On one of my frequent trips to Puttaparthi from Bangalore, I met Mr. Shyam Sunder Sharma. Shyam Sunder Uncle was the colleague of my father at the Himachal Pradesh University, and so I had some vague but fond recall of his affection. Many years later he had become a permanent resident of Puttaparthi. Not only was he the hand-picked devotee of Swami (Sathya Sai Baba), but was also heading the security at Prashanti Nilayam, the abode of Sathya Sai.
It was Baikunth Ekadashi and as a matter of chance I was in Puttaparthi. I had written a letter to Baba and was very keen that it should reach his hands. I parked myself at the staircase of Circular Building in the hope that I will be able to catch Shyam Sunder Uncle during his 10-minute halt at the accommodation that was allotted to him. He came and I spoke to him for less than two minutes and handed over the letter. He took the letter and asked me, “I will pass it on to Swami, but you promise me that you will pen down your spiritual experiences with Sai.” I assured him and off he went to his quarters.
I sat on the staircase once again, this time pondering about two aspects of the promise I had made. First, are my spiritual experiences worth sharing and second, how could I capture the essence of the blessings I received from Swami in words? Are there any words in any dictionary of the world that could capture what transpires between Baba and his children?
In my heart of heart, I knew I had committed and the only way forward was to start listing out the instances when swami showered his blessings on my world. The journey took me back to my kinder garden days, and I realized that Swami had extended his hand much before I knew how to reciprocate. It was only after I started my career as a reporter in The Hindustan Times that I had heard about Swami again. The end of the year edition of The Hindustan Times was awarding Man of the Year titles and I was to profile Dr UNB Rao, an IPS Officer then part of the Prime Ministers’ Security. I called up Dr Rao for an appointment. Dr Rao and his wife were the founders of Urvi Vikram Trust, an NGO that has been rendering a yeoman’s service in providing vocational training to school drop outs. Unfortunately, the day I landed at his home to get inputs for his profile was the death anniversary of his only son Vikram. I was led into a room where I saw a huge picture of Swami. I discovered that Dr Rao’s daughter was my namesake and it is her mention that diverted our conversation from Urvi Vikram Trust to Dr Rao’s son Vikram and then to Puttaparthi.
Dr Rao told me that soon after Vikram died in a road accident, his daughter compelled both the disheartened parents to visit Puttaparthi, where Dr Rao sat staring at his palms and cursing god for taking away his only son. Swami, who was then standing right in front of him looked at Rao and said: “Swami is no good; he takes away children when they are young.” The minute Swami’s words fell into Dr Rao’s ears, he found himself crying inconsolably. Swami walked past him and minutes later Dr Rao was called for an interview with Swami. Dr Rao told me Swami showed a smiling Vikram in his palms and motivated Rao to make a difference to the lives of children like Vikram. It is this interaction with Swami that led to the creation of the Urvi Vikram Trust. As I was stepping out of Rao’s home, he said restless reporters like I should visit Puttaparthi.
As soon as I reached office that day, I noticed a colleague of mine, who was 7-month pregnant sitting with her head down on the desk. I walked up to her and asked if she was fine. She told me she was unwell and would be grateful if I got her medicine per the prescription she had. I took the prescription, excused myself from work and stepped out to get her meds. She felt better after taking the tablet and started talking to me. In the hope of comforting her, I offered to see her off till the cab. It was then that she told me that her brother Umesh Saraf was the SP of Anantapur, the abode of Sathya Sai. “Please let me know if you ever wish to visit Prashanti Nilayam,” she said, before getting into the cab.
I reached home and found that my family is planning a trip to Shirdi and as I shared my experience of the day, we decided to extend our trip beyond Shirdi and visit Puttaparthi. We were received by a police officer at the station and we headed for the Prashanti in a jeep. We were allotted rooms in Prashanti campus and assigned two escorts to guide us through. I saw Swami in flesh and blood for the first time and also noticed that his devotes were sitting with letters in their hands. As the evening came to an end the escorts asked me if I would want to write a letter to Swami. What should I write I asked them and they said write what you would write to God!
Surprised I got back to my room and started writing my first letter to Baba. “They say you God. That be the case you should be in a position to grant my wish to study abroad. Please note I don’t want to tax my parents for my ambitions and hence, I want to study abroad on my own. If you are God, they say you are, please grant me an opportunity to study abroad.”
Next morning I found myself sitting in the very first row and as Swami walked past me, his gaze paused at the letter lying in my lap. He came to a halt. Unable to utter a word, I froze. As if in a dream, I touched his feet. He extended his hand asking for the letter. I gave him the letter without ever looking beyond his tiny feet. As we stepped out of Prashanti, our escorts told us whatever was written in the letter would surely come true.
We returned to Delhi and I resumed my office. Less than a month had passed when I heard from my editor, who had just returned after delivering a talk at the School of International Journalism, University of Queensland. VNN, the editor in chief of The Hindustan Times had nominated me for “Masters by Research” at the University of Queensland and had called me to get my study leave processed!
In utter disbelieve, I processed my study leave and withdrew my PF to partly fund my study abroad. In less than two months time after writing to Swami, I found myself at St Lucia’s Campus of the University of Queensland. The year that followed left no doubt in my mind that there was God and that the “God” had answered my prayers!
Preeti M Surya
BMC, Programme Coordinator