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FROM LIFELESS EXISTENCE TO A LIVING INSPIRATION

...THE RIVETING STORY OF MR. GEORGE MELKAY


A Smooth Path to Prosperity

“It was a golden opportunity for me.” A blooming smile suddenly sported on his bespectacled face, as Mr. George Melkay recalled the rewarding job that came his way exactly three decades ago in 1977. It was the first time he was leaving the shores of India to Bahrain, the borderless island country in the Persian Gulf. And he was excited about it. Life could not have been better - at least it seemed so at that time. A chance to work in Bahrain Airport Service immediately after graduation in those days meant a sure route to prosperity. He knew about this very well as many of his relatives and countrymen stood as live testimonies. They had all taken this silken route and within a short span of time had become affluent.

 

In fact, even today it is common to find many skilled and semi-skilled Keralites in the middle-east chasing their ‘Gulf Dream’. It all started in the early seventies when the oil exporting countries of the Middle East experienced a rapid economic boom with the hike in oil prices in 1973. And from then on, labour outflows from India, especially from the state of Kerala, has only increased. What started as a mere 4,000 in 1976 rose to 2.76 lakhs in 1981 and now in these petrodollar-flush Middle East nations there are a staggering 18.4 lakhs Keralites!

It will be also interesting to note that as on March 2006, remittances from Non Resident Keralites constituted nearly 40% of the deposits of the state of Kerala. And this emigration to these rich Islamic nations happens from across all communities. In fact, apart from a good number of Muslims, the majority of the expatriates in the Gulf are Hindus and even then, just as now, they also constitute a considerable number of Kerala Christians, just like Mr. Melkay.

Mr. George Melkay
   

The Road Leads to a Precipice

So, back in the seventies, with a flourishing career, many Malayali (Kerala natives) friends and his marriage which happened in the early eighties, George Melkay was a contented man with nothing to complain of…until life suddenly took a decisive turn in 1990. After enjoying perfect health for over a decade, he was down with a high temperature. But this viral fever was no ordinary malady, it was adamant and elusive. George was hospitalized in the American Mission Hospital, a century old private hospital in Bahrain’s capital city, Manama. Two weeks went by but there was no conclusive diagnosis. In desperate search for a cure, he then moved to the primary public hospital of Bahrain, the Salmania Hospital. Fifty days passed in the bed of this government hospital, still no doctor could precisely pinpoint his problem.

It was devastating for George, to say the least, for, all his dreams were now slowly turning to dust as he saw his years of savings gradually dissipate away. The worst part was he was still not diagnosed, let alone receiving the necessary treatment. He was now scared. What could his disease be? What will it mean to get treated? Will it be curable at all?

On the fifty fourth day of his stay in the Salmania Hospital, thanks to an Irish lady doctor, George did get a confirmed diagnosis for his prolonged sickness. But he did not know whether to cry or smile. While on one hand, he was happy that after months of inconclusiveness and guessing, finally there was an unambiguous verdict; on the other hand, the diagnosis was daunting and dreadful.

From Pillar to Post, With Little Hope

“Both your heart valves – mitral and aortic – are completely damaged,” the doctor confided. “If you want to survive, go back to India and get a double-valve replacement done in a super specialty hospital - the sooner, the better.”

The doctor’s advice was clear. George now had no choice. He was in India on the next available flight. Such was the cruel twist of fate in his life that years ago he had gone to the ‘land of plenty’ empty-handed with his mind full of big dreams, and now, after putting in thirteen long years of service, he returned almost empty.

Two and half months in Bahrain’s premier hospitals had set him back by several years.

After returning to his native village in the Calicut district of Kerala, George looked out for the nearest super specialty hospital. But, unlike today, in the early nineties the state of Kerala had very few premier hospitals offering quality tertiary care. His search took him to the largest city of Kerala Thiruvananthapuram (also called as Trivandrum), which is also the state’s capital.

It was no less than a 12 hour bus ride from his village, and after a tiresome journey George, accompanied by his cousin brother, Baby, landed in the Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology. But the doctor there did little to enthuse his drooping heart. “It is a high risk case and you will have to wait” is all the doctor would say, apart from the fact that it was going to cost a fortune.

 
   
The Calicut district of Kerala where George was born

George returned to his village, disheartened. But his friends and well-wishers comforted him. “Do not worry. Take a second opinion,” everyone said. And George again set forth to Trivandrum. This time to Sri Avittom Thirunal Hospital, one of the premier specialty hospitals of Kerala, started more than 50 years ago catering to nearly 50,000 in-patients every year. The doctors here confirmed the diagnosis. “You must get operated soon,” said Dr. Jay Krishnan, an eminent Cardio Thoracic Surgeon. “But it cannot be done here,” he added. “It is better you go to Madras (now Chennai) and get it done at Madras Medical Mission Hospital or at the Apollo Hospital.”

Two and half months of hospitalization, kilometers of strenuous travel, four hospitals and dozens of consultations later, George was still clueless. Life had become a hopeless journey. As a last attempt, he went to Madras. The doctors in the Madras Medical Mission Hospital, which was known for its finest super-specialty cardiac care, were ready to perform the operation. “You will need a double valve replacement surgery,” they said unambiguously. “But it is very expensive, at least one and a half lakh rupees!” Completely crestfallen, George gave up all hopes of any possible treatment. It was impossible for him to even think of such a huge amount (mind you, 150,000 rupees in 1990 would mean at least Rs. 400,000 now). The last few months in Bahrain had reduced him to a pauper. And it was not only the big money, the hospital also told him to arrange fifteen people who would donate blood for cross-matching, with instructions that they should be from his native village and not from the city of Madras, to be safe from HIV and other infections. Moreover, “It is a high-risk surgery,” the doctors cautioned.

Gloom and Doom, and Then…Divine Grace

 

It was George’s darkest hour. After months of struggle, he had found the panacea he was looking for, but it was completely beyond his reach. With no sign of hope and no doors open, George had begun to accept his cruel destiny. In fact, he reasoned the flip side of the sad circumstance and thought to himself, “I do not even know, if in case I get operated after begging and borrowing the amount, whether I will survive. What if I do not make it through? How is my wife with two little children going to manage the huge debt burden? I am not going to allow this."

Helpless George had decided and completely reconciled to his ruthless fate. “At least now for whatever years I am there, the children have a father,” he said to himself and returned home. Gloom and doom – that was where his life was headed; at least that was what it certainly looked like then. Little did he know then that, the ‘blackest’ period of his life he was going through, was in fact, the most blessed, for, it was during this time that God chose to make His presence felt. And from then on started one of the most beautiful periods of his life filled with exciting encounters, ecstatic experiences and blissful benedictions.

     

It was after he returned completely distraught from Madras that George met Mr. K P Aravindakshan; one of the seniors from his school and a Sai devotee, it was this concerned friend who first shared the good news. “Do you know Sai Baba has a Super Specialty Hospital in Puttaparthi which is completely free?” he asked George. Now, ‘Sai Baba’ was not completely new to George. Back in Bahrain, he had occasionally visited the Sai centre, but that was not because he believed in the divinity of Baba, but to give company to his friend, Sri Surendra, who was a Sai devotee. Besides, he enjoyed the ‘Bhajans, beautiful songs and the nice prasadam’ he confides now. But ‘Sai Baba’, at that time for him, was far from anything divine. He was more of a ‘magician’ than anything else.

Greatly influenced in his college days by the books of Mr. Bertrand Russell, a twentieth century British atheist-philosopher and rationalist, George, like many of his college mates, had turned into an atheist early in his life. Believing an ‘orange-clad South Indian saint’ as God in human form was completely out of question. Nevertheless, the news of a “free Super Specialty Hospital ” was too alluring to let it go. If it really existed, he felt, that would mean the end of all his problems. He trusted his friend’s word and agreed to make the trip.

 
 
 
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prasanthi Nilayam
 

In January 1993, George, accompanied by Aravindakshan, set foot for the first time in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Puttaparthi. After conducting all the diagnostic tests and detailed consultation, the doctor confirmed that he needed a valve replacement, and that it will be done free, but he will have to wait for a year or two till he receives the invitation letter from the Hospital. This did dampen his spirits for a few moments but still George was much happier. In fact, he had not been in such a positive and pleasant state of mind for three years. Intuitively, he felt, all was not over with his life. He knew now he had hope - lots of it.

And the surgery apart, George was simply overwhelmed with the Hospital, its ambience and philosophy. “I could not believe this Hospital was giving free treatment!” he says, his eyes lighting up instantaneously. “I had seen so many hospitals in Bahrain and this was much more sophisticated, neat, tidy, modern and more importantly, the atmosphere was so serene. Such a Hospital giving free treatment…it was out of the world! Immediately I fell in love with it,” he recalls, but this experience also had an interesting fallout.

 
'Cleanliness is next to Godliness'...exemplied in Swami's Super Specialty Hospital in Puttaparthi

Mesmerized by the Lord’s Love

So impressed he was with the Hospital that he says, “Now, I wanted to see Sai Baba”. At that time, Baba was not in Puttaparthi, but in His ashram at Whitefield, Bangalore. George took a bus to Bangalore, but unfortunately could not reach the ashram and see Bhagavan as the transport operators during that period were on a strike. He was disheartened, but only momentarily. He returned home but as days passed by, his desire to see Bhagavan only became more intense. And later that year when some Sai devotees were leaving to Bangalore to celebrate the Kerala festival of Onam in the Divine Presence, George enthusiastically joined the party. And as if to compensate for the darshan missed in January, on the second day of his arrival at the ashram, George was lucky to find himself in the first line waiting for His darshan.

He had a letter, neatly written and carefully held in his hand, just in case he had an opportunity to hand it over to. As the darshan music started and George saw Swami, he was filled with happiness. Not only that, he saw Swami coming towards the row in which he was sitting. His excitement only grew every second. Finally when Swami came near him, George says, “I began to cry! I do not know what happened. It was such an overwhelming experience!” The compassionate Lord lovingly stood near him, took his letter, allowed him to touch His feet, and as George bent down to offer his obeisance, blessed him profusely. This tremendous outpouring of pure love was too overpowering for the first-time visitor. “I was crying for nearly half an hour!” George says recalling that unforgettable first encounter.

 

George then stayed in the Brindavan ashram for three days basking in His blissful darshan, before he returned to his village along with other devotees after the conclusion of the festival. But his mind was filled with moving memories of those three days. His illness had in fact, gone into the background. And then something wonderful happened. It was just one week since he had returned and Swami, appearing in his dream, said, “There is nothing to worry. I am here. I will take care of you.” Ecstatic, George wanted to interact with Swami more but just then his daughter, who was a two and half years baby then, cried and his dream instantly disappeared. Nevertheless, the ‘dream assurance’ of Swami had made George euphoric. He immediately woke his wife and said, “My Swami was here! He told me there is nothing to worry.” But his wife, a staunch Christian who had little faith in Baba, just brushed the whole experience aside, and even talked lightly of the whole episode. “Oh! You probably did not read the Bible properly. You are always thinking of that Swami. Look here, nothing has happened. You must start making arrangements now to get the operation done in Madras.”

The Lord Wins His Wife’s Heart Too!

George did not know how to convince his wife about the truth of his Baba dream. He tried once or twice, but his wife was never receptive, she remained a skeptic. But suddenly on the third day after his dream, all this changed. Swami came to his rescue by appearing in his wife’s dream too! It was life-changing experience for her. “From here on,” she said, “I will not say anything about Swami.” In fact, she was scared to even think or utter anything against Swami now.

By now, George had become a Sai devotee. The dream had instilled enough faith. He, in fact, now wanted to come to Puttaparthi to serve as a sevadal volunteer. When his friend Aravindakshan asked him in January 1994, if he would like to join the volunteer-group going to Puttaparthi, George grabbed the opportunity. But he had his own apprehensions about him being a Christian and if he will be allowed to serve, etc., but once he reached Puttaparthi, he realized all his fears were completely unfounded. Interestingly, he was allotted duty at the Super Specialty Hospital.

Divine Assurance Like No Other

 

It was a one week service opportunity and in those days on the conclusion of each batch’s service, Swami would bless every volunteer with padanamaskar (chance to touch His feet) and Vibhuti prasadam. So on the eight day, which fell on February 1st, George along with other Kerala volunteers, waited for this unique chance. When Swami came that morning, He started walking slowly along the path made by the volunteers between them, and as He slowly moved along, He spoke to someone, smiled at the other, took a letter from the third, created Vibhuti for the fourth, and so on.

When He came near, George immediately went on his knees and tried to touch His feet, and the loving Swami kept both His hands on his shoulders and even before he could say much, the all-knowing one Himself spoke in George’s native tongue (which was a mix of Malayalam and Tamil) and said, “Why are you afraid? You will be operated here! Nothing will happen to you,” and walked away.

George could understand every syllable that Swami had uttered and his happiness knew no bounds. His friends and other devotees congratulated and comforted him. They even went to the extent of saying that perhaps there is no need for the operation at all. “Swami will take care of everything,” they said. Whatever be the case, George reached home with his heart brimming with joy.

George's prized gift
   

It was twenty days after returning and now there was a telegram from Puttaparthi. ‘Start immediately for observation and treatment, and if necessary, surgery’ - the message from Swami’s Hospital read. And exactly at the same time, George received another post. This was an envelope from Trivandrum sent by a sevadal-friend whom he had developed an acquaintance with while serving at the Super Specialty Hospital in January that year. When he opened the cover, George was thrilled! It was a photo of Swami blessing him! Somebody had taken a snap when he was kneeling after touching His Feet and the loving Lord was comforting him. And this friend from Trivandrum had apparently found this picture in a photo studio before he left Puttaparthi and so thoughtfully had bought it. But the most amazing aspect of this episode was that both these letters had arrived on the same day, at the same time!

George needed no more proof of His omniscient grace. His wife too, who was always worried about the high-risk nature of the surgery, felt more secure. The next day George started for Puttaparthi along with his father. His admission and double valve replacement surgery performed at the hospital on March 14, 1994, was completely uneventful. Recalling his in-patient days at the Hospital, an excited and happy George says,

“I did not feel like it was a Hospital at all. The nurses and doctors were just like family members to me. The food was so good too. I have stayed in so many hospitals before – in India and Bahrain – but here, it was such a wonderful experience. Imagine everything best being offered to you completely free and with so much love. I did not realize how thirty days passed so quickly.”

 
   
George outside the Super Specialty Hospital

“As long as there is breath in this body, I will serve in this Hospital.” - George Melkay

Not only the surgery, George was also given free medicines (to be replenished every six-months by the Hospital) which he had to take regularly to keep his new heart in perfect order. So overwhelmed was George with the care he received at the Hospital and grateful to Swami for all the love He bestowed on him at his hour of great need that immediately after he was discharged from the Hospital, he made an oath: “As long as there is breath in this body, I will serve in this Hospital at every available opportunity.”

And true to his resolve, George Melkay has been serving at the Hospital traveling from Kerala twice every year continuously for the last fourteen years. When H2H saw him recently, it was his twenty-fifth hospital duty. Apart from these two trips to serve at the Hospital (which is usually in January and July every year for a period of seven or fourteen days), George also visits Puttaparthi regularly for Swami’s Birthday and the Kerala festival of Onam. So in all, it is at least four visits per year. Puttaparthi, for George, has become his second home. Though he may not have had many opportunities to interact with Swami physically, George knows fully well that Swami is taking care of him every moment. When his son secured admission into the XI class in Swami’s school at Puttaparthi in 2000, Swami had answered another heartfelt prayer of George. He was now more convinced than ever that ‘If one does God’s work with sincerity and dedication, He does our work.’

A Heart Renewed, A Life Transformed

 

Today, George is a living inspiration to all the sevadal volunteers of Kerala. Ask him how his life has changed after coming to Swami and he says, “Oh my God! My life has changed completely. Earlier I was an atheist, later I studied the Bible, but I could never believe or accept the Hindu way. But now wherever I go, be it a temple or a mosque or a church, I have the same feeling. Previously, I thought these statues had no power, but now I have had experiences which have completely transformed me! To me, now, Almighty God is One – no matter whatever be the religion. And as Swami says, ‘If you are Christian, be a better Christian; a Hindu, a better Hindu; a Muslim, a better Muslim’. This message is important to me. Swami has taught me that love is God, that I should always help ever and hurt never. And this is precisely what I have been trying to practise in the last fourteen years.”

The Hospital may have replaced his heart-values but it is Swami and His love which has added real value to his life. “Swami has given me a re-birth,” says George Melkay, his face serene with gratitude to the Lord. “All I want is the chance to serve at His feet while this body exists.”

Ever humble and dedicated George
   

This is the story of just one patient-turned-sevadal of the Super Specialty Hospital and we know for sure there are any numbers of such volunteers working silently in the Hospital. In fact, it is these ‘unsung heroes’ who are the real torch-bearers of His mission.

- Heart2Heart Team


Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like to share your feelings with us? Or have you similar experiences of healing at Swami's Hospitals that you want our readers to know about? If so please contact us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country.  Thank you for your time.


 

 

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Vol 5 Issue 04 - APRIL 2007
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