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The Wonder Years

By Ms. Bhavani Munshi


Ms. Bhavani Munshi is currently a 3rd year student at the University of Toronto, Canada. She was fortunate to live and study at the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School, Prashanthi Nilayam, for 5 years from 1996-2001 where she attended Grades 1-5.

For the past eight decades, Swami has enveloped us in His divine aura and given us memories of His omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience to cherish for the rest of our lives. He has bestowed on us His energy that has helped us make it through the most difficult of situations. Personally, Swami has helped me through millions of circumstances, whether I’ve been aware of His help or not, and this is just one that I think has truly had an impact on who I am, and who I will become.

I have known Baba my entire life. In my childish understanding, He was God and that summed just about everything up. I assumed He was something like Superman, raised to the power of ten. I can’t say I knew who God was, or that I ever had the time to be bothered with such philosophical questions, but until I turned five, I believed in Him because everyone around me did. As I got older, however, I wanted proof that He was God, and I got it.

Gift of a Lifetime

It was the December of 1995. I would turn five on December 18th, and like any other kid I was very excited. To add to my excitement, I was in Puttaparthi, India, the birthplace and ashram of our beloved Baba. It was my first visit ever.

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On the morning of my birthday, my parents surprised me with a slate and a piece of chalk. They explained to me that the chalk and the slate were for Baba to write the symbol Aum on. So that morning, I went for Darshan with my new gifts tucked under my arm. After some time, Swami came out and started walking in my direction. Since I was too shy to ask Swami to write on my slate, my mom had to call out to Him.

I vividly remember Him turning towards us, and smiling. He came near me, and quite anticlimactically, I have no recollection of what He did after that. My mom said that He blessed me by sprinkling akshat or sacred rice on me, and drew the sacred symbol of Aum on my slate, to mark my initiation into learning inner wisdom.

The only thing I remember feeling was His divine presence, just reaching out to me, and I felt an emotion that probably hasn’t been named yet – It could have been bliss, but not having anything to compare it to, I’m not sure. It was at that moment that I decided to study at the Sri Sathya Sai Primary School of Puttaparthi.

I don’t know how I got my dad to agree to even let me try to go there, but I can tell you that it wasn’t easy. Luckily, Mom’s an ex-student of Swami’s college and was therefore not too hard to convince. When Dad finally let me try, he said that I would have to work really hard to get in because of the difference in standards.

In Canada, my kindergarten experience was centered on arts and crafts, colouring, puzzles, show and tell, and lunch time. But in India, children usually know how to add, subtract, read, and sometimes even multiply at that age. I was way behind, but that didn’t dampen my confidence. In my five-year old mind, it was clear that I belonged in Swami’s school. I was eager to get in there, and was determined to do whatever it would take, even if it meant giving up Barney for multiplication tables. Finally, in May 1996, my mom, my 10 year old cousin, and I were off to India for admission. There, my mom asked Swami in the Darshan line if my cousin and I would get in, and He said, “Yes”. After that, I had no doubt about our acceptance at His school.

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Bhavani (left) in fervent prayer
to be a Sai student
 
The joy of being in Prasanthi showed!
With granny in God's own land

After writing our entrance exams in Puttaparthi, we went to Whitefield because the list of those admitted would be posted there, as Swami was in Whitefield and so were most of the devotees. Just as Swami had said, I had gotten in, and soon the news that my cousin had gotten in arrived. My joy was boundless, until I realized that the situation was not as perfect as I thought it would be.

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Bhavani - Dad's dearest daughter
 

Culture Shock

Despite the initial euphoria, it suddenly dawned upon me that I would now have to live away from my home in Canada, leaving my parents for ten months at a stretch. There was definitely no way I could have done that. I had endured maybe a one-night sleepover at a friend’s house, but I knew that I wouldn’t survive without my parents. Leaving them, my home and everything that I was familiar with, seemed like some form of torture to me. I realized that my dad wouldn’t be there to give me ‘bear hugs’ every day after school.

My mom wouldn’t be there to read me my favourite fairy tales. They would be thousands of miles away, in Canada, and I was pretty sure that even their flying kisses would take a long time to reach me. A strange sense of fear and uncertainty gripped me. I was five years and a few months old and had so far adamantly asked my parents for this gift of Sathya Sai Education. Now that I had it, I was scared and nervous. That’s when I decided to write to Swami, every day, and ask Him to give me the strength to survive without my parents.

In my crooked, backwards writing, I asked Swami for courage to be able to live without my parents around. Every letter I wrote was completely heartfelt and a truthful call to God to help me. He was the only one who could do that. I didn’t know any better then, and still don’t.

Response to a Pining Heart

Everyday, I wrote small letters to Swami saying things like, ‘Baba, I love you 100%’, and ‘Please give me the strength to live without my mom and dad’. Every letter was always accompanied by little stick figure pictures of Baba, my parents, myself and my cousin or sometimes flowers. Swami always went out of His way to reach me and take my letters. These letters have also taught me a lesson. Swami doesn’t care about how long a letter is, or the level of your vocabulary or grammar. All He wants is that every letter is written with devotion.

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One fine day, I was sitting in the second row, waiting for Swami’s darshan. As usual, I had my letter placed neatly in my lap, waiting to be received by Swami. Swami then arrived and started walking towards me. As He neared me, He turned towards me and just stared. He looked with such a powerful intensity, with His loving, deep, dark eyes, touching my heart profoundly. It was a very potent exchange of glances that it moved me from within and I started to cry.

I didn’t know why I was crying, but the tears just rolled out of my eyes. Hearing me sob, my mom turned around and asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t answer. I tried to hold back the tears, but I had no control over them. After a couple of minutes, I stopped crying, and I realized what had transpired. During this time, He had also taken my letter although I have no recollection of it, so immersed was I in receiving His kind grace. I realized it later when my Mom pointed it out.

In that single moment, Swami had read my concern and responded to my prayers by giving me the courage and the strength to live without my worldly mother. He had approved my prayer to live with my Divine Mother Sai, the one that watches over us every moment of our lives, no matter where we are, or what we are doing. I knew then, and I know now, that I couldn’t have stayed the five years I did at the Sri Sathya Sai School, Prasanthi Nilayam if it wasn’t for Swami answering my prayer, by giving me the inner strength.

Upon joining His school, I realized that the food, clothes and just about everything else was different and difficult to get used to. But after some time, I forgot all the differences, thanks to my welcoming peers and the love that blows in the breeze of Puttaparthi. I had no time to think of my parents, busy as I was with my studies and other activities. Soon I lost track of time and my first year in Parthi was over.

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The Sri Sathya Sai Primary School -
where tiny tots blossom into beautiful minds
 
Flanked by her cousin and an aunt
on the porch of the school

One memory that I have of my first year there, was of my cousin falling sick. Since my cousin and I had become very close over the past few months, I ended up spending a lot of time with her in the ‘Sick Room’, and naturally, I too fell sick. Both of us were running high fevers. Then, one day, Swami visited the school. By then, His visits were becoming scarce, so this one came as a pleasant surprise. Unexpectedly, Swami came to the dormitory, and when He saw us, He raised His hand in blessing. After He left, we went back to sleep, and the next day, we woke up feeling perfectly well. The memory of Him blessing us with His divine hand raised and its curative effect upon us is a memory my cousin and I will always treasure.

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Special blessings on the Sportsmeet Day
 
Dancing dextrously in front of The Divine

God Showers Health and Happiness

Just before I joined His school in Parthi, I was diagnosed with a minor heart condition known as ‘mitral valve prolapse’. Although it was insignificant to me, my parents were very worried about it mostly because it required me to take medication (antibiotics) before any procedure involving a loss of blood. Simple dental work had to be preceded by this medication and my parents were worried for my safety on the playground all the time. But, on January 11 1998, I once more experienced healing at Swami’s hands during the grand finale of our Sports Day performance.

He walked to where I was sitting and asked me, “Where are you from?” I replied that I was from Canada, because in the excitement of the moment, I could not come up with a more spiritually correct answer like, “From you, Swami!” Swami then smiled and patted my cheek. That summer, when I returned home to Canada for my holidays in the months of April and May, I went for my annual check-up with the cardiologist. To everyone’s astonishment, my heart appeared perfectly normal and my body had apparently overcome the mitral valve prolapse. My doctor didn’t have an explanation for it, but I knew it was the effect of Swami’s touch.

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After completing each school year, I reached Canada safely and two months later, I was back to Puttaparthi for the next academic year. The cycle continued and I began to enjoy it till I completed Grade 5 and my Dad ran out of patience for my annual appeals for one more year’s extension to study in Parthi. Finally, in 2001, I returned to Canada for good and resumed my schooling here from Grade 6 onwards.

Indelible Impact

Yet the memories of my divine adventure in Puttaparthi live within me. Everything I learned there has become a part of me. I’ve become more independent due to these experiences and as a person I’ve grown in too many ways to describe. My adventure proves that you are never too old or too young to listen to your heart and follow your dream!

Today, I am a Grade 12 student, attending a Catholic High School in a Toronto suburb, who knows that apart from book knowledge, self-awareness and inner growth are extremely important. And I would never have known so, if it wasn’t for Swami’s presence in my life. My life has been molded around this fundamental, and will remain so. As a teenager, I deal with many issues and choices that I need to make in all spheres of my life.

I am grateful to Swami that I have enough self-confidence to know how to choose wisely and carefully. This love of virtue and fear of sin is Swami’s gift to each of us, His daughters and sons, who have been blessed to live in His physical proximity. It was one amazing experience for me to live with God as my neighbour in Parthi for five memorable years. The impact of His company is indelible. No matter where I go, or what I do, I know He will guide me, because He is God, and He loves me, as I love Him and nothing can ever change that.

 


Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like to share you feelings with us? If so please contact us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.


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Vol 5 Issue 12 - DECEMBER 2007
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