A little knock on the door would make me run for it. If it was my Khaki dressed friend, ‘the postman’, I would hopefully question him, “Any wire for me?” And he would give his daily and usual answer in his monotonous voice, “No, nothing for you sir.” I heard it daily but was never disappointed, for my little silly mind was convinced that my Lord would send me a wire one day, blessing me to live at His lotus feet in Puttaparthi. I was ignorant of the wonders and the mysterious works of His unseen Hand. Hence, I was tirelessly questioning the postman every day. One day, this ended when I was called and told that I was to join a school away at Nainital (UP) and stay in a hostel run by strict Irish Catholic missionaries. I heard this without resentment, but questioned myself, “Why is this happening?” But it remained unanswered.
One March evening, I found myself dropped like a hot-cake within the towering grey walls of the missionary convent, and the gates closed behind me. I found myself amidst sons of ministers, aristocrats and diplomats. I found something missing in them. I could not help stealing away from their company. At times, I felt lost in this big world, but slowly learnt to accept it as a part of life. I kept myself at a safe distance from the Irish missionaries. Not a day passed without my hearing the noise “whoosh, whoosh” of a cane and the uncontrollable sobs and cries of some unfortunate child. I was destined to spend a fraction of my life there.
One day, I received a rude shock. A photograph of Bhagavan which I had with me was taken away and was locked in a cupboard. In my loneliness, I derived consolation from the book “Sathya Sai Speaks - Vol. 1” which was kept well hidden beneath my bed as I feared that even that would be confiscated too.
One cold night, just before supper, the warden came in with a grim face and announced, “Henceforth, none shall keep any books beneath their beds. If books are found, they shall be confiscated. Even if any religious books are found, they shall be torn to bits. The boys found guilty shall be made to run.” The supper refused to pass down my gullet; I rose and walked out of the dining hall.
I tucked my gloved hands into the pockets of my overcoat and went out into the open grounds behind the convent. Icy wind from the snow covered mountains greeted me. “What am I to do with that book of Swami? How could I give it away? It was my only source of joy, consolation and whose support and companionship I sought during deserted moment.” My mind was now determined that I will continue to keep it beneath my pillow and face the consequences. I knew it was a severe test and my Lord would make me pass.
A week passed and nothing happened. None had come to check. One night, it was around 10 p.m. and I was still wide awake in my bed. The cold wind from the Himalayas whistled outside my window and it made the glass rattle loudly. All the boys in my dormitory were fast asleep, perhaps dreaming of angels and fairies, unaware of the terror that was to strike that night.
The lights of the dormitory were suddenly switched on. There stood the warden with another Irish missionary with a thick cane in his hand that knew no compassion. They pulled the sleeping boys out of their beds and the books were found beneath their beds. Blows rained upon the boys. The cane fell upon them mercilessly, its rhythmic sound and the cries for mercy equally keeping pace with each other.
While it was freezing outside, I was perspiring profusely. I covered myself and lay still and chanted Gayatri Mantra frantically. I could hear the soft footsteps of the missionary approaching my bed. It was my turn now. I felt a light tap. My lips went dry. My tongue refused to chant any Mantra. But I felt myself yelling within, “Baba, Baba, Baba…” I opened my eyes and tried to give an innocent look. I slowly got off my bed. The missionary gave me a sarcastic smile. I was afraid, surely not of the cane, but of the dreadful fate that awaited the book. The missionary overturned my pillow with his cane and, ‘Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 1’ showed itself lovingly. He looked at me ferociously. He hit the book with the cane. I felt the blow; a little cry escaped my lips. He asked me raising his gruff voice, “What is that I see?” I remained silent. The boys stood motionless in dreadful silence, while tears streamed down the cheeks of some. The angry missionary pounced on the book, and took it in his big rough hands. The story of Prahlad and the savior Lord Narasimha flashed into my mind. I stood in terror expecting him to tear it into bits. But I found the book still safe in his hands.
He was staring at it and kept mumbling, “Sathya Sai Speaks, Sathya Sai Speaks.” He stared at it unceasingly and after a few minutes, he opened the book. Our benevolent Sai stared at him. He stared at the beautiful picture and it stared back at him. I wondered what had happened to him. A few minutes later, the Irish missionary asked me softly, “Who is He?” I was silent, and felt I had lost my voice. I said, “Sai Baba”. The words seemed to have hit him like a thunderbolt. The cane fell from his hand. He stared at the picture with greater concentration. I did not know what was happening to him. Still, I am at a loss to know what happened in those few fleeting moments between the missionary and Bhagavan. It still remains a baffling mystery to me. The missionary kept the book gently on my bed to the astonishment of all and tip-toed out of the room. Tears of joy and gratitude trickled down my cheeks, for my beloved Lord had made me feel the warmth of His Love in the distant Himalayan region.
|The Book that brought about the |
- Giri Naidu
Alumnus, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning
Prasanthi Nilayam Campus