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Love and Light

Early Days and Growth of the Sai Organisation in UK

(Continued from previous article ‘Blessings at a height of 30,000 feet’;
Love and Light, June 2014)

My wife, Damyanti, came back from Prasanthi Nilayam fully charged and highly motivated to develop Sai activities in UK. She worked tirelessly to get more and more people involved in bhajans. The first step she took, in consultation with Sitaram ji, was to introduce house bhajans on each Thursday of the month. This was in addition to regular bhajans on Sundays at Pinner. All Thursdays of the month got booked in no time by the then handful of devotees. It may be of interest for the readers to know that if on one Thursday the bhajans were held at Harrow, the next Thursday it was at Croydon and the next at Borehamwood. Although we were just a few of us, the enthusiasm was so great that we all travelled long distances after our work. The Thursday bhajans were held from 8pm to 9 pm. The family of each devotee got involved and so did their friends and neighbours. Due to the long distances and time people spent travelling for bhajans, each family hosting the bhajans would serve dinner as Prashad. The number of devotees attending the bhajans on Thursdays and Sundays increased gradually, and soon more devotees came forward to have bhajans at their homes. To accommodate them the bhajans were arranged on Saturdays as well!

The real expansion of the Sai movement in UK started after 1973. As we know, the President of Uganda asked all Asians, including those who had taken Ugandan nationality, to leave the country by 9th November 1972. Some of our country men living in Uganda left for india and some landed in Great Britain. The Indians coming from Uganda chose cities like London, Leicester, Wellinborough, Birmingham, Bradfaord and Manchester as their new homes. As Baba had visited Uganda in 1968, (the only country which He had visited) the repatriating Indians from uganda included lot of Sai devotees as well.

We observed in 1973 that people were meeting for bhajans in small groups at places where Ugandan Asians had settled. Damyanti and I would travel early in the morning for these places on Saturdays and after conducting the bhajans, return by Sunday afternoon for bhajans at Pinner.

In January 1975, the then Chairman of the Sathya Sai international Organisation, Sri Indulal Shah, arrived in London with the good news that Swami had blessed UK to establish a proper Organisation. The first UK Council of the Sri Satya Sai Organisation was formed in 1975 with Mr Sita Ram ji as Chairman of the Council. Damyanti was appointed as the first Balvikas (SSE) and Mahila Vibhag (Ladies) convenor for the UK. The mahila vibhag included the duties of organising bhajans.

After the formation of the Council, the first Birthday of Swami was celebrated at national level in the town hall of Acton, London. The devotees came from all places in the UK like Bradford, Birmingham, and Leicester etc.

The activity started with great enthusiam. Damyanti organised groups of ladies from the UK to visit Puttaparti on Swami’s birthday. It became a regular feature year after year for many years to follow. Mr Sita Ram ji was suceeded by Mr Gulabbhai Patel of Bradford as the second chairman of the UK Council.

In the first phase of Sai Organisation, utmost importance was given by Swami to bhajan singing. This was for cleansing the mind and preparing for further activities. The second phase was the balvikas, where children were taught human values and scriptures from all religions. The third phase was the development of the youth about which Swami was very keen and particular. Once the youth group was ready, the emphasis was on seva activites, and so seva became a very important activity of each centre.

The council had since then expanded and more devotees joined and we had centres and devotees all over the UK.

Establishment of UK Trust

In 1978, Mr Shah during his visit to London, gave me the good news that Swami was keen to establish a charitable trust in UK. Bhagawan Baba would be the founder trustee. He also told me that I should be a trustee and start the necessary paper work for the registration of the Trust with the Charity Commission. I politely told Mr. Shah that it would be my privilege to get the Trust registered and work for it, but as a trustee, I did not have sufficient means to give donations to the Trust. Mr Shah immediately corrected me and said that Swami was not expecting any donations from me. He further conveyed that Swami had blessed me to be a trustee to work and manage the Trust.

Registration with the Charity Commission

I did not waste any time and got the papers ready and submitted to the Charity Commission for regisration. In response, the Charity Commission in their letter dated 17th February, 1979 wrote, and I quote, “to teach and carry out the message of love is a very vague purpose. Please set out in detail the activities the Trust would undertake”!

On receiving this letter, I felt that it was not possible to explain Swami’s philosophy by correspondence, and so I arranged a personal meeting with the Charity Commission.

During the meeting I explained that Swami taught all charity work, like advancement of education, relief of poverty and sickness, support for an existing charitable organisation ( the trustee may select), is to be done with love.... "with a feeling of love for all human beings".

The official at the Charity Commission was convinced and with a smile agreed to register the Trust. Finally the Trust was registered as “Sri Sathya Sai World Foundation” under a deed dated 15th June 1979.

Functions of the trust.

As you know, the Trust has two functions:
1. Collection of funds
2. Disbursements to meet the objectives of the Trust.

1. Collection of funds

The divine instruction from Swami was that we should not approach any one seeking funds for the Trust. The donations have to be voluntary and from those who can really afford.

I followed Swami’s strict instructions about collection and spoke about Swami’s projects like the establishment of the university, the super speciality hospital etc., only to those who could really afford and also had a charitable heart to donate. I also explained that all the education in the university or the medical treatment in the hospitals was free, irrespective of the status or caste or creed of the beneficiaries.

I can assure you with Swami’s Grace, that I have never approached any one for donations for Swami’s trust. The funds always did come voluntarily. And I kept this practise till I remained as Chairman of the Trust.

2. Disbursement of donations

After the Trust was established, a bank account was opened. Any payment from the account could be made with two signatories, one being Swami always!

When the first payment was to be made for establishment of a Professor’s chair at the Sai University, a cheque was prepared in favour of the university and sent to Swami for His Signature. I waited for the cheque to arrive so that the second signature could be added and payment arranged. However the cheque did not arrive back. I contacted Mr.Shah about this, who after a week, informed me that Swami had ‘misplaced’ the cheque and I should prepare another one and send it to him instead. So I prepared the second cheque and sent it across to Mr. Shah who gave it to Swami for His Signatures. Again after some time when he went to collect the cheque, he was told that the cheque was lost/misplaced!

I could not believe it, but I felt that Swami gets so many letters that a cheque might get ‘misplaced’. I then decided to send the cheque book itself and requested Mr.Shah to keep the cheque book with him and whenever there was any need for payment, he should obtain Swami’s Signatures and send it to me to do the needful.

Finally Indulal Shah got the cheque signed in his presence and sent it to me, and funds were sent to the Central Trust for the Professor’s Chair at the Sai university.

Later it was decided that the Trust should establish yet another Professor’s Chair. The cheque book being at Puttaparti, I requested Mr. Shah to get a cheque with Swami’s Signature and send it to me to arrange payment to the Central Trust.
Once again I did not receive the cheque and this time I was told that Swami has ‘misplaced’ the cheque book! How this could happen, I could not understand.

So now a letter was prepared for transfer of funds and sent to Swami for His Signatures, which was duly received back. I also received a note that henceforth Swami wants any two trustees to sign the cheques. However, he named a particular trustee to be always one of the signatories on the cheque.

It became very clear now that Swami did not like to involve Himself in any of the financial transactions.

Like any organisation, in the early years the Trust also faced a big management problem. As a trustee, I made sincere efforts but could not find any solution. My misapprehension was that my actions might hurt someone. And Baba’s teaching “help ever hurt never” always came to my mind. I consulted with Indulal Shah, who in a few days time conveyed Swami’s directions which resolved the problem without the concerned person being hurt!

Another activity of the Trust was the sale of Sai literature. The first sale centre for Swami’s literature was opened on 23rd November 1979 at 24 Mortimer Street, London (which runs parallel to Oxford Street) at one of the devotee’s business premises.

The Minister of Economic Affairs from the Indian High Commission was invited for the opening ceremony of the book centre. Mathoor krishnamoorthy, Executive Director of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan London, was invited for the pooja ceremony which was followed by keertan and prashad. In time, the Sathya Sai Bookshop moved to Commercial Street, and now finally is in Kingsbury in London.

The Trust in its earlier years took part in the educational and medical activities in India and donations were accordingly directed to the Central Trust in India. The Trust also participated in the Sathya Sai Water Project that supplied drinking water to numerous villages in India.

All the work of the Trust was done on a completely voluntary basis. I confirm that no expense of whatsoever nature was charged to the Trust.

As I have mentioned earlier, Swami gave a solution to the problem facing the Trust without hurting anyone. So Swami always practised what He preached. But let us ask ourselves, “Do we follow this particular teaching of Swami?” If we can follow even half of His teaching, i.e. “hurt never”, we can then claim to have made some progress in calling ourselves as devotees.

How to follow this teaching? We must see that everyday, all our actions bring a ‘thank you’ in return. At the end of the day, we must make sure that we have collected enough ‘thank yous’ to be sure that we have made the effort not to hurt anyone.

We are so fortunate that Swami, during his lifetime, bestowed upon us all various responsibilities. And to fulfill these responsibilities, He gave us necessary authority and power. We now have to carry on the responsibility by following His teachings of love, discipline and devotion. It is our moral responsibility to carry on the Sai Mission with great fervour and enthusiasm. As Swami continues to watch us, let us resolve to work together with love as a team.

Jai Sai Ram
Balram Puri
London

Sri Balram Puri is one of the oldest devotee of Bhagawan Baba living in UK today. He has been involved in the development of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation in the UK since its very early days. He was instrumental in founding the Sri Sathya Sai Charitable Trust in UK as per the divine instructions of Bhagawan, and actively served on it as a Trustee until his retirement recently.