3 - Issue 12
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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!
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.
GV: So from Bosnia you moved to Israel, am I right?
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.
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?
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.
- Heart2Heart Team
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Vol 3 Issue 12 - December 2005
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