Volume 13 - Issue 06
June 2015
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Posted on: June 30, 2015

How An Elephant and Her Caretaker

Rose to Shine Like Saints

part 02


The Penance of Pining for Him

“Soon I returned to Odisha as I was then a lecturer in Sambalpur University. After completing my Bachelors in Science and Masters in Physics, the same college offered me a job and I took it. I was back but my mind was locked to Puttaparthi. I longed to return here. Swami started appearing in my dreams. One night, He wrote on my tongue ‘Om’. Now the desire to stay with Swami was only becoming more intense every day. I was almost feeling like a fish out of water.

“So the next month I returned to the ashram, now for the Birthday celebrations. I could not stay long as I did not have enough leave. So reluctantly I returned but came back again during the summer holidays of 1971. Every time I was in Prasanthi, I would ask Swami permission to stay here but He would always say ‘Wait, wait’. It was becoming really hard for me. I was desperate to work here.

“By now I was familiar with all the service opportunities in the canteen (there was only the South Indian canteen then). In fact if I was not in darshan I was serving in the canteen. I loved the chance to do His work. Mr. Kutumba Rao was the secretary of the ashram then. He was extremely impressed with me. One day he suggested to me to write a letter to Swami asking for the opportunity to stay here and do His work. So keen was Mr. Kutumba Rao that I join the canteen that he himself wrote the letter for me; I only signed it. It was sent to Swami but nothing happened. Crestfallen, I returned to Odisha after the summer vacation.

The Fruit of Indomitable Focus

“I was in the ashram again for the 1972 Birthday celebrations. I participated wholeheartedly and served to my heart's content during this festival. However the sorrow of not being able to secure permission from Swami to stay in Puttaparthi was giving me sleepless nights. Every second was becoming unbearable. I decided that I had to end this chapter of my life to continue living in a sane manner. So after the celebrations concluded, in a moment of intense agony and frustration, I wrote to letter to Him saying ‘Swami, if You do not give me the chance to serve here permanently I will never return to Puttaparthi again! I will settle down in Odisha and start a new life.

“The next day Swami instructed Mr. Kutumba Rao to allot me a room in the ashram and I was given some responsibilities in the canteen. That is how my life in Prasanthi began.

“The ashram had very few rooms then and no bachelor would be given a room all to himself. But Swami was too gracious with me.

“In those days my duties apart from canteen tasks included looking after the gardens in front of the Mandir. This continued till 1979-80. I would serve in the canteen almost the entire day.”

“Were you getting any salary?” I could not resist asking this question.

Simple Living, High Serving

“No, I wanted to serve freely. When I came I had brought with me Rs. 3,000. I had planned to manage with this as long as I could, with basic self-cooking. But Swami told me to keep this amount in the bank and gave instructions to Mr. Kutumba Rao on the first day itself that I should always be given free food in the canteen. For what else do I need money? Bhagawan gave me clothes a couple of times or more in a year along with stitching charges. So I never had the need to buy my dresses. In fact I have not bought a single piece of cloth in the last 45 years that I have stayed in Puttaparthi. The only other expense is soap and razor, which cost less than Rs.50 per month. I cut my own hair with two mirrors and do my own laundry. My brother used to send me some money and that would last the whole year. So why do I need salary?

“However when the University came into being in 1980 Swami asked me to work in the library too. I was now given a honorarium of Rs. 400 per month. I accepted this for a few months but later when the college officials objected to me working anywhere else I declined this offer. So I continued to serve in the canteen and in the library in the early '80s.

“In the beginning of 1985, the work for the planetarium started and it was inaugurated in November that year. Swami asked me to learn the operations and maintenance of this edifice. Actually, my name was not listed as part of the planetarium team but Swami made sure that my name was included. So, during this time, I was really occupied. On Thursdays, I would be extremely busy as the planetarium opened for the public on that day.

“Meanwhile, in the mid-'80s many people who were managing the canteen left. So the task of running the entire canteen fell upon me and I discharged this responsibility for nearly 12-13 years since 1986.”

“But when did you start taking care of Sai Geetha? And how did that happen?” I was eager to connect this vital missing link.

A Golden Chapter of Mr. Pedda Reddy's Life Begins...

“Yes, it was during this time, 1984-85. Sathyanarayana, a mahout from Andhra Pradesh, was her caretaker then. However, he was not keeping well and one day he approached me and requested to help him in his work. That day, suddenly Swami came there and saw me in the Sai Geetha shed. Sathyanarayana told Swami that he had called me to help him look after Sai Geetha. Swami immediately said, ‘Yes yes, let him learn’ and then looked at me lovingly and actually laughed mildly.

“That was for me a positive sign and blessing from Him. So from then on, I began tending to Sai Geetha along with Sathyanarayana. He taught me all the nuances – the words she responded to, what and how much to feed her, how to bathe her, dress her up and so on. Sai Geetha got used to seeing me along with Sathyanarayana, and slowly began to accept me. You know that the elephant has accepted you only when it allows you to ride on her back. One of those days I rode on her back too along with Sathyanarayana and gradually we became comfortable with each other.

 
Sai Geetha wholeheartedly cooperated whenever she was being dressed because she knew she would be seeing Swami that day  

“A year later, Sathyanarayana left and I became Sai Geetha’s sole caretaker. That was a hectic period for me.

"I would wake up at 3.30 a.m. and open the canteen at 4 and manage all the activities there until 8 in the morning. Then in a bullock cart I would load Sai Geetha's food for the day – the likes of ragi, pulses, vegetable fibre – and go to her. She would be on the sands and her body would be covered with mud. I would brush, clean and bathe her and then apply Vibhuti on her forehead. In case she had any wounds, I would apply medicines.

"Once she was fresh and ready, I would serve her breakfast. All this would take 2-3 hours. At 11 am, I would be back in the canteen and manage the crucial lunch hour. At 3 p.m., I would return to my room for a little rest and an hour later I would be with Sai Geetha again. I would take her for a walk for at least two hours. Once she was back, I would cut grass from the adjacent fields for her. In fact, I was looking after these fields too as they provided the much-needed fodder for her. It would be nearly 8 p.m. by the time I finished all her work. At 9, I was back in my room. That is how packed my days were then.

“It would be even more challenging on Thursdays as I had to be in the planetarium as well to organise the shows! But the comforting factor was that with time Sai Geetha became very friendly with me. I always treated her with much respect and would constantly think of her comfort and well-being. I would bring the sweets she liked and procure the leaves and grass she relished. All this only brought us together. In fact with time she became so close to me that she never allowed anyone else to come near her, not even experienced mahouts.

“At one point, sensing my work pressure, the ashram administration wanted to appoint a full-time caretaker for her. They even brought in a few people but Sai Geetha rejected all of them. She would follow me wherever I went. She became really affectionate towards me and would listen to everything I said. I did not need to tell her much; she was self-disciplined.

“I recall in early 2000 when she had many wounds on her legs, I would spend a lot of time cleaning them, applying medicine and covering them with a cloth bandage. She would let the bandage be – like a human child. Swami used to constantly enquire about her and when I narrated her problems, He would say ‘It will go, it will go’ and advise me a few solutions. When she was afflicted with the foot and mouth disease, all leather came off from her feet and she was dripping saliva all the time. She suffered for nearly two weeks until the disease got cured by His grace.

“By this time, after the year 2000, she showed visible signs of ageing. She was unable to move like before. I would take her out for walks only on alternate days. But I used to spend a lot of time with her. In fact she would not like me leaving her in the night and would wait eagerly every morning to see me. I too enjoyed serving and being with her.”

A Faith That Moved The Lord

I interrupted him at this point to ask - “But were you not missing out on darshans as you had to be with Sai Geetha every evening while everyone else was in the Sai Kulwant Hall?” I wondered how Mr. Pedda Reddy had reconciled himself to the notion of serving Him without receiving anything in return especially when I was so used to seeing people doing one tenth of what Mr. Pedda Reddy did and yet looking for the chance of a pada namaskar or a photo or a gift from Swami.

“Actually that thought never even crossed my mind. It was because I was extremely busy doing His work. I know He is God. This conviction was firm in me right from the time I came to Him. I had heard how in 1979 during Shivarathri Swami manifested as Shiva Shakthi in the house of a devotee in West Godavari district and blessed them with a Shiva lingam. That year there was no Lingodbhavam in Puttaparthi. This is just one instance. There are millions like this. I had no doubt that He is Divine and that He knows everything. I do not have to work in front of His eyes and see Him daily to receive His blessings. Actually once He gave me responsibilities I never had the time to sit for long hours in Sai Kulwant Hall. And, even when I would go for darshans in the early days, I would sit among the general public, not with the staff.”

“Really?” I blurted out. This was too perplexing. I know of scores of people whose only aim of becoming a staff member was to get that privileged place in the Mandir but here was someone who did the opposite. “Why did you do that?” I prodded.

Mr. Pedda Reddy laughed heartily and said, “Sitting with the devotees had a charm of its own. I loved waiting with the general public and eagerly expecting which token our line was going to be awarded in the lots that day. If my row won first or second line I would go inside the hall, else go back to work. The most beautiful part was the fact that wherever I was seated, Swami would always spot me. And if He happened to create Vibhuti for someone there, He would place a little on my palms too. So it was always a special experience. However, I did this only for a few years. Later I got too busy with my tasks.

When The Lord Longed to Bless His Dear Devotee...

“I loved His form, yes, but also knew that He is all-pervasive. In fact, in 1986 during Dasara celebrations, Swami was giving clothes to all staff members. He did this for three continuous days and I could not go because of work. Finally, on the third day the warden of the hostel came to the Sai Geetha shed and said, ‘Swami is waiting for you! Go quickly!’ As soon as I went to the interview room Swami said, ‘Where were you? I have been waiting and looking for you for the last three days! I will never leave you. Do not worry!’ Then He gave me two pairs of clothes and money too.

“In fact Swami used to give me clothes at least twice a year. That would be enough for 12 months. Actually even now I have clothes that will last me for the next 10 years minimum!

“Six months before Swami left His mortal coil, one night Mr.Chakravarthi (then Secretary of the Ashram) called me and said, ‘Swami is asking for your passbook. Bring it and see Swami the next morning’. I guessed Swami wanted to give me money. So I told him ‘Sir, I do not need money. Please tell Swami.’ But he said, ‘You tell that to Swami directly.’ So next morning I went to Swami but without my passbook. I persistently submitted to Him that I was comfortable and did not need any money. Swami reluctantly acquiesced to what I said.

“However, after a month, during Sankranthi celebrations in 2011 Swami called me again and gave me clothes and Rs. 5,000. He repeated this again after a month during the Shivarathri festival. This time He put a lot of money in my pocket. In fact, to share with you, I had saved all the money Swami had given me from the beginning because I hardly had any expenses. During His 70th Birthday I gave Swami Rs. 70,000. The money that I had originally brought had accumulated a lot of interest. Besides, my brother used to send me some money off and on. Swami however refused to take this. He said, ‘I will not accept anything from you.’ So I deposited the money back in the bank.


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