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  Volume 3 - Issue 12
DECEMBER 2005
 
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CONVERSATION WITH A FORMER STUDENT OF BABA'S INSTITUTE

Prof. G Venkataraman (GV) in conversation with Prini Wimalachandra (PW)


Prini Wimalachandra, wife of Hasita Wimalachandra is an alumni of Swami’s Institute. Born in Sri Lanka, she is now a citizen of New Zealand. Her mother Dr. Wamsa is an opthalmologist who has been living in the Ashram in Prashanti Nilayam for decades and does service in the General Hospital here. So dedicated is Dr. Wamsa to her work, that she did not even take time off to attend Prini’s wedding!

In New Zealand, Prini served for many years as the spiritual Co-ordinator in the Sai Organisation. Some years ago her husband accepted a UN job which then took Hasita and Prini to many countries where the UN has peace-keeping operations. They started in Bosnia, then went to Israel and Pakistan and are currently in Cyprus. In all the countries where Hasita was posted, Prini did her best to engage in local Sai activities.

GV: Sairam! Prini, Welcome to our Studios. Did you ever think that at anytime you would be interviewed for Swami’s Radio Station?

PW: I was not expecting it.


GV:
Now, tell me a little bit about yourself. I think you studied in Anantapur. Which year was it?

PW: I joined Anantapur in 1980, pre-University and then we were the first batch from the institute to complete.

GV: How come you came to study here in Anantapur. You are originally from Sri Lanka. So, what brought you here?

PW: Well, when I first came here I didn’t plan to join the college. I came from a very different background.

GV: Why did you come here in the first place?

PW: Well, my mother was here.

GV: How did your mother know about Swami?

PW: She was always interested in Spirituality. And so one of our friends gave her books on Swami and she started reading Swami’s teachings.

GV: You are Buddhists. Were there any problems reconciling the teachings of Buddha with Swami’s teachings?

PW: I come from a Buddhist background. But I studied in an Anglican Missionary School. I suppose Buddhists are very broadminded. At the same time my mother also visited the Hindu temple regularly which was next to the Buddhist temple. So, I was exposed to three religions about the same time.

GV: How was your experience in Anantapur in the early days of the Institute?


PW:
It was not easy to adjust because I came from a very westernized family and there were a lot of things I had to get used to, to unlearn.

GV: The heat also, I suppose. Anantapur is very hot.

PW: Summer was terrible and what really helped me was Swami’s grace.

GV: He used to come quite often then those days, didn’t he?

PW: Quite often. But we also used to come to Puttaparthi very often. He would speak to me which gave me strength and courage to get used to the Ashram life and the life in the college. And slowly I adjusted.

GV: Is there anything very special about those days that you remember and cherish?

PW: I suppose we had more access to Swami then, as the crowds were less. And quite often when we used to come here, at least once in a month, He used to call us for interviews to the Mandir and speak to us, advise us – how we should behave, how we should be an example, as a student of Sri Sathya Institute, when we get married, how we should behave with our in-laws. So, we had a lot of fatherly advice from Swami, and I have written some of the discourses down and even now, I still read them and they bring back some nice memories.

Swami did come to Anantapur a few times when we were there. We had the opportunity to have a cultural play, programmes and also a sort of a Sports Meet in front of Him. We had lunch with Him. So, we had of some intimate moments which probably the students now don’t get because the numbers have grown.

GV: In those days you remember there were the arches and sand upon which Swami would walk?

PW: The sunrise and sunset was beautiful and Swami would walk around frequently. So, times have changed. We have to learn to adjust.

GV: So what did you do after leaving college?

PW: I went back to Sri Lanka, briefly. Since, there was nothing in Anantapur in the commerce discipline and then I got married and then we went to New Zealand to live in Auckland. We went there in the late 80’s.

GV: Were you quite involved in Sai activities?

PW: Yes, when I first went there it was taken for granted that I would be fully involved as soon as I came, being a student from Swami’s college.

GV: Was there was a Sai organization even then.

PW: Yes, there was a fairly large Sai organisation even at that time. Then I started teaching Sathya Sai Spiritual Education and also joined one of the biggest centers in Auckland as an Office Bearer and within a few months, I was still quite young then, but they made me the National Spiritual Convener.

GV: How many years were you in New Zealand, before you went to Europe along with your husband?

PW: Well almost 8 years.

GV: Would you say that the Sai Organisation grew in those 8 years?

PW: Yes, definitely.

 
Sai Organisation In New Zealand

GV: You went to Europe some 4, 5 yrs. ago.

PW: Yes, my husband went in 1997 and I went in ’98.

GV: Where to?

PW: To Bosnia.

SANSKRIT BHAJANS IN BOSNIA

GV: Bosnia. It reminds one of war. Why did you go to Bosnia? You have to tell us that.

PW: Well, my husband works for the United Nations. From New York he had an assignment to Bosnia with the UN Peace Keeping Mission on the administration line. I didn’t really want to go, because I had a good life in Auckland; I had my regular job as well as many Sai activities. Life was comfortable and I did not know what I‘ll do in Bosnia. I didn’t even know if they were Sai devotees there. Swami in fact instructed me, at an interview that I should go and it was not right for us to be in two different countries.

GV: So, what was your first impression when you went to Bosnia?

PW: The war was over by then, but economically it was in a very bad condition. The damage of war was very much visible. There were lots of land-mines, many buildings and houses were destroyed and people didn’t have money, they didn’t have jobs.

GV: Bosnia, has different religious groups, is that not so?

PW: Well, it has 3 religious groups. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Muslims. But predominantly it is Muslim.

 
Bosnia is a country in south-east Europe with an estimated population of between three and four million people.

GV: When you went there, it must have been very difficult because the country was torn apart by war and its culture, language and lifestyle were different. How did you manage?

PW: Even though it was a Muslim culture, they were quite westernized in some ways, but language was a major stumbling block. Nobody spoke English. It was mostly Russian, German and, of course, Serbocroat the Yugoslav language. And it was not easy in the beginning.

GV: Did you come across any of Swami’s devotees?

PW: Well, to our surprise we found that our apartment was only 5 minutes walk to the Sai Centre. That was a very pleasant surprise for me.

GV: That’s very interesting. How did a centre start there?

PW: There have been devotees in Bosnia for many years. I really don’t know how it got started. But people had heard about Swami, and known about Swami for many years. In the centre there were plenty of pictures all around the walls. It was a very small room and they were many people, so we all crammed into this little apartment with a lot of people who couldn’t actually communicate with us but were singing Sanskrit Bhajans.

GV: Were the Sai devotees Christians, or Muslims or both?

PW: From all three religions.

GV: And did they get along well?


PW:
Yes, they got along very well. The leader of the Centre was a Muslim.

GV: Can you tell us whether any of these devotees in Bosnia had spiritual experiences?

PW: There were only 2 places for the whole city that people could go and actually collect water. They would have these queues for water and bread. There were mountains around and the people who lived in the city were being attacked by those who are in the mountains; so when these queues were formed it was a very easy target from the mountains to shoot at the people.

A LADY SAVED FROM DEATH - TWICE !

There was a lady in the centre called Alexandra. She told me one day when she was standing in the water queue, she saw the back of Swami’s figure walking on the other side of the road and just walking around the corner and she was very surprised, she thought she was dreaming. She quickly crossed the road to follow and see whether it was actually Swami and the moment she crossed the road a grenade fell in the exact spot where she had been standing in the queue. Had she been there a moment longer she would be no more.

That’s the way Swami saved her and that was not the only incident she had. There is a famous vegetable market called Green Market. One day she was there shopping and a voice inside kept saying ‘Go home go home’. She ignored it for a while but this voice kept saying ‘Go home’ and she couldn’t ignore it any longer. It was very strong. And she felt strongly that it was Swami asking her to go home. So she walked home, which was not very far and there was a massive explosion. Many people were injured and died and had she delayed a few minutes, she would not have even reached her house. She was at the doorstep when she heard the blast.

GV: Any other such stories you could tell us?

POLICEMEN REASSURED

PW: The devotees used to meet in a lady’s house. They would meet for regular devotional singing sessions and for festivals. But during the war everybody suspected each other. You would suspect your neighbour who had been your friend for many years. So, the people were afraid that when they were having devotional singing that they could be attacked, they would get into trouble and there was police all over. So the lady in whose house they used to have devotional singing was quite worried that they will have a problem with the neighbours who were already giving them a hard time. So she had in her mind prepared answers if the policemen were to come and question her.

Sure enough, one day, the policemen came and she was so nervous that she didn’t give them a chance to even ask questions, she just rattled off her answers. The policemen were quite amused by her explanations. They came into the house and looked around. She was afraid because she had a life size photograph of Swami which could be seen from the entrance and she didn’t have time to hide it. She thought she was finished and was going to be in trouble and then she turned around when the policemen came in and Swami’s picture was no longer there!


She was sure she had seen it when she went to open the door. So she didn’t understand what had happened. The men looked around the house and did not see anything strange and walked out. She closed the door and ran to the place where Swami’s picture was supposed to be and looked around and she could not believe it. It could not have disappeared! But she noticed that the picture had slipped under the carpet! Just before the man came in the picture had slipped under the carpet. And she found the picture there to her amazement.

GV: That’s never happened before. And it’s a life size picture – it’s not a small picture. It’s not very easy to go under the carpet and hide itself.

PW: It’s not easy. It’s amazing how Swami helped her in that situation, to not to get into trouble with the Policemen.

GV: Do you have any more stories of that kind?

BULLETS AVOIDED ON SHIVARATHRI

PW: I really must say that their devotion to Swami was a humbling experience for me. They had been through this terrible war but their devotion and faith had not wavered. Some of the members had been injured and even killed but they were very strong in their faith. One lady Azra told me that when she was carrying firewood for a Shivaratri Bhajan she was actually struck by snipers.

The bullet hit the sack but did not hit her! She continued going and did not stop; praying to Swami saying ‘Swami please let me get to the Sai Centre because we need the firewood otherwise we cannot sing right through the night.’

SWAMI’S PICTURE RADIATES WARMTH!

That night, I believe when they were singing they could feel warmth from Swami’s picture. Not heat that heated the whole room. But when you kept your hand close to Swami’s picture there was enough warmth that you could feel. Just Swami’s sign, I suppose, to show them that He was there with them at this difficult moment. That moved them a lot and gave them the strength to sing through that night.


SAI IN ISRAEL

GV: So from Bosnia you moved to Israel, am I right?

PW: That’s right in mid 2000. We had a reassignment to Israel and we went there just before what we call the Intifada started, the Palestinian uprising. The time we went it was very close to a peace accord that President Clinton was trying to organize, but unfortunately it fell threw. There were a few Sai Centres – a small one in Hifa and a bigger one in Tel Aviv. We were close to Hifa. And so we made enquiries, and after a couple of weeks we managed to find them and started going there regularly once a week, to join them in devotional singing.

GV: How did the people in Israel first come to know of Swami?

PW: There was a lady called Merium from Israel, who had to come to Swami about 20 years ago and she became convinced that Swami was God. She went back and she started to speak about Swami. A lot of people started reading about Swami and slowly the movement grew in Israel.

GV: But there are many orthodox people there. Did they object?

PW: Well, you have to be careful to a certain extent and orthodox people would not welcome any other beliefs, but at the same time there is room to practise other beliefs in Israel. Many Israelis now come to India as tourists, so I found wherever I went, whether I went to frame a picture of Swami’s, or if I had a picture in the car when I went to the gas station, they all know about Swami. Recently, there has even been a film on the Super Speciality Hospital on the National television in Israel.

GV: That’s very interesting. Of course we see quite a few Israeili devotees here. How would you compare the Sai moment in Israel with that in Bosnia?

PW: In Bosnia the organisation was more service oriented because the need was service.

GV: What is the orientation in Israel?

 

SWAMI’S PERSONAL DIRECTION

PW: In Israel people, I would say, have a good quality of life. The standard of living is high. When I came here Swami asked me ‘What are you doing?’ I was taken aback by that sudden question. Then He turned around and said ‘Education in Human Values’.

So, I got the hint. In Israel it was Education in Human Values. When I first went to Israel there was a young couple who had been in Puttaparthi for about 6 weeks and they were very enthusiastic. But the rest of the group knew very little about EHV.

I wanted to get someone to train us officially in EHV before we go off to the schools. And about 2 days after Swami had given me this directive, I met the Education Convenor from England, Carol Alderman. So a few months later when I went back, Carol came and we had a wonderful workshop in Israel attended by Sai devotees and non-devotees. Now we have regular 3 monthly EHV training workshops for people interested.

I have been teaching EHV in the United Nations School in Israel. We follow it in Hifa and it is slowly starting to spread. The teacher’s training college has invited the Israeli Education Convenor to do a course next year.

TEACHING VALUES IN PAKISTAN
- A Moving Farewell for Prini

In Pakistan, there is, as yet, no organized Sai activity. However, that did not keep Prini away from service, as the accompanying press clipping shows, from the 29/9/05 edition of the Pakistani newspaper ‘The News’.

It comments on the farewell send-off given to Prini from the Rah-e-Amal free school for under-privileged children, located in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan. She had worked there for two years. Here is an extract:

‘It was a different kind of function as far as farewells go in Islamabad. The children presented a short programme of songs and poems, a couple of which had been taught to them by Prini who used to teach English and give them lessons on the values they should adopt in life...

There were short and sweet speeches in fairly good English by a boy and two girls, who said that they had been happy to know her and that she should not forget them when she is far away from Pakistan.’

 

GV: Did you meet anybody with experiences?

PW: One, a Coordinator for Israel, lives out in the bush. Once there was a suspicious fire in the bush and the fire was coming towards their house, so they were advised to close all the doors and windows and just leave the house.

She ran out of the house and when they were leaving she suddenly remembered that the robe Swami had given her a few years ago was still in the house and even though it was risky for her to go back in, she went back into the house to her bedroom to take the robe.

She then realized that she had left a large window open in the bedroom and the robe was just near that. So she went to take the robe, closed the window and came out. The house was saved otherwise the fire would have blown into the house and everything would have caught fire.

GV: What is it that the Israeli’s like about Swami ?

PW: It is Swami’s teachings on the Unity of Religion, Love all Serve all, Human Values. They are all looking for Peace.

GV: Do you have a lot of children attending the EHV classes?

PW: It’s growing slowly. When I did it in the UN school I had children from all over the world. They loved it and the best part of it was the silent sitting at the meditation. I was surprised because they were teenagers, they were in mid-teens but they would be always tell me the best part is the silent sitting.

GV: How did the parents react to this programme?


PW:
They were very happy with it. I would send lesson plans home and the teachers were very happy with it. They were asking me for books, for lesson plans and they would sit in at the classes. Just a few months ago we had the first National Sai Retreat which was attended by about 80 people.

GV: So, on the whole you enjoyed yourself with Sai work in Israel. Where are you are going next?

PW: We have just moved to Lebanon. I have started volunteering in a religious Islamic school teaching English. The school is a foundation for orphans, they also have a nursing school, special education and various other projects as well as medical projects. I also teach English to the President of the foundation and I do it all voluntarily because it is a voluntary organization.

I took a book on Swami and I showed all the good work that Swami is doing with Hospitals and Water Projects; I spoke about Education and Human Values and they were very impressed. I asked to start this project in their school and they are very happy with it.

GV: Okay, Good luck to you and see you again with more news from all the places where you’ve been working. God Bless you and Sairam.

PW: Sairam.

 

- Heart2Heart Team




 
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Vol 3 Issue 12 - December 2005
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