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NEAR AND DEAR FOREVER

By Mrs. Dipali Arun

 

An alumna of the Anantapur campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University from 1982-1987, Dipali Arun graduated with a degree in B. A (Political Science). She hails from a family that has looked up to Swami as an Avatar since 1950's. She got married right after completion of her Bachelors Degree, and in 1991 she moved to Ottawa, Canada. She is actively involved in the activities of the Sai Centre there, currently serving as the President of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Center of Ottawa-Carleton in Canada.

Swami and Me Sai Arun
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Mrs. Dipali Arun with Prof. N. Kasturi, 1970
 

It was on January 19, 1970, that I first put my little feet on the holy sands of Prashanti Nilayam in Puttaparthi, India. This is where the abode of my Mother Sai is located. My parents and I had traveled from Shillong (northeast India) by car and were on our way to Bangalore where my grandparents lived.

My maternal grandparents were Swami’s devotees from a long time, but it was my father’s father that had recently come into the Sai fold. My grandfather had requested my father to visit Puttaparthi on the way. My mother had told herself that until her husband took her to Bhagavan, she would not have His Darshan. That dream was to be fulfilled soon.

I do not remember much of that wonderful morning, in 1970, when I was only four and half years old, but it is clear in my memory due to my parents’ constant recollection. Early next morning, my mother was packing and father was loading the car. Sai Geeta, Swami’s pet elephant, was tied to one of the trees near the Mandir and I was running around her in total fascination as she frolicked on the fine sands.

It was at that time Kasturi uncle (Mr. N. Kasturi) came running to my parents and requested us to go to the verandah of the old Mandir as Swami had asked for us. My father was surprised at this, but left the packing and we ran to the verandah. On the advice on Kasturi uncle, my father quickly ran outside the Nilayam and brought a slate and chalk. My parents and I sat patiently waiting for the Call.

Coming Near to the Lord

Soon enough, Swami ushered us into the interview room along with a few Italian devotees. As we settled down, He caught my father off guard when He asked him to stand up and translate. Swami spoke in Kannada, my mother tongue, while my father translated it into English for the rest of the group to understand. Swami spoke about many things of a spiritual nature. But the key point He made and wanted us all to understand was: Swami’s Grace is always there. It is for us to open our hearts to Him so that He can reside there. If we keep our pot facing upwards we can collect His Grace, but if it is left overturned, how can we expect the pot to get full? He also mentioned that ‘near is not important, dear is more important’.

It was at this point that my father understood why he had been asked to translate even if Swami did know to speak in English. We had come a long way to Puttaparthi from the North-eastern part of India. Swami stresses that it is not important to be close to Him physically, but to love Him and follow His teachings and hence be close to Him by keeping Him in our heart. Even if we are thousands of miles away from Puttaparthi, we constantly feel the presence of Swami. After some time Swami took us to the inner room. We were with Swami for about an hour. He graciously went into depths of many subjects with my parents, answering all their questions and giving spiritual solace to their souls.

In the meanwhile I must have been exhausted and so, fell asleep. When I woke up, Swami made me sit beside Him on the chair , put His Hands around me and holding my hand made me write many times on the slate. Speaking in Kannada to my parents, Swami said, “How many people get this opportunity? She is a fish that is caught in the hook. She has no escape.”

He then materialized a locket with the face of Shirdi Baba on one side with the inscription: “You look to me, I look to you”, and on the other side, it had the face of Swami in Abhaya Hasta (blessing) pose with the words “Why fear when I am here”. Today, as I recollect what my parents have told me, I wish I had been older to have remembered this precious moment.

I learned three important lessons from that memorable day: “Have faith in Him”, “Be free from fear, anxiety and agitation” and “Surrender to God; His Grace can save you, His Wisdom can enlighten you and His Power can overcome all obstacles”. Faith and surrender are the manifestations of devotion.

I have been associated with the Sai Organization since my childhood. I regularly attended Bal Vikas and took an active part in the center’s Narayan Seva. The best part of helping out in the kitchen was the special bowl of kheer (sweet rice pudding) that would always be saved for me by one of the aunties or uncles working in the kitchen as they knew it was my favorite. Many years went by and in the course of time, we moved to Bangalore. I had just completed my grade 10 and was awaiting my results to apply to Pre-University (grade 11 and 12 as it is known in North America ).

Chosen to be His Student

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Swami and Me Sai Arun

One morning, I woke up and questioned my father as to where Anantapur was. He was surprised and wondered where I came across that place. I mentioned that I had a dream in which Swami had asked me to come to Anantapur. That was the first time I came to know that He had a college just for women.

I knew then and there that it was the place for me. Next day, my maternal grandmother, father and I packed up and left to Puttaparthi to see how I could get admission into Anantapur. We had only planned to be away for a few days, but eventually we stayed for more than a week. I had a letter for Swami, but I was not allowed to sit in the front because I was young and in a salwar kameez.

I was quite disappointed. So one morning, I borrowed my grandmother’s sari and blouse and using a great number of safety pins, was able to hold up the sari in place. My excitement knew no bounds when the sevadal (volunteers) allowed me to sit in the very first row. And I was elated when Swami came and took my letter. I knew my Divine Mother would take care of me and was also confident about going to Anantapur soon.

During my stay in Puttaparthi, I was able to meet our Principal and Warden and I picked up the application forms for admission. I was also introduced to a family friend whose daughter was studying in Anantapur at that time. Little did I know that she would be my mentor for the next few years during my stay in Anantapur.

After returning to Bangalore , I decided to apply to all three programs (Science, Arts and Commerce). It did not matter to me what I studied as long as I was in Swami’s college. I waited anxiously every day to hear some good news. It seemed like eternity. By now, my mother was a bit restless, in case I did not make it because it was too late to apply in Bangalore. Finally, one morning there was exciting news; a postcard had arrived from the college. I had made it into the Arts program but had not received hostel placement. This did not seem to deter any of us as we came with the car loaded with all my personal items, clothes and bedding. If Swami has called me here He will take care of the details.

Soon I had the interview with the Principal Hemalata Madam, Warden Jayamma Madam and Pushpa Madam. I was told to wait till the end of the day to know if I could have a hostel seat. We went out into the college lounge and were deciding what we should do for the rest of the day, when I was called again inside the principal’s room. I was asked if I could handle the rigors and the discipline of the hostel life. My joy knew no bounds. I never questioned whether I could endure hostel life; all that mattered was to be in Swami’s college and close to Him.

"See my girls, how they float on wheels" - Baba

During my stay at Anantapur, every year I participated in the annual sports day. Swami would come and watch us compete in various races. He would give out the shields to the teams that had won in various team sports we had like basketball, volleyball, badminton and other games. One such sports day, I had participated in the sack race, and to my happiness, I came first. The first and second place winners were allowed to stand on the podium to receive Swami’s blessings.

Swami and Me Sai Arun
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Swami and Me Sai Arun
In sack race 1st place finish...
Blessed by her heart's Number One

By my fourth year at Anantapur, a couple of us wanted to try something different for our daily sports activity. We bought roller skates and would skate around the corridors of the college after hours. It was a lot of fun! One day, as we were skating around the corridors, we had this grand idea of presenting a musical program in front of Swami, incorporating our newly acquired skill. The thought made us very excited and we presented our idea to our sports teacher. She wanted further information regarding the proposed program before she could present it to the principal.

We gathered more girls who were also interested in learning how to skate. The ten of us planned the music and the steps to go with it. When we were ready, we had the sports teacher and the principal see our skate program. We were elated when we received approval. We girls spent a lot of time practicing together. Finally, the big day arrived when Swami visited our campus. That special day was January 18, 1986. It was our annual sports day at Anantapur.

Special arrangements had been made in the library for this program. We performed before the Almighty Lord. We were excited beyond words to get this very special opportunity to perform for Him. The proximity with the Lord was thrilling. At the end of the short dance on skates He came amongst us and appeared to be amazed at our dexterity, and He kept mentioning to all around Him "See my girls, how they float on wheels". His innocence and astonishment were obvious and contagious. I was overwhelmed with joy.

Swami and Me Sai Arun
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Swami and Me Sai Arun
Skating in library in the Divine Presence
Swami wants to know more about their performance

So far that was the happiest day of my life! Just when I thought that was the ultimate experience of our life, Swami confirmed that He would like us to perform the same program during our annual sports day festivities at the Hill View Stadium at Puttaparthi the coming year. I am sure you can imagine our happiness. We were busy wiping the tears of joy as fast as possible so as to not cloud our vision to behold the Lord. We did not want this moment to end.

Finally, He posed for pictures and blessed us all. Each of us took our time to take padanamaskaram. We did not want to get up after placing our head on His Lotus Feet. They were as soft as rose petals. It felt as though nothing else in the world seemed important anymore. Before we realized, our special day with Swami had ended and our thoughts started racing in preparation and anticipation of the sports day to come.

Swami and Me Sai Arun
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Sports Day, 1987 in the Vidyagiri Stadium
 

Soon we were preoccupied with exams and the college closed for the summer holidays. Back to Anantapur the following school year, we were busy with practice and deciding the costumes. Everything had to be perfect in order to be a worthy offering, befitting our Mother Sai.

The day finally came on January 11, 1987 when we were able to perform our program. We had a march by the girls and we skated on the basketball court in the Hill View Stadium. By Swami's Grace and Blessings all went very well and He kept talking about our achievement to the boys. He boasted like a proud mother, how His girls were able to skate and were so graceful.

This, of course, I heard later from my cousin who was also a student and was around Swami at that time. This was my last year in Swami's college. He made it so memorable!

Unforgettable Anantapur Memories

I never realized how the five years had gone by. Every festival or holiday would be spent at Puttaparthi. In fact, my parents had to come to Puttaparthi to see me at those times. During my stay there, many would ask how tough the hostel life was. What can I say, everyone has different experiences. As for me, my years there have taught me to adjust with different kinds of people, and brought me closer to My Swami. The numerous trips to Puttaparthi made my relationship with God, My Divine Mother even stronger.

Every day, every moment of my stay in Anantapur had been memorable. The late nights I spent studying for exams with my classmates, the bus trips to Puttaparthi, the midnight snacks and even the evening snack time sitting in the hostel corridors shooing away the bold black crows are days I will never forget. In fact, we lost our snacks to the crows many times as they would literally chase us till we gave it up. Unbelievable! They even stole hair oil bottles from my hostel room window. Amazing!

Furthermore, memories of sleeping in the dormitory at Puttaparthi and waking up in the wee hours of the morning for ice-cold water baths to beat the rush in the morning are still so fresh in my mind. The midnight baths were only to make sure I was among the first few when we form the lineup in the morning and that would give me the chance to sit in the first couple of rows at darshan time. No day was ordinary; each was attached to special memories.

‘He is My Friend and Guide’

It was during my final year of studies that I was engaged to be married. As every Anantapur girl’s dream, I too was praying to Swami that He should bless me with a husband who believed in Him. During our interview with Swami (to the graduating students), He said that as women we had various duties to perform. We should be a good daughter, a good daughter-in-law, a good wife and a good mother. Only then is Swami happy with us.

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Swami and Me Sai Arun
 
Final year interview in the Bhajan Hall

We have to remember and practice all that we have learnt over the years at Anantapur. Before I left Puttaparthi, I offered Swami my wedding card. Even without looking inside, He spoke to me in Hindi saying, “The boy is from Delhi; he is a good boy”. Well, at that time my husband was working in Delhi and hence that was a way of Swami telling me that He knew everything. He knew I would not get married without His approval.

On my husband’s first visit to Puttaparthi, Swami created vibhuti and gave it to both him and my father. I was happy as Swami had given His Blessings. I will not say that my life has been a bed of roses after that, but my gratitude to Swami and of course to my husband who has never questioned my faith or belief, and has made it possible for me to pass on my love and faith in Swami to my children.

Swami has been and will ever be my life force. In various ways, He shows me He is with me all the time. He has protected me and my family many times and I wonder how I would ever survive without Him and His Love. As He told me:Why Fear When I Am Here, You Look To Me I Look To You”, He has never left my side.

In early 1989, I had just returned to Delhi with my three month old daughter. I was sitting on the scooter behind my husband with my daughter on my lap. We were on our way to Ram Manohar Lohia Hopsital. All of a sudden as we were getting onto the ramp I was thrown off the scooter, and all I can remember was screaming “Sai Ram” and holding tightly to my baby. I was totally shaken with the fall and for having fallen on her. I slowly stood up and checked on my daughter. It was amazing that there was not a single scratch on any of us! By Swami’s grace we were able to drive home safely. He holds out His Hand in protection and gives us the courage to face life.

Swami and Me Sai Arun
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A few years later we moved to Ottawa , Canada. My daughter was in third grade and I wanted her to learn Indian classical vocal music. I was relatively new in Ottawa and did not know too many people. Someone had given me a name of a music teacher. My husband, my daughter and I went to meet the teacher.

Just as we walked into the house, who did I see? A beautiful picture of Swami in abhayahasta (blessing posture) was right in front of the door. This was definitely not a coincidence! This is how Swami shows us everyday how He is a part of our lives no matter where we live. He is my Divine Mother and I am His daughter. He knows my inner most thoughts.

What I am today is because of Him. He has been taking care of me ever since I can remember. He has held my hand when I was going astray and brought me back to the right path. He is my friend and guide. So many years later and being so many miles away from the physical presence of the avatar, it is hard to pinpoint any one instance or another illustrating His Omnipresence or His Love.

My very existence and who I am is because of Him. Every day in some way or the other He shows me He is with me and taking care of me and my family. These signs come in the form of what I see, hear or read. As Swami told my parents, His Love and Grace are always there, but it is up to us to collect it. Have we kept our vessel (our heart and mind) facing up and open to collect His Grace?

Becoming His Instrument

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Swami and Me Sai Arun

As Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much shall be expected of him”. My Divine Mother has been giving me more than I ever asked for. He has said, “Once His student, always His student”. He is always testing me, checking to see to see if I will rise to His expectations. He pushes me to strive for the best. My biggest test came last year when I was nominated to be the President of the Ottawa Sai Center.

I was taken aback and thought I did not have the expertise or confidence to carry out this task. But this is not what He expects from His students. He expects us to be prepared for any situation and rise to the occasion. Hence I began my new role as the President praying to the Almighty to always be His instrument and carry out His task. I pray to Him to mold me and make me His instrument so that I may fulfill His Mission with all love, humility and confidence.

It is not waiting for the big events to happen in my life that I need to know He is there. It is in all the little things that happen every day that He shows His presence and His infinite Love. He sends messages in very simple ways. If you are not in tune with Him you could easily miss it out. All we have to do is to tune to His frequency and we can see Him, hear Him and experience His Grace and Bliss. I love you Swami, thank you for everything.

 


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


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Vol 6 Issue 06 - JUNE 2008
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