Volume 8 - Issue 01
JANUARY 2010
Other Articles

SERVING ON THE SHORES OF INFINITY

The enriching story of how Sai drew the Shourie family to His lotus feet and
lovingly shaped them to be exemplary instruments in His Divine Mission

No one can miss her stately presence on the women’s side of the Sai Kulwant Hall, or her controlled demeanor and her sense of calm restraint as she supervises one of the most difficult tasks in the daily schedule of the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar – the seating of the thousands of women devotees at each darshan every single day. Well-known in Sai circles by only her last name, little else is known about this very private person, who prefers to stay in the background. What is her story, how did she come to Bhagavan? What motivates her to report for work with such punctuality and dedication? How does she do it day after day? Does she ever suffer from repeat action fatigue?

In a Heart2Heart exclusive, we bring you a peek into the life and personal philosophy of the attention-shy Mrs. Malika Shourie, the chief lady volunteer in Prasanthi Nilayam, the divine abode of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the undisputed spiritual capital of the world.

Work is the mission of every individual. Renunciation and doing work are not contradictory - they are complementary. By giving up work, you will decline, without the progress derived from activity and the training achieved through it. A real renunciate is one who does not desire one thing or hate another. The word sanyasa (renunciation) when applied to work means to do your role without regard for success or failure, profit or loss, honour or dishonour... and perform each activity as an offering to the Lord. Without work, you will get lost in the darkness of ignorance and be overwhelmed by inertia, dullness! So, better than giving up your work, renounce the fruits of your actions. It yields greater joy and that is the best path!

- Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

During easier weeks, she works only 50 hours at a job that involves supervising the orderly and disciplined seating of thousands of women pilgrims from all over India and the world. On festivals, which occur throughout every calendar month in Prasanthi Nilayam, she works much longer and harder and manages even larger assemblies of women daily.

On extra special occasions such as the birthday celebrations held in the Vidyagiri stadium, the strength of the women devotees soars up to a 100 thousand.  With no such thing as a day off, holidays or weekends in her super-busy 7-days-a-week schedule, she has clocked well over sixty-one thousand hours of hands-on service since the mid 1980s.

So happy to be at His Lotus Feet

He Directs and Executes Everything Himself

The journey of a contented homemaker to a position of such responsibility and commitment sure makes an interesting story. But the publicity-shy, self-effacing and most reluctant interviewee, Mrs. Malika Shourie dismisses it all, attributing everything to Bhagavan Baba’s grace and will. “When He chooses anyone for a task, it is He alone who gets it done through the person. It has absolutely nothing to do with the person involved.

Everything is simply an expression of His will and grace”, she explains nonchalantly, adding, “Nothing else is involved in the experience. How and when He will chose an instrument is entirely up to Him. But once He does so, He works through the person. I give 200% credit to Bhagavan for anything ever done by any instrument of His, including myself.”

From Homemaker to Sai Instrument – Such a Divine Journey

The Blessed Couple... Sai conducts their
spiritual remarriage in February 2005

Today, as she reports for duty each morning and afternoon with the punctuality of an army general, always impeccably turned out to serve the Master she has committed her life to, it’s hard to imagine that early in life, Mrs. Shourie had found great happiness in being a full-time homemaker.

Raised with family values, she was content taking care of her home in New Delhi where the Shourie family resided. Married to a businessman turned homeopathic doctor, late Mr. Gautam Dev Shourie, she was happy in her little world, being a devoted wife and mother of two daughters and a son.

And then the Sai magic happened in their lives. It was 38 years ago, that the family first came into contact with Bhagavan Baba. During Bhagavan’s visit to New Delhi in 1972, Baba stayed at the residence of the late Mr. Sohan Lal at the capital’s Golf Links neighbourhood. It was there that the Shouries had their very first darshan of the celestial being who would become the anchor of their lives shortly after.

She is ever watchful to decode the
slightest Divine gesture and execute
His command

Drawn by His compelling love, they naturally wanted to see more of Him and when someone suggested that they try their luck at the residence of Air Marshal (Retd.) O.P. Mehra which Bhagavan was expected to visit the next day, the Shouries were quick to respond. It was there at the Mehra’s that Lord Sai spoke to their young son Anup and invited him to come over with his parents to Mr. Sohan Lal’s Golf Links residence the following day.

Face-to-Face with God

The Shouries could barely wait for the sun to rise as they looked forward to their very first private audience with Bhagavan. Baba spoke separately to Anup and later to his parents. Within moments, His divine love had made its way into their hearts and the meeting ended on a blissful note, with everyone returning home on a spiritual high.

Inspired by Bhagavan’s call to serve selflessly, with time, Mrs. Shourie stepped beyond the threshold of her household duties to serve as the convener of the women’s wing of the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organization of New Delhi.




Tragic Turning Point: Seeking Solace at His Divine Feet

  The loving Grace of Bhagavan is matched probably only by the sense of absolute surrender of Mrs. Shourie

Even as the family was basking in the warmth of Sai’s boundless love, a huge test was lurking in the side wings of their lives. In 1979, their beloved son, Anup passed away suddenly. He was a perfectly healthy and happy young man.

The untimely tragedy devastated the family. It was during this period of acute pain and grieving that Mrs. Shourie made a flash decision to seek refuge and strength in the comforting Feet of Lord Sai.

Her husband and daughter agreed readily, for they too could not think of a better way to handle the sorrow in their hearts. Without a second thought, in January 1980, the family folded up their well-established lives in Delhi and the Shouries moved south to Prasanthi Nilayam. The rest is history.

Preparing an Instrument for a Lifetime of Commitment

Bhagavan’s love proved to be the balm that helped them to come to terms with their acute loss and rise above the pain. During one of their early interviews, Bhagavan instructed the then ashram in-charge, late Mr. Kutumba Rao to assign some duties to Mrs. Shourie and her young daughter.

She admits, “If work is not there, life is miserable. I enjoy my work because working here is an intense learning process.”

Soon Mrs. Shourie started assisting the late Mrs. Balbir Kaur, a member of the royal family of Punjab who used to serve Bhagavan Baba as the chief volunteer on the women’s side of the ashram.

 
Invoking blessings from the Divine Mother during Varalakshmi puja

Always the one to shun the spotlight and pleased to work quietly from behind the scenes, unknown to the reluctant newcomer, she had signed up for a lifetime commitment that she continues to execute with exemplary dedication, devotion and discipline ever since.

A Life of Selfless Service Begins

With the passing on of Mrs. Balbir Kaur, the mantle of supervising the seating and discipline on the women’s side during darshans and bhajans, twice daily, every single day of the year while Bhagavan Baba is in residence at Prasanthi Nilayam naturally fell on Mrs. Shourie. For about 25 years and counting, she has been overseeing a crowd of anywhere between ten to fifty thousand women awaiting the divine darshan of Bhagavan Baba. And she does this twice a day, all through the week, month, year,decade….

The security volunteers in lemon scarfs are women alumni of the Sai University, the Messengers of Sathya Sai. They form a part of Mrs. Shourie's team ensuring orderly seating

She also supervises and coordinates a number of teams that assist her in crowd control. These include, among others, the sevadal volunteers from every state of India who come on rotation every fortnight, the security girls comprising members of the Messengers of Sathya Sai, and spouses of some of the male staff members at the Sai University.

Every single darshan, Mrs. Shourie remains alert and focused as she ensures the safe, incident-free, prompt and efficient seating of thousands of women devotees, eager to catch a glimpse of, or a chance to interact with the divine being whose Love has drawn them to His ashram.

On a typical day, every morning at 7 a.m. and afternoon at 3 p.m. she has every square inch of the women’s side of the 84,000 square feet of divine real estate that is the Sai Kulwant Hall mapped in her head. As a single point of command, she requires intense focus, calm and patience as she monitors the seating arrangement of various groups of devotees from all parts of India and abroad, batches of students and staff of Bhagavan Baba’s educational institutes, hospital staff, VIPs, and more.

Maintaining discipline and order in this huge hall
every single day is a herculean task

Then there are devotees with special needs, such as patients, the infirm and the elderly, young moms with ailing babies, wheelchair users and ladies who have difficulty sitting on the floor and must be seated on chairs or the benches.

Prasadam distribution for the mammoth concourse of devotees is a frequent feature in Bhagavan’s ashram. With a keen eye for detail, she stands calmly in the middle of all the excitement, directing various teams of volunteers to conduct the distribution of thousands of packages of prasadam or blessed food efficiently, equitably and promptly among the women devotees, a task her team usually accomplishes within minutes.

 
Organizing saree distribution in the prayer hall for lady devotees

During festival times, this happens most days of the week towards the tail end of the evening bhajans. With the precision of a traffic controller, she directs enough supplies in each direction to ensure that the prasadam reaches even those seated at the far end of the Sai Kulwant Hall.

 
Supervising orderly seating during Varalakshmi
Vratham puja
 

Chaperoning women devotees to the verandah of the mandir when they are invited to a personal meeting with Bhagavan Baba is another of her duties which requires her to patiently wait outside the interview room while the devotees’ audience with Bhagavan is in progress.

Sensitive to the poignancy of the experience, she is quick to hold a hand, if needed, as devotees walk back after their moment of a lifetime, usually in an elevated and emotional state.

Through it all, she is ever tuned to even the slightest gesture or command from her Lord, Bhagavan Baba for any instructions regarding matters such as distribution of sarees, special seating and such. Since the ashram celebrates festivals from all cultures and faiths, she also has to accommodate many different requests from various regions and countries visiting Bhagavan Baba with a prayer to present dramas and special programs.

“I start each day as a fresh slate. Every morning, when I leave home to report for duty, all I see is the gate of the Sai Kulwant Hall beckoning me. I don’t look back or ponder over what I leave behind. I keep it simple by living in the moment.  I don’t think any thoughts that will take my focus away from my duty at that moment.”

This is over and above dozens of daily requests for special seating by devotees and patients desperate for that special chance to draw Bhagavan’s attention. So how does she handle it all? Doesn’t repeat action injury ever get to her?

A Lifetime of Discipline

 
Overseeing saree distribution by Bhagavan to overseas devotees

She attributes it all to the values she was raised with and the strict sense of discipline she imbibed from her husband, late Dr. Gautam Dev Shourie. As a result of her association with such a meticulous and organized life partner, she doesn’t believe in thinking, speaking or doing anything that will distract her from the call of duty.

An early riser, she starts her day with prayers before getting herself organized for the busy schedule ahead, one that leaves her with very little time for her personal chores. But she has no complaints whatsoever.

“When I return home after each darshan, I take a moment to introspect and review how I did. Was I respectful towards everyone’s feelings? Could I have been more self-controlled in my actions, or more loving in my words and decision? Did I fold my hands as I said 'Sai Ram’ to everyone, regardless of their social standing? That is the reason why I feel very grateful to the public I serve. It is they who help me to draw upon my inner strengths like patience and force me to be self-introspective."

Instead, she points out that 5 hours of sleep is more than enough at her age, giving her plenty of time to get caught up with all else that is of any importance. In fact, she feels extremely blessed to have the opportunity to serve her Master for the duty He has assigned her. It keeps her so positively engaged, leaving no mental space to brood over the past or worry about the future. She admits, “If work is not there, life is miserable. I enjoy my work because working here is an intense learning process.”

Each Day a New Beginning

 
Always the one who prefers to stay in the background, Mrs. Shourie stands at the far end while Bhagavan Baba interacts with His devotees in the prayer hall

“I start each day as a fresh slate. Every morning, when I leave home to report for duty, all I see is the gate of the Sai Kulwant Hall beckoning me. I don’t look back or ponder over what I leave behind. I keep it simple by living in the moment.  I don’t think any thoughts that will take my focus away from my duty at that moment,” she says.

A worker who likes to give it her all, she is tuned only to the task ahead. “I just like to be in the ‘now and here’ moment, trying my best to ensure that I respond to that moment’s call of duty to the best of my ability,” she adds.

“When I return home after each darshan, I take a moment to introspect and review how I did. Was I respectful towards everyone’s feelings? Could I have been more self-controlled in my actions, or more loving in my words and decision? Did I fold my hands as I said 'Sai Ram’ to everyone, regardless of their social standing? That is the reason why I feel very grateful to the public I serve. It is they who help me to draw upon my inner strengths like patience and force me to be self-introspective.

"My aim is to be good to all. It is only when people speak harshly to us that we think deeply and question ourselves. Could I have acted differently and evoked a more pleasant response from them? Life with Bhagavan is a life long process of growing and transforming,” she admits gratefully.

Committed to Duty, No Matter What

 
Chaperoning the chosen devotees to the
coveted interview room
 
Awaiting the Divine command to lead a group of foreign devotees to the interview room

Reporting for duty without fail or fanfare, how does this septuagenarian accommodate health issues like illnesses, the recent fracture in her foot, aches and pain in light of the grueling and relentless schedule she maintains? She dismisses it all by saying “Since duty is important to me, I keep my mind on the positive and ignore any distractions. What has ill health, aches and pains got to do with reporting for duty on time? Body is bound to have its ups and downs” she says.

"If you want to live a smooth life, see only the good qualities in
everyone, and there are plenty in each person."

Pointing to the personal example of Bhagavan Baba, she is full of utter respect for His lifelong commitment to His devotees despite the setbacks to His physical health. “Bhagavan continues His mission, no matter what. Does He ever stop in answering the prayers of His devotees or coming for darshan and filling all our hearts with divine love and grace?” she questions.

Ladies Day November 19, 2009 – joining the procession at Bhagavan’s command

Personal Roadmap to a Meaningful Life

Over the years, listening to His divine discourses, she has found an ideal road map to a meaningful life. Today, forty years of her association with Sai have yielded some clear pointers that define her work culture. These include:

If you love Him, follow His teachings
Be grateful for the opportunity to serve
If you want to live a smooth life, see only the good qualities in
everyone, and there are plenty in each person

Don’t compare individuals, everyone is unique and special
Never make a castor oil face, always be pleasant
You cannot always oblige, but you can always speak obligingly
It is the public that teaches us to draw upon our inner strengths like
patience. Always remain beholden to them.

Never expect praise or rewards for your efforts
If others find fault with you, be grateful for it forces you to take a
moment to self-audit

Overcome personal loss and tragedies by seeking strength
from Bhagavan

Accept all changes in life with calm fortitude since everyone has to
be on their own in the end

These mantras guide her through the challenges she faces organizing the disciplined seating of Bhagavan’s women devotees, day in and day out. Despite the pressure on every square inch of prime space in the darshan hall, Mrs. Shourie believes in never saying no to any seating request and tries her best to accommodate as many demands as possible.

Divine Privileges on the Couple

Despite being a very private person who does not like to mix her personal life with her always-in-the-public-eye role, her dedication and one-pointed focus is not lost on the Lord she serves. Knowing both her future destiny as well as the high respect she had for her husband, Bhagavan Baba filled the cup of her joy till it overflowed during the period before the passing on of her husband. In quick succession, within a span of 2 years, He blessed Mr. & Mrs. Shourie as a couple, with a series of magnificent privileges.

On the occasion of Bheema Ratha Santhi Mahotsavam in 2005
when Swami performed their spiritual remarriage in the grand Sai Kulwant Hall

In the year 2005, Bhagavan selected Mr. Gautam Dev and Mrs. Mallika Shourie among the few select elderly couples to be seated on the stage besides Bhagavan as He conducted their spiritual re-marriage on 10th February as a part of the Bheema Rath Shanthi ceremony. A total of 275 couples were blessed during the ceremony.

Sai blesses Late Mr. Gautam Dev Shourie and Mrs. Malika Shourie on 10th February, 2005. The Shourie’s were among the 275 elderly couples to have their marriage vows renewed along the spiritual path during the Bheema Ratha Shanthi ceremony, organized by Bhagavan Baba.

Again, the year 2007 saw the omniscient Lord bless the Shouries profusely as a couple. First on May 26, He took them as a part of His divine entourage on the trip to His summer residence in Kodaikanal, a hill station in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.  Aboard the chartered plane, Baba personally allocated them seats diagonally across the aisle from His.

“First of all, I am so grateful to be a simple instrument. It is He alone who gets the work done through me. Secondly, how can I ever thank Him enough for blessing me with such a committed family of daughters (fellow volunteers) who work with me; they are my eyes
and my hands."

The flight proved unforgettable for they were directly in Bhagavan’s line of perception and had the Lord smiling at them with overwhelming love. Later, completed blissed out by His love, tender care and hospitality, Mrs. Shourie told a smiling Swami, “Bhagavan we are both very happy. It is no less than being in Vaikunth or heaven with You.”

Airborne with the Lord - Mrs. Mallika Shourie and husband Late Dr. Gautam Dev Shourie on board the divine flight to Kodaikanal on May 26, 2007. Bhagavan chose them as part of a select group of devotees to accompany Him to the hill resort. During the flight, the couple sat diagonally across the aisle from Bhagavan. The memories of Bhagavan smiling at them, ensuring their comfort and happiness throughout the flight are still fresh in Mrs. Shourie’s mind. The trip filled the Shouries with such intense bliss that Mrs. Shourie admitted to a smiling Swami: “Bhagavan we are both very happy. It is no less than being in Vaikunth or heaven with You.”

Six months later, the Shouries were again among the six hand-picked couples privileged to anoint scented oil in His hair on November 23, 2007, on the occasion of the 82nd year of the divine advent. Bhagavan had revived this ancient tradition after decades just for once and the Shouries were blessed to participate in it. Recalling that treasured moment, Mrs. Shourie says she was touched at how Bhagavan graciously lowered His head to allow them to apply the scented oil in His hair with a flower.

Anointing the Divine Halo of Hair- What a unique privilege!

Today, in hindsight, Mrs. Shourie is moved by Bhagavan Baba’s thoughtfulness and love that He bestowed on her while her life partner was still around. The blessings seem that much more meaningful in the present day.

The Shouries were among the six hand-picked couples privileged to anoint scented oil in His hair on November 23, 2007, on the occasion of the 82nd year of the divine advent. Recalling that treasured moment, Mrs. Shourie is moved at how Bhagavan graciously lowered His head to facilitate applying of oil with a flower dipped in it.


 

The hair anointing, being part of the divine entourage on the Kodai trip and the spiritual re-marriage were some of the gifts of divine grace that the Shouries received in quick succession. In hindsight, Mrs. Shourie feels that the all-knowing Sai knew that her husband’s final merger with the Lord was imminent. Hence He filled their cup of joy till it overflowed with so many tokens of divine grace.

It’s a Family Affair – Working in Unity with Fellow Volunteers

For someone approaching the big 80 mark in her life, she refuses to make a big deal about her packed routine, that many younger people may find very stressful. Instead, she gives full credit to Bhagavan Baba for bestowing her with two very special divine gifts. “First of all, I am so grateful to be a simple instrument. It is He alone who gets the work done through me. Secondly, how can I ever thank Him enough for blessing me with such a committed family of daughters (fellow volunteers) who work with me; they are my eyes and my hands.

"Bhagavan’s mission is fulfilled only through His own divine will. He is the one who plans, executes and succeeds at everything. Nobody else has anything to do with it. I am nothing, simply a nobody, an empty zero."

 
Always alert to His Divine Command

"They are just like my own children, full of love. They respect me like their own mother. We all work together and complement each others’ efforts. No one person can execute this duty. Only by working in unison as one family headed by Bhagavan Baba can we handle each day’s seating and discipline.

"It is the high caliber and hard work of my daughters that drives the work. That is why Bhagavan has blessed the group with the spirit of love and unity and most importantly, full commitment and devotion to His lotus feet.

"Every member understands completely that we are all zeroes and Bhagavan is the only hero who lends value to our lives. All of us give full credit to Bhagavan, the head of our family for the tasks He accomplishes through us and are most grateful to Him for giving us this chance.”

Takes No Chances, Seeks Divine Grace, Daily

 
On the Ladies Day every year, Mrs. Shourie along with
Mrs. Ratanlal lead the procession and
request the Lord to light the lamp
 

Never the one to take chances, even after 25 years of experience at it, Mrs. Shourie still prays before every function to her divine Lord Sai, surrendering to Him so that He may get the work done properly through her. “Therefore, I can’t say it enough that the full acclaim for everything goes only to Lord Sai.

"Bhagavan’s mission is fulfilled only through His own divine will. He is the one who plans, executes and succeeds at everything. Nobody else has anything to do with it. I am nothing, simply a nobody, an empty zero.

"He is the divine power that expresses itself through each of us. It is His divine energy and guidance that plays out as each of us tries to perform our duty as an offering to Him.”

Through the routine tasks and the high moments, to the exciting high of receiving the signal that indicates Bhagavan’s imminent arrival for darshan, she lives each moment, taking away what she describes as her most valuable lesson – acceptance. To her, acceptance marks the spirit of embracing life one Sai moment at a time. Her work is her sacred offering at the Lotus feet of her Divine Lord Sai, and nothing but the purest and most sincere effort, free of any trace of ego is worthy of being placed at His holy altar.

 
Committed to serving His mission, hand-in-hand

With her daily practices, the chosen divine instrument Mrs. Malika Shourie, redefines the very concept of volunteerism, as the highest possible devotion to duty while attributing all sense of doership to her personal God, Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

“Action or karma is natural to human beings. The distinction between Karma and Karma Yoga should be clearly understood. Actions performed selfishly with egoism and desire for reward is Karma that binds. Actions done unselfishly, without ego and any expectation of reward, become Karma Yoga. … Every person's life is filled with actions. But together with activities associated with self-interest, every person should also take part in service activities. Every seeker’s primary aim should be to devote themselves to selfless activities. Human beings have been endowed with the human bodies for rendering service to others. Through service to others, divinity can be experienced.”

-  Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume 23, Chapter 30

- Heart2Heart Team

What are your impressions about this article? Would you like more such stories about exemplary personalities serving in various Sai missions? Please share your feedback by writing to [email protected] Do not forget to mention your name and country.

 

 

Go to Radio Sai
Go to Publications Division Sri Sathya Sai Sadhana Trust
Go to Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust
counter for wordpress