SAI BABA'S FINAL DAYS - AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT, By Prof. G. VENKATRAMAN
It is not Emptiness but a Super Cosmic Fullness
- By Prof.G.Venkataraman
For me personally, this is the way it all started. Every evening evening during February and a good part of March of this year, I along with a couple of others would go for Darshan a little after 6 PM or so, since almost invariably Swami came out rather late. His arrival could be anywhere from 7 O'clock to as late as 8.15 PM and occasionally even later. Devotees waited patiently, while the boys sang Bhajans vigorously. By the way, Bhajans would commence punctually at 5.30 PM; however, when Swami came out the tempo of singing would become really charged. For His part, Swami would just sit there quietly enjoying the Bhajans, making everyone in the vast Sai Kulwant Hal forget about time. Bhagavan did have the magical power to make time disappear or lose meaning in His presence.
The Sai Kulwant Hall would always be packed to capacity, and not a soul moved when Swami gave Darshan, including the children from the local schools who came taking turns. Finally, around maybe 9 PM, sometimes even later, Swami would take aarathi, linger for a while, raise both His hands in loving benediction, and slowly leave. For over a year, it used to be that Bhagavan would come in a mobile chair (popularly referred to as car-chair) and leave the same way. However, the routine began to change, almost imperceptibly. He would still come using the chair but return using the Porte chair-car. Still later, He started coming by car and returning the same way. Towards the end on some days, the car would come to the porch and halt, after which aarthi would be offered almost immediately, without Swami even coming out of the car ' all this on days He came out. There were also days on which Swami did not come out all, and I shall now briefly refer to that.
Basically, if Swami was rather tired, He would give an indication whereupon there would be a signal from Yajur Mandir and aarthi would be given to the Chair. Initially, it was the morning Darshans that Swami started skipping but not very often. When that happened, I inevitably recalled the days when we used to rush around 6.15 AM for morning Darshan. In winter particularly, it would be still dark and yet, all the devotees would be there in Sai Kulwant Hall, waiting for Swami to come out. And He always did, gliding out of the Poorna Chandra Hall, even as the Sun came out in the East to herald a new day. By 7.30 AM or Swami would have taken the first batch of devotees selected for Interview into the famous Interview Room, and all of us with work to do would rush back to our rooms to grab a bite of breakfast and go to college, office or whatever; that would be the case on week days. On Sundays, we would rush for breakfast while Swami was in the Interview Room, and be back in our seats by the time the Interview ended.
Bhajans would start on the dot at 9 AM and around 9.20, it would aarathi! Swami would then go into the Interview Room and from there into the adjacent Dining Room, followed by the Trustees and have lunch with them. Swami would come out in about seven minutes, leaving His guests struggling to finish, wash their hands and come behind Him. Bhagavan would then take His leisurely walk back to the Poorna Chandra Hall making His way through the ladies section, picking up letters and chatting with various people on the way. By 9.35 AM or so, Swami would have entered the PC Hall as we refer to it here, and one more morning Darshan would have passed into history.
I am recalling all this just to drive home the point how the scene never remained the same with Swami; He always kept changing the script. Getting back to late February-early March period of this year, on many evenings, Swami was rather tired to come out, and the signal would come to give aarathi usually around 6.15 PM or so.
Let me now cut to Saturday, March 27, 2011, the day before Swami was admitted to the hospital. That evening aarthai was given early, after which the current Vice Chancellor Prof. Prasad, former Vice Chancellor Prof. Pandit and I went to Swami's residence, as we often did. We were told Swami was not well, that two doctors whom Swami lately permitted to attend on Him were upstairs with Swami and that some monitoring equipment was being brought to keep a watch on His health condition. At that time, no one had the slightest indication whatsoever that a crisis was fast approaching.
Night passed and when I checked next morning, I was told that Swami had rested and spent an uneventful night. Around 3 O'clock or so in the afternoon, Prof. Pandit called me to say that an ambulance had come to Swami's residence Yajur Mandir and there was some activity around there. It seemed as if Swami was being taken to the hospital, and so we both rushed there. It so happened that though we left a bit later, our car almost caught up with the Ambulence, not only because we took a short cut but also for the reason that the ambulance was being driven slowly. Anyway, to get on with the narration, both of us managed to be there when Swami was helped out of the ambulance at the entrance to the hospital. Although Swami went by an ambulance, He was actually on a wheel chair and not on a stretcher as I had imagined. Prof. Pandit who was by my side all the time tells me that Swami gave him a gentle smile. Little did he know that that smile was going to become his most treasured memory. ...
Swami's wheel chair was whisked away to the special elevator meant for patients, and soon He disappeared from sight, having been taken to we did not know where. Meanwhile, Prof. Pandit and I both were shown to a room upstairs where the operation theatres, the cardiac catheterisation lab and ICU's are located. We waited silently and anxiously in the room we were sent to, while the clock kept ticking. One hour passed and not surprisingly, both of us became somewhat restless. Coming out of the room where we were till then, we tried to see if there was any doctor nearby who could give us some information. There was a surgeon around and he was standing at the end of the long corridor, near to where the cardiac operation theatres are. He signalled to us to join him and told us that Swami was undergoing a procedure in the cardiac catheterisation lab which was further down the corridor. He did not elaborate on the procedure but, after some time, told us that the procedure was probably approaching the end, judging by the test equipment coming out of the lab.
Shortly thereafter, we saw the Chief Nurse of the Hospital standing in the corridor right close to the catheter lab (which, by the way, was more than 50 metres or so from where we were) giving strict instructions to some of the staff nearby. It looked like Swami was ready to be moved from the catheter lab to a special ICU, located across the corridor. Meanwhile, we saw many people disappearing from the corridor into what we presumed was the ICU by way of getting it ready. Roughly about two hours after Swami arrived at the hospital, we saw a hospital bed on wheels come out of the cath lab, with a lot of staff in surgical dress, walking along with the bed, one person holding a drip bottle while others wheeled along the monitoring equipment to which Swami had been connected.
It seemed as if the crisis had been brought under control, and everything was looking good, at least for the moment. Swami having been transferred to the ICU, things began to settle down and we started getting a clearer picture of what actually happened. Apparently, Swami's heart-beat had become irregular and He needed a pacemaker implantation. That was why He had been taken to the Hospital, and the pacemaker duly installed. Thousands of people the world over walk around with pacemakers, and if you saw them you would never be aware of it. We thus thought, "OK, Swami now has a pacemaker and everything would be fine in a few days. After that He would be back in Yajur Mandir, and maybe, after resting for a few days, life would return to normal, possibly with a revised schedule to minimise physical strain to Swami."
By around 7 or maybe 7:30 PM or so, Prof. Pandit and I returned to the Ashram. All this, I remind you once more, happened on the evening of 28th March. Next morning, I checked with one of the people who had access to minute by minute status of Swami's health, and the info I got was that the night seemed to have gone off well. Around 2 PM or so ' remember, I am now talking of the day following the admission to the hospital, i.e., 29th March ' Prof. Pandit called me to say there was hyper activity in the hospital and Swami's condition was causing anxiety. This scared me and so both of us rushed immediately to the hospital. Meanwhile, with the rumour factory working overtime all cell-phone companies began to mint money. On our way to the hospital, Prof. Pandit and I saw a helicopter parked in the Sri Sathya Sai Airport, and that said something.
When we reached the hospital, Director Dr. Safaya, who knew both Prof. Pandit and me quite well, showed us a good place where we could wait. This was quite close to the catheter lab and in a short while, we saw Swami being whisked into the lab, the trolley-bed being rolled along and guided by a battery of hospital attendants and doctors in surgical gowns. Though we were close, it was not possible to see Swami; there were so many doctors walking along with and around the trolley-bed. The doors of the cath lab were shut and we waited. After about forty minutes or so, there was quite a buzz outside and it seemed as if Swami was being taken back to the ICU. Sure enough, the two specialist doctors who had come by helicopter from Bangalore, came out looking as if not only was what they had come to do had gone off well but also that they were ready to leave. Indeed, they had already removed their surgical gowns, slipped on their shoes, and walked away, presumably to be driven to the airport. A couple of minutes later, I saw the trolley-bed being moved back to the ICU. This time I was, thanks to Dr. Safaya, able to catch a momentary glimpse of Bhagavan's face from just about a couple of feet away; the rest of the body was of course covered by hospital sheet. That was the last time I saw Swami before He shed His mortal coil. Being under the influence of sedatives, His eyes were closed. That was no doubt to be expected; yet that sight was like a huge electric shock, considering that until not so long ago, on many days I would find Swami's face beaming and having an indescribable glow, even around 8:30 PM after a long and tiring day.
So why did they take Swami to the cath lab and what did they do there? And, what about the doctors who had flown in from Bangalore? I got all the answers about two hours later from Dr. Safaya. Looking quite tired but somewhat relieved, he dropped into a chair in the corridor next to me and Prof. Pandit and said, "Hey! You fellows are drinking tea! What about me?" We were sipping some tea from a paper cup, provided by some kindly soul doing seva there. We signalled once more to that person to give a cup of tea to Dr. Safaya. After taking a few much needed sips, Dr. Safaya told us that while Swami heart was not damaged, it was weak and the pumping action inadequate. The doctors from Bangalore had therefore inserted what was known as a balloon pump. This would considerably lessen the burden on the heart since the balloon pump would take care of most of the pumping.
Six or so days later, the balloon pump was withdrawn. However, the procedure had to be done with enormous care and ever so slowly. For us anxious to hear the news that the pump had been safely withdrawn, it was a long wait, maybe ten hours, I cannot remember exactly how many. Shortly thereafter when Dr. Safaya came out he looked greatly relieved. He even smiled a bit and said to me, "Now He is on His own," meaning that Swami's heart was now functioning satisfactorily without any external assistance what so ever. Obviously, that was great news, worth waiting for. ...