Volume 8 - Issue 07
JULY 2010
Other Articles

EMBEDDING SAI IN MY HEART

By Mr. Sanjeev Abbi


An alumnus of Sri Sathya Sai University, Mr. Sanjeev Abbi graduated in 1990 after completing his Masters in Business Administration. Soon after this, he moved into the corporate world and worked in several business sectors spanning FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods), Services, Media and Electronics for over 19 years. He is currently the Deputy General Manager, Marketing, Neptune India Limited, a company based in Noida, India.

Radio Sai had the opportunity of interviewing Sanjeev in January 2010 as part of its “Fleeting Moments... Lasting Memories” series. This article is an adapted transcript of the first part of this conversation.

audio


I am one of those fortunate individuals who have had the privilege of studying in Bhagavan's divine university. And I am truly indebted to Swami for those priceless years of my life, which I spent in the proximity of His Lotus feet.

Anandmai - The Blessing of Sai Bliss

 
Mr. Sanjeev Abbi with his Divine Master

My journey towards Bhagavan began even as a little boy, way back in 1975. My mother was then to undergo an operation. As she was wheeled into the operation theatre, the doctor left the stretcher out for a minute to go in and check if everything was ready.

In those moments of solitude, my mother closed her eyes, when someone came and whispered in her ears, ‘Anandamai’. She instantly looked to see who the person was but couldn't find anyone. Dismissing the event as a dream, she forgot all about it.

Meanwhile, the operation was successful, and mother was brought home. The doctors had advised her strict bed rest for three months. During that period, my mother came in touch with a family who were Swami's devotees. The lady of that family gave her a book on spirituality, to read during her long hours of confinement.

One day, my mother decided to leaf through that book “Sathya Sai Speaks, Volume 1”. As she opened, on the first page were the words, "Anandamai”. Under the word, the meaning given was: “To clear the doubts and fear of the person.” After reading the book midway, when my mother went to the introduction again, that word along with its meaning had somehow disappeared! It was a revelation. Slowly, my mother, father and sister were drawn into Swami's fold. This was Bhagawan’s way of indicating that He has always been with us, but due to our limitations, we, as human beings, fail to recognize this truth.

My Reluctant Rendezvous with Spirtuality and Sai

I was then a small, rebellious kid, nine winters’ old. No doubt, I was enamoured by Swami’s physical appearance – His head, the halo of hair, the gentle gait and the orange robe. But that was all.

My mother would force me to go to the Balvikas classes. But I would attend them only once in a month, and skip the other classes by standing outside the bus stand, waiting for the bus to go, and then return home to my mother and say, “I missed the bus; I couldn't make it!" However, over the years, I had a feeling that maybe I was missing something by doing this. Dramatics and public speaking, in particular, were a big attraction for me to attend Balvikas. Soon enough, I was a regular to these classes, and went on to attend the Pre-sevadal as well.

 
This is the Puttaparthi of the late seventies and eighties -
The darshan ground was a sea of sand filled with Divine footprints

In 1978 I came to Prasanthi Nilayam for the first time. The picture of Baba’s ashram of yore is still very clear in my mind. There were about six to seven stalls, including a Joy ice-cream parlour, facing the Poorna Chandra Auditorium.

Toward the right side of the mandir were a couple of flats, barring which the whole place bore a deserted look. On the left of the mandir were the West blocks - West-1, 2 and 3 - and the canteen. And there was sand and nothing else. 

Those were the only structures I had seen and I remember reproaching my parents, “You were talking a great deal about the Sai organization and about the ashram; but this is one place I would not like to be in for the rest of my life". 

(Exactly 12 years later, when I had completed my MBA, quite contrary to what I was thinking in 1978, my inner self was not willing to leave Puttaparthi! However, I had no choice.)

I was unaccustomed to the ashram routine as well, and found fault with everything – of having to wake up early, and wait long hours for darshan. And when Swami came out, I brought my palms together in pranam (a gesture of salutation), only because the other devotees were according Him respect. For myself, I did not feel greatly attracted or devoted towards Him. Nevertheless, I definitely revered Him, having been brought up in a traditional and religious family where you always respected elders and holy men. Also I continued being part of the Balvikas for the reason that it was a good platform for me to hone my talents than anything else.

Touched by His Love and Grace in Play


My next trip to Puttaparthi was in October 1981, when I came as a part of the Balvikas group from Delhi. We had been asked to put up a play in Prasanthi Nilayam. Now, there is an age limit for children in Balvikas. Till the age of 12, a child is a part of Balvikas, after which he/she moves into the Pre-sevadal.

But this was unknown to us then in Delhi. There were children as old as 14-15 years, who were a part of the senior Balvikas. And we came to Puttaparthi, prepared with five plays each depicting the five pillars of human life that Swami was emphasizing ever so often in His discourses -  Sathya, Dharma, Shanthi, Prema and Ahimsa. And I was playing the role of Vishwamitra in one of the plays.

  Sai
Bhagavan always takes keen interest in the presentation of the plays by Sai children and this photo is a representative sample, even though it does not belong to the anecdote the author has described

Convention had it that in those days whenever a play was to be staged in Prasanthi, the participants would rehearse the night before wherein Swami would come and suggest changes to the play in terms of acting/make-up/dialogues, etc. So it was with our drama too. We staged a complete rehearsal the night before, in joyous anticipation of the Lord. But Swami did not turn up at all.

We were all taken aback. “What was wrong? Why had Swami not come to see the practice? Is He not happy? Have we displeased Him?” we wondered. 

But there was nothing much we could do but to keep our fingers crossed and pray with all our might. The next day just 5 minutes before the performance, Swami walked in. It was the first time I saw Swami up close. Bhagavan looked at all of us and then spoke to the Balvikas convenor, “These big boys are not Balvikas children; they are Pre-sevadal. If I had come yesterday, I’d have cancelled your play on this ground. That's why I have come now to give you My blessings so that you can go ahead with the play." 

 

Then, Swami looked at me and said, "In history, we never had a young Vishwamitra; we always had an old sage.” Bhagavan also recommended a few changes to three other characters in the play. No sooner had Swami left, than we fine-tuned our getup as per His feedback. Our convenor smeared lots of powder on our hairdos so that we appeared ‘old’ and ‘grey’. Then we went on to stage our play in the Poornachandra Auditorium. It was well appreciated.

The next day, Swami called us, the Balvikas children who participated in the play. As we sat there, Bhagavan personally gave every one of us Vibhuti packets, and blessed all of us, saying “Very good”. 

It was truly a memorable trip and at the end of it I was drawn to Him. I don’t know what exactly fascinated me about Swami whether it was His mystical appearance, His sweet words, His loving gesture to ensure that our play is not cancelled or the fact that out of so many children He chose to speak to me and remark about my costume. Whatever it may be, I had begun to love Him.

Sai Safeguards and Instills Faith in Me

After this visit, I started wearing Swami's ring as a mark of my faith in Him. My friends in school made fun of me. "Tere Baba Kaise Hain? (How is your Baba?),” they would ask. And I would turn the ring the other way round to deflect the jeers and taunts.

But my mother would constantly tell me, "Let people say whatever they like; you believe in Him. Continue to have faith." After sixteen months, my classmates stopped teasing me when they realized that nothing they would say would deter me from my chosen path. I had decided to worship Sai Baba, and stick on to Him for the rest of my life. Faith in Swami became steadfast with an incident that happened during my growing years.

I had borrowed an audio cassette from a friend of mine. While I was playing this the ribbon of the tape broke. I was very scared. I prayed earnestly to Swami almost the whole of that night to help me. The next morning the first thing I did was to go to my cupboard and take this cassette out from under my shirts. Unbelievably, the cassette’s tape ribbon was intact! I just thanked Swami profusely.

Then in 1983, I wrote my 10th Board exams. I remember I did not fare well in that test. Naturally, my father was very angry and forbade me totally from extra-curricular activities.  

 
Sai
 
The dream of such an opportunity thrilled the author
and her mother, but what did actually happen?
Read the account on the left

An Invaluable Opportunity Unfolds

That was the year when there was a State level Balvikas competition in Delhi in music, Bhajan singing and elocution. I participated in the elocution competition and stood first. Then came a message from Puttaparthi that whoever stood first in elocution would be given a chance to speak in front of Swami! I was overjoyed. My mother was thrilled as well, and put in a word to my father on my behalf. But he was opposed to the whole idea and did not relent. My Balvikas gurus came to convince my father, but he was adamant.

I was at my wit’s end; I did not know what to do. But my gurus who did not want me to let go of the precious opportunity encouraged me a good deal. So, my speech was prepared and my Guru booked my ticket without telling my father.

When there was one day left for departure, I implored my father one last time. And with everyone calling him every so often, my father at last said, “See, you are to leave tomorrow. I allow you to go. But you don't have a ticket!" My Balvikas guru promptly jumped to my rescue saying, “Don’t worry, sir. We’ve booked the ticket for him." And so it was that I came to Puttaparthi again in 1983. This often reasserts to me that it is Bhagavan who wills and decides who, when and for how long can one stay in Puttaparthi.

The Unforgettable Encounter


I was asked to go to the institute auditorium where I had to give a speech on my Balvikas experience. When I reached there, it was 9:00 a.m. I was quite early; the programme which included speeches by at least 5-6 participants was to start almost an hour later. Actually when I reached there I was the only participant present; the audience had not arrived. There were only a few sevadal volunteers busy making the place ready for the event.

I looked at Swami's photograph. Then, on an impulse, I turned to my left, for I felt someone was looking at me. Wonder of wonders, I saw Swami standing in front of me! I did not know how to react.

Fear gripped me instead. I closed my eyes and started chanting, "Sairam, Sairam" until, five minutes later, Swami went away. Today, in retrospect, I feel bad that I had not gone up to Swami, kissed His feet and taken His blessings. Nevertheless, I felt a great relief that time and gave my speech once the program commenced at about 10 a.m. It was well received. When I look back now I feel this incident is very symbolic of Swami’s presence in my life as I feel His presence always around me. As He says, “I am in you, around you, below you, above you, beside you, in you.”

And this time, when I returned to Delhi, I was missing Puttaparthi!

Come 1985, I wrote my 12th board exams. I was an average student and didn’t fare well this time either in exams.

Entering into His College’s Portals... His Priceless Presence


I then started looking for colleges where I could do a B.Com followed by an M.B.A. It was now that my aunt came with a wonderful suggestion, “Why don’t you apply in Swami’s college?”

So, I filled up the application form and came to Puttaparthi with my mother during summer. It was the fag end of May. Generally, Swami would be in Brindavan during the months of May-June. Luckily for me, when I came to write the entrance exam, Bhagavan was in Puttaparthi.

Sai  
Why do students run and clamour to sit in vantage areas?
This is what puzzled the author when he
joined Swami's college
 

That year, it was His 60th birthday. 60 students were selected for the first year course in B.Com. I was one among those lucky sixty!

Stepping into the portals of Bhagavan’s institution, I embraced a new life and routine; a schedule which bewildered me, at least initially. For instance, when we would go to the mandir for Swami’s darshan, I’d see the students running. And I’d think, “Why are they running?" I soon came to learn that the rush and bustle was for the prized first seats, which gave its occupants the priceless opportunity of Divine conversation.  

Three or four months of my stay in Puttaparthi, and I had not yet had the fortune of interacting with the Lord. This led me to a deep introspection: “Why is Swami not talking to me? Why doesn’t He look at me? Why does He take the other person’s letter and not mine? Perhaps, there is something wrong in me; maybe I should change and start improving myself."

Days passed, even as all these thoughts constantly nagged me. 

He Speaks and I am Mesmerized

It was a warm Sunday morning in the month of October. As we students were practising for the 60th birthday celebrations, Swami came to the Hill View stadium. Just then, someone told me, “Brother, you will be in trouble today".

I asked, "Why?"

 
Sai
 

He said, "You are wearing jeans and T-shirt and Swami doesn't like that.”

I was aghast. “Ab main kya karunga? (What do I do now?),” I thought to myself. But it was too late. Swami had already entered the Hill View stadium. As He took His seat on the chair, we students surrounded Him.

I was in the first row and I started inching backwards thinking that Swami should not see me; I was scared that He would scold me.

Just when I thought I had eluded the Omniscient Lord, Swami looked at me and asked, "Kahaan se aaya (Where do you come from)?”

In awe and fright, I kept quiet, even as the other students prompted, “Swami is asking you, ‘Where do you come from?’"

I said, "Swami, I come from Delhi."

Swami then said, "Haan, Delhi se aaya. Pataa, pataa (Yes, you come from Delhi. I know, I know!).” 

I was ecstatic. Swami had spoken to me for the first time after I joined His college. I remember how I was running throughout that day, engaging in whatever seva I could do in the hostel. Such was my uncontainable joy. I knew for sure that Swami is omniscient; He knows our innermost thoughts and nothing can ever escape His eye. My faith in Him strengthened.

A Sincere Prayer and a Fulfilling Answer  

In 1985, as a part of the Birthday celebrations, the students prepared for a drama. I was very keen to be a part of the play. But the list of the participants was already selected by Swami.

I was told, “Sanjeev, you can't do much. Perhaps, you can stay back in the winter vacation and help around.”

 

So I stayed back at Puttaparthi during my first winter break. There were three of us, who took upon the task of painting the interiors of the planetarium. It was a memorable vacation for we enjoyed Swami’s darshan and proximity in the mornings and evenings.

Along with another student, I also took upon the task of taking milk for the drama boys in the night. For over three weeks, we carried cans of milk for these participants who were practising in the Institute. I vividly remember Swami coming there every Sunday to see the rehearsals in progress. During these sessions, the two of us would hide behind the chairs, out of Swami’s sight, yet peep intermittently to see the way Swami would correct dialogue delivery by performing it Himself. So, we were fortunate to catch glimpses of the Avatar enacting as well, something which I had never before seen in my life.

Swami would attend the practice sessions of both the Telugu drama and also the English play. And the moment Swami would turn to make a move, we would all go running down to wait upon Him. He would lovingly glance at all of us. A look from Him would make our day.  There were occassions when I did get a chance to speak to Swami. My only prayer was: “Swami, please do give me any role in the English play.” Bhagavan would look at me, smile and walk away or gently motion for me to sit down.

Just three days before Swami’s birthday, Swami said, "This drama looks very artificial; something is missing. Why don't we have three or four students of our college who will just walk up and down to give an authentic feel to the first scene?”

(The opening scene of the drama showed an institute with the students studying and immersed in their work) 

Immediately, the seniors in the play called the two of us, the brother and I, who would come every day with the milk cans. They said, "We will take both of you in the play. You will have to just walk up and down the stage." 

We were overjoyed. We said, "Even if you just make us stand like statues, we are willing to do it." And so, we became a part of the play, joining practice in the last three days.

Swami had responded to my innermost desire in His own inimitable way. The play, needless to say, was a big success. And, at the end of it, Swami blessed us all with padanamaskar (the blessing of touching His lotus feet)and a silver glass. Even today, whenever we have bhajans in our house, we fill this silver glass with water, sometimes even coconut water, and keep it next to Swami's chair. And, at the end of the bhajans, we serve it to the devotees assembled as prasadam (sanctified food).

Lighter Moments... Everlasting Memories


A year went by. It was the summer vacation of 1986. I was the last one to leave the hostel and the first one to return. Indeed, I was reluctant to spend time away from Puttaparthi. My parents were very supportive as well. They said, “You do whatever you want to do. You are under Swami’s fold, we have nothing to worry." 

 
Sai

When college reopened after the vacations, we requested Swami many a times to visit our hostel. "Swami! Please come to the hostel," we would plead together. 

Bhagavan would ask, "Mujhe kya khilayega (What are you going to serve Me)?”

We’d reply, "Swami, whatever You want." 

Swami would then mischievously ask, "Fish khilayega? (Will you serve Me fish?)”

No answer.

Swami would smile and say, "Fish khilayega tho main aatha hai (If you serve Me fish, I will come).”

Our faces would just beam, but we would keep quiet.

(Later on it dawned to me that maybe Swami wanted us all to be selfless and give up the garb of sel‘fish’ness which engulfs us most of the time).

Well, that was how He used to joke with us. He was like a sweet friend; we loved to surround Him and get as much time as possible with Him. There were times when Swami would make you feel on top of the world and the very next minute bring you down to earth! Like a good doctor, He knows which medicine to give at what time so that the health of the patient is in proper balance.

Once, Swami said, Papam (how piteous)! You boys do lot of work and also have to go to college. So, I will come on a Sunday. On Saturday night, you can prepare for My visit to the hostel."

We were so thrilled that Swami was coming to hostel. But the next day, Bhagavan sent word through the warden saying that He was not coming.

This had happened several times. Each time, when Swami would disappoint us, we would all sit together and strategize as to how to corner Swami and begin our entreaties anew. But that day, Bhagavan would, on purpose, take a different route for darshan and avoid us all conveniently. We’d later line up inside the Mandir for bhajans, and Swami would have a naughty smile for us as if to say, "See, I hoodwinked you. I was smarter than you all!" 

But then, many a times, the Merciful Lord would listen to our prayers and come to the hostel. I remember His visit when, for the first time, we had a jhoola (swing) for Him. We had a ground, between the kitchen and the warden's office, which was filled with sand. Nearby was a tree under which there was a statue of Lord Krishna. And Swami’s jhoola was placed there.

Swami came to the hostel and sat on this decoarted swing. And all of us students got a chance for two-three minutes each, to gently rock this jhoola from behind with Swami seated on it. Some of us even had the great good fortune of having dinner with Swami. Privileged with these sweetly personal interactions with the Lord that I realized the truth of Swami’s statement – “I am a Child among Children”. He was verily one amongst us.

His Love Envelopes Us... Forever

Sai  
"I may be out of His sight now but definitely
not out of His mind" - Sanjeev, as he recalls his precious moments
 

As students, we were indeed blessed with rare glimpses of the Lord. And I can only thank my seniors who would tell me, “You must pen down your day-to-day experiences with Swami because it will stand you in good stead.” Even today, whenever I feel low, I go through my journal that records my innumerable experiences with the Lord during my student days. Invariably, mere reading of these intimate encounters uplifts my spirits, for I feel His reassuring hand that soothes and comforts, and I simply know, ‘I may be out of His sight, but definitely not out of His mind’. Truly, Bhagavan is always there with me.

I always think of the song “Footprints in the Sands” wherein a man sees the various stages of his life on earth. All along, he notices two sets of footprints, one of God and the other of him. However, during a particular period, he observes only one set of footprints. So he looks at God and asks, “O Lord, you were there with me during my entire lifetime, however at a time when I needed you the most, there is only one set of footprints. Why did you abondon me during those trying periods of my life?” God lovingly looks at the man and says, “Dear one, you see only one set of footprints because during those difficult periods of your life, I carried you on my arms to protect and comfort you, my child.”

This is an experience which each one of us can relate to. Whether we realise it or not, God is with us all the time and my stay at the divine lotus feet during the crucial teenage years of my life has only served to establish this feeling deeply within me.

 

Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like more such stories from devotees 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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