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So Far, Yet Ever Near

By Dr. (Mrs.) Radha Nandkumar


Mrs. Radha Nandkumar hails from Bangalore and has been living in the USA since 1978. She is an active member of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Center of Champaign - Urbana, Illinois. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and has been working in high-end computing for nearly two decades with her more recent projects being of international scope. She also visits regularly and supports the Sri Sathya Sai University at Puttaparthi in some of their Information Technology based endeavours.

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Swami and Me Sai Radha
 
January 2008 Coverstory

I am normally glued to my computer when new articles appear in H2H, Radio Sai’s e-Journal. The Cover Story of January, 2008, on Professor Kasturi was so captivating that it touched the core of my heart; I could not help but make note of this statement in the editorial:

"If only we look around and have the eyes to see, there are many personalities whose lives are filled with devotion and dedication, but for the most part they are silent, letting their deeds do the talking."

I have had the privilege to be around devotees who live Swami’s teaching, do an incredible amount of selfless service, and have been close to Swami for several decades, but never speak about it. And these people have influenced me greatly. I have wondered what makes me qualified to share the story of my life with Swami. He has touched my heart so deeply, and this is something that can only be experienced, not explained. But with humility, I submit the following with the hope that the words, anecdotes and stories will strum the strings in the hearts of others on the same path. Prof. Kasturi, in Loving God, summarizes this beautifully:

“I have discovered that all who have come into the presence of Sai, either during visits to places where His Darshan is possible or through His visiting them in dreams and visions, in films or on portraits or in the pages of books, or through actual physical appearance and concrete signs and signals, are somehow drawn to fellow devotees and are urged to share their elation with those who will become as elated as themselves.”

Noble Upbringing

I was born and brought up in Bangalore. My parents Jayalakshmi and M. S. Srinivasan (who are both no more), were very pious and loving. I was raised in a traditional South Indian environment which was peace-loving, harmonious and religious. My parents had inculcated staunch faith in God and brought us up with the values of ‘love of God’ and ‘fear of sin’. Their love expanded not only to their children, but also to everyone around them.

My father’s spiritual pursuits were very strong from his early years and he was always around and among Godmen, saints, and sages. On one such occasion, he brought Saipadananda Radhakrishna Swamiji to our home, who was a disciple of Sri Narasimha Swamiji - a disciple of Shirdi Sai Baba - who spread the teachings of Shirdi Sai Baba in South India. We were very blessed to have Radhakrishna Swamiji stay with our family for a couple of years until accommodation was established for him in Bangalore and this was around the time I was born.

Swami and Me Sai Radha
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Shirdi Sai Baba
 

I was given the name Radha by him. My father always believed in the ‘Oneness of God’ and was very much attached to Swamiji and Shirdi Sai Baba. He was among the few founding members of a Shirdi Sai Center in Bangalore Cantonment, located in our housing compound and we used to attend the bhajans regularly on Thursdays when we were all young. All our family festivals and observances centered on devotion, Hindu traditions and love for Lord Krishna.

In my large family, all of us were very close knit. When my mother passed away (before I completed my high school), it was a great shock for us; but the loss only brought the family closer together than ever. We had intense faith in God, but could never understand why God had taken our mother back in such a hurry. Prayers were our anchor and answer for everything. My father was our example in following Baba’s teachings of being in the world, but not of the world.

I used to choose different deities to pray to for different situations – help with exams needed Jesus, to get out of a situation of fear it was Baba, and so forth. Moving from Bangalore Cantonment, growing up, getting busy with studies and so on, somehow kept me busy for a few years and away from Shirdi Sai Baba, Bhajans and Satsangs, etc. even though I continued using sincere prayers as the crutch for every step, slip and fall.

I finished college, and became excited about space science and joined ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) working there for a few years. Soon I was married; my in-laws were loving, affectionate and always treated me with much love and warmth. All this was God’s Grace in abundance. I had to soon leave this loving family and come to the United States to join my husband, who was settled in the US and had come to India to visit his family when we got married.

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Swami and Me Sai Radha
 
Dr. Radha Nandakumar's Family

I had never been away from family for too long, and so when I first came I felt so isolated from anything familiar. My husband and I were the only ones from both sides of our families to come to the US and in the new environment I kept feeling a sense of emptiness around me. I then joined school, finished my graduate program, had two children, and found myself busy with my career and family.

Drawn Through Dreams

During one of our vacations in Toronto, Canada, we went to visit our close family friend couple - Krishnaswamy and Anusuya. They talked about Swami and had also bought us a set of books on Swami from the Toronto Sai Center. This was in 1984. Somehow I had kept them unread for several years. Eventually, when I started reading the Sathyam Sivam Sundaram series (Baba’s biography) by Prof. Kasturi, Swami started appearing in my dreams frequently.

My dreams were always very vivid and I experienced an inexplicable happiness and excitement whenever Swami was in my dream. I knew from my readings that Swami does not appear in our dreams unless He wills it. So I recognized that it was a unique and great blessing. In 1990, when my son, Ajit, was about eight and my daughter, Anita, was about three, I was reading a story from the book Chinna Katha (stories narrated by Bhagavan) to them everyday. Swami once again appeared in my dream: He stood at the entrance to the children’s room, signaled me to leave the room and indicated that He will take care of reading the story to them. I felt reassured and blessed beyond measure with this Grace since I always felt parenting was a much greater challenge in a foreign land with the expectations and conflicts of ill-understood dual cultures.

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Swami and Me Sai Radha

My children also had a few dreams of Swami, now and then. Meanwhile, my family members in India were experiencing signs of His Grace as well. I was somehow hearing more about Swami from people and I found an intense yearning to join a Sai Center. I knew there were Sai Centers all around the US, but I did not know of any easy way to locate one close to where I lived. I started to read a lot of books about Swami, discourses by Him and also about spirituality.

The story about Swami Vivekananda in Chinna Katha impressed my son so much that he chose to write about Vivekananda for a school project when he had to select a famous person or a hero. I was quite thrilled inwardly, but at the same time, a little apprehensive about how he would be able to convey his enthusiasm about an Indian monk to a class full of American children, who may not know about Indians, leave alone monks. But he did quite well and this also influenced me greatly to read Swami Vivekananda’s biography and discourses.

Then serendipitously, I joined my son’s class on one of their field trips as a parent chaperone. His regular class teacher who had an emergency in the family had sent another teacher in her place on this field trip. This teacher, Lisa, took me by surprise when she pronounced all of our Indian names with great ease. Later that day I found out that she had traveled to India, and when I probed more, I found out that she had spent a month at Prashanti Nilayam! I immediately knew here was a proof of ‘Sai-incidence’, not ‘coincidence’ that I had read about, and found out from her about the local Sai Centers.

Meeting ‘Like-Hearted’ People

The Champaign-Urbana Sathya Sai Baba Center was (and still remains) a very small group, and meets in devotees’ homes. The meeting was in one such devotee’s home in the coming week. Lisa gave me the details and invited me to the Sai Bhajan session which I attended. (Since then, Lisa has become a very close friend and a spiritual sister forever). That very first Bhajan experience I had in the United States was a unique experience in itself. There was a small traditional Indian altar in the devotee’s home with images and idols of Lord Ganesha and Shiva, and in this was included a small 2”x4” picture of Swami.

Swami and Me Sai Radha
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Altar at the Champaign-Urbana
Sathya Sai Baba Center
 

This tiny picture was so incredibly powerful and radiating so much energy that it kept me focused on it all throughout the session and tears started streaming down my cheeks. It was a great turning point in my life in the United States. I knew that was what my heart was longing and yearning for all the while; it filled my inner void. From then on, the Sai Center of Champaign-Urbana has been my extended family in the US . It is nearly two decades now since I first went there.

Immediately after my first week of joining the Center, everyone was planning on attending the Memorial Day Weekend Retreat of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba Centers in St. Louis and I joined them along with my children. Attending this retreat was absolutely soothing to the soul, and I could see how love for Swami had brought so many good people together.

I could experience His Love through them and was soaked in bliss listening to the Bhajans sung by everyone with so much devotion. The mutual love and respect that was being shared and the kindness and compassion of those who volunteered in various ways at the Retreat was touching.

The adults, who were Bal Vikas gurus, impressed me a lot, as they took care of others’ children, so that those parents could attend the sessions and enjoy the Sai Bhajans. I have been associated ever since then with the Sai Centers. In fact, the retreat had such a great influence on my little daughter, Anita, that apart from learning a lot of Bhajans, for the first time, she even started ‘reading’ by reading/singing her favourite bhajans from the ‘Bhajan Book’ of our center.

Amidst all this, I should mention that my husband has with him a picture of Swami in his wallet that he says I gave him during our wedding; but I don’t ever recall possessing this picture or seeing it, let alone giving it to him. I think this must be a Divine Play of Swami that I was to learn about years later.

His Presence Never Leaves

I have never felt that I have had heard enough stories of Swami’s miracles and experiences, because I am always thirsting for more. I always attempt every possible way to incorporate more of His teachings in my life. Whatever was learnt, suggested or offered as a spiritual sadhana that worked for other devotees, were always shared and tried by us. I remember on one occasion, we received an email note from one of Swami’s students which said that her mother would always make her start the day with vibhuthi from a jar and a quotation from another. They had a box with a lot of messages from Swami in small strips and she would pick one each day and follow it.

Swami and Me Sai Radha
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I too wanted to do that as a daily thought for the day and a message to follow for the day (before the internet use was as prevalent as it is these days, when we have the privilege of reading it online from the Radio Sai website). Swami would always make me aware that He is watching over us and would even exhibit His Omniscience, and at times He would do it with a great sense of humour too!

Every time I would do something against my usual routine and feel guilty, I would get the prick right away! For example, if I had a day when I would decide to be a bit lazy and postponed my bath or slept off in a hurry without doing the required cleaning up in the house, my message the next day would say ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’.

If I overindulged in tasty delicacies (which I often do), he would reprimand me the next day with ‘Overeating is harmful.’ If I had yelled for some reason, it would say ‘Speak softly.’ If I were in a quandary on some issues or decisions, He would indicate to me ‘Don’t give up the opportunity’ and so forth. In things small and large, I would experience His kindness and guidance.

All my siblings and their family members are also very spiritual; each one’s experience and acceptance of Swami as a Poorna Avathar (Divine Incarnation) has occurred at different times. I used to keep praying to Swami to bring everyone in my family closer to Him. When this prayer was intense and sincere, He blessed us all in such a manner that during one of my early visits to Prasanthi Nilayam, from each one of our siblings’ families, someone could travel to Puttaparthi for His Darshan. It is amazing how beautifully these trips came together for all of us at very short notice.

On one occasion, in the early eighties, when I was in the US and not yet in Swami’s fold, a couple of my sisters had taken their nieces and gone for His Darshan to Bangalore. The car had a broken axle on their journey and there were no male family members with them at that time; so they sincerely prayed to Swami for help. Out of the blue, someone came in a larger car, took them all, promised to send help for the broken car, stopped on the way at a house, provided them with a grand meal and finally dropped them all in Bangalore. When my family members returned to the same spot later to offer thanks to the family that was so kind to them, to their amazement, there was neither a house nor a trace of any building where they were stranded the week before!

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Swami and Me Sai Radha

There have been ample proofs of His Omniscience and showers of Grace on all of us, and He has also given us the wisdom and strength to ‘Hold onto Him’ during great difficulties. He once came to me in a dream in the US, while at the same time He was blessing my sisters during Darshan in Puttaparthi by materializing Vibhuti for them.

I always try to remember Swami who has been my inner strength. His words of solace and succor always appear at just the right time and in the right context to guide me through tough and disappointing times. Similarly, during good times, I have felt His blessings heaped on me. I never therefore forget to thank Him wholeheartedly for all His Grace in my life.

I work in a field that stays at the leading-edge of technology which is more often termed as the bleeding-edge of technology. Working in such a competitive environment is not always healthy; there are biases, sometimes subtle and at other times, not-so-subtle. My reasonably traditional upbringing with associated high moral values, coupled with a deep sense of intuition and strong spiritual bent, has always guarded me against a lot of challenges in the professional world. Amidst all this, what has come to my rescue tremendously is the professional network that Swami has helped me build over the years through my work and travels. Treating the work place as a spiritual training ground, smoothens for me the ripples caused by oppressive forces in my environment.

Devotional Dilemma

As a major part of my work, I establish and follow-up on synergies and collaborations between institutions around the world. Wherever I travel, my scheduled activities always involve full days with professional colleagues from the institutions I visit. A couple of years ago, I was on one such follow-up trip to the UK with some of my office colleagues to attend an annual conference and also meet with our UK colleagues for collaborative engagements, on the side.

"Let the different faiths exist, let them flourish, and let the glory of God be sung in all the languages and a variety of tunes. That should be the ideal. Respect the differences between the faiths and recognize them as valid, as long as they do not extinguish the flame of unity."
- Baba

 

On this particular trip, I was debating whether I should detour and visit the London Sai Center prior to my meeting (since I often recall the reverberations from the riveting Bhajans there from my previous visit and the joy of participating in their seva activities), or go with my colleagues directly to our destination.

Since we were to arrive a bit earlier, I was thinking long and hard about spending that time in spiritual pursuits, but something compelled me to be a good team player and proceed with my colleagues to the final destination rather than route myself separately for being at the Sai Center. When we arrived for the conference, we had a few sessions to attend in the evening and also had meetings scheduled for the next morning. One of my fellow attendees, a senior colleague - let’s call him Mr. Xavier - did not attend the arrival day evening sessions and we did not think much of it, as we thought he may be jet lagged and resting that evening.

At about 10 PM, he called to let me know that he was feeling quite ill and was not sure if he would be able to attend the next day’s morning session. Before hanging up, he mentioned that he had brought some publications for distribution at the meeting the next morning. When I picked up the publications, he indicated that he was feeling faint from a bleeding ulcer and may need to go to hospital later. I offered to assist him and told him not to hesitate to call.

A Gift of the Sacred

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Swami and Me Sai Radha

I returned and prayed to Swami sincerely. I had a favourite picture of Swami and a little Vibhuti with me, which I knew would help Mr. Xavier. However, I had no idea about his beliefs and attitude towards objects that were religious or spiritual. Nevertheless, I prayed to Swami to guide me through, and took that picture as well as the Vibhuti to him. I mentioned to him that it was my spiritual teacher’s image which he could keep, and the white powder was like the ‘Holy Water’ of Jesus, some of which he should take. I returned and continued to pray.

A little after midnight I received another call from him saying that as soon as he took the Vibhuti, his bleeding stopped; but he was still too weak and did not want emergency treatment in a foreign land. He wanted to check if he can undertake his return travel right away with no risk of an emergency on the way; and so, he had already called for an ambulance.

Since I offered to help, I accompanied him to the hospital, got him admitted and returned after I was assured that he was being taken care of by a good team of physicians. I had done my part and trusted that Swami in the people around will keep him safe. The next day I juggled between meetings, conference attendance and hospital visits, as he underwent some emergency procedures.

The following morning, Mr. Xavier was ready to be discharged and we rearranged our schedules to return to the States earlier than planned. The return trip was fortunately uneventful and by His Grace, we reached home without any emergencies. Mr. Xavier’s family was very thankful to me for my timely help, but I knew I was only an instrument in His Hands.

But this is not the complete story; there was a revealing tale within this story. Mr. Xavier informed me later that on that particular night, along with him there were more than twenty patients in the large room which had a nurses’ station outside. The patient in the bed next to his was a big, burly and tall gentleman, much larger than himself. And this neighbour was either trying to get out of bed or was sleep walking, and consequently fell flat on the floor before any help could be summoned. Xavier had Swami’s picture in his hospital jacket pocket close to his chest and he apparently patted it and asked for strength to lift and help the patient get on his feet.

And surprisingly, he was able to do that even though he himself was extremely weak! He could not believe himself. When Mr. Xavier narrated this to me, he again patted his shirt pocket that had Swami’s picture and said, “He must have put me in that particular ward in the hospital so that I could be there to help this other guy out.”

Out of the blue, someone came in a larger car, took them all, promised to send help for the broken car, stopped on the way at a house, provided them with a grand meal and finally dropped them all in Bangalore. When my family members returned to the same spot later to offer thanks to the family that was so kind to them, to their amazement, there was neither a house nor a trace of any building where they were stranded the week before!

The whole incident was like a revelation to me. I knew I did the right thing in giving my favourite picture, even though initially I was very hesitant, and also understood why my trip, that could have started with a visit to the London Sai Center, was to be otherwise. He says, “Hands that help are holier than lips that pray,” and I thanked Him for the opportunity.

Experiencing the Language of the Heart

We have had the privilege of having Bhajans of the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Champaign-Urbana in our home regularly for almost a decade now. It always leaves such a positive atmosphere and anchors everything else we do over the week. True to my initial dream, Swami has always been with my children. My daughter, Anita, currently is the Young Adult coordinator in our small Center, and Ajit, who is now in Irvine, California, is not too far away from Dr. Sam Sandweiss’s Center in San Diego. Whenever I travel for work, which I do quite often, I would miss being at the Center and so would look forward to participating in Sai Bhajan sessions wherever possible.

I am generally at a loss of words in social gatherings, but with Sai families around the world, I am at home, as words and feelings emanate from the heart and without saying much, you are folded into the group. In the last seven years, my work has taken me to several countries and I have often utilized opportunities at the beginning or at the end of my trips to attend Sai Bhajans in those places. Swami says:

"Let the different faiths exist, let them flourish, and let the glory of God be sung in all the languages and a variety of tunes. That should be the ideal. Respect the differences between the faiths and recognize them as valid, as long as they do not extinguish the flame of unity." - Baba

Swami and Me Sai Radha
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The Brisbane Altar...
...and the Brisbane sisters themselves

Away from Champaign-Urbana, which has been my home for nearly three decades now, I have had the privilege of attending Satsangs in Brisbane in Australia, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Cape Town in South Africa, Bangalore, Chennai and Prasanthi Nilayam in India, London in the UK, and in cities like Arkansas, Bloomington, Chicago, Dallas, Decatur Detroit, Peoria, Springfield, and San Diego in the USA. No matter whether the Bhajans are sung in Sanskrit or Hindi, English or Portuguese, Kannada, Telugu or Tamil, you feel one with the gathering, experience the Bliss, sweetness of the Divine, and the Language of the Heart.

When I was in Brisbane, Australia, I had the unique opportunity of spending some time with the Brisbane Center where ‘Twin Devotee Sisters of Swami’ not only exemplify Swami’s teachings, but have become Swami’s images in the intense Selfless Love and Peace they radiate. They showered so much love and affection on me that I felt as though I was in Baba’s presence in Prasanthi Nilayam.

They were kind enough to give as a loving gift, one of the books written by them. Similarly, when I was in Cape Town in South Africa and was able to attend a Sunday Satsang, I was so touched and inspired by their havan (sacrifice), and the sincerity with which the center members prayed to Swami to heal Himself when He had a hip fracture.

Unique Blessings

It has truly been a blessing and a privilege to experience the Love for Swami in various parts of the world. I also consider it a great blessing to be able to see the vast and varied beauty of the world, the many facets of God’s creation and especially wonderful people in all the places I visit. The most enjoyable and profound benefit of my travels is, of course, when they bring me to Prasanthi Nilayam and to the campuses of the Sri Sathya Sai University.

Swami and Me Sai Radha
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Dr. Radha (second from right) with the teachers of the Anantapur Campus of Sri Sathya Sai University
With the faculty of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Sciences, Sri Sathya Sai University

I feel really blessed that the Head of Department and faculty of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Sciences (DMACS), Sri Sathya Sai University, involved me in discussions on high performance computing, visualization, and a few cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary discussions between DMACS and the Baba’s Super Specialty Hospitals in 2005. It was again a great blessing to have been associated with the organization of the “Next-Gen Information Technology for Societal Advancement and Integration (IT-SAI) Conference" at the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus in July 2006, and also with the "Women and Information Technology for Societal Advancement and Integration (WIT-SAI) Workshop" in the Anantapur Campus in July 2007.

All these occasions have brought me to meet with some of Swami’s highly eminent and esteemed instruments working in His Institutions. I always feel that it is in preparation for associating with the esteemed SSSU that Swami has given me all the other opportunities in life. I am convinced that ‘The Light of God surrounds us, the Power of God protects us and wherever I am, God Is.’


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 03 - MARCH 2008
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