|Pratim Bannerjee (kneeling in front to Swami's right) with Sri Sathya Sai|
The year 2003 was a very crucial year in my life. That was the year when I wrote my tenth standard Board Examinations; the year when I came face-to-face with a Divine Being, about whom, I had heard a lot from my grandmother and parents, but never had the opportunity to see or speak to, and Who later became my mentor, guide, guardian, and my everything! It was May 2003. I remember sitting outside the Whitefield Ashram, waiting for my parents to sort out accommodation, all the while wondering, “What life would be like behind those light pink walls!” Coming from a boarding school of great renown, I was not aware of what it would be to stay in an Ashram, see a Guru, or for that matter sing a Bhajan. I was pretty much like any other 17-year old, carefree, curious, energetic, enthusiastic, short-tempered and perhaps a bit arrogant.
When I was a school student, I was heavily into sports, having represented my school in football, cricket and hockey at various national level championships. And the possibility of being allowed to continue doing so was perhaps my biggest concern about joining Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School. Even before appearing for the entrance examination for XI Standard at Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School, this concern persisted, and the picturesque Hill View Stadium was the bait which Bhagavan chose to put that concern to rest, and to draw me closer to Him.
Strangely, when I look back, I remember a photograph of Bhagavan in His usual Abhayahasta pose (blessing posture with the hand raised), in the common-room of the Hostel in my earlier boarding school, which now makes me realise that He always had an eye on me, and therefore knew about all my mischief and fun. Not just that: I am also quite sure that He had decided to draw me closer to Him. That is the reason why, I did not want to go back to the same school after my tenth class, even though I was happy there and the quality of education was quite good.
|Sri Sathya Sai Darshan at Brindavan|
My first Darshan of Bhagavan was during the same visit, in Brindavan. I remember sitting with my father to have His Darshan, wondering what ‘Darshan’ actually meant. This was a different world to me! ‘Sairam’ as a replacement for ‘Hello’, ‘Welcome’, ‘Please’ etc. was entirely new. So were the words ‘Darshan’, ‘Interview’, ‘Blessings’, ‘Prasadam’, ‘Bhajans’, and ‘Prayers’. I remember sitting next to a boy who was disabled and was having a tough time sitting quiet in one place, just like me, though mine was more a case of being un-used to this sort of environment or gathering. The big difference between the two of us was that he was crying out to Swami for help, and I was crying within to get out of that place! But when the door opened and Bhagavan stepped out, the atmosphere of the entire gathering changed. People sat up straight, there was a sudden hush, and beautiful music filled the atmosphere. The crying of the boy mellowed down. Visibly he was in pain, but something had brought him peace. When I craned my neck, for the first time I had the Darshan of the most beautiful being in orange hue that sent shivers down my spine. And immediately a thought ran through my head, more of a feeling: a feeling of having known that form since a long time, of not having seen Him, yet having known Him since ages. It was a strange feeling for me as a teenager of seventeen! It was one of happiness, surprise and confusion. And that day after many years I sang aloud the songs that were being beautifully rendered by the young boys sitting in front of the dais. I had nearly stopped singing after my voice broke as an adolescent and I had moved more towards sports than music, which I was quite good at since childhood. It seemed as though the lyrics were not important, for I had eye-contact with the person in orange, and He seemed to be pleased with my singing!
|Pratim singing in the Divine presence at Prasanthi Nilayam|
Bhagavan out of infinite compassion, blessed me with numerous experiences which I cherish throughout my life. I wish to narrate in this article one of the thrilling experiences. In my second year of under graduation, during the year 2006-07 Annual Sports and Cultural Meet, I had the good fortune to be a part of the Para-Motors event. It is basically paragliding, but using a motor engine propeller which weighs a good 25-30 kg when filled with fuel. This was the highlight of that year’s sports-meet presentation, and Bhagavan showed a lot of interest in it! On the morning of 9th January, 2007, He came to the Sri Sathya Sai Airport, which was our takeoff point to oversee the practice session. After that morning’s session, He showered a lot of grace on the entire team including me! He enquired about our families, the learning process, ideal flying conditions etc. I was determined and focused on performing well and making Him proud. When He asked me what I wanted, I asked for “Acchi Hawa” (Ideal winds). I asked so, as para-motors are very much governed by wind conditions and cannot be performed in adverse wind conditions. He then replied smilingly, “Dega” (Will give).
That morning He also directed us to start practicing landing in the stadium, saying that it would be an altogether different ball-game as compared to landing in an open airport runway. He also stressed that safety was of paramount importance. Very much so, as explained by our instructor later, landing in the stadium was not so easy. The big hill on one side of the stadium creates a lot of turbulence which makes landing very difficult. Therefore, practicing landing was very much important. That very evening Swami arrived at the stadium to see us land. But, as the wind condition was unsuitable, our instructor, as directed by Bhagavan, delayed our takeoff till the conditions became ideal. Finally, after waiting for a long time Bhagavan left the premises to receive Aarti in Mandir.
We took off once the wind conditions became better. I was the first of the two, who went in circles above the airport, waiting for my fellow flying partner to join-in. In doing so, I went quite high up and realised the height only when my instructor asked me to locate the Hill-View Stadium where we were to land. The seriousness of the situation hit me hard only when I saw the entire stadium appeared just the size of a saucer, and the 65-feet high statue of Hanuman, only a few inches tall! The instructor made me perform structured manoeuvers to come down to a reasonable height. But then my youthful exuberance kicked-in again and instead of sticking to the flight path, and flying over Sri Sathya Sai Primary School, I took a shortcut, and headed straight towards the globe-like structure in front of Chaitanya Jyoti Museum. My mind went numb, but by using extra acceleration I averted a collision. But even before I could breathe a sigh of relief, I realised that I was heading towards the mighty Chaitanya Jyoti Museum itself! On the instruction of our guide, I did an emergency 360-degree turn, which can prove fatal in the sport, but again managed to avoid a collision. Even before I could catch my breath it was time to land. The wind in the stadium was so turbulent that I was getting tossed around like a feather! But through some good piloting and guidance from the instructor, I could get the canopy under control. And as I thought I could land well at last, a strong gust of wind threw me flat on the ground! Everything around me froze; there was pin-drop silence, and my vision seemed to fade.
All that I remember just before hitting the ground was “Sai Ram” which instinctively came out of my lips! And I guess that did the magic! With nearly 30 kgs behind my back and the hard ground in front, the crash could have been fatal, to say the least! But when my instructor, teachers, and other support staff came rushing to help me, they surprisingly found that I had escaped with only minor injuries! I couldn’t thank Swami enough, not just for saving my life, but for giving me a life-changing experience, teaching the miraculous power of His Divine Name. The following morning, Bhagavan came to see our practice again. By landing fearlessly, better than yesterday, I went to Him to receive His blessings. The first thing He asked was, “You did not get hurt, did you?” To which all I could say with utmost gratitude was, “Aap Hai Na Swami!” (Aren’t you there Swami!) His affection flowed in plenty in the ensuing next few days!
Keeping up with His promise of ‘good winds’, He came half an hour early on the Sports Meet morning, ensuring that the wind conditions were ideal for us to perform the feat! Not just that, He also blessed us with trophies from His own hands, for which I had thirsted since my school days because He had stopped giving individual championship trophies since my eleventh standard. When I had worked hard and won the Athletics Championship two years in a row, only with a desire to receive something from His hands, He fulfilled that desire also in the best possible way. The best part of our time with Bhagavan was that through every interaction, through every glimpse, through every Darshan, He taught us some important lesson for life.
In the year 2009, just a few days after the Convocation and Birthday festivities, we got a message from Swami saying that we were to prepare a drama for an intellectual who was visiting Puttaparthi the following week. Swami wanted the drama to convey deep, sublime messages from our ancient scriptures. To get the entire drama up and running, we had less than three days’ time. As it was His Will, we could stage the drama with His direct guidance for the intellectual guest who was none other than Mr. Ratan Tata, then Chairman of Tata Sons.
|Pratim (right) shows the card before the programme |
in honour of Mr. Ratan Tata (to the left of Swami) begins
That day was special in the lives of all the participants because of the immense grace that Bhagavan showered on each one of us after the play. He blessed us all with watches and personally guided most of us on the next steps in our career and academics. I was assured by Bhagavan of a seat in the MBA programme that day, and when I prayed that He stay in my heart forever, He said a thing which I will cherish life-long. He touched my heart and tapping it thrice said, “I am always there, there, there”. I pray to Bhagavan to guide us always by residing in our hearts and by making His unseen hands, visible once in a while, so that we realise our good fortune time and again, and stay connected with Him, by doing our best to make Him proud. Let us pray that He gives us all the ‘Acchi Hawa’ so that we may rise and shine in whatever we do, and the world recognizes the values of life that He taught us. We may then graduate to become His students, rather than just being students of His University!
Sri Sathya Sai with Students after the drama
- Pratim Bannerjee
Student (2010-2012), Department of Management Studies
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Prasanthi Nilayam Campus
Currently, Business Development Manager,
Tata Technologies, Detroit, USA