Tuesday, 28 February 2017

When man's adversity becomes God's opportunity - Devesh Srivastava's tryst with death

Devesh Srivastava got into the front seat of the luxury car with a great deal of satisfaction. The task he had wanted to accomplish had been completed better than he had imagined. Savouring the sweet taste of success, he had decided to leave with his two friends, Manas and Vivek (*names changed to protect privacy). Manas was at the wheel while Vivek stretched himself in the backseat.

Devesh was on the verge of taking charge of his father’s company, N S Corporation, a talc mining firm which started with less than 25 employees in 1953. In the 40 years of it’s existence, the company had grown into the largest producer of talc ore in the present-day Uttarakhand state of India. Devesh’s plan was to make it the leading producer and exporter of high quality talc in the country with distributors in all states. Having been educated in the highly reputed Delhi Public School (R.K.Puram) and the St. Xaviers College (Calcutta), he knew that he had it in him to achieve his dream.

A glimpse of the kind of roads one encounters in these regions.
It was November 1994 and the chill descended very soon at Almora. Devesh gratefully turned on the heater in the car to complement the warmth of satisfaction he felt within himself. It would take more than 3 hours to cover the 90-odd kilometers between Almora and Haldwani (where the NS Corporation’s administrative office was located). That was because the roads in these mountainous regions were all narrow and curvy. Even an average speed of 30 km/h could be considered as good progress!

“Watch the road Manas! In your hurry to take us to the next town, don’t take us to the next world!” Vivek quipped.
“Back-seat driving as always Vivek! Just relax. I have got it all covered.” Manas replied.
“These curves and bends are treacherous”, said Devesh, “and I don’t mind if we go a bit slow...”
“Says a man who is ever so quick to reach his goals”, Manas laughed aloud, “I am just doing on the road what you are doing in life!”

A steep curve to the left was coming up ahead and Devesh felt that Manas had not slowed the car enough to navigate it safely. Manas seemed to sense his unease and indicated to him to relax. With the panache of a Formula-1 driver, Manas went to the extreme right of the road to give himself greater room at the curve. He knew that there was a deep ravine on the other side. But this would only be a momentary manoeuvre.

Like life, these roads also take many unpredictable curves!

The horror of his mistake hit him only when he was actually making the curve. What he thought was a C-curve had turned out to be a U-bend! Instead of a 90-degree turn, he had to make a 180-degree turn but he was going too fast. The car would inevitably plunge into the gorge!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 2

Heads in forest but hands in society

Bhagawan Baba never advocates giving up one’s duties to pursue a spiritual life. In fact, on several occasions, Swami has strongly reprimanded those that compartmentalise aspects of life as ‘worldly’ and ‘spiritual’. The life-experience of Prof. H.J.Bhagia is a case to point. ‘Hands in society, heads in the forest’ is the motto that Swami advocates. That is one of the reasons why everyone is attracted to Him - everybody is given an equal opportunity to pursue a spiritual life irrespective of vocation or status or any other difference.

Bejoy’s perspective of a ‘spiritual life’ had transformed without his knowledge. He now knew that it was no longer essential to ‘sacrifice’ or ‘run away’ from the world to achieve the ultimate. Wiser, he dropped a postcard to his parents informing them in brief of his adventure and whereabouts. Day later, he was accosted by Prof. N. Kasturi who, among his several other duties in the ashram, also served as the postmaster.
“So you came here without even telling your parents?”
“ I have informed them now...”
“That I can see”, Kasturi replied, “your father has sent some money for you to travel back home.”

Two English teachers in a single frame - Bejoy with Prof.N.Kasturi.

Thus Bejoy’s needs after the ‘33 Rs’ were also taken care of, by the worldly father this time!

{This is the second part of the story. It will make better meaning if you read it after going through the first part at the link below: PART 1: Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1 }

He attended his first ever Shivarathri in Prasanthi Nilayam and it was unforgettable. In the morning, he witnessed the spectacle of the Vibhuti Abhishekam. He saw with wonder as Swami swirled His hand in an empty pot upturned over a silver idol of Shirdi Baba and heaps of vibhuti poured out from it. In the evening, he witnessed Swami manifest two lingams from His stomach through His mouth. He clearly saw flashes of light before each of the lingams emerged. It was with thrill and thrall that he boarded the train to take him back to Odisha. He vowed that he would return to Prasanthi Nilayam soon. Thus it was that Bejoy fulfilled Swami’s directive of plunging back into society while his mind and heart continued to remain in the Eden that Prasanthi Nilayam is.

When he reached home, Bejoy was met by a very relieved mother. As she caressed her eldest born, the mother inquired about his well being. She didn’t scold him or seem upset with him. She was simply happy to have him back. Bejoy, with his newfound understanding of spirituality, was also happy to be back home. He now plunged seriously into his duties as a student. He had carried Swami back with him, in his heart, to Odisha and so, everything he thought, spoke or did now was different. He had found a new zest in life. He completed his education and joined as a lecturer in the prized Bhubaneswar college. (After three years, he worked in the Puri college and three years later, at the Ravenshaw College.)

Hanuman lovingly advises Vibhishana.
To love God is to live for Him

When Hanuman was on the task of locating mother Sita in Lanka, he heard the name of his Lord Rama emanating from one of the houses. It was Vibhishana, the brother of the demon king Ravana but a staunch devotee of Rama. The two meet and Vibhishana confesses with tears in his eyes,
“Hanuman! How blessed you are to constantly think of Rama and also have Rama think of you. I also chant the name of Rama always but am not so blessed. Why is that so?”

Hanuman responds promptly,
“Oh noble one! You think of Rama no doubt. But do you do His work? You have love for Him but that love finds fulfillment only when you work for Him. Rama is searching for Sita who is in Lanka. You could have pleased Him better by helping in that mission rather than just chanting His name...”
Vibhishana understands his mistake. He immediately guides Hanuman to the Ashoka Vatika where Sita is being held captive.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1

Journey to God
Bejoy Kumar Misra moved hurriedly on the railway station in the city of Cuttack. A cloth bag which contained a few clothes, a book and a pen slung across his body as he made his way towards the train that would be taking him to Vijaywada in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Excited anticipation filled him because he was about to make a journey like he had never done before. Considering his circumstances, it would also be a great adventure.

Does this look like a polio-struck 70-year old to you? Living
for God has its unique way of generating  youthfulness,
energy and enthusiasm!
For starters, Bejoy was on crutches. His left leg hung limp, afflicted with polio. Having been born in pre-independent India (1943) in the economically backward state of Odisha (formerly known as Orissa), Bejoy had been struck a cruel blow by the poliomyelitis virus. He had battled it as an infant with the help of many medicines. He won the war but lost a leg in battle. As far as his memory went, he had needed support to move around. However, that was not what made this impending journey challenging. Bejoy, with his crutches, felt as normal as normal could be. His shoulders and arms had grown stout and strong and he easily moved across barriers, climbed staircases and utilized the primitive public transport India offered in 1967. The challenge according to him was the distance that had to be travelled.  
He had not travelled anywhere in a train except between Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, a distance of just 25 kilometres. He would now be travelling 32 times that distance (805 kms) to Vijaywada and that would be just one half of his planned journey! He was doing this alone with just Rs 10 in his pocket. To make matters worse, nobody at home knew what he was up to! He had gotten out of his house saying that he would be visiting a friend.
Bejoy knew that the money he had wasn’t sufficient to even buy the ticket to Vijaywada. But then, hadn’t he decided to take the leap of faith? He literally jumped into a seat in the train and settled down, absolutely unaware of what lay ahead for him. Ticketless and filled with anticipation, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and visualised his plan. He would get off at Vijaywada and take a train to Guntur. At Guntur, he would change trains to reach Guntakal from where he would catch a train to Dharmavaram. From Dharmavaram, he would travel by road to reach Puttaparthi and, the goal of his journey, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The whole journey would span more than 1300 kilometres - a distance that Bejoy possibly had not travelled even when he put together all his train journeys so far in life.
What had spurred a 23-year old physically challenged lad to seek a 40-year old ‘Baba’? What had motivated him to embark on a journey without any preparation? How did he get the courage? All answers lay in Bejoy’s early life.
A fire rages on
Even as a child, Bejoy took great interest in the spiritual side of life; possibly the result of several previous births of yearning. Being the eldest among 9 siblings at home (7 brothers and 2 sisters), he was naturally expected to be the most responsible one. However, things in the worldly domain hardly interested him. His father was a headmaster to hundreds of children at school and to nine children at home. He was a strict disciplinarian who practiced all that he preached. For him, duty was God; work was worship. Though he expressed no outward emotion towards his children, Bejoy knew that he was a solid support in life. Being an English teacher, he inspired love for that language in Bejoy as well. Seeing Bejoy’s aptitude for the English language, he hoped that he would prove his mettle by rising higher than the father had ever done in his life. But Bejoy was least interested in a career!
He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in Odia (his mother tongue) and great proficiency in English (his father’s tongue). But then, Bejoy, to add fuel to the scorching fire in his heart, devoured books on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shivananda and Vivekananda. Gita was in his daily reading list. He hungered for more books that would satiate his innermost desire. Even among the English literature books, his favourites were those by authors and poets who had a deep spiritual side. But, however much he read, he wasn’t satisfied. Though he was always surrounded by siblings at home and friends in college, he felt lonely and had the least interest in anything.
That was when he read an article which would change his life forever! It was a piece by Dr. Sundar Rao in a 1966 edition of The Illustrated Weekly of India. (Simply known as ‘Weekly’ by its readership, this magazine which started publication in 1880 was considered to be an important English-language publication in India for more than a century. Many young students of English used it as a regular reading and guide for honing English language skills in vernacular India. It is now defunct, having closed down on November 13, 1993.)