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Volume 4 - Issue 12 DECEMBER 2006
 
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WITH THE LORD IN THE MOUNTAINS - Part 6

By Prof. G Venkataraman

 


The day dawns; it would be our first day in Kodai with Swami in 2006. My mind goes to my earlier experience in 2003. Let us peep a bit into the diary. That time, I stayed in the only guest room that existed in Sai Sruthi; it was right next to the canteen, and adjoining the main hall where all the Kodai sessions take place. In fact, many a time our “room” was used as the Interview Room, and believe it or not, my bed served as Swami’s chair! Honest, I am not kidding! So that was the setting then, and now a flashback to the first day of Kodai 2003.

A Brief Recall from 2003

 

The alarm is set for 4.00 A.M. but Warden is up at three and the getting-ready process is under way, one hour ahead of schedule. I discover that this guestroom is also used by the teachers to keep their luggage! I did not know about it until in the morning they came one by one unobtrusively to take some day-wear. Space is obviously at a premium here. One advantage of the teachers sharing our room, at least for keeping their suitcases, is that we can have early morning coffee! I make sure this drill is properly instituted and everyone is happy. The Warden, being an elevated soul, has risen above coffee, but that is one attachment I guess that will stay with me till the end. The way things are, I suppose I would be worrying about morning coffee even when I go to hell or heaven, wherever I am destined!

Road Rules

At 5.30 A.M., Mr. Balram drops in, looking fresh as a daisy, in spite of all the driving the previous day. We eagerly ask him for news about Swami’s drive from Madurai to Kodai. When did Swami reach Kodai? Oh, it was about eight. How was the ride? Was there much traffic? Well, there was some, but road indiscipline made the problem worse. Mr. Balram then told us how Swami gave a mini discourse on road rules and how they should be observed, especially when driving on ghat roads. Swami said, so Mr. Balram told us, that when going up, and one is not able to see what is on the other side of the topmost point, one must sound the horn. Similarly, while going around bends, especially sharp ones, one must again sound the horn.

People, Swami said, misuse the horn. They make a lot of noise when there was no need to but do not use the horn when they really ought to. On ghat roads, the rule was that vehicles going up must be given the right of way. Also, at night, one must dim the headlights when a vehicle is coming from the other side. In this respect, I am afraid most of our drivers, especially those driving trucks, are absolutely like demons. They always drive in the middle of the road, and do not ever dim the headlights as the rules require. On narrow mountain roads, it is even more important to observe this rule about dimming lights, but who cares? Mr. Balram said that Swami wondered what ever happened to the old practice of painting the top half of headlights black?

Even as we were having this mini symposium on road discipline, I was telling myself, “How amazing! Here is God Himself, and He is talking about mundane things like headlights and all that!” That is the essential beauty of the Avatar. Scholars will wax eloquent about the Atma and all that. But the Avatar? Quietly He will tell us about dimming headlights. Why? To remind us that by doing so we show respect to the other driver, who also is an embodiment of God, the same God who is in us. The Avatar spends more time explaining how to put Vedanta into practice than about Vedanta itself – that is His greatness!

A Special Breakfast

The talk then shifts to Balram’s experiences. Warden says, “Sir, you must share these with our students. You don’t know how beneficial it would be for them.” Mr. Balram smiles, but pleads that he is not used to giving talks. At this stage, we become aware of some activity in the adjacent main hall. It looks like Swami is coming. I look at my watch: it shows 6.15; a bit early, and no first day concession.

We move into the hall. Swami comes from upstairs where His room is, stands in the middle, slowly looks around at the elders and teachers gathered there – just about half a dozen – and smiles. What a way to begin the day, with a beautiful Divine smile!

This time (in 2006) – we are all ready by 6.30 and waiting. Everyone is looking fresh and bright, expectation written all over the face. Instruction comes down from above: “All of you go and have breakfast first in the new Cafeteria and then assemble here in the main hall.” So we make our way to the Canteen. As we walk towards it, I feel the nip in the air, and see the mist over the lake. It is a beautiful sight. How wonderful it really is to be with the Lord in the Mountains!

There is hot steaming breakfast being served. What a tempting sight! But I sigh and tell myself “No!” Then along comes Mr. V. Srinivasan to tempt me like even Satan cannot. He says, “What sir! You come to Kodai and refuse breakfast in this Divine Canteen so lovingly prepared by our people here? You cannot insult us that way!” So I compromise and yield. Maybe I really wanted to and just was waiting for someone to push me over! I tasted just a wee bit, but boy, it was great! To hell with the stomach!

Sai Ma, the Divine Mother

Stuffed, we return to the hall and wait. And then Sun appears and how the flowers suddenly bloom! I mean how the room is full of smiles as Swami enters! As always, the first question: “Boys, how are you? Did you rest properly? Did you sleep well?” “How was the breakfast? Liked it?” “Did you get hot water?” etc. Was it God or the mother, I was debating within myself; and soon the answer came: both! It was Sai Ma, the Divine Mother!

Mr. Ramani, the President of the Sai Organisation of Tamil Nadu (the State in which Kodai is located) reports to say that the Darshan queue had started forming as early as 5.00 A.M. and that as always, there were many foreigners. Swami is happy to hear this and gives some instructions regarding the Darshan schedule; this is particularly necessary as this is the first day of this Kodai season.

 
   
Darshan down the ramp

Meanwhile, I am thinking: “Come on Swami! When will the distribution of goodies start?” I don’t have to wait; it starts instantly! Santa Claus in Kodai (read Swami) has to be seen to be believed. One of the most memorable give-away sessions – and I have seen many in different settings – was in 2003. Maybe I should recall a bit of what happened then.

Flashback Again to 2003

Gifts, Gifts and More Gifts

7.45 A.M., and a quiet signal. Some of the teachers and senior scholars go upstairs and bring various items. Looks like there is going to be a distribution session. I have heard the fabulous Kodai distribution sessions, and it looks like tradition is being maintained. First item: a sweater. A sweater has always been the first item, and no surprise in that. Kodai can suddenly get very chilly and our most thoughtful Swami always makes sure that everyone will be warm. So, He gives away sweaters just in case people have not packed one in - and many haven’t!

Sweater distribution goes on for quite a while, first for the gents, then for the students, and finally for the ladies. While giving to the gents, one of them says, “Swami, You are always giving, giving, giving..” Swami responds, “Because it is cold, cold, cold!” This draws a big laugh. For the students and the gents, Swami distributes from where He is seated. He just throws accurately and the item goes straight to the person for whom it is intended, who catches it.

 
   
Blessing the boys

For distributing to the ladies, Swami goes to their side, moving from person to person to hand over. Sweater distribution is over, but what next?

Next come cameras, and after that, film for the cameras! Wow, I say to myself, even Santa at Christmas-time is not so generous. What next? I don’t have to guess or wait for long to know. It is ladies handbags in assorted colours, and Swami has some fun in matching the colour of the bags to the colour of the saree worn by the recipient! After this: ladies umbrellas! It looks like it is ladies day, and I wonder whether the men are getting a bit jealous! As earlier, just before handing out the first umbrella, Swami opens it to show it to all! At this stage, one of the ladies makes bold and says, “Baba, You now have to give a suitcase to put all these things in!” Boy, these ladies sure must have a lot of guts to say such things. I wouldn’t dare make such a remark even if I was offered a million dollars! Ignoring the application for suitcases and carrying an umbrella, Swami now walks over to the gents side and asks, “Any ladies here?” Big laughter.

You would think that Swami has by now distributed enough. No, alarm clocks next, this time for all!

Back to 2006

“All good things must come to an end,” goes the saying, and distribution is finally over. The conversation resumes. As always, the topic wanders. This morning, it starts off with some reference to election rallies in and around the town, with lorries carrying volunteers and loudspeakers fitted to the lorries blaring political propaganda. The noise apparently disturbed the sleep of many, and Swami was asked whether His sleep was disturbed. His reply: “I never sleep; I am always thinking of students; and I am always concerned about their welfare!” This makes Mr. C. Sreenivas say, “Swami, it is the sleeplessness of Selflessness!” An apt way of putting it, I would say.

Swami’s Concern for Our Welfare

9.00 A.M., and the signal is given for morning Darshan. Quickly we move to a spot on the veranda usually meant for seating Swami’s party, while Swami walks out to the porch. It is bright and sunny, a glorious day – a real fine way to begin the Kodai season. Slowly, Swami walks down the ramp and He is doing it with bare feet. This is not Parthi and it sure is chilly out here, especially in the morning. I worry, but God in human form does not; pleasing devotees, for whose sake He has incarnated, is obviously uppermost in His Mind, and not whether the ground is cold. There is a narrow mat rolled out on the ramp, but the Lord chooses to walk His own course, as if to signal, “See O man, I do not bother about My bodily comforts; your welfare alone is of concern to Me.” I wonder how many took note of that. Hardly a few, I guess. Again and again, I have seen devotees imposing themselves on Swami and straining Him physically beyond human limits. Yes He is God but, as He often reminds us, He has donned a human body, placing at the same time a restraint not to invoke Divine powers in aid of that body, especially by way of getting rid of pain. That has been His hallmark from way back, even as a small boy; no change in that resolve, and this cold is nothing compared to the pain His body has undergone on numerous occasions, like during the brief paralysis attack in 1963, an attack that was part of His Divine Leelas.

Devotees settling for Morning Darshan
Awaiting Swami's Arrival

With Swami giving Darshan from the balcony ramp, His wonderful smile together with the wonderful weather, He immediately transports everyone assembled for Darshan into the very heavens. Everyone is looking up from the Darshan area below while Swami is looking down at them smiling and occasionally blessing. The world is forgotten!

Swami coming out for Morning darshan
Swami begining to walk down the ramp

Sai smiles...
And walks down the ramp

Bhajans

Swami then comes near the boys, whispers some instructions, goes briefly into the building, emerges and takes His seat on a chair, provided on the ramp. Meanwhile, boys start singing Bhajans. For those of you who are not aware, I should mention that when selections for “Team Kodai” are made, Swami makes certain that there is a small group of good Bhajan singers; and this year, there sure were some very good ones.

Good Bhajans this morning. Aaarathi at 9.50 and when we all say LOKA SAMAASTHA…, I can see Swami whispering the same; I make this out by lip reading. I am thrilled! God Himself wills that we all should be happy. What more can we ask for?! We assemble back again in the main hall, and this is when we shall be having the first of the “real” sessions. The nature of the sessions vary, and I am wondering what form it would take this morning. I do not have to wait for long: it is going to be a musical session.

I should perhaps mention that this time Swami has taken a bunch of good singers (as I understand He did last year too), many of them from the Music College . Last year, Swami spent a lot of time giving chances to the Music Boys to sing for Him. It is interesting how the profile of boys Swami takes with Him to Kodai has been changing over the years. Ultimately of course, it is all a matter of Divine Grace. No one can say or predict whom Swami would take, when and why. Yet, at the human level, one can see some broad trends. Years ago, it used to be the MBA boys. They used to be groomed in Kodai, in preparation for service in the wide world. Very recently, it appears to be the Music Boys.

 
Swami looks towards the Boys
 
Some of the chosen group

In a way I am happy about it, because I am very partial to devotional music. Both in the North and South of India, over the centuries, many devotees have attained the Lotus Feet by singing their hearts out for the Lord. And in the process, they have left behind a treasure. These days, not many are aware how much the Lord loves music. Indeed, He is, as Swami has explained, Music itself, which is why one of God’s Names is Nada Brahmam. Remember the line Nada Brahmam Jagannaatha … in the Aarathi?

Preparing God’s Music

Swami often uses music as a bond to connect with students. In the past, I have seen it happen in many different ways, for example, when preparations are made for the Convocation Drama. Things are appearing to change lately but in the olden days, Convocation Drama was a big thing, with Swami getting deeply involved in all aspects of it. Where music was concerned, He would first take a critical look at the lyrics; then, the process of adding a tune to it, an interesting exercise that would take place in the evening session in the Interview Room, after Darshan is over. Swami would settle down inside and a signal would go out to Dr. Sailesh Srivatsava, a former student and now a teacher in the High School. He would enter, carrying a small parcel, but those of us who are in the know of things are aware that the parcel contains a tiny musical keyboard, about the size of a flat pencil box.

Inside, Sailesh would play the tune for one of the chosen songs and also softly hum the words; a long drawn exercise that would go on till almost Bhajan time, during which the tune for the song would slowly take shape. Swami is a superb Music Director, who knows not only how to arrange the scale but also introduce all kinds of subtle variations that bring out the Bhavam, or the spirit of the song. The story does not end here, for next Sailesh has to coach the chosen singer; this is after the first round of Divine approval has been obtained. The preliminary coaching over, the singer and Sailesh both walk into the Interview Room during the evening sessions, while all of us sit outside and wait patiently, trying to visualise the proceedings inside!

There are many sessions of this type, and slowly the song comes alive, with Swami often singing with the chosen singer to indicate how to do voice modulation. One must see all this to believe it. A few sessions later, the actors get into the act, shall I say? What I mean is that dialog delivery is now practiced; and so on it goes, day after day. Swami is certainly the task master but He is also very considerate.

 
   
A song just for Swami !

After a gruelling session, He would personally go inside while students wait in the Interview Room. And when He appears, He would be accompanied by the kitchen boy carrying a tray with juice, sliced apples and what not! Is it any wonder why boys are very keen to get into the Drama?

To get back to the proceedings of our first day in Kodai in 2006, I now begin to see a replay of sorts of what I just described. Swami is rehearsing the boys, making them sing song after song. Are we in for a special Musical Evening? I guess we would soon know, but this much is certain: this Kodai season, music is going to dominate, just as management issues used to take the centre stage in earlier years. Meanwhile I notice that Swami is giving instructions to the singers about taking care of their voice. “Make sure you drink only warm water, and cover your neck with a scarf!”

 

So Many Letters

Session over, we adjourn for lunch.

There is no pre-tea session like in earlier years; Swami is taking it a bit easy, which makes me happy. I am not sure about the boys though, but I am not bothered about them.

People have siesta, have tea and snacks as per their preferences, and gather in the Bhajan Hall to wait for Swami. Bhajan starts at 4.40 P.M. and during the session, Swami walks a bit down the aisle. Boy how many letters during that short walk of just a few metres!

Nobody knew He would be walking, but there are always some devotees who are ready to grab the slightest chance, and they wait patiently to slip in a letter; for His part, the Lord also obliges. That is our compassionate Swami.

Lunch being served
   

Always Giving…

At 5.25 P.M. , Bhajan session is over and we assemble again for what I would call the evening get-together with Bhagavan. There is another distribution session, this time of cameras; all the boys get cameras. I recall Swami distributed cameras in 2003 also, but unlike then, this time the elders do not get cameras. These are the film cameras, and so the film is distributed next. It is amazing how Swami takes care of all these details; what I mean is that He makes sure He brings all these gifts with Him to Kodai. In fact, few are aware of how much time He spends before leaving on gift selection.

Many lessons there are, but few bother to learn them; instead, the talk is all about, “What did Swami give this time? He did not give after-shave lotion this time? What about alarm clocks? No clocks? My, it was a bonanza during my trip!”

After cameras come torches! After that, what? Mercifully, every boy wants his camera inaugurated by Swami. Imagine that! That is how bold Kodai makes the boys. Swami just smiles and says “not now,” because the distribution is not over yet. Shirts come next, and each according to his size. One by one, the boys go near Swami while He tosses a correct size shirt, joking the whole time. That is the real interesting part of the distribution show: a Divine and humorous running commentary. I am almost tempted to call it, at the risk of seeming blasphemous, the Divine Comedy Hour!

Cameras being given out
Torches to light the way
Shirts for boys too
Not to forget towels

…Never Receiving

It is all finally over and then the punch line: Nobody gives Me anything! Swami means it as a joke, but the fact is that few of us ever think of that, do we? I mean, giving Swami something He really likes (not watches and stuff like that)? And after all that softening up, there is a gentle change of gear towards matters spiritual, with references to the Mind, and its symbolic connection with the Moon. Swami has talked about this many times in olden days, especially as there are references to all this in the Vedas. But this is a different batch and a different time, so maybe once more.

After some serious moments, there is a signal that the session is about to end. How do I know? Because Swami is talking about tomorrow’s program. He wants the boys to go on a bus tour and do some sight seeing in Kodai. After that there come ominous words: “Day after tomorrow, shopping!” Shopping usually comes at the end of the Kodai stay, and here, Swami is talking about it on day one! Is He joking or is He serious? If He is, then the matter is serious, because a sudden and abrupt shortening of the Kodai trip means He is not happy about something. What exactly is it? I decide I shall not worry about it and take things as they come.

Finishing Day One

The talk now shifts to the Tamil New Year Day, due to be celebrated on April 14th, along with the Malayalam New Year day, Vishu, which also happens to fall on that same date. Swami wants to know about arrangements connected with the celebration, after which it is curtains. Swami retires and we move towards the Canteen Dining Hall for dinner. A great meal as expected, and to digest it all, almost every one goes for a walk round the lake. No rain in sight and such beautiful weather; everyone enjoys a great walk.

So, that is how day one ended! See you again next month with more about Kodai 2006!!

Jai Sai Ram.

 

 
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Vol 4 Issue 12 - DECEMBER 2006
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