“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. This quote of Mahatma Gandhi best summarises the spiritual journey of the Hariprasad couple.
Smt. Kalpana Hariprasad was introduced to Swami by her mother, and Sri Hariprasad came to Swami only after his marriage. And together, they dived into action, living a life of service, inspired by the life and teachings of their beloved God, Guide and Guard, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. An inspiration to Sai youth, the couple are a living testament to what devotion, dedication and discipline in following the Bhagawan’s teachings can achieve – happiness not just for the served but the ones who serve too.
The couple, in their late 60s, brim with energy when they talk about Swami. It’s difficult to not get drawn by their enthusiasm, leaving one to wonder what the secret to their happiness is! “It is all Swami”, confides a cheerful Smt. Kalpana, her eyes glinting with a nonchalant serenity that perhaps only years of penance can bring in. Sri Hariprasad chips in “All we do is His work and He takes care of the rest.”
The First Experiences
So how did it all begin? How did they come to Swami? Smt. Kalpana, edges forward in her chair, readying herself to take the journey down the memory lane. “It was in the year 1974. I was still in college, when I got the blessed opportunity to touch the holy sands of Prasanthi Nilayam for the first time. My mother’s friend had given her Professor Kasturi’s biography on Swami, the book Sathyam Shivam Sundaram. After reading it, my mother was drawn to Parthi. And thankfully, she took me along.”
One visit was all it took for them to realise Bhagawan’s divinity. “My mother saw Swami in the Chandrabimbam (in the moon) during her first stay in Prasanthi Nilayam. That was enough to convince us about Swami’s divinity.”
“We lived in Chennai those days and my entire family was blessed to witness and experience many miracles in Sundaram (Swami’s abode in Chennai).” Those early experiences helped develop her faith in Swami, she confesses. “It was a slow but sure process. I would eagerly await the next ‘miracle’ of Swami, without realising that His biggest miracle was the transformation I was undergoing. Swami would also play along in my quest for miracles and drop flowers from His photos, every time, after the chanting Sai Ashtothram in my house.”
These experiences encouraged her to win more of His grace and she took to singing bhajans and service. “In no time, Swami had become the only propelling force behind everything in my life!”
God is the architect of our lives
Sri Hariprasad’s spiritual journey however began much later. “I used to lead the anti-Baba group earlier,” he confesses, sheepishly. His life turned a new leaf from October 1979, when he got married. He credits the books Man of Miracles by Howard Murphet and The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist by Dr Samuel H Sandweiss to the change in his outlook. Of course, it helped that his wife was a staunch believer in Swami.
Quiz him if there was any particular instance that brought about the transformation in him, and a remarkable experience is shared. “In the early 1980s, once I had to board a train with my aged mother. But before we could alight, the train started chugging slowly from the station. For some reason I still can’t figure out why, I prayed to Swami for help at that instant. And to my surprise, within moments the train stopped. We quickly got into the train and only after we were comfortably seated, the train started moving again! I couldn’t deny Him anymore. I knew it was Swami’s handiwork, and realised that He was no ordinary man.”
A banker by profession, he was often transferred to many cities. And by God’s grace, the move to different cities was always a welcome experience. The family would settle quickly and begin their search for the nearest Sai Samithi and involve themselves in the service activities. Little did they know then that all the years spent in doing such seva was good training for the mammoth seva that Swami had in store for them.
“Our journey into Sai seva began three decades ago. Rendering service has certainly transformed our lives from ‘giving happiness’ to ‘becoming happiness’, shares Sri Hariprasad, with a sure-footed confidence that’s difficult to miss.
“It was all His plan for us,” adds Smt. Kalpana. “After my wedding, Swami gave me opportunities to strengthen my knowledge and skills in many ways. He got me involved in the seva activities in different Sai Samithis, wherein I participated in bhajans, nagar sankirtan, and blood donation camps apart from the regular Narayan seva and Balvikas in villages.”
For instance, once when Sri Hariprasad was posted in Ernakulum, Kerala, Smt. Kalpana got the opportunity to serve in government hospitals, not only allaying her fears about medicines and hospitals but sensitising her to the plight of patients.
It was as if Swami was adding ‘relevant experience’ to her seva resume. In October 2000, when the Sri Sathya Sai Super Speciality Hospital commenced operations in Bangalore, she was immediately able to volunteer and serve the patients happily. “I would wash vessels in the dietary department, serve as a runner within the cardiac and neuro wards, work in the lab… I was exposed to multiple service opportunities there.” Even though the regular hospital seva kept her away from her family for a week every month, it wasn’t difficult. “God took care of my work when I worked for Him”, she avers.
And when did she become a Bal Vikas guru? “It was when my husband was transferred to Baroda. It is here that I met Smt. Kamala Pandya, the legendary Bal Vikas Guru. She convinced me to take up teaching group I, II and III of Bal Vikas.” While Smt. Kalpana didn’t think teaching children was her strong point, she felt the unseen hands of Swami steer her into it. And so, she agreed.
On hindsight, it was definitely Swami’s will for her as she now is a confident and well-trained Guru, teaching the children in the breakfast seva centre in the Government school in Doddabelle.
“My experience of taking Bal Vikas for children from Sai Samithis and villages, teaching bhajans, visiting villages and preparing nutritious dishes for the children there, taking up regular Samithi cleaning as and when required… everything came in handy when we started the seva in Doddabelle.”
From Form to Formless – the subtle transition
Very soon, without realising, seva had become their way of life, and Swami their life-breath. And this was put to test in April 2011 with the physical passing of Swami. “While it wasn’t easy, we channelled the sadness into doing His work”, shares Sri Hariprasad.
“It was October 2014 when I first heard the discourse of Swami in His subtle form. ‘I am no more in physical form. For me to carry on My mission from now on, your bodies are My body, your hands are My hands, your feet are My feet and your life is My message.’ When I heard these lines, immediately, in my heart, I knew that it was none other than Swami Himself.”
This message from Swami strengthened the couple’s resolve to serve more. “It really wasn’t an alien concept to us. Be it at home or other places, we pray with the faith that the formless God permeates every atom of the Universe and is very much in us, around us, protecting, guiding and guarding us.” So, it wasn’t a mind-heart tug of war for us at all, Sri Hariprasad explains. “In fact, the chaste and characteristic language of Swami and the bliss we would derive from listening to His discourse was enough to convince us that it was indeed our Swami only.”
That Swami continued to stress on the importance of selfless service even in His subtle form served as a powerful stimulus for them. And thus began the new chapter in their spiritual journey, the service in Doddabelle village.
Breakfast Seva – a God-sent opportunity
A gifted cook, Smt. Kalpana puts her culinary skills to use and prepares nutritious dishes for children at Doddabelle while Sri Hariprasad trains the children in spoken English, starting from the basics with a formal week-wise plan. He also teaches them computer skills, and the importance of hygiene and cleanliness.
The ‘Breakfast Seva Initiative’ undertaken by the Sai youth, entails serving free and nutritious breakfast to the under-privileged school-going children at Doddabelle village (about 20 kilometers away from Banashankari, a suburb in Bangalore). About 70 – 80 children benefit from this breakfast programme every day. The children, as per Swami’s guidance, are served with balanced food, comprising of Idly-Sambar, Rice bath-Chutney, Chapathi-Kurma, Fruit and Milk on rotation. Inspired by the success of the seva in this school, the initiative has since spread to many schools in Bangalore and other cities as well.
Recently, with the help of few other professionals and volunteers, they organised a summer camp in Doddabelle. The Summer Camp was a well-organised programme for the children spread over nine days, with a regime that included yoga, personality development, soft skills, and moral stories from different religious persuasions. The children were exposed to art and craft and were encouraged to plant saplings, sowing the seeds of environmental consciousness and responsibility in them at an early age.
The bonding the duo share with the kids in the schools is evident from the fact that they celebrated the wonderful milestone of Sri Hariprasad’s 60th birthday with them. “These kids are our family. And we are truly grateful to them as participation in breakfast seva and other seva activities is the most beautiful part of our lives. Without it, our lives would have been a waste” shares Sri Hariprasad. The ‘evergreen hero’ of the group as he is fondly called, adds, “even amidst overlapping priorities, I do not ever want to miss any chance of doing seva.”
Gross or Subtle – it’s His omniscience that energises
What keeps them inspired and focussed on service? The couple look at each other, smile and concur that it is purely Swami’s benevolence and omnipresence that eggs them on every single moment. “The story of how we became the recipients of Swami’s padukas is proof of His continued presence in our lives,” confides Sri Hariprasad.
“It was on the eve of Gurupoornima in July 2015. We were on our way to Muddenahalli, when we stopped for a cup of coffee and had a chance meeting with Sri Srinivasa Chettiar, the son of revered Sri Subramanya Chettiar of Madurai. I approached him, and over the course of our interaction, exchanged notes with him about their Sai activities as well as the events at Muddenahalli.”
Over their conversation, Sri Hariprasad enquired if Sri Chettiar had any of Swami’s Padukas to spare. He thought for a moment and told him that one last set was available, but said he will give it to them only if he felt the inner prompt from Swami to do so. Swami had told the Chettiars that the padukas would rightfully reach the houses of only those devotees He willed. Sri Srinivas asked them to come to Puttaparthi the next day. And when they reached the room of Sri Srinivas, on the auspicious morning of Gurupoornima, the next day, they were blessed to receive the padukas blessed by their Guru! “This was no coincidence. It was Swami’s will and His blessings,” exclaims Sri Hariprasad, crediting such instances of Swami’s omnipresence in their lives to their motivation to serve.
Prod them to share more such instances and Smt. Kalpana narrates an experience in which Swami cured her instantly. During the Athi Rudra Maha Yagna celebrations in Muddenahalli in October 2015, while sitting in the Darshan grounds, she felt an intense pain in her body and couldn’t move. The volunteer, seated next to her, observed this and explained her condition to Swami, requesting Him to cure her of her pain. Swami looked at Smt. Kalpana intently and said, “Anta Saripotundi (everything will be fine)” three times. And true to His word, even before He had completed the darshan rounds, the pain was gone and she felt as good as new!
“Swami is the indweller of our hearts. He hears every thought of ours,” adds Sri Hariprasad. He reminds her of another instance, and then goes on to share it himself. “On the 13 of March 2016, during the Sai Annapoorna Volunteers’ Meet, she really wanted Swami to acknowledge her efforts in Bal Vikas and talk to her. And, Swami blessed her with two packets of Vibhuti.”
The secret to happiness lies in helping others
In their sixties, the couple present a very idyllic picture. There is an undeniable happiness not just on their faces, but in their presence too. Both their children, not surprisingly, are also active volunteers. While their daughter, who lives in the US is a Bal Vikas Guru, their son, an IT professional in Bangalore, teaches meditation to the children at the Government school, and helps them with computer learning.
“The family that serves together, stays together,” answers their son, explaining the secret to their content lives. “As a family, all we want from Swami is for him to keep us all in His divine fold always,” he ends.