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When Tests Become his Taste …
By Mrs. Neeta Banerjee

A devotee of Bhagavan Baba for the last 40 years, Mrs. Neeta Banerjee has spent the last two decades of her life in translating inspiring literature from many lndian languages like Assamese, Rajastani and English into Hindi. She has worked for leading Indian literary institutions like SahityaAcademy and Bharatiya Gyanpeeth, New Delhi, and has won awards. In 2000, she moved to Puttaparthi, where she currently resides with her family.


I vividly remember the Guru Poornima of 1972. My beloved Mother Sai had chosen that day to baptize all of us and take us under Her loving care so quietly that none of us had any inkling of the great change that was to come into our lives! At that time, I was going through a terrible phase in my life - my biological mother was counting her last days.

She was in the final stage of cancer and was living on a diet of one or two teaspoons of water or juice, and continuous namasmarana (chanting of the Divine name) all day long. She was the principal of a teachers’ training centre and was working in spite of her illness. Every evening, after my husband returned from his office, we used to visit my mother. We spent the whole evening with her, talking, singing and joking, to fill her last few days with joy.

My mother’s last wish was to come to Puttaparthi and have Swami’s darshan. Her doctor had refused to give her permission to travel and my father agreed with him. We, my two brothers and two sisters, were with her, so we tried to cajole our father into accompanying her to Puttaparthi. He did not believe in either Sathya Sai Baba or Shirdi Sai Baba.

Therefore, he was very reluctant, but under pressure from us and other Sai devotees from Kota, Rajasthan (where we lived at that time), he agreed. We used to pray to Sri Shirdi Sai, but had come to know of Swami a short while ago from Sai devotees of Kota. The devotees there conducted bhajans and did seva regularly.

Divine Light in the Night

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Swami and Me Dr. Moevs

On a very hot summer night in June, my mother was very restless and could not sleep. She suddenly saw Swami in His typical bright orange robe entering the bedroom from the door near which my father’s bed was placed. Swami came near her bed, put His hand on her head and talked to her for a long time, caressing her forehead all the while. Mother asked Him many questions and He replied, sometimes in the affirmative, mostly in the negative.

My father was watching this drama from barely eight feet away, wondering what was happening and who that person in the orange robe was! When Swami walked out of the room His robe touched my father’s bed. Even in the dark room my father noticed the halo of hair, but Swami’s face was blurred; he couldn’t observe any of the features.

My father was sure that it was some weird dream and went to sleep.

When we went to meet my mother, the day after this vision, she told us all about Swami and wished to have His darshan. She was hundred percent sure that she would reach Puttaparthi and have darshan, and only after that breathe her last. My father, on the other hand, had other ideas. However, after heated arguments with him followed by my husband allowing me to accompany her, my father agreed for the journey and booked our tickets via Mumbai (then Bombay) and Bangalore.

My mother applied for a fortnight’s leave and I too packed my suitcase. On the day before the journey, my daughter suddenly fell ill. So, I was dropped, and my sister, who had just given her Bachelor of Sciences final exams, seemed the perfect person to accompany my mother as the proxy nurse on her last journey, as it turned out to be. I cried a lot and handed over my suitcase to my younger sister. Maybe it was still not time for me to have Swami’s darshan.

“Mothers troubles will be over soon” - Swami

When they reached Mumbai, somebody told them that Baba was in Bangalore. So, after much inconvenience, my mother along with my father and sister reached Baba’s ashram in Whitefield, Bangalore, only to be told that Swami had left for Puttaparthi. They traveled again, with my mother in that precarious condition, praying all the while for Swami’s darshan to her before anything serious happened to her. Once in Puttaparthi, they received help from other devotees and the very presence of Swami filled them with a new life. They had darshan and received Swami’s blessings twice every day and sometimes even thrice! Well, ‘they’ here refers to only my mother and sister; my father, being a non-believer, strolled away outside the ashram to have his fill of smoking.

 

After this, Swami patted my father on the shoulder and gave him Vibhuti. My father, given his attitude about such things, he first looked suspiciously at the Vbhuti in his palm and then at the long sleeve of Swami’s robe. Now, Swami’s eyebrow rose and giving him a quizzical smile, He ordered, “Mukherjee, phenk do” (Mukherjee, throw it away). My father threw the Vibhuti, which immediately vanished. Now, Swami rolled His right sleeve up, much above His elbow, raised His hand and then materialized Vibhuti. He gave it to my mother, sister, and father too, and then lovingly said, Prasadam hai, kha lo (It is prasad, eat it). My father gave a sheepish smile and swallowed it.

On Guru Poornima day, Swami called them for an interview, but my father was nowhere to be seen. Swami sent someone saying that Mukherjee must be having a smoke outside. Father was literally made to throw away his cigarette and rushed to the interview room.

Once he was inside, Swami told them many things about their past, the young ‘revolutionary’ days of my father and even his school days! Needless to say, everyone was awestruck.

Swami chided my father for bringing my mother to Him so late, even after His personal visit to their house! My father said that he did not believe it was Him as he could not see His face. Swami then pointing to my mother, clarified that He had indeed gone to Kota on that summer night and talked to my mother for a long time and then returned, walking past his cot.

The next moment, Swami laughed and said, Face nahin dikha kyonki believe nahin karta. Amma Ko poocho main udhar aaya tha na! (You didn’t see my face because you didn’t believe. Ask mother. Am I not correct?)”

Next, He asked my sister what she wanted. She had carried three slips with her which contained her requests. She now quietly handed over those to Swami. Bhagavan looked at the slips and then with a mischievous smile looked at her. Opening the first slip He said, Amma Ka takleef jaldi dur hojayega.” (Your mother will be relieved of her troubles soon). Reading the second slip He kept His hand on my sister’s head and saidParva nahi, tum to already second division se pass ho gaya. Jao, be happy. (No problem. You have already cleared second division. Go, be happy).

Swami and Me Dr. Moevs
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When Swami read the third slip, He turned to my mother and held her hand in His hands and then slowly reassured her saying, Amma, fikar nahin karna, iska shadi usi ladka se hoga jisko tum pasand kiya hai. Good boy! (Mother, do not worry. She will marry the boy that you have approved. He is a good boy!).

After this, Swami patted my father on the shoulder and gave him Vibhuti. My father, given his attitude about such things, he first looked suspiciously at the Vbhuti in his palm and then at the long sleeve of Swami’s robe. Now, Swami’s eyebrow rose and giving him a quizzical smile, He ordered, “Mukherjee, phenk do” (Mukherjee, throw it away).

My father threw the Vibhuti, which immediately vanished. Now, Swami rolled His right sleeve up, much above His elbow, raised His hand and then materialized Vibhuti. He gave it to my mother, sister, and father too, and then lovingly said, “Prasadam hai, kha lo” (It is prasad, eat it). My father gave a sheepish smile and swallowed it.

After blessing them profusely, Swami told my father to take my mother back to Kota the next morning. Mother cried and touched Swami’s lotus feet. To her Swami said, “Jao Amma, takleef bahut jaldi dur ho jayega. Sab theek ho jayega" (Go mother, your troubles will solved very soon. Everything will be okay). She asked, “Baba bachchon Ka Kya hoga?”(Baba, what will happen to the children?) He said, “Don’t worry Amma, Swami sabko dekhega” (Swami will take care of everybody). Swami gave Vibhuti to my sister and instructed her to mix it with water and give it to my mother whenever she wanted something. With moist eyes and a heavy heart they left Puttaparthi.

Mother’s Blissful Final Journey

After reaching Bombay, they phoned us as they had missed the connecting train. Instead of reaching Kota on July 31, they said that they will now be reaching only on the morning of August 1. I was terribly depressed and disappointed. I could hardly sleep, but when I did I dreamt of my mother being taken out of the train compartment on a wheel chair, fully covered with garlands. It was shocking. In my heart of hearts I knew it was a message to prepare one for the inevitable. I kept crying and praying.

 

When three of us did salutations, Mr. Swami asked her to open her mouth and held the same flower in his palm over her open mouth. I could see something dripping from his fingers. As I had placed that rose in the garland, I wondered what that fluid was, and from where did it come from? Before I could ask anything, Mr. Swami had extended that rose towards me. I automatically cupped my hands, collected the golden syrup and consumed it. What fragrance! Truly, heavenly taste! I had never tasted anything even remotely resembling this.

I had been waiting eagerly for my mother to come home, not only because she was sick and away from home, and I was so eager to know all that had happened at Puttaparthi, but also because something had happened in Kota about which I wanted to share with her.

A Guru Poornima special bhajan had been organized by the devotees and we were invited to come a little early before the bhajans commenced to help in the various chores. I was given the task of making the big white garland for Swami’s main photo. It had a big red rose in the middle making it quite heavy.

During the bhajan, when we were singing with great fervor and devotion, suddenly the main garland started surging and then broke at the middle! The big red rose dropped down behind the lamp. And all the while, the bhajans continued and finished with the usual arati.

For me, the uninitiated, this was something unique. I took the prasadam and waited quietly for everyone else to leave so that I could pick that rose and take it home. When everybody, except one old devotee, Mr. Swami, had left, the owner of the house who was also the organizer of the bhajan session, Dr. Banerji, called me to the altar. As I was looking for the rose behind the lamp, Mr. Swami picked it up and touched it to his forehead. I was very disappointed that my rose had gone! He called my husband and asked me to bring my daughter, who was sleeping in another room.

When three of us did salutations, Mr. Swami asked her to open her mouth and held the same flower in his palm over her open mouth. I could see something dripping from his fingers. As I had placed that rose in the garland, I wondered what that fluid was, and from where did it come from? Before I could ask anything, Mr. Swami had extended that rose towards me. I automatically cupped my hands, collected the golden syrup and consumed it. What fragrance! Truly, heavenly taste! I had never tasted anything even remotely resembling this.

Swami and Me Dr. Moevs
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Mrs. Neeta Banerjee's mother
 

Ms. Banerjee told me that this was Baba’s way of accepting our prayers. This is His blessing. She also told me that at that time my mother must have been praying to Baba for us and that probably He had accepted her prayers too! Mr. Swami then told my husband that we were indeed very fortunate as Baba had taken us into His fold. That was the Guru Poornima of 1972!

I wanted to share this news with my mother and sister, and wanted to know from them everything that had happened in Puttaparthi as early as I could. Four days had already passed since Guru Poornima day, and I was really waiting for the moment when I would hear from my mother of her experience of meeting Swami. But Baba had planned something else for me. I was not destined to hear anything from my mother…

In Bombay, at about 9.45 a.m., my mother asked for water with Swami’s Vibhuti. She also asked my sister to open the suitcase. She wanted to wear her ring with Swami’s photo on it. My sister tried to reason out with her that in an hour and a half they would be reaching Kota, and mother could then gift all the things they had bought such as books, rings, and Vibhuti to everybody, and then wear her own ring too. However, mother insisted to wear her ring right then.

Very reluctantly my sister opened the suitcase and took out all the packets and tried the rings one by one on her finger. When mother got a ring, which was a perfect fit on her finger, she wore it and smiled. Then, she took a sip of Vibhuti water and looked far away from the window of the running train. Restful, smiling, and with a faraway look in her eyes, she breathed her last in the running train at 10.00 a.m.

On the morning of August 1, my husband received a phone call from his office, and he had to leave urgently on some official work. He assured me that he’ll send the office car at 10.00 a.m. to fetch me. I was supposed to go to the station to receive my mother. As I was offering my pranams to Swami, my husband came quietly and stood behind me silently. When I turned around, he revealed to me, “It’s all over! I am coming with you to the station.” All the other devotees who wanted to come to meet her were stopped by Swami, for on that day, for the first time in Kota, a bandh (strike) was declared.

Swami’s Trial by Fire

I was shocked, to say the least. My whole world crumbled around me. My mother, who was my role model, inspiration, guide and guru was no more! I was dying to hear from her about her cherished last desire which Baba had fulfilled, but she died without saying a word! I was shaken, my faith was disturbed. Father had, in brief, told me the previous evening that Baba had blessed her and she was extremely calm and peaceful. But then what changed so suddenly?

 

I was shocked, to say the least. My whole world crumbled around me. My mother, who was my role model, inspiration, guide and guru was no more! I was dying to hear from her about her cherished last desire which Baba had fulfilled, but she died without saying a word! I was shaken, my faith was disturbed. Father had, in brief, told me the previous evening that Baba had blessed her and she was extremely calm and peaceful. But then what changed so suddenly?

On the way to the station our family doctor joined us in his car. A police jeep and the pick-up van, in which mother had gone to the far flung villages hundreds of times, accompanied the two cars. The driver cried so much that our doctor had to brief him and me not to cry at the station as my mother was being brought out as a serious patient.

By Swami’s grace, there was no problem with railways or the police, and we came home safely. Before we reached home, hundreds of people had gathered to have her last darshan. That was the end of an era!

My sister was inconsolable. She kept questioning Swami all the time and accused Him of not caring for her. We all know that Baba puts us through an Agni Pariksha (trial by fire) before accepting us as devotees. Our pariksha (test) had just begun.

Too many things were happening at that time, but let me narrate only about the three promises made by Baba.

Swami Keeps His Promise

Baba had said that my mother’s takleef (troubles) will be over – my mother was now dead.

Swami and Me Dr. Moevs
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My sister was supposed to have passed Bachelors in Science in second division, but she failed in physics and when she appeared for the supplementary exams, she failed again! During those days, if one failed in the supplementary exams too, one had to go back to the first year again. A girl who had just lost her mother could not have passed that exam, but why did Baba tell her that she had already passed B.Sc.?

Coming to the third slip, Baba had assured my mother that her daughter will marry the boy whom she had chosen for her. Now who will tell us, who that boy was?

I was not able to bear my younger sister’s heart-wrenching cries and her pointed questions, because I had no answers for them. When the form was brought for her to fill, she declared that she would rather die than going back to the first year class; she had almost threatened us.

I folded the form, kept it at Swami’s feet and offered an ultimatum, “Baba, if my sister dies. I will also leave this body and then people are not going to have faith in You. This is not our, but Your pariskha (test)! You have to prove Yourself.” I closed the door of the altar. I did no puja, no lighting of lamps or offering any prasadam. All I did was to cry and pray.

 

My own way of life was against everything that Baba teaches (laughs). I was breaking every one of Baba’s rules. But that is how Baba works! It’s not so much from trying to suppress and change the ‘bad’ in you, it’s more falling so deeply in love with the ‘good’ that eventually the ‘bad’ disappears. And that is what the transformation is - the ‘good’, the ‘right’ takes over more and more of your life. Till all of a sudden you realise that ‘darkness’ has no more power on you.

One afternoon during these days, the local postman delivered a registered letter from the University of Rajasthan. It was a regret letter from the Registrar of the University apologizing for the mistake they had made, which had caused so much anguish and heartburn to my sister.

Along with the letter was the new mark sheet in which my sister had secured 58% marks in the original B.Sc. final examination. We couldn’t believe our eyes! It was not a dream. It was… a miracle!

The altar was now opened, cleaned and decorated; apologies and prayers were offered. My sister joined Masters in Sciences.

A couple of months later a young and handsome boy came to my house. He offered his condolences and said that he had gone home on a long leave and hence, could not have my mother’s last darshan. He told me that on a particular night, after the Bengali Community’s Saraswati Puja, my mother had invited him for dinner and while he was eating she had enquired about his family, job, caste, and so on.

He then hesitatingly told me that he liked my sister very much. He also thought that my mother approved of him. Since my father was out of station, he requested me to talk to father and get back to him. He also told me that he knew my husband as he was also working in the same organization.

This was Swami’s reply to the third slip. Now we had only one question, which had the simplest answer - in death, my mother was freed from her takleef (troubles).

The Home Coming

Swami and Me Dr. Moevs
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So much has happened in the last 36 years, 25 of which have gone in yearning and pining for Swami. We tried to come to Puttaparthi so many times, but it didn’t materialize. Since my planned first visit, which got abruptly cancelled and my sister went in my place, I was, in my heart of hearts, cross with Swami. Sometimes I used to cry and tell Him, I won’t come till you call me Yourself.

One day, out of the blue, my friend called me to ask whether I was interested in going to Puttaparthi as a Sevadal. I had no inkling on the qualification of a Sevadal, but I immediately accepted.

In 1997, which was my first visit, whatever I asked for was granted immediately. He heard my prayers even though I was serving kilometers away in the Dietary Department of the Super Specialty Hospital.

When I returned Delhi, I was worried about a home, as my husband was about to retire in the very next month. Owning a house on your own land is not an easy affair in Delhi, it being the capital city of India, but Swami made it possible. When our house was built, I wrote a letter to Swami and prayed, “Swami, please always be with us in ‘Prasanthi’.”

We had named our house thus, and felt Swami’s presence there always. Baba seemed to say, “Tathastu (so be it)!” But with a little modification - Prasanthi became Prasanthi Nilayam. Within the next three years we moved ourselves lock, stock and barrel to His physical presence in Puttaparthi. Baba had promised my dying mother that He will look after us. He is doing just that!

 


Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like more such stories of people who have been touched by His love? Please write to us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.


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Vol 6 Issue 11 - NOVEMBER 2008
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