Always, I had been interested in making a book on the enchanting life of Sai Baba, who had, in every sense of the word, ‘helped’ me mould my life for the better. He gave me a passion for photography and I had the opportunity to make Him my sole photographic subject, for five years. This led me to look for old photographs of Baba. So, I set about the business of collecting His photographs, beginning with the first twenty-five years of His life. What I encountered was something more than phenomenal. To put it rightly, I doubted that any one else had ever been photographed as much as He has been. Soon, my interest grew into a commitment.
Hunting for photographs led me to the most unusual places and unusual people. In towns like Bellary, in Karnataka State, I would walk down the streets, peering through open doors and windows, looking for black and white photographs of Baba. In the old city of Bangalore, I would look strangely at old houses and nameplates, to check whether I could find any of Baba’s old devotees. Some people welcomed me and showed me their treasured possessions—articles related to Baba. Others slammed their doors on my face and even threatened to complain to the civic authorities, if I persisted with my plea to look at their personal collection of Baba photographs.
It soon became evident to me that a plethora of fascinating facts relating to the life of Sri Sathya Sai Baba had remained virgin territory for all His biographers up to the present. I could not resist sharing the glorious story of Baba’s life, in the form of a comprehensive biography—effusive in both facts and photographs, in a manner never done before. In the process of pursuing this zealous mission, I had to sacrifice my business and my family interests. This work penetrated every sphere of my life. I have worked on the book in a car, on a train, in the air, in a bathroom, on a toilet and even in a hairdressing salon. Some people jeered at me for undertaking this project; some complained I was aiming to make money; some discouraged me, saying, what more could I do that other elders had not already done? Some even questioned my experience and credibility. This unique enterprise became my penance, my darshan, my meditation and prayer, for seven years.
The Advent (1926-1950) is the first volume in a definitive biography of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, extensively researched and substantially documented. I have tried to glean, from endless myths and legends, the real gems that sparkle in the ‘being’ of Baba. I am eternally grateful to Professor N. Kasturi, the first official biographer of Baba. At every stage, his magnum opus, Sathyam Sivam Sundaram, has served as a pathway into the life of Baba. Perhaps the fact that many of the people involved in the grand drama of Baba’s early life were still alive at the time that Kasturi wrote Sathyam Sivam Sundaram, prevented him from disclosing some names or even from providing more information than what he deemed fit, at that time. One finds Kasturi more open in Easwaramma: The Chosen Mother and in his autobiography, Loving God. I am also most grateful to all the other biographers and recorders of personal memoirs connected with Baba who have made salutary contributions through their researches into Baba’s life.
During the course of the research, it was found that failing memory was one of the greatest enemies of man. The fear that the glorious events related to one of the greatest personages of our times might be lost to the world, due to this phenomenon of failing human memory, spurred me on, to research with obsession. These efforts were not left unrewarded.
In this first volume, there is abundant space given over to the earlier and first-blessed devotees of Baba. For them, those joyful days have never ‘gone by’. Their devotion is not ‘part time’; they constantly re-live the blessed moments of those ‘good old days’, for they have lived with one of the most unique persons in human history; they were transformed, and they live their transformation, daily!
Pursuing these lives—and the one life that motivated them—formed my personal education. In a very subtle way, the subject of the book became my research guide and my teacher. Even subtler were the ways He arranged material to reach me. For example, the knowledge that Thirumala Iyengar was the architect of Prasanthi Nilayam led me to hunt for his surviving family, in order to obtain his photograph and a brief note about him. But, I was always running into some obstacle or other. One day, as I was about to enter my office building, I chanced to encounter a local physician, whom I had known for a long time. I was surprised to learn, then, that a relative of his was an Engineer at the very Thungabhadra Dam, which Iyengar had also designed. He readily agreed to provide what I needed—at my doorstep!There were innumerable setbacks. Each time I thought I had accomplished something at last and made some progress, the unexpected would come along to destroy the work or make me start all over again. This caused me some serious concern and much frustration at first; but with each occasion, I could see that the previous work was flawed in some way.
In 1998, Baba started speaking more about His early life, in public. This greatly helped in the corroboration of facts. At one point, while composing the text (on Baba’s life immediately following the Declaration that He was an Incarnation of Divinity), the computer started registering pronouns relating to Baba—only in the upper case—although we tried, in many ways, to undermine it!
The interviews were genuine revelations in themselves. I was speaking to people who had been touched by God! Their appreciation of their early physical proximity to Him had left them not only inspired and living in a heightened state of Being, but also in constant communion with Him. When I interviewed T. Venkatasamy, one of Baba’s classmates, he could not control himself; he shook and wept like a small child. Mehboob Saheb, another classmate, and I had to ‘physically control’ him. The interviews with G. Narasimha Dass, Subburathnamma, Mrs. Pushpakanthi Thirumal Rao and Lakshmamma, wife of Venkatappa and others touched my heart—as they were so moved to tears. the Nagarathnam Mudaliar family visited Baba again, after 30 years, having been moved by recollections prompted by the interview process. My inquiry into the past became a pilgrimage to sanctified memory.
Persistence helped. Over an eighteen-month period, almost 300 telephone calls were made and a few long journeys were taken—in order to get an appointment to collect some important photos from just one family. In the end, the family, which requested anonymity, was most generous to trust me and to give me all that they had. So was the case with the Parthasarathi Mudaliar family. They had an excellent collection of old photographs and my office had approached Mudaliar’s daughter three times to obtain them; three times she refused to part with them. Finally, my personal appearance in their home, explaining the scope of the holy project, entreating her to reconsider, rekindled her fond memories, and she welled up with the joy of sharing them. They gave everything! Persistence was rewarded with obtaining the rare photograph of the blessed Subbamma from the Karnam family. The family had refused to part with it earlier, even when Professor Kasturi required it for the Sathyam Sivam Sundaram volumes or when the Ashram Caretaker, Kutumba Rao required it for the inauguration of Subbamma nagar, a housing colony in Puttaparthi, gifted by Baba in her name for the poor and the needy.
I was left wealthy within, with an immense sense of fulfilment. I had collected a lot of material and made new friendships—ones that remain strong, even today. At the end of it all, I had a most exciting mosaic—bits of information, unbelievable experiences, a chronology of events in Baba’s life for almost every month of the twenty-five years under review. Accounts in other biographies helped build contexts for the interviews. Then, there were the photographs, truly telling the story of the lovely form of Sai. They never exaggerated; they only confirmed; they never faded with memory. Poor handling and storage had spoilt many of them. However, many hours of persistent and devoted labours of love by the Graphics Staff of Sai Towers Publishing helped restore and reveal them again, to a fortunate humanity.
All this has helped me to envision the cosmic thought of the word ‘Avatar’ and how it has come to life in a fantastic pattern, inventing immense possibilities of ‘Being’ in life. I have seen the meaning reveal itself in the living story: as little Sathyamu grew up—into Sathya and then into Raju, then into Bala Sai, Sathya Sai, Swami and Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba—before my open heart. For all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, I allow the story to tell itself on its own merits, even alluring the readers to penetrate His immense mystery.
At a time when the going was slow and unproductive, I had a strange dream. In the dream, Baba visited my office and demanded that I show him the ‘pictorial album’. He went through every page. He gave me padanamaskar and left. From the next day, onwards, everything fell into proper place. Many people came forward to help. In a dream to my wife, He inquired, "What is your husband doing? When is the book coming out? Ask him to finish, fast!"
It was His will that this book saw the light of day. During the long odyssey, some could not make it to the finishing line. Many of my staff associated with the production and research had to leave halfway through. (Many more friends suddenly joining me mid-way, was no strange coincidence!) I could not clarify, from some devotee-sources, all of my endless doubts, for these devotees had died—either before I could meet them in person or, a few, before I could meet them again. They were all very interested in the book. Among those who have left us early, in this manner, were the Raja of Sandur; Sethunarayan of Bangalore; K. C. Ranganna of Anantapur, B. V. Lakshman, M. L. Leela and Kamala Sarathy of Madras; Mandiram Lakshmamma, Dr. N. Jayalakshmi and Arani Rajamma of Prasanthi Nilayam. V. K. Narasimhan, editor of the Sanathana Sarathi, was like a father figure—for the project and for me. He provided immense encouragement, gave letters of introduction during the research and went through some of the earlier drafts. He, too, is no more.
The book has been greatly delayed. Computer breakdowns, erasure of hard disks, emotional breakdowns and the unending bits of information and photographs that streamed in daily, justified the delay. We were working on the most extra-ordinary subject. Yet, we were working on a very difficult subject—for Baba’s openness in speaking about Himself, strangely made Him more vulnerable.
Any omissions in the book are purely unintentional. We crave the reader’s indulgence, should such be found. Many contentious issues have, perhaps, remained unresolved. We will be most grateful if knowledgeable readers help bring such omissions or resolutions to our attention. The biographical series ‘Love Is My Form’ has to live on …until it completes its story. You, the reader, have to help it to sustain itself. In this light, it will not be out of place for me to appeal to you to give us important leads or information, to lend us photographs or documents that would help in preparing the volumes that follow.
Especially, I make a plea to the international sector, for encounters, experiences and photographs from the Fifties and Sixties which indicate Baba’s influence beginning to stir people’s lives in the Western countries, the Americas, the European continent, Asia, Africa and the Orient. I wish you to share my commitment to Humanity.
The book in your hand and the forthcoming volumes target all of you in the audience—the disinterested bystander, the curious reader, the ardent researcher and the worshipful devotee. This is so, because the book is about you: search and you shall find yourself in all fullness, in every page of the book, for—as Baba reminds us in every discourse he has ever given—Love, after all, is your form, too!