I lost my heart to my beloved Lord Sai, when I was just a little girl. The year was 1973. The scene was the beautiful Woodville at Shimla. Baba walked, nay, glided past me as I sat in the private garden of Sohanlalji. I sold my heart to Him, for the price of love. Just love, Divine love, selfless love, the love of a thousand mothers! One glance He cast my way, a hint of a smile, a deep look into my eyes that scanned through me up to my soul. Ah! I had found my Lord! Looking back I realise and understand that really speaking, He had found me, just as a mother looks out for her child and holds her hand, lest she wander away. Since that day, since that beautiful day, He has held my hand. My little hands grip has been lax and wayward at times, but He never let go!

Through the ups and downs of life, through my childhood, adolescence, youth and now midlife, He has always been there. When I got married my husband Sanjay was not a devotee of Baba. Somewhere along the way, when and how he got connected to Sai, is something that is another story. Suffice it to say that, today he is beautifully in communion with the Sai-way of life. And what is this way of life? Baba always told us that He had not come to start another religion. He teaches a Hindu to become a better Hindu; a Muslim to become a better Muslim; the Christian to become a better Christian. The true understanding of one’s own religion is something most of us don’t have and it is this that He taught us. He taught us how to better ourselves. He taught us how to improve the world by just improving ourselves.

I happened to read a comparison between a kitten and the infant of a monkey. What left a deep impression on my mind was the understanding that the infant monkey, for moving on from here to there, clings on to the mothers back while she jumps from tree to tree and branch to branch. So to say, while the mother monkey jumps around freely, it’s the little baby’s job to hold on for dear life; tight enough and secure enough, so that it may not fall. Conversely a kitten is totally dependent on its mother for moving from place to place. The cat picks up the kitten in its mouth and shifts it from here to there. It knows exactly how firmly to clutch its canines such that the kitten is held safe yet not injured by its sharp teeth.

And Lord! I am your kitten. I don’t trust myself to remember to cling on to you at all times. What if I forget? You hold me Swami. You know how much to hold and how much freedom to allow. You are my mother and I am your kitten! I feel safe in the knowledge that you hold on to me. The onus of holding on is on you, not on me.

I lost my physical mother, Meera in August 2011. After Swami shed His mortal coil, my mother lost the will to live. She was a cancer patient who was fighting the disease fearlessly and patiently. But once she knew that Swami had moved on from the form into the formless, she resigned herself to fate. The disease enveloped her and she merged into her Lord. My father, Justice M. M. Punchhi, joined her in June 2015. A few days later my son Shiven found me sobbing alone in my room. The grief of having lost both my parents was so deeply overwhelming. My son said, “What is the matter Mama?” Through my tears I said, “I am an orphan now.” He said, “How can you be an orphan? You have Swami! You are insulting Him by saying so.”

All of a sudden I quietened down. Yes! Sai is my mother and my father. How can I be an orphan? I loved Him while He was in His physical form and He surely loved me. But, came to think of it, He loves me more now. So, if ever I need to cry, I cry in His presence.

Strangely, He pops up here and there to tell me that He is watching me. Driving, I sometimes read, ‘Sai Autos’ behind a car; ‘Sai Music house’ somewhere on the street. Sometimes I see His picture on a sticker on a wind screen. Oh! These coincidences are perhaps incidents when He chooses to remain silent, yet they make me feel His presence. And yes, I feel comforted no end. The assurance that He is there, is better than any insurance.

In our endeavour to hold on to Him, at many a juncture in life, we are at crossroads and have to make choices. The Choices we make in life are surely the ones that mould how we finally shape up. One of the best choices, Sanjay and I as a couple made, was to send our boys to The Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School at Parthi. Living in Chandigarh, our boys were studying at the prestigious St John’s High School. After Class X boards, we had the option of sending them to any of the local schools for two years, mostly to take a dummy sort of seat, for as we were told it was just a mere formality and attendance was granted. Basically, the children would be at home or at tuition while preparing for college entrances and further admissions. Amidst all this, while visiting Puttaparthi, Sanjay got really impressed by the way Swami’s white army of students conducted themselves. He said firmly, “We’ll send them to Parthi.“ The idea was dropped on me like a bombshell. Living 2000 kilometres away, in an orthodox family, where we kept the children close to our bosom, this was definitely a first.

Incidentally when our eldest was twelve, while in the interview room, I had asked Baba, “Baba, please give admission to our children in your school.” Like an X-ray machine, He saw through the thoughts that had not yet even surfaced sufficiently in my mind, for me to take cognizance of them. He smiled and said, “You want to send them here because if they are here, you can come again and again!” Oh! Unconsciously holding on to Him … And caught and clean bowled! He looked at the boys ever so caringly and said, “There is lot of difference in ahaar-vihaar here and there.” (Difference in the food and life style)

Well to cut it short He did give them admission in His School after class X. All three of our boys Saraansh, Shiven and Satyam have been there for two years each for class XI and XII. They held on to Him and He held on to them!

I can say with conviction, that those two years here, for each of them, have been the most discerning periods of their lives. It made men out of them. Despite my best efforts to keep them grounded and connected to Swami, I was finding it increasingly difficult in their growing up years especially when they were in class VIII to X. Call it study pressure, peer pressure, being born in a political family, availability of comforts and staff, whatever … I really don’t know, but the fact of the matter was that I was tired, exasperated and quite often at my wits end while trying to put my best foot forward in being a good mother and raising good children. In my yearning to please Baba, I always wanted my children to be such that Baba wants His children to be. But I was failing and was extremely disturbed about it.

Then came the best decision of our lives – The decision to send our eldest son Saraansh to Baba’s school at Parthi. The decision was tough. Having always lived in a comfortable home, it was not easy for him to live in an ashram. From an air conditioned bedroom to one which had a fan that was fan merely in name; from having a room to himself to sharing with five others; from his personal washroom to common toilets and baths in the boys hostel; from eating at the dining table to eating on floor mats; from having servants to clean and make beds, wash dishes and to sweep the room, to rolling up a floor mattress each morning; wash his own dishes; from colourful T’s and jeans to pristine whites; from Oxfords and trainers to bare feet on the road, from rich Punjabi food to simple fare of sambar and rice … every day … day after day … the life was certainly not easy.

But what a difference it made! As they say, Gold shines brighter only after being heated to a very high temperature, for it is only then that the impurities burn away. Sending our second son Shiven, was like a corollary to the theorem.

Satyam our youngest joined Swami’s school after Swami had left the body. I was apprehensive about sending him, wondering if it would be worth it, with Swami being physically absent. But it was my older two boys who were adamant that he had to go. In their words, “It is an opportunity of a lifetime. If he misses it, he will regret it all his life. He has to go.”

Our children have been through the same process of heating as gold does. It was a process of metamorphosis. The changes have been gratifying, sublime and hopefully irreversible. At the cost of repetition, I say that it was because they held on to Him and He held on to them. Neither one gave up!

He always said, “Be in the world but let not the world be in you”. Today, while being in this material world, they are able to stand by the values that were drilled into them during that metamorphic phase of life and they are definitely stronger for it.

Alongside the changes that were being wrought in their lives, how could we too remain unaffected? The very thought of our children roughing it out in the ashram made us more austere with our own lifestyle. Both of us unconsciously worked on bettering ourselves to become better human beings. The desire to please Swami by being good was upper most in our minds always. Passively, He worked on us too. In hindsight I realise that while He was moulding and chiselling our children in Puttaparthi, back in Chandigarh, He was working on us too. Yes! He held on to us too!

I felt an urge to share these thoughts, not to gloat over ourselves or our children, but to acknowledge the blessings bestowed by Swami on us. Reading this may touch a chord in someone’s heart and inspire him to aspire to be a better human being. The Lord works through His people. I had asked Him to make me His instrument. He said, “All are instruments. You be a mind; be a mastermind!”

In my journey in writing, together with my husband and soulmate Sanjay Tandon, I have done six books namely Sunrays for Sunday, Sunrays for Monday, Sunrays for Tuesday, Sunrays for Wednesday, Sunrays for Thursday and Sunrays for Friday. Besides, I have had some articles published in the newspapers. Writing in the public space gives me an opportunity to share in subtle ways, Swami’s teachings with people who are not even Sai devotees. I have a blog that Swami inspired me to call, ‘The Cosmic Word’. When the thought came to me I wondered, “Why? A mere mortal like me … and ‘Cosmic Word’! How does it add up?” Today I realize that though I write on lighter topics of everyday interest too, but each piece is flavoured and spiced by Swami’s teachings, howsoever subtly it may be! We, who have been lucky to have experienced the miracle of Sai, have access to and have the awareness of the availability of so much food for the soul. But there are millions of people who are thirsty for the word of God. If I can convey to them some spark of Swami’s teachings in a language and format that they can relate to easily, I would be blessed. And had I not asked Him to make me His instrument? I want to hold on to each memory with Him … I want to relive each moment spent with Him … I want to celebrate each word He said to us and spread it to our world and beyond!

Spirituality is a subject that people do not want to show interest in, publicly. I guess it is considered ‘cool’ to be worldly, and atheist in the garb of emancipation of thought and modernity. But deep down, each one of us does have a calling. Each one of us has to find his purpose in life. As we proceed on this path and look further and beyond, our thoughts, ideologies and even goals tend to move further and higher. And in so doing, we have to chalk out a path or weave a web of a set of rules for ourselves. I guess every house or every organisation has a set of rules, whether written or unwritten, by which it is governed. At our home, it’s neither his way nor her way, it’s neither my way nor the high way, it’s only the Sai-Way!!! And we are blessed, for even if we sometimes forget to hold on to Him, He always holds us in the palm of His hand!

Dear Reader, this post is very dear to my heart. If it touches a chord in yours, do leave a message down below to let me know! Sairam!

Originally published at priya.tandonindia.com