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Alike for the Uninitiated
Alike is where it all began! If 100 Govt schools are going to be adopted in every district in addition to the 600 state-of-the-art schools in world-class campuses offering quality education based on human values to rural children absolutely free of cost dotting every district across the length and breadth of this nation, the seeds were sown at this remote village about 46 kms from the coastal city of Mangalore in the state of Karnataka.
Madiyala Narayana Bhat
Way back in 1962, a visionary par excellence Late Madiyala Narayana Bhat, fondly called as ‘Anna’ started a residential high school along with few youngsters fired with a zeal and passion to serve. It sounds funny though but the villagers then were up in arms against him for starting a school because he was taking cheap labour away from the fields to the classroom! Every enlightened soul who does things differently and tries to lift people out of their ghettos will have to face opposition from selfish societies.
Bright, knowledgeable and well read; his single-minded devotion to service made him an inspiring figure. Before Anna came in contact with Swami, he was hugely inspired by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda. He had this desire to start a Missionary organisation on the lines of Ramakrishna Mission with a band of tyagajeevis (dedicated workers) moulding young minds that would then change the destiny of this land. Born in a rich Brahmin household, he sacrificed all his property and material comforts for the cause of nation building through education. He was a true patriot in the most practical sense of the term.
At Prem Kutir, the hermitage where the Tyagajeevis lived in Alike, it took them four years to get the flooring done, because Anna felt they could instead better utilise the funds in adding facilities to the students studying in the campus. The day he realised that the Lord had descended on earth in the form of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, he decided to offer the institution in the Divine hands. When someone asked him what he would do after giving away the institution, he is supposed to have said, he was ready to even work as a watchman at the gates of Prasanthi Nilayam! A man so humble and down-to-earth was a rarity even in those days! He named the institution ‘Loka Seva Vrinda’ because his desire was to serve the world and no less! Looking at the kind of work Swami is spearheading through this institution now, the name makes perfect sense.
With Bhagawan accepting the institutions on 14th August 1978 during His visit to Muddenahalli with a deed of registration, it was formally named as Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust. Swami was the sole trustee throughout His life. Anna had only one prayer that he placed at the Lotus feet. That he was offering the institutions to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and not to any trust bearing His name and that He should personally look after the affairs of the schools and Tyagajeevis who had sacrificed everything for the mission. Swami, keeping up his word maintained Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust as a separate entity all through, treating it as a missionary organisation. Swami considered Alike and Muddenahalli as His two eyes and had said it on numerous occasions.
Once the formal handing over of the institution was complete, Swami said, “The work that you have come for is over, now you may go!” None imagined what these words actually meant. Anna was the Dakshina Kannada (Mangalore) District President of Sri Sathya Sai Organisation at that point in time. He was travelling to Chokkadi village in car with few others when the tragedy struck. The car that they were travelling in met with an accident and Anna breathed his last within three days of Swami’s prophetic statement. Even before the news reached Puttaparthi (communication was not fast in those days), there was a telegram from Bhagawan with the following words. “Madiyala Narayana Bhat has eternally merged in Me. Do not bring the body to Puttaparthi”. After the last rites were performed in Alike, Anna’s mother along with other Tyagajeevis went to Prasanthi Nilayam. Swami assured the group thus, “I will make all the dreams of Narayana Bhat a reality. Ever since his birth his life was totally dedicated to God. Whatever vision Anna had will be fulfilled.” And when Anna’s mother said her son aspired to see the tribe of Tyagajeevis increase which was sixty at that point in time, Swami made an emphatic statement. “The number of missionaries will not merely remain sixty or six hundred. It will multiply to become sixty thousand.” After giving the word, it seemed like Swami completely forgot about it. Once the then Chairman had even reminded about the promise He had given and Swami casually said, I remember and I will do it when the time comes. With the setting up of Sri Sathya Sai Center for Human Excellence in Muddenahalli, the process has just begun.
He kept these institutions and the Tyagajeevis very low key away from public glare for reasons best known only to Him which meant devotees hardly knew anything about the twin institutions and sacrifices its founder had to make in building them from scratch. When Howard Murphet visited Muddenahalli along with Swami many years back, he was spellbound to see a completely new world out there which was so different in the style of functioning from the rest of Sai Institutions he had seen elsewhere travelling around the globe. He found dedicated people were on a mission 24*7 sacrificing every material desire which baffled him beyond measure. When he asked why they were kept away from the limelight, Swami said he had consciously kept them under wraps. And added when the right time comes, they and their sacrifices would be known to the world.
Swami has revealed that Sri Madhusudan Naidu is the rebirth of Madiyala Narayana Bhat. I have written a book review for the autobiography that he has brought out recently.
- Book Review: "THE STORY DIVINE - LIVING WITH GOD"
One thing that stands out all through about Madhusudan Naidu is his Bhakti (devotion) for Bhagawan.
Swami taking charge
When Swami shed His mortal coil in 2011, the Tyagajeevis were in a dilemma, since there was no second rung leadership groomed that was capable of taking over the reins of the institution. There were other cash rich expansionist trusts eyeing to take over the control of the institution leveraging on the situation of helplessness. This is when Swami played the role of political Krishna and took control of the institution and kept up the word given to Anna even after shedding the physical body, in the subtle body. The first decision that Swami took after taking over the reins was to offer completely free education. He gave a firm order with a touch of humour and said thus in one of the discourses. "I have made it amply clear to Narasimha Murthy in the beginning itself that if you are going to charge tuition fees in the existing schools and the new schools that we are setting up, you may name it Narasimha Murthy School or Narayan Rao School, not Sathya Sai School!” Swami went one step ahead and asked the then Chairman to return the tuition fees that was already collected back to the parents. This was the first anywhere in any school where the fees collected was returned to the parents for keeping up the ideals of free education!
Swami’s Shower of Love on Alike
It was in March 2015, during the first Divine visit of Bhagawan Baba to Alike in the subtle form, in accordance with the prayer of Sri Gangadhar Bhat, the then Chairman of Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Trust, Swami declared He would construct a new building for the PU College which has brought laurels to the institution by its academic excellence. Within a year, a beautiful edifice stood tall to be inaugurated as promised when Swami opened the ‘Golden Jubilee Building’, the new facility for Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva PU College, in time for the academic year of 2016-17. Big infrastructural development was something unheard of for the institution at Alike facing cash crunch.
On a girl’s prayer who was studying in the 10th grade at Sri Sathya Sai Loka Seva Girls High School, Swami commissioned a PU college for girls. A temporary arrangement was created at Madiyala House for the classes to begin from the very next year. Eventually, Swami performed Bhoomi Pooja for a grand structure at Vani Vihar and commanded the work to begin immediately. He organised everything including the architect, builder and all that is needed so the girls could shift to the new campus at the earliest. The devotees from Greece were ready to offer the required funds for the cause and had planned to accompany Bhagawan during the November 2016 visit to Alike. But those who questioned His presence despite seeing so much good happen came in the way!
Swami inaugurated ‘Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital – Annexe’ to add more facilities to the existing hospital during Swami’s November 2015 visit. Swami had then casually remarked that the hospital should procure a van to bring poor and aged patients from nearby villages and to conduct medical camps on a regular basis in and around Alike. A Singapore devotee immediately came forward and donated the amount required for buying a van for the hospital use. But the leadership failed to procure the van. The doctor in charge of the hospital unfortunately did not get required permissions to conduct the second medical camp after the first one was organised at a village near Madiyala.
Madhusudan shared an anecdote in the weekly newsletter Ananda Vahini where he regularly writes a column. I find it quite relevant in the current situation. When Swami walked amongst devotees in Premamrutham, He picked handful of chocolates from a tray that was offered by someone and looked around to find a small boy stretching his small hand. This is what came from Swami’s lips. "See! I want to give so much to you, but your hands are small and can't receive all that I have come to give. Grow up fast so that your hands become larger and I can place all that I want to, in your palms."
The 100 years old Madiyala House, the residence of Madiyala Narayana Bhat was under complete neglect for far too long, received a complete makeover by the grace of Bhagawan with beautiful lawns laid out and a bust of Rev Anna installed turning the house into a memorial. Swami inaugurated a museum with valuable pictures with information of the ‘Sage of Madiyala’ displayed tastefully to inspire every visitor to embody high ideals and lead an extraordinary life lived by Anna.
Swami also laid the foundation stone for an Auditorium and had sent professionals to design sports facilities in the campus. As they say, when God showers, He pours! Bhagawan had brought ‘Premier’ brass band instruments during one of His visits to be given to Sai Symphony Brass Band of Alike campus, which was an offering by the devotees from Singapore. Despite giving away world class instruments to the students, Alike leadership denied the band students to learn from Muddenahalli’s in-house band teacher Dimitris Lambrianos who is a world-renowned Greek musician and to perform together for Swami’s 91st Birthday!
Reconstitution of the trust
Swami has now added an important criterion in the admission process. He has said first preference will be given to students from rural backgrounds and economically weaker section of the society who have studied in Govt schools. Alike which enjoyed state-wide acclaim for producing top ranks in the CET exams found this a bitter pill to swallow. Moreover, this would require teachers to put in a lot of effort to train the students to bring them on par with merit students. This is when things started to fall apart. But the matter reached a breaking point when the leadership refused the funds provided for free education this year and went back to collecting fees, though last year they returned the fees retrospectively when Swami provided the necessary funds. A clear violation of the policy that was laid out by Bhagawan! There are many other reasons too for the discord which I will stay away from touching upon.
Swami has given equal opportunities for all to take part in His Mission. He had given an offer to Sri Ratnakar Rai and Sri Dasappa Rai who had rich experience in moulding students for decades to head the new upcoming campuses in the capacity as Chairman which they refused to accept for not willing to go beyond the confines of Alike. Those who took up the challenge like Sri G M Anantha Murthy and Sri Rajaram are now heading Mandya and Hassan campuses respectively and Sri Sathya Narayan headed the Jayapura campus till recently before he was made the head of Publications.
The prerequisite, of course, is the faith in Swami who is now in the subtle form. Since, majority of the trustees are staunch believers in this phenomenon, those who do not believe despite Swami's shower of love on them, I personally think, will have to make way for others who can execute Swami's plans for the institution seamlessly without being a hindrance. If Swami could build hospitals in alien lands like Raipur or Delhi or Nigeria in record time, it is because of the wonderful instruments He has chosen who are following Swami's orders like army men without questioning and getting the work done with utmost faith in the Divine words.
No one is indispensable
We are living at a crucial point in time when Swami is pressing the accelerator to accomplish many things, on many levels, at a time! And unless we hold on to Him with firm faith in His doing and carry out roles given to us efficiently, there are chances we may have a fall out from His scheme of things. Madhusudan Naidu recently shared a beautiful analogy Swami used in an interview to illustrate the situation. This mission is like a satellite launch. The rocket that transports the satellite fall one by one at various stages after their role in the mission is complete. We should be prepared to let go when we become a dead weight which only holds things back.
An interesting incident took place in Prasanthi Nilayam few years back when Swami was gliding into Sai Kulwanth Hall during Darshan. There was a twig on the pathway which students thought Swami would feel discomfort if He stepped on it but there was no time to clear it from the path as He was fast approaching to the ‘place’. From nowhere a sparrow comes and lifts the twig off and clears the path. Swami said to the students, “If you think only you can do my work, even a sparrow can do my job!” No one is indispensable.
With Swami at the helm of affairs, we the Alumni can stay rest assured that parties will sign on the dotted line and an amicable solution will be reached.
My Faith in Him
Alike is all the more special to me because, other than having spent precious six years of my life there, it was in the main prayer hall Swami spoke to me for the first time during His first visit in March 2015. He called me and my family to Muddenahalli for an interview which I have separately documented in detail at this link.
- When, what used to be a Monologue became a Dialogue
The story of our rendezvous with Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the subtle form at Muddenahalli
What used to be a Monologue became a Dialogue after running behind His car for many years for that one glance and a smile. To believe in something which is widely accepted is easy. To invest in a belief system which is seen as controversial and is ridiculed by thought leaders, needs strong faith in yourself and the inner calling. I feel blessed Swami chose me and gave me that eye to see Him and the heart to feel Him, a mind to know Him and recognise Him. I want to be by His side even when there are none ready to stand by Him! My only prayer...
To one who has faith in the continuing Avatarhood of Bhagawan in the subtle form, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is enough.
"All extraordinary things that have the potential to change the course of human history are met with suspicion and resistance, but eventually are accepted and become a way of life."