A Happy Birthday! - By Natesh Shankar Shetty

The 80th birthday celebrations of Bhagavan were in full swing. There was colour and festivity, celebration and joy all over. To us it seemed as if the whole Universe was waiting in all eagerness for the day to dawn when The Master of the Universe would turn eighty! And soon the golden day arrived. Grand arrangements had been made at the Hill-view stadium. Some of the greatest dancers, singers, musicians and sportsmen of the country were present on that day waiting to offer themselves to their Lord on that auspicious day.

Sri Sathya Sai on His 80th Birthday - November 23, 2005
Soon enough, Bhagavan came in all His splendour and glory. He ascended the dais and sat on the beautiful throne as a million hearts watched in awe. The musical ‘greats’ came up and offered their obeisance to the Lord thereafter and began their soulful rendition. Everything seemed to be going on perfectly. The decoration was grand, the programmeme was happening smoothly, there were impressive lights and lasers all over the ground and the crowds were lost in the magnitude of the event.  

I am a part of the University Brass Band and so was fortunate to be seated close to the dais. I too was totally in awe of the grandeur all around, more so with the knowledge that we were so fortunate to be sitting so close to Bhagavan and witnessing the mega feat. Even as I felt grateful to Bhagavan for this rare blessing, I looked towards Bhagavan and suddenly felt something to be wrong. It seemed to me as though Bhagavan Himself was not enjoying the show. The usual charm and the chirpiness, so characteristic of Swami, seemed to be missing that day. And as if reflecting His mood, soon Mother Nature too played her role by ‘dampening’ both the ground as well as everybody’s spirits. The musicians found themselves getting drenched, the crowds were getting drenched and Swami too looked disinterested in the celebrations.

The multitudes gathered at Sri Sathya Sai Hill View Stadium on November 23, 2005

That set me thinking, out of my own humble understanding and knowledge. Probably Swami doesn’t need all this pomp and show for His birthday. Hadn’t He told us many times, that for Him, every day was like His birthday. One need not put up special lights and sound blasters all over the stadium to make Him happy. One only needs to feel Him and cherish Him within one’s heart. That was Bhagavan’s true birthday! Perhaps that day alone, when each one of us were in a position to foster Swami in our hearts, would be our real birthday too! So in reality we are only putting up a farce when we celebrate our birthdays (the day on which we were born physically) and make such a hue and cry about it.

But even as I found myself getting lost in this philosophical string of thought, another side of my head kept telling me, “Calm down brother! You are still a small kid. What would be your condition if on your birthday, nobody thinks of you, nobody greets you and nobody celebrates your birthday? You would be shattered and heartbroken! We all want to be loved. Your birthday is the one day when all those who truly love you come forward to express their love and regards for you. So don’t suddenly become a ‘renunciant’ and stop celebrating your birthday just because Bhagavan was a little dull on His 80th birthday. Why, Swami’s birthday celebration itself was an expression of the love of all the devotees for Him!”

This argument convinced me a fair bit. I seemed to like the dawning that whatever be the case, on one’s birthday, all his loved ones, family, friends and relatives would call on him to wish him. Without my knowledge, my mind had taken a tangential shift in its focus. Now it was very eagerly waiting for my birthday to arrive and was more interested in knowing, who are the people who would wish me on that day. And the results of this new ‘mind-game’ had the potential to reveal some exciting results: the people who thought of me on that day are the people who truly loved me and cared for me!

The months flew by and before I knew it, it was my birthday. The month was October and Dussera celebrations were on in full swing. Grama Seva was to begin that very day. I got up early in the morning expecting people to come rushing and wish me. Nobody came! Everybody seemed very excited about the first day of Grama Seva and people were busy getting themselves ready. I convinced myself that maybe my roommates had planned a surprise for me later in the day. That is why they were probably keeping things hushed up from me! 

Just then, some senior student came up and called me saying that the warden was looking for me. I met the warden. I entered his office wondering if somebody had told him it was my birthday and whether he was about to give me some Prasadam; but he gave me a rude shock instead when he asked me if I had a speech ready to be delivered in the Sai Kulwant Hall. The Prashanti Vidwan Maha Sabha was to start that evening! Delivering a talk in front of Bhagavan, and that too on such a prestigious occasion was no mean feat. I told the Warden that I was not at all ready and I should not be considered as a speaker that year. The Warden told me that my name had already been shortlisted as a potential speaker among the students. By then I was sweating in anxiety and my feet seemed strangely cold! Seeing my state the warden smiled and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll push your talk towards the end of the week so that you have enough time to prepare! Go for Grama Seva now!” Listening to the Warden’s reassurance, I was a little at ease and before long we had all set out for Grama Seva. 

At around 1 pm we were serving in some village, a little out of Puttaparthi, when suddenly some boys came rushing to me saying that the Warden was looking for me. The Warden had come all the way on his bike to meet me! Again my feet went cold and I felt butterflies in my stomach! This time when I saw him, he looked more tensed than I was. He pulled me aside and told me, “Swami has asked for you to speak this afternoon at the ‘Vidwan Maha Sabha’! We don’t have time. It’s already 1 o’clock. By 3 o’clock be in the Kulwant hall ready with your talk.” And as an afterthought he added, “Please pray hard to Swami! He will take care!” He got me onto a vehicle that was headed back to the hostel and I was supposed to prepare for a talk in two hours!

My mind was numb. I had no idea where to start from. The moment I reached the hostel, I fumbled up to the library, managed to pick up a few books and noted down a few incidents that I could share. I approached a few senior students in the hostel who were regular speakers at the Mandir and made desperate attempts to gather any sort of material that could be narrated! I was really tensed!

It is a commonly observed fact that only at those moments when we are absolutely hard-pressed for time, time seems to move the quickest! That day, time was flying at the speed of light! And before I knew it, I was in the Bhajan hall, waiting for my chance to speak. It was the first day of the ‘Vidwan Maha Sabha’ and there was a senior teacher who was scheduled to speak before me. 

I knew that within moments, my name would be announced. My apprehension grew when I suddenly realised that on that day, I was like a representative for the entire students’ community and hundreds of students would be hoping that I deliver my best. Moreover, Swami also likes to showcase His students in such forums to other eminent speakers who had come from the world over. And here I was, absolutely unprepared! I had a few loose stories which were disjoint and unrelated. I had no idea how to start and how to end. And by the time my name was announced I could only pray for a miracle to happen!

I walked up to Swami, with a rose in my hand. I managed to whisper into His ears, “Swami, please speak through me! I’m not prepared!” Swami looked into my eyes mischievously and said, “Nenu Chuskuntanu! Po!” (Go speak! I’ll take care!) And I spoke! For the next twenty minutes, I managed to keep speaking. And sometime when I was about to conclude, a thought struck me that probably I should express my gratitude to Swami for giving me an opportunity to speak in His presence on my birthday. I said so and nervously looked at Swami to see His response. Swami immediately looked at me with a bright smile playing on His lips. He called me to His side. He patted my cheek and materialized a ring for me. As he put it on my finger, He told me, “Idi Nee Gift! Chudu Perfect Fit!” (This is your gift! See, it fits you perfectly!) It was as if He was waiting for me to tell everybody that it was my birthday on that day! I tried to seek pardon for not doing a very good job with the speech, but He immediately cut me off saying that I should not harbour such thoughts on such a happy day. He then said, “I am happy! You also be happy!”

Everything after that was like a dream. Hundreds of people seemed to be wishing me for my birthday and greeting me on my good fortune. It took me almost half an hour to reach the hostel that evening after Darshan. But somewhere, on my way back, I started pondering over all that had happened that day. I recollected my decision a few months ago, to wait for my birthday to know for sure who were the people who truly loved and cared for me. Well, the criterion was that only those who wished me on my birthday were the ones who qualified. It suddenly dawned on me that all day nobody had wished me for my birthday. Even my parents (I later found out) were not able to get through the telephone line that day to wish me. My friends were busy with Grama Seva all day and by the time they returned I was already in the Mandir. So it turned out that the first person to wish me was Bhagavan Himself on that day! And according to my ‘theory’, if I were to make a list of all those people who truly loved and cared for me, God was the only name that featured in the list! Of course, once God Himself had come into one’s life, the whole world cannot but follow like a shadow. People started wishing me right from the moment Swami left the dais, and wishes kept pouring in for the next four days! The list of people who loved me remained incomplete because I lost count of the number of people who wished me; and yet it was complete in its own way because it had only one name in it – Swami’s!

But things have been different after that day. On my birthday I no longer wait to count how many people wish me and how many gifts I receive. It is now that day of the year when I just sit down and close my eyes, with gratitude in my heart for Swami’s presence in my life! It is that day when I sit down to count my blessings and not know how to repay Him! It is now more special a day than ever before for I recollect every year on this day that God Loves me! 

“Swami we are on the eve of Your Birthday today. All of us, Your children, with one voice have only this to say to You – “We Love You Swami!”…Happy Birthday to You Lord!”

- Natesh Shankar Shetty
MBA (2008-2010), Department of Management Studies
Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
Prasanthi Nilayam Campus
Currently, Holistic Healer, Violet Hues Healing Center, Bangalore

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