After The Storm: Musings from Prashanti Nilayam
By Professor G. Venkataraman of Radio Sai
At the outset, I would like to offer my humble pranams at the lotus feet of our most beloved Bhagawan.
Loving Sai Rams and greeting from Prasanthi Nilayam. I am sorry I have been off the air for sometime. Many have written to me and some have even phoned to me about this ‘silence’ of mine. While some have been gently critical, others have expressed annoyance; for a change, one listener or reader – I do not know which – admonished me in what I would say unusual language (that’s putting it politely!), telling me that I would be doing a service if I were to just shut up! Such diversity of opinions is common in the broadcasting world and does not bother me. As for my prolonged silence there are several reasons, but I shall not go into that now. Instead, let me now turn to what I wish to say now.
Recollecting The Ordeal
The last few months have been truly traumatic for all of us, individually and collectively, for people here and those elsewhere. There is no one who is not feeling the pain, though of course the pain and anguish are felt by different people in different ways. This pain is always individual, deep and internal. The reasons for the pain are well known; even so, it would be useful to list some of the causes.
First, we had the sad news that Swami was hospitalised. After that came the daily bulletins which drove almost everyone crazy. And then the Media which was nowhere for years and years suddenly came out screaming, “Give us facts and not this crap.” All these years they studiously ignored Swami and His monumental contributions. Good work is never news and that is why they kept away. Now there was scope for spin to say the least, and they showed up in drives. Those days, I used to make a daily visit to the Hospital along with former Vice Chancellor Prof. Viswanath Pandit. Every day we would go in the evening to have a brief meeting with Director Dr. Safaya to know about Swami’s health condition. After talking to us, Dr. Safaya would give us a copy of the latest bulletin which he had just signed. When we came out, there was the sight of about two dozen OB vans of various TV channels, their cameramen zooming on everyone who went in or came out and their reporters ready with a mike to catch anyone willing to talk.
Meanwhile, devotees prayed fervently, from Puttaparthi to places in far corners of the world. Most of us firmly believed that Swami was merely teaching us a strong lesson and that He would miraculously bounce to good health. After all, did He not do that on Gurupoornima day way back in 1963 after being stricken with paralysis and heart attacks? And what about the famous appendicitis incident in Goa that came a few years later? This too was just a Divine Drama or Leela – so we told ourselves. However, this time the script was different; I am sure you know what I mean.
Influence of Connectivity
It was different in another way also. On earlier occasions, devotees just wept and prayed because instant telecom and the 24 hour news channels did not exist. This time both were around and they completely changed the flavour of the Leela. In other words, for some spreading ‘news’ which essentially meant passing on something they had heard on the mobile from X or Y or from an e-mail from Z became priority number one. Somehow, people seem to have forgotten that Media is a Grand Master of spin and good at taking people for a ride with idle speculation and by parading experts who knew everything.Swami had warned us many times in the past: Do not hear with the ears of others. Do not see with the eyes of others. Do not speak with the tongue of others. And do not think with the minds of others. Sadly, all that seems to have been forgotten.
Mind you, I am not blaming anyone. The truth is that when we are immersed in a particular ambience, we become tuned to it. That was precisely the warning Swami was giving for decades; and He said the best way of making sure we do not get infected is to stay away and remain detached. I am NOT making this up. I know this for a fact by closely following His discourses as a part of my Radio Sai work.
We Honor the Dignity of the Content
Just to amplify what I mean, let me recall a personal experience. There is a young man – obviously he shall remain unnamed – who is active in his own way in Sai organisation work in this country. He used to come here regularly and almost invariably we would run into each other. One day he made a comment relating to a spiritual matter and said, “Uncle, I think you should deal with this matter and clarify. This would be very useful to devotees.” I replied, “But you know, we have already dealt with this issue; we have expressed our view via radio broadcast and via text on our website.” To this he said, “But uncle, these are busy days. People have no time to go to websites. You must put it on Youtube……”
He went on in this vein. I was hurt. I just said, “I can appreciate you are busy and want everything delivered via youtube. But you know, whatever may be the visibility advantages, we cannot bring ourselves to diminish Swami by putting Him alongside of all the stuff that is on that outlet. That is OK for things of this world, but Swami is God come down in human form. Maybe we are wrong from a practical point of view, but I know in my guts that Swami would like people to connect with Him via avenues He Himself has founded and blessed.” My point was simple. Until recently, people went to a temple, mosque, church, gurudwara, synagogue, etc., when they wanted to worship. Even now, this happens. That being the case, do we want to change the style and put the temple in a shopping mall or inside a super-market because that would be so very convenient?
I know many would be furious with me but please take a few minutes off to reflect calmly. Actually Swami says, “Bangaru, you really do not have to go to any temple, mosque or whatever. Sit where you are, close your eyes, shut off the world, and look for Me inside your Heart. Have you forgotten that your Heart is my permanent residence?” That is what Swami says. Now tell me, if we were to put Swami on popular internet ‘malls’ because that would be so convenient for people with gadgets, how would people be able to concentrate? In a mall, people look at one thing when suddenly something else attracts their attention and they move away. Swami has said God should be our primary focus. True, in this day, it is difficult to do that all the time. Swami has always conceded that and also indicated strategies for dealing with that. But those strategies do not include what is sometimes suggested to us by some devotees.
Many years ago, one of our benefactors brought a TV executive so that their channel could carry Swami videos. The TV expert said to me, “You know, these days the attention span of people is very small; not more than ten minutes at best (this was about ten years ago). So we must present spirituality in an attractive way. We must mix it with entertainment and interesting diversions.” What he was telling me was that there must be commercial breaks between discourses, if we were going to put them on his channel.” The benefactor who had brought this TV executive was himself technology savvy and he not only heartily endorsed what this TV man was telling me but also gave me a lecture of his own. I suffered it all in silence and when they left I told myself, “How many disciples did Adi Shankara have? How many disciples did Jesus have? How many disciples did Buddha have? Yet, their messages are still around and robust.” Spirituality is not a soap opera and sadly, preoccupied with ratings these people were missing the point.
Radio Sai – Driven by Principles Not Popularity
Dear listener wherever you are, we agree that we can do a lot better; but for heavens sake please do not ask us to do certain things just because others do it and they are popular. Back when He came to our Studio to bless it, Swami spoke in depth about what we should do and how, and we do have an obligation to adhere to those guidelines and command. Let me be clear about one thing. We are not shy of technology per se. In fact, we use the latest cameras, computers and softwares. But when it comes to presentation and avenues for presentation, we have our own norms.
By the way, popularity is not always everything. In America for example, the New York Times has much less circulation than many popular papers. But all opinion makers, no matter what their political orientation, always read the NYT everyday, because its opinions are weighty. We do not have the number and the knowledge spectrum that NYT can command and of course, our budget is nowhere near billions of dollars. And yet, we have invaluable capital in the shape of Swami discourses, videos, and wonderful devotees. What we try to do is to bring you a flavor of that as best as we can. We are deeply conscious that we can do better, and we are trying, believe me. But we cannot compromise on certain standards. We are not in the ratings game, but we also know from the experience of broadcasters elsewhere that without being at the top in terms of ratings one could still be at the top in terms of making a difference. In short, we would like to be measured by a different yardstick.
Looks like I have strayed; let me come back on track and continue with what I was trying to say. Days passed and one day, Swami withdrew from the aspect we associated with; He moved from His beautiful Form to the Formless Aspect. That was a transition none of us were prepared for and our trauma increased. Then came the event referred to as Maha Samadhi. This time the Media wanted to cover every minute of it; why, because they knew that no matter what the propaganda, Swami was universally loved. So, if they screened the events, their ratings would go up; moreover, would not the high and the mighty be showing up? And what about the stars, VVIPs and so on!
The Maha Samadhi was over but not the Media circus. They were hanging around, and thanks to new rumours associated with the question, “After Baba what?” they got a chance – a press conference. After that, things became somewhat quiet and just as we thought we were slowly settling down to some sort of a sad equilibrium, there was a second innings. It erupted suddenly – I shall not go into those details for they are well known – and once more the Media circus was in town. This time, they walked around the Ashram freely with their spy cameras and what not, and brazenly surrounded people as they were trying to go about their work, bombarding them with questions.
This brings me to a question that was repeatedly addressed to us by devotees from all over the world. The actual questions came in many forms but the substance was always the same. It was: “The Media is saying so many things. Why are you silent? What are the facts……?” Let me give the answer. Firstly, whatever listeners and readers of our website may think, we were NOT set up either as a news channel nor as spokespeople for Swami’s Trust. The Trust dealt with the Media directly and it is not proper to expect us to hijack their responsibility. That said, we did offer whatever facilitation was asked for by the Trust, including carrying the video, the audio and the transcript of the various press meets.
Who Can Unravel His Mysterious Ways
This takes me on to a more delicate aspect of what might be called readers’/listeners’ anxiety. Simply paraphrased, such questions boiled down to: “Why did Swami do this or that?” Of course this core was packaged in various ways.
You know something? Avatars have always been challenged. For example, to this day, people ask all sorts of questions about why Rama did this or that. Similar questions about Krishna are not lacking. In fact, way back when Mr. Kasturi asked Swami to explain something, Swami simply said, “Kasturi, even Balarama could not understand Me. So how can you?” That says it all. For the benefit of those who lack the background, Balarama was the elder brother of Krishna, and was none other than Lakshmana of the Rama Avatar, where he played the role of the younger brother. I suppose with that clarification you should be able to appreciate that you and I are not really in a position to comment on or pass judgements about Swami’s actions. Swami’s actions might seem incomprehensible to us; but then, He knew the past, the present and the future as well; we know none of that. So how can anyone of us question His actions? I know from personal experience that many of them are simply inexplicable; we just have to leave it at that.
This precisely is where faith comes into the picture. Many of you may recall that Swami often referred to doubting Thomases. A person who lacks faith belongs to that category. On the other hand, it was moving to see the way the people of this village expressed their faith.
A Glimpse of Faith and Love
Now please see these pictures.
These were shot at the time of the recent Press Conference, and it shows a big crowd of locals gathered in front of the Indoor Stadium where the press conference was taking place. And what were the locals doing there? Giving the Media a piece of their mind. They essentially said: “What do you fellows who descend here once in a blue moon seeking juicy stories know about Swami? We know all about Him. He was born right here when this place was not even a village. All His life He stayed here and worked for not only us but the whole world. We have seen all this all our lives. Who are you to come from nowhere and make all sorts of allegations without knowing anything about Him…” and so on.
I am making a particular mention of the clip and the pictures because this says more about implicit faith than a whole book can. I believe someone said that faith means believing without any reason till wisdom dawns, when one really has a reason to believe. For some, this may seem like asking for too much. I can understand that. Let me make it clear that I am NOT decrying those who are not ready to accept what I am saying. I would be a fool to do so for two important reasons: a) Buddha himself said, ‘Do not believe till you think you have reason to’ and b) I myself started as a sceptic. But then there came a time when I had to look beyond what was superficially apparent.
So how did I overcome the doubt barrier? I began to ask what exactly does Swami represent and stand for? When the answers to those questions slowly became clear, I told myself, “From now on, I shall just hang on to faith. I shall have faith in Swami and do things because they appear right to my Conscience. Later maybe, I shall understand better.” That is the way it has been for me for over a decade and a half.
Committed to Bringing Swami’s Love to You
Let me move on once more and say a few words about the important question: “Where do we go from here?” We here means Radio Sai, naturally. We have made a lot of plans and we really want to step it up. People want Swami and we have lots of audios, videos, letters, text, interviews, etc., that we need to package properly and share with the wide world. We have been planning this for quite a while and the time has come for action. The task ahead is not easy for a number of reasons starting with the fact that in terms of HR, we still remain subcritical. Secondly, when it comes to media matters, our internet connectivity is constantly an issue. It is a different matter if one is in a metro; but for those who control communication channels, Puttaparthi is still a remote village! That raises many connectivity issues and we are grappling with them. Also, we need technical consultancy. People may say all that is easy in today’s world. Alas, that is not the way it is. Speaking from personal experience, anytime I try to ring somebody, either the phone is switched off or I get connected to an answering machine! Even if one leaves a message few call back. Everyone is so busy! In a city, life moves differently because experts can easily move about. But over here we have our handicap because visitors have to set apart a whole day, which they often are not able to.
Those are just problems of real life and I agree that we just cannot sit back with complaints and excuses. Praying to our Beloved Swami and placing full faith in Him, I give my personal assurance on behalf of all the wonderful people here that we shall enhance our services in as many different ways as possible, so that you can always feel you are here in Prashanti with Swami, no matter where you physically are in this planet.
In summary, there is so much to share with you and also so much to do from our end. Some of you may recall that we ‘published’ a manifesto about our future direction. You might be wondering whatever happened to that. Well, as far as we are concerned, it is very much in our minds, but recent events have slowed things down a bit for a variety of reasons which do not concern us right now. But this much is clear. Swami said that Krishna came mainly to give a Message. That was even more true of the Sai Avatar since He was giving the Message all the time in various ways. About a decade ago, He put us in charge of disseminating His Message and clearly that job acquires a new meaning and urgency now. That we are very clear of. But please do bear with us because often we find ourselves with too much to do and too few people to do it. However, that does not mean that we do not care or are not bothered. Far from it. We are in fact exploring many new ways of reaching out. God willing, all that and much more would get done.
Meanwhile, please remember that keeping the Message alive and spreading it is a task not confined to us alone. You also are a part of that Mission and it is really a joint endeavor!
With those words I shall stop for now and thank you for your patience.
As always, I humbly offer this talk at the lotus feet of our Dear Swami.
God bless and Jai Sai Ram.