Dussehra 2022 saw the ‘India Start-Up Festival’ ( ISF-2022), happen in the little known hamlet of Sathya Sai Grama in the outskirts of Bangalore, India.
ISF-2022 was the brain child of two legends, J.A. Choudhari, a key architect of India’s Tech industry and H. Deenanath, the CEO of trendsetter App Creation company, Lifecykul of Hyderabad.
An unplanned visit to Sathya Sai Grama, the hub of a mission of silent selfless service, after the passing on of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, triggered it. An enthusiastic foot soldier of the mission, aptly named Sathya, convinced them to visit the place. Unable to shake him off, more out of politeness than anything else, the busy duo agreed to pop over for just half an hour; for they had more important engagements ahead. But what they saw blew their minds, and they ended up staying there all day.
A ‘Breakfast Service’ begun in 2012, by two young techie Sai devotees, Anand Kadali and Sai Prasad, in a tumble-down government school, for just fifty poor kids who went to school mainly for the free mid-day meal provided, had become an Annapoorna Nutrition program, serving a fresh, tasty, nutritious breakfast including a protein and supplements drink to a million children across 29 states and three union territories every single day!
The impact? The children now post significantly improved school attendance, health parameters and academic scores. And the teachers are so relieved! What a welcome change from having to teach kids who were hungry for food rather than for knowledge.
The free residential education program started by Baba with a few schools, had been catapulted to the next level. Spear headed by Sai alumni, the poorest of the poor in rural communities, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, are sought out and given preferential admission.
Today, 29 campuses, including a private University, offer quality values based residential education with great love, to around 5000 children under an ‘each one educate one foundation’ and an ‘education for all’ initiative.
Education of the girl child gets top priority. Inspired by the life changing education so received, all graduates of the first three batches of this university have opted to join the mission; to give back the gift of education that they received! The goal is to eventually have one such campus in every district of India.
Sathya Sai Baba was renowned for setting up hospitals, mobile healthcare services and weekly clinics nation-wide, offering quality care, with love and compassion, totally free of cost, to all. On the same model, a general hospital was set up in Sathya Sai Grama; and tertiary care hospitals, the Sathya Sai Sanjeevani chain, catering to the commonest birth defects in children- congenital heart disease, were established in three centres across India (five, as I type this).
Over the past decade over 23,000 children have been operated on and given a gift of life. Prevention being better than cure, in 2017, a Divine Mother and Child Healthcare Program was launched tying up with government primary health centers. Starting 2022, state of the art Sathya Sai Sanjeevani Maternity hospitals have come up in rural India, to enable more rural women get proper antenatal care and safe institutional deliveries. The grand Aritkaal goal is to have by 2047, one such facility in each of the 600 districts of India.
How to get doctors, nurses and paramedics who are happy to working in rural areas? As a solution, Sathya Sai Grama is all set to start India’s first Medical College offering nursing, paramedical and residential MBBS and PG courses totally free of cost, with preference for rural candidates who have passed the NEET examination. Selected students will get totally free education, board, lodging-.the lot. But they have to be willing to serve as many years as they study, in rural areas.
The ancient tenet of ‘VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM’, the core principle of Sathya Sai activities, is centre stage. Nutrition, healthcare and educational services are on, in thirty-three nations and counting. Child Heart Care hospitals, sans billing sections in Fiji and Sri Lanka and a secondary care hospital in Nigeria are functional. Free medical centers for the uninsured and marginalized function in Mississippi, the poorest state of the USA. Soup kitchens and free food on wheels, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Italy, France and so on. Human values education complements routine education in many countries.
It sounds too good to be true! But fact is, it is too good and true too! Getting back to Choudhari and Deenanath, as they drove out of Sathya Sai Grama, they vowed that this amazing silent ‘Spiritual Start-Up’ needed to be showcased and supported by India’s tech industry. With India being the ‘Start-Up Capital’ of the world, the duo reckoned that the best way would be to hold a Start-Up Festival over Dussehra which was then just around the corner! Thus did ISF-2022 happen in Sathya Sai Grama.
Over a thousand start-ups applied and over a hundred were short listed. Presently the sharpest and most innovative among India’s youthful start-ups, Angel investors, management Gurus, industry leaders and venture capitalists zeroed in on Sathya Sai Grama.
The world class startup event selected finalists who were assured of the best of support and mentorship; but what caught everyone’s eye was the amazing work being done by this ‘Spiritual Start-up’. Wowed by the sheer love, joy and humility of all the volunteers and the sheer peace and sanctity of the place, they all vowed to support this ‘Spiritual Start-Up’ any which way possible.
Tangible support came in the form of a ‘One Rupee App;’ created by Team Deenanath, downloadable from play-store or apple.
With 800 million smart phones in India, now everyone, can chip in to help build Bharat by nurturing generation next at a rupee a day! A Round Table discussion was held, on how to get a scalable Rural Healthcare start-up going. Venture capitalists and heads of IT majors volunteered to do whatever needed to help scale up this most altruistic model of quality healthcare.
Chaired by Dr. Ravindranath Kancherla, who has sold his renowned Global Hospital chain to set up a non-profit Rural Healthcare Tech University, and co-chaired by Dr. Chintala, the architect of India’s success in agriculture despite the pandemic, the discussion saw the doctors of the hospital in Sathya Sai Grama brainstorming with the elite group. The Kerala model drew a lot of attention.
The sheet anchor of success of the Kerala model of healthcare was found to be the ‘Athmanirbhar Mahilas’ of Kerala. NABARD offered to help reach out to over 1.55 crore women through their Self Help Groups while IT majors said they could help with connectivity; for example, help beam the highly impactful health education videos created by Dr. Moudgalya and team in IIT Powai. So inspired were the leaders of industry, that they promised to launch a Rural Healthcare Impact fund to help fold time and achieve the healthcare targets much faster.
Just HOW this ‘Spiritual Start-Up’ had reached this far from this sleepy hollow in Sathya Sai Grama, baffled everyone! Just how did it happen?
Rewind to 2011 when Sri Sathya Sai Baba exited the physical. The devotee world was shell shocked for Baba had always said that he would be around till age 96. But he left at age 85!
All through life, Baba was known as the ‘Man of Miracles’. Little did they realise that the mother of all miracles was in the offing.
The dramatis personae chosen by Baba to execute it were four devotees. One was BN Narasimhamurthy, the very spiritual Warden of Baba’s institutions who had authored the final volumes of Baba’s official biography.
The second was a barely thirty-year old alumnus of Baba’s college, Madhusudan Naidu; an artist, an MBA, and a double Gold Medalist; who was so devoted to Baba that he quit his lucrative banking career to be free to serve Baba any which way he could.
The third was C Sreenivas, alumnus of the first batch of Baba’s college, who had spearheaded all of Baba’s healthcare missions and was known to be both near and dear to Baba.
The fourth was Isaac Tigrett of Hard Rock Café fame who sold that chain and offered the entire proceeds to Baba, to set up the world class free tertiary care hospital in Puttaparthi.
What was not so well known was that on Baba’s command, Tigrett had been an understudy with a Yogi for over a decade; and every day, Baba, the Yogi and Tigrett would go on out-of-body journeys! Tigrett was one who was privy to the knowledge that Baba was planning to exit the physical earlier. When he candidly stated so to devotees in Baba’s organisation, his words were considered blasphemous; and he was considered a heretic.
For a start, Baba appeared in a vision to the spiritually inclined Narasimhamurthy and declared that he intended to move into the hill top residence made for him in Sathya Sai Grama, on Guru Poornima, 2011!
When Narasimhamurthy humbly shared this news with higher ups in Baba’s organization, he was dismissed as crazy. But Narasimhamurthy followed his heart; and the simple teachers of the school in Sathya Sai Grama, threw their lot in with him.
All was well till Baba commanded that Guru Poornima had to be celebrated by providing new clothes to the nearly thousand students of the Sathya Sai Grama campus. A ‘confirmed pauper’ as he calls himself, Narasimhamurthy had never taken a pie as salary; and now he wondered how he would finance this massive new clothes buy!
Narasimhamurthy need not have worried for Baba appeared to Madhusudan and ordered him to go to Sathya Sai Grama and offer to get the clothes. A few months earlier, when he found that he could ‘see’ and ‘hear’ Baba in his Bangalore home, Madhusudan had doubted his own sanity. Was he hallucinating? But then EVERYTHING that Baba said would come true and the Master proved to him that he was NOT hallucinating; this was mystical extra sensory perception in action.
When Madhusudan landed up in Sathya Sai Grama to convey that on Baba’s message from the beyond, he was to get clothes for all the students, he was a bit nervous. Would his former Warden think he had gone cuckoo?
To his great relief, in Narasimhamurthy he found a kindred soul blessed with similar experiences!
They therefore had perfect understanding; something that would help them forge ahead in blind faith, with Baba’s ‘impossible’ plans over the next decade.
Guru Poornima over, Baba commanded that C Sreenivas be called in. He was not into ESP; but Sreenivas was open-minded enough to accept the strange invitation. Having lived close to Baba he knew that anything was possible with Baba. As for Isaac Tigrett, meeting Baba in the subtle was the most natural thing; for he had spent more time with the Baba in the subtle, than with Baba in the physical!
The mission then slowly unfolded. It was baptism by fire. Narasimhamurthy was told to go to rural Gulbarga and announce at a public meeting that the next academic year would usher in a Sathya Sai school offering totally free values-based education there.
Though his heart was in his mouth, he did exactly as he was instructed; for not even permission for such a school had been granted, no land had been identified, leave alone bought; and there was no money even remotely on the horizon to fund such a venture! To quote him, he felt he was counting his chickens even before the eggs were laid!
Through Madhusudan, Baba revealed to Sreenivas exactly all that he went through, when the ECG went flat as he stood vigil over his ‘dying’ Master in the super specialty hospital in Puttaparthi on that fateful Easter morning of 2011. He was also told to abandon the project of setting up a small general hospital in Delhi, in Baba’s memory, and instead, that he had to go and meet the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh and tell him that Baba wanted him to build this great heart hospital in the heartland of India; in RAIPUR, Chhattisgarh. T
hat was a Eureka moment for him. After the inauguration of the super specialty hospital in Whitefield, Baba had been asked where he would set up the next hospital, whereupon he had simply said, ‘Raipur’! Sreenivas was among the handful who were privy to that information. He had no doubt now, that it was Baba reaching out to him. In total faith he plunged into the mission.
As for Isaac Tigrett, it was an I-told-you-so moment; and he slipped into the continuing mission ‘from the subtle’ with utter ease. The toughest job was for Madhusudan as many of the people whom he was asked to ‘contact’ either looked at him rather strangely, or laughed at him or gave him a mouthful and nearly slammed the door in his face. He would be furious with Baba for putting him through such ‘horrible situations’; whereupon the Master would laugh and say, “You still have ego?!”
Next Baba began what he had promised publicly as early as in 2007; he began touring the world, addressing public meetings through Madhusudan and visiting the homes of devotees abroad! The ‘three wise men’, ie Narasimhamurthy, Sreenivas and Tigrett would accompany him; and Madhusudan would communicate whatever Baba said.
While the four would travel by airlines, Baba, in his own words would travel by ‘skyline’! Lest you think that women had no role in the ‘mission from the subtle’, may I point out that another former brilliant Sai student who went on to specialize in communication and marketing in London and Harvard, Ms Bhuvana Santhanam, was handpicked by Baba to accompany him on his travels as hostess cum cook cum manager cum writer of the divine travelogues, besides being a speaker now and again. Today she heads the global outreach programs of the mission.
In Silicon Valley terms, this divine ‘startup’ headed by an invisible Baba, found Angel investors in the form of Singapore devotees. The mission happened EXACTLY as Baba commanded. The ground breaking for a school in rural Gulbarga and a heart hospital in Raipur happened around Baba’s Birthday in 2011 and the two institutions were inaugurated exactly a year later! The rest as they say, is history.
The zenith of this mission, however, has been the anointing of Madhusudan, as Sadguru Madhusudan Sai, by Baba. As early as 2011, on Baba’s command he had taken Sannyas. His total dedication to carrying out his Master’s word, come what may, selflessly and fearlessly (and shamelessly, as he adds), led to his spiritual growth.
In the words of Narasimhamurthy, Madhusudan emptied himself of himself and thus became the perfect vehicle for the divine to manifest. Madhusudan’s ascension and anointment as Sadguru, by Baba, happened on Guru Poornima, 2019. It fell to Tigrett’s lot to do the honours, as he was the most experienced in matters relating to existence in the subtle. He remarked that the ‘stairway to ascension’ had opened up; that the time was right for humans to realize their own divinity.
Today, Sadguru Madhusudan Sai is a Self-Realized Being who declares that he is ‘only an example’ created by his Master, Baba, to give others the confidence that they could be Self-Realized too. ‘If I can do it, so can you! Just put in the effort.”, is his message.
When someone recently asked him whether he could be part of the mission, Sadguru’s reply was- “Why part?! You ARE the mission! ALL of the mission!” And then Sadguru went on to say exactly what Baba used to tell us in Puttaparthi! That the divine was not here to create schools or hospitals or water projects. These were just avenues created to give us all a chance to do selfless service with love and thereby purify ourselves and move on to Self Realization! Incidentally, a lot of good gets done.
As 2022 signs off, this ‘Spiritual Start-Up’ headed by ‘CEO’, Sadguru Madhusudan Sai, is all set to enter phase two, in Silicon Valley terms; to expand and grow in all three verticals of selfless service with love! Baba’s 97th Birthday was on November 23rd, 2022; and as a Birthday Gift to Baba, the divine mentor, a state-of-the-art Cardiac Cath Lab was set up in the hospital in Sathya Sai Grama, in a record time of less than ten days. According to the Indian company that set it up, it holds the record for being the fastest installed Cardiac Cath Lab in the country!
The year-end parting shot of this Spiritual Start-Up has been the launch of the first of 250 Sai Swasthya Wellness Centres, on a rent / lease model, nationwide. The first Sai Swasthya Centre has just been inaugurated in Vishakhapatnam. These are to offer diagnostic, nutritional and preventive primary healthcare in the mother and child domain and NCD domain. Those needing secondary care will be referred to the hospitals, which are also increasing in number. The model is that of a hub and spokes.
“’Hari’ is in a hurry!”, says Sadguru; and as the New Year approaches, his do-or-die team, is racing ahead to ensure that India’s first Medical College offering all medical education totally free of cost, is ready for inauguration in 2023!
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