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Posted on : Dec 4, 2011
BEWITCHED BY HIS LOVE
An enthralling conversation with Mrs. Prema Bose
Obeying Him Becomes a Win-Win Life Formula
Prema Bose (PB): Whatever it was that Swami asked us to do, we quite implicitly obeyed Him; we didn’t question. Like the first time we came to Puttaparthi and He asked us to stay, we just stayed. It happened on another occasion too. That time, I had a piano exam in Delhi, for which the examiners come from England and that too, only once a year. My mother asked me, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Swami has asked us to stay. We’ll stay. I’ll take the exam next year.” And so, we remained in Puttaparthi. On our way back home, a lady on the train told us that the piano exam has been postponed to the next month!
We didn’t ever suffer from having listened to Swami.
Radio Sai (RS): If anything, you gained.
PB: Definitely, because we gained time with Him and also gained very valuable life lessons. Because those days, that’s how He taught us, by examples of what we were doing then and there. He was guiding us every moment.
Talking about miracles, another one that He showed our family was when He came to Delhi in 1961. My uncle and his wife had come to help my mother; my aunt was a very good cook and so my mother had invited her to come and cook for Swami. Their little daughter had a congenital heart problem, but they didn’t ask Swami anything about it. On the last day of His stay, Swami asked for my aunt. “She’s been in the kitchen all the time and I have not seen her. Ask her to come,” He said.
When my mother told my aunt, she said, “How can I go in front of Swami like this? I’m sweating and I look so terrible now.” But my mother convinced her, and brought her and my uncle to see Swami.
Baba told them, “You are very concerned about your daughter as she has this heart problem. Don’t worry.” He then brought out from thin air some pills, gave it to my uncle and said, “Give this to her. She will be better”.
Now my uncle was a person with a scientific mind, like the rest of us. So when he came back to Madras (now known as Chennai), he actually had one of the pills tested in a lab. They found that the pill was like the latest medication for this particular problem, and she did take it and now she is a grown adult, completely cured and has never had any problems ever since.
There were many cures that He has done for us - like when I was suffering from very bad stomach aches, which turned out to be amoebic dysentery, He gave me this thayithu..
RS: Like a talisman?
PB: Yes, a talisman which you put in a tiny cylindrical gold box and wear around your neck. I used to have it on me all the time. He had also given different members of our family dollars meant for protection. And it has in fact protected some of them. My nephew once had an accident, and the dollar given by Swami was caught in it but he was safe.
At the Top, All is One
RS: By dollar you mean a locket or a pendant?
PB: Yes. We used to call it a dollar. In fact when my nephew was leaving for Delhi, Swami asked him, “Have I given you anything to protect you?” He said, “Yes Swami, you’ve given me this dollar.” Swami knew what was going to happen and He’s been extending His protection to us for such a long time that it’s been just wonderful.
He always knew my mother was not drawn to rituals and worship, yet she had this hunger for spirituality. So on one of our trips, He took us to Bangalore where He introduced us to a devotee of His from South America by name Mamita. She had been coming to Swami for some time. This person was also an ardent devotee of Ramakrishna, and she knew Swami Ranganathananda, the head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Delhi at that time.
Swami told Mamita, “You tell Kamala Sarathy about the Ramakrishna Mission and give her a letter of introduction to Swami Ranganathananda.” So she did, and when my mother got back to Delhi, she went to the Ramakrishna Mission and met Swami Ranganathananda. And we all were so fascinated by and drawn to the Vedanta philosophy that was taught there. Swami knew that she needed that satsang and so He sent her to the Ramakrishna Mission. This is the universality of Swami. He didn’t say, “You have to sit here and do pooja to Me.” But He sent her to where she would grow spiritually.
In fact all of us as children would go to these lectures; soon we got involved in the Ramakrishna ashram and participated in their service activities. At that time there were no Sathya Sai service groups. But we did service through the Ramakrishna Mission; He got us started that way.
And in fact, Swami Ranganathananda had great respect for Bhagavan Baba. And one time when he had come to attend a conference of the Ramakrishna Mission in Madras, he met Bhagawan who was also in Madras at that time.
He is no more now, but he was the head of the Ramakrishna Mission for many years. He was a wonderful person.
|Swami Ranganathananda (left) and the Ramakrishna Math in Delhi|
RS: It’s very nice to know that at that level, there is such a deep connection. Although people tend to compartmentalize spirituality, at the highest level, all is one.
PB: All is one.
RS: And great masters are aware of that.
PB: Exactly! And all through my mother’s life, she was involved with the Ramakrishna Mission and Swami, and both sides knew she went to both and nobody had any problems with it.
Sai as Personal Life Coach
RS: Since you had such access to Bhagawan and enjoyed a loving, friendly relationship with Him as your personal God and guide, did you seek His advice in matters related to personal decision making?
PB: Yes, we did. And when we did not, He gave it to us Himself. Both ways He guided us. When I was getting ready to go to college, I was thinking I would probably be a doctor. One day Swami asked me, “What are you going to do?” and I said, “I don't know Swami, I was thinking of being a doctor.” Then He said, “No, go into nursing.”
And so I said very happily, “Okay! I’ll go into nursing.” I didn’t think anything about it; Swami has said, so I’m doing it.
When I came back to Delhi I realised that just 2 years before that, the University of Delhi had opened a B.Sc. Program for Nursing. The college was just around the corner from our house. So I told my dad, who was not so much of a believer in Swami, and he said, “How can you go for nursing?” Girls from good families didn’t go into nursing then.
He said, “You should go and be a doctor. If you go into nursing, I shall disinherit you.” I laughed at him and I said, “Look, I have nothing to inherit really,” because we really didn’t have any wealth or anything.
I told him, “I’m going to do what Swami has said,” and I went into nursing. I have to tell you, after that, my father was my biggest supporter in my profession, in nursing, education and everything.
RS: And how did that change of heart take place?
PB: Maybe he saw what was happening and maybe, through Swami also. But he was a very generous man in spirit and life. With time he realized that this was a profession that was good for me. So he was very happy with that.
Swami guided us in some other matters also. When my sister got engaged to a boy from a very traditional South Indian family, my mother had to go down and negotiate with the other family for the wedding. Now this is a big thing in traditional marriages and she really didn’t know how to go about it.
So we came to Swami before that and He made her sit and told her, “I’m going to give you some advice. First of all, remember that your husband has taken this money out of his pension fund.” It must have been Rs. 10,000 or so, which in those days was a lot.
He continued, “You must not spend one penny more than what he has given you. You must make sure that all the expenses are managed within that money.” And the next thing He said was, “You can go and negotiate with your daughter's future mother-in-law; you may have arguments. But at the end of the day, never leave with bad feelings. Always make up and part with good feelings. Then start the negotiations again the next day.”
The last thing He said was: “As soon as the wedding is finished, leave Leela (my sister) with that family and all of you come to Puttaparthi.” My mother followed all those instructions.
When you look at it, these are instructions for life… that people should not exceed their income; when you’re dealing with people, when you do negotiations, you never leave with hard feelings, you always make up and then part. So these are little life situations. Even the instruction that we should come to Puttaparthi immediately after the wedding - He knew that if we hung around, Leela would have a hard time settling in with the new family, because they were so different from us. That is probably why He said just drop her like a hot potato and you all come here. And my mother did exactly what He told her to.
RS: Even if it was a hard choice?
PB: It was very hard negotiating, because for instance they wanted silver vessels which nobody ever uses, and my mother knew that she couldn’t afford it. But then, one of the sisters of this person was a very good friend of my mother through the Ramakrishna Mission.
So she said, “Oh! You only want the silver vessels so that people will see it. I’ll bring all my silver vessels and put it on the table for people to see.”
Again, Rani Maa, helped her with all the negotiation and her family helped with the catering. So Swami helped her do this wedding, because my father was still in Delhi. And the only thing he told her was, “I don’t care what you do with the money, but the food has to be excellent.”
And Swami too gave her exact instructions to follow, which she did to the last word, and came back. In all matters big or small, Swami always gave us advise. And every time we had problems, even when in Delhi, be it in any matter, we would write or send a telegram to Kasturi Mama (Professor N. Kasturi, the biographer of Bhagawan Baba) whom we were very close to.
Once my nephew had to have a major abdominal operation as a three months old baby. We wrote to Swami and Baba sent back the message: “No, he’ll be all right.” And he told my mother to go and be with the baby. So, He directed us in every little thing. I mean, I can’t even remember all the things that He did say for us to do, but He did keep directing us.
|The General Hospital in Puttaparthi|
In fact after I finished my nursing, I was teaching. He had opened this first general hospital here and for the inauguration, He asked me to come and set up the whole outpatient unit and the entire place. So I came and spent a few days and organised it. He had the Governor of Andhra Pradesh also come. Then He asked me, “Can you stay a few days?” I told, “Swami, I have to go back. I’ve just taken leave for these many days.” He was so gracious. He sent me in His car with an escort to the airport so that I could get back in time.
RS: For most of us, it just sounds like a fairy tale, actually, that He was so involved in your daily decision making – Don’t spend over Rs. 10,000; live within your means; negotiate hard but in good spirit and let go. So many lessons there.
PB: Yes, that’s right. My mother was very fond of music and Swami encouraged it very much, so He made sure that she learned all the bhajans and that she do it well. Even back in Delhi we used to sing bhajans.
|Swami giving Darshan to devotees in Sundaram, Chennai|
Then when my father moved to Madras, Sundaram, which is Swami’s residence in Madras was ready. The first time when Swami came to Sundaram, there was a group that was singing bhajans. After the bhajan, Swami walks down the aisle to where my mother was sitting and says in Telugu, “Kamala Sarathy, bhajan was very bad.”
That is all He said - “Kamala Sarathy, bhajan very bad.” And He walked off. So my mother thought, “Oh my goodness! This means something. Swami wants me to do something about it.”
So she took it upon herself to start a whole method of organising bhajans, selecting the singers, musicians and setting out the process ... one that would continue. My mother was a perfectionist. So she set up a three member panel to interview and audition people before they could lead bhajans, and that has paid off as the Sundaram team is now one of the best bhajan groups. She played the violin for them. And they’ve done lot of recordings and wonderful work in spreading the love of bhajan singing around the world. And it is only Swami who channelized her love of music into that field.
Playing Host to God
RS: I understand the summer of 1961 was a very special one for your family. Instead of all of you making your annual summer trip to Puttaparthi, the Lord of Puttaparthi came to your home in New Delhi. What was it like to have God Incarnate come for a sleepover?
PB: Ha ha ha! Interesting question! First of all, we were in a panic, of course, with Swami coming to our house. How we wanted to provide the best arrangements for Him! So we went into a whole mode of getting organised and my mother drew on favours from everybody.
|Baba with His entourage during His trip to Badrinath, 1961|
We had to get our house in order for Him. My father moved out of his bedroom suite so that Swami could have it. And Swami was coming with about 40 devotees. So we had to arrange accommodations for them too. There used to be a Madrasi school which was on vacation at that time. We arranged for them to be accommodated there. We had food catered to them.
And having Swami at home was so wonderful, because He was there sitting in our living room and people would come to see Him because they knew He was there only for a couple of days, not long. It was just unbelievable, totally unbelievable to have Swami with us.
RS: How could you sleep at night?!
PB: I know, I know. We never slept, because we were only thinking of what to do the next day or “Are we giving Swami the right food?”, “Are we doing this right or enough”, we were so concerned about taking care of Him, and also of His devotees, and Swami did mention He was very happy with our arrangements for His devotees, because that’s another lesson. If we take care of His devotees, He’s happy. And so that was a wonderful trip. Then, He took my mother and my aunt Sarju Maa with Him to Badrinath.
RS: So they were part of the Badrinath trip led by the then governor of Uttar Pradesh Sri Ramakrishna Rao?
|Baba with Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, 1957|
PB: Yes. And there He told my mother that “I have done the last ceremonies for you… because you have no sons, only 2 daughters.” He did it in Badrinath for my mother.
RS: How blessed was she!
PB: Yeah, she was really blessed! He was extremely fond of her. And she too of Him. That is just totally amazing!
Now, even before that Delhi-Badrinath trip, Bhagawan had come in ’57 and He stayed at my uncle’s house, that is, with Sarju Maa's family. And that was also wonderful because, we could go over every day, and then my uncle drove Swami by car to Brindavan and then to Rishikesh, because Swami Shivananda had invited Bhagawan to Rishikesh.
My uncle was so blessed to be able to drive Swami, which was just perfect because, within a year, my uncle passed away. He had a heart problem. So this last trip with Swami was like a true blessing.
And going to a sacred place with Swami was the ultimate blessing that he had.
Swami has blessed our family in so many ways. The only way we can repay it is to follow His teachings.
RS: Very true!
To be continued...