Posted on : Jan 10, 2012
'THE ONE FORCE THAT PROPELLED ME TO DO THE RIGHT THING'
- Conversation with Mr. Vivek Naidu, an alumnus of SSSIHL
Many times when we look back at our lives we realise that some emotions, relations, beliefs or feelings, were always there, hidden and dormant, till one fine day when they burst forth and overwhelmed us – and changed our lives. It takes one moment of rediscovery to completely reinvent oneself.
This is a common feeling among those students of Baba who were born in Sai families. They grow up understanding His divinity and glorifying His love, yet when they come to Baba as His property, it's a revitalisation of an eternal bond which entirely changes the way they see and feel Bhagawan. Mr. Vivek Naidu is one such fortunate person.
He joined the Brindavan campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University in 1995 for his Bachelors in Commerce. Later on, he moved to the Prasanthi Nilayam campus of the same University to pursue his Masters in Financial Management.
After this post-graduation degree in 2001, Vivek stepped into the corporate world and served in Citibank till November 2009. Currently, he is the Vice-President, Private Banking, in Barclays Bank, based in Chennai, India. In this interview with Bishu Prusty, recorded in the studios of Radio Sai in September 2009 as part of the Radio series “Fleeting Moments – Lasting Memories”, he recollects those golden years spent with Bhagawan and how the lessons he learnt then, have come to define him as a person and a professional.
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Radio Sai (RS): Sairam brother Vivek Naidu and welcome to this program - Fleeting Moments, Lasting Memories.
Vivek Naidu (VN): Sairam. My pleasure to be here.
RS: We're here to hear about your precious moments in Bhagawan's University, and also your experience in the corporate world after you left Prasanthi Nilayam.
But before that, let's get back to your initial days in the university. How did you happen to become a Sai student? Did you know of Bhagawan when you joined the college?
VN: I did know of Bhagawan before I joined the college, because I was born into Swami's fraternity and grew up believing He was God. So to that extent, it was not too much of a surprise.
My mother attended the first summer course that Swami hosted in 1972. My grandmother was a devotee since she was 20-22 years old; my grand aunt worked in Swami's General hospital in Puttaparthi as a doctor. So it goes back a long way.
My grandfather is an extremely ardent devotee of Swami. He would not do anything unless Swami approved of it. When my mother was to be married, he came to Puttaparthi with four horoscopes and my dad's was the least preferred. He put it fourth in order.
When Swami came for darshan, my grandfather showing these horoscopes to Him said, “Swami, I have to get my daughter married. Please choose.” Swami picked out my father's horoscope. My grandfather thought to himself, “Probably God's making a mistake.”
Swami took a few steps and then turned, walked back and said to him in Telugu ‘Tappakunda get her…’, which means, “Without fail, get her married to this boy.” Swami's instructions were not to be disobeyed, so they got married. Two years after this, they had me for a son.
Many years later, after I joined Swami's university and came to Brindavan in 1995, Swami gave me an opportunity to speak during a Trayee session.
I should tell you, I went to an Ivy League school in Ooty, my hometown. It was being run by a British missionary. And the way of life there was essentially very western.
So when I spoke in front of Swami, my language hadn't changed. I was full of “My mom”, “My dad” and so on. Swami enjoyed it immensely; I narrated the story of how Swami chose my father's horoscope and I told, “Swami, I am born as Your choice, and so I'm Your child.”
Swami was very happy with me when I said that. After that session was over, many came and corrected me saying, “Please watch your language”. But I said to myself, “Swami's enjoying it. So I don't need to change.”
RS: And it was coming from your heart.
VN: Yes, it was coming from my heart. I think I was supposed to be saying “My mother”, “My father”, but I was saying “mom”, “dad”, etc. That's the greatest thing with Swami; respect needs to be there, but there are no barriers in terms of cultural differences.
Other than my grandmother who lived in Puttaparthi, nobody believed that I would actually survive in Swami's college, because everybody knew the environment here is very restrictive. The thing that they didn't know was that it is restrictive for a good reason.
The Unbearable First Day in Hostel, Turns into the Most Unforgettable Day
When I first came to Brindavan to join the Summer Course, everything was so different from what I was used to. When you come from an Ivy League school, your expectation is that you'll have your exclusive room, a comfortable bed, probably a music system, and everything.
My entire life, I was used to food being served on the table. But in our system, you've got to have your own cutlery and also line up. You've got to take food, you have to sit on the floor and eat. And for me, back then it was just unacceptable.
Somebody was very kind enough; they realized “Here's a fish out of the water.” So they gave me their own cutlery and I had food. I had no bedding and I was expected to sleep on the floor. I don't remember how, but I think I got through that.
The next day, we had to get ready for darshan and I was expected to shave off my moustache, which I think is… you've got to keep it if you are a young man in the outer world.
RS: So everything was kind of a small shock?
VN: Yeah, and it was a big deal back then. I was like, “Why do I have to do this?”
RS: So as a youngster you were mentally revolting to everything.
VN: Revolting? It went farther than that. I decided to pack my bags and leave.
RS: Oh my God!
VN: I said, “This place is not for me.”
RS: This was after one day? Or a few days?
VN: After one day, because it was too much. It's not like you stay for a couple of days and they're going to allow you to do the stuff that you want to do. I called my friend. He actually chose not to come to Swami's institute because he knew this is the way life's going to be.
And strange piece of advice I got from him. He said, “You've just gone there. Just try it out for a week, at least for a month, and if you still can't do it, you can come back. But you've nothing to lose by staying for one week.”
RS: You're making the decision in haste.
VN: Yeah. Then, it so happened that we had our sessions in the morning and I saw Swami from a distance. But that evening, we were invited to sit on the lawns inside Trayee Brindavan.
Trayee is an incredibly beautiful place. It's got a beautiful building with an ornate dark door. We were sitting on both the sides on the lawns. I was at a considerable distance. The doors opened and Swami was standing behind. And I've never seen anything like that in my life till today!
A Bond for Lifetimes Sealed in the Very First Darshan
That day, when Swami stepped out, I lost all the reasoning that I had in my head. Nobody had appealed to my heart as much as Swami, who just stood at a distance that day.
RS: Just the darshan?
VN: Just the darshan, Yes! It was just His aura, standing there, not a crease on His robe, perfect posture, typically the way He stands, both His hands joined in front of Him.
And the atmosphere is extremely peaceful. There was pin drop silence. There was a garden behind us, where they had ducks and deer. And they didn't make any noise. And Swami just stood there.
Something changed in me that day. I said, “I'm not leaving this place.” It's a calling of the heart. Swami connected with me on that day and I haven't lost the connection since. I don't feel the need to write letters to Him. I would prefer to sit in front of Him and talk my heart out.
The connection that He made to my heart, it's been 15 years now; that bond hasn't gone. Everyday I wake up in the morning and the same connection is still there. So that day completely changed my life and I am thankful that Swami did whatever He did for me.
Because a lot of people believed that I would not survive this place, I took to it with a lot of zeal, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I did.
Sri Sathya Sai Hostels – a Home called a Hostel
I came from a background where everything is mutually exclusive. Everybody looked out just for himself or herself. You were friends and still, people wouldn't look out for you. But, that is something which is profoundly different in Swami's institutions. Somebody is always eager to look out for you.
RS: It's an atmosphere of caring.
VN: People care for you when they don't have to, when they get nothing in return. They care for you because Swami cares for you. Simple gestures—somebody gave me a pillow and a bedsheet to spend the night, someone else their cutlery to eat. Those are things I never experienced before.
You had to look out for yourself and if you didn't get it, you have to live without it. But that's what is profoundly different in Swami's atmosphere. Without you knowing, everybody's called brother or sister. I'd never experienced that. It was very unique.
RS: So you started liking that?
VN: I started valuing it a lot. I just took to it and I said, “I have nothing to lose” and I was a completely different person, born again. I felt I belonged here.
- Radio Sai Team