Reminiscences With Sri Sathya Sai – By K. Chakravarthi

Sri Chakravarthi with Sri Sathya Sai at the Prasanthi Nilayam Bhajan Mandir

  • "We shall not cease from exploration
  • And the object of all our exploring
  • Will be to find where we started
  • And know the place for the first time"

These lines of T.S. Eliot from his Four Quartets echo my feeling regarding my first meeting of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba whom we reverentially and lovingly call SWAMI; and my continued quest thereafter during the last fifteen years and more.

Looking back, I feel that my first meeting with Bhagavan in May 1975 marked in some way the end of my previous 'self' and the beginning of my new 'self'. To all intents and purposes I have continued to remain the same; but in some fundamental way I have changed. And that change is more in the realm of inner core, of the deeper recesses of my psyche. I believe that my life has, in its vital, emotional and spiritual aspects, taken some dimension which may not have come about at all, were it not for such meeting.

God, until then, was an abstract concept. He was someone out there in the far-flung heaven, beyond outer space. After being taken under the protective umbrella of Bhagavan, the feeling I have is that God is a living reality, with visible shape and color. Is it that the distant One has become near or the formless One has taken form? Well, Bhagavan has been here in this form, long before I came to know of Him. He has taken other forms at other times, in times past. But what is real to me is the personal feeling that I have - that the Divine has chosen to express itself in this form and in this age.

Seemingly insignificant things take on significance in one's life. One can rationalize by saying that everything has a purpose, meaning and reason and nothing happens by chance or fortuitously - the teleological view, may be. It is human nature to find reason, logic and cause in the events and happenings. It is the individual's way of looking at things rather than proof of self-existing and self-subsisting universal causal paradigm that would matter in the end. I prefer to attribute a certain destiny to my meeting with Bhagavan. Judged by later events, I cannot dismiss it as a chance occurrence. I also consider it as expressing an unfoldment of new significance to my life.

It was May 18, 1975. The previous day, while my wife and I were talking to the Chief of Police in the district administration, we were asked as to whether we would like to go over to Puttaparthi to see Baba. I had been at Anantapur for more than two months by then. I have had no natural inclination to go and meet religious heads or eminent spiritual personages until then. It was only later that I could know that I was not coming to meet a religious-head or a spiritual personage but the Divine Manifest. So when I was asked about a visit to Puttaparthi I kept quiet. My wife expressed a certain keenness to go along with my colleague and his wife. We were told that we could start by five in the morning. My wife said that since I had some reservation about the visit, we could come at a more leisurely hour. My colleague said that it would be fine if we could reach Puttaparthi by five in the evening. So it was that on May 19th, which happened to be my birthday, according to the Indian Calendar, we reached Puttaparthi around 4.45 PM, after attending to my official work en route.

When we reached by 4.45 PM, my colleague said that we must hurry up and go to Mandir. Hardly did we Sit down then Bhagavan came out. There, for the first time I saw Him in flesh and blood. I had seen a few pictures of Him. Somehow, I imagined seeing those pictures that He would be tall and massive and the hair rather rough. But here He was before me - lithe and petite, slender and graceful, His hair forming itself into a natural crown. His appearance itself was the first surprise. He summoned us in, with a beatific smile.

As I was driving the car with my wife towards Puttaparthi, my wife asked me as to what we could talk to Bhagavan. Having had no experience of visiting any such personages, I said, "I will have hardly anything to say. But if it comes to talking, well, we can always talk about the 18th Chapter of Gita". So, we settled down, with Bhagavan also sitting on the floor. He said, looking at me, that He would talk on some spiritual subject. There was a pause and then He asked me "How about 18th Chapter of Gita? " That was quite a surprise. Well, I did not know whether He consciously knew what I told my wife in the car. I nodded and He started speaking. In the course of the next ten or fifteen minutes, He tenderly called me by my name a few times to inquire as to whether I agree with what He said. I was thinking to myself "I have met Baba just a few minutes back. He calls me by my name as though He has known me for a long time". He continued talking. A few minutes later, during His talk, He asked again "Isn’t it so, Chakravarthi? " Then He looked deep into my eyes and said "l may be new to you. You are old to Me". Was it another surprise? It was as though the curtain had fallen, the veil lifted, albeit for a fleeting moment. T.S. Eliot's words ring in my memory:

  • "Time present and time past
  • Are both perhaps present in time future
  • And time future contained in time past."

Sri Chakravarthi with Sri Sathya Sai - During his initial visits to Puttaparthi as IAS Officer

I must say that although I have had a fairly orthodox religious background at home, my mental reaction was more western-oriented, possibly due to the type of formal education. I had no disbelief in God. But, somehow God was not a very integral part of my life, until then. So, when I was asked by Bhagavan, after His talk, as to what my response was, I said "Baba, (that is how I addressed Him for the first time) Hinduism explains a way; It does not explain". He then said, "What is beyond words cannot be explained in words. You have to experience it in due course." Then after a pause, He continued, "A person who waters a plant waters it at the roots. He does not pour water on the leaves. I have just watered your root. It will take time to grow".

It looks to me that Bhagavan has been pouring water as a zealous gardener. I hope I have grown a little. I cannot claim I have grown to be a big tree. But that is not the fault of the gardener. Some plants in His garden take a long time to grow. When we were returning after the first visit, my wife said "It would have been good if we had brought the children with us. They would have enjoyed meeting Baba". She also said "Baba perhaps gives only Vibhuti. He does not seem to be giving Kumkum."

A month after our first visit my wife came to see Bhagavan with the District Police Chief's wife. I could not come. During her second visit, Bhagavan told her "You and Chakravarthi felt that you should have brought the children. Next time when you come, bring the children". Was it a surprise again? A few minutes through that interview, and then He looked at my wife and told her "You asked for Kumkum, isn’t it? Have permanent Kumkum". He materialized a ring with red colored stone, symbolizing red Kumkum. Was she given another surprise? Well, by then, I suppose surprise ceased to be surprise as anything seemed to be possible with Bhagavan.

My wife was naturally in a very happy frame of mind when she returned to Anantapur. During dinner, when she narrated to me what had transpired, I said "well, I cannot wear such ordinary stone ring. I can only wear diamond ring". I thought I had said something light and funny.

Sri Chakravarthi cutting the ribbon at the Sathya Sai Gokulam Inauguration at Puttaparthi

A few days after this, Bhagavan sent two senior persons in the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation to meet and invite me to inaugurate Gokulam at Puttaparthi. That was during the second half of August. I was very glad to accept the invitation and I came to Puttaparthi with my family. And after the function was over, we went into the Mandir and after talking to us, He was about to retire. We had taken Pada Namaskaram. I was about to come out of His room in the Mandir. He smiled at me, waved His hand in a circle a few times, and produced something, polished it in His robe, and asked me to extend my right hand. And when I did so, He said with a smile "Here's a beautiful and precious diamond ring. Wear it". I was speechless. Did He hear my light-hearted comment to my wife when she showed the ring Bhagavan gave? Was it yet another surprise? At this rate, our lives will be full of surprises, and surprise will be the rule of life, I thought. And so it has been.

A month after this, when we came to Puttaparthi, while talking to Bhagavan, my wife prayed to Him that He should perform the Upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony) of our sons. He said that whenever my mother and brother came along with us, then He would perform it. We returned to Anantapur; on my return, there was a telegram from my brother saying that he would be coming to Anantapur with our mother after four days! There was no indication at ail that they would be coming then. in fact, according to their original plan they were to come after two months. We all went to Parthi.

On earlier occasions, Bhagavan used to call us after our arrival by 7.00 am, and talk to us. We used to leave Puttaparthi by 8.30 am and be back to Anantapur by 10.00 am to be in time for my office work. The day when we came to Parthi with my mother, brother and the children, happened to be Vijaya Dashami day. There was no Dasera celebration that year. Around 9.00 AM, I was informed that Bhagavan was very busy and that I can go back to Anantapur if I wanted to. I said that I was not in a hurry and that I could stay. At 10.00 am, 11.00 am, and again at 12.00 noon the same message was brought that Bhagavan was still busy and that I could return. I sent reply that would like to stay for the day and wait till Bhagavan was free to see us. By 12.15 pm there was a knock on my door, and I was informed that Bhagavan wanted us to come to Poornachandra Auditorium. We all went there. Swami came and said that since He was busy directing the students for the forthcoming drama "Jesus - Son of Man", He sent word that we could go back to Anantapur and come some other day. He was gracious and spoke to us all. My wife then reminded Him about the Upanayanam of the children. Bhagavan asked as to when she would like to have it and my wife replied almost exuberantly "Now Swami". He thought for a moment and said that He would perform it at 4.35 pm. And He did so.

Sri Chakravarthi garlanding Sri Sathya Sai at the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus

I have narrated the above because of what I learnt about the occasion two or three months later. I was informed by two of the senior devotees who were with Bhagavan during the drama rehearsal that He mentioned to them "Chakravarthi is here. I am asking him to go. But if he stays today, his life will take a turn in a particular direction, if he goes away, his life will take another turn". I did stay and that's why my life had taken the direction of turning my life Godward or shall I say Swamiwards! To have been given the good sense to stay for that day was, I think, an act of Grace of Bhagavan. I do not feel that I can take credit for exercising my free will wisely!

Reflections with Sri Sathya Sai – By K. Chakravarthi

Sri Chakravarthi and Smt. Sudha with Sri Sathya Sai

In February 1976, in response to our prayers, Bhagavan came to our house at Anantapur. It was the day of my father-in-law's death anniversary. While taking food Bhagavan told my wife "l have given liberation to your father”. We were rendered speechless. Tears welled up in our eyes. Not only was Bhagavan looking after us in this life and on this earth. He was looking after those who had departed from amidst our family. indeed, a Savior in this life and in the life beyond.

In July, I was transferred to Hyderabad from Anantapur. I had sought Bhagavan's permission to take leave for about 20 days and spend the time with Him, before joining my new assignment. After spending the days with Him, the time came for us to leave for Hyderabad. My wife was feeling quite sad the night before the day of our departure, she sat outside the room, well past midnight. The next morning when Bhagavan came to our room, He said "You did not sleep last night and were crying. I will give you the rare opportunity of looking after the school at Hyderabad, which I have set up recently. I shall appoint you as the Director and Correspondent of My school. Do you think, you are losing a link with Me? Don't worry, I shall provide you a hundred links with Me". Looking at me, He said, "Government may send you away from here. But I shall not send you". Once again, I did not understand then what those words meant. But looking back, we know that the assurance He gave then was fulfilled by Him. He appointed me as the Registrar of His Deemed University when it was set up. But it was another five years before that happened. During those five years, there had been many instances of His Grace and Mercy expressing itself.

Sri Chakravarthi garlanding Sri Sathya Sai as the Registrar of SSSIHL

On one occasion, I was driving the car from Madras to Hyderabad. My wife and children accompanied me then. After we crossed Nellore on the highway, was speeding up. It was nearing six in the evening. I had overtaken a lorry just ahead of a bridge. As I overtook the lorry, I suddenly found that the road got narrowed and the earth on the ground had been washed away, perhaps during the rains a few days earlier. I was driving the car at about 100 kms speed. I applied the brake and my wife and children shouted "SAI RAM". The car stopped within a few feet. I got out and asked others to sit still. I found the right front wheel was projecting out, and below was a chasm. Even to this day I do not know how the car got so precariously poised. I cannot claim to have stopped the car by effectively applying the brake. We believe that a more efficient braking system was applied from wherever Swami was!

In 1977, I was deputed to undergo a refresher course in one of this stations for a fortnight After about a week of the course I had a nasty fall in the bathroom when I felt something like a temporary blackout. When I regained consciousness, I found that there was a gash in my jaw and the bone was visible. I must have hit some sharp edge as I fell down. There was a rusty water closet over my head, and I seemed to have pulled it as I fell. When I got up I found that it had not luckily fallen on my head. was taken to the hospital and the doctor put a few stitches.

I did not inform my wife about it over the telephone or telegram. I returned with the bandage and stitches on, after two days when the course was over. She was visibly upset seeing me in that condition. She asked me as to what happened and when. I narrated it to her. She then said that around the time the accident happened to me, her Mangalasutra gave way as she was playing with our dogs. She got panicky with the thought that something bad had happened to me or is about to happen. Her immediate response was to convey what she considered as a bad omen to Bhagavan and got assurance from Him that He will look after me. She was able to convey the message to Bhagavan and in less than half an hour she got the return message from Puttaparthi - "Your message to Swami conveyed. Swami said that He will be always with Chakravarthi and look after him. Madam, one more thing. Swami told that you should not take Calmpose tablets. Actually, she was planning to take calmpose tablets to overcome her agitation and restlessness. A day or two later, Bhagavan sent Vibhuti Prasadam to my wife through some devotees who were returning to Hyderabad. Again, after another few days Bhagavan enquired from a few more devotees coming from Hyderabad whether they had seen me before coming to Puttaparthi. Bhagavan mentioned to them as to how He saved me from what would have otherwise been a fatal accident. He sent word through them that when I get better I should come to Puttaparthi with my wife. As soon as the stitches were removed, my wife and I came to Puttaparthi. He called me and my wife for interview, during the course of which He said that He had given me another life in order to fulfil His promise to my wife during the first interview that He will keep her a Sumangali! To reaffirm it, He solemnized our marriage again. That was indeed a touching moment.

Sri Chakravarthi with Sri Sathya Sai in the SSSIHL Admin Building

Such Divine intervention guards, protects, modifies; and some time the Divine does not apparently intervene. What does one make out of these? It is very difficult to say. Divine intervention in the way we wish things to happen reaffirms our faith. But faith built on such incidents can be fragile. One cannot prove or disprove the existence or otherwise of the Divine on this basis. True faith in the spiritual sense does not depend on anything good happening or bad not happening, because it is founded on the belief that whatever happens to one it is the gift of God, and further that there is nothing like joy and sorrow because both are equally temporary; and real happiness lies in developing an attitude of equanimity which treats joy and sorrow alike. To read a well-known Shloka as the following in Bhagavad Gita is one thing "Treating alike pain and pleasure, gain and loss victory and defeat, engage yourself in battle. Thus you will incur no sin." But to conduct oneself in life accordingly is yet another. That's why Bhagavan tells us often that instead of memorizing or getting by heart a string of shlokas from Gita, observe in practice just one shloka, and life would then be sanctified, and spirituality attained.

Through the years of my stay at Hyderabad, I was able to visit Puttaparthi and Brindavan to have Darshan of Bhagavan. Slowly deep within me was also growing a feeling that even as my physical and mental faculties are reasonably alright, I should seek Bhagavan's permission to take voluntary retirement and come to Puttaparthi and do whatever work was assigned. For more than a year, almost every month when I came for Darshan I made repeated requests. Every time Bhagavan put me off with one explanation or other as to why I should continue to be in the Indian Administrative Service.

Sri Chakravarthi leading the SSSIHL Convocation procession as Registrar

But in October 1981, He gave me permission to come and join as Registrar of His Institute. He said that it is time to leave IAS and join SAI. Reversal of alphabets! It has been more than that. I had moved from my incessant journey in the external world to my voyage inwards.

The last nine years of my association with the Institute has been providing me many opportunities to be in the proximity of Bhagavan both as the Revered Chancellor of the institute and as the Divine Chancellor of the Universe. it has been a constant process of unlearning, learning and relearning.

Sri Chakravarthi as Registrar addressing the SSSIHL Convocation at the Poornachandra Auditorium - November 22, 1983

I have been asked by many, such questions as the following:
Do such experiences with Baba prove His Divinity? In fact, how does one recognize the Divine? Do experiences occur because of Faith? OR Faith is born out of such experiences? Why are similar experiences not felt by many more? If the Divine has to claim scientific validity, should not all people get similar experiences under similar circumstances? Some are saved from accidents and some are not; some are cured of the diseases and some continue to suffer from the diseases. There are rich and poor; strong and weak; lucky and unlucky; successful and unsuccessful, bright and foolish. If all such inequalities are inborn, then the Divine is irrelevant; if they cannot be cured, then the Divine is not Omnipotent. I used to get upset by such questions earlier. But I have now come to feel that there are no intellectual answers to such questions. There is a simple and straight answer — The Divine is with us in the form of BHAGAVAN SRI SAI BABA, for those with eyes to see and mind to accept. All such questions relate to the realm of dichotomy and division. We cannot try to mechanically reconcile life's contradictions. We can only experience the transmutation of the opposites. And such transmutation can come only from a constant consciousness that the world of external objects and experiences are not the Final and Total Reality

Life will have to move from inconsistent multiplicity to transcendent unity. That is to say, we will have to understand the limitations of body, mind and senses through which we perceive only the multiplicities and contradictions and recognize the expansiveness of Soul and Spirit which harmonizes and unifies. We will have to recognize that the real can be obtained only through the unreal, the permanent through the fleeting, the eternal through the perishable.

Sri Chakravarthi with Sri Sathya Sai at the Hill View Stadium

Have I found the place where I started? I seem to be in the process of finding. How long will it take? Can it be found in this lifetime itself? Or will it take more lives? At least I know I am on the royal road, though many miles to go. But with Bhagavan as the Goal, as the road and as the Guide, I am sure to cover the miles.

About The Author:

Mr. K. Chakravarthi, I.A.S. (Retd.) held several high positions under the Government of Andhra Pradesh. He joined the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of High Learning (Deemed University) as Registrar from its very inception November 1981. Since 1995, he served as Secretary of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust at Prasanthi Nilayam. From 2011, he is a Trustee of Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. Since July 2018, Sri Chakravarthi is the Chancellor of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

Source: Sai Vandana 1990 (65th Birthday Offering)

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