Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than 2 decades with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been His photographer.
Shift in the Darshan venue
As I turn the pages in the book of my life as a student of Swami, I arrive at an episode that shows both - how one should win God and how one should not! Both are important lessons and once they are learnt, why would one want anything else? The episode took place over a period of a few months but it felt as if it spanned years. Talk about relativity of time! Time seems to slow down infinitely when you are eagerly waiting for something to happen and are spending agonising time in that anticipation.
It was the year 1999. It was the year when some Italian devotees, as an expression of love for Swami, wanted to cover the roof of the Sai Kulwant hall with the thin, gold foil that now adorns the majestic hall. Swami was happy because the roof above the devotees would be covered in gold. He blessed the project and it began in right earnest. Please allow me to take a little detour here and relive a wonderful story I heard from Ms.Moiya, the famous younger twin of the Pink sisters ( the O’Brien twins from Australia), during an interview for Radiosai. She narrated an interesting experience amidst the interview and I quote her:
Well, some years ago a man came to our door and we gave him one of our books. And he came back the next day and said, “Look, you don’t even know me and you gave me that book, so I’m going to tell you a story which not many people know.” And then he said, “You know the story of the green ceiling? Baba sent for me, I come from Hyderabad.” And He said, “I have got a special project for you. The Italian people want to put gold leaf on the upper part of the ceiling. So we got to put a background, I want you to supervise it.” So they got coloured charts with all the pinks and the blues and the cream, and Baba said, “No, no I don’t want that - I want green.” “Oh no Baba, green would clash; it doesn’t go with the other colours, it must be one of these colours.” “No, I want green,” Baba said and continued, “You know those green and gold rings I give people for love, peace and healing? I can’t give everybody a green and gold ring but if I give them a green and gold ceiling, anybody who sits under that ceiling will get the benefit. The energy will fall on them even if they are not aware of it; they will get that energy.”
When the work of pasting the gold foil leaves on the ceiling began, the venue for darshan and bhajan was shifted from the Kulwant hall to the adjacent Poornachandra auditorium (PC). So, when the academic year began in June 1999, we were told that we would be going for darshan into the PC. I had a photograph with me - it was a 30” by 40” image of Swami seated on the chair on the Shivarathri morning which I had clicked a few months before. My desire was that Swami should sign this photograph so that I could keep it in my shrine at home.
Attempts at fulfilling a desire...
Being a student in Swami’s school availed some terrific privileges. One of them was the ‘birthday tray’ chance. If it was your birthday, you would get a chance to sit in the front rows with a tray filled with various goodies. These would include chocolates, dry fruits, cloves (which Swami loved and would pop into His mouth once in a while), vibhuti packets, photographs, pens, books - basically, whatever one wanted to take! Swami would bless the student and many times, even sign the photographs presented. I decided to get the photo signed on my birthday, the 24th of June, when Swami would be obliged to sign it for me!
Well, this was not the first time that I was making such assumptions. I had done it once before when it turned out to be my first memorable interaction with Him as His student. That had made me bold into making more such assumptions...
When the D-day came, I went to the warden and took a ‘chit’ - a permission slip to go to the mandir before the lines left hostel. These chits were given as special considerations for birthday boys or to those that had to urgently communicate to Swami about some matter. Leaving the hostel before the lines gave one the option of choosing the best and prime locations in the mandir which had a ‘greater chance to access Swami’! And so, on my birthday, I rushed to PC and sat in the first line, just below the stage. I was surrounded by other birthday boys. Swami arrived for darshan and I had an eager anticipation about me.
The side curtains marking the backstage area in PC would part and the beloved form in orange would arrive. Immediately, the music would begin and an enthralled hush would fall over the whole audience. There would be many people stranded outside the auditorium for the capacity of PC is only half of that of Kulwant hall.
Swami descended the stage and came straight towards us. He placed His right palm on all our trays and allowed us to bow down, touch His feet and take padanamaskar. And then came the time to get the photos signed. Swami took the picture that one of the students held and signed it. In the meanwhile, I quickly unrolled the large photograph that I had with me. Swami signed two more photos and then came to mine. I handed Him the marker pen. He took it and just placed it on the photo. And then, I got a shock! He replaced the cap on the pen, gave it to me and just walked away without signing the picture!
I felt cheated! Every birthday boy had got his picture signed and only mine had resigned. But I did not give up. The next day, I took a ‘chit’ in the ‘photos for signing’ category and again went ahead in the lines. I rushed and procured a place near the birthday boys. When Swami came near during the darshan, He signed some photos and then, looked at me and said,
“Only birthday boys!”
He moved on without signing the photo I had in hand. I was flabbergasted! Again, not a person to give up easily, I began to take permission chits to go ahead of lines till the warden himself got irritated at my frequency. He told me,
“You wait for a while and try your luck again after a few days. There are many boys who want a chance and it is not right that you go ahead daily and sit in the front.”
When this happened, I was lost in introspection. I began to wonder what was happening and why was it that my photo was not getting Swami’s sign? And then, I made a plan - my master-plan! I began prayers on a daily basis. I prayed,
“Swami, please accept a letter from me...”
My cunning plan to 'trap' Swami...
I felt that if I pleaded and prayed enough, Swami would indeed accept my letter. This prayer went on for weeks when finally I reached a state of being where I felt that Swami would never refuse a letter from me. That day, I sat in the second line behind the birthday boys, below the PC stage. This time, I had obtained that seat through dint of hard running and crafty overtaking! I began to write my letter.
I wrote asking for His love and blessings. I prayed for my family and for me to be with Him always. And then, I added a post script. I wrote-
“P.S. - Swami if you accept this letter from me, it means that when I get a photo tomorrow and sit in the first row, tomorrow itself You will sign it”
“There”, I thought, “this is an intelligently designed, fool-proof plan.”
When Swami came, I was sure that He would accept my letter and He sure did.
“Trapped you”, I thought with a triumphant smile beaming on my face.
And so, the next day, I got ready for darshan in a great hurry. Swami has ‘Sathya’ in His name itself. He always utters the truth and so, there is no way He can escape the plot that I have so intelligently weaved! Suddenly, I realized that the XII class students would be going last in the lines that day. How was I to get the photo to Swami if I do not get to sit in the front line? I had to complete my end of the deal before expecting Him to keep up His! I rushed to the warden.
“Sir, I would like to take a chit today.”
“Sir, I want to get a photo blessed and signed by Swami...”
“Oh! That same photo! Again?! Just wait a few more days...”
“No! Please sir. I have to take it today.”
“See boy, Swami has not been signing photos for the last few days.Let Him start signing and then you take it.”
I did not want Swami to escape in this manner. I tried my last card.
“Sir, I have a strong feeling He will sign the photo today. Please, give me a chit.”
“I feel, He will not do so. Wait for a few more days.”
“Sir...”, even as I began, the warden thundered,
“I told you already! Now leave! Do you know better or I?”
I had half a mind to say that I knew better but I knew better than to talk that way to an infuriated warden. And so, I returned and joined the lines. Swami seemed to have defeated me.
Allow me another little, necessary detour. Those days, Swami would often go to the Kulwant Hall before darshan in PC to supervise the gold foil pasting work that was going on. On the route that the students took to enter PC, the path connecting Kulwant hall to PC lay. Thus, when we would go for darshan, if Swami happened to be in Kulwant hall, supervising the work, we would obtain a bonus darshan. There was also an added rule - since the class arriving last to PC would not get good seating, the boys could sit along the path and enjoy a close darshan as Swami moved from Kulwant hall to PC.
The day our class was last and I was ruing my inability to sit with the photo in the front line, Swami had gone to Kulwant hall for supervision. Being last, all our class boys sat along the path on one side. On the other side sat the students from the University class that was last in the University lines. I happened to sit in the first line along Swami’s path and with great disappointment I realized that I had not brought the photo! How could I have blundered?
I was again lost in introspection. This time it was deeper. I realized my mistake. I had been so wrong in planning this ‘trap’. I decided to make amends. I took another piece of paper and began to write a letter to Swami. I came straight to the point
“ Swami, I am sorry I made a mistake in the previous letter. If you take this letter from me, it means that within the next month, you will sign the photo for me when I sit in the first line!”
That was the gist of the letter and now I felt that this was a perfectly foolproof plan. Within a month, surely I would get to sit in the first row with the photo. Now, I was fervently hoping and praying that Swami would accept my letter...
Does the second hatched plan succeed?
Now, I was fervently hoping and praying that Swami would accept my letter. As Swami completed the supervision and was returning, He saw all of us seated along the path. He said out loud,
“I shall go to PC from the other path!”
“NOOO SWAMIIIIIIIIII......” we screamed at the top of our voices.
“To avoid me, He is going by another path”, I thought.
“SWAMI, PLEASEEEEE SWAMI” - another shout reverberated.
Swami smiled and turned to enter our path. I heaved a sigh of relief. As Swami came near, I did something very brave and desperate. I got up and blocked His path with the intention of not letting Him pass till He took my letter. He looked at me and said, “Dunnapotha” (meaning he-buffalo in Telugu). I was thinking
“Call me all you want Swami. I am not budging till you take this letter.”
He had about twenty letters in His hand already. Still, He took mine and then I allowed Him to pas. I was happy and relieved. Swami then moved slowly through all the boys, collecting almost all their letters. BY the time He reached near the entrance of His residence, behind PC, His hands were full of letters. He went into the door and the door closed behind Him. All of us immediately rose to rush into PC for Swami would be arriving there in about 5-10 minutes. As we were all getting up, one of Swami’s security guards came calling out to all of us.
He said that as Swami was entering the door, He had dropped one letter and then gone in, closing the door. Even as He said that, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I went to the door and there lay my letter! It had been cast out - a refugee that sought to get back into my pocket. I felt like a fool and began to tear the letter. A senior patted me on the back and tried to help saying, “Brother! The letter has been folded too small. Maybe, it slipped out of Swami’s hand. Try again later. Swami will take it.” I was in no mood to listen. I had been defeated in a smashing manner.
After that day, somehow or the other, I never took that photo for signing.
A month or two passed. The work in Kulwant hall was complete and it was reinstated as the darshan venue. My photo was still unsigned and I gave up on that idea totally. So many things happened in the months that passed - many experiences, many lessons. Fast forward to January 2000. The Sports Meet had concluded and I had been able to capture one lovely picture of Swami smiling and blessing the crowds that had gathered. The desire to get a photo signed by Swami re-ignited with this photograph.
The birthday boys now sat in the lower veranda of the bhajan hall, just outside the interview room. Since I was a photographer, many students who were celebrating their birthdays took a permission chit for me too so that I would capture the special moments when they were being blessed. I carried a series of six photographs with the objective of getting them signed atleast now. And then began the next part of the struggle. Swami would sign photographs about twice a week on an average. But every time I thrust my photo, Swami would say, “Ay! Not birthday boy.” This became so frequent that the student who used to walk behind Swami, one day reprimanded me, “Do not keep bothering Swami daily like this. If you do so, I will ensure that you are not sitting here!”
“As if His neglect was not enough, He was releasing His ‘goons’ on me”, I thought! I suddenly felt the futility of all my efforts. I just prayed to Him saying that I was ready to wait until He signed my photograph at His pleasure. The month changed into February and I continued to sit near the birthday boys, taking their pictures as Swami blessed them, hoping that one day He would sign my photograph. By now, I had dropped most of the photos and was carrying only the photo of His Sports Meet blessing with me. It was a small 7 inches by 5 inches picture.
On the 8th of February, 2000, Swami completed the darshan rounds and arrived into the veranda of the bhajan hall. There were two tiny tots from the primary school and Swami was so happy seeing them. One of them gave Him a picture to sign and Swami happily took the picture and signed it. And then, He asked,
“Only one photo?”
The little guy turned the pages of a book he had got and pulled out a photograph. Swami took that and signed it and I thought, “You lucky dog!”
“Only two photos?”, Swami asked, liberally sprinkling divine salt on my ego wounds.
Now the little guy rummaged his pockets and pulled out a small, crumpled picture. Swami took that and signed it too!
I was wondering,
“Mera number kab aayega (When will my time come?)”
I sat still. Swami took a couple of steps near me. The pen was still in His hand and He was looking at me. I was tempted to rise but the look of Swami’s ‘goon’ behind pressed me back to my seat. And then, He spoke,
“Don’t you want to get your photo signed?”
Like a coiled spring, I surged ahead and gave Him the photo. He smiled and said that if only I had brought a writing pad along, photo signing would have been so much easier.
I had been getting the writing pad and a book almost daily and today was the only day I had forgotten!
Swami then supported the photo on His left forearm and signed, “With Love Baba”. Then looked at me and asked with His eyes, “Only one?” I nodded for that was the only picture with me. He handed the picture to me and moved into the interview room. I looked at the ‘goon’ and He was smiling broadly at me. I felt so happy! The wait now seemed worth every single moment.
I vowed never to try to outsmart God! Just love Him and He will oblige and do what is best for me always.
The Climax indeed...
The photo that Swami signed for me is in my altar, laminated. A few years ago, it had fallen on to the lamp and part of the photo had got burnt. But, no part of Swami in the picture had been singed.
And now, for a super thriller. This article was being written after I had received some harsh criticism from people who said that I should not keep 'doling' out personal stories like this on HubPages. I had prayed to Swami and told Him that He knew everything - and that included my motives in writing hubs regularly. And then, I started writing this hub. I had just started writing this article when Pooja, my wife called me up excitedly.
She wanted me to rush home from the studio immediately. She had started reading the Shirdi Sai Satcharitra on 15th March 2012, a Thursday. On completion of the first chapter, she placed the book down and closed her eyes in love and gratitude to Swami. When she opened her eyes, the book was full of vibhuti! I saw the book and was marveling at it. I told her that her reading had indeed been sanctified.
I went to the altar to thank Swami for that beautiful miracle and lo! There was also vibhuti on the very same photo about which I was writing the article! I knew that Swami was happy with me writing this article and with me writing about Him too!
The precious picture
Sai ramalingayya on June 07, 2020:
Sairam Aravind sir
Your videos are nice
Thank you sir
Subhash on November 02, 2019:
Wonderful Arvind . Your sharing inspires us
Ravindranathan on June 05, 2019:
Thanks i had reading and watching your video about our great satya sai baba
About me after working nearly 47 years hard you can saya i never heard about swami much.when i was working in mumbai 72 to 1988.now after retiring i think i am a fool.now i am passing through difficult time.now i had started attenting bajans every thursday.for babas blissing.pl guide me
Shanthi on September 29, 2018:
Backside of your swami photo is very super. I like it.
Mr. Happy on April 25, 2012:
That sounds very interesting! I do not think I have ever seen that. Thank You for the explanation.
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on April 24, 2012:
Mr.Happy, Cloves are the aromatic dried flower buds of a tree used as a spice in cuisines all over India. It is the traditional and healthy equivalent for a chewing gum. It soothes the throat and lends a good breath in the mouth! :)
Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on April 24, 2012:
"The energy will fall on them even if they are not aware of it; they will get that energy.” - I love that!
I have to ask here, what are cloves?
Great story - off to part II. Cheers! : )
Sreenidhi on April 03, 2012:
I stand speechless with the relationship you share with Swami. I can actually imagine how Swami would have looked when He said "only birthday boys". Anna,your master plan was just amazing!
Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on March 18, 2012:
Part two has been completed!
Thank you all for the eagerness and enthusiasm!
May Sai Bless all...
maria on March 17, 2012:
another of your masters plans is at work again, its putting us on the edge of our seat wondering how it concluded - but we have to waitfor the next chapter .HA
Arpita Mallajosyula on March 17, 2012:
this is soooo unfiar Aravind Anna.....everytime you stop the story exactly at the suspense part :( :P waiting desperately for the next part......
vaishnavi rao on March 17, 2012:
Anna the MASTER PLAN!! SUPER!! The first letter and the Second re-corrected letter!!! Awestruck by the "MASTER PLAN"!! Super. Waiting impatiently for the next part. Hope its not more than to part so that we need not wait more to read the whole thing! Pls sooon!!
Mani on March 17, 2012:
Ha Ha. He is the Grand Master.and this is His own game.can we ever trap him? The beauty is He always wants us to win.
S.Sridhar on March 17, 2012:
No waiting...Please post the balance.