on SSSIHMS Anniversary…
Voleti Choudhary, one of the most successful Cardiac Surgeons in the
US state of California, who is currently the Director at SSSIHMS,
Prasanthigram spoke about his entry in to the ‘world’ of Sai, and
his continuous journey with Sai, for Sai with craziness… on the
ocasion of 22nd anniversary of SSSIHMS, Prasanthigram… Read on the
transcript of the speech.
SaiRam to all of you!
I am wrong. I am really wrong. I didn’t think this occasion will overwhelm me. It did. I will find my bearings. The reason I say so is – talking is something I like, specially about Swami; talked about Him all over the world, so I thought what is it – it’s okay. And everybody in the hospital said – Are you nervous Sir? I said, Of course not, I am not nervous.’ Totally wrong; Totally wrong.
But in the next thirty minutes or so I will try to make some sense.
I was born just 150 miles from here. I was the fifth child in an average farming family. So much so they didn’t even think that it was necessary to record my date of birth. So, when I was ready to go to High School there was a conspiracy between the admitting clerk and my dad and they made up a date so that I am old enough to get into the High School and that is how I ended up getting a date of birth. So I was pushed way ahead of my time and there is a wonderful Telugu expression… it says – Gallilo perigaadu. Basically that is how I grew up. Nobody ever took me serious and then it must be Divine protection from then on. I went on – didn’t do very bad, passed all my exams very well and ended up going for cardiac surgery abroad and lived the American dream and I will come to it in a bit.
But all along I had immense faith in God. So, the two ingredients for the success of my life is – immense faith in God and my hard work. So this went on.
Now television is there, so everybody knows what an American dream is. You have a six or seven bed room house, five or six cars though you can drive only one at any time. You party every Saturday night. The men are talking about cars, the women are talking about jewellery. And you waste so much food and you have everything taken for granted and that was my life. I was so happy.
And then, somewhere in my mind there was always a big hole and that was to do free heart surgery in this country which made me what I was. That is one other thing… I had always never forgot my roots.
So when somebody told me that there is a free hospital that does free heart surgery in rural part of South India, I did not believe it. Because having practised cardiac surgery for over three decades, having seen the growth all over and having been involved with a few corporate hospitals in this country, I said this is an oxymoron – there is no free heart surgery. But then they said – No, it is there and you go and see for yourself.
And lot of things came together – they had a huge international cardiac surgery conference in Hyderabad for which I was invited and I asked what about Puttaparthi when they said – it is a short flight and you can go. So I ended up to check myself this so called free heart surgery. And sure enough the first thing I did was to go to the hospital. Because it is on the way. So when I went to the hospital one of the young administrators was nice enough and he took me around. First of all when you look at it it doesn’t look like a hospital. At least it didn’t look like one for me.
But now a days we call it aptly so – The Temple of Healing.
In every aspect it is Temple of Healing. I came from this excess – Everybody wants everything that is ‘The Best’ and when I walked through this hospital – yes in this rural area – poorest of the poor, there was this citadel – a citadel of healthcare that can be built only by Divinity and nobody else.
It was absolutely state of the art equipment whether you are talking in the outpatient department or in the operating room or in the intensive care unit. The only department missing was (is) the billing department. So when I looked at it, I said this is the dream – it is not a reality!
It was so calm, so cool, no confusion, nothing like any super speciality hospitals that I have ever been or ever will be.
So, that was an initial shock. Obviously much bigger shock was to come the next day. I was in this same Kulwant Hall. There was dust, sand. Men used to sit on that side and a series of coincidences which we now start calling them now as Sai incidences. I was sitting in the front row. And then my nephew next to me said – Uncle, uncle pray to your Ishta Devata and Swami will talk to you. I told him, Srinivas, there are ten thousand people, Swami is going to talk to me? He said – No, no… try uncle. I said fine… what is wrong – I am not going to loose anything. So I was praying to Lord Balaji and first time I ever saw Swami glide down.
Obviously if you ever see Him gliding down, that is the most beautiful sight we can ever see. We can’t see His Feet, that orange robe flowing in the early morning Sun – the most impressive halo of hair. You will not forget that sight. It was so powerful that I had to close my eyes.
Sure enough when I opened He was right in front of me and when I locked my gaze with Swami I think that was the end of my own entity. I am sure all of us have that feeling. You lock your gaze with Swami for the first time and then I blurted, I am Dr. Choudhary from Los Angeles and He said, Yes I know who you are. I didn’t understand that.
And next thing, on the same day I was put in a very small room. At one end I was there and at the other end was Swami. I still don’t know how that happened. Believe it or not, first time across in that small room – now I know it is the Interview Room. In pure Telugu He looks at me and says – How come you lost weight? And far as I know that was the first time I was seeing Him and He asks me – how come you lost weight? Which is true – I had a bad tooth abscess and lost about six kilograms. I always weighed the same about seventy kilos but if you are my family, co workers you can tell… as far as I know this is the first time He is looking at me and He says – how come you lost weight?
That threw me off the balance completely and then in the same tone He said – Don’t worry, the tooth will be okay.
And now was the disaster to come. I had no idea where I was. Then He, in His own Divine fashion, asked – What do you want? And that even people could wake me up in the middle of the night and I know what I want. So I said Swami… i want peace. That is all I said. He laughed and He said – Very easy. You take ‘i’ away, you take ‘want’ away so what is left with? I said Swami ‘Peace’. He said see… very simple.
For a cardiac surgeon, specially coming from California, I will tell you why that is important – big time cardiac surgeon from California – didn’t make any sense at all. I thought He is going to give me some mantra or give me a book to read - when He said take ‘i’ away and take ‘want’ away and you are left with ‘Peace’. No, no.
So, I changed the topic asking Swami, Can I work in Your hospital? And I think He got the drift and He said, Bangaru this is your hospital – you can come anytime you want to come. You can work as long as you want.
So you better be careful what you ask God for! Sometimes it might come true! After retiring two times I am here.
People think that Trust has asked me to take this job (Directorship at SSSIHMS). No, no. I offered myself to take this job. Yes I am crazy – there is no question about it.
So, now, with this background what I want to tell you is, Yes this citadel of healthcare Swami has put on this planet is unique, so unique that there are two hospital architects – Paul Jones and Ken Nooks. They release every five years Architectural Digest of hospitals in the world. If you look at their 1994 edition our Puttaparthi hospital is in the top fifty in the whole world. And the first time they ever found a hospital worth from the developing countries. And the more important thing is – they said there are two reasons why they had put our hospital in their list.
The first reason is – the philosophy of a Holy Man that healthcare and education must be free for the entire mankind.
The second reason they said – There is always a form and there is always a function. This institution is a perfect marriage of a form and function that they have come across. So when God creates something – Yes it is Perfect…. it is Perfect.
The other day we looked at our schedule, our statistics for some other visiting people. We have done nine hundred open hearts with eleven deaths in it which puts us to mortality rate of 1.3 or 1.4 percent and I cannot reproduce it anywhere else. I have seen enough programmes – it is not reproducible because average mortality is between four and seven percent in the best institutions in the world.
We have done more than five thousand Urological procedures with one death. They are not minor procedures. We have done Laparoscopic Nefractomy – that is cutting edge surgery these days and it is free. And then they do conservative surgery. You see you need half a kidney to survive.
The other day I was looking in the list – one procedure was, they are taking a part of the kidney out in the upper portion and then, removing a stone in the bottom portion of the kidney and still keeping the rest of the kidney intact. This cannot be done on a day-to-day basis. It needs extreme surgical dexterity. That is the kind of operations done.
We have done over six thousand Ophthalmology procedures in the last twelve months with no death. We don’t do regular cataracts here. Even the best institutions have trouble doing what we call Faco which is intraocular lens implantation. It is almost that you are recreating Swami’s work. It is a small incision – they take away the cataract and put a new lens inside. You don’t even know that the patient had surgery. And again it is totally free of course. See this is the kind of work that is being turned out day in and day out and it can only be done with Divine Grace. Nothing else.
I will tell you a little bit about this Divine Grace. I told you earlier – I will digress a little bit – this big time cardiac surgeon from California – you know California is only a state – one of the fifty states in the United States. It is just a state like Andhra Pradesh. But if you see the economy of California – it is eighth in the world. There are only seven countries that have bigger economy than the state of California. That is where I used to practice. So it gives you some idea. It is all Swami’s grace. And they calculate how many surgeries we do in the early eighties. I have done more heart surgeries than any surgeon in the state of California. So He is preparing me from day one. Every minute I have spent in my life so forth is just for this. Again the approach is what that I think is clear here. You don’t work for Swami. You look at it that it is the most privileged thing that Swami has given so you can offer yourself for Swami.
You see, one day we were in Kodaikanal – Prof. Sampath, Prof. Anil Kumar, Balram. Swami came down a little early. Just a little early. And we were hurdling around Him. When do you get a chance to hurdle around Divinity so often? So we were just hurdling literally like kids. And Prof. Sampath was one of the most evolved people that I could see. He suddenly looks at Swami and said, Swami… Swami, we must have done something in our last life that we are this close to You. And Swami said – No Sampath, last hundred lives.
So, now I know when the first thing He told me – how come you lost weight? So, this is how this big time cardiac surgeon with a head of a football slowly start what I call defragmentation. Only Divinity can do it to a cardiac surgeon. You know they always go around saying – What s the difference between God and a cardiac surgeon? God never thinks He is a cardiac surgeon. So to complete the sentence – Cardiac surgeons think they are Gods!
So, this is the frame of mind with which I came here – believe it or not. I had a sports car and it said it could go upto 320 kms. I wasn’t sure; so I pushed it to about 280kms. There is a beautiful straight stretch of road and I said let me see what this can do. And there was no police around and so I kept going 240, 260, 280… I was going beautifully except I got a headache. So I said let me stop here and slowed down. But I didn’t realise that Swami could lift His little finger and He could get the best of cardiac surgeons ever to come for Him forever and ever.
So, this thousands and thousands instead of hundreds of lives are the background for this or what we call…Telugu is a beautiful language and you can express this beautifully in one word called – Poorva Janma Sukrutam. There is no other word for it.
One time I was leaving California to come here and work. A very big time Gastroenterologist calls me and says – Dr.Voleti you are going to Bangalore? I said, Yes… I have to fly there from Chennai. And he says – Could you operate on my mother, she is very sick. I said No, I am going to Swami and I won’t operate on your mother. He is very rich. He can bring anybody. He can bring the richest and the best to Bangalore. So I said, I will go to Puttaparthi. He said let me tell you one other thing – My mother is 72 and for the last 35 years she has been a widow and she is running a house for handicapped women, when she gets better she wants to go back and do the same. And then I couldn’t say No. I said, Yes I would operate.
Those days you couldn’t fly into Bangalore. So we flew into Chennai. We used to come as a whole team. We were all known as the team from America…and I did this surgery on Sunday morning – by Swami’s grace the operation went very well. And they said: sir, stay overnight we will send you first in the morning. I said that looks good. So the patient did well. They arranged a car at 3.30 and I was here at 6.30. As usual I was sitting because by that time you know how Swami ‘spoils you’ in the beginning and you are in the honeymoon phase. So I always get this front seat. I was sitting there and was always used to be pampered by Swami. He always used to come and ask – How are you? When did you come? How long are you going to stay?
So this time He just comes and walks just past me. And I think, Oh what is going on here? That is Monday morning. He did the same thing on Tuesday morning – He just walked past by.. I said, no this is not right. I have to get hold of Swami. So Wednesday morning comes and I see Swami coming and I started getting up. Swami said, What, you want to leave; the gate is there. I said… No Swami I came three days…. I didn’t even finish the sentence and He said No… you only came two days ago. Your team came three days ago which is 100% true. Nothing but truth comes out of Divinity. Yes I only came on Monday morning. The team came on Sunday. I came only two days ago. Instead of saying anything He walked ten feet away, turned around so that everybody could hear in the vicinity – He said: Choudhary – come two weeks you are going to leave Me but, I will never leave you.
He could have just said it on my face. No, He did not. He went ten feet away and said, looking at the entire team. This is not meant for me. He is never going to leave any of us. No…no. We are His children – bad, good, indifferent – we are His children. That is one thing I want you to make sure.
Swami is as close to you as you think you are, As far away from you as you are afraid of. Believe me. That was His message that day.
So, when He gives you that kind of assurance, where is the question of He is here or not here. So when they ask me Oh! God! you are going to travel alone, I say no… Swami is with me. I never travel alone. No. He always travels with me. When I am sitting in the office He is always there. But the mistake we do is we don’t recognize that fact.
Now one other thing I just want to tell you I never left Puttaparthi – you know in medicine you never say never but I could say here never. I never left Puttaparthi without getting Swami’s Padnamaskaram – whether I was going to Bangalore, whether I was going to my village or I was going to the US.
But one time I was working here but they asked me to go for four weeks stay in Whitefield. So when Swami came I said, to go away for four weeks to Whitefield and I won’t be able to see You and immediately He rubbed me and He says – Why are you worried…I Am here. But this, I think is happening in Puttaparthi, that is wonderful.
But listen to this. I was in Sao Paulo in Brazil and 99.99 % people speak only Portuguese. They have a school for Swami there, fully recognized by the Brazilian Government and there is a young teacher. She teaches in Swami’s school and they always give me a translator. So I asked the translator to find out when was she in Puttaparthi the last time? And she says that she has never been to India. I was surprised that she has never been to India and how come she knows about Swami and how come she is teaching about Swami. What is there, Swami is here. (pointing to the heart)
Swami is here. Go explain it! So don’t try to explain. Take Swami for granted. No questions asked. One of the things that always comes up at least from my perspective… I want to put some kind of an end to it.
This thing about Maya, Mahima – I want to say
something about it because Maya is magic. That is what cheap
I will give you as best as personal example as anybody can give. It is about almost fifteen years ago. A bunch of us were in the Interview Room – as usual men are on one side and women are on the other side. And Swami is always talking and suddenly, unannounced to anybody, He goes like this (gesture) and out drops the most dazzling bracelets I have seen. It drops from His hand and men were sitting quiet and women started saying Ah… Oh….. So Swami says what’s the matter? Now they should be truthful and they said Swami… Swami design? So Swami looked at them and said design or desire?
He was teasing and suddenly He asks me to come forward and puts that most beautiful dazzling bracelet around my wrist. That is what I carry and have it with me. Except when I am operating or playing tennis, I have it all the time.
Now turn the clock forward almost ten years – 2007. There is an island called Kawai which has one of the best – top ten trekking destinations in the world and I was trekking with my son and daughter-in-law. I am very careful as I trek a lot but it is very treacherous. While coming down, though I had trekking shoes and everything, it was so wet that I slipped and fell. And I hear this crackling noise. So when you fall, you have to break your fall either with the right hand or the left hand depending on how you fall. So I broke the whole fall with my right wrist and I hear this crackling noise and immediately, this brain thinks and says. Oh my goodness there goes my right wrist.
Now this is the one I operate by, this is the one I hit my tennis shots, this is the one I click the camera and there goes the right wrist. Suddenly my son says – Dad, dad look at the bracelet. I said, ….wwwwhat? When I looked at it – it is the bracelet that broke into two and my wrist was absolutely intact.
Go… figure this out yourselves. Then you may say, Yes there is no magic in it, it is Swami’s Mahima or miracle. And I always wear it. No, you cannot have it.
Coming back to the hospital… It is a citadel of healthcare. The only unfortunate thing is there are so many people with more means than even Swami that they could have reproduced it. But no – that is my only sadness. The humanity in total, in certain ways looks like that, we have failed Swami. But that is a different story.
But the continuity is there. The hospital is going strong like I gave you the statistics for the departments and more things are to come. The departments are well established and what is the proof for it – the next 22 or 23 minutes please enjoy the audio visual presentation. Almost all the staff members in the hospital have helped me to do this. And it is our offering to Swami and I thank you all very much for the patience with which you have listened to me.
Jai Sai Ram!