Shimla enjoys an early sunrise. I thought that when the Lord was residing there, even the sun wanted to rise in the Brahmamuhurtam! When I woke up, I found that CG had gone to the terrace to capture the beautiful dawn of Shimla. (All these camera shots were useful in making the video documentary on the Shimla visit. It is now available as a Sai Blossom DVD in five different languages - English, Hindi, Telugu, Russian and Spanish). By  7:00 am we were all ready to leave. A convoy of cars would take us down the steep hilly parts after which, we would get into our bus.Thousands of devotees had filled the darshan grounds already. I felt sad that I would be missing a darshan in this paradise. But that was Swami’s wish and knowing that makes it easy to accept everything.

Swami had arrived to Shimla in a 16-seater plane and it would be ferrying Him back to Delhi with the elders. The airstrip at the Shimla airport could not support the take off and landing of bigger planes. In fact, even the small 16 seater could only land with full capacity. For take-off, there was only enough runway to gather momentum with 12 people aboard! No wonder every seat on the aircraft was a premium. On top of all this, Manoj had fallen very sick. He was already suffering from vomiting which had got worse while travelling to Shimla by bus. Special permission had been sought for him and he was to fly with Swami in the plane. Lucky fellow! With God, even an apparent misfortune becomes a piece of fortune.

Manoj was there at the convoy waving us goodbye. He would be there for the darshan and then would be part of the convoy till the airport before finally taking off with the lord Himself. Feeling a bit jealous, I sat in the front of the SUV and stretched out to relax and enjoy the sights we would be seeing. CG was also along with me in the vehicle and we had our cameras in hand.

Another unforgettable photograph - in front of the beautifully lit mandir at Shimla.
{This is the 16th part of an ongoing series. You can read the previous part at this link:
Or you can read from the beginning of the serial where each part is linked to the next. The link to Part 1 is here:

Having a camera in hand when you have to travel quickly through beautiful places in a blessing and a curse. It is easy to understand why it is a blessing - many spots whose beauty cannot be admired only for a few moments can be captured and relished over time. But as our driver (and the rest of the convoy) soon found out, it was also a curse. Every now and then, we would stop to shoot. Since the convoy order and discipline had been strictly instructed, none would overtake us. Soon, there would be a jam of about 10-15 vehicles on the road! (There were separate vehicles carrying our baggage!) I remarked to CG,
“It’s not daily that we get to visit the hills of Simla. So let us just stop and shoot wherever we feel like. Others will not understand a cameraman’s plight and delight. Good that we are together!”

Lovely sights of Samashti with Srishti filled the entire journey.
Shortly before 8am, we arrived to the spot where we would exit our cars and board the bus. Waving goodbye to all the friendly volunteers, we got into the bus and began the journey towards Delhi- at a more leisurely pace. (the pace was not a benefit- our driver just seemed to have a mental block to speed beyond 40 km/h). We had to halt at a level crossing and we thus glimpsed the meter gauge train that runs in the hills. It was such a romantic sight to watch this little toy of a train chug through sylvan beauty. Once the train crossed, we too did the same and resumed the journey.

The merry little train chugging down the hill.

The journey was quite uneventful except for a few stops here and there that we made to take photographs. Most of us slept for most part of the journey. However, an interesting episode occurred and we got to know of it later.

All flights from Simla/Chandigarh fly past a village in Darwa district in Haryana. The village has a vibrant school,Sri Sathya Sai Jagriti Vidya Mandir, started by an alumnus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning - Amar Vivek. As Bhagwan's aircraft got airborne, the faculty was informed on phone. The children quickly got into a formation and waved to Swami's plane from the ground! Later, this picture was shown to Bhagwan in Prasanthi Nilayam and Swami blessed the picture, getting 'emotional' while listening to the story of the picture.

We completed our lunch en route and enjoyed the wonderful city-planning in Chandigarh. It was evening by the time we entered Delhi and our driver seemed very convinced about ‘slow and steady’ winning the race. The speed at which he was going, I had my doubts whether we would have darshan before Swami retired for the day! It was after 6:00pm that we reached the International Centre at Delhi. There was a lot of hustle and bustle on the street and it was evident that Swami had gone out for a drive. He was expected to arrive soon.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Delhi-Simla Memories- Part 15 - All good things come to an end - so does the Shimla visit

A special remembrance

A sweeping view of the evening session in Shimla.... I was doing both - photography and video shooting.

CG was convinced that he had been picked for the visit to Delhi and Shimla as an accompanying artist on the Sitar for the music group. Though it had been more than a week since the Divine Visit began, CG confessed later that he never had felt like Swami had wanted him as a Sitarist for the trip. This feeling had kept getting intense as Swami called different singers and students from the music group and interacted with them. The feeling reached its heights when Swami asked for a ‘final’ music programme in Shimla. (The reason for putting the word ‘final’ in quotes shall become clear in the subsequent parts.) As CG was joining the other students out of the dining hall towards the darshan grounds, Swami had called Lu sir and said,
““Get ready for the programme. Let the Veena also play!”

{This reference has been explained in detail in the previous part which you can access at the link below:
Or you can read from the beginning of the serial where each part is linked to the next. The link to Part 1 is here:

Swami interacting with the Himachal youth. The picture captures the wonderful
setting of the dining hall with the Ramayana picture.
Even as Swami mentioned ‘Veena’, He looked at CG. CG was happy that Swami saw him but later, when Lu sir told him what Swami had said, he was simply thrilled. He knew that ‘Veena’ was just a veiled reference to his Sitar! That got him completely charged up and he was raring to go play for the concert. As all the boys filed out, Swami moved to the side and began to look at the paintings and chandeliers in the hall. That was only an excuse to gently amble towards the serving boys. All the youth who were serving us knelt in a row and Swami began interacting with them. Knowing that this was a nice chance for them, I began to take photographs. I had hardly taken three pictures when Swami looked at me and said,
“All boys must go and start the singing!”
I turned around and made a quick exit.

The boys had gone up to gather the instruments. Swami knew that this would take time and so, He was striking two birds at once by interacting with the youth members of Himachal! In spite of that, we were all not ready by the time Swami moved down the lift and arrived on the scene! I was trying to double up as the video cameraman also because CG was now part of the music group. It was not an easy task. Swami began signaling from the stage itself, asking us to start.

A signal from a distance to begin... Like on that day, we should always be on a lookout for the Lord's signal in our life...
May we remember that God is always watching from a distance...
A students’ songs programme

Ashwath, the one who needs the least lead time took the mike and began, “Vataapi Ganapatim”. That was an on-the-spot-decision because there was hardly any ‘discussion time’. But the way Ashwath and P Sreenivas took everyone through the ups and downs of the song, nobody felt that it was being sung all of a sudden. Once the first song was complete, the order followed was the same as the private programme the previous evening. It was as if Swami had watched a dress rehearsal yesterday in the interview room. The second song was the qawwali by Ravi bhaiya and Lu sir - “Sai ke darbar mein”. Since Shimla is a Hindi-speaking region, it made immediate impact. Everyone clapped along with the rhythm and many of them sang along too. After that, Prabhakar and Aravind Sai sang “Maa Prana Deepam”. Then came Bantureethi Kolu - the memorable ‘prayer song’ that Swami had liked so much yesterday.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Delhi-Simla Memories- Part 14 - Inaugurations galore at Shimla

Phaneendra aka Phani poses with Anand Vilas
Beautiful night lights

As darkness descended over our first night at Shimla, we were all resting in our rooms. One of the guys came rushing in and said,
“You must see the lights that have come on. It is a magnificent sight...”
It was truly awesome to see the mandir with all lights and decorations. Devotees were still moving about in the darshan grounds. Some of them were taking pictures. We too joined them, unable to resist the temptation to take some photos along with the building. Several solo and group photos later we retired into our rooms for rest. There were gift packages for us, placed on each of our beds. Each package contained a shawl, a muffler and a Himachali cap - traditional ‘warming’ gifts that made us so happy. We decided that we would wear these in Swami’s presence sometime. With joy in our hearts, we went to bed, reminiscing the wonderful events of the day.

The mandir in Shimla looks heavenly at night and it has representations of all the major religions on it.

A morning well begun
The 16th of April, 2010 would turn to be a historic day for the devotees at Shimla. Their Lord, who was visiting them after three decades, was to inaugurate the Ganesha temple, the school and the hostel. But at that point in time, we were all not aware of this.  We woke up in the morning comfortably. Though it was the peak of summer, we could still feel the cool morning air. In fact, we were thankful that there were no fans running in the rooms.
In a matter of an hour, we were all ready and dressed. A wonderfully sublime aroma wafted in the air. I walked out of the room and saw the happy faces of Phani and a few others as they were relishing the breakfast. Mouth watering, I too went out to nourish my Vaishvanara. It was amazing how the people so far up in North India had managed to conjure up so many items from a South Indian cuisine!(The cuisines in North and South India are very different in the masala used and ways of preparation.) We all devoured from our plates (and occasionally from the neighbouring ones too to get a ‘taste sample’ of another dish!). Breakfast plates in hand, everyone seemed to rush for gallery seats in the rooms from where one could admire the beautiful mountains. Ah! What an Alpine experience it was!
Shri Virbhadra Singh {the then Union Minister for Steel and currently Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh 
(as of December 2015)} brings his entire family for blessings.
After the breakfast, we moved up the slope to the mandir. It was huffing and puffing work for us to manoeuvre the slope and moreover, I was carrying the camera backpack! It was with admiration that I kept looking at the volunteers from Shimla as they pranced up and down the slope with ease. At times I even felt envious of them.
“The mountain air is thin. The oxygen levels are low compared to that of South India where I stay. These people have got used to it, their lungs have developed better and thus they perform better than me.” That was the consolatory thought for me and I was pretty convinced with my logic.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Delhi-Simla Memories- Part 13 - Magnificent public session and special private session in Shimla

A magical evening on 15th April

After a good snooze, we began to ready for our first darshan session in Shimla by 4 pm. The washroom area was simply wonderful. It had an empty and large central area with the toilets and bathrooms in separate arrays. The windows overlooked the hills around and a constant breeze filled the space. The gusts of fresh air made it rejuvenating to just stand in this area! Soon, we filed up to the second floor of the mandir, in the interview room there and waited for Swami’s arrival. Once He arrived, we moved up.  

Disneyland? For a spiritual seeker, this is indeed Disneyland with the best of nature and the best of Bhagawan!
This is a picture taken from the back-end of the darshan grounds at Anand Vilas. (Download photo and see
it in full size). 
The tiffin session was a short and quick one. Swami called Dario and asked him which country he came from. “Spain” was the answer. “Not pain” was Swami’s retort! Swami also asked Phaneendra as to which place he was from and the answer was, “Hyderabad”. He also made enquiries about his grandfather and enquired whether he had come here. The tiffin session soon concluded and Swami left for the bhajans session.

The “ship deck” had filled up. There were devotees as far as the eye could see. The ladies side presented a very pleasing sight in its myriad colours. In sharp contrast, the gents’ side was like a white expansive sheet! The lovely blue mountains formed the backdrop with the clear blue skies. A gentle breeze was operating and it refreshed everyone in its trail. The bhajans were already on and everyone were singing enthusiastically as they awaited His arrival. The news had already travelled that Swami was out of His room. The ladies had also seen Him descend in the lift.

{This is the 13th part of an ongoing series. You can read the previous part at this link:
Or you can read from the beginning of the serial where each part is linked to the next. The link to Part 1 is here:

The CM of Himachal Pradesh offers his salutations to Swami.
The chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, Prem Kumar Dhumal had come to pay his respects to Swami. He had a bouquet in his hands and he offered it to Swami before touching His feet in the lift-landing area of the ground floor of the mandir. Along with him were also a few of his cabinet colleagues and they too sought His blessings. Swami was smiling as He blessed them and then He moved into the prayer hall.