Al Drucker Series: Sri Kupana - Sai’s Postman

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This is a wonderful story being read and told by Al Drucker, of a chance encounter with a remarkable Sai Baba devotee, Sri Kupina, who was graced with a most intimate inner presence of Sai Baba in his life, which gave him countless miraculous powers for deepening his own spiritual path, and also be a potent conduit for delivering Baba's gifts to many others to help them advance in their spiritual pursuits. This is based on an article by the same name listed in the articles section of Al's website:
www.atma-institute.org (and is reproduced below).

On my first trip to Baba on Maha Shivarari Feb '74 in Prashanti Nilayam, I had many powerful experiences that I wrote about elsewhere. What I would like to write about here is of one of the most memorable Sai people that I met a few weeks later quite unexpectedly, Sri Kupana. This chance encounter followed a rather slapstick prelude that I'll recount.Baba had shifted to his Brindavan ashram outside of Bangalore, and most of us Western devotees followed him there, staying in Bangalore Hotels. One day in darshan it became known that Baba was going on a trip to an unannounced location, that he would be gone for 4 to 5 days, and then return to Brindavan afterwards. So most of us chose to remain in Bangalore and wait for Baba to return.

       The day before leaving, in darshan, Baba spoke to a man named Venu Mukunda, a physicist who was also a superb artist on the veena, a traditional Indian string instrument that rests on the floor on its large hollow gourd, and that has strings that are fretted but also sympathetic strings that resonate, giving it its characteristic haunting ghostly sound, that can be very beautiful. Venu Mukunda had become famous holding veena recitals all over the world. Baba asked him to give some concerts for the Westerners who would be waiting in Bangalore for Baba’s return. So, in our hotel we got an invitation to come to an evening bhajan and veena concert at Venu Mukunda’s house in Maleshwaram, a large suburb of Bangalore. There were about 20 devotees staying in the hotel I was at, and on that evening we all piled into cabs, to attend Venu Mukunda’s function.

swami-carSathya Sai Baba with Swami Karunyananda

 

          After we were driving in Bangalore traffic for over 30 minutes, it seemed like we should have been there by then, so we questioned the cabbie when he thought we would get there? It quickly became clear that we were in Maleshwaram, but that the driver was totally confused and lost. He never got the address but was merely following the other cabs, then got disconnected from them in traffic, and was now driving around hoping to spot those other cabs, but without luck. Well, none of us had a clue where the place was, and so the only thing to do was to return to our hotel and call the evening a bad India snafu experience.

          But then one of the guys in the cab had the idea that the meeting would start with 50 minutes or so of bhajans, and since Sai Baba bhajans are quite unique and easily identified, perhaps we could go to some different nearby neighborhoods, stop the cab, get out and get each of us to scatter in different directions, and listen carefully for bhajan sounds, which we hoped might be heard in the street; and in that way find the Venu Mukunda place. It was a totally hairbrained idea, considering that Maleshwaram was a suburb of close to a million inhabitants, and considering all the rickshaw and traffic noises, the monkey screams and dogs barking, donkeys braying, kids yelling, hawker’s shouting, music blasting out into the street, and assorted other sounds and street noises; in that milieu the probability of finding Venu Makunda’s place was pretty close to zero. But for around 30 minutes we kept trying, anyway.

          We had been to about five different areas of Maleshwaram without luck, when miracle of miracles, one of us actually heard some Sai Baba bhajans coming from a house. Well, we decided persistence had paid off, or perhaps Baba’s Grace had descended upon us and we had landed in Venu Mukunda’s place just in time for the aarthi, which closes the bhajan session, which would then be followed by the veena music program. We noticed at the house there must have been so many people in the main room where the bhajan singers were, the overflow was crowding into the hall outside the bhajan room, and people were sitting in the hall all the way to the entrance door of the house. So we sat down behind them, hoping we could go inside when the bhajan was over. We didn’t see any of our friends, only local indian people sitting in the hall; but we assumed our people must all be inside. But then, when the bhajan ended and all the devotees came out, it quickly became obvious that we were in the wrong place. This was the house of another Sai devotee, and the bhajan room was quite small; and although there were people sitting in the hall there weren’t really many of them.

          After making some inquiries we learned that this was a regularly scheduled neighborhood bhajan held every Sunday and Thursday and the bhajan was held in the bedroom of Sri Kupana, an elderly gentleman, who, in order not to take up any extra space, sat out in the garden during the bhajan. We went to meet him and pay our respects. On inquiry he said he didn’t know of Venu Mukunda and so, had no idea where Mukunda’s place was. We concluded, the whole evening had been a Sai leela, but despite not getting to the concert, we were happy to at least have met these sweet Sai devotees. I very much liked the sacred presence I felt from this quiet, dignified gentleman sitting in the garden; so before leaving I asked him if I could come there during one of his bhajan nights and sit with him in meditation on his garden bench. He graciously invited me to come whenever I could make it.

          And so for the next year, whenever Baba was in his Brindavan Ashram outside of Bangalore, on Thursdays or Sundays I would find myself visiting Sri Kupana. He proved to be a remarkable discovery for me, showing how Baba works through his devotees. On those evenings I would take a rickshaw from my hotel in Bangalore to Maleshwaram and go to Kupana’s place and sit silently with Kupana on the bench outside in the garden. It was always a lovely, sacred experience for me, sitting there with Kupana while the bhajan was happening inside, and the beautiful bhajan sounds were gently wafting into the garden.

          When the bhajan was coming to the end and they did the aarthi (the blessing of transferring the light from the Divine to the devotee), the lady of the house, Kupana’s sister, would appear in the garden with a small platter and stand in front of Kupana. Seeing her coming he would have folded his hands together as she approached, and then upon opening them would produce a sizable mound of vibhuti that miraculously came into his hands, and fell into the platter. This she then carried inside to give to the devotees as prasadam, a gift from the Divine, seen here as a direct gift from Baba, which they put on their foreheads, into their mouths, and on their bodies, as a healing unction.
          After this, the devotes would stream out of the house and come over to Kupana and forming a queue, touch his feet in turn, and exchange some words with him, perhaps asking him for special blessings to offset whatever concerns they were harboring and worrying about. Kupana handled all this very gracefully and very matter-of-factly. Afterwards he would return to his room and he would invite me in to talk. His room, in which the bhajan was held, was actually very small; he had his bed facing a puja table running the length of the opposite wall. On that wall there were pictures of Sai Baba in both his Shirdi and his Puttaparthi incarnations, pictures of Krishna with his cows, pictures of Rama and Sita, and all of these were copiously covered with Vibhuti. One time I asked Kupana to tell me his story, how he happened to first come into the Sai fold, and then have all these miracles of vibhuti manifestations happen to him.

shirdi-parthiSathya Sai Baba performing the Vibhuti Abhishekam on an idol of Shirdi Sai Baba during Mahashivaratri

          He told me that his home town had been Bombay. He was born there and lived much of his life there, as quite an ordinary man. He was not at all religious or spiritual through most of his long life. He worked as an engineer on the national railway. But all his life he treasured the time when he was five and his father took him along to have the darshan of Sai Baba of Shirdi. Shirdi Baba had given him and his father a private interview. At this meeting, Baba took a deep liking to the little boy and kept him on his lap and played with him. Then, when it was time for his father and he to leave, Baba tore a piece of paper from a newspaper that was lying there and made a little packet out of it, and then picked up some cold ashes from his duni fire, put the ashes in the packet, put the packet into the little boy’s shirt pocket and told him to always keep it with him. At this point of telling me this story Kupana took a small old brownish envelope out of his shirt pocket, and said, “And here it is, still in my shirt pocket seventy odd years later. I kept it with me all these years although I had to change the outer packet a few times and of course many, many shirt pockets later.”

          He told how his wife had died and his kids had grown up and moved abroad with their families, and he was left alone in his Bombay house. His younger sister in Bangalore often begged him to come for an extended visit and perhaps even to stay permanently and let her take care of him. So, one day, he got on the train and showed up at her door. She was of course very happy to see him, and felt how auspicious it was that he came at that time because the next day she was planning to go to a nearby park where her guru was to visit, and came to give darshan including bhajans and a discourse to the assembled devotees. “Would you like to come along, she asked him?” “I’ll come with you, sister, but we better take rain gear, the monsoon smell is in the air.”

           They walked to the meeting place a few blocks away, and Sai Baba, at that time still in his early forties, appeared on the stage and gave darshan to the large gathering. It was the only time Baba had come to Maleshwaram in the Bangalore area, and at that, within a day of Kupana’s arrival, and just a few short blocks away.  Well, that day Baba was out for only five to ten minutes when the monsoon broke out in a massive downpour. Everybody in the huge crowd hurriedly got to their feet and began to scatter towards some covered shelter. But then on the stage, Baba held up his right hand to the heavens, and a huge round opening appeared in the threatening clouds overhead, and in no time the Sun shone through in a glorious blaze of light, to the delight of everyone present. (Incidentally, a comparable event was witnessed by me at another time, when in Prashanti Nilayam, Baba also held up his arm and a large circular whole appeared in the heavy overhead rain clouds, and stopped a torrential rain from breaking up his darshan. After Baba brought the Sun out, he unhurriedly gave darshan, and then as he walked back to the Mandir he warned us that we had less than ten minutes to get to shelter, at which time the downpour resumed.)

       

          With Kupana, as he sat for Baba’s darshan he momentarily and vividly remembered his Shirdi Baba visit as a small boy, and decided then and there to accept his sister’s generous offer, and rather than go back to his empty place in Bombay, stay in Bangalore. His sister was overjoyed, and gave him a room in the house. He decided that from then on he would be 100% devoted to God by spending most of his time meditating. Soon the vibhuti came on the pictures and in his hands, and the neighborhood discovered him and started coming to his room for bhajan and to meditate with him. He said that he found he needed hardly any sleep and would be deep in meditation most of the night
          One night, back in my Bangalore hotel, I was awakened at 2 in the morning by a phone call. The hotel, called the Bombay Ananda Bhavan, is a low cost one catering almost exclusively to Sai devotees. I had a small room to myself. I had been there for months and I knew nothing of there being a phone in the room. But nevertheless a phone was clearly ringing under my bed. I woke up and climbed under the bed to look for the disturbing article, I found the phone. I answered it right under the bed. There was a man on the line and he asked me if I was “Dr. Al”? I said, “My name is Al Drucker, and who are you and why are you disturbing me in the middle of the night?” He said he worked for the Telephone and Telegraph Company, and works the first night shift, getting out at around one a.m.. He lives in Maleshwaram not far from Sri Kupana’s place, and he said that he stops in at Kupana’s after he gets off from work to sit with Kupana for fifteen to twenty minutes. “Sri Kupana is always awake at night, you know?”, he said to me.
  

          Well, this particular night when he came into Kupana’s room, he found Kupana crumbled on the floor, unable to catch his breath. A very labored croaking sound was coming from his throat, and Sri Kupana looked terribly sick to him. The phone man managed to exchange some words with him, telling Kupana that he would go and get a doctor or take him to the Emergency at the hospital, but Kupana nixed that. He said he wanted nothing to do with doctors or hospitals. He was ready to die and so let him be. But a few moments later he said, “Maybe you can find that American devotee who does natural medicine. His name is Al and he stays at a hotel with the word ‘Bombay’ in it.”

          So, it seems with that sparse information, the man went back to his office and roused the night clerks at a number of Bangalore hotels that had the name Bombay in their title. When he called the ‘Bombay Ananda Bhavan’, the night clerk who knew me said, “Maybe you’re looking for an American named Alvin Drucker, he’s the only Sai Baba devotee here known as ‘Al’. Let me ring him and wake him up.” And that crazy way is how I got to know Kupana was in serious physical distress, and for some puzzling reason was calling for me.

          By the time I found a cab at that time of night and got to him, another precious hour had gone by. At that point he was still alive but barely. He was unconscious, his body was cyanosed with a purple hue. He was obviously dying of oxygen deprivation, and his breath was more of a death rattle than labored breathing. I asked some of the grieving family gathered around him to kindly leave me alone with him for a time. I got out my acupuncture needles and put them into master points that the Chinese called ‘Corpse Revivers’. I didn’t know if they could possibly do any good. I had one very long needle that I threaded down the front of his throat, from the trachea area to the sternal notch. And then I left him and sat down on the floor facing his puja table, right in front of a large picture of the Sai Baba of Shirdi, that was standing on the floor and leaning upright against the middle of the puja table. I closed my eyes and repeated the Gayatri mantra.

shirdi-promiseOne of Shirdi Sai Baba's 11 promises to His devotees     

 Just then I realized that I no longer heard that rasping throat sound of a body trying desperately to manage some labored breathing. Suddenly it was very quiet in the room. With my eyes still closed I assumed he had died, and I started just quietly chanting the Pranava, the sacred Om. When I opened my eyes for just an instant they fell on the picture of Shirdi in front of me. On Shirdi’s right hand, held in the mudra of blessing with open palm facing me, I saw the beginnings of the Om symbol forming in vibhuti. I closed my eyes and continued chanting. When next I opened my eyes and looked again, the vibhuti Om on Shiri's palm was almost totally formed. So, along with my Om’s, Shirdi was also doing the Om! Now for the first time I looked around at Kupana lying on the floor. I was amazed to see his chest rising and falling rhythmically with deep breaths. He was alive! He was breathing! And he looked like he was sleeping.

          I went towards him to remove the needles. Taking the long needle out, I scraped his chin a bit, and that woke him up. He opened his eyes. He looked at me, sat up, and said, “I’m going to take a bath!” And he got up and lumbered into the bathroom. That was my clue to get out of there, get back to the hotel and finish my sleep. Clearly, Swami was on the job!

          That day Swami shifted to his main Prashanti Nilayam Ashram outside of Puttapathi. Of course we all followed. A few weeks later Kupana’s young niece, the lead bhajan singer at his Thursday and Sunday meetings, brought me a message, “Uncle Kupana would very much like to see you, next time you come to Bangalore.” I couldn’t converse with her out in the ashram street, because single men and young ladies don’t talk to each other, and she would have been uncomfortable meeting somewhere else. So I decided to wait and find out how Kupana was doing, later. And a week later, when Swami went on a trip and again told us not to follow, I headed off to Bangalore and to Kupana’s. He looked fine and all recovered. He was happy to see me and said he wanted to share something with me that had happened.

          He told me that a few days after Baba went to Puttaparthi a young woman he had never seen before had come into the house, went straight to his room, knocked on the door and without waiting for a response, came inside. She seemed in a hurry. She wouldn’t sit down. She said that she was on her way to Madras and stopped off in Bangalore to change buses, and was currently on her wait time before the Madras bus takes off from the Bangalore Central Bus Depot. She mentioned that a couple of hours earlier she had been called in by Swami for interview in Prashanti Nilayam. In the interview, after talking to her about her personal situation, Baba told her, “You plan to return to Madras today. You have a two-hour layover changing buses in Bangalore. During your wait, I want you to go to the city bus terminal in the same building, take the No.12 bus to Maleshwaram, get off,,,,,etc.”

          Like that Baba gave her very specific directions, which bus to take, where to get off, where to go the few blocks to the Kupana house, when she reaches there to go through the garden outside and enter the house, where to go inside to Kupana’s room, and to knock and enter and then speak to him, “as he will be sitting on his bed”, Baba told her. When Kupana was relating this to me, he said his principal amazement at hearing all this from this woman, was centered on, “How does Sai Baba know where I live? And at that so accurately?” Of course he was forgetting all the vibhuti miracles that were happening to him in that very room. Anyway, Baba instructed her to say to Kupana in a raised, authoritative voice, “Do you think that I’m your servant?” and then to repeat that even louder, “Do you think that I’m your servant? That I have nothing better to do than to take care of your health every time you fall ill? Already you had several heart attacks, and each time I had to come and save you! You are not a guru! You are my postman! Do not let anyone touch your feet! Their karma will come into you and then I have to come and take care of you!” After delivering these words, Baba told her to forthwith turn around and leave the room, and return to the bus depot. So, at that point, having repeated Baba’s corrective to him, without saying another word she left.

          Kupana said he was totally overwhelmed by these events. He added that as suddenly as she had come, she again left the house. But moments later she came back and appeared at the door of his room, saying she felt troubled and couldn’t just leave without apologizing to Sri Kupana, a respected elder, for speaking to him in such a tone of voice as she had previously used. She said Baba had sternly instructed her to speak that way, but that right afterwards, Swami turned to another person in the interview room and said, knowing that she would hear his remarks, “I really am his servant! He is a very good man and he thinks of God night and day. He is my true devotee and I love him very much!” She confided, “Baba did not say to tell you this, but I felt so bad at delivering his strong message, I just had to share this.” Kupana had a big smile when he told me that heartful addition.

kupanaThe photo taken by Al

It was at this time, that I mentioned to him about the vibhuti Om appearing on Shirdi’s hand during Kupana’s terrible physical state, the last time I was there; Kupana was astounded to hear this. (I noticed the Shirdi picture with the vibhuti Om on the hand was still there, unchanged).  At that time I also showed him the photo I had taken of him the last time I came for his bhajan session and sat with him in the garden. At that time I had used a flash on my camera to take a picture after the bhajan was over and people filed past him in the garden; I snapped just one picture and it was of the last person in line that came by to touch his feet.  At the very moment that the flash went off, Kupana’s hands had filled with vibhuti, and he called out to me, “Here, Al, this must be for you, since it came when you took the photo, and it had never happened like that before.” Well, I accepted the vibhuti but I had no idea why it came at that moment and why it was somehow meant for me. When I mentioned my puzzlement this time to Kupana, he said to me, “Don’t you see, it ties into the message Baba later sent to me through that nice Madras lady. This photo shows the very last time I let anyone ever touch my feet.” So, it was more meaningful than I knew at the time. I have kept that picture, and I still have it now, some 40 years later.

          Kupana went on to live a number of years longer. In addition to the vibhuti, in his last years, murtis appeared within the vibhuti that would come into his hands; these murtis were exquisitely fashioned small gold or silver-colored metal statues of Krishna playing his flute, or of Rama and Sita, or of Hanuman, or of Shiva as the Nataraj, or of one I particularly liked, of a truly happy cow adoringly licking Krishna’s feet, while its udder was continuously dripping amritam. That murti was considered very special and Kupana set it up on his puja table, and devotees could use the amritam, captured in a little saucer, as prasadam. 

          How fortunate we are to have been blessed to know Baba, and to have been recipients of his profuse love and grace, which even today he showers equally on all of us, and just as deeply, if not always as dramatically, as in this grand story of Kupana, the ‘Sai Postman’.

 
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