When Sri Sathya Sai read the newspapers...
It was the October of the year 2000. The place which witnessed the story tha am about to describe is the bhajan hall at Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi.
Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) stood in the bhajan hall in the presence of all the teachers of His Institute, shedding tears profusely! All the teachers too had tears in the eyes seeing their beloved master thus. There was pin drop silence in the hall. The object which had triggered this scene not something new. (It was a news item in one corner of a newspaper - a news item, the kind of which, almost appears on a daily basis.)
But this was a rare occasion when Swami had glanced through the newspaper and had made an unshakeable resolve!
The news item was about a poor mother of two in a remote village, not being able to feed her children on account of dire poverty. She had fed them with poison instead and then consumed the poison herself, ending all three miserable lives in a moment. Reading this Swami was moved. The next day, He gathered all His teachers in the bhajan hall and narrated this painful story. And then, in a choked voice, He said,
“In this land of plenty, such tragedies must never happen. India lives in her villages and one must serve in these villages. I want my students to involve themselves in this service.”
This was the genesis of the magnificent Sri Sathya Sai Grama Seva! Today, this has become part of the annual calendar in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning and students visit about 160 villages every year, supplying food, clothes and stationery. At a subtler level, the villagers receive hope and love that they are cared for. At the subtlest level, every student gets to see first-hand the conditions in Indian villages. This leaves an inexhaustible craving for service in the heart.
But Swami’s students are not restricted to the Institute alone. According to His own definition of His student, there are students the world over. The small project started by the Institute has assumed gigantic proportions today with service being rendered in many parts of the globe. This has not been extensively covered by any newspaper! But that does not matter to Swami...
The campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Bangalore was abuzz with excitement and activity. It was the first year anniversary and Swami was gracing the grand function that had been organised. The opening ceremony of the hospital had, in fact, been a grander affair.
Among the various VIPs attending the opening programme was the chief-guest, the then Prime Minister of India, Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee. In one year of existence itself, the hospital had become a shining example of how medicare should be administered and Swami’s arrival to bless the function was the greatest gift the staff ever dreamed of. Today, for the first anniversary, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Sri. S.M.Krishna was the chief guest. Also present was the future president of India, Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam. Just for the completeness of the episode, let me also state that it was the 19th of January, 2002.
There was a grand welcome for the chief guest and Swami. The area under the magnificent central dome of the hospital had been decked like a bride ready to receive her master. Swami lit the lamp and the ceremony began with Veda chanting. Everyone, including the Chief Minister, expressed their great sense of admiration and gratitude to Swami and the hospital. Swami then rose to speak.
A small but relevant detour here. This was the time when the metropolitan city of Chennai (formerly Madras) was facing an acute shortage of water. Even drinking water had become a great trouble and people were facing severe hardships ranging from waking up at 2am or 3am to collect water or walking miles and standing in long queues to fill up their urns and pots. This had been reported in the newspapers and, once again, Swami’s eyes had fallen on the news items. It was another time when He had seen the newspapers.
Swami began His discourse traditionally with a poem which stated that all the powers and influence that man achieves if of no use without inward vision. Inward vision is necessary to tap into Love and realize the divine origins of every being. In the discourse, Swami exhorted everyone to strive for unity, purity and ultimately, divinity. He also spoke on how medicare should be and how the patients must be treated. One particular thing He said struck me,
“You should understand that you too might fall ill some day. Hence, you should treat the patients with love, without expecting anything in return. You should not aspire for money from them. After I have started this hospital, many doctors have become jealous of Me and have started putting obstacles. Come what may, I will never give up this sacred task. Their jealousy will only motivate Me further to carry on with sacred activities. Their jealousy will ruin them ultimately.”
The reason why it struck me is because what followed next was simply stunning. It is always said that the hallmark of a great person is perfect unity in thought, word and deed. His ‘thought’ of having a strong will to take up sacred tasks had just manifest in His discourse. The next step was to action it. As the first step of an action plan came a declaration out of the blue. It stunned everyone present, including the key members of the trust because they were not aware of any such thing!
“On this sacred occasion, I have decided to undertake yet another service project. In Madras (Chennai), there is scarcity of drinking water. The rich can afford to get water through tankers and lorries, but what about the poor? They spoil their health by drinking polluted water from ponds and puddles. Hence, whatever may be the difficulty, I have decided to provide drinking water to the people of Madras.”
The story of the water scarcity in Madras or Chennai and the way Sai’s Ganga slaked it is one of great poignancy, pathos and political obstacles if one has to use adjectives with ‘P’! It is definitely an absorbing read but I shall not go into that here. This much I shall say that this massive project is still unknown because the media almost turned a blind eye to it! But that does not matter to Swami...
We now fast-forward a few year to arrive at the third week of September 2008. A severe depression in the Bay of Bengal had led to heavy rains & floods in the coastal regions of Orissa state in India. The embankments along the major rivers Mahanadi, Brahmani and Baitarani were breached in many places. This had resulted in the flooding of more than 6,000 villages in 18 districts of the state leaving about 40 lakh (4 million) people hapless and homeless. The districts of Kendrapara, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Cuttack were the worst affected. Relief work was slow and inadequate due to the continuous inclement weather and insufficient infrastructure.
This tremendous human tragedy was splashed all across the newspapers and, yet again, Swami saw the reports. What the papers had conveniently left out was the massive service operations that the volunteers of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Dal had plunged into, in an attempt to provide some relief to those affected. It was on 7th October, the sacred day of Ayudha Pooja during the Dasara festival at Prasanthi Nilayam that everyone came to know of Bhagawan’s divine will.
The Grama Seva about which it has been mentioned in the first episode was on in full swing. All the students were deriving great joy and profound lessons from the service. TheVedapurusha Saptaha Jnana Yagna was on in the Poornachandra auditorium. And every evening, in the Kulwant hall, there were erudite talks and a divine discourse. 7th of October was the day when the All-India President of the Sathya Sai Organizations, Mr.V.Srinivasan, was delivering his speech.
Suddenly, Swami stopped him and called him. The All-India President moved to Swami and heard what He had to tell Him. Even as he heard Swami, he was visibly moved. His eyes seemed to moisten and it was with great energy that he came to the microphone. And then, filled with emotion, he announced in a loud voice,
“Seven districts of Orissa are totally inundated. Hundreds of villages are completely destroyed. Bhagavan’s heart has gone out to them. Everyday He is in pain thinking about them. And now Bhagavan has decided that immediately a sum of 10 crore rupees (US $2 million) will be given to the state of Orissa for construction of new houses for those who have lost them. These houses that will be built for the marooned villagers, will not be temporary; they will be strong and sturdy concrete structures which would be permanent. Also, it would not only be homes, it would be supplemented with schools and other necessities.
Swami would sell the hilltop building in Kodaikanal and the Sri Sathya Sai Airport at Puttaparthi and utilize those funds for such service activities. “
Within 7 months, more than 300 homes had already been built and Swami distributed the keys to the recipients as if one were distributing sweets on a birthday! There was no fanfare or function. There was not the slightest media coverage of that glorious Rama Navami day in April 2009. But that does not matter to Swami...
What matters to Him is the smiles that originate in the heart and blossom on the face of the poor and downtrodden when they become recipients of love. In fact, a total of more than 700 homes were built and given away to people in villages in a 200-kilometer range. Swami had said,
“Do not build a single building and tell everyone to occupy the same. There are ancestral lands in question here. Build homes wherever they were destroyed. And build them in a manner that another flood like this will not affect them.”
That was done and every home built was raised on a plinth, 4 feet above the ground. Some of the villages were so remote that vehicles carrying materials could not access them. An embarrassed yet inspired government decided to build roads to those villages. The housing project thus resulted in infrastructural relief also to the villagers! Again, that Orissa story is another glorious one. ( It is this same Orissa project that granted me the beautiful opportunity and the profound lesson that God’s will never takes you to where God’s grace cannot reach you.)
These episodes teach one thing at least - that service to man is service to God. Service is the way out for mankind. Every time Swami read the newspapers, He came up with a Divine project that ought to have been splashed over all newspapers. That did not happen. But the divine story of His love has been etched on a million hearts where it shall stay forever. For after all, today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s waste-paper. But the heart, goes on...
Sri Sathya Sai on the biased media
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya