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Posted on: Sept 22, 2015
SAI STREE SHAKTI SERIES - 07
Dedicated way beyond the definition of the term, they have over decades, become their roles - Mothers to thousands of children as young as 5 years of age, all the way to high school teenagers, who live and learn and grow in their personal care.
Radio Sai special series Sai Stree Shakti chronicles the forces of nature that incarnated as women of spiritual substance to serve as the chosen instruments of the Avatar, contributing significantly to the Sai Mission.
Bhagawan not only hailed their sterling virtues but also shaped them to be exemplars of duty, devotion, dedication and determination.
To mark the auspicious 90th year of the divine advent, we salute these dynamic and divine Sai women whose contribution to the Sai mission has been strong and steady and largely silent.
Starting March 19, 2015, every month till November 19, 2015, Radio Sai is celebrating Ladies Day by highlighting the life and dedication of such individuals who will go down in history as the able and capable contemporaries of the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar. Their incarnation appears to be a significant part of Bhagawan's master plan.
On March 19, 2015, Radio Sai offered its first tribute to the late Mrs. Sarla Shah under this series. (click here)
On April 19, 2015, Radio Sai featured the contributions of Mrs. Carole Alderman of the United Kingdom in the area of Sathya Sai Education in Human Values. (click here)
On May 19, 2015, the humble and simple Mandir Ladies of Prasanthi Nilayam were under the spotlight as the custodians of the sanctum maintenance. (click here)
On June 19, 2015 Radio Sai shared the journey of Mrs. Angela Loraine Burrows, an English lady who was transplanted to Thailand to serve as an ambassador of the Sai Educare Mission. (click here)
On July 19, 2015 Radio Sai profiled Dr. Hema Gopinathan, the Deputy Medical Superintendent of the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Prasanthi Nilayam. (Click here)
On August 19, 2015 Omani expatriate Mrs. Chithra Narayan who runs an adopted SSSEHV Nursery in an Absolute Islamic Monarchy was under the spotlight. (Click here)
On September 19, 2015 Radio Sai salutes the Mothers Divine who must have been chiselled over lifetimes to become the befitting instruments of God incarnate Bhagawan Baba. In this life, their role is to love, nurture and raise His beloved students on His behalf, by living with the children entrusted to them, feeding, bathing, teaching, nursing, disciplining, grooming and loving them as only mothers can.
Bhagawan Baba's education renaissance revived the ancient gurukul system of Vedic age wherein students learned while living at school from as early as 5 years of age.
This required great sacrifice and courage on part of the parents parting with their young children as well as the little students who left the warmth of their family to live with their teachers.
During the Sri Sathya Sai era, through His residential system of education, Bhagawan once again dissolved the space between home and school, bringing classrooms and dormitories under the same roof, and giving a whole new meaning to the concept of home schooling and blurring the line between teaching and parenting by combining the two roles.
Over the past 37 years, thousands of students have passed through the modern day gurukul that Bhagawan lovingly referred to as His ‘convent’. The contribution of the chosen instruments who mothered these numerous batches of young children cannot be captured in words. Nor can their personal stories as they have completely obliterated their individual identities to become humble flutes in His hands. They only live in the moment, performing the tasks entrusted to them by Bhagawan Baba, worshipping the current moment as the most precious gift from their Sadguru, be it handing out toothpaste for an hour and a half to a row of 1000 toothbrushes at 5:30 a.m. every single morning or personally serving two thousand chapattis daily, or keeping a night long vigil to apply cold compress to a sick child.
From the late Mrs. Amar Kumari Verma to Mrs. Prem Bahl, to Mrs. Indu Singh and Ms. Muni Kaul, history will celebrate the unimaginable contributions of these Sai heroines to their Lord's mission for they tended and continue to tend, Baba's precious students, with love and discipline, as He taught them to. Working silently, operating from both the head and the heart, performing hard labour, they make a million personal sacrifices to make their children feel at home in a residential school.
This month's Sai Stree Shakti is a dedication by the alumni of Bhagawan Baba's Ooty and Prasanthi Nilayam school to these Goddesses of Wisdom, Love, Food, and Fire who have chiselled their wards to shine as Sai's gems the world over.
Ma Tujhe Salaam
The Mother (late) Mrs. Amar Kumari Verma
United Kingdom based IT Consultant Hema Bhupathy was barely 5 years old in 1977 when her parents were considering her schooling options. That’s when Bhagawan Baba came to Ooty and little Hema was seated next to her mother for darshan. She recalls “Swami told my mother that He would be starting a residential school soon and I would be His first student. My mother did not want me in a boarding school, so she nodded her head in the negative and said ‘No Swami’. Swami walked past her with a penetrating glance, repeating the same and my mother again hesitantly said “no”. A few months later during Swami’s next visit to Ooty, Swami led me by His finger inside the Mandir from the darshan ground. Swami asked my father who was inside to bring the sample school uniform from His room and try it on me so He could see how newly designed uniform looked. After I got changed and came in front of Swami, He asked me to go and tell my mother who was in the darshan grounds that I had already joined His school! Thus began my journey with Swami and His chosen Shaktis, under whose care I studied from 1978-1990 and who became my mothers for rest of my childhood and life.
“Starting with the Mother, Mrs. Amar Kumari Verma, and our three “aunties” (the term of endearment by which we refer to our respected senior teachers), Bhagawan placed such perfect embodiments of His own maternal instinct, selfless love, wisdom and light as our caretakers, that even a five year old could live happily in their care, far away from our parents and home.”
Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vihar, Ooty - the first residential Sai School
The Ooty school started with just 42 children in 1978. Mrs A.K. Verma was the Principal/Head, whom the children used to fondly call Mother. Thus, the tender tots all had a mother at their boarding school. They called all the other teachers “sisters”. No wonder the modern day Sai ‘gurukul’ was referred to as ‘convent’ by its divine founder and father, Bhagawan Baba.
The handpicked educator who was to be gurumayi (teacher-cum-mother) to the early batches of the Sai gurukul was an elderly lady with a rich repository of life experiences that made her His ideal choice.
Partish Kumar Dubey, was a Sai student from 1978-1995. Currently a Senior Asset Manager at Wells Fargo Bank in the UK, he was another 5 year old entrusted in the Mother's care. He reminisces fondly that “Mother was into her 70s when Swami appointed her as the first Principal of the first School that Swami opened for His children.
“Mother was an aristocrat. Mother was Vice-Chancellor material and yet Bhagawan had chosen her as the first Principal of Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vihar, Ootacamund. Mother was the world’s best Principal. It was said that Mother was a highly educated lady, a product of Lahore degree college (in pre-independence India, this was known as Oxford of the East).
“Mother was widely travelled and very broad minded. She was immaculately dressed at all times. Her children lived in Canada. However, Mother considered all her Ooty School students as her own children.
“Mother had an aura around her. Her personality was inspiring. She was a strict disciplinarian but with a very soft heart. Her mere presence ensured that we would do no wrong. She always had a smiling face. In spite of her advanced age, Mother was very active.
“In her younger days, Mother had fought for India's struggle for Independence alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Vinobha Bhave. She instilled patriotic feelings in our hearts by narrating to us stories from her days with those stalwarts of the Indian freedom movement.”
Being herself a mother now, Hema Bhupathy has a new found admiration for the Mother today. “Mother, at that time was well past her prime and was more like a grandmother to us from age perspective, but she had the energy, commitment and dedication to ensure smooth day-to-day running of the school. Now that I am a mother myself, I realize how exhausting it must have been for her to care for so many children. Very aptly, Bhagawan had given Mother an idol of Goddess Mahishasura Mardini (also known as Goddess Durga) about 4-5 inches in height. Our beloved Sai Maa ensured that our Mother got her strength or Shakti to look after so many children directly from the primordial energy or ‘Adi Shakti – Mahishasura Mardini’.
|Baba with Mrs. Verma to His right and Dr. Thangamma, the resident doctor at Ooty School to His left|
Another alumna who has been transformed by the Mother's touch is Prasanthi Goswami, (Sai student 1981-1988) is an international volunteer currently based in Uganda. She says, "Mother to me was the feminine symbol of Western pragmatism combined with the Indian sensibilities of culture, values and tradition. She so beautifully helped us as kids to assimilate and absorb the best of both worlds. She inculcated in us the good habit of reading which is the greatest gift I have ever received.
“I fondly recall the night time ritual we had of being given a pink colour Sandoz calcium tablet and a spoonful of Ferradol tonic before we went to bed. Today, it remains a memory that always brings a smile when I recollect how even Bhagawan used to come over and witness this nightly routine when He was in Ooty. This may perhaps also be the reason why we continue to enjoy good health into our forties. While memories have faded, Mother continues to be my role model as I emulate her in my own life by blending the traditional with the modern.”
Kuwait based Finance Manager, Satish Kumar Putta’s 19 years long journey of Sai education began when he joined Bhagawan's Ooty School in February 1978, in Grade 1 at the age of 5. Over the next five years that he studied there, he remembers the Mother, his Principal Mrs. A.K. Verma as an elderly lady, perfectly groomed, who spoke flawless English and managed things with a deep tenderness combined with an iron fist.
In later years, Putta recalls, “Whenever someone mentioned the Ooty school to Swami, He would always enquire, ‘How is Mrs. Verma?’. It’s really fascinating to think how much confidence Bhagawan had on her capability. He opened a school in far off Ooty for tiny tots which He was not personally supervising on a daily basis. He trusted her with all the day-to-day management and decision making.”
Guru Moorthy Hariharan, a Program Director with a multinational financial institution in Mumbai, class of 1993 (from 1979), has indelible memories of being in the care of the Mother. He recalls, “Mother was the quintessential administrator – loving and guiding to us, and strict with our parents to ensure that they were equal contributors in shaping the character of the child. Anyone who has graduated out of Bhagawan’s institutions will well know the importance accorded to the position of the Principal / Headmistress by Bhagawan Himself. He ensured that the person appointed to that position was one of sterling character, strong willed, with an ability to administer and be a conduit of the divine energy to His ‘property’, the children of the institutions He so lovingly set up.
“Mother was all of the above and more. One of the most influencing aspects of her nature was her ability to instil discipline in all of us – the first pillar of the three D’s that Swami has preached – Discipline, Devotion and Duty. Discipline meant a lot of things – right from getting up on time in the morning to arriving at the prayer session in a presentable manner to being attentive in our classes. Her personal interest was a key driver to what shaped our character in the early days.
Supreme Teacher to humanity, Bhagavan Baba with the Mother Mrs. Verma, speaking to young students. The Ganesha temple in the background housed a Ganesha idol materialised by Bhagavan
“One other aspect of her nature was the attention to detail. We do not appreciate it quite a few times when small flaws in our actions are pointed out. But it is this attention to detail that distinguishes the excellent from the good. Swami Himself always paid particular importance to the aspect of detailing. I cannot forget the daily prayer assembly sessions in the school that we went through. One song that was sung every day was ‘Tumhi Ho Mata, Pita Tumhi Ho’ (You are our Mother and you are our Father). Its lyrics are very nice and on the face of it the song can be sung with fair ease. But with Mother, the story was very different. She insisted that each line is sung to the exact musical note that it should be sung to. She would personally play the harmonium and lead from the front.
“Some of us wondered then as to why it was important to be so attentive to detail. It was much later when we stood on our own feet and began to live life independently that it dawned on us the importance of this aspect. Many years hence when I was in my college too I was fortunate to interact with Swami where the very same aspect of attention to detail was highlighted by Him through a personal experience. It may seem a small value but it brings forth huge dividends – both in our material and spiritual lives. Several years after we passed out of the portals of the Ooty School, many of us continued to keep in touch with Mother mostly at Prasanthi Nilayam. The thing that amazed us was that she would remember each one of us by name! She would lovingly talk to us, inquire about our parents and give us her blessings. She epitomised so many things that Swami wanted every human being to be – always loving, compassionate and disciplined.”
Rishi Bhardwaj (Sai student 1978-1993) is a US based COO who also joined the Ooty school in Grade 1, where he fell ill with jaundice and had to be separated from the rest of the children. He was moved to a small house behind the school building. He recalls, “Mother would visit me every day and bring sweets and food. She would sit and share stories and ensure that I was in good spirits. Upon Swami's first visit to Ooty, she bought a toy aeroplane which was given by Swami to me for good behaviour.”
“She was loving and majestic. She would take us for walks to the top of the Nilgiri Mountains on Sundays, always stopping at the beautiful gate of Nandanavanam and explaining the meaning of the sculptures on the pillars and the symbols of the various religions on the emblem. Her voice was gentle and her words were full of wisdom. When Mother spoke, everyone listened.
|Promoting patriotism - Freedom fighter, Gandhian, the Mother Mrs. Verma hoisting the national flag as students salute it on India's Independence Day|
“Mother fondly called me her “Lion of Punjab”. She was multi-talented. Singing, playing cymbals, writing and directing plays that were staged at Ooty and Prasanthi Nilayam. She dedicated her life to her children. We were her family and she was our Mother – as simple as that.”
Uma Shankar was also a Grade 1 student in the first batch at Ooty school, where his brother and two sisters also studied there. A Sai student from 1978-1992, he is currently a senior manager of a Tea estate in Kerala. Uma fondly remembers, “When Bhagawan proposed setting up a residential school in a hill station like Ooty, a committee was formed comprising of Dr. Bhagawantham, our Mother Mrs. Verma and the Principal of Ooty's prestigious Lawrence School.
“The experienced Principal of Lawrence School saw a big challenge in starting a boarding school in a hill station for Grade 1 students. During the inauguration, the Mother exuding her natural confidence and courage set all his apprehensions to rest.
Before starting her speech, she garlanded Bhagawan's picture and went on to say that she had given birth to 3 children but now considered all the children selected in school as her very own loving children and prayed to Swami for blessings to take up this task. Just as she completed this sentence, the garland placed on Bhagawan's photo fell signalling His affirmation of her faith.
Navneet Jain, Managing Director at Barclays Bank in London UK, (Sai student 1978-1993) recalls “She was a real maternal figure who filled our need for parental love whenever we felt lonely, as we were away from our parents, and patiently taught us the right way to do things, big and small.
“A positive role model, she led by example and encouraged a healthy lifestyle that involved eating right, exercise, nature, art and self-expression. She showed us hope, taught us to dream big and held a space for each of us to develop into who one truly is - versus trying to make the child into something ‘they’ want. In one example (third grade perhaps), I remember beginning to dabble in playing the tabla and loving the experience. It didn’t take much for Mother to encourage and believe in me. Every time Swami visited Ooty, Mother put me right in front of Him, in the role of tabalchi for bhajans every evening. Swami found my left-handed tabla stance rather amusing and would take it one step further and refer to me as ‘tabla boy’ or ‘six finger’ when He saw me.
“Ideal parents create a social environment where the concept of ‘family’ extends out into the community and expands to all our brothers and sisters on the planet. Friends are welcome and play is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to communicate, and to share. Formal education is embraced and the development of intellect is valued and praised. Discipline and consistent daily routines, that support the family and the community, are demonstrated and reinforced. The child knows that they can count on their parent to hold, to comfort, to listen, to understand, and to love them. Ooty Mother meant all of this and more to me… she meant the WORLD to me.”
Reflecting on his Ooty days, Kolkata based pharmaceutical executive Sanjoy Kumar Chatterjee (Sai student 1978-1989) fondly remembers his student roll number 79 and being lovingly called Dada by Mother.
When he had got selected for Sri Sathya Sai High School, Ooty, Sanjoy was only 7 years old. He recalls “Mother taught us good manners and behaviour. She was a real mother figure loving us and being there for us whenever we missed our parents. She was a disciplinarian, a pioneer and a true soldier of the Sai Education mission.”
Surendra Patnaik, another Ooty alumnus remembers, “When my father enquired about our well-being and voiced concerns about leaving me as a small child, Mother had assured him that we were now their children and they would look after us. She always cared for us as her very own darlings and gave us immense love and happiness. I remember her being immaculately dressed, with a centre parting in her short, grey hair. She was always soft-spoken but authoritative. She was extremely meticulous in everything she did, exemplifying the perfection one would equate with Bhagawan’s name.”
Most of the alumni of the Ooty School speak of an enchanting fragrance she always had about her and her ability to look into a child's eyes and instantly connect with their soul. She is also described as being almost superhumanly omnipresent to celebrate milestones in every little pupil’s life, be it sporting activities, recitals, or school plays. She demonstrated the concept of patience by being present - enjoying what is going on in the moment - no matter what.
For Ajit Periwal, the Mother had all the attributes of a Mother who had nothing but the best interest of her wards at heart. “She was very caring and loving at the same time strict and stern. She tended us like a gardener would tend a sapling knowing that if we bent then, went wrong then, we would go wrong the entire life. I remember one incident very clearly. One evening she took a small group of us for a walk when, she noticed a single beautiful white flower in full bloom on the ground just adjacent to the driveway. She pointed the same and said – Children, you all should blossom like this flower. See how this flower is in full bloom among the sand and gravel - you will also have to excel in this world which will be like this sand and gravel.”
Ohio, USA based Business Systems Analyst Shalini Krishnan (Sai student 1978-1986) hasn't forgotten the aura of dignity around the Mother. She says, “I remember an anecdote to show how carefully she mothered all of us. While I was studying at the Ooty School, I was a young girl of 8 years when my maternal uncle along with his friend came to visit me at the school. She sent me along to meet with him in the playground for the stipulated 10 minutes. But during the entire time she had two teachers watching us from the glasshouse of the school. It touches me very deeply to know that she never missed an opportunity to make sure each one of us was safe and cared for. Warden aunty often mentions Mother’s eye for details and how she never cut corners where quality was concerned. The bunk beds presently at the primary school are from the Ooty School that mother and warden aunty had picked out. She was a part of the freedom fight and she showed us letters that Mahatma Gandhi had written to her.
We remember the song we composed for her birthday: “We love mother (2), Hey don’t you? Don’t you love mother, Yes we do... She is so loving (2) isn’t that true?”
These heartfelt lyrics from our little hearts sum up the reciprocal love we shared with her.”
Partish Kumar Dubey has fond memories of the interactions between Mother and Bhagawan, which he describes as “celestial... It is a sight that would have made the Gods and Devas envious. Swami gave a lot of respect to Mother.”
By the late 1980s, Mother retired to spend the rest of her life at His Lotus Feet in Prasanthi Nilayam. She knew time was nearing for her to receive her School Leaving Certificate from the Divine Master. Mother told me that she had written in a letter to Swami requesting that, when she leaves this world, one of her Ooty children should perform her last rites. We were her family.”
If a person's passing on is a reflection of the life lived, no one comes close to the Mother. Satish Kumar Putta remembers “I was fortunate to keep in touch with Mother till the end of her life. In my third year B.Com. degree in 1992, a few weeks before the annual sports meet, she was seriously ill. I visited her at the SSS General Hospital. Even in that state, she enquired about my sister's wedding and what I planned to do after my degree. A few days later, she had partly recovered and was brought for darshan when Bhagawan came to her and asked, “Are you ready to merge in Me?” She replied “Yes” with her natural confidence.
“That is when her health deteriorated rapidly and after one of the Sports-meet practice sessions, we were informed of her final merger with her Master.”
Mother had indeed fulfilled her life's purpose through her immense contribution to the Sai Avatar's mission, a role for which Bhagawan had personally chosen and chiselled her, because how many people get asked by the Lord - 'Are you ready to merge in Me?'
Today, her life and her sacrifices for her family, for India's independence and the Sai mission's educational renaissance have made this classy lady a benchmark of the ideal Mother being the child's best teacher, and a role-model for generations of educators.
Alumni, SSS School, Ooty & Prasanthi Nilayam
Team Radio Sai
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