A father's heart and the Heavenly father's heart - Shastipoorti special
The Shastipoorti - what does it mean?
On the 22nd September, 2012, we celebrated my father's Shastipoorti (actually Sashtiaapdapoorthi). It was a simple celebration but was full of love and prayer. For those that are unaware of the term, it signifies the 60th birthday of a person. As per the Bharatiya culture, the age sixty is of great significance because it is considered as a turning point in a man's life. At this age one has usually fulfilled his commitments towards family and home and so he, along with his wife, can turn his mind to spirituality. We can say that, the period before he reached sixty is defined by materialistic pursuits and thereafter it is to be defined by the couple’s striving towards spiritualism.
As per tradition, meaningful and elaborate rituals have been included to mark this milestone in a couple’s life. In fact, a ‘second’ marriage is performed as part of the ceremony wherein the couple promise each other,
“We have been together through the thick and thin of worldly life. We shall remain wedded in our objective of realizing our Divine origin too.”
And from that day of the 60th birthday, the couple decide that their life would be spent only in contemplation and service of the Lord.
As the time for this sacred ceremony drew closer, my parents had a very strange request of me. They said,
“Please do not conduct any of the elaborate rituals for the ceremony. Let there be no ceremony as such because the physical age of 60 does not actually signify the moment when we turned to God. Turning to God happened when Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) called us to settle at His lotus feet in Puttaparthi. That was the true Shastipoorti.”
When they said so, I realized that it was indeed the Truth. A 'new life' which Swami gifted to my father in the last week of September 2009 happened in dramatic fashion along with its share of trauma and triumph.
A normal day turns into hell - well almost
The 1st of October, 2009. It was another normal day or so it seemed at Puttaparthi. I received a phone call and it changed everything, turning the whole day upside down for me and my family. In fact, the day had already turned over its head for my mother and sister when my father called me from Mumbai.
"Aravind, it's me, your dad."
This was a very strange opening statement. Why was he stating the obvious? I just kept silent and he continued.
"Today, as we were heading to the office in the car, I began to feel very uneasy. My left hand began to ache a lot and I started feeling faint. Suddenly, there were beads of perspiration trickling down the sides of my face."
"Dad! Those appear to be the classic symptoms of a heart attack", I replied with a bit of trepidation in my voice.
"I am right now in the Bombay Hospital. The doctors here say that I indeed had a heart attack and I should rush in for immediate angiography and possible surgery. I thought of speaking to you about this."
I was at a total loss for words. Till this day, I had always sought my parents' advice when in a tight situation. I never had been in the position of an advice-giver; at least not in matters such as these. I told him the only thing that arose in my heart,
"Dad, take the first flight out of Mumbai and come to Puttaparthi. Don't do anything there."
The shock of the arrest was such that my father simply agreed to what I said.
And so it was, that against medical advice and with my mother's assistance, my father booked a flight to Bangalore and I booked a taxi to ferry them from there to Puttaparthi. I immediately wrote a letter to Swami about the happenings till then and decided that during darshan, I would be seeking His succour. And that was exactly what I did.
As Swami was getting back into the car after the mandir session, I went to Him and offered the letter. He almost seemed to be waiting for my letter. I knew instantly that He knew. Still, I handed over the letter and said aloud,
"Swami, father had a heart attack in Mumbai."
His response was immediate,
"It is not a heart attack."
The sorrow in my heart made me forget who I was talking to. I just reiterated,
"Swami, the doctors themselves said that it was a heart attack."
Swami simply said with a smile,
"Emi Ledhu (There is no problem)."
"I have told him to come here to Puttaparthi Swami."
Swami just nodded and said, "Choostamu" (I shall see) before leaving. He did not even give me some vibhuti which I was expecting. His words, however, filled me with hope and confidence.
The relief turns out to be a short-term one...
The next day, my parents arrived to Puttaparthi. They had darshan and we all met up at the studio where I work. My father seemed fine and I was feeling relieved and comfortable. Swami's words kept ringing in my ears. However, that relief did not last long. My father revealed something.
"Today, as I was returning after Darshan, I felt tired and a bit dizzy. It must have been because of the tension."
I was not ready to attribute it tension so easily and simply. I immediately took him to the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, the super specialty hospital. Since I was a staff member in the Ashram, my father's case was taken up immediately. The doctors did an ECG and then confirmed my worst fears.
"He had a second angina this morning. We will have to do an angiogram to determine further course of action."
I wanted the angiogram to be done immediately, if possible. However, I came to know that we had been victims of a special situation that fate had arranged. There was some malfunction in the Cath lab where the procedure had to be done. The technician from Siemens had been sent for but he would be coming only three days later. This was because it was Gandhi Jayanti that Friday and the next two days were weekend holidays.
It was October the 2nd. In India, it is a national holiday being the birth date of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Every year I had celebrated the fact that it was a holiday. For the first time, I was upset because of it. The father of the nation seemed to be thwarting the medical treatment for my own father!
However, it was amazing that though it was a holiday, Dr.Iyer, the cardiologist was present. He later told me,
"I was in the middle of my morning worship when I got a call telling me to rush here."
Though I didn't realize the import of that statement then, I today understand that someone 'high' in the Organization must have called the doctor. The only reason that call would have been made was obvious - Swami's intervention! But what was to be done about this Cath lab disaster?
"There is nothing to worry however", the doctor comforted me, "we can easily stabilize him with medicines for these few days. And after that we can do the angiogram. Or else, you could take him to Swami's hospital in Bangalore. But the journey, even in a taxi, may prove tiresome. It would be best that he is kept here on medicines."
A roller coaster ride
It was the most sensible advice. I have complete trust in the doctors here. They are angels of God working in this temple of healing where every treatment is offered completely free of cost. But emotional that I was then, I was in no mood to lend ears to sensible advice. I desperately was seeking some solace and solution. I decided to again ask Swami about what had to be done. Not having the patience to wait till the evening darshan, I dialled Satyajit's number from my phone. He was aware of everything and he knew that Swami had told me that my father's case was not a 'heart attack'. I updated him and he said that he would convey the same to Swami when he got the opportunity and get back to me.
Soon, I had Swami's reply. His reply was straightforward and simple,
"Do not take him anywhere. Let him be here only."
He had added another statement,
"To the extent possible, treat him with medicines only."
Having decided to follow Him implicitly, we retained father in Puttaparthi itself.
In the meanwhile, my sister Shruti, who was alone in Mumbai, decided to come to Puttaparthi. As mentioned in a sweet and funny divine episode she had been engaged recently to Mahadevan who, along with his mother, accompanied her from Bangalore to Puttaparthi. It bolstered our spirits. That is the power of a supportive family.
There was further good news, almost miraculous, on the next day.
I got a call saying that though it was a national holiday, the Siemens’ technician had indeed come and got the Cath lab running. And thus, my father’s angiogram was done. The doctor summoned us and informed us of the status,
“There is some block in some of the small capillaries that supply blood to the heart. We usually do not do a surgery for blocks in such tiny vessels because the risk of rupture exceeds the advantage of the surgery. I recommend that appropriate medication, diet and exercise should be used as a substitute for surgery.”
I remembered what Swami had said and simply accepted the option of medication, diet and exercise. All of us were happy and relieved. In fact, in a couple of days, my father was feeling so much better that he said he was ready to return to Mumbai as well. The worst seemed to have passed over so quickly. He was discharged and he returned to the room in Prasanthi Nilayam ashram. The next evening itself, I decided to sit with my father and express gratitude to Swami.
In the meanwhile, the situation seemed to have got worse!
My father came out of the restroom and called out to me. He said that he was feeling dizzy and that he may be having another attack! Dr.Iyer had given a few tablets which he told my father to pop in his mouth in case he felt he was getting another angina. Quickly, my father popped a pill. Immediately, the effect was seen, and how horrible it was! His tongue rolled out and he simply collapsed into my arms and I placed him on the bed.
We rushed him to the hospital again, fearing the worst. I was just thinking of the casual manner in which Swami had first said, "Emi Ledhu". How could multiple heart-attacks be 'nothing' which Swami referred to?
We were pleasantly surprised when Dr.Iyer told us that there was no angina.
"It is a vasovagal attack. This is a most common kind of fainting that occurs when the Vagus nerve gets strained. This is observed when people stand for long time, are hungry, are stressed, have not had proper sleep - a variety of reasons. In your father's case, the medicines we gave him caused him to get slightly constipated. The pressure he applied while going to the toilet strained the nerve and caused this attack. When the attack occurs, heart rate slows, blood pressure drops and fainting happens. It got compounded in your father's case because he took a pill that further lowers the blood pressure!"
We breathed a sigh of relief as we took back dad from the hospital. It had indeed been "nothing" as Swami had said.
God steps in, not at the last moment but at the right moment...
I requested for a first-line position during darshan for my father. For the first time in more than 11 years, I sat in the 'general seating' in Sai Kulwant Hall. When Swami came, I knelt up. He seemed surprised to see me here. He stopped with a surprised smile on His face. My father was still sitting. Thinking that Swami might proceed without ‘blessing’, I told my father to kneel up and come near Swami.
Immediately, Swami had a stern look on his face.
“Do not make him get up like that! (He is a patient.)”
I instantly apologized. What followed was a beautiful interaction between Swami and dad. Swami gave him a vibhuti packet and then said something very special.
“When Swami is in your heart, nothing can happen to it.”
He stayed on, granting padanamaskar to both of us. Dad told Swami that mom and Shruti were also seated on the ladies' side and Swami said that He knew. Swami then moved on.
And that, according to my parents, was the true Shastipoorti, because it was on that day that the Lord indicated that He occupied my father's heart.
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya