How I was fortunate
It was the year 2001. My mother had already left her job in the school as a schoolteacher to pursue home tailoring in the hope that she would generate a better income by having her tailoring set up than being a teacher at a school. My father was trying to fix his private enterprise which did not have any steady flow of income. We were barely managing to make our ends meet as a family. My elder brother was in the ninth standard, my elder sister and I both were in the seventh standard.
As a typical lower-middle-class family that we were, we tried our best to maximise any opportunity that we received. And luckily for me, I somehow managed to perform well in academics. However, paying fees every month was not easy. So, as it happened my mother explored different avenues to lessen the financial burden every month: both household expenses and our school fees.
It probably is God’s will that she one day got to know about someone called ‘Sairam’ Aunty, who helped children with books, clothes, education and other basic needs. Without letting this opportunity go in vain she took us to her house, in the hope of getting free tuition and other supplements.
That was the first time I met Aunty. I did not know her name then and also for quite sometime after joining the tuition. She was still ‘Sairam’ Aunty or just ‘Aunty’ for me (and a lot of other kids) and that was sufficient. The idea of getting free tuition, books and clothes paved my way for getting into her abode. Little did I know then that what I thought I got for free then was minuscule compared to what I would eventually receive.
I owe a major part of my transformation from being a shabby and foul 12-year-old, 7th standard child to becoming the better human that I am today. If not for her, I probably would have still made it big in life, but not better. And that difference, the difference between big and better is what I learnt under her guidance.
It probably won’t be possible for me to describe, in words, the immense contribution Aunty has done in my life. I will try, nevertheless.
Getting into her fold
From a noisy neighbourhood of Rasoolpura, getting into Aunty‘s house brought about a different kind of calm and pleasant experience. When I went to her house for the first time, I saw a variety of students already sitting there. Some kids younger than me, many of my age and also some elders, predominantly girls. All of us were from the same locality, in and around Rasoolpura, and mostly belonged to modest family backgrounds. No matter what the mix was, I got to meet new people and make new friends at Aunty’s house.
We all went to her house daily. It was as if going to Aunty’shouse was part of our daily routine. Over time I realised that it was not just tuitions that we all went to Aunty. There were a lot of other activities that happened along the way, which shaped me and all the others.
Our regular tuitions
Daily in the evening from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM we had our tuition classes. Aunty religiously spent time in the evening every day teaching kids of various classes. She took turns calling children from the same class, giving them portions to learn from a topic and also conducting tests regularly.
She spent 3 to 3 1/2 hours daily helping children learn free of cost, as a form of service. It wasn’t just a shelter for most of us where we simply went to spend time. We were held responsible for what we did, what we learnt, and how we spent our time. Aunty diligently followed up with us and checked our progress. Though it was a free service from Aunty without any financial implications, we all were inherently made responsible for our education and did not take it for granted.
At her fold, receiving support for the secular/school education was just one of the activities. Apart from that, we spent a considerable amount of time doing things that helped us make progress spiritually too.
Weekly Balavikas Classes
Every Sunday, Aunty conducted Balavikas classes. Balavikas classes were my favourite. I felt happy after attending the classes. As the word itself implies, Balavikas means ‘Development of a child’. It was precisely that, and under Aunty, it was even more comfortable and fun.
The way Aunty conducted classes, they were a blend of stories, life lessons and fun-filled activities. For a child who was just about 12 years of age, a few games and some stories were a crowd puller and Aunty ensured that every child was having fun with a fair amount of entertainment along with smartly infused lessons and values for life.
The Balavikas classes were conducted for about an hour every Sunday in the evening. They typically started with a story, followed by a few games or puzzles and then by some Shlokas and concluded with Bhajans.
The stories were either from Swami’s Chinna Katha series or from the scriptures - The Ramayan or The Mahabharata or The Bhagavatham or other stories narrated by Swami himself. Through these stories, we were told of our rich history, the greatness of our past and lessons and values from our scriptures.
Each time a story was told, we were made to ponder on the leanings from it and how could we apply them in our daily life. All those stories guided us in developing a sense of moral responsibility, in distinguishing right from wrong, in choosing what to do and what not to do, wisely.
It was not as if it mattered so much for us as children. But we would eventually become adults. And that mattered. Aunty was not just telling moral stories to children. She knew she was shaping all of us to become better adults, better citizens and better humans. She was teaching us values, so that one day when we grow up, we know how to conduct ourselves - for ourselves and others.
Another interesting part of Balavikas classes that I particularly liked was the fun games and puzzles part. The games included quizzes based on our scriptures, board games like crosswords, snakes and ladders, and puzzles. All the games were so designed that they offered not just fun, but also presented human values for life. Some games were even designed by Aunty to better suit the age group attending the classes.
If not for her value-based stories and fun-filled games during the Balavikas classes, I would have compromised myself. And the sad part would not be that I compromised; the sad part would be that I wouldn’t have even known that I compromised myself.
Bhajans at Aunty’s house
We had weekly Bhajans every Thursday and monthly Bhajans on the second Tuesday every month. Bhajans not only helped us relax from the regular study schedule but also made us do the ‘Namasmaran’ of God. For an otherwise wandering mind, Bhajans helped focus on a single thing for a brief amount of time. The effects of doing Namasmaran, just like doing any Sadhana, were so subtle and transformative that I did not realise how I had better control over my tongue over time.
Though bad at singing, I was allowed to sing Bhajans once in a while. I was scared initially. Singing, especially in front of 20-30 other people, was something that I had never done in my life. But Aunty helped me push out of my comfort zone, she trained me and made me do the impossible. That boosted my confidence to present myself in front of an audience and made me a confident person. If not for her, it would have taken me many more years to break out of my self-contained bubble.
Also, at the end of every Bhajan, we gave Aarthi to Bhagwan. It was either Aunty or Uncle who usual performed Aarthi, but given any special occasion, the students also got an opportunity and that moment was a moment of joy. It was quite a privilege to give Aarthi. But getting the privilege was not easy! We had to do something extraordinary to deserve the chance. Something like, getting first place in the school final exams or winning cultural or sports competitions at the school or doing well at a district level or state level competition. Though doing Bhajans had its inherent perks, the opportunity to give Aarthi fuelled us to excel in other areas as well.
Monthly Narayana Seva
Another regular activity for us was the monthly Narayana Seva which happened on the third Sunday every month. The Narayana Seva was conducted as part of the service activities of Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organisations by the Begumpet Samithi. Under the guidance of Swami (Sri Sathya Sai Baba), Narayana Seva formed a core part of the ‘Serve All’ mission.
Once a month, we provided medical aid, food and clothing to the needy and the underprivileged. All these people gathered in the old airport premises and we had the opportunity to serve them irrespective of their age or background or community. A bunch of Aunty’s students participated in these service activities religiously, month on month.
We were involved in cleaning the premises, vegetable cutting, setting up the tents, arranging chairs, providing help for cooking food in large quantities, assisting in medicine distribution, guiding the visitors with relevant information, offering prayers and doing bhajans.
For me, it was a sort of a break from the regular affairs of school, TV and games.
Never did we think of doing these extra activities as a burden or struggle. I think we derived joy out of helping others because we inherently knew that it was our way of paying back for receiving free tuition, books, life lessons and whatnot!
Most of Aunty’s students have imbibed this quality to ‘help others and serve others’. This can be largely attributed to the monthly Narayana Seva in which we participated and offered our service selflessly.
You know, when you’re a kid you don’t realise all these happening to you. You don’t realise the importance of service or offering help to someone. At that age, things just happen to you because of the environment you are in, and before you know it, your life has already been shaped by all the events in that environment. Such was my case too. I did not realise how important and transformational these activities were but they have changed me as a person, none of which was possible without Aunty.
Becoming a better person
Another aspect that I was privileged to witness under Aunty’s guidance was her constant pursuit to do good and be the best version of myself. She has personally made me push myself further and farther and in the right direction. At a time when there were not many in my life to guide me on the right path, Aunty was always there. She, time and again, helped me make the right decisions. Her wish and desire for me to do well is something I cannot even explain.
For me to do well, she wanted me to study in the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School, Puttaparthi. So, during my 10th grade, I sent my application to SSSHSS. I waited in great hope for a response from the institute. But unfortunately, my application was not accepted. I still remember my feeling that day. I felt bad and I cried. I felt like an underachiever and was running low on my confidence. But Aunty’s words and motivation gave me the courage and confidence to work harder and improve myself.
“If not Higher Secondary School, we can try again later. Swami has some other plans for you,” she said.
I gained myself, worked harder and got into NIT Warangal. It was a moment of pride for Aunty and I felt good.
As I had to go to Warangal, I couldn’t meet Aunty so often during my engineering days. But I tried to visit her whenever I came to Hyderabad. I informed her of my progress and sought her guidance whenever needed. During one of the semesters, we didn’t have enough money to pay the hostel fees. At my mother’s request, Aunty arranged for financial help and I couldn’t thank her enough for that.
As part of the campus placements at NIT Warangal, I got placed. It was on November 23rd, Swami’s birthday. Aunty was elated when I shared the news. After congratulating me, she asked if I would be interested to pursue an MBA at Swami’s college.
“Why don’t you apply for an MBA there,” she said.
I did not have any plans to do an MBA till then. At NIT Warangal, I just focused on getting a job and was excited that I got placed at one of the top Communications & Networking companies in the world. But I also knew that after missing out on my selection for Higher Secondary School, there was an unfulfilled void in me that wanted me to pursue some form of education in any of the Sai Schools. So, I thought of giving it a shot.
It was not for doing an MBA that I wanted to apply. I just wanted to study in a Sai School, under Swami’s direct instructions. So I applied. After my application was selected I went through their selection process - Aptitude Test, Group Discussion and an in-person interview. I again waited for the results and this time I was selected.
I took Aunty’s blessings and went on to complete my MBA.
MBA at Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher changed my perspective towards life. It helped me become a better human being. And this was only possible because Aunty knew that this was the best for me. Though I reap the fruits of doing an MBA at Puttaparthi, it was her will, her wish and her dream.
As I stand where I am today and look back, I owe a lot of my successes and achievements to Aunty. She stood there for me, guiding me, wishing the best for me and praying for my well-being.
I believe, her blessings and love will always be there by my side. And every part of my happiness will be shared by her too, always. With this constant belief, I will always strive to do my best and make her proud.
Thank you, Aunty. I am today because you were.