TOUCHING THOUSANDS OF HEARTS
( continued from the previous issue)
Swami would be out in the veranda, seemingly involved with
the afternoon Darshan; but one
could clearly see the Mother in Him, anxiously awaiting the
return of His dear children. And when He heard their roar,
how His face would glow with delight! For their part, the
students would just jump out of the trucks without even waiting
for them to stop and dash into the Sai Kulwant Hall - wash-up
could wait until later! As they rushed in, Swami would walk
forward to meet and greet them, plying them with various questions
like: "Did you all eat?", "Are you tired?",
"Where all did you go?". To the poor and destitute
villagers He is Compassionate God but to His students, He
is the Loving God and Loving Mother combined!
Ten days had passed and all the villages mentioned by Baba
had been served. It seemed that all that one had to do was
now to relax a bit and get ready for the Akhand
Bhajan, due to start on Saturday, 11th November, 2000.
The day prior to that, Swami was out on the veranda in the
company of students, and a few of them were asked to speak.
It was rather like the Trayee session, but in Kulwant Hall,
and in the presence of the entire audience of devotees. At
the end of the speech-making, Baba announced that in response
to the prayers of devotees from other places, He had decided
to include also Penukonda and Dharmavaram. These were not
villages but towns, and much bigger than even Puttaparthi!
According to official statistics, the population of Penukonda
was over forty thousand. Over night, food had to be prepared
and fifty thousand packets had to be made. But with Sai, the
impossible becomes possible. When Swami came out for Darshan
on the morning of the 11th, He told people on the veranda,
"Our girls worked all night and have prepared fifty thousand
food packets and laddus! All
set for Penukonda service!!" With that remark, He gave
a gentle nod and the familiar procession got under way.
Penukonda is about forty kilometres to the west of Puttaparthi.
A few centuries ago, it was one of the places patronised by
the kings of the Vijayanagaram Empire. It also has a sizeable
Muslim population. On account of its extent and the population,
Penukonda posed challenges of its own. However, there was
one advantage; being a town, here one could seek the help
of the Administration. Needless to say that all the Officials
and the Police were most helpful. In fact, they expressed
a desire to participate in the service themselves - such was
the infection of Swami's Love!
was a tough assignment in every way. The town was big and
long distances had to be covered by the boys distributing
food door to door. There were also a large number of shops
that had to be visited. Being a trading centre, there is always
a large floating population that could not be missed out.
And people in the Bus Stand too had to be taken care of. Besides
all this, there were two unusual departures from the earlier
routine that merit special mention. Firstly, taking the permission
of the Police, one group visited the local jail and distributed
Prasadam to the prisoners! Next,
there were a large number of Muslim colonies. Every one of
them was visited and Prasadam
was distributed. Later, when Mr. Chiranjeevi Rao went on his
monitoring rounds, he found a large number of destitute people
in one Muslim locality. These people could not go the place
where clothes had been distributed earlier. Spotting a Mosque
nearby, He promptly located the Mullah there and sought his
help in identifying the deserving. About seventy to eighty
such people were identified, and preparations were commenced
to distribute sweets, food, and clothes to these people. Just
then, it started raining. Till this time [and in fact after
this too], no rain was ever encountered. Everybody ran to
the Mosque nearby to take shelter, and arrangements were made
to do the distribution there. Suddenly, the devotees involved
in the distribution recalled Shirdi Baba, who spent all His
life in a Mosque. It seemed as if the rain was Divinely ordained
to make everyone recall the earlier Avatar
of Sai! Understandably, this part of the service was performed
with special vigour and enthusiasm, with not only the usual
cry of "Sai Ram", but also "Allah Malik"
[God is the Master], a favourite saying of Shirdi Baba.
After the break provided by the Akhand
Bhajan, it was now the town of Dharmavaram, reportedly
having a population of over eighty thousand! All that had
been done up till now paled into insignificance! But such
is Sai's Grace that one more peak was conquered, thanks especially
to the wonderful co-operation from both the town officials
as well as the local Seva Dal Organisation. For years, these
Seva dal volunteers had been silently providing various types
of assistance to pilgrims coming to Dharmavaram, en
route to Puttaparthi. Now, they had the chance to mingle
with those sent by Swami for service in their town.
In Dharmavaram too, there was an unusual group that had to
be served. For years, this town acted as the outpost for those
journeying to Puttaparthi by rail. Passengers had to get alight
at Dharmavaram Railway Station, and make their way to Puttaparthi
by road [distance of about forty kilometres or so]. Finally,
the Ministry of Railways woke up to the needs of Puttaparthi,
and sanctioned the construction of a loop railway track from
Dharmavaram to Penukonda, via Puttaparthi. This track was
getting ready, and people were in fact working furiously to
have the line inaugurated before the Seventy-fifth Birthday
[it was inaugurated on 22nd November, 2000]. As happens always,
many people had to be moved out of their land to make way
for the railway track. In India, people who are displaced
by dams and railway projects often face hardship. Remembering
this, a special effort was made to visit the colony of displaced
persons in Dharmavaram, and give them all food and clothing.
It was mid-day and the Sun was scorching from above; yet,
volunteers trudged up and down to locate all the displaced
families - over two hundred of them - and bring them Baba's
The events of November 2000 are very distinctive and unique,
and carry their own subtle message. Many may perhaps wonder:
"All this business of going to the villages might sound
great; but what is one day of service going to do the perpetual
problems of these people?" In a similar vein, many young
people argue, "Look, I have this special skill and training.
This country does not offer any opportunities for pursuing
this line. So, I have to go out." In its own way, these
ten days of village service cured most people of such doubts
and misgivings. For the first time, thousands of young men
and women had an eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation with grim
poverty and difficult living conditions. They understood that
they are in a privileged position because thousands of others
have sacrificed quietly and unnoticed. Swami had told them
countless number of times: "After completing your education,
do not run away to other countries in search of greener pastures.
Stay back and serve your people. You are what you are because
of what you have received from your society. You owe it something
in return." Thus far, it was just another piece of advice,
like many others; it had hardly sunk in. But now it was different.
Those words of Bhagavan meant something very important. At
one stroke, almost all students of the Institute turned their
eyes from far off lands to their own. As one student told
his teacher who asked him what he thought about it all, "Sir,
this is just a curtain raiser. For me, the 'show' starts when
I graduate from the Institute. I have now realised, that life
is meant to be spent in service, here, in this country. We
owe so much to so many."
There are also the nobler and spiritual aspects of service
that are often lost sight of. Significantly, Swami never
uses the term poor-feeding; instead, whenever food and clothes
are distributed, He always refers to it as Narayana
Seva, meaning service to the Lord. When one serves
the poor, one's vision must not be purely superficial; one
must not see a poor person but the Lord Himself,
disguised as a poor person! When in addition one realises
that the same Lord is also the In-dweller, then service is
rendered to the Omnipresent Self - the Self as one particular
body serves the Self coming as another body. A few days
after it was all over, Baba told the students that this is
the spirit in which service really ought to be done.
When Swami says LOVE ALL, it really means: "See God
in all and Love that Omnipresent God who is also in you."
This is the inner meaning of Swami's saying: "I separated
Myself from Myself in order to Love Myself!" And when
Swami adds, SERVE ALL, it implies that one must serve fellow
beings with the feeling that one is really serving the Universal
Self who is in us as also in everything else in the Cosmos.
In short, the 'Silent Revolution' of November 2000 brought
home the lesson that Love and Service are like the two wings
of a bird; flight is not possible with just one wing alone.
Through the instrumentality of His students and devotees,
in those ten days or so, Swami touched thousands of hearts
in a thousand different ways, giving new depth and meaning
to the familiar adage: LOVE ALL, SERVE ALL.