|B. Aravind with Sri Sathya Sai|
Early in my teens, I had read the famous story of the ‘Footprints in the Sand’. For those who are not familiar, let me recall it briefly. A person dreams about his life as a walk with God on a beach. He therefore notices two sets of footprints in the sand. But to his dismay, he sees only one set of footprints in those parts of the beach which represent the most difficult times in his life. He asks God, "Why did you abandon me when I needed You the most?" God replies lovingly, "Child! Those times when you see only one set of footprints are actually the times when I carried you!"
In spite of knowing this story, there were times when I was convinced that I was absolutely alone in life. And I felt that the single set of footprints were definitely not of His lotus feet, but of my own weary soles! I prayed to God, "Swami, I just do not believe that You are carrying me now for I feel so much pain and depression. Is that how one feels when one is carried?" This happened many times, but like the proverbial ‘passing clouds’, everything would soon clear and days got brighter. But then came the mammoth cloud, so huge that I felt this time the clouds were there to stay. It is about that climactic period that I was made to weather thorough, that I wish to tell you about - more so because this episode seasoned my life with the realization of Swami's omnipresence and love for me.
It was when I was doing my Masters in Chemistry at Puttaparthi, that Swami gifted us students with opportunities to put up programs in His Divine Presence. The programs were mostly a compilation of His teachings, spiced up here and there with songs, skits and dances. Swami's encouragement was tremendous, so much so that on one occasion I remember Him telling our warden, "Why should I come and sit outside? There is no program today!" And so, in that academic year alone, we had put up about fifteen programs. In fact, it was Swami's enthusiasm towards us that ignited the large number of programs that were presented (and continue to be presented) in the Divine Presence by various states and countries during their respective Puttaparthi Yatras or pilgrimages. This was the setting for my life changing episode.
Since I loved to do public speaking and was involved in dramatics, I was often part of every program that was being put up in front of Swami. I was doing well on the academic front and I was quite popular among my friends in the hostel. I did fairly well in games and was the shuttle badminton champion for that year. The reason I am mentioning all this is just to show that one may seem to have everything in life and still be unhappy. My God! Why was I unhappy? When I think back today, I cannot put a finger on the exact reason but I used to be very sad most of the times. And the major reason for this was my attachment to friends. What do I mean by that? Well, I thought that I was a fast friend to quite a few people. I went out of my way to help them and make them feel special. That was fine. The problem came when I expected them to treat me in the same way - that too in a manner I was expecting them to! And this expectation was very very strong. As a result, I used to feel very bad.
At this time, I decided that since God was my only true friend, I would look to Him for solace and support. I wanted to extend my arm of unconditional friendship to Him and wanted Him to extend His. I began to curb all my feelings and interactions with friends as much as possible and confided everything to Sai, the resident of my heart - my joys and sorrows, my successes and defeats. This came as a relief but still the disappointments and hurts from my friends continued. (Today I know that it is not anyone's fault. The nature of the world is thus and the nature of the mind is thus! Nobody will ever understand me fully! How can they, when they do not read my mind?) Life went on this way and I am sure many of my friends wondered what on earth I was about. And I myself had no answer. The sadness was deep within and it was a kind of dissatisfaction in the search for some permanence.
Meanwhile in the Mandir, speeches, songs and programs by the students were on regularly. I even got two chances to speak in Swami's presence. They were like bright spots in the dark skies but I was in search of my sun - Swami as my dearest friend. One day, Swami asked in the Mandir, "Are there any boys who wish to speak?"I raised my hand and warden told Swami that I was prepared. When I went ahead to take His blessings, I overheard Him ask the warden, "Aren't there any other boys? This boy alone speaks always!" That made me feel very bad. I was hurt. I gave my speech that day but resolved never to raise my hand to speak in His presence. I told my Swami in the heart, "This is the last time I'll raise my hand. I extended my hand in friendship to You and You do not want me to speak in Your presence!" A childish reaction indeed, but that was what I felt then.
Once, a frog was injured when Lord Rama placed his bow on the ground. Seeing the bleeding frog, the Lord asked, "Why did you not cry out for help?” The frog replied, "Lord! Every time I am hurt, I call out Your name. Now when You place Your bow on me, whom should I call out to?" I felt exactly like that frog! And so the days got lonelier and more miserable. I now did not have any more conversations with my heart-resident Swami. Nor did I talk intimately to any of my friends. I felt that my life was so meaningless and all my achievements were naught as I had no happiness. And then came the Sports Meet 2005.
The Sports Meet is an event where all the students from all the campuses come together to put up a performance of physical endurance, mental strength and skillful abilities. Almost a month long preparation takes place after which the culmination is the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet on the 11th of January. I enrolled in the carabining event and it was to be that sort of an item that is considered the ‘icing on the cake’. But as I said, the clouds began to thicken. The trainer cum coach who was from Singapore somehow got the impression that though I was not skillful in carabining, I was not disciplined enough. So he disqualified me from performing in front of Swami on the D day! I was devastated but I decided not to quit and put up a brave face. I used to go daily for the practices telling myself, “Swami is trying to make me feel miserable. I won’t give Him victory!" Poor Swami got the blame for my indiscipline.
My teacher in charge however melted at my misfortune and told me, "Don't worry! When Swami comes to see the practice sessions, I will ensure that you do carabining in His presence." Now that was something I looked forward to. Days passed and one day I had a bout of severe loose motions. My teacher in charge excused me from practice and so, instead of staying in the ground, I went to Mandir for Darshan. The clouds became their thickest when Swami decided to go to the grounds that same day to watch the carabining practice. With tears streaming down my cheeks I returned to the ground and saw Swami enjoy the whole event as the boys practiced. And when He left in the car, He turned His face away exactly at the point when I came in front of his window. I stood devastated! I went back crying to the hostel and told Swami, "You never give me anything. You have planned my life in such a way that I get pain always. I have always tried to put in my efforts and come up and You always have put me down. And You have given me nothing."
Fast forward to January 11th when the Sports Meet went on very well and it was acclaimed that the carabining event was the best! It added more salt to my deep emotional wounds to see myself sitting in the sidelines. Now fast forward to the night of January 13th. The warden asked me whether I would be ready to speak in front of Swami on the next day, i.e. Sankranti and the prize distribution. I was shocked and I asked, "Sir, did Swami ask for me?" He said, "No. tomorrow the Vice Chancellor and Principal will be speaking. In case Swami asks for student speakers, your name will be suggested along with Raju and Jagdish." Now Raju was Swami's favourite speaker and when he spoke Telugu, it was as if Mother Saraswati sat on his tongue. The same was the story with Jagdish when it came to Hindi. Having considered this along with the fact that Swami was least interested in me, I went to bed without preparing anything at all.
The next morning, I went to the Mandir without a proper shave or a bath! I cannot believe it now, but that's how depressed I was. On being scolded by a teacher, I went to a nearby saloon to get my stubble shaved and returned to Mandir. Swami arrived and after the Principal of the Brindavan campus had made his welcome speech, the vice chancellor Sri.S.V.Giri began his speech. In sharp contrast to my pathetic state, Raju and Jagdish were dressed like princes! As I sat like a corpse, Swami suddenly intervened in Giri sir's speech and called him. Sri Giri heard what Swami had to say and returned to the podium and began, "Bhagavan has blessed two students to speak to us today...""Raju and Jagdish surely..." I thought. "The first is Ms.Tina Thomas from the Anantapur campus." He went about introducing her.
"The second will be one of these two", I thought. "The second is Aravind Balasubramanyam!" I was shocked. I was so absolutely unprepared. And I had not even submitted my bio-data to Sri Giri. So he introduced me as "the boy who did carabining. "What a joke", I thought but I had to speak!
I tried to glean tidbits from Raju and Jagdish as they had prepared well for their talks. But my predecessor was very strict in her adherence to time. I had barely begun collecting thoughts when she concluded to a rousing applause. I picked a rose and lot of courage and moved to Swami. I told Him, "Swami please, REALLY speak through me!" I realized that I very strongly needed Him to speak through me if I was to speak anything at all. I went to the podium and began disastrously, my first sentence being, "The annual Sports and Cultural meet is an annual affair." I moved from the valleys to the dales to hit my ‘Nadir’ of public speaking in terms of content and delivery. I could see many of my 'friends' heads crestfallen and some people were even laughing at the mess I was making of myself.
One plea-filled look at Swami and a current of inspiration jerked me alive. A new enthusiasm rang in my voice and I could not believe my ears when there was a thunderous applause three minutes later! With gratitude I continued and the speech seemed to become a rousing success. I was applauded 4 times after that (yes, I was counting!) and when I concluded, the clapping was just like a standing ovation! I was very happy and felt rescued. I went to Swami and gratefully bowed at His feet for I knew it was not me who had spoken. He looked at me and asked, "Which class?" I answered, "II year M.Sc. Swami." Then as I was about to rise, He called me.
Looking into my eyes, He asked in Hindi, "Tumko Pehle Kuch Nahi Diya?" (Haven't I given you anything before?) In a flash that scene popped up in my mind's eye where I had told Him that He had given me nothing. Tears flowing down my cheek, I said, "Swami Mere Paas Jo Bhi Hain, Aapne Diya!" (Swami, whatever I have with me, You have only given.) A twinkle came in His eye I felt. He was happy that His child who had misunderstood Him was back on the path of understanding. He then waved His hand and created a gold chain with a pendant for me. He made my head rest on His lap as He chained me to Him-forever. With tears still streaming from my eyes, I said, "Swami, I don't know what to say!" He patted me on my cheeks and said, "Only Love, Love, Love, Love!" I returned to my place.
|B.Aravind receiving the gold chain from Sri Sathya Sai - January 14, 2005|
Now I realize that ‘unconditional friendship’ is a very tough thing. I only stated my intent but filled my head with expectations of Him. And I ended up criticizing Him and not wanting to speak to Him. But He had already extended His hand of unconditional friendship to me and come what may, never left me or got angry with me. I realized that true love, instead of being the greatest binding force on earth, is actually the greatest liberating force. He was happy with me no matter what I thought or did. He had no expectations of me and still He loved me wholly. He loved me and loves me for what I am rather than for what He wants me to be. And that is because, in the ultimate analysis, He just wants me to "Be"- nothing more, nothing less. I wish in my heart that I can become at least a part like Him and love Him to one millionth portion the way He loves me. Looking back at the beach of my life, I realize that the single set of footprints in times of crises is indeed mine. Those are the times when He taught me how to walk, always carrying Him in my heart!
- B. Aravind
Student (2005-2007), Department of Management Studies
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Prasanthi Nilayam Campus
Currently serving at the Prasanthi Digital Studio, Prasanthi Nilayam