Part – I
When young Sathya came home from school, unlike other boys He seldom spoke of the lessons He was taught; He spoke instead of what He taught the boys of His class, and sometimes even the elders.
Little children, aged between five and seven would come to Sathya to play and sing bhajans. Sathya used these occasions to teach them the principles of right conduct. He would tell them, “Your mother has given birth to you; having borne difficulties and discomforts, she has given you this body. Your father is bringing you up; both sacrifice many things for you. So, love and obey your parents and make them happy. Adhere to truth under all circumstances. Never cover up your faults due to the fear that your parents will reprimand you —- let them do so. The power of truth is greater than the power of the atom and hydrogen bomb! There is no weapon greater than truth. But, you must also know how truth should be uttered; speak truth in such a way that it is pleasing and does not annoy or hurt others.”
When the children grew a little older, they would ask questions about right conduct, and Sathya would tell them, “Give up bad qualities like anger, show and jealousy. Cultivate love; it should be your life breath. With love you can conquer the whole world.” He would tell them, “Never steal anything. If you have a genuine need for food, a book, or a pen, ask your classmates for it and then take it. But never take anything without their knowledge.”
Not only did Swamiji have immense love for the children, the children too loved Him dearly. Their love for Him and His teachings is evident from the little discussions they had when on their own. Kesanna, Ranganna, Subbanna, Ramanna and others used to say to each other —- “Raju’s words are so sweet; He is so dear to me.” Another would comment, “Not you alone; don’t we all love Him?” Another boy would say, “Raju tells us many good things; we must start practicing at least one or two of them.” Kesanna said, “God is mother, father, my very life.” Yet another asserted, “I always speak the truth now.” Right from those days itself, Swamiji promoted unity among different castes and religions. There were many Muslims in the village of Puttaparthi. They used to celebrate Moharram. Sathya would tell the children, “Morality is more important than the mode of worship or religion”. Morality is our life—force. So, don’t have religious differences; make friends with everybody, and participate in this festival.” One day, a Harijan boy named Ganganna (today, he is 90 years old and his son works in the administrative office at Prashanthi Nilayam) invited Sathya to his house for a meal. Subbamma (Sathya’s foster mother) accompanied Him. Ganganna was a little scared when he saw her, as she belonged to the Brahmin community. But, Sathya told him, “You should not feel like this. Give up these differences and live happily with the spirit of unity. There is only one caste, the caste of humanity and only one religion, the religion of love.”
Sathya attended a primary school at Bukkapatnam. In order to proceed to high school, the students were required to pass an examination, called ESLC. This examination was held in Penukonda. In those days, there were no buses or trains. In fact, when a railway did come to Penukonda, it all appeared so strange to the villages, that they used to describe it, saying, “Some long snake–like thing is crawling on the rails, and it has only one eye shining in front!”
To the villagers in those days, travelling from Bukkapatnam to Penukonda was like making a long journey to America or Russia! Easwaramma prepared some sweets and other things for Sathya to eat and tied them up in a piece of cloth, as there were no tiffin-carriers in the villages in those days. The parents cried when Sathya left with the other boys. They travelled by bullock-cart —- eight little boys and one teacher to look after them. The roads were full of ups and downs; and at each steep incline, the teacher lifted the eight little boys off the cart. They would walk some distance, and then the teacher would lift them onto the cart again. This was repeated over and over again. In this way, it took them from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. to cover the distance of 3 1/2 km to Penukonda! There were no conveniences or comforts nor a place to stay. So, they camped on the outskirts of the town for three days. Everyday, Sathya cooked for the group, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner all by Himself. The outcome of this journey to sit the ESLC was that Sathya was the only one in the group of small boys who passed the exam. The others were too overcome with the rigours of the journey and bewildered by the examination procedures to do well. When people heard that Sathya alone had got a first class, they wanted to celebrate by taking Him in procession on a bullock—cart through the village! Sathya now attended the high school at Kamalapuram, staying with His elder brother Seshama Raju. There was a scarcity of water there and it was difficult to get drinking water.
So, Sathya had to draw water several times a day from a well nearly a kilometer away and carry it in huge earthen pots back to the family. He would be busy with this task till 9 a.m., which was just about the time He had to leave for school. Breakfast consisted of rice from the previous night which was soaked in salted water. Sathya would quickly eat the soaked rice with a little pickle and run off to school.
In school, Sathya sat between two other young students, at a desk for three. Their names were Ramesh and Suresh. At that time, the drill teacher had started the scouts’ movement. He issued an order that everybody should join the scout—troop, and everyone should have a pair of khaki shorts and shirt and a badge, ready by the next week. The scouts had to attend the annual festival at Pushpagiri where they would perform good service to the people. Sathya did not have a single paisa. The Raju family was a large joint one and hence Sri Venkappa Raju could not afford much. He had given Sathya two annas when He joined the school, but as six months had passed since then, Sathya had already spent them. (Two annas was worth quite a lot in those days!) Being the monitor of the class and leader of the scout—troop, Sathya would have to go to Pushpagiri; but with no money, how was this going to be possible, Sathya wondered.
Like children of today, Sathya did not have dozens of sets of clothes. He just had one pair of shorts and a shirt and He took good care of them. As soon as He returned from school, He would take off His clothes, and wrapping a towel round His waist, He would wash them and put them to dry. Afterwards, He would iron them with an iron consisting of a live coal in a brass pot. To set the creases, Sathya placed them under a heavy tin trunk for the night. In this way, Sathya’s clothes were always neat and clean and He made do with one set for the whole year.
Sathya did not want to tell the teacher that He had only one pair of clothes and did not have the money for a scout uniform, as that would to some extent reflect on the honour of His family. Sathya was therefore planning not to go. Ramesh sensed that Sathya had some difficulties and was trying to get out of going with the scout–troop. Ramesh went to his father and said, “Father, I like the scout uniform, it is so smart; please make two sets for me.”
After a couple of days, Ramesh took the extra uniform, wrapped it up and put it into Sathya’s desk with a note saying, “Raju, you are like a brother to me, you must accept this uniform. If you don’t, I won’t be able to live.”
When Sathya saw the note, He tore it up and wrote another in reply saying, “If you really want My friendship, then this kind of giving and asking Me to accept gifts from you is not right. This will spoil our friendship. If you want to be My friend and keep our brotherly relationship, do not give such gifts. Friendship is a heart to heart relationship and giving gifts will spoil its purity.” Ramesh could not do anything and took back the uniform. There were now three days left for the festival at Pushpagiri. All the boys were saying, “Raju, if you don’t go, we won’t go.” Thus a lot of pressure was being put on Sathya.
Each boy had contributed twelve rupees; ten rupees for the bus and two for other expenses. The boys had to manage their own food. As Sathya did not have twelve rupees, He decided there was no question of Him going with the group. In the end, He pretended to have a bad stomach ache, and the teachers and students had to leave without Him.
After they had gone, Sathya had the idea of selling all His school books and walking to Pushpagiri! Sathya’s textbooks were all brand new, as He had never even opened them. He knew a poor Harijan boy who had just entered the class out of which He had passed. So Sathya went to him and said, ”Although this whole set of books are new, I would like to give them to you for half the price.” But finding that he was too poor to pay even half the price, Sathya said, “Never mind, you can take all the books; just give Me five rupees, that is enough, I don’t need more.” He felt this would be enough for His food and daily expenses, having already avoided the bus fare. The Harijan boy was very happy.
Now as there were no rupee notes in those days, the boy paid Sathya the amount in small change. Sathya had no pockets to carry the many coppers, paisas and quarter annas and so He tied them all up in a piece of cloth from a torn shirt. But while tightening the bundle, the worn cloth gave way showering the money all over the ground.
The noise of the falling coins brought the lady of the house there and she at once said, “Where did you get all this money from? Have you stolen this money from my house?” In spite of all Sathya’s explanations, she disbelieved Him. He tried to prove His innocence by bringing the boy who purchased the books from Him, but the lady was not convinced. She gave Sathya a few blows saying, “You have taken this money from my house and as a punishment, I shall not give you food in the house.”
Sathya became worried about the reputation of the family. He did not want people to enquire. “What has happened, why are you not eating at home?” As He wanted to protect the good name of the family, He left immediately and walked the nine miles to Pushpagiri.
Those were hot summer days and drinking water was scarce. Sathya was very thirsty, but the only water to be found was the water in which cattle had been washed. Sathya had to quench His thirst with a small quantity of this dirty water.
Once at Pushpagiri Sathya joined His companions. He plunged wholeheartedly into the work allotted to them, inspiring the boys to render selfless service. Sathya had not eaten for three days. No one knew this, but Ramesh somehow sensed it. So, very quietly (because Sathya would not have liked anyone to notice it), he would bring a dosa or something else to eat and give it to Sathya. This is how Sathya managed for the rest of the days.
When the time came to leave, Sathya asked Ramesh for the loan of one anna —- making it clear that it was a loan and not a gift. With this, Sathya bought some fruit and flowers for the family and then quietly walked the nine miles back again.
Now as Sathya had been away for the past eight days there had been no one to fetch water for the family. For eight days there had been no water in the house and the family had to undergo a lot of hardship. Besides this, the lady of the house had had some complaints to make about Sathya to Seshama Raju.’
Thus when Sathya reached home Seshama Raju vented all his pent up anger on Him. He happened at that moment to be sitting down and drawing lines with a ruler in his notebook. The kind of ruler that people used in the old days was a large stick. As soon as he saw Sathya, he took the ruler and hit Him on His fingers —- the ruler broke into several pieces and fell down.
Some neighbours came to know how Seshama had taken out his frustrations at having no water on Sathya, and they in turn informed Sri Venkappa Raju when he visited Kamalapuram shortly after this incident.
When the father managed to get Sathya alone, he asked Him about His bandaged and swollen hand. He told Sathya that he was worried about Him and that He should come back to Puttaparthi where life would not be so hard. Sathya spoke soft sweet words to the father. He pointed out that as the family had recently lost their eldest son they could not do without Him just then. Besides if He went immediately, people might talk and that would reflect badly on the family’s good name. He promised however to come back to Puttaparthi soon.
Today also, Swamiji cautions His young students never to speak anything outside that may bring down the honour and spoil the good name of their family.
When Sathya returned to Puttaparthi, Easwaramma noticed a dark patch on the skin of Sathya’s left shoulder. Sathya laughed when she wanted to know how He had got that mark. But when she insisted, He told her that the marks were perhaps due to the water pots hung on both ends of the pole on His shoulder. Sathya said, “Amma, it was My duty. How long could the children survive on the brackish poison? I carry the waters of life gladly mother, I have come to do this service.”