He, at every Step

P R E F A C E

Life is an ever-changing phenomenon. For an awakened soul, any change, whether on the positive side or on a negative level, is always good; because an internally awakened person will always take it as something promulgated by the Almighty and hence for his ultimate good. As for me, let me primafacie confess that I am an ordinary man brought up in circumstances a little extraordinary, circumstances rather queer and out of my personal control. I have seen lots of ups and downs in this life, which has passed through enough of good and bad in its mainly physical and partially spiritual realm. Here-in, in the following pages has been depicted a span of some seventy precious years of my life, strenuously lived and fairly strengthened by vivid circumstances undeemed of, circumstances which made me a prey to pinching, but in no way flinching loneliness. That way, this is the life history of a solitary soul who, being made aware of his many a pitfall, was inwardly helped at every step by some inner unknown Force through circumstances destined by some hidden hands and curiously boosted by my associates, mainly my near relatives and friends. Yes, this Force, this latent Power, is ever awake in and around us eager and ready to extend its help provided we are awake to its inner promptings, which we quite unluckily evade because of our constant pull towards the outwardly attractive and ever changing ephemeral. If we become awake to these promptings, and taking our life in our own hands, keep ourselves in tune with this inner ‘Voice’, and not bothering about the obstacles and impediments that come our way, tread our path on our onward journey, we can make the most of our existence here in this temporal world and quicken our march, however slow-paced, to our final destination.

My life history tells of all such obstacles I came across and talks of how, at every step, I was helped by that ever-so-awake Power speeding up my flaccid journey towards the previously set goal. It touches all the events, small and big, not forgetting that for the one who has made it a point not to stop half way, nothing is small and negligible in this journey of life. As has been stated above, my life-journey was boosted by my relatives and friends. From among these, my friend Thakore, now Thakordās of Vrindāvan, remained a constant pilgrim of spirituality. He is a highly advanced soul awakened and graced by the love of the Lord. As for me, my path ever remained full of many impediments, a vast variety of which covers these pages, strengthening this ‘Memoir’ of mine. I know, I am too small a person endeavoring to impart something through this presentation, an act that is perhaps beyond my ken. However, I cannot but help thinking that whatever has been endowed to me by God, by favor or by molding me into a particular cast through various harsh but ultimately beneficial means, if I fail to impart to some needy who has passed through similar callous, discordant qualms and unsolicited reprimands, I would be failing in my duties towards me and towards the society, not forgetting my duty toward God Almighty. Again, we are all common persons, and it is not uncommon for a man of similar cadre to gather something acceptable from someone of his standing rather than from somebody of a high-statured personality. To that extent, these writings can be made easily lucrative, I mean spiritually productive, while being digestible. Here, it will not be out of place to assure you that I have remained ever wakeful not to overstate or exaggerate any happening by exhibiting my egoistic tendency and thus be an easy prey to self-flattery or to cheap commendation. In so stating, I mean giving pure justice to whatever that has passed in this life of mine. In view of this, whatever that has been depicted here is nothing but truth, truth purely untainted. And I have maintained this even at the cost of my own self-esteem, knowing that an autobiography ceases to be an autobiography if and when colored by needless attributes and details not in tune with reality. That way, whatever the circumstance is, wherever my thinking is involved, it has been depicted exactly as I thought, or remember to have thought when a particular incident took place. This I venture to say because this small life of mine got itself enriched through those thoughts, which remained a part of me for days and months on end. It was that deeply involved thinking that gave shape to this otherwise shattered life. Thus, rather than the events, it was the thinking process that attuned those happenings, which brought this life up the way it did.

This is a peep in the past, not just my past, but also India’s past, as it mainly concerns the atmosphere of the good old India. I say ‘good old India’ because things there have changed a good deal now, not just because of the influence of the western culture on it, but because things always do change with the passing of time. Things change and so do their values. However, for those who are interested in the old Indian culture and its great value in our present-day life, it will prove, I hope, a pilgrim to India’s recent past that cannot simply be forgotten. India’s cultural outlook, her perspective towards Mother Nature, and especially towards rivers, the living mother to many an Indian, the mother on whose pious breast India’s past has been made to flourish, being unique and unparalleled, cannot simply be forgotten. I know, I have shed more ink in depicting, rather pen-painting, mother nature; but having an instinctive inclination towards poetic values, if I have exaggerated myself in picturing natural bounties, I trust, the reader will broad-heartedly excuse me, for there alone I might have become a bit prodigal.

One thing more. A small part of my life-pilgrimage has been allotted to ‘Kūndalini Shakti’, the Mother Energy. I frequently found myself unduly staggered while writing something about ‘Kūndalini’- the ‘Serpent Power’- when a question always emerged while expounding on it: “Do I have the right to write on the ‘Mother Power’?”, and the answer I derived is a mixed response of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. ‘No’ because my experience in this field is quite limited, and also  because I never did give this mystifying science of ‘Kūndalini Yoga’ any intentional methodical momentum by way of devoted ‘Sādhanā’- well-disciplined spiritual practice. It automatically got evoked in me, for which I am highly indebted to the Mother Power. Kūndalini Yoga is a deep esoteric science and I cannot, in any way, be considered an authority on it. As against this, I venture to say ‘Yes’ for the simple reason that its awakening changed my life totally right from the very base of it. After its awakening, every single step of mine was being controlled by It, the Mother Power, in the activation of which my ‘Dhyāna’- meditation – played a very prominent role. ‘Kūndalini’ ever kept me on the alert, ever under a spiritual guard. In my ‘Dhyāna’, in my dreams and quite naturally during my wakeful hours, it always remained the main directive, keeping me ever watchful, ever so vigilant, of my deeds, my thoughts, my very Being. It made me inwardly conscious of the fact that this life of mine, and for that matter all life in general, is, every bit under the complete control of  the Almighty, the Great Lord ‘Trishūlpāni’, Lord ‘Sadāshiva’ alleged to be seated in the ‘Brahmarandhra’- the seventh subtle energy center at the top of the head – with His Counterpart, call Her ‘Mā Bhagavati’, ‘Shakti’, ‘Devi Ümā’, or the Mother Power ‘Kūndalini’ seated at the ‘Mūlādhāra Chakra’ – the subtle energy center at the base of the spine. That way, this ‘Memoir’ of mine is not just a journey of a lonely rambler toward a transient material temple. It is a lively pilgrimage of a lone, solitary soul who got gradually awakened amidst all odds, not just through his personal endeavor in fighting the physical and mental temptations out, but rather through God’s grace born of his sincere effort and faith in the ultimate good that evokes through His ever-flowing benevolence. And it is incumbent upon me to state that this small life of mine has always been helped by some hidden hand without which I would never have been where I this day am. Whenever in difficulty, this Power never did fail to lift me up, or to awaken me to the much so needed vigilance, keeping this life on its chosen path while filling it with enthusiasm. It is thus a pilgrimage made vibrant with a melodious tone surging out of a lively inner resonance of an unceasing musical crescendo, a Divine upsurge for which I am ever so grateful to the Mother Goddess whose benevolence, made ever so vibrant by my Gurudeva, His Holiness Swami Shree Abhiramdasji, has graced my other book ‘Ādhyātmani Kedie’- ‘On the Path of Spirituality’ – printed in Gūjarāti, my mother tongue.

Finally, a word on my dreams, the dreams that served as a beacon clearing my spiritual path laden with many an obstruction that stood my way because of my own limitations. My Dhyāna-visions also have added to the obliteration of these stumbling blocks. In total gratitude towards the Lord for this hidden help, I have taken the liberty to present these dreams and visions in this volume. The sole idea in presenting these is that, while going through it, some wearied and worn out lone voyager, while striving single handedly to cross this ‘Kshirasāgar’ – the ‘milky ocean’- that this life is, gets a ray of hope from it, and derives the courage to proceed a little further on toward his aspired shores, with but one faith that the God Almighty will never ever leave him in the lurch. May such a one be so graced. Amen.

May everybody remain guileless and ever so happy,

May everyone be endowed with a brotherly vision,

May every corner of this world be misery-free.

1.   An Invitation from Shūlpān
Which way this life current flows, I do not know. But I do know one thing: The long cherished hopes and their much so desired fulfillment remain poles apart. The mind pines for earthly enjoyments. Mundane gratifications seem to be its foremost choice. The inner-self, on the contrary, craves for some inner unrest. An unquenchable inner urge to imagine the impalpable, to visualize that something which pervades and dominates this magnificent creation, an insatiable impulse to know the unknown, seems to remain ever so predominant with it. Yes, life seems to be struggling between these two insatiables – the psychophysical and the spiritual. Which of the two will ultimately dominate? Who will give way to whom?

If life is an unceasing struggle to be struggled with, then its fulfillment rests in marching forward without being the least concerned about victory or defeat that originates from the unexpected obstructions that try to bar the path of our lifelong journey. Whether the combat is physical or mental, mundane or spiritual, man ever progresses amidst strife and strain while wrestling against various odds that confront the vividness of this complex existence. Thus struggling, he seems to be fulfilling himself in the field of his choice. It is an indisputable fact that struggle gives meaning to life. Strife and struggle are the footholds, the base, the foundation that lead life to progress, giving it its meaning. It is through this strength that man fulfills himself realizing his sky-high ambitions. The greater the build up of one’s experiences the more sumptuous, the more profound will one’s life be. While fighting incessantly and with indomitable courage and firmness, keeping a smiling face against oncoming odds and obstacles, and thus being enriched in the vivid occupations through these hindrances, when one treads forward in the direction of his own choice, the man achieves his aim. He alone lives who shudders not from sacrificing all that he has in order to accomplish his aspired goal, and thus goes on marching doggedly with an uncompromising steady mind. Life is for the one who is ever ready to greet it, regardless of what it has in store for him. Life is for him who has the art and willingness to live it in its true fervor, accepting all its odds and ends, all its challenge, and still has the incentive to make the most of it. Yes, verily, life is a challenge.

In his last letter only, Praveen, my friend, surmised that the natural bounty of Rāmeshwar is all that is in our lot. And this is true too. For, in spite of a deep and unsatiating desire for a long pilgrimage, we had never been able to cross the boundary of Rāmeshwar. For us it was almost routine to take a yearly tour to Rāmeshwar. Rāmeshwar ever stood invitingly there, there on the bank of the motherly river Tāpti, our Tāpimaiya. Rāmeshwar seemed to keep our spiritual thirst aloft. Indisputable was the inspiring invitation we always received from Rāmeshwar, the icon of our heart. The invigorating melodious murmur of the sweetly flowing river Tāpi, the ever throbbing pulse of her speed that resembles the zealous fervor of a newly wed pleasantly stealing her way to meet the apple of her eye, is automatically enhanced here. Tāpi, in her intent to have a pious glimpse of Rāmeshwar, the living inspiration of all those who are acutely eager to experience a feeling of inward beatitude through His blessings, lingers here for a while. Then, being blessed by the great Lord Himself, she, the mother of many a god-thirsty soul, proceeds further, momentarily thudding and thumping the boulders that come her way, cuddling them with a maddening kiss in her eagerness to meet her beloved. She then rushes forward in her inner haste, while fulfilling the hearts of many a pilgrim with her godly glamour. Embracing the humanity with her sanctifying bounty, and still remaining untouched by her generous grandeur, the blessed mother freely bestows her life-giving nectar to her children. Our hearts naturally abide in salutation to this compelling, soothing softness of hers when her motherly bosom, in its eagerness to free the multitude of their faults and deficits, prays as much for the down trodden and dejected as for the general mass, in an endeavor to fill the hearts of every single soul with her blessedness. On events like this, I tend to forget myself while getting lost in the purity of some tender warmth of an inner fervor derived from the compassion flowing from the Almighty God. The enchanting beauty of Rāmeshwar, the sumptuous, esoteric experience that its bounty brings, nay, everything that surrounds the deity, endows its importance to the pious river Tāpi, which dances forward towards its destination, totally oblivious of the blessings it bestows on the passersby.

Though a mother to the multitude, she, the Tāpi, momentarily oblivious of her motherly modesty and solemn sobriety, displays herself as a newly wed mischievous lady eagerly exhibiting her elegance. Inexplicable is her inner thrill, especially here in Rāmeshwar. Difficult it is to realize the inwardly pulsating tremor, the maddening fancies of her solitary lonesome heart ever pining to embrace the long alluring thrill of the lord of her heart, the ever so thirsty ocean. Her heart is full of inexplicable dreamy hopes, under the intoxicating effect of which she goes dancing with inborn ecstasy and ardor of her youthful love-inspiring femininity. All laden with unfulfilled hopes and desires and envisaging her fast approaching destination, she lingers for a moment ruminating the holy vision of the Great Lord whose blessings she cannot even dream to dodge. Hence, she waits, waits just for a while, and that too almost laboriously; for it is not difficult to conceive of her yearning, her animated earnestness, for the long sought off union with the flower of her heart. However, she does not give vent to her feelings. But so what? A loving affable heart fails not to understand the inexplicable poetry that ripples through her longing heart, a poetry that is full of deep unearthly meaning. At Rāmeshwar, she staggers for a while in her feminine uncertainty of whether or not to depart hurriedly; but that is just for a split second. And the moment she feels blessed by her venerable Lord, she, all pregnant with the thought of her long awaited proximity with her beloved, assumes natural seriousness and ladylike unrestrained openness laden with sweet inner accord, which fails not to explain the passerby her natural femininity and sweet motherly fervor.

And as to the attractive natural bounty of the serene place! It is in no way less exuberant, less heart-warming than it is pleasant. The dashing waters here present the exact picture of the dancing torrents of the heavy monsoon even during the burning heat of Indian summer. Moreover, the prolonged reverberating resonance of the solemnly rushing waters enhances the sweetness of its silent commune with the natural bounty that lavishly presents itself filling the atmosphere with a mystifying awe and fear in the heart of a solitary passerby. Still it fails not to sooth and comfort his lonesome heart through its congenial companionship. Under its cuddly caresses, even during a dark dismal night, a solitary resort-seeker experiences ineffable mystic warmth of its hidden affability. Again, when that juvenile, poignant, ever alluring full moon pivoting in the sky slowly paces forward, casting a delicately charming milky smile while playing with the silvery ripples of her ever-vivified waters, and fills the atmosphere with its emanating nectar, any poetic heart fails not to get inspired by the galvanizing effect of the activated atmosphere. And the distant palm trees, vainly competing with the tall fearless boulders guarding the place, fill the atmosphere with an inspiring awe. Sometimes, when in the dire absence of the moon, the night, casting her milky attire away, selects to screen herself with a dark gown, the moderately twinkling stars, because of the pangs of separation from their nocturnal knight, vivify the balmy atmosphere with their inviting brilliance. Being careful enough not to intervene with the creative brilliance of their venerable knight, they fail not keeping the heavenly atmosphere alive. In times like this, the memory of the great creator of this ever-alluring natural bounty fills our heart with a heavenly fragrance coloring it with some uniquely uncommon hue of a long-lasting ineffable feeling. The elevating atmosphere, then, summons a celestial call to a defeated, dejected, solitary soul tired of this dismal worldliness by endowing him with a fresh breath of life while prompting him to submit himself in deep abandonment to this ever-soothing bosom of mother nature. It annihilates the worldly pull of the temporal by tuning the pathfinder towards spirituality, thus awakening his inner self to a freshly inspired inner thrill. And in so submitting itself to nature, life momentarily blooms forth in rejuvenation. This is what Rāmeshwar imparts in a celestial way.

Rāmeshwar has enriched my life almost as much as has ‘Kevdi’, albeit in a slightly vivid way. Both have equally enhanced this life by imparting it a sense of fulfillment by invigorating its power, thus enriching it with sumptuous sentiments. The deficits of Kevdi have been met with by Rāmeshwar. Even Mankāmeshwar, while acting as a bridging chain, has participated by filling it with a sacred hymn, thus creating unforeseen ripples in the waters of this ocean of life. Kevdi gave an upward tilt to this distracted and queerly belittled life. I was then thirteen years of age. How can I ever forget the time when I was taken for a wretched lad, a sort of humuliation that made me feel a good-for-nothing chap taken to self-degradation? The power that took me out of that darkened ditch was Kevdi. The source that invigorated my downward spirit by changing its course during that desolate period of my life was Kevdi. Yes, Kevdi was the force that filled this lonely existence in with an elixir, the potion of which galvanized this life at a time when change was by far necessary. How can I ever ignore its obligations on me?

And this Kevdi! Kevdi ever proved itself to be the only comforting resort of this wearied enervated soul, the nourishment of a wayward wretch, the solace of a woe-beaten heart, the living consolation of the then languid life of mine! Even today, when I feel myself a prey to some unforeseen agony, Kevdi, the living solace of the distressed, hardly deludes me. The solitary little hillock that this Kevdi is, it is ever vibrant with some hidden life-force, a fact which is not unknown to its everyday visitors. One of them is Thakore. He is, today, a homeless Fakir. Energized with the true spirit of life, the homeless, penniless and unbegging mendicant that he is, he is now residing in Vrindāvan, making Lord Krishna’s homeland his home. How very exalted, how very pious his life is, a life that invites one to bow down in full obeisance! Far away though he is from us, his friends, does he attract us any less than what he did when we were in his close proximity? And that Kevdi! Does it fail luring me any less, even today? Who can ever realize the potentiality working underneath something, anything for that matter? Is it not likely that the same Kevdi, or a similar other lonely little landmark, may become the final resort and retreat of this life? Will the same said Kevdi, the same Mankāmeshwar, or our ever so alluring Rāmeshwar not tempt me, by being an inspiring strength, to lead me to the pious veneration of some Shūlpān? Will they not enlighten my future the way they had in the long past? Or, have they not participated sufficiently enough in giving a lift to this insignificant life that I kept struggling with? Should I still remain hankering after their obligations by being an impotent beggar at the door of those who graciously participated in molding it with vigor and vitality? No, now is the time when I should take to sails all by myself and strive to proceed forward. No, they have given me enough to stand on my own, and thus remain ever obliged to them without being neglectful of all their much so gracious favor.

What with Kevdi or with Rāmeshwar? They spared nothing of theirs from imparting me with love and care. If Kevdi brought on the right lines the soul that had been led astray, Rāmeshwar enriched it with a vivid song that filled it with soft harmonious incorporeal melodies. If Kevdi made me be fond of nature, Rāmeshwar put me directly in the very bosom of mother nature. But no, I simply cannot wind up its liability on me by thus summarizing its participation in the building up of my personality. Rāmeshwar has much to offer, much more than one can ordinarily surmise. It is something which is at once unique and unimaginable, and hence inexpressible. How can I ever elucidate the lofty feelings with which Rāmeshwar made sumptuous this otherwise inarticulate life? Filling it with exalted thoughts, the divinity of Rāmeshwar so deeply colored this life that under its inspired effect I started envisaging new visions, new hopes, new dimensions. Thus, getting new vistas opened up for constructive actions and by getting renewed inspirations from the long continued company of nature, I was prompted to fly farther up, contemplating the vivacious bounties of nature. Nature created in me a sort of madness, and I was for some unknown reason prompted to go on a pilgrimage to Shūlpāneshwar. It was an inner urge which I simply could not resist, nor could I succeed casting it off my mind. Ultimately, I decided to go on a pilgrimage to Shūlpaneshwar, a pilgrimage on foot, which, it so came out, was to be accompanied by Thakore and Nānākākā, – Prabodhbhai – at once my friend and uncle. There also arose a possibility of some two-three other friends joining us. How very pleasing would it be if we all could proceed together on our holy mission? For going to Shūlpān was sanctifying.

And our mission started taking shape. Shūlpān was fairly far away from Vyārā, my native town. We had decided to walk the distance and not to take help of any vehicles during this journey. The route from Vyārā to Rāmeshwar was well-familiar to us. After reaching Rāmeshwar, we had planned to leave the river Tāpi and proceed straight for Narmadā via Jankhvāv. From Jankhvāv we were to leave the high way and go straight for the river Narmadā, pacing our distance through the jungle, and thus remain in direct communion with mother nature. Apart from the inner thirst that prompted us to go to Shūlpān, our purpose in going on foot was to see how we felt remaining all alone and to ourself, away from the usual humdrum of our social life. Thus we decided to reach Umallā after crossing the jungle through Jankhvāv, Gundiā, Netrang and Kapāt. Umallā, it being a railway station, would easily lead us to Rājpiplā, also a railway station. Bhupendra, my student and friend, was in Rājpiplā, and hence accommodation was no problem. Once there, it will not take us time to reach the riverbed of Narmadā, which ultimately will lead us to Shūlpāneshwar. Thus, reaching Shūlpān was in no way a big task nor a venture, excepting that we had to make our way through the forest of Rājpiplā, which, we knew, was an abode of carnivorous animals, especially tigers and bears. It was because of the fear of these animals that the elders in our families, being naturally worried, tried to make us drop our tour-plan. It was quite logical for them to see us being gulped by these forest inhabitants. “Why do you want to travel on foot through this jungle?” was the common cry that came out from my worried mother. Besides, I had already been betrothed and was duty-bound to convince Veena, my would be wife, of my need to go there. Well, that was not a problem. Almost an year of acquaintance with her had sufficiently allowed me to understand her unpretentious guileless heart, and I did not find it difficult to win her over after a little explanation of the circumstances, while clarifying: “It will be very difficult, if not impossible, to tread the long distance especially after marriage. Now is the time, as the school also has a vacation, to go. There is nothing to fear about and hence worrying is out of question.” And she agreed, though a bit reluctantly. There was a tint of fear in her looks. Yes, even my parents had it; but that could not be a cause of worry. I don’t know why, but I was free from such anxiety. We were bent upon proceeding, and I always kept on feeling that our course was going to run smooth. Veena had already consented; but how to convince Ben, my mother? If she stood firm and budged not, our departure for Shūlpān would almost be an impossibility. I say ‘almost’ because at home they all knew that I was a hard nut to crack, as she always used to say for me: “If willing, he will move heaven and earth; if not, his stubbornness will have no parallel.” This being her rod of measure for me, I was all the more worried as to how to make her realize my inward eagerness to go to Shulpan, the craving that enwrapped me day and night. And to my relief, Jeejāmāmā – Narendra Bhatt – my maternal uncle, came home and asked, “What’s going on, Naresh?” I sensed the reason of his arrival. I always had a deep regard and love for him. Every body at home had a similar feeling for him. If I could bring home to him my intent, my purpose, my work will then be half done, and Shūlpān would then be a matter of time only.

“What are you talking about, Jeejāmāmā?” I asked.

“Let’s go out for a while,” he said.

“Don’t please object to my pilgrimage. You well know that …”

“What is your purpose behind this sort of journey? Is there a specific aim or is it just a …”

“Jeejāmāmā, we have always talked loud about God, without having even an inkling of what He in actual fact is. But we do really intend to put ourselves to test and realize whether or not something worth the name really does exist.  If it actually does, then do we really have a genuine faith in Him? Or, are these all our tall talks? Can we unequivocally give ourselves up to Him without the least of hesitation? Will He then really come to our help in times of our real need? Thoughts like these have been perturbing us long since. So, just with a view to testing us and to know how much of trust we genuinely do have in Him, we have thought of going to Shūlpān, thus putting ourselves to test and see whether our beliefs are just shallow beliefs, or is there anything more to it? This is why, Jeejāmāmā,  we have decided to undergo this journey, this ‘venture’ as you say.”

“I have heard that Prabodh has dropped the idea of going to Shūlpān, and now you and Thakore are the only two left to continue with your journey!”

This was a piece of news to me; for I had never anticipated Nānākākā to thus give up and walk out on us. He was not a man to jilt. So I was a bit taken aback. However, I said with conviction: “Jeejāmāmā, I don’t know of his intentions; but if even Thakore postpones the idea of the tour, I, even if left alone, will not give up my resolve; for I know that I will never get such an opportunity again. Once I am in the bond of marriage, it will all be over..” I was hinting at my oncoming matrimonial alliance. I was well aware that after my marriage it would be almost impossible for me to take a head start toward any such venture. But before I expedite any further, straight came the blessings: “Bhānā, not unlike you, Thakore is equally firm in his decision to proceed. ‘Shūbhaste Panthānam’ – Blessed be thy path.”

And I was overjoyed. Experiencing a sort of an ease, I made Jeejāmāmā wise on Ben’s objection to our so called ‘venture’, even though I suspected that it was on Ben’s counsel that Jeejāmāmā sought to take me in his confidence. “Don’t you worry about that; I will see to it. Moti will ease up.” All her brothers addressed my mother with the nickname ‘Moti’, she being the eldest and well respected among them. In spite of her limited studies, my mother was sharp-witted, socially adept, and always a well wisher, a trait which made her a respected personality in our household. Jeejāmāmā must have tried enough to convince her, but a mother that she was, she always remained worried about my move. Which sober mother would willingly permit her eldest son to loiter in a forest housed with dangerous animals? Quite reasonably, she could not remain indifferent to the situation. However, her stern objection subsided. And I breathed a sigh of relief. Could I really have departed leaving her shedding tears? Any sort of obstinacy of mine would lose ground in the midst of her mournful wails. All the same, the enigma calmed down, and the approval to depart was granted.

There were just the two of us left now – Thakore and me, Nānākākā having taken a drop at the last moment – a situation rather difficult to digest not because of any fear in particular, but because we three being almost a part of each other ever remained together in all odds. We had a lot in common amongst us. Surely, we, in so many different ways, were way apart from our other companions. Our mode of thinking was very much alike, and so was our trend of action. None of us three would easily give up, especially when it came to giving a courageous showdown to an unexpected encounter. And we were well aware of this trait of ours. Again, we three were in total agreement with the idea of leaving everything to the Almighty during our undertaking, thus not keeping even a penny with us to ease the course of our journey, and to proceed further on with all the trust in Him. Nānākakā was never a man to go back on what he was committed to. But he had preferred to take a drop. Even then, if there were just the two of us, we still would go. And why not? If we had genuine faith in God, and if we really had resigned our will in submission to the Almighty, would the rest of our problems not directly become His? Why then did we have to bother about petty problems that might or might not even confront our way? One thing was crystal clear. If we were resolved to put ourselves to trial, if we had unshakable faith in God, or if we did intend to prove our trust in Him, was it not wise and practical to accomplish the task in hand without any resent or side stepping and with full confidence? And we unwaveringly decided to take our Shulpāneshwar tour to completion.

It was the 8th of May, 1950, the blessed morning of Monday. Though unable to have enough of rest the previous night, we got up early in the morning, and having gone through the morning routine, started for Mankāmeshwar to receive His auspicious blessings. In spite of the   excitement of the journey, we were extremely quiet and rather serious, especially because we were heading for the blessings of the Lord of our heart, our revered Mahādeva. While asking for His much so needed blessings and thus to relieve us from the mental burden of the journey, we were on our way to the Shiva Temple to beseech Him to keep our path clear of any mishap. Well knowing that the ever benevolent deity never did prefer to leave in helpless plight the devotees who sought His refuge, we were on our way to surrender ourselves to His lotus feet. My association with Mankāmeshwar was in no way recent. Mainly after the demise of my dear friend Purushottam, the ‘Mahādeva’ had proved to be an inseparable bond connecting me to the sweet memory of my friend. How can I ever forget the Lord’s obligations on me? He and Kevdi were the constant companions of my lonely boyhood. Both had enriched my life with ever refreshing breath. In their absence I was like a lonely log cast off from any use.

2.  A Peep in the Past

I really fail to surmise that period of my life, when, even at the age of thirteen or maybe fourteen, I was very much childish. How can I ever cross out that lonely little span of life from my pilgrimage to Shulpān? It is all due to that particular period of time that I sought the company of Kevdi,  Mankāmeshwar, Rāmeshwar and now Shūlpāneshwar. I was then thirteen years of age and was studying in grade eight. But my age had hardly any bearing on my mental ability; for there is no comparison between today’s lad of thirteen and the thirteen year old me of yon.  Acutely limited was my capacity to think; and I was unaware of so many everyday matters. It was easy for me to accept almost anything any body said, for I had hardly the capacity for distinctive thinking. As a result, whoever came my way served enough  companionship. All of them were older to me in age, and knew much more than I did in so many different respects. Consequently, it was easy for me to accept their ideas and be guided under their influence. One of them was Jhinu who once told me: “Naresh, we are adequately qualified to be film actors. Look; you know how to sing, as do I. Both of us are good swimmers and know horse-riding too.” — True, we often rode on donkey-back. My uncle had a horse; but it was not me but Nānākākā who normally availed of riding it. – “You know bicycling, and you are a first class fighter.” — Correct, we often engaged ourselves in street fights and combating. —  “I too am equally familiar with all these. So, we will at once find a place in a film company; and we will then make a lot of money.”

I was of an immature age. Our family was extremely poor. We were bred up amidst dire poverty. To be film stars! Ah, what a captivating idea! Moreover, I was highly fond of movies. Whatever I visualized on the screen was all a matter of fact to me. My limited thinking told me: How very nice, how sweet and easy-going, how superbly captivating this life on the screen is! And the money part of it! Ah, simply wonderful! It was impossible not to come in the clutches of being a film star. It was a bewitching thought and I could not resist it. I started visualizing a film star in me. And it so happened that whenever we two met, we conferred ourselves to this little talk. This made me be a prey to visionary creativity. Life dragged itself on and our dream started taking a concrete shape. Yes, be a film star we must. Surely, it was in no way difficult to be rich. I will earn a lot of money. And my mind took no time to decide that there was no other alternative but being a film star and thus to free the family from its acute poverty. The family had got to come up and that was impossible without money. Time passed, and Jhinu gathered together a couple of other friends who prepared themselves to join hands in fulfilling this ‘sacred’ work of fortifying the film industry. Thus the seed took root and sprouted into a well  flourished shrub. To see it start blossoming, we needed to go to Bombay. Having been brought up in a small town which Vyārā was, I hardly had an opportunity to go beyond the outskirts of Vālod and Bārdoli, no, not even to Surat. Dear reader, you will have to go back to the year 1940 in order to bring home the situation I was in. The society I lived in, the prevailing ideology then, rather everything pertaining to those times will have to be surmised by your flights of imagination. If you are a youngster, it is likely to give you a tough time to pry into the situation I was in. One thing, however, is certain: You will most certainly fail to surmise what it was in those days for a kid like me, or for any tender aged guys like us, to go to Bombay all alone, without the company of any elder. For, going to Bombay thus, especially in those days, was no joke. However, for a person of my limitations, thoughts like those were a taboo. I simply couldn’t think of the pros and cons of things. “But so what?”, said I to myself, “Since Jhinu is there, why at all be bothered? He being there, was Bombay any far away? And once in Bombay, was not the film-world right in your pocket? …  And I took a deep breath!

One day Jhinu opened up, saying: “Naresh, we will need some money to go to Bombay.”

“How much?” I naturally asked, “I will ask my father for it.”

“Oh no, don’t do that. No one will give any money for such a thing. You have to take it. Do you know where they normally keep it?”

And Jhinu sounded right too. Who would give you such an amount just on asking? And what would we do without money? And what if we failed to depart for Bombay? Our plans would all be foiled! All that I needed was a little money to enable me to make a lot of money! But then, Jhinu had already warned me against disclosing our plans to anybody. As for me, I knew where in my house was the money kept. I made him wise of the place where my mother used to keep money. I well knew that there always was some amount kept in the milk-closet, and I told him so.

“But how much money will there be in a milk-closet?” Jhinu asked wisely.  “Isn’t there any other place where money ‘and the like’ is normally kept? Even Nānu has brought some ornaments from his house.” — Nānu was one other member who had agreed to join our ‘film-flight’. The other two expected to join us were Ramesh and Amrat. — And from the sale of the golden ornaments that Nānu had brought, three hundred and fifty rupees, I was told, were derived. “If you can bring some money, Naresh, we can have some more money that can help free us from any trouble. Once we are in Bombay, money won’t be a problem any more. We will have lots of it. What we need is enough of money to cover our railway fare. And yes, we will need a pair or two of decent clothes. We cannot wear ourselves indecently there.”

Jhinu was very practical. A would be star simply cannot afford to wear haphazardly. Who will ever employ such a person? And I told Jhinu of the small wooden chest that always remained underneath our staircase, the chest in which my mother kept ornaments and things.

“Will the chest be locked?” He asked, “How about its key?”

“It ever remains there, in the milk-closet.”

“Does your mother ever remain out of the house?”

“Normally, at noon, my mother goes to my grand mother’s house, when the doors remain simply bolted,” I clarified.

My grand mother’s house was at a stone’s throw from our house, and after winding the small household duties my mother usually went there. In a small Indian village then, we hardly had to lock our doors; there was no need to. What was there to steal? No outsider will enter the place unnoticed. The neighbors could fairly be trusted. The long and short of it is that we opted for a day when I with Jhinu made for my home. My mother had already departed for my grand mother’s house and the possibility of her early return was fairly remote. In the closet were a few Annas and a key. I took the key out from the closet, and pointing the chest underneath the stairs I headed for it. But before I could open it Jhinu took the key away from me saying: “Naresh, you better stay at the door. If you happen to see anybody nearing us, just give me a sign.” Well, I saw nothing unfair in it. Certainly, he was not expected to guard my house. Isn’t it only fair that I watch at the door of my house? The chest thus was opened. Taking from it the two golden bracelets that belonged to my younger sister, he said:

“Naresh, there are just these two small bangles in it. Can there be something else, anywhere?”

As far as I knew, there was nothing else anywhere. What else could there be, any way? Our condition was such that we had to be sparing even in the food we ate. My father was an ordinary teacher in an English medium school, barely drawing a meager salary of rupees fifty per month. As per the Dollar rate today, it would be $ 1.05 per month. And he had eleven heads to feed. Ours was a joint family; and over and above my parents, my younger sister and myself, there were three of my uncles, two aunts, their children and my grand mother. We all dined together. Two of my uncles were studying, whereas Dājikākā, my eldest uncle, was a teacher in a vernacular school. Of the two brothers, my father’s salary far exceeded that of my uncle. My grand father was unduly generous and highly honest. He died of a severe asthma attack at the age of forty. While on death bed, signaling my father to remain in his proximity, he murmured: “Harshad, your brothers are still young and underage; but since you are there, I feel a bit of a relief. However, there is a sense of insecurity in me, and I find it difficult to give myself up.” Inexplicable was his agony and it seemed he was struggling for every single breath. Seeing his agonizing condition, my father, with a view to freeing his father from the agony of uncertainty, held in his right hand a little water and solemnly vowed to him in the following words:

“Don’t you bother about anything. I solemnly promise you that nothing practically would happen from my side because of which my younger brothers would ever have to feel that they had to suffer because of you being not there.”

And my grandfather breathed a sigh of relief. That was the last day of his life. I was then two and a half years of age. I knew of this promise of his because when once, at the age of eleven, I was playing hide and seek with my sister, I fell down from the upper gallery of our rented house in Baroda and suffered a wrist-fracture. In order to make me forget the pangs of my broken wrist, my father, saying, “Naresh very much likes hearing Bāpā’s (my grandfather’s) life history,” narrated to me the account of this vow of his.

The promise given by my father to his father was solemnly abided by in full sincerity. But then, my mother had to undergo a great sufferance because of this promise. Every often, my father leaned untowardly in justifying the cause of my uncles as also of my grand mother. My father, being extremely honest, was a man of forgoing nature. Being a man of strict discipline, he was rather stern. But he had an air of nobility in him. He was hallmarked a sincere and grade one teacher. Having a disposition to sacrifice his personal interests for the sake of truth, he had an inborn tendency never to give himself up in matters of personal commitments. My mother became an easy prey to this tendency of his. He never flinched from doing injustice to my mother, his wife, just for the cause of his mother and his brothers, agreed, of course, that this he did mainly because of the promise he had given to his dying father. Otherwise, he had equal love for all in the family. And yet I must admit that I have personally seen my father beating my mother. But no, I shall not dwell upon this painful ramble any further. Suffice it will to say that there came a time when we had to move away from this parental property of ours. Not willing to leave the ancestral property thus, my mother sternly threw herself down on the thresh-hold of that old house, saying, “I will not move out of this premises, happen what may.” But then, my father relentlessly held her by her shoulder and pushed her out of the house. Consequently, relinquishing the ancestral property we became tenants in a rented house.

Viewing from one angle, my grandfather, having had inherited a property from one Pāthek ancestry, had quite a good deal of farming land. However, because of his extremely generous and compassionate nature, whenever a poor farmer came to him expressing his inability to maintain himself, he would, moved by his discomfiture, at once turn to his help telling him, “But why bother? Till the piece of land surrounding your hut; keep the harvest to yourself and remain happy.” And he would unhesitatingly relinquish that piece of land in favor of the needy. Needless to say, many a farmer took undue advantage of his humane disposition. Consequently, when he passed away, not even half of the land he had possessed remained with him. After my grandfather’s departure, these remains were to be distributed among five participants – my father, his three brothers and of course, my grandmother. As usual, the land could be divided into different categories: the black soil there was suitable for growing cotton, some other parts well-suited rice cultivation, some area consisted a fairly fertile land, and some other rather stony and poor patches could grow nothing really substantial. My father’s uncle, being the eldest member in the family, had a great say in matters pertaining to the house, and had soft corner for certain members of our immediate family. He well knew that my father, a man of words, would accept without grudge whatever was given to him as his share, mainly because of his promise to his dying father. And as providence would have it, the land was sub-divided into five unequal parts and in categories suited to his, my father’s uncle’s, scheme and design. Ultimately, a part of land much below ordinary, with but one exception of a small piece of land that permitted rice cultivating, was given to my father as his share, with the witty remark: “He is the eldest in the family and is earning too. Well, a bigger tooth suffers greater grinding.”

But this did not end there. There still was our dwelling place, the ancestral house, to be apportioned. And the two-storied duplex, that had an extra attic over it, was, after setting aside a room for my grand mother to stay in, valued at as low as the then Rs. 2500/-. Thus, it was decided that my father’s share of approximately six hundred Rupees be handed over to him. My mother very well understood all that was being cooked; but she was not expected to voice her feelings out. However, she failed not to suggest to get the house appraised. If not, she prompted my father to buy the property at the affirmed price. Accordingly, my father put this proposal before the ‘housing committee’. Every body knew that my father had no money with him; and they also knew whom my father would approach for the money. And here again, the wise uncle managed a catch; and my father was advised by a well-wisher not to approach that gentleman for any money, as a word had already been passed telling him not to lend anything to my father. Consequently, in spite of my mother’s stern opposition, and considering his promise to his father, my father thought it wise to get separated accepting whatever was given him, with but one hope: “Here is our Naresh. In no time will he grow up. If God so wishes, things will turn out fine. Neither happiness nor miseries ever remain constant.” And my parents girded up the loins and faced time bravely. To my parents, the well-being of the family stood supreme. The way they labored, the hardship they encountered, their self-sacrifice, and amidst all these, their overflowing love for the family, this, all these have no equal when we compare these to our labor, our sacrifice, our love for the family. Thus, my parents strove hard to run the house, laboriously sweating for every single cent. And all this was done for our betterment, with but one hope and trust: ‘Our Naresh, – that is me – will soon grow up, and things would be fine.’

This, in short, is the background of our poverty striken family. Under these circumstances, over and above my sister’s prized bracelets, there was no possibility for there being any extra ornaments or hard cash in the house. Hence, being satisfied with those golden bracelets he – may I say ‘we’?- got, Jhinu handed it over to a pariah to get it cashed. I was told that Rupees two and a half were derived from its sale. Thus, this meager amount, plus Rupees three hundred and fifty that was amassed from Nanu’s embellishments, was all that we had to cover our journey to Bombay. But to me this amount seemed very big. Three hundred and fifty rupees! What more can anybody wish for? I didn’t have that sense then to realize that if my sister’s bracelets, very small as they were, fetched two Rupees and a half, how much more would Nanu’s ornaments be that were sold out for three hundred and fifty Rupees! And, as for Jhinu, even till this day I do not know whether or not Jhinu had his share added to this. That was the time when for me it was a total surrender to Jhinu; for, in this matter he was all in all. I do not remember whether I ever did think of not trusting him. And he certainly was not ill-meant. He might possibly have been a little selfish in matters of money. I will openly admit that being totally unaware of any such thing, I will never say he was in any way selfish. One thing was pretty clear. Stealing was not our intention at all. We did want to make money by being film stars. We had no other aim. Yes, whatever we did was a theft, a theft pure and simple, and I will never say ‘no’ to it. But at the base of all this, played not the idea of committing a theft. It was the impossibility of our getting any money through any other source especially to pay for our Bombay journey, which prompted us to commit what we did commit.. Ramesh had brought from his home just a small ring, which turned out to be artificial and hence fetched no money. Any way, Jhinu hardly gave any concern to this. And again, Ramesh hardly knew much about our plans, I was told. Yes, Amrat was made wise of our project as was later clarified to me by Jhinu; but then he withdrew himself from our plan. Ultimately, we three – Jhinu, Nanu and myself – were the only mates left on our ‘film-pilgrimage’. We decided on a day for our start. Those were the days when the train for Surat happened to depart from Vyara at two in the morning. We decided to catch that train and slip away for Bombay the very next day. “Ah, let’s go reach Bombay, and we are Kings then!” This daring proposition from Jhinu’s lips has not left me even today.

It was the day to depart. All the clothes I had were fairly worn out. My daily dress was a pair of khaki shorts mainly torn out from the lower seam, a shirt and a pair of slippers, which I used mainly while going to school. But I was in possession of a brand new pair of shorts and shirt, which I had received in memory of one of my friend’s death. These I stealthily collected, and we three – Jhinu, Nanu and myself – lurked behind a pile of slippers at the railway station in wait for the train.

My heart was pounding. Some inexplicable pain seemed to be nagging my heart bitterly. What was that? Was it the pinch of my departure from my home, from my parents? Was it the torment of my secretly taking my sister’s bracelets away from my own house? What would my parents think of me when they came to know of this act of mine? Was it not an act of theft? What was this distress for? Was the fear of getting caught involved into it? But then how, without money, were we to go to Bombay? What of being a film star? I was encompassed by countless questions. Was I doing the right thing? What if I run away back home from here? Should I? But then the bracelets had already been sold! How, and to whom will I be able to show my face? I was under a queer torture, a mental debasement, sort of. Questions rushed forth, and I had lost the very capacity to think. Time stood still; and amidst all this, a small, hidden note was ringing from no where, soothing the troubled mind, reminding it of the capital intention that was there, the intention of making money, that of being rich. And my heart took a big thump. No, it was now needless to go deep into it. I did not perhaps have the acumen to go deeper in the matter. The present was as if dissolving into the past. Mother, father, sister —- sister —- Bracelets —- thievery!!

3.   That Night ! – My Father’s Agony

I was bewildered. Everywhere there was a deep hush. The darkness had thickened long since, especially behind the railway slippers. The dim light from the station lamp hinted at the oncoming train. We, like thieves, – why ‘like’! thieves that we really were!– were waiting for the train … and… and there it was, at last! Without a word, we had hid ourselves behind the slippers, and then following Jhinu’s suggestion, we went aboard the train right at the moment  the train was about to leave the station.. I do not remember whether or not we had bought the ticket. Jhinu, I know, had joined the line for the ticket. However, I do remember that when we got down from the train, we made not for the main exit for fear of being detected by somebody, but heading toward the end of the platform, we slipped through the wooden fence surrounding the platform. Jhinu was our guide-book for Surat. Why fear while he was there? Why even think of it?

When once out of the station, we were led, under Jhinu’s guidance, to one ‘Hotel and Lodge’ that was closest to the station. He talked to its owner in his own way, and we were directed to a room upstairs. It was almost dawn. There was nothing else to do, and sleeping was out of question, rather impossible. Before boarding the train, we had bought a packet of cigarettes, a packet of twenty, because in those days smaller and more convenient packets were not available. Whether with a view to passing the time, or because we already had the high air of calling ourselves lordly actors, we carried on with smoking to our heart’s content, like we had while on train. We three together must have consumed the packet of twenty that night. And … well, where was the necessity to keep count of it? Didn’t the artistry of smoking also go hand in hand with our aim of playing the role of an actor? Wasn’t it a qualification by itself? And again, who was there to stop us from smoking? And for what? Go right ahead! And go we did. It was already daybreak and the shops were all open. “Let’s go for a haircut, Naresh. In Surat they are very efficient at that. Come on,” Jhinu invited.

He was quite farsighted and had a good grasp of almost everything. How very poorly will we exhibit ourselves in Bombay with not even our hair freshly trimmed? But I objected to it clarifying that I had it trimmed not very long ago. And I told him, “You may go if you feel like.” He did not ask Nanu to join him because a hair dress also needed a qualification; and who else but the two of us had it? Even otherwise, Nanu was  made to join us just for company? And Jhinu was very clear about this. Again, the jurisdiction of taking decisions pertaining to this journey was his, solely his. Moreover, I lacked the guts of covering his field. I considered myself lucky to be his follower. Jhinu left for the haircut. Awaiting his arrival, we busied ourselves giving more justice to smoking. About an hour might have elapsed, and we saw him hurriedly entering the room, all bewildered.

“Naresh, your Kachhāmāmā is here.” – my maternal uncle Krishnalāl was termed ‘Kachho’ by his associates. I called him ‘Dājimāmā’. – “He said that your father is here too.”

I was shocked. Now what? What was destined to pass? And I couldn’t help asking: “Did you see him? Where?”

“Not your father; Kachhāmāmā stopped me on my return from the barber’s. Why did I at all go for the haircut? We are going to be caught. Come; let’s escape.”

But I did not now have the guts to run away. “How are we going to make off? Where will we go?”

“Oh, anywhere. He knows that we are here. I have already informed the hotelman not to tell any one of our being here. I have also given him five rupees; so he won’t give way. But … but wait; I shall be back in no time.” He left us and was back pretty soon. By the time he closed the door behind him, somebody locked our door from outside.

There was a hush in the room. None of us had the audacity to utter even a word. We were entrapped, baffled, outwitted. My heart was beating fast, and many a thought rushed forth captivating my mind with my trivial past. Let alone Dājimāmā, even Jeejābhāi (my father) was here. Now what? What will be the outcome of all this? Could he have known of the missing bracelets?

My father was rather strict of nature, and his being a scout teacher added to this sternness of his. Being a truth-loving person himself, he always disapproved of lying? It takes me back to an incident when I was in grade seven. My mother gave me a two-anna piece, asking me to buy certain vegetables. I bought the things needed, and of the one Paisa that was spared, – or maybe I managed to spare, for I was more likely to do that, – any way, of that paisa, I enjoyed some guavas. Reaching home, when I put the purchase before my parents, on seeing the potatoes my father asked:

“How much potatoes did you buy, Naresh?”

“A pound and a half,” I replied.

“But these don’t seem to be that much!” and he took hold of a balance. I quietly witnessed him weighing it, my heart thumping.

“These are much less than a pound and a half. Where did you buy it from? Let’s go.” And he wore his slippers. I felt inwardly abashed. But I didn’t have the nerve to admit the truth and confess my buying the guava by sparing one Paisa from the purchase. Instead of confessing my guilt I started accompanying my father. Yes, I always feared him, and hence, even though I had half the mind to tell him what had happened, I lacked the courage to freely admiting the wrong.  On reaching the shop in question my culpability was disclosed.

“Then why didn’t you tell me so? Why did you make me run all the way?” said my father exasperatingly.. I had thought, a slap was close at hand. But that was not to happen. I was ashamed of myself for not having told the truth. “No, I ought to have confessed,” said something in me: “Yes, it sure was a theft.” And this certainly was not the first occasion of the type. I always relished Nānchand Kurji’s sweet, especially the ‘Pendās’; and who would give me an ‘Anna’ for that, and from where? As such, I did not hesitate to pinch an Anna from the milk closet. At a later stage, my parents somehow became aware of this, or maybe I myself had confessed to it, I am not sure. But one day, when my father personally took me to the shop and bought me a Penda, I felt greatly ashamed. I ate it up; but the event put me to deep thought. As far as I recollect, this was the last occasion for me to filch any money from the house.

This reminds me of an event. One day Vajiāba, my mother’s mother, took me left and right:

“Bhānā, you ate almonds and oranges from this cupboard, right?” I replied in the negative. “But then who else but you would do it? I asked Madhūsūdan (my maternal uncle, whom I addressed as Nānāmāmā), and he did not take it. Now speak out.  You ate it, didn’t you!”

“No, I did not eat it” I reiterated. And I had not, certainly.

“You thief, Rascal! Telling a lie!” So saying she slapped me hard.

And only the one who ever tasted it would know the force of that slap. It was Vajiāba’s slap. Well, apart from the hand, her fierce look, and the still louder whoop – no body can forget it, having once experienced it. But then I would not agree to something I did not do. And I once again withdrew from any such confession, knowing still that another slap and the usual “you sneaking-pig” was in the wating. Nānāmāmā being right there stood staring at me. Vajiāba was on the verge of tearing me apart; but then something dawned on Nānāmāmā, and he truthfully admitted his having eaten those oranges and almonds. I was spared. My grandmother scolded Nānāmāmā and peeled an orange for me, the orange which I had unwillingly to accept.

My grandmother, though strict, had a loving disposition. She liked justifying the legitimate. And as for the occasion, she was in no way at fault. It was natural for any one to suspect me. Whenever some such unbecoming happened, it was not uncommon for people to look me in the eye. To take money without permission, even from one’s own house, was committing a theft, what even if the reason for such a deed is not an intention of thieving, but the taste of the tongue! And this I very well knew even then. My father’s intention in taking me to the sweet-shop and deliberately buying for me a Penda, and not punishing me, was to teach me something so as to rid me of the act of stealing. This act of his made me ponder over the situation and led me to think of asking for any money, if need be, and if the request is denied, to do without it or even without the thing for which the money was needed. I well knew that behind all this was but one cause, our poverty; but this would not justify my act of stealing, nor would it allow an excuse for my default. Any how, events like this made me start cultivating in me a tendency to think and to think on proper lines. This gave me a base that made me minimize my needs and to do without almost anything I thought I was in need of. But I cannot but help admitting that the idea, instead of being culminated into a decision, remained just on the outskirts of my thought level. Had I resolved not to steal, on what ground can I say with certainty whether or not I would have spared myself from the blemish of stealing and disposing off my younger sister’s bracelets in order to join the film-world and be thus wealthy. True it may seem to say that it was Jhinu who took the bengals out of the chest; but he would never have done that without my active support and participation. He was certainly not a thief. And I bear myself thoroughly responsible for the mean act. How will I dare to stand facing Jeejābhai? I would certainly be caught and proved a thief, a thief that I was. …

My thoughts were interrupted by somebody’s footsteps outside.

“What is there in this room?” That was my Dajimāma speaking: “Why has it been locked?”

“That’s our store,” someone clarified.

“Open it; I would like to see it.”

“Why should I? What right have you to see it?”

“Oh, Is that so? Then I will get it opened through a policeman. I have been told that the three boys have taken a resort in your hotel.”

“No boys have ever come here. Do whatever you think you can.” It surely must be the five Rupees speaking.

“Great! OK; we will see.” And we heard some footsteps retreating.

“Let’s move out. We would put ourselves in great trouble if the police were to be here,” Jhinu suggested.

But I did not even have the capacity to talk. I was almost frozen. What was going to happen now? We would undoubtedly be caught. Jhinu tried to open the door; but it was closed from outside, making our exit almost impossible. We peeped out of the window and found a big gathering on the footpath opposite us. What was that for? Were they all not staring at our window? And Nanu suddenly mumbled: “Somebody is climbing up the iron pipe.” We were scared. What could now be done? Nanu and Jhinu hid themselves behind the mosquito net, and before I could decide where and how to shelter myself, came the exclamation:

“Well, well!  Nareshrai!” and in jumped my Dājimāmā, asking: “Come out now, where are the bracelets?” And he slapped me hard on my face.

“I have it.” I mumbled. I hardly knew what to do. I was taken aback, totally speechless and paralyzed. That slap meant nothing much to me; it was nothing new to me. But hearing him talk so suddenly of the bracelets, I had lost my power of thinking. I failed to realize what my mumble meant. If asked for, how was I going to produce those bangles, now that they had already been disposed off? Well, I don’t know why; but he didn’t inquire any further in that.

“Harshadrai (my father) is also here and there is a big huddle outside. Come, let’s go. Where are those two?” And seeing me still, he looked here and there, and pulled them out from behind the mosquito-net: “Follow me, comrades; it’s not that easy to escape.” And he gave a shout asking to open the door. The owner was waiting just outside, waiting for the order.

“Why, you said there was none here! Good; I am just informing the police. You want to indulge yourself into business of this sort, right?” And leaving the fellow gasping, he caught hold of our – my and Jhinu’s – hands and dragged us downstairs. The moment we were down  below, Jhinu gently beckoned me to run away, but I dismissed the idea away with a gesture.

“You there, come closer; stay with the rest.” And he turned towards Nanu who was a bit farther behind us. Finding his opportunity, releasing himself from Dajimama’s grip with a big jerk, Jhinu made for the nearby toilet, entered it and chained it from within.

“Just stay here and don’t move;” Dajimāmā bellowed sternly. And then, pulling an old rusted iron-bar from the nearby junk, he started poking it from underneath that old, unused latrine, shouting at every poke, “Come out you scoundrel!” Whether Jhinu was hurt or whatever, he came out of the lavatory, and Dajimāmā, holding him tight, took us to the ‘Rangwāla Mansion’ where my father was said to be waiting for us. Whatever, but not seeing my father there, I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Has Harshadrai not yet arrived?” Dajimāmā asked the house-owner.

“No, he had been here, but left again telling me he would be back pretty soon.”

So Jeejabhai was certainly there. And my mind once again started roving: What should I do now? What will Jeejabhai say to me? How would he be feeling about the whole incident? What would have been the effect on him of my stealing the bracelets? How would he treat me? How will I stand his questioning? No, Whatever happens, I will tell him the truth the way it all happened; and will accept whatever befalls me. However strict my father was, he had a very loving heart. Again he was a man of deep understanding. I had for him a great love and regard. He was highly respected not just by the family members but even by the town people. He had that venerable awe about him. And I, a thief, was the son of such a father! But was I really a thief? I had committed a theft, true. But was there behind the whole episode any feeling, any fabricated plot, even a sentiment, of thieving? Was it really tinted with an inner joy of thieving? Or, was the disgraceful or may I call it erroneous path accepted as a last resort to fulfill some good purpose?

To become a film star was, in those days, considered to be disgraceful and lowly. But in so trying, didn’t we aim at getting rid of the family poverty, a state of being in dire need of getting rid of the dearth we found ourselves constantly in? Accepting that I didn’t then have in me the ability to think deeply, didn’t I feel the pang of having to take recourse to putting myself in the shoes of a thief happily enjoying his indecent act? Yes, you can certainly say that if I had in me that grief, why did I ever select to go in for such an abominable act. My only reply to it is that if I didn’t have the pain of it, I didn’t certainly have the pleasure of going in for some such thing I felt repugnant about. If I did it on purpose and for the joy of it, as you may argue, I certainly had in me the guts to stand to it and not to budge. It is true that like a thief and, maybe, with the least tinge of reluctance, I entered my own house with Jhinu on my side. Yes, it was personally me who stood guarding the door as a watchman. Was I allowing a theft being committed in my own house, or was it in fact me, inwardly, who was directly or indirectly involved into it? The fact that it was a theft cannot simply be denied. And yet, there certainly wasn’t that feeling of doing something abominable, something sinful, perhaps because our intention had no such wickedness in it.

Yes, true it is to admit that it didn’t then enter my mind that however guileless, however pure, the intention was, it certainly didn’t have in it the purity of means, of the device we took recourse to. And true also it is to admit that even if such a thought had perturbed my mind then, I cannot say with certainty that I would surely have taken recourse to that sort of untainted chastity. Yes, thieving it certainly was, and thieves we were quite likely to be sealed as. Why, thieves we already had been. I will never deny it. Agreed, I was small and relatively immature. I lacked enough of understanding too. But I was not that kiddy not to understand that I was committing a theft. I was thirteen and not totally naive… Amidst all these thoughts that over-flooded my boyish mind, I had almost forgotten that Jhinu was sitting right beside me. Who ever knew what he was planning within? He had again motioned me a signal to run away, but I had paid no heed to it. I was perhaps a little on the track now. And standing in the gallery of the house, I was looking for my father amidst that streaming multitude. Almost about two hours might have passed in thus lingering. No body bothered to pass even a word with us; but their skeptical look had never hesitated scanning us, especially me, at intervals. And why not? I was undoubtedly at fault. And again, they may not be even knowing Jhinu, let alone Nanu. …

….  And there I saw my father at a distance, slowly treading his way in a hopelessly dejected demeanor, with his head bent down, his beard left unshaved. I do not remember having seen him so very dejected, so much melancholy stricken ever before. His face was dismal and desolate, as if laden with shame and disgrace. It was difficult to comprehend whether the distress that was eating him up was due to his having lost his son or whether the shocking self-disgust that played on his face was the result of the unbearable fact that his son had turned out to be a thief. I felt sickened seeing my father so very depressed and dispirited; and I left the gallery like a woe-beaten miserable wretch with an inner pain difficult to penetrate for any outsider. When my father came upstairs, I lacked the courage even to look him in the face. The moment he was in, Dajimāmā greeted him saying: “He has the bangles.” Our eyes met.

And that hopelessness, the gloomy despondence with which he looked at me, does not leave me even today. What grief, what mental torment streamed through his eyes? Slowly he took his seat on the nearby chair, and in a very low voice he muttered to himself, as though in a disbelief: “When his mother told me, ‘Naresh took away the bangles’, I did not believe her.  I did not believe it even till this moment. … My faith proved to be wrong.” And he breathed out a hopeless sigh.

Reader dear, in what words do I explain my agony, my plight, my hopeless bewilderment? I felt, ‘I better take a plunge down that gallery.’ Being totally confounded, I was deprived of all the power to think. Jeejābhāi, my father, was speechless; but it was not difficult to understand the conflict that was going on within him. His son had committed a theft. The joy of regaining his lost son could in no way be paralleled with the unbearable morose of seeing his son proved a thief. And, as for me? I had lost my father. My heart was very heavy, and I felt, I would start weeping. But then weeping never came easy to me. Right from my childhood, I was considered to be a hardhearted, indifferent, good for nothing fellow. Every one took me for an inert, irresponsible dupe, an attribute I easily, almost naturally, nonchalantly, stood for. This was because I had become punishment-proof. If I did something wrong, I was beaten; if I fought with somebody, I was beaten, if I failed to do my lessons or if I didn’t know how to do it, I was beaten. My father used to take tuitions, and he got a monthly fee of some two to three Rupees per pupil. I used to sit with them. My father naturally asked me more questions to know how much I knew. I was never taken for a clever kid, and as such I often proved myself fit for a spank or two. Any way, I hardly gave way to crying. All this added up in making me a bit stubborn, and they rightly took me for one. Under the circumstances, however serious the condition was, I just kept on sitting dumb as though nothing had happened to me. I just sat as if I didn’t feel the pinch of the predicament either I, or anyone else for that matter, was in. Whatever bit of thinking ability I had in me had taken to plight. There was a sort of vacuum created in me, an incoherent mental condition, a sort of delirium. And this exactly was my inner disposition in which we started our journey back home.

4.   Vyārā Welcomes UsWhether or not we talked about anything at all on train, I frankly do not remember. I remember but one thing: When we got down from the train, there happened to be a big gathering at the station, like the one we see on the arrival of Jawaharlal Nehru, of course in a slightly different way. Every body seemed to be pointing at us, yes, everyone, familiar or unfamiliar, as though some unique creature had entered the town. The same sort of bewildering situation prevailed while we were passing along the embankment of our town-pond. I don’t remember to have come across one single glance that had any soft, comforting look in it; forget the love and the solace-part of it. Even those whom we thought ours seemed to turn their back on us. The very element of sympathy seemed to have loathed and deprived of them. And all this was, if not unbearable, at least abhorring to me. So many known faces, and yet all so very distant and exotic? But I still clearly remember that of all these, the one so very easily singled out personality was that of my Jeejāmāmā, — Narendra Bhatt, much familiar by his nickname Bābūbhāi. He was the only exceptional soul that seemed humane, the one who on seeing us, left his usual seat and joined us with his contemplative eyes leaden at once with deep grief and streaming ease. Jeejāmāmā never knew how very comforting, how so much life-giving that grief of his was to me. And for that reason, as for many other reasons, of course, I have unceasingly remained a participant of his ever so benign feelings, his so very ingenuous emotions toward me.

Instead of taking us home, we were led to the Dharmashālā- a serai. That old building has now been remodeled into a nice, attractive ‘Wādi’ – a serai. But the original building was all a stoney structure, all of hard stone. Having been taken to the serai, we were made to stand backing the stony wall where started the questionnaire. And who else but Dājimāmā would be in charge? But of course, there were others too who intermittently asked us whatever they felt like asking, for the fear lest something, some interesting information, should slip their sight. We were the culprits facing the public court with the right only to answer the questions asked, and not to speak a word more. The right to open our hearts up, we had not. And questions started coming up in a gush:

“What did you do with the bangles? Come clear.” “Whom did you give it to?” “How much did you get therefrom? What sort of ornaments did Nanu bring? How much did you derive from its sale? Why so little? Through whom did you manage to sell them? What other theft did you commit? Why are you telling a lie? You must have stolen some other things too! How was it possible to manage things from such a small amount? Where did you plan to go after leaving Surat? Which film company had you decided to join? With whom were you to put up there? Which of your dad was free to feed you there? What would you have done if you were caught by a thug or a ruffian?” And my mind kept tormented by myriad of such questions. Whenever our response failed to satisfy the commander-in-charge, a slap was ever in the waiting. Wherever our answers seemed acceptable, it still was followed with, if not a rap, a reproachful rebuke: “You thug, you ventured to do this?”… And all on a sudden I realized that amidst all this, one face was missing. My father was nowhere to be seen. Where would he possibly have gone? But such a feeling carried no weight; for all that mattered was my Dājimāmā’s mood, his mental demeanor, his personal justification to weigh and consider every single issue. And there was none to control him, the hero that he had proved himself to be. Something happened to him, and all of a sudden he caught hold of Jhinu’s forehead and slammed it hard against the stone-wall, saying: “You rascal, you are the root cause of all this.” How badly he was hurt, Jhinu only knew. A big bump showed itself up at the back of his head. But who was there to bother about it? Under the might of this balance of justice, the questions of something being legitimate or illegitimate had no place.

While this was going on, my mother entered the scene. In what words do I portray her mien? Her very semblance displayed the terrific wretchedness of her having lost her son. And when she got him back, what blemish did he bring with him and for her? Neither had she washed herself nor had her confounded mind the ease to comb her disorderly hair. She portrayed the picture of a person who has just emerged out of a long sustained sickness. How very deep was the remorse of that broken heart!… But then why couldn’t I think of all this earlier? Had I had the true feeling, the real love for my parents and my family, I would never have committed such a mean act. I was inwardly shaken seeing her in this agony. But then it was too late to mend. However much I wished to, I couldn’t gather the courage to ask for a pardon. She was crying her heart out, and I could do nothing but be a mute witness to it. … And there came Vajiābā, my mother’s mother, with a stick in her hand.

“Move away everybody! You rascal, you thief, weren’t you ashamed? Who the hell was going to shelter you there in Bombay, you scoundrel?” and I received a powerful hit of the cane. “It was Amrat who unfolded the whole scheme; otherwise you would have turned a beggar. Had you become a prey to some thug, who the hell would have been there to release you, you cur!” Another whip. “Come with me. Be gone, all of you there.” And gripping me tightly, she dragged me home, telling my mother, “You go your home, Ishwerlaxmi. Let him stay here with me. He will not come to his senses unless he is straightened up. Come, stand straight here.” And she tied me tight with the iron bars of the inner window, taking care to see that sitting becomes an impossibility for me.

It must be about ten thirty at night. We had not been able to sleep even a wink the last night. I had received enough of spanking after my arrival at Vyārā. I was perhaps a bit hungry too, though this was hardly the time to think of that. More over, the right to ask for any snack I had not. Let alone my meals, I felt terribly sleepy even while standing. But then I was not the only person awake. After sending my parents away for home, my Vajiābā herself kept awake keeping a watchful guard over me. If ever I dozed off momentarily, straight came the whip making me wide-awake. I strove to keep awake, but then how long! You can well prolong without food. But what when it comes to sleeping? And after a while, I dozed off again in spite of my struggle not to. “Feel sleepy, eh! Did you think while thieving the bracelets?” And I got another solid one. Well, I know not how many, but that night I must have received nothing less than some fifteen whips. For me, crying was out of place. I tried my very best to keep myself awake. The time passed terribly slowly and there was none to relieve me of that situation. And again, no body would dare venture to be a challenge to my grandmother. I was totally helpless, hopelessly baffled; and all on a sudden a knock came at the door. “Open it, please.” It was my father at the door, and I was scared. Whoever knew what ordeal I still had in store?  The door was opened. In came Jeejābhāi and stood staring at me for a while. Then he turned to Vajiāba, saying:

“Why has he still been tied like this? Release him.”

“Why should he be released? This is how he will come round; you picklock, you cheat!” and she whipped me once more. And my father gave an angry shout: “Let go of him, I said.” And Jeejabhai turned to let me off the binds, questioning: “Did he eat anything?”

I do not remember whether I was given anything to eat after this query; but I do recollect one thing very distinctly that I was allowed to lie down on the cotton rug. My father stared at me for a while, and before leaving the premises, he clearly instructed my grandmother, his mother-in-law, to let me sleep. It was approximately two thirty in the morning, and I did not know when and how much I slept. The only recollection that I still have is the sudden call of “Wake up, Nareshrai, our Maganbhai is here; wake up.” It was Dājimāmā; and prior to my getting up, he forced me straight to the outside attic and made me sit there right in front of Maganbhai. Seeing him, I realized that he was there to have my haircut. However, the fool that I was, I failed to understand the seriousness of the barber being there, even though, taking the razor off from his barber’s-bag, he started sharpening it on his leather belt. It was only when the razor moved straight from the top of my forehead on to the very middle of it that I actualized the reality of what was happening. It was certainly not a normal haircut. It was a clean shave and Maganbhai was in no way at fault. He was working under orders. The destined director was none else but Dajimāmā, working possibly under the approval of Vajiābā; for all that was happening was taking place right under her nose. And I did not know, not even today, whether my parents had their consent to it.

The razor went on doing its job. I had neither the strength nor the daring to utter even a word against it. Again, it was not possible to move away from there, and I did not even think of doing so. Moreover, the razor had practically finished its work at the very first stroke, and was not going to stop until it was fully gratified. So many eyes were a silent witness to this ordeal, which was nothing less than an initiation into a new mode of life. I was penalized with a clean shave. I do not think, anybody there ever did bother as to what would be its impact on my undeveloped small self – I was thirteen then. Was there a single person there who was considerate enough to think of that? Looking at the bald-headed me, they would all say ‘here goes the ‘bracelet-burglar’. Did my guardians have the understanding to think what its effect would be on my tender little mind, and whether or not I would then be able to show my face to anybody? No, none there was who had the ability to think as to how very negatively it would affect my self-esteem, and to what extent it would damage my future; for no one even cared to stop either Maganbhai or my Dājimāmā from this dismal annihilation. They all stared at what was being done. Now, wherever I go, I will go with that vile filth, now that I was ‘stamped’ a thief. No body had that quality to think that just because of this seal, whichever way I passed, I would unfailingly carry the thief in me; no, not even my father seemed to bother about it. And he was labelled an ideal teacher! But would he have consented to this atrocious act? Alas! I never did know it.

I was now a registered thief, the seal, the matrix being there, shadowing me day and night. What will come to pass when I go to school? There I would be among them, among my friends and teachers. Well, of friends I had very few; as for teachers, I didn’t have to bother, for my own father was one of them. With all this, how was I going to manage my self-esteem? Will I be able to face him bravely if anybody dared to tap my hairless head? But then this was hardly likely; for there were very few there who would readily venture to poke fun at me. They all knew me fairly well. And again, I was the son of a very strict and respected teacher. But with all this big plus, whatever was happening at my grandmother’s house didn’t leave me my own, it having snatched my very being away from me. For, what greater seal than this — my ever-peeping, unfailingly protruding bald head — could there exist, the ‘crest’ that would bang the bell wherever you go, foretelling the deed for which it was placed, restraining your movement at every step? If you happen to be a student, dear reader, or if you are a parent to some school-going child, make him go through these few lines that I depict here, and you will have no reason to repent. For the simple fact is that neither will you indulge yourself in accepting the matrix applied here, nor would you, in any such case, affix such a seal to the one you call yours. I tell you this because I personally experienced the truth underlying the fastness of the tint of the seal when I happened to go to Baleshwar, years after this incident.

I was then eighteen years of age, and was no more a child, no more a juvenile. I was now a grown up youth. My uncle and aunt used to stay there in Baleshwar; but not having gone there before, I did not know their residence. I got down at the bus-stand, walked to the town, and inquired of a middle-aged person:

“Would you please tell me where Dr. Navalrām (my uncle) stayed?”

“Just go straight ahead in this lane. … Where do you come from?”

“From Vyara,” I replied.

“You seem to be a Brāhmin. Whose son are you?”

“Harshadbhai Master’s son,” I said with pride. Many, in our circle, knew my father, he being a fairly well renowned personality.

“Oh! The one who had committed that theft?”

“Yes,” I blurted out. And the shame-faced that I was, with my head down, I left him for my uncle’s house. Why in god’s name did I ask this fellow the way to the house? The fact that a default, an unintentional failing of the past, could cause this much of turmoil in one’s life, was something very alien to my thinking. What a punishment! It authentically declared that it was not just my town, Vyārā, nor Baleshwar, but the whole of our Brahmin society that had given me the epithet of ‘Once a thief, ever a thief.’

I knew I was doomed once and for all. I could have told a lie, yes; but then what practical difference would it have made? Had I answered his question in the negative, he would have taken one of my brothers for a thief, in which case I would have proved myself a brother to one innocent and yet a thieving son of my father. Ultimately, my father was to take the blame. Jeejābhāi, my father, was extremely transparent about things like this. Whether it is a sin or an illicit evil act, it can never be got rid of by suppressing it outwardly. Such suppression, on the contrary, will give the wrong-doing a boost, thus strengthening its impact. Again, whatever had happened could not have been undone by saying ‘it never did happen’. As such, Jeejābhāi never thought it proper to hide my misdeed. Consequently, even at the cost of his personal prestige, he never did shrink from getting my act of stealing publicized. The pain of having begotten a thief in the family was consuming my parents away; let alone me. The feeling that they had received a blot because of my deeds never could leave them – a fact I became a witness to, more than once. After this act of mine, many a time did I mark that my father had lost the previous gait with which he moved. My act had deprived him of the usual credence with which he talked to persons. Amidst all this, I could never reprieve condemning myself from whatever I did knowingly or otherwise. I could never forget the Baleshwar incident, nor did certain similar occasions make me be relieved of the burden I was all the while carrying with me. However, this is simply a sidetrack story, the root of which is deep; for underneath it lie hidden the ruins of my self-esteem. I was on the verge of telling you that the clean shave – (tuftless, of course, because, in India, the original ‘Yagnopavit’ ceremony indicating a twice-born, demands the tuft of hair to remain there on the head) – so, the clean shave I was being a prey to, was meant to leave me a skunk, with a totally hair-free skull. To my elders this seemed to be the only way available to make me wise to the values of civilized society.

But my dear friend, how can you ever imagine as to how much fond I was of my nice wavy hair? You will have to approach our family members to know the time I spent especially in my-style of hair-comb. If, in my absence from my house, my parents occasioned to leave our premises, they would put a note right on the house-mirror for my eye to catch; for they very well knew that the moment I entered the house, the first act I would perform would be to see my face in the mirror and set my hair in order. Even after Maganbhai’s departure, the mirror sought its usual place. But then it indulged itself in a new game now. For whenever I bypassed it, it would unfailingly turn toward me, mocking in disdain and even scolding me, saying, “So that’s what your friendship is! Hiding your face from me, you thieving nut, you skull-head!” And what did I have to say in response? Giving it a slanting glance and witnessing in its loud laugh my hairless lineaments, I would hurriedly make my way, away from it.

Well, whatever it was, it was now out of place for me to show my face to anybody, to face somebody with my usual gait. All my friends left me, either of their own accord or on an advice from their elders. Even otherwise, I had only limited friends. However, that day, when even Praveen turned away from me, it felt like a blow to my self-honor. As an effect of this, even today I shrink from having more friends. I do not have any interest in moving among wide circles. It is enough if those whom I call mine remain mine. However, not unlike Praveen, even Nānākākā (Prabodhbhai Joshi), my uncle and friend, also seemed to experience a sort of aversion for me. While going to school, I was normally accompanied by my father. Whereas on my way back home, I came usually alone, hardly talking to any body on the way. Once at home, I would stir out of the house only after dark to avoid myself being seen by others, like I had no other way but to be a night creeper. At home, almost everyone surmised my inner aversion; for I do not recollect having been asked or even proposed: “Naresh, go out for a while and have a walk,” or while going out at night: “Why need you stir out in the dark?” If at all I went to any of my relatives, I found myself being eyed at, suspiciously. Almost everybody had lost faith in me, or so I started believing.

As a result, whenever I met somebody, I developed a sort of a habit to ascertain how and in what context he or she looked at me. No, this fails to explain me clearly. The truth is, this queer habit stayed with me all my life. My very thinking was thus adversely affected. I became suspicious, and swayed towards a sort of abnormality. Even today, people see in me this oddity because of which I become an easy prey to inequity. I very well know that to surmise me thus is not their fault. It is a sort of dilemma out of which there seems no escape. My limited study of psychology fails to point to me any riddance out of this deadlock, the deadlock of remaining ever so suspicious natured. And I simply cannot help it. What else? It is like an impression engraved within my mental structure, a complex formed, which simply denies budging. But then, in a way, I hardly much bother about it, being accustomed to this sort of prevalence. It is also true that I do not very much like to talk to persons unnecessarily. I prefer staying aloof. Again, I do not like cultivating close affinity with most of them for the simple reason that the moment I meet them, my eyes, my mind, will start evaluating them. And what was the outcome of all this? My friends left me; even my family cared not for me. Thus, all loathed and sort of cast away, I moved like a forsaken soul. My very home seemed to devour me. As a result, quite contrary to what we experience today, my daily program formulated itself in a very queer way. Today, the world dies for being an actor. The competition is in full swing. Nevertheless, quite contrary to the modern times, those were the days when actors were being looked down upon, especially in India. Yes, values change, so does the world. Being of the old regime, I had become an easy prey to certain things not commonly acclaimed.

Every day after getting up and freeing myself from my morning routine, I rather heartlessly took to my school lessons, my homework, and left for school with my coat and cap on. Those were the days when almost everybody went to school with a cap on, a system which best suited my hairless dome. During this period, only some preferred companions who naturally fitted my newly conferred disposition, mingled with me. My father, being right there in the school, always took enough care to see that they do not become my lifelong companions. However, in spite of my parents’ effort, I could not easily get rid of this lot, for the simple reason that no body seemed to have a tie of real friendship with me. Consequently, unwanted vices took cover and started taking root in me. One of these was cheating during school exams. I did not take this as something forbidden, especially because every body seemed to be indulged into this. They termed it copying, which naturally failed to include in itself something that was morally prohibited. Moreover, my definition of thieving was limited to pinching, without permission, something belonging to somebody. So, while in one sense I had given up the act of thieving, I became an easy prey to such types of fraud and deceits; and may be, as a result of this, being ever so negligent of my school lessons, I lacked the necessary seriousness in my studies.

The  Changed  Course.Thus, two opposite features started to enwrap my life side by side – First, a seeming disregard for the accepted mundane values of life, which, let me confess, I had not yet been much familiar with, and second, an inward pull towards the unknown culminated in me for lack of suitable company and social affability. Having no real friends, keeping relations with my school associates limited itself to the school only. On the other hand, for the lack of the badly needed warmth of my relatives, I commenced my lone trip inward, with the intention of sparing myself from the surroundings of my family. Consequently, a prosaic daily routine started itself in my demeanor. After coming home from school, giving a speedy wash to myself and eating whatever was there, with not a word to utter, I used to stir out of my house after dark, casting my glance here and there for fear of somebody watching me. Once out, with a heart full of jubilance, I, the friendless, companionless me, started treading that ever so familiar trail for the solitary Kevdi, a small lonesome hillock, eagerly waiting to fill my lonely little heart with its delicately subtle warmth. There, my Kevdi and me, deriving the tender cordiality of each other, remained quietly conversing within ourselves, enjoying hours of quiet confidence and joy.

For me, Kevdi was pulsating with liveliness. It was not just my companion but a consolation too. The lone darkness there and the endless solitude of Kevdi suited my secluded self fairly fine. Kevdi, where scores of your shouts for any emergency help will simply go unheard, where your inner penetration will not in any way be interrupted, where you have nothing else to converse with but the secluded greenery around and your own solitary self, that Kevdi not only freed me from the pressing dread of loneliness but also prompted me to love the contemplative darkness befriending it. It taught me not to fear any fear. Putting me right under the wings of Mother Nature, Kevdi taught me to love the soothe comfort of its environmental bounties. Under its embrace, I learnt to enjoy the live fervor of loneliness. The charm of its company taught the lonesome and dejected me the value of deep positive thinking. Whenever, because of some internal pressure, I reached a state of thoughtlessness, the same Kevdi, with its refreshingly cooling association, released me from the ever-hovering pressure within me. Taking me deep within myself, it put me in the midst of some mysterious presence because of which, forgetting everything else but my own inner-self, I was made to enter an unfathomable depth within me, a depth at once pleasing and soothing. There, amidst the profundity of the experience, something, someone, used to make me my own witness, making me feel that inner mysteriousness to be ever mine. Yes, the same Kevdi, the motherly Kevdi, made me unknowingly aware of an inner aim. Under the worst of mental confusion, in the midst of intense anguish, that inward transport filled my wavering mind with ease and rapture. Thus even at that unripe age of thirteen or may be fourteen, if anything made me be fond of meditation, if anything invited me to take a fresh turn towards life, if anything did inspire me to pave the way towards inward freedom, it was Kevdi. How can I ever forget My Kevdi?

Many a time was I made to think that had I not committed the theft because of which I was cast aside with a sort of scorn, because of which so many loving hearts repelled my presence, I would hardly have sensed the intrinsic live beauty of my ever so lively Kevdi, the Kevdi that taught me the intrinsic excellence of this lonely little life of mine. Had my parents so desired, they could quietly have suppressed the whole episode, as was done with the rest of my ‘theft inmates’. Was it not due to some such worldly wisdom that none from either Jhinu’s or Nanu’s side even peeped anywhere near the ‘Dharmashālā’- the serai? ‘Why publicize the regrettable wrong?’ they might have thought. It might have been wise not to. Had such an attitude been adopted in my case, I might possibly have come out of it like a boss rather than a bandit, with my hair waving in self-vanity. But would it then have spared me from undue temptations, or would I then have been able to improve upon what I then was? Who can, with certainty, acclaim to that? It is quite customary for our mind to be attracted towards the carnal and the lowly. It comes easy and natural too, we being in a constant grip of our senses. You do not have to fight back to own and enjoy them; for it gives a pull to your sentiments prompting them to follow the routine workaday flow. Moreover, I was not free from these customary attractions. Had my ever-alert parents not taken to fighting the ordinarily accepted trend out, had they failed to root out the bad in me right from its very embryo, I would have been easily stranded off shore. They were never tempted to grab the handy. And as for my Dajimāmā! Why think of him negatively? Had he not done what he thought was right for me and perhaps for him too, call it his undue strictness or hostility; for had we not been rounded up by him, what would have been the ultimate outcome of it all? Who can have the vision to look through futurity? Dajimāmā was the only person in our family capable enough to do what he did. He had come to Surat with a great responsibility and under the instructions of Vajiāba as well as my ever so practical mother. Had some straightforward simple fellow replaced him, he would have readily left the place, accepting the words of the hotel owner and thinking that Jhinu had befooled him. Moreover, who but Dajimāmā would have dared enter the hotel premises climbing up the iron pipe, totally unconcerned of the crowd outside? And the hardhearted looking Vajiābā! Was she in any way less loving? And what about her foresightedness and sagacity? Well, this may sound sort of superficial thinking, perhaps leading to being over wise. Let alone these. But who prompted Jhinu to go for a haircut where he came across Dajimāmā? No, all this was destined. The Great Sculptor was out carving some sort of image from some shabby soil. Thou art great and gracious, oh ye All Knowing! So far as Thou art there to direct and lead this little self, why need I worry?

No, as for this incident, I have never found fault with my parents, my relatives, nay, not even with Jhinu. I had a small cudgel with Jhinu in this regard. We threw stones aiming each other, but that was rather impulsive. I would never find fault with Jhinu for this happening; because whatever happened, happened with my willing support. Whatever I am today is the outcome of this and some such similar incidents, small or big, good or bad. What I am today is due to my ever-awake parents who at the cost of their self-esteem pronounced me notorious. Had they failed to publicize this act of mine, it would be almost impossible for me to say with certainty whether or not I would have been what I today am. I would frankly admit that not just the theft as an act, but being proclaimed a thief was equally necessary for me. It is a fact that it was too heavy a punishment. No body seemed to think as to why we resorted to this vile looking act, or what our intention was in doing what we did. To be more exact, all these were childhood fancies which would not have been backed up by anybody, had we ventured to declare them. And that was why it was obligatory on our part to do what we did in secret. Moreover, the ignoble act of committing this theft was the direct outcome of this secretive silence.

Let us leave it at that. It is wise not to repeat the unwanted. Not less than sixty five years have elapsed since this episode took place. Wise it will be to forget the incident totally. But how to dismiss that because of which this little life got a momentum to swerve itself in a new direction, because of which it bloomed up with a new invigorating drive, because of which it is what it today is? In addition, not just this, but a small, almost insignificant, and yet a very vital incident added to drift the inner surge out into an outpour of this inner current in the literary domain. This incident points to an abrupt coincidence in a Bombay street when my attention was for a split second drawn to a passerby whom I involuntarily stopped with the question:

“Excuse me; but are you from Vyara?”

“Yes, I am; but…”

“Is your name Jhinubhai?”

“Yes; but may I know who…”

“Didn’t you know me? Why not add a few hair to this head of mine and then try!” I hinted, thinking he failed to recognize me because of my baldhead. He tried; but he simply could not place me. Ultimately, I had to make myself known to get myself identified.

“Oh Naresh! Naresh, they did us a great injustice, didn’t they!” He blurted out at once.

‘What an outburst!’ I thought. He did not even think of inquiring as to how or where I was. Just this straight question!

I know not how many, but we must have met after not less than forty or may be forty-five years. And all of a sudden, this particular question flashed out from his mouth? For how many long years would this singular question have kept hovering in his mind! Oh the ill fate of the one who is awake to himself! And straight came the rejoinder from my lips:

“Injustice! It was an injustice live, loud and clear.” I very well realized that not unlike me, the same said question had consumed him to the brim all these years. This type of problem does not just pertain to a family or its selected members only; it speaks of the atrocity of a society that is not awake to the most pressing issues of the time. What to say of the society that is deaf to problems like this? What lasting effect would a particular casual looking deed of the elders have on the delicately sensitive mind of a growing juvenile? To what extent is its harsh treatment fair and benevolent to the immature youngster concerned? What effect would such austere treatment have on the child’s tomorrows? What future can the society, the one that does not have even the time and openness to think of problems of this magnitude, envisage, problems especially related to the young minds of its immature generation? Did our elders, our so-called educated leaders, ever bother to think of the educational truth that even a small child awaits justice, that in him does reside the adult of tomorrow? All these are the basic strongholds for the uplift of life, the fundamentals towards which our elders have shown dire negligence. Alas! We had become a prey to such neglect, because of which we had lost our individuality, our self-esteem. We had almost ceased to be ourselves. And as a direct effect of all this, especially for me, how very strenuous did the job of fighting the inferiority complex I became a prey to prove? Well, this is something which is beyond anybody’s guess. Perhaps, for some such unknown reason, if not we, at least I started taking Kevdi, Mankāmeshwar and Rāmeshwar as our Shūlpāneshwar, the pious place of our pilgrimage. In addition, it was perhaps for some such unknown reason that we were inspired to go to Mankāmeshwar for His blessings as a prelude to our pilgrimage to Shūlpāneshwar.

It is inconceivable to forget that span of my life in the shaping of which, not unlike Kevdi, even Mankāmeshwar played a vivid role and adorned it with some rare lively hue. While Kevdi greeted me with its loving companionship, Mankāmeshwar, standing on the bank of the river Mindhola, inundated me unawares right in His loving care. The two opposite banks of the shallowly flowing Mindhola present a queer contrast in that, while on one side it cradles Mankāmeshwar, on its exactly opposite bank it keeps on swinging the crematorium. But then, it does not cease from offering a rare resemblance too. For, while the crematorium regularly goes on absorbing in its memory the fading eve of this slithering life, on the opposite bank, the ever so eager Fatherly bosom of the ever-serene Mahādeva continues ardently to embrace every single solitary soul having the inner thirst to seek refuge in His ever loving bosom. Just as the crematorium is ever prepared to receive any shipwrecked solitary soul in its all inviting confines with a view to making it embrace the newly rising dawn for a fresh creative start, so does the Great God remain committed to fulfill every single wish arising in every human heart, by giving His benedictions to those who, with faith inborn, stand at His doors, the doors from which nobody is ever heard to have gone dejected. I do not exactly remember when first I sought resort to His Lotus-feet; but I very well know that once there, there never was an occasion when I had to turn myself away from His auspices.

Both, Kevdi as well as Mankāmeshwar never ceased to occupy my mind when, while in Vyara, I ever did think of going out for a walk during any cool evening. Whenever and for whatever reason my mind felt dejected or defiant, both of them never failed to give me a warm welcome. But then there always was a distinct difference between the effect they both created in my reverberating mind. While Kevdi would put me in a deep pensive mood and thus calm down my perturbed mind, the mighty Mahādeva, the custodian of the trident, while soothing my discomfiture, would fill my mind with a placid equable serenity, leading it to a mellow music of some unbound inner peace. Whereas, the crematory right opposite it, while indulging itself in sweet ridicule of this transitory life, added a congruous note to the dominating hush of the quietude of the place. The sweet fragrance of the hidden sumptuousness with which our small lives have been enriched by these two vividly contesting banks of the Mindhola has ever filled our lives with new aspirations of which our pilgrimage to Shūlpāneshwar was the most propitious. After receiving our parents’ conformity and keeping with us the minimum of necessities for the journey, and then submitting ourselves at the lotus feet of Mankāmeshwar, the Great Lord of our life, we, Thakore and I, started on our auspicious journey to Shulpaneshwar in all good faith and with a peaceful, serene, singularly focused mind.

6.   On Way to RameshwarDuring our journey, we had decided not to make use of any vehicle except a boat while crossing the river. Hence, both of us had with us just the bare necessities, like an extra pair of shorts and shirt, a small narrow fiber-mat, a diary, a couple of books, a penknife, a matchbox and some five pounds of ration which included a little rice and lentils. We had decided to pace a distance of about twenty-five miles everyday. We were accompanied by some four to five companions who were to be with us only up to Rameshwar, some fourteen miles away from Vyara.

Of the above companions, Suresh had a rather out-of-the-ordinary disposition. Being by nature less talkative, he hardly seemed to be taking any interest in our discussions and yet he was in no way reticent. Temperamentally peace loving, he was a youth of contemplative disposition. Similarly, Kiku also carried a quiet guise and was considered very shy; but he was in no way bashful. Taken ordinarily for a feeble-bodied person, his swift strides today astounded almost everybody. His exceptional zeal during the journey demanded recognition. Arvind, the ever so intimate chum of these two, bore hardly any noteworthy resemblance with them. He could at once be singled out from among the rest, specifically because of his genuine love for logical thinking. He always had something out of the ordinary to pinpoint on almost every topic at hand. Arvind simply will not be Arvind if he failed to intellectually contradict any argument with his ever so sharpened tool of simple logic. Intellectual gymnastics ever remained his choice subject, in the absence of which he would simply be a lost lamb. There seemed to be a light contradiction between him and Suresh. However, the deep affinity between the two could not ever fail being highlighted, for there ever remained a hidden note of inward resemblance, which kept them appreciatively close to each other. Suresh was a bit quiet type, whereas Arvind, being rather visionary and highly prone to imagination, could at once be classed out from among the rest.  The fourth and the last of the lot, Bharat, being the youngest in age, preferred not to speak much in the presence of his older pals, and yet managed to receive ample praise from others by adding something witty to whatever there was on discussion. There was one common trait deeply running among these four. They all having been knitted by a common thread of deep sensational outpour of intense emotional feeling, each of them had in him a distinct inner thrill to do something out of the ordinary.

But apart from all these, we had amongst us a soul who, in spite of his having put us all in a sort of unanticipated trial, remained during our journey to Rāmeshwar an emblem of sympathy, love and a cause of anxiety that demanded common attention of us all. This was our ‘Lalio’, the watchdog of our street, who per force became our unexpected associate, and for whom I am tempted, rather prompted, to spare a few pages of our journey to Shūlpān. This made us seven — the two of us, i.e. me and Thakore, plus the five of our associates – Suresh, Kiku, Arvind, Bharat and the fifth and yet the foremost Lalio. We might hardly have gone a mile ahead, and we thought of the cymbals. One thing more: I do not know why, but Thakore seemed to be in a rather pensive but pathetic mood despite the comely, inspiring atmosphere of the morning journey. The idea of missing the cymbals helped clarify the reason of his contemplative moodiness. To him, the ration of rice and lentils he was carrying, was, apart from being a burden, an annihilator of spirituality in its essence; and as such, against the wish of everybody, he doubled up back home to return his part of the ration and to bring the cymbals with him while returning. Not waiting for him we continued our journey ahead.

The fresh and pleasing morning atmosphere seemed to fill us with enthusiasm. The sun-god in his readiness to show off seemed impatient to fill the nature with the flush of his blooming smile. In the far east, the lonely little Kevdi, pining to give a modest kiss to the reddened skies, kept on blushing in her solitary shyness while earnestly praying to the sun-god to keep our path, the path of her inmates, plenty smooth by spreading its ever-flowing vermilion velvetiness on our way. And quite touched by her concerned entreaties, the golden-crowned kingly deity started making our path gently bright while greeting us a warm welcome by his intriguing golden grin. Thus, we continued rushing forward amidst this enchanting atmosphere. We passed Rāmpore, even Chikhalvāv, and yet there was no sign of Thakore’s return. While going back home he had doubled up, saying he would be back soon, and we well knew he would. Having gone enough further, when we saw no sign of his return, we naturally stopped, waiting for him. The sun had already started making us aware of his oncoming fierceness by attempting to establish his predominance over the atmosphere; and yet his hidden sympathy, his sweet tenderness streaming towards us, could not remain hidden. All the same, I was not unaware of his silently oncoming fury. Indian summer cannot be scorned at.

But where was Thakore? … Ah, there he was speeding up. In no time was he amidst us with the cymbals in hand and precisely disburdened from his weight. However, the ration I had with me still remained; and I did not shirk from experiencing a sort of a relief. My worldly-mindedness made me see sagacity in carrying the weight on my shoulders. But then a question involuntarily peeped up, as if from nowhere, troubling my inner self: “Who is more inward oriented, Thakore or you? Does right action consist in becoming a prey to the temptation of yielding to the conceived comfort at hand, thinking that the oncoming morn will possibly be laden with unexpected uncertainties, or does it consist in being freed from tomorrow’s concerns while willingly submitting the destined future to His will?” This was not just a question, but also a call of the innermost. But how would this mind, ensnared as it was in the fallaciously deceptive worldliness, listen to it, casting aside its usual rambles of self-gratification? Given to the visionary illusion of the self-invented future security, I kept myself happily indulged in my fanciful imagination of the safe and shielded morrow. My mind persisted its selfish play: In the unknown allies of the heart of the forest who will be there to shield the solitary self from being half-dead with the pangs of hunger and thirst. At times like this, if we were equipped with some such support, a little provision to help us with, how very comforting would it be? Thus arguing and neglecting the surge of the inner voice, dragged by the strong flow of the listless mind, I failed to recall the ever-inspiring devotional canto:

“Fraudulent is this flickering mind, oh God,

Vacillating is this ever wavering mind.”

Thus, flying in self-invented imagination, and intermittently participating in the chats of my associates, I was treading my path a little lethargically. As a result, we, having left Vyārā around five o’clock, managed to reach Kanjha at twelve in the noon. Yes, we had spent a good time in waiting for Thakore. It is also true that a good deal of our time had passed in looking after Lalio. Whatever be it, we had hardly covered about twelve miles during these seven hours.  Everybody was feeling a little disheartened looking to a sluggish speed of ours. If we proved ourselves to be this slow right at the start, when will this pilgrimage reach its destination? Shūlpāneshwar, the temple on the bank of the Narmada, was our target. Once there, the intention was to proceed along the riverbank on our return journey and reach Bharooch. From there, we had planned to go straight to Surat, reaching where, we intended to go along the bank of the river Tāpi that would lead us back to Rāmeshwar, and from there we would go straight to Vyārā, our native town. And looking to the fact that we aspired to cover this distance of about three hundred miles in about fifteen to seventeen days, which included our stay at various places, it was no wonder that this sluggishness of ours right at the initial stage of the journey rendered us discouraged and partly lethargic. Still we moved on with all the faith, not bothering about the future.

We had reached Kanjha from where Rāmeshwar, invitingly beckoning us from the opposite shore, was only about two miles away. It was about half past twelve and we had to pace our distance on the burning sands. The Tāpi, though shallow, would not permit a straight walk through it. Because of the pressing work of the Kānkrāpār Dam, a facility of a small boat was available to take you to the opposite bank of the river. However, this was meant to be used mainly by the government officials. Again, the boatman had already anchored the boat and was in a hurry to go for his meals. It was the blazing midday of May, and the burning sands were in no way inviting. Yet every body was intent upon reaching Rāmeshwar. Rāmeshwar always remained a great attraction to us all. There was but one note ringing in our hearts: When shall we reach Rāmeshwar and have the sacred ‘Darshan’-holy sight- of the Lord of our heart? Again, we were in no way less eager to join our luncheon. Ours was a queer mixture of the temporal and the spiritual. Whatever we had for a snack had long been consumed by our ever-hungry tummy. While selecting to take the minimum of weight, we knowingly or unknowingly had minimized on our titbits too, and this had already been gulped down. All this combined to make us be in a hurry to reach Rāmeshwar.

On asking the boatman about the possibility of his carrying us offshore, we were told that it had been forbidden to allow anybody the use of the boat without the regular permit from the head-officer. Hence, as directed, we made for a tent in the hope of finding someone in charge there. Well, there was no officer there; but one of the workers there clarified that there was no necessity to obtain any permit from anybody. He further clarified that if we told the boatman that ‘we were there on departmental bidding and that we had to meet Dandekar Sahib’, he would not be able to stop us from using the boat. Go we had to; and as luck would have it, we had on our shoulders the long khaki bags, the type generally carried by government officers, conveniently hanging, the bags that contained our small luggage. These khaki bags gave us the look of government officers all right. Moreover, the boatman had needlessly made us go up and down the crag under the plea that it was necessary to have a permit to use the boat, because of which I had a slight rage developed within me. Hence, adopting the general measure of ‘tit for tat’, and taking a temporary resort to a tiny lie, everybody, excepting Thakore and partly myself, agreed upon the commonly accepted policy of ‘pacing with the time’, and serve the purpose where possible. Lalio preferred to keep mum over it. He was reluctant to opine, and was probably thinking of the burning sands on the opposite shore. However, we took his silence for his consent, and despite the fact that Thakore was deadly against the use of such falsehood, I took the short cut of following the advice of that man. Our young associates were also in a hurry to reach the opposite bank and enjoy the holy sight of the Great Lord. As a result, I did not shirk from using the name of Dandekar Sahib to help us reach the opposite bank. However, Thakore forcefully clarified that we intended to go to Rāmeshwar and not to see any Dandekar. This perturbed me for a while, just for a while. There was no alternative but to prove equal to the situation; and I did not flinch from being crafty. Consequently, the boat headed for the opposit bank. Carrying on with talks that easily pleased the boatman, we landed on the opposite bank. However, how long would the faked fabrication of calling oneself an executive last? Thakore seemed to have taken an oath of being truthful to the core; and even god seemed to line up with him by disclosing our intents.

We got down from the boat; but Lalio seemed to have been enjoying the cool comfort of the boat and was in no way prepared to come down, as if objecting to the lie we had fallen back on. We had taken recourse to being Dandekar’s men and my intention was to take the act to its completion. So taking every care to see that the boatman did not harbor any suspicion as to our ‘honesty’, I, in a convincing and loveliest manner, tried to get Lalio down from the boat. Lalio failed to have in him the commonly accepted pomposity that may place him for a Sahib’s dog. Though quite amicable, loving and trustworthy by temperament, with his one ear straightened up and the other one crookedly hooked downward, he looked ill tempered, a feature which did give him the appearance of the one fitted to an authoritative official status. The hairless dusky patches on his body, may be because of scabies, and his overly shortened tail were enough to class him for a lay street-dog. He, the usual rambler, had today become a wayfarer, our partner, and for reasons more than one, had become an object of love for us all. We knew him long since, and he seemed to understand our feelings; for he had proved to be our long-standing companion. At the quiet of the night when others were waiting to retire, Nānākākā and I, at times joined by Thakore too, would go to our town-pond to answer nature’s call, under the pretext of enjoying fresh air, and Lalio would then unfailingly accompany us. At times, when Lalio failed accompanying us, we too would not fail to give him a call; and as such, his frequent familiarity with us had made him almost one of our own. It was because of this, and again, thinking that the great trust begotten in him would not prove a liar, we lovingly invited him to get down from the boat and accompany us.

But this Lalio! Where was the possibility of his leaving the boatman without his exposing to him our dishonesty? He was at ease where he was. Tempted by the cool comfort of the boat, he peacefully lay there heaving a bit heavily. I was looking for some way that could make  Lalio come out from the boat, thus helping us maintain our position as Sahib’s associates; but then, to the amazement of all including the boatman, Thakore, with a flush of fervor, lifted Lalio up and put him on his shoulder. That was it. All my efforts were in vain. The boatman even seemed to know our bonafides. While leaving us, he eyed us skeptically. Hotly discussing this unsophisticated act of Thakore, we started onward. But despite all this assails, he remained unaffected. It was difficult to know Thakore. He seemed a bit annoyed with this abrupt torrential outburst from every direction. The matter was dropped and we, with the exception of Lalio, continued with our journey in a joyous mood.

Nevertheless, the true test was still to come. It seemed as if Lord Shiva was in for testing our inner content, our fortitude. Farther up, the Shiva temple of Rāmeshwar kept on attracting us heart and soul. Our inner longing to have His vision continued mounting at every step; but the sizzling sand particles kept on checking our pace while revealing to us the oncoming tough test that was in store for us. We were tired and felt a sort of dull heaviness in our minds, perhaps because of the lack of sleep we had been subject to last night. To this was added the inner pull of hunger, let alone the tormenting heat of the burning sands. Sure, we had our slippers and sandals on, but still, in spite our utmost care, the burning sand-granules, knowingly rushing forth under our toes, created a sharp burning pang, a predicament that gave us a clear picture of Thakore’s quandary. He, a vehicle of singular stubbornness, selected to go barefooted despite repeated warnings and entreaties.  Walking barefooted in those burning sands was to him a test of his endurance, a test from which he was cherishing a joyful transport of austerity. It was one o’clock of the mid-noon May, and yet he was steadily pacing the sands quite oblivious of the scorch. He was not accustomed to giving way to any bodily distress. Any such occurrence would never prove to be a trial for him. To him, a spiritual trial only was some trial, and he willfully invited that. He always greeted occasions where the mind and the soul were at odds; and any triumph on part of the inner self made him overflow with an enlivening throb of life. He would not shake from using all his might when mental temptations strove to take an upper hand over the needs of the spirit. This to him was ‘pūrūshārtha’ – positive action. And it was because of the strength of this inner might that he, confronting various odds, would proceed further easing his life-path. Backed by some such vigor, he was treading quietly over the fiery sands with a strong steady mind. From some such predicament, he would collect the life force, thus drinking the waters of flawless spirituality.

However, if anybody suffered the worst predicament, it was Lalio. Since long had he become the center of our concern. With what particular intention he accompanied us, I do not know. We had sincerely tried to stop him from following us. We had not ceased from being curtly tough with him while trying to turn him away from us. But in what words to explain the affinity of a mute soul to whom silence was his sole parlance. However, I would surely reiterate that his long association and the long begotten confidence in us had prompted him to trust us all. Our presence meant so much to him that he did not even show the impoliteness to put before us the very rudimentary question inquiring what we had been heading for. We had never claimed ourselves to be his master. Frankly, he belonged to all of us. It is true that we had never given him any cause of distrust, which instinctively kept him free of any notion of incredulity towards us. I simply cannot venture to predict that Rāmeshwar was not the source beckoning this mute soul, a soul full of loyalty and unswerving faith, to visit His premises. Just as Rāmeshwar had filled our hearts with deep feelings and emotions, so would he have enticed Lalio’s heart with similar fervor. Even otherwise, Lalio was so much desire-free that he would hardly have given vent to such a thought. To him, wherever we were, there his Rāmeshwar was. If we, as humans, succeed in abounding ourselves with a feeling pregnant with such selflessness and inner depth for our brethren, how very deeply gratified will this world be? Will the merciful Lord Trishūlpāni ever leave this heart pulsating with such a thrill of selfless splendor? If He would, this life-journey will be a living nutriment to quench the thirst of many a love-thirsty soul; this journey to Shūlpān would then be a living fulfillment. Shall I ever succeed in learning this lesson through this mute being? Looking to the partially self-invited pain he had to suffer, the agonizing experience he was going through in being with us, we felt partially responsible for his sufferance and agony. We perhaps were everything to him… True it is that none of us had ever tried to implant in him that feeling of his being one of us. On the contrary, looking to what he had endured because of us, we became indebted to him. This was because, right from the time the sun started to exhibit his fury, Lalio had started to fill our hearts with feelings of sympathy for him.

The blaze of the day was calling the barefooted Lalio to be ready to face the oncoming trial.  But to Lalio such an invitation carried no import. The trust he had put in us by being our accomplice kindled in us a sort of increasing amity for him. To him that trust was all that mattered. Or was he thereby trying to confirm our mastership on him? But no, we had never even thought of identifying ourselves as his boss. We might have given him a piece of bread at occasions. He got his sustenance from the street dwellers while on his usual rounds. Yet, the same Lalio, for whom we had never before cared to bother, had, in this pitiable condition of his, captured the hearts of all of us. This companionship of his was to us a rapport devoid of any expectancy. And hence, forgetting everything, we submitted ourselves to his care. In spite of his effort to remain unconcerned of the situation, the helpless soul could not stand the fiery rage of the heated dust. And in his endeavor to escape the burn, he had started running haphazardly in various directions to take resort to the tree-shades, while at the same time trying to keep pace with us. He had never before confronted such a trying situation; and being highly baffled, he had started taking shelter under trees, and staring at us pitifully, anticipating some help. His unsteady, panicky eyes spoke volumes of his helplessness as if entreating us with a complaint: ‘My feet can hardly wait for blisters now.’ Yet, unable to comprehend his mute diction, when we continued with our tour, he came limping forward and standing dumbfounded before us, started portraying heartbreaking appeal through his diffident, edgy look.

We waited underneath a Palāsh tree, and he too lay down feeling a bit relieved. While taking our breakfast we had not forgotten him; but under the present circumstances, we gave him a priority. But how would he enjoy his repast leaving his associates aside? Sniffing the small meal, he just rested aside. The children of our street used to say that he was a small-eater, and as such, not very much concerned, we did not pay much heed to his not eating. But thinking of helping him walk with ease, we thought of finding some way out. Therefore, having rested a bit, we tied some green Palāsh leaves to his feet, a little tightly, so that they do not easily give way, and with a view to giving him a little rest, we continued nibbling a little snack. Lalio pantingly kept on watching the procedure as though he realized what was going on. And right there were his slippers readily inviting him to keep pace with us. But a born lover of freedom that he was, how can he ever accept the shackles that looked so very unnatural to him? Instead of its involuntary acceptance, the worshipper of freedom selected to face the oncoming odds rather than welcoming the restraints. Hence, disregarding all our efforts to stop him, he busied himself cutting the ties of his slippers off by his sharp teeth. Well, we had no alternative but to carry on. But then we could not even leave him at that. We all experienced an unimaginable flow of emotions towards him, some highly intensified emotions, which esoterically filled the gulf between Lalio and us. And the mute creature that he was all this long, at once became one amongst us. We felt like hearing the utterance from the Merciful: ‘If there were any Rāmeshwar breathing on this earth, it certainly was here; yes, right here.’ And temporarily leaving aside the thought of Rāmeshwar, we busied ourselves with the safeguard of our Lalio. His safety became our prime concern. Lost in him we became primarily his. If he went a little farther away from us, a bit aloof from us, we would at once be worried. Frankly, we had never before sensed such inborn feeling for a mute soul. Lalio became the sole center of all that we did, so much so that he became as much ours as we were to our own; no; in certain respect we were nearer him than we were to one another. He kindled in our hearts such an exalted compassion, his condition filled our hearts with such an inexplicable feeling for the mute creation, that our pilgrimage to Rāmeshwar became for us a sanctified worship of the Lord mainly because of Lalio.

Thus, until the time we were able to reach Kanjha, Lalio had to pass through considerable amount of testing. We did not have the least idea of what he would have to go through after getting down from the boat. It was because of our deep feelings for, and deep-rooted faith in Rāmeshwar that we were treading the path rather comfortably. However, how in the world can Lalio, the bootless peer of barefooted Thakore, proceed further in such a plight? Finding no other way, he started galloping. Leaving the straight footpath ahead, like a stray-dog, he straggled back and forth, gasping and jumping in the vain hope of finding some relief. Ultimately, finding the fierce burn highly intolerable, the helplessly bewildered Lalio gave up and started tossing in the burning sands. We all ran to his help. His endurance was at the end of its tether. If there was any one amongst us who could envisage his nonplussed condition, it was Thakore. He was fated to experience the blistery burn of the fire-emitting sands. And all full of compassion he lifted Lalio up on his shoulders. However, to the heaving Lalio even his shoulder seemed to give a burn, and with a deep wail, off he jumped only to topple down, thoroughly defeated that he was, on the burning sands. His condition now was critically pitiable. How can he find resort to a human shoulder where he never before had an occasion to rest? Is it not unnatural to feel discomfort while embarking on any novel exposure? Lalio was certainly a novice for this sort of experimentation. But then, just as a testing situation one is put in gives one a foresight and a new approach to it, Lalio, having undergone an unforeseen trial, seemed to have learnt quite a deal from this ordeal of his. For, after he had taken a plunge from over Thakore’s shoulders, when I gave him a resting on my folded arms, he stayed there experiencing a sort of a comforting ease. In a short while he got so much accustomed to the new situation that he was made a willing welcome by all in the party. Thus obliging all and being gratified intermittently by each one of us, he seemed to be eagerly awaiting the cool comfort of the consoling deity.

And, in the thick of the scorching heat of the midday May, somewhere around two o’clock, we lay down in the solicitous lap of Sadāshiva, the Great Lord of Rāmeshwar.

7.  In The Lotus-feet of RāmeshwarThe exhilarating joy that is experienced in the ceaseless effort of accomplishing one’s aim can rarely be lived once the goal is achieved. They say, the joy you derive in dancing indefatigably for the long longed vision of The Divine is ever so great, ever so sweet, than the actuality of satiating the yearning of the longed-for. The well-known poet Umāshanker Joshi, while humming the lines “May perfection be ever away from me; I ask for the joy of imperfection,” might well have been inspired by some such encounter. Attaining the aspired is the direct result of the joy of accomplishment, and this result is the sum total of the thus encountered struggle. As such, the very joy of the accomplishment so achieved lies hidden in the pleasure derived from such struggle. This is very much akin to what happened to us here. When we actually reached the lotus feet of the emblem of our heart, we were so much exhausted that, in spite of our intense desire to have a glimpse of Rāmeshwar, we could not help resting prior to having His Darshan – the Holy sight, a glimpse, a vision in proximity. Thus, in experiencing the fulfillment of the struggle we had subjected ourselves to, we believed our task piously executed. Quite frankly, being persistent partners of the mundane, being the allies of the temporal pleasures and pains, in our endeavor to ease ourselves from the scorching heat, we took to lying down underneath the soothing dome of the temple with a sigh of relief. It was only after half an hour of our reaching Rameshwar that we got a little shocked, and like one newly awakened, we entered the sanctum sanctorum with an urge to have a Darshan of the Merciful Lord. And lo, there, to our great amazement, we visualized a calm, collected unmoving figure, amply lost in his intent, firmly sitting at the lotus feet of His Holiness. That human-form was the well-familiar silhouette of Thakore.

When, after experiencing the pain and discomfort of the travel, and being overly fatigued by the strenuous journey, we were resting in the outskirts of the sanctuary just to have a little physical comfort, Thakore had already taken resort in the lotus feet of his Great God. We had comfortably forgotten that the tenderly loving association of God alone is the final refuge that can impart real comfort and peace to this our psychophysical entity. Quite unlike us, instead of being an easy prey to the physiosensuality, Thakore had started offering in deep humility all his feelings, all his emotions, at the feet of Lord Shiva, to reside in whose close proximity we are expected to keep under control all our sensuality, as has been aptly represented by the ‘tortoise’ standing as a ‘hitch’ barring the passage of His vehicle Nandi – the bull, who remaining an embodiment of carnal vigor, had become Lord Shiva’s vehicle. The whole allegory suggests  for us the need to have complete control over our sensual lasciviousness before endeavoring to reach the Lord. Not only in Rāmeshwar, but in each and every temple of Lord Shiva, Nandi is seen steadfastly gazing at the Mother Pārvati, the embodiment of purity incarnate. The whole allegory exemplifies for us the dire need of sacrificing our sexual hunger and to utilize it more productively by receiving Her inner blessings, which alone can enable us to reach the Lotus Feet of the Great Lord to derive which the Shakti, embodied as Mother Pārvati – the primordial energy – has been made manifest. Surely, the ‘kūrma’ – the tortoise  right in front of the Nandi amply emphasizes the need to keep one’s carnal desires in control prior to the entry to the sanctuary of Lord Shiva and His Spouse Pārvati, – His Dynamic Self.

Does not the Nandi, the emblem representing the invigorating intrinsic strength, while remaining a completely controlled vehicle of Lord Shiva, inspire us all to keep our carnal urges well-controlled and engage the same in the devotion of Mother Dūrgā, the Energy Incarnate, seated at the base of our spine? Yes, the aptly presented symbol of ‘tortoise’ right in front of the Nandi, at once the emblem of temporal and spiritual thirst, suggests for us the need to control our sensual desires prior to starting our journey to the Lord’s premises. It clearly proclaims that like the great Lord Shiva who has under his complete control all the senses, as has been indicated by the ‘tortise’ standing as a ‘hitch’ right in front of his vehicle Nandi, we also should endeavor to keep our carnal urges restrained, totally subdued and well mastered before approaching the Great Lord Shiva. It is up to us to thus free ourselves from the lustful longings and then to experience the oneness with the Lord by surrendering our own ‘self’ in the act of soliciting the inward bliss of the Great Divine.

But alas, being inapprehensive of the significance of all this, and remaining totally oblivious of the inner purpose for which we had undertaken this pilgrimage, we were idly resting ourselves underneath the temple archway. While with Thakore! He had taken it as his prime requisite to give himself up to the service of the Lord. Seeing him thus engrossed, I involuntarily blurted out, “Oh, the monsieur is already here,” although well aware of the fact that my outburst was likely to interrupt with his prayer. However, he did not so much as stir from his position. Everybody seemed to be in a mood of prayer. So, prior to taking my seat I glanced back and forth, as was my habit, and seeing Kiku nowhere near us, when I looked outside for him, I found Lalio standing at the outer reaches of the temple. In total disregard for his natural wish of taking cover underneath the cool shelter of the temple, he appeared lost in obeisance to the lord. How long he had been there, I do not know. He sure must have been standing there for more than half an hour, still panting and perhaps ruminating over the intuitional feeling of ‘He is far and yet near here’, while remaining instinctively away from the revered shrine in the temple. He gave every indication of having joined Thakore in dedicating himself reverentially to the Lord with his head bent in a feeling of gratitude. When everybody was busy prostrating at the feet of ‘Ăshūtosh’, the easily appeased Mahādeva, in an attitude of universal prayer while reciting:

“May everyone remain ever happy,

May everyone remain totally guileless;

May all feel brotherliness everywhere,

May no one ever be a prey to misery.

May whatever that is callous, cruel and sinful,

Become peaceful and righteously benign;

May we all enjoy inner equanimity.”

I failed to get my mind concentrated in the thought of the Almighty. It kept engaged mainly in the thought of Lalio, the poor he, perhaps unable to climb the temple stairs because of the possible blisters on his paws: What would he have been thinking at the moment? He might certainly have seen Thakore entering the sanctuary. Would his animal instinct have thought it necessary to mutely submit himself to the deity deeply imbibed in Samādhi? Would he have in his heart the natural upsurge of feelings urging him to have devotion for the deity of his heart? Whoever knows, but one thing was certain. Irrespective of the inner draw that we had for the great Lord, we succumbed to the physical strain we had undergone, and forgetting the Lord, we all reclined on the marble floor under the temple dome. Whereas that mute dog, whose animalistic tendency deserves all the praise, had been standing outside on his three legs in an attitude of prayer, with a complete disregard to the sufferance he had undergone. He seemed to have digested the commonly accepted writ that says, ‘Where even the human foot-dust can pollute a holy place, where is the question of a dog stepping it?’ Lalio stood outside, seemingly lost in prayer, with his one foot kept lifted up above the ground. Otherwise, why would he prefer to stand in the hot dust forgetting the shade of the temple? The deep feeling of compassion I had been living through for the mute soul did not leave me even in the temple; and I thought of bringing Lalio in and placing him on the marble patio. But the eon-old belief that even the stone-image installed in a holy place is not beyond the social confines, prevented me from bringing him in the temple premises, and like a hardhearted dumb I kept staring at him, when suddenly, struck by Arvind’s proposal to sing some ‘Bhajan’ – a devotional song – I came to my senses, and the Bhajan that started streaming forth was:

Abegging have I come to Thy door,

My Lord, in total commitment,

In a hope to get my undulating bag filled;

For I a beggar am of Thy holy name.

Day and night did I ramble

Amidst hills and dales,

And with my limbs all bleeding

Did I traverse the jungles deep;

When all tired and fatigued

Come I now at Thy door,

A wearied beggar that I am.

Abegging did I rove streets and places

Till this speech did deplete,

But empty-handed did I return

With not a grain in my bag;

And all defeated and dejected

Come I now at Thy door,

A helpless beggar that I am.

Oh ye bestower unique and unparalleled,

Fill Thou this eon-empty bag

Waiting impatiently to be served;

And grace Thou the entreaties of the one

Who a beggar is of Thy holy name.

Thus, all enthralled by the warm fervor of the Bhajan, and fairly satiated by the holy precincts of the holy Lord, when we came out of the sanctum sanctorum, we found Lalio comfortably cuddled on the smooth cool marble patio licking the bottom of his foot, seemingly pacified by the mercy of the Lord. None of us thought of driving him off from the temple. Either we were instinctively purified from within because of our staying in the vicinity of Mahādeva, the Great Lord – or perhaps owing to my thinking as to who was there to turn the dog out of the temple, I, filled with a feeling of compassion, ignored his stay in the holy place. Just then, Thakore took him in his embrace with a deep fondle and lying near him kept on patting him sympathetically. And like one possessed, I kept on thinking of the Bhajan I was engaged in singing just a while ago. The Bhajan “Abegging have I come to Thy door” kept on ringing in my ears; and a surge of a poem conveying a contrary feeling started streaming forth from my perturbed heart:

With a semblance all artificial and deceptive

Have I come to thee, oh lord!

Open ye not the casement of my heart,

For I a haggler am of thy mighty name.

Faked are my feelings

And devotion fairly foul,

Endless my cute cunnings,

And schemes of great renown

For I an age-old player am

Of long persisting schemes well-known.

May not my hidden feelings

Ever flutter on my lips,

May god be my daily talk

While in my sheath a dagger rests,

May I ever prosper

In my daily clamoring filthy cheat.

If thou dost wish to endow me

With blessings, oh my inner light,

Let me cling to desires

Of worldly lures within my sight;

For I a slave to cravings am

Of multifarious mundane alluring height.

Which one of these is nearer to truth, the Bhajan sung above in the proximity of the Almighty or the other one that opens wide the hidden venues of a maneuvering deceitful heart? Before a sincere answer to the query could be found, every body found himself preoccupied in the management of the prime routine of satisfying their famished self. Even Lalio’s victuals was a matter of enough concern to all of us; but to our amazement Lalio came out to be an unexpectedly light eater, and we were freed by him from worrying about his meals. But what about his safety at night? We were told that a tiger sometimes visited the place. No wonder, he also liked being in vicinity of the merciful Lord, he having supplied his own skin-coating to cover His ash-coated body. Under the kindly haven of the compassionate Lord, at once the preserver and destroyer of this world, many a mute animal preferred to move freely, and remaining at the disposal of the will of the Omnipresent they often became a prey to the tiger. In our endeavor to keep Lalio released from this self-sacrifice, we, taking turns, passed the night in ample vigilance.

On reaching Rāmeshwar on the eighth, and after having passed a day in close proximity of the Lord, we had planned to take a start for Shūlpāneshwar in the early morning of the tenth. But where was the possibility of Rāmeshwar letting us depart so very suddenly? We were unaware of his intention of forcing on us a further stay in His proximity. Knowing fully well our intent to leave His premises, he maneuvered an easy way to force on us his benignly tender vicinage. Being unable to sleep well at night, we were caught by a deep spell of sleep during the early morning. When we got up, we found that the sun had long started his journey. We got up rather tired, and after drinking our tea and taking a bath in the holy waters, we reluctantly left the river to render our salutations in the lotus feet of the Benevolent Lord. Having decided to take our dinner just once that day, we passed most of our time in praying and singing Bhajans in praise of the Lord. Lost in the bygone reminiscences of Rāmeshwar and forgetting the fatigue of the day, we took to preparing our meals. We, including Lalio, enjoyed our ‘Khichadi’ –an Indian meal- to our heart’s content; and having arranged to take turns for Lalio’s safety at night, we went to bed with the intention of getting up early in the morning. I had not been able to sleep comfortably and at dawn, my heavy eyelids declined from opening. I had such great pain in my thigh that I simply failed to sleep at ease. Nānākākā already up and out of bed, gave me and Thakore a wake-up call. Well, I was already awake; and hearing Thakore say: “Get up, you Naresh; why this laziness,” I made him wise about my condition. I tried to stand up and I did too; but I had a great difficulty in getting my left leg up.

With the passing of time, my condition worsened and it became almost impossible for me to walk. I had a big boil flared up overnight, and the part surrounding the abscess had reddened and inflated so badly that I simply could not move. I was taken aback and was fairly convinced about one thing. The great lord Ūmāpati – Lord Shiva – was in no way prepared to release us from His loving sides. Not knowing what to do, like one dumbfounded, we simply waited in the hope of my being relieved of the pain. The pain persisted and ultimately, late in the evening we decided to see Dr. Hirubhai of Māndvi and get the boil incised if need be. We could have managed to arrange for some vehicle to take us to Māndvi; but since our journey had already started and since we had decided not to avail of any vehicle except a boat to cross the river, the idea of getting a ride was immediately dropped. This left for us only one alternative, and that was to somehow pace the distance, Māndvi being not very far from Rāmeshwar. But then how in the world to cover that distance when my leg totally declined from being lifted? This left us in a tight spot, all confused and dejected.

“At least give it a try, Naresh. Once you take a step or two, it may become easy. Why not try it?” suggested Nānākākā. Surely, there was no other way but to prove equal to the situation. And as providence would have it, I took a cane, and under terrific pain managed to climb down the steps. Gathering enough of courage, we made for Māndvi. How and amidst what torment I paced the distance of scarcely a little more than three miles, only I knew. There, the doctor saw my boil and decided against putting an incision, saying, “It would be unwise and premature to do it, and again it would inflict a lot of pain. Instead, better take this Epsom salt and give the boil a hot pack. From our talk, he surmised that we were heading for Shūlpāneshwar on foot, and he suggested arranging for a cart that could easily take us there. However, realizing our decision to remain firm in our intent, he dropped the idea of making any such arrangement and pointed to us a shorter cut leading to Rājpipla. The temple priest of Rāmeshwar had also talked to us of a similar short cut. The mileage of both these routes was more or less the same and both of them led us to Rājpipla from where the river Narmadā was quite near. It was for us to decide as to which way to go. Any way, expressing our gratitude, we left Hirubhai for Rāmeshwar. Despite the negligible distance, it was around one thirty in the morning that we reached back to the temple. The boil was hurting like hell and had grown pretty big, because of over-strain, maybe. How I managed to walk the distance under this pain, god alone knew. At every step, Nānākākā and Thakore kept on encouraging me. They well knew what I was passing through. But for them I would never have dared to pace that distance. I was enormously tired and totally undone. The moment we were back, I reclined. The possibility of getting any sleep was out of question; and I was deeply concerned about our oncoming journey. While I was thus lost in pain and a sort of worry as to our ensuing journey, there stood Thakore with a hot water pot, saying, “Let’s apply the pack; there’s enough of Epsom salt in it.”

“Better go to bed. The pack can be had afterwards, tomorrow;” said I. But he was not a person to budge. I asked him to sleep telling that I would do it. I very well knew, he would not agree to it, and the Epsom salt pack continued. The night passed by. By the time it was morning, the boil, now very soft to touch, gave way and a sort of serum started oozing out of it. By manipulating around it the fluid was pressed out. Its strength having been minimized I felt a great relief. By the afternoon, the pain started again; and we restarted the hot water pack. The evening came with a great relief and I slept very well that night; thanks to Dr. Hirubhai. The next day passed in ease, the pain being quite tolerable. Still we preferred not to start with the journey so very suddenly, and decided to take a complete day’s rest. This gave our colleagues an opportunity to stay there a little longer before waving us a goodbye and thus enjoy the company of Rāmeshwar. Even Lalio got the much so needed rest. But trivial as it seemed at the very outset of it, the occurrence brought to light a fairly significant outcome. I had with me the ration of some five pounds of rice and stuff to stand us in good steed during our long journey. This provision got completely consumed during our long and unexpected stay. Consequently, when the dawn to depart for Shūlpāneswar made its appearance, I found myself utterly relieved of the burden. Thakore, with full understanding, took back home his share of the supplies knowing fully well that in this spiritual expedition of his, the undue anxiety of tomorrow’s oncoming uncertainty was bound to prove a spiritual hazard. In my quest of spirituality I had failed to realize this simple fact. Our prolonged stay managed to consume all the provision I had intended to keep in store for our journey, while reprimanding me at the same time through that sufferance I had to undergo. This was the outcome of my being a stockpiler . ‘Lack of trust and self-aggrandizement has no place in a serious spiritual quest, and hence, cannot and should not, for that reason, be acceded to,’ was the simple lesson providence taught me that day. I found myself as empty as ever. My tomorrow’s anxiety was well reprimanded by today’s precept.

Every single event of being in proximity of Rāmeshwar has, by its vivid inner touch, participated in adorning this life with some not easily forgettable reminiscences, by coloring it with some ever creative novel shade, while keeping the inner light uniquely ablaze. It has poured in this ever so shaky wobbling vessel some unusual lively tunes that has made this mute organ thrill with multifarious melody while according it a harmony unparalleled in its fervor. I hardly knew that this our journey to Shūlpān would be so richly adorned and turned into a pilgrimage by being directed by the Trishūlpāni Himself seated there as Rāmeshwar. On this occasion He didn’t just stop by drawing some outlines in it, He even colored it with a captivating hue, filling it with a newly dawned crimson red of this pining heart. Certainly, why bother about future when a decision had already been reached to surrender ourselves to the will of God? I was just waiting for a comment from Thakore: ‘ Shall we ease our journey up with a little provision, Naresh?’ But well, no comment was passed. However, I very well knew that this taunt that peeped out of my mind was a direct outcome of the feeling that had taken root in his mind. This sort of telepathic signals had often been experienced by us before, and hence this remark. Whatever, but since we were out to get our faith in God assessed, why at all bother about the future security? And I mentally bowed down before the gracious Almighty for thus enlightening me.. Such was the fulfillment imparted by Rāmeshwar, the affluence projected by the Lord Trishūlpāni.

And when did Rāmeshwar ever fail to bestow His benedictions to His true seekers? Anybody who has willfully surrendered himself heart and soul to Him will never be delivered free from Him without being rewarded by a heartful of intrinsic joy and a deep feeling of inward bliss. The one who has not been able to earn and ascertain his needs from Him has certainly failed to understand Rāmeshwar. Rāmeshwar has ever remained for us the self-lived visualization of inner exuberance, an astounding blossoming of inner yearning, an infinite illumination eliminating the impervious darkness of this life. The lofty, and virtually novel feelings that emerged from this life during this visit of ours to Rāmeshwar, were never before experienced by me during my previous visits. Every single glimpse of the deity has at every single event added some newly inspired vividness. We never lacked deriving some new outlook of life, some prolific experience, whenever we turned to Him. Offering our deep feelings in the lotus feet of the great Lord and thus being sanctified by His blessings, we started off, after receiving goodbye wishes from our colleagues, on our pilgrimage to Shūlpān.

It reminded me of my friend Praveen. He had commented: “Naresh, the natural bounties of Rāmeshwar is all that is in our lot.” And he was quite correct till this moment. Today we were proceeding towards Shūlpān, a few steps ahead of where we were; but alas, Praveen was not there to accompany or escort us. He very often accompanied us to Rāmeshwar, but rarely to Mankāmeshwar. Whereas, we three – Thakore, Nanakaka and I – used to visit Mankāmeshwar now and again, feeling ourselves inwardly gratified by its cool, comforting contact. Sitting in prayer at the lotus feet of our Lord and singing a couple of Bhajans with deep devotion, we used to temporarily depart from His close proximity still drinking the quiet solitude of the place. But amidst all this, especially during the latter part of my boyhood, there always was the lone and yet ever unforgettable presence of one soul, who, being ever so near to my heart, never absented himself from being in the comforting proximity of Mahādeva, the great Lord. That ever-embodied presence was that of my friend Pūrūshottam. As were Praveen, Nānākāka and Thakore in Vyara, so was Pūrūshottam in Kathore. Those were the days when there was no high school education available in Vyara. My father, hence, requested a transfer to some such place where there was a high school that could allow me to prosecute my studies further. My father, hence, was transferred to Kathore, thus facilitating my studies in the Galliara High School from where I matriculated. When I first stepped into my tenth grade class there, I was made to sit on a bench with Purushottam. His first question to me was:

“How well did you do in your ninth grade?”

“Not really well; I was promoted;” I said.

“That’s great! Then we sail in the same boat, my friend;” came the comment.

Or, was it a retort? Whatever, but I realized a little later that academically we were no match to each other. Normally he stood first in the class and as such he was teachers’ favorite. His father Jesingbhāi was a teacher, as was my father, in the same school. As compared to him I was a dullard; and yet, right from the start, temperamentally, we suited each other fine. As compared to him I was far behind in my studies. I always disliked Mathematics and hence, if at all I failed, I failed in Math, as a result of which I never could score well. However, in one respect we had a great similarity. Emotionally we were much alike. We never lacked deep, lofty feelings, a trait which ever kept us together in a deep tie of friendship. Many took Purshottam for a rather coy guy. True, he hardly preferred to speak without reason; and for this characteristic of his, others, and at start even I, misunderstood him. But with the intimacy increased, we became friends, friends in its real sense. During our school vacation whenever we had to part from each other, or when, for any reason, we couldn’t meet, we found ourselves at the end of our tether. Academically he was very bright. I have never seen him score less than ninety in Math; whereas for me, I would almost always skip the Math period, and trespassing against Chhotubhāi Vanmāli’s fruit garden, would peacefully enjoy eating fine, fresh guava. Whenever I got caught by Hānsotichāchā, our Math teacher, I would readily accept the inflicted punishment without any grudge. But one mention I have got to make here. Leaving aside this Math business, I was fairly good at other subjects. Whatever be it, few there were who would match the affection that we had for each other. Purushottam’s mother was to me my mother. I called her Motiben. His sister Saraswati was my sister. At occasions, whenever I helped  Purushottam piling firewood in his attic, I never felt myself an outsider.

Again, as Thakore and I kept company with Kevdi and Mankāmeshwar in Vyara, here, in Kathore, Pūrūshottam and I had made that ‘Green-mound’ on the river Tāpi our chummy little mate. In the soothingly tender warmth of this knoll, we, swinging with the ripples of the calmly-flowing waters of the river Tāpi reverberating underneath, used to sit for hours together enjoying the serene quietude of the captivating atmosphere, quite often without uttering a single word. It was only when darkness had its sway over the atmosphere that we would unwillingly leave the place, experiencing a sort of mystifying fulfillment. Pūrūshottam was rather soft-spoken, peace loving and of contemplative type. One other friend that I had in Kathore was Bābu, brother to the advocate Manharbhai. He was a light hearted, peace loving and amiable type of guy; but Bābu hardly accompanied us on our rambles on the Tāpi. We two, Pūrūshottam and me, were worshippers of nature. Nature was to us like mother. We never tired ourselves drinking the exquisite atmosphere of the bounties of mother nature. Rather than aimlessly gossiping, we felt our lives sweetened while sitting there in utter silence for hours in company of mother nature, leaving our feet willfully dangling in the murmuring river-water.

8.   Gangā-Poojan – My FrustrationWhen I look back into my life in Kathore, I cannot but help thinking that it was the most precious period of my otherwise discordant life. I say discordant because my mind and the society I was a part of dragged me in two opposite directions. My apathy for my studies made me a prey to family indifference which kept me confined to a dreary sort of atmosphere, whereas something inside me ever prompted me, rather forcefully and in a vagabond-like pattern, to give myself up, heart and soul, to the promptings of mother nature. Amidst this inner pull of opposites and quite without my knowledge, one purely inconceivable incident happened, which kept on constraining me not just for days or months, but for years on… When we came to Kathore, we became Bhikhūbhai’s tenants. They stayed upstairs; whereas we had rented their ground floor apartment. My father selected to stay here because the house was at a three minute walking distance from the school. Quite a wealthy gentleman that Bhikhubhai was, he had unluckily no issue to enjoy his affluence. Not willing to share the loneliness themselves, the couple had invited their sister’s daughter Manju to stay with them and study. Manju, nick named Mangu, was in grade eighth. Some astrologist advised Bhikhubhai to get ‘Gangā-Poojan’ performed by some Brāhmins from Kāshi, which in turn, they foretold, would bring home the enjoyer of his property. Both he and his spouse were pretty old; however, in the hope of getting a child, they spent quite an amount in having the ritual celebrated. A big canopy was erected in the front yard. At the rear was a spacious courtyard, which gave an easy approach from outside its verandah as well as from inside our house. From our sitting-room we could see the mahārāj (the cook) busy boiling some milk with a view to preparing some delicacy. I was in our sitting room when I found Mangu enter our house.

“Come in,” said I.

“How are you? May I have your Gujarati textbook!”

“Of course; what do you want my textbook for?” I asked her in a normal sort of way, knowing she was studying in grade eight. I was in grade eleventh.

“It has in it a lyric that can be sung during marriage ceremony. I want it for my friend’s marriage.” Mangu used to sing reasonably well. She and Saraswati, purushottam’s sister, were in the same grade. She happened to come to pūrūshottam’s house, sometimes. I had seen her at his place twice or thrice, may be more. There I saw her and Saraswati sing together. Saraswati hardly knew any singing. She would keep humming while Mangu sang.

“I don’t think there is, in this book, anything worth singing in marriage.” I told her.

“No, there is.”

“There isn’t.” And really, I could not recollect any such poem being there in my textbook.

“Why not give the book to me? I will show it to you.”

I took the book and gave it to her. She started looking through the pages and all of a sudden it struck me of the poem ‘Mātrūgūnjan’. Thinking that she was probably searching for the same poem, I tried to take the book from her just to show her where actually the poem was, saying: “Give it to me; I now know what poem you really do want.” But then saying; “Here it is,” she held the book before me. Yes, there she was, right with the poem. The poem was:

There doth flow the river surging slowly, shallowly,

The tearful virgin to in-laws is shyly sauntering quietly,

‘Midst the farewell rejoiners a solitary, dismal, desolate heart

Of mournful mother, all in sobs, longing, with no heart to start…

Well, the rest of the poem I do not quite remember. More than sixty years have elapsed since the incident took place. And again, the original poem is in Gujarati, my mother tongue, and the poem has no bearing on the incident being quoted here. What is important is the trend, the curve the whole incident took. That cook working in the courtyard was watching us and I was fully aware of it. As to the poem, and in knowing whether or not it could be sung in somebody’s marriage, I had no personal interest. Mangu took the book with her. She hardly waited in my house some five to seven minutes. She seldom came to my house, and I had never visited her upper storey. We had never cultivated any relations even of talking to one another. That’s it.

Gangā-Poojan was pompously celebrated and was soon forgotten. One late evening, after dark, Purushottam and I were coming back from our evening rambles at the river-bank, and we beheld a crowd of people gathered together near my house. Facing my house was a sort of a garden, all barren, with no flowers inside; but there were some two desks and a public lamp-post. So, even from a distance the visibility was not that poor. Purushottam remarked: “Naresh, there seems to be some trouble at your place.” We hurried forward and were soon in the vicinity of my house.

“Why don’t you become strict with your son? Is our daughter a houseless vagrant?” The shout came from Bhikhūbhai.

“Have a little peace; this is’nt a thing in which, without knowing the details, it is necessary to speak as and how you feel, and …” My father was trying, with enough of restraint, to bring home to Bhikhūbhai the seriousness of the thing.

“What do you mean by ‘as and how’? Is this mahārāj telling a lie? He saw it with his own eyes, understand! Taking you for a good man I gave you this house, and now …” Before Bhikhubhai finished his sentence, I was already up the porch of my house, and on way to the staircase.

“Where is that Naresh? Call him.” That was my mother, all in despair and wrath. With a shock, and rather intimidated, I climbed the stairs and saw Bhikhubhai and his wife, my parents, the maharaj and Mangu – all, outside the gallery of the house. Both, maharaj and Mangu were standing there. The moment I reached there, Bhikhubhai pounced upon me, shouting:

“Beware you, if you dare even cast a glance at my Mangu hence forth, you will never come across a man worse than me, understand you …!”

“Why hadst ‘thou’ given me a push?” iterated Mangu, in deep anger and with a sort of hatred, even before Bhikhubhai managed to complete his statement.

I was spellbound and made totally speechless. Was this really Mangu framing the question? Was it her way of safeguarding her position? But then why should she exploit and subjugate me this bad, and that too using a falsity, to shield herself? When in goodness name did I ever give her a push? Why can’t she declare that the maharaj was a liar, out and out? And again, this was the very first time that she had addressed me with the use of ‘Tūn’- thou – in disdain. She always looked at me with respect. And we never had cultivated any such deep relations that would naturally permit her to address me so. We had been staying in their house for hardly a little more than a year and a half; and if I am not mistaken, during the first three to four months of our stay there I had not even so much as talked to her. Even at Purushottam’s house she did not come that frequently so as to give us grounds to cultivate deep relations between us two. Purushottam was never a man of that genre. The slender-built Purushottam was half a philosopher who normally remained tied to his books. He had a sort of aversion to those who selected to tread the path of unrighteousness. Straightforward as he ever was, none of his colleagues ever preferred to speak rough or rot in his presence. Our friendship was utterly selfless, and undue and inequitable talks and things had hardly any place in it. Any way, seeing her speak harshly at me, I could not help asking her: “When did I give you a push?” She looked at me for a moment and then kept staring at Bhikhubhai.

“This maharaj says that on the day before Gangā-Poojan you and Mangu had misbehaved;” clarified my father.

“No, nothing of the sort ever did happen. I didn’t do anything to her.”

“What is it, maharaj? Why are you silent? Come out with all that happened;” Bhikhubhai exploded.

“When I was preparing sweets, this chap was playing pranks with our Manguben.

“Did you see it?” intervened my father.

“Yes, I saw it with my own eyes. I was busy boiling milk just behind them.”

“Were they playing pranks, as you say, right under your nose while you could actually see them? Did they see you too?” asked my father.

“Yes.”

“Naresh, did you do any such thing? What actually did happen?”

I narrated the whole incident right from the time Mangu entered the house – her asking for the book, and everything that had taken place, and clarified that neither did I give any prick to Mangu nor did she do any such thing to me. It was simply a give and take of the book. Maharaj –the cook – was then working in the yard.

“Maharaj, was it because of the passing of the book between them that you thought they were pinching each other?”

“I never saw any book or its like. They were pricking each other like this;” and trying to impersonate my behaviour by way of an explanation, he continued, “I was in the yard well behind them.”

Let alone the sentences that came out from maharaj; the injustice or vehemence that stirred out from Mangu in her self-defense, could never leave me. I well knew, I was not at all at fault, nor was Mangu either. She had been at my place just for the book; and I had not invited her. Again, she rarely came to my house; and as has been mentioned before, I had never ever been to her house, their upper floor. Till this day I do not know what all had passed prior to our returning from the river that day. I never knew whether Mangu was made to say what she did through any pressure or reproach. What actually had happened, goodness knows. And again, I did not understand the sense, the wisdom in accepting the self-concocted tale of an ordinary cook, forcing passersby to the show by unwisely shouting the filth out for the mass to enjoy. Whatever it was, none but Purushottam ever knew the impact, the lasting effect the scenario created on me, on my whole being. But the great turmoil my parents passed through on account of this episode was beyond anybody’s grasp. To them, it was a big blot, a blemish to their prestige. Every now and again, they had to suffer just because of me. They never did experience any relief, any satisfaction, any sense of happiness from my side. “What a rot we gave birth to?” they must have felt. The aura in the house was highly suffocating. The very speech had assumed a deadened hush. My father seemed to be utterly taken aback, and “Come downstairs, Naresh” came a call from my crying mother. I followed her, and heard Natu, a colleague of mine, singing:

“Oh why this undue conflict, brethren?

Give the harshness up, my brethren!…”

I entered my house, and readily came a leather-slipper in my mother’s hand: “You dying black-sheep, you went to this extent? You mixed our prestige in the dust! You couldn’t even think of the outcome of all this! It would have been ten times better had you dipped yourself down in a handful of water.” How many slippers I became a prey to, I counted not. But with every smash from my mother’s hand, with every utterance from her lips, I felt like dying. With this bidding in progress, there entered my father. Not preventing my mother, he started searching the pockets of my clothes, the pages of my books, my school notebooks. No, he did not stop with these. He looked through every possible corner of the house — in its walls, in any crack of the wooden pillars and things, almost everywhere and anywhere there seemed to be a possibility of my hiding a piece of paper, a small note somewhere, that could possibly give a hint of something going on between us two. I became a wretched miserable witness to this act of his. What to speak? What to do? There was no truth in the whole occurrence. Where was the probability of finding anything from within the home or from outside anywhere. I could very well surmise the amount of distrust and bitterness my parents had stored in them on this account. I never lacked emotions; but circumstances had long since been playing tricks with my sensitivity, my credibility. And I simply could not become inert to circumstances. How will I now stir out, and with what standing? Where was the sense in prolonging this life like that?

Those were summer days when because of extreme heat I used to sleep outside on the porch. But my parents did not permit me to sleep outside that day. Were they possibly able to sense my intent? The sleepless night took away all my ease, and I thought of stealthily leaving my house. I had but two alternatives: either to leave the house or to take a plunge in the Tāpi. I don’t know why, but Jeejābhai—my father – was more than alert, and I could not move out. After the incident of my sister’s bracelets this was the second and rather more scandalous incident that made me feel more shame-faced. On the previous occasion I was at fault, at least partly so; but this was something that simply came out of the blue! I was simply lost, lost in thought. I was no more a lad of thirteen. Circumstances had geared me enough to teach me start thinking on positive lines.

One thing was quite clear. I liked to talk to Mangu. Her skin was rather on the dark side; but   she wore a pleasing disposition and was ever jovial. I hardly met her directly, for there was no such occasion to. But I often saw her, especially while on way to and back from school, climbing up and down the stairs that went from our porch to the upstairs gallery. During my whole stay there, I wonder if she had been at my place, I mean in my house, even four to five times. Our meeting even at Pusushottam’s residence was a rarity, especially because I did not go that often to his house. More often than not, it was he who came to my place from where we normally left for our river rambles. The river was nearer from my house than from his. Once at my house, we had just to cross the cemetery to reach there. Thus, my contact with Mangu was so very limited that we hardly even had an occasion to talk to each other, let alone the idea of setting a rendezvous with each other. Never did any sort of relationship ever develop, and yet the blemish that had befallen me was unbearable. Such sort of occasions so queerly happening in my life very often dipped me down in deep thinking. Why should God put me in such censorship and make me a participant in a play where I become an easy prey to blames and blemishes so very incomprehensible? Why should I in particular be reprimanded every now and again by this cruelty of nature? Why should happenings of this nature go on accumulating themselves because of which I become an easy victim to undue criticism from every corner? Is there some sort of matrix that is being followed to mould some sort of pattern out of this insignificant me? There certainly is some hidden hand, I thought, that is incessantly trying to work its way out while getting a definite form out of me. Who is that hidden one that chastises me with every spank into something beyond my purview?

This sort of thinking became almost a part of me, because the pattern never did end. And now this blemish! I could not put aside the idea of leaving my house or even going to the extent of bringing an end to this miserable, wretched, good-for-nothing life. Purely unbearable was the shock, the psychological trauma I had suffered. And I said to myself: Let me go to school. From there will I directly and without anybody’s knowledge start heading for the river. Then it is between the river Tāpi and myself. I also ruminated over the possibility of my failing to have enough courage, for any remote reason, to give myself up to the Tāpi, in which case I thought of going far away along the river bank and into the forest out of the reach of any body. Be it what it may, but I cannot and would not stay here any longer. But then, after the school, in the evening, my father made me accompany him on my way home, and I had to follow him. When proposed to go for a walk, I was told by my mother not to go out, adding : “Your Jijābhai has forbidden you from going out today.” What to do now? I was perplexed and was thinking of finding some way out…and there I saw Purushottam approaching the house. He entered the house. But the culprit that I was, I dared not look him in the eye. But then on seeing Purushottam, Jijābhai said: “If you intend to go out, go for a while with Purushottam. Take a stroll and come back straight home. Purushottam, before going home, pass from here.”

So, that was that. The inkling I had within me was not for nothing. I had suspected it long since. My father was not totally unaware of my intention. Anyway, to spare myself from the smothery atmosphere of the house, we took off for our all-time companion, the green knoll. But even Purushottam could give me no solace. Keeping unduly quiet he kept on eyeing me at short intervals. Even on way to the knoll, he had not uttered a single word. What was he thinking about? Was he contemplating to know the truth behind the whole issue? But what even if he asked me to clarify? What sort of clarification did the incident require? I observed discrete silence over it. … And  … And I don’t know why and how; but he put to me a straightforward question:

“What is it, Naresh? Thinking of leaving the house? Or else ….”

“Or else what?”

“Intending to give yourself up to Tāpimaiyā?”

“But Purushottam, what do I do? Where …”

“Don’t be a fool. Is it possible to live life while dreading life itself?… Have you ever given a thought as to the repercussions of what you are contemplating to do? Did you think of your family? … Why are you so quiet? Speak yourself out.”

But what do I speak? I just kept mum. He had known me through and through. It was our affinity that took him straight to the inner chambers of my heart.

“Look; be self-possessed. If you don’t give enough of thought and take a hurried step, you will be nowhere” His words reminded me of Jijābhai, my father. At home, this type of talks, talks on principles, talks on life, was a common routine. Once, regarding some such similar thing Jijabhai had commented: “Where does lie the art of living in letting this life be drained in a cowardly fashion?” Did not Purushottam’s expression carry a similar note? And I too had something going on right within me that kept on telling me: “Where actually was I at fault in this? Why bother about what people say? Why not fight the circumstance out?” I was gradually gathering myself up while I heard Purushottam say:

“Would you promise me one thing, Naresh?”

“Promise! What sort of promise?”

“If you stand by your word, I will tell you.”

“But why don’t you speak out? What sort of promise?”

“No; not like that. Give me your assurance and I will tell you.”

“Sure, be assured. What is it?”

“Give me your word that you won’t go in for that suicide thing, and that whatever step you intend to take, you won’t, without making me wise on it.”

Well, I easily and very frankly committed myself to it. Even otherwise, I would never have left my home for good without letting Purushottam know about it. And as to the possibility of committing suicide, ‘it was just a lazy thought-wave, a simmering something, that had temporarily occupied my mind’. In my calm moments, I could easily wave the thought away. It was not because of the fear of death, but because it was never my way of thinking. I was never that timid to accept any defeat without giving the grounds proper justice by way of a tough encounter. Consequently, I had dropped the very idea of giving myself away.

“One thing more,” Purushottam continued, “I intend to see Mangu. Why did she do this? I will ask Saraswati to call her ….”

“Stop taking any such step. Neither do I intend to see her, nor do I want to know what she has to say in this regard. I have decided never to meet her, never ever to talk to her. Why, don’t you have enough trust in me, in what I say, that you want to contact her and ask her…”

“No, no; I know for sure,” reiterated Purushottam, “that whatever you say is the truth. You will never tell me a lie; no, never. And again, I am not telling you to see her. I just want to understand why she should behave the way she did with you. Where actually was the difficulty in telling the truth and put the matter fair and square?”

“She might have. This happened long ago. Again, what could she have said? And what was there to derive from starting it anew? That what had to happen has happened.” Thus the mater was dropped; but I was far from relieved from the tension.

When we returned home, the evening was closing on us, and Jijabhai was taking rounds on the porch, surely a little anxiety-ridden. Prior to bidding a goodbye, Purushottam reminded me of my word to him. Had he not been there, I would certainly not have put an end to my life. But as to quitting the house? Who can ever tell? … Days passed. Vacating Bhikhubhai’s house, we rented another one, a bit bigger than this and yet a little cheaper. I was not regretful of leaving the house, and after the Gangā-Poojan incident I never did talk to Mangu. If at all I did anything, it was to search and understand myself. Our new house was very near to school now, so very near that we could even hear the school-bell.

I kept on going to school regularly and was overly quiet. I evaded talking to others; even at home I spoke only when needed. I kept myself far more busy with my books; but that mainly pertained to extra books, books out of the school curriculum. It did not concern my academic progress, and my aversion to math continued. At home, I kept myself busy mostly with Swami Vivekanand’s literature. In the evening I went regularly for the Gymnastics from where I preferred going straight for my rambles on the bank of river Tāpi, and being naturally attracted towards the bounties of nature, I often went alone when Purushottam was beyond easy reach. While in gymnasium, I gratified myself with malkhambh – a pole used for body-building – roman-ring, single-bar, and wrestling. Sit-ups and pull-ups, which I always performed at home, were a regular routine with me not just here, but even while in Vyara. There, I used to go up the attic and do it thrice a day. I then had a queer notion that the more you perspire doing your exercise, the better it is for you; and the attic being the hottest place in the house, helped promote perspiring. To run barefooted on loose gravel, to take a straight plunge from the topmost branch of a mango tree while playing ‘Āmbāpipli’ – an Indian game – with friends, were the usual sports I liked participating in. During town-competitions in sports – like swimming, running, performing yoga-postures etc – and in spinning, I was always among the first three. Thus I was fairly strong in body. And this new house of ours being a fairly spacious two-storied building provided me with enough of solitude which I profitably used in doing the yogāsans, which included the three ‘Bandhas’- locking of throat, abdomen or sphincter muscle – together with ‘Nauli’- Internal churning of the large intestine. As to Prānāyama, I  practiced it regularly, not knowing that all this would help me promote my concentration and in getting my Prānas awakened. Over and above this, I indulged myself in reading religious and philosophical literature and sometimes in writing poems. All this I normally kept to myself and none of my friends and relatives ever knew of these activities of mine. Yes, my parents were well aware of these traits in me.

Mangu, My  MotherI was now in Matric, Grade XI of those days, and had become a little more serious. Very often, when I stood on the porch of my house ready to go to school, amidst other students, I saw Mangu going to school. In the beginning, I found in me a sort of an aversion for her, almost a feeling akin to abhorrence mingled with hatred; but this did not last long. My reading and thinking had become habitual. The affair of Gangā-Poojan had awakened me to myself in a highly striking way. Whenever I indulged myself in the reveries of the episode, which I could not help reflecting on, I invariably and unconditionally fell a prey to combining with it the event of my thieving the bracelets. I don’t know why, but I always took the two as something that had happened on even lines and that too for some intrinsic purpose. I could not help thinking that they entered my life for a definite purpose, with some arcane care and a pre-determined design of giving me a definite shape. Time made me repellent of my repugnance towards Mangu. She must have been forced to act the way she did just for her self-defense. She might have thought of running me down to prove that she was quite innocent and perfectly pure. I was, perhaps, made a weapon to sheathe her sanctity. After all, she was a lady. Why should she unnecessarily take the blame on her. The way the whole event took shape – the gathering of the mob, shameless discussion that was carried on openly, well, all that had happened that day – naturally prompted her to defend herself, which she did perhaps in an unwise way, or perhaps by becoming somebody’s pawn. Well, in her circumstances, that might be considered fair too. It just depends. Be it what it may; instead of finding faults with her, I guilelessly started implanting in me a deep, gentle feeling for her. Whenever I saw her pass from near my house, I instilled in me a strong, hidden feeling telling myself that it was none but my mother who was passing from here. Thus, I fervently kept on endeavoring to visualize in her a mother.

Dear reader, to you this seems to be a rather farfetched exaggeration, correct? You may as well cast it aside as totally humbug. Well, you may as well be thinking that this I am depicting in order to create a feeling of veneration for me in the hearts of my readers. But no, I don’t require that sort of adoration from any corner; for nobody ever did come to me asking about this issue. Again, I really do not know whether or not anybody tied to this incident is alive today. I was thirteen while committing the theft, seventeen when Gangā-Poojan was performed, and today I am eighty-two years of age. Why write all this at this ripe age? Very true, every thing has its place in relation to time. But I am relating this because the events quoted here, many of which rather queer and running almost in a pattern, present the unequivocal flights of my life’s progress. These and similar other occasions have greatly participated in enriching this otherwise trivial life of mine. I very well know that without them I would not have been what I today am, because I have been able to gather a little elixir for this unusual life through the ungovernable churning of such events. These are the blessed steps that led me to the journey of Shūlpān, the steps that greatly contributed towards an instinctive change in me, leading me to view the general women-folk in a particular light only, the steps that gave my life an upward ascent by making it partially sanctified.

And with all this, I will admit, dear reader, that your assumption is not totally out of place. For what you doubt about, has many a time made even me be possessed of equally identical ideas, which prompted me to peer deeply within me, and judge whether I really have been able to place Mangu equally on the footing of my mother. If I myself have to answer similar question confronting me, I will say ‘yes’ and ‘no’. ‘Yes’, because, for days on, whenever I looked at her, I never did fail to behold in her person the sanctified form of a mother; though it, I mean the motherly feeling, materialized after an unbroken chain of mental projection of a long, long duration. True, until the cycle was rendered complete, I had failed to visualize that benign maternal sense for her, perhaps because my heart had terribly been affected by the injustice done by her, or better say, caused because of her. And it was mainly because of this ever-intervening emotion of the wrong working within me for days and months that I perhaps lacked in me the sanctity so very necessary for the culmination of purity within. It was this that galvanized the ups and downs in my emotions that would not let me remain single minded in my steady pursuit of the inner piety. This much for the ‘Yes’. And ‘No’, because, if I ever ventured to say that I never did have any undue, lustful feeling for women or that I never did look at ladies from that angle provoking lascivious sensuality, it would be far from truth. I have ever remained a man, and a purely common-place person for that matter; and I have never succeeded in evolving in me the urge and naturality of not visualizing the woman in a woman. This I will frankly admit. Even today, I see the woman in a lady, not any righteous configuration devoid of womanliness. And yet … Yet, during my stay at Kathore, I did envisage a time when seeing Mangu passing alongside me, I saw in her nothing more nor less than the motherliness, experiencing which, and saying to myself “Mangu, my mother” I did mentally portray her in a motherly demeanor.

My stay in Kathore was in many respects a highly decorous and virtuously prolific period of my life. That was the time when, being ever inward drawn, I virtually and with full understanding kept myself aloof from the society. I had not given up my studies, but I was amply care-ridden about it. I had hardly any interest in my school things. I went to school simply because it was obligatory on my part to go there. My teachers were ever ready with complaints, more so because my father being on the school staff was ever handy, a predicament which made me an easy target to his wrath. My father tried his utmost seeing me busy with my school lessons. He aimed at my well-being more than I ever did myself; but I was never keen on my studies, never enough attentive. As a result, I usually had to submit myself to corporal punishment very prevalent in those days. Thus passed my days, and it was now time for my preliminary exam.

\  And  I  Take  A  VowIn my preliminary exam, that which was to happen, happened. In Mathematics I scored two marks out of two hundred – one in Algebra and one in Geometry. I believe that I was graced with these, mainly because they must have felt it bad to put zero on my answer-scripts. I had hardly penned anything. But then I was not the last in my grade in math; One, Teli, had scored two marks less than I had; thank goodness. But the unexpected happened. The principal decided not to grant me, in fact to both of us, the ‘entry-form’ – the permission to take the final examination. And not just me, everybody at home thought that I would never be able to pass my Matriculation. My mother suggested that my father should see the principal in this regard; but he bluntly rejected the proposal with the remark: “In what words do I put this request to him?” Dājikāka, my elderly uncle, was then working as an Assistant Deputy Education Inspector. My mother suggested to him to see me pass at least the vernacular sixth exam, the minimum requirement for acquiring a job, so that I can at least be a ‘Talāti’ — a village clerk – and somehow earn my livelihood. Thus, they were all worried about my future, and I was almost stamped a Talāti. Right at that moment Pāthek Sahib, the head clerk of our school, entered the house. He advised me to go and request the Principal to allow me to fill in the entry form for the final exam. He as well told me to see him in person before going to the principal, adding that he would be there to help me ease the issue. Pāthek Sahib knew my father’s nature. He very well conjectured that my father was the last man to put such a request before the principal. The next day, intimating Pāthek sahib, I made straight for the principal’s office.

“Yes Naresh, what brings you here?” asked the principal.”

“I have not been granted the form, sir,” I started saying, while looking at the door. But Pāthek Sahib was not to be seen anywhere near; and I did not know what else to say.

“Isn’t it natural? What’s your score in math?”

“Two marks;” I said looking down.

“What’s the sense filling in the form with a score of two marks in math?” He explained while I kept on gazing at the office entrance, looking for the promised help. Pāthek Sahib surely did trick me, I thought. Meanwhile the principal went on, “You certainly won’t pass the final exam. Why waste Harshadbhai’s (my father) fifteen Rupees by filling in the form? It is for your good and for the good of your father that you don’t fill it in. Work hard the next year and …” I heard somebody’s footsteps behind me and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Sir, these papers, …  Oh Naresh! What brings you here?” Pāthek Sahib asked while entering the office and placing on the table some papers for the principal to sign. ‘What a question?’ I thought.  It was he who had connived at the whole issue. Why should he act weird now? But then …

“He has come here with a request to grant him the form,” clarified the principal while viewing those papers: “He has only two marks in math.”

“Yes, I heard of it; and it’s fair too. Where’s the sense in taking the university exam?” I was astonished and dumbfounded hearing him speak this way. It was he who had sent me here, and now he had turned tables. It would have been far better had I not come here with such a request. But then he said: “Let me see your marks. Do you have them?” And I gave him my mark sheet.

“Oh, he has scored very well in all the other subjects but math! Sir, have a look at it. He has more than fifty marks in Science, Languages (which included Gujarāti and Sanskrit, not English), as well as in History and Geography. If he scores exemption in these in his university exam, he will have only two subjects to cover the next year – English and Maths. Without being exempted in these subjects, sir, he will have no hope ever to pass the exam, for he will then have to take the exam in all the subjects.” So saying he passed the mark sheet on to the principal. Casting a glance at it and giving it a little thought, he pressed the bell for the class-teacher and asked him to get the form filled in. In my heart of hearts I thanked Pāthek Sahib for all that he did. It was a little more than a month for the final exam, and I decided to keep myself away from any other activity and be one with my studies aiming at nothing else but the exam. Leaving everything aside I kept myself busy doing Algebra. Time kept on flying; the exam was also over, and the result was declared too. And what was there to be declared? Fail I had to; and who ever was unaware of it? But there was a vast difference noted: I had scored twenty-eight marks in Algebra as against the score of two of the preliminary exam. Whereas in English, instead of forty-eight scored in the previous exam, I scored forty, the bare minimum to pass. Having scored more than fifty percent in all the other subjects, I was exempted from taking examination in those subjects. I had expected to attain distinction in Sanskrit, India’s mother language in olden days, and in Gujarāti, my mother tongue; but that did not materialize. Yes, I could have scored distinction in these subjects had I not …

This circumstance is connected with one small incident that had its root in my terminal exam of Grade Nine, the period when I committed my last thievery, a cheating, in the examination hall in my Vyara High School. The school terminal exam was going on, and we were taking our test in science. Our teacher Vasantbhai, Thakore’s elder brother, was our supervisor. He was a very noble, humble, trusting sort of fellow, a rather godly type. The exam was going on and sitting on the chair, he was busy doing his rosary-thing while pupils comfortably busied themselves copying. Meanwhile, Sūker, the school peon, entered the hall telling Vasantbhai that he was wanted by the principal. Asking Sūker to wait a moment there, he left the hall for the principal. ‘Oh, what a godsend!’ I said to myself. Without losing a moment I opened our science textbook, put it straight on the bench and started jotting down the needed answers from it. Sūker was watching it. I thought: ‘Well, after all Sūker is a mere school peon, whereas I am the son of a school-teacher. Sūker naturally won’t dare divulge the deed.’ And I continued with my work fearlessly. In a short while Vasantbhai was back. I slowly put the book on my thigh, covered it under my ‘Kafni’ – a rather long robe I had on – and quietly carried on with my copying business. Two-three minutes had rarely elapsed and ParānjpeDāda, the principal, entered the hall. He being very strict, every body was afraid of him. ‘I am done for; Sūker must have tipped him off,’ I conjectured. But there was now no way out; and, as if nothing had happened, I just started scribbling whatever I knew. The principal busied himself asking some of the pupils how the paper was, and then approaching me he asked: “Hey Naresh, How is the paper? Hope you are alright. Let me see how you have fared.” He took my answer script and started looking through it. Then he searched the upper pocket of my ‘Kafni’- a robe  . What will he find there? Then he asked me to stand up. Slowly, and being careful to see that the book below my kafni remains well pressed between the bookshelf underneath the bench and my thighs, I cautiously stood up. He looked here and there below, fumbled in my side pockets and asking me to sit down, made for the door. Breathing a deep sigh of relief I casually started to take my seat. But alas, there slipped the book from under my kafni straight to the ground, and hearing the ruffle, Dāda took a sharp turn, picked the book up from over the ground, and like uttering to himself : “It was Sūker who told me,” he took the book and my answer script and asked me to follow him. I followed him to his office, while Vasantbhai kept staring at us.

“Cheating in the exam, right! … Not to read and pass with no effort, correct! … Put your hand here on the table.” I did likewise. “Not that way; put it on the desk-rim with your palm upside down;” said he, taking his wand.

I kept my hand so and straight came the blow as hard as ever, right on my hand. I at once took my hand away; but then, “No; not yet; put it back.” And I got two more. “Crying is not your way, correct?” And he started for the fourth one, and I beseeched him with a cry: “Please sir, I won’t repeat it, please.”

“Get out!” came the order. I waited a bit, staring at my answer-script. “Go, I said.” I was not given my book and the answer-sheets, and without a word I made for my home.

“Hey Naresh, how come you are home so early? Is your exam over?” asked my mother.

“Yes;” and I went straight up mentally preparing myself for whatever that was to come once my father was home. I dared not go out for a walk. My father came home a little late in the evening and gave me a blank stare. I was alert and ready. Telling a lie was out of question. But Jeejābhai did not utter a word. I was a bit amazed. ‘Still waters run deep;’ I had recently learnt. Yes, it must be so. Thinking of what was going to befall me after the dinner was done, I kept waiting for things to happen. Contemplating; and without uttering a word, I remained confined to my house. After a while, he told my mother about my being caught copying. But she also didn’t tell me anything. Their silence confounded me, and I found it hard to digest the deadened stillness. Going upstairs, quite stunned and dumbfounded, and keeping my head in the book, I stayed there in a thoughtless mood looking engrossed. The time had stood still. … After a short while I heard a call: “Is Naresh home?” It was Vasantbhai.

“Come on in, Vasantbhai; he must be upstairs. Wait, I will call him.” And not waiting for the call I just got down. I was never scared of Vasantbhai; no, no one ever was. His very personality was such – quiet, serene and sober. Moreover, being Thakore’s elder brother, I always saw him with respect. He kept staring at me, measuring me. I kept mum.

“Naresh, did you give thought to what you did today? What great parents you are a son to? Did you think of your father’s esteem, the respect he holds in school and outside? Didn’t you at all shrink from cheating in the exam? It’s quite understandable your not thinking of me; but you didn’t even realize what prestigious position your father holds at school and in town, and how much it would hurt him if you got caught while cheating! The reputation he has in the town will all meet in the dust. … Why are you so quiet? Speak out.”

But what was there to speak? I didn’t have the courage even to look at him. He drew himself nearer to me; started caressing me lightly on my back and said: “Deceit and dishonesty can never help feed anybody. Think of the strivings your parents went through to bring you where you now are. And what did you do? Will they not be ashamed of talking about you to anybody? Decide right now that henceforth you will never take recourse to cheating, to any thieving at all. Promise me that, beg pardon of your parents, and promise them too that this type of thing will never happen in future.”

“I am sorry, Vasantbhai; it was my mistake. This won’t happen again;” I involuntarily uttered in a sunken voice. I do not quite remember whether or not I asked an apology of my parents. Since Vasantbhai had told me to, I believe, I must have done so. And again, their discrete silence had already told me all there was to say.

Dear reader, I feel, I am being looked down upon even by you because so far you have perhaps heard nothing but deceit and duplicity from me, which, I know I am not a prey to. However, let me confess, I too have a similar feeling for me. I have long remained an easy prey to many a fault, especially during my school career. But then the same said defaults, deficits small and big, remained instrumental in bringing me up. When this thing happened, I was in grade nine. And this was the last ever act of doing anything undemanding of me, call it duplicity or deceit, or whatever you may for that matter. Whether because of what Vasantbhai said or whether because of my parents’ unparalleled silence, I committed myself never to indulge myself in any sort of cheating from then on. Not that I had not been alert and thoughtful after the bracelet episode. But the fact that a simple act of copying in the exam becomes a signatory to ones mental trend towards criminality, was not that familiar, not that disturbing, not just to me, but to many other students. The event made me highly alert, deeply contemplative. The elixir I had gathered from Kevdi, the inspiration received from Mankāmeshwar and Rāmeshwar sounded futile and fruitless; and now I was dreaming to head on towards Shūlpāneshwar! I was not mindful of the fact that Mankāmeshwar and Rāmeshwar were a living witness to each and every fault, every single deficit occupying my mind. That was the time when Shūlpāneshwar though farther away, had, while remaining deep within me, kept on secretly playing tricks with me. Yes, all this time I used to forget that a real journey to a place of pilgrimage consisted in freeing my life from these ever repeating deficits and shortcomings of mine. Yes, I badly needed to take a fresh start towards a total uplift of this life of mine by adorning it with self-endeavor and then sincerely leading it towards honesty and piety, which alone could pave the way to godliness. I tended to forget that this vainly shining exterior of this ‘self’ of mine is just an outward shell meant to impart effulgence to the intrinsic reality. I was wont to overlook the fact that the true pilgrimage to a holy place consisted not in visiting shrines and stuff but in imparting new strength to this prosaic life by aptly and judiciously invigorating it with a life-energy that can be vitalized by right action and righteous thinking.

And I took a firm decision to proceed on the line of real and positive progress by sheer dint of self-merit. I decided never to succumb to temptations big or small, and to leave no stone unturned while fighting any sordid situation out. Yes, I will strive and strive hard, and while thus combating, if I have to greet defeat, I will accept it with the clear understanding that your victory or defeat rests not on the ultimate result derived, but on how best you struggled to achieve the desired end. Temptations will inevitably rush forth in your way in this journey of life; but I will confront them with all my might.

And this resolve of mine was challenged by the university examination of my final year, the then grade XI matriculation exam, when I was in the examination hall busy giving justice to my Gujarāti test. I was always interested in languages, more so in Sanskrit and Gujarāti. My father was a very good teacher, and was especially proficient in teaching Sanskrit. Once a Sanskrit-knowing Brāhmin from Kashi had arrived in our town, and there was none there who could really understand him or satisfactorily talk to him. My father then was sent for, and to the Brāhmin’s content he gave him sufficient company for the three days that he stayed in the town. It was due to my father that at home my younger brother Arvind, a professor in the M.T.B. College, and my sister Yashodhara, now in the U.S.A., cultivated a natural liking for Sanskrit literature. Even my mother, with her fairly limited learning, was highly interested in literature and had an exemplary grasp over Gujarāti as a language. Her exactitude and mastery over proverbs was simply superb. She could easily comprehend and even appreciate the well-renowned poet Nānālāl’s poems. And my interest in languages was a direct outcome of this parentage of mine. Hoping to score distinction in my mother tongue, I was deep down with my exam, trying to give proper justice to the subject. And all on a sudden our supervisor approached me and with the expression “just a minute” he took my answer script and passed it on to the examinee behind me, giving in turn his script to me. I failed to understand what was going on. The impact of it on me was rather sudden and unprecendental. There still was about half an hour for the exam session to end. I was not well-versed in Gujarāti grammar and there was a possibility of my scoring a little less in Gujarāti on account of that. On a little scrutiny I found the grammar question already answered in the script that was handed over to me. I was prompt enough to jot it down on my question paper, and the moment I got my script back, I lost no time copying it down in my answer script. Nature had come to my help quite unexpectedly. It was a good gain; but a myriad of questions suddenly invaded my mind. Is this not an act of thieving? What about my resolve? Is what I have added to my answer script mine? Does it really contain my honest work? But then the mind was not farther away to answer these questions fairly satisfactorily. It promptly argued out: “I didn’t personally go to do any copying. It was nature itself that came to my aid!”

In what words do I explain the predicament I was in while taking the exam? It was due to this confused state of mind that I failed to give proper justice to the rest of the questions. Yes, I was engaged in answering my questions; but there was a clear lack of concentration. Though in the act of writing, still, I found my mind involuntarily indulged in thinking: “Was it really a godsend or was some inner power trying to put me to a tough, rigid test?” Well, I failed to reach a firm decision, and yet a thought lingered on,   pounding my mind during every second that slipped: “Was it an unaskedfor aid sent by nature or a trial of my subliminal self? Yes, it was a fraud, a deceit, a theft alright. …” And the ten-minute gong struck. Was it a usual exam-warning, or a warning-bell for me, waking me up to myself from within? I started revising my answers rather speedily and I was fairly satisfied with my writings. But something was eating me up, lightly and stealthily giving rise to some sort of hidden dissatisfaction, some inwardly playing insinuation, peeping out from nowhere, as if warning me and reminding me of my vow. And there came the word of warning from the supervisor: “Pens Down.” I put my pen down. The supervisor busied himself collecting answer scripts. There was a tough fight going on in the heart of my hearts. I had cheated; yes, committed a theft today. I was once more a pronounced thief. … Me, a thief, … a Thief … The supervisor was slowly approaching me. I promptly took my pen. Opening the section where my grammar-part was written, I crossed it out with two big lines, and writing ‘CANCELLED – NOT TO BE EXAMINED’ in between the lines, I handed the script over to the supervisor. He saw me doing what I did, took my script and put it together with other scripts.

I took a deep sigh of relief. I was spared from a great exasperating defeat. The whole of my inner self, my very existence, radiated as it were in an inexplicable sense of triumph. Inwardly I was experiencing a deep, deep satisfaction, an abounding joyousness. A defeat of a life-time had today triumphed itself into a victory. My inability to score distinction in Gujarāti, the distress emerging out of it, amounted to nothing when compared to the immense joy I had derived by scrubbing the copied question out. I had gathered a fresh life-force, and had started treading an enlivening life-path. The genuine beginning of my pilgrimage to Shūlpān had its roots in this and similar outwardly insignificant looking but highly invigorating experiences, a milestone that served a direction to my otherwise trifle-looking life. It was a victory of my inner self, a victory over futile attractions. It was an inner triumph that awakened in me a deep sense of inner ability that stands as a guard to confront unshakably the unsurmountable legions of the shallow temptations of this earthly existence. It was through such trivial-looking and yet no less valuable inner fights that this small life of mine got immensely enriched making me take higher strides.

As has been mentioned above, I had failed to pass my matriculation examination because, out of two hundred, I had scored twenty eight marks in Math. I was not unhappy about it, nor were my parents. I had been able to score exemption in all the other subjects except English and Math. Fail I was going to; and who didn’t know it? My father insisted upon my continuing with my studies as a regular school-student; but I objected to it. Why join the school just for these two subjects? I promised Jeejābhai that I would certainly work hard without wasting my time. The school- hostel was quite in the vicinity of my house, and it was easy to rent a room with a small monthly payment of two and a half Rupees. I took Jeejābhai into confidence and he managed to get a separate room rented for me. I joined the hostel and argued the possibility of my passing or failing the matriculation out thus: The two marks that I had scored in my preliminary exam augmented to twenty eight just after the labor of a little more than one month. Why then can’t I turn the twenty eight into eighty two by working studiously for a complete year? My hard work at Algebra had made me score this much. I had not even bothered to peep through Geometry. It was Pūrūshottam whose sincere help and direction had brought me this far. None of my teachers ever thought of helping me. But then I would now be far from getting Pūrūshottam’s help. He was no more to be near me, his having passed the matriculation exam with flying colors and having received an admission in the Commerce College, Baroda. How much I was going to accomplish after his departure, I did not know. But he had encouraged me enough. Yes, my father was also there; but somehow I didn’t feel like seeking his aid. I had disheartened him enough to add more to his vexation. And most of all, my having been able to skip the previous score of ‘two’ and taking it to ‘twenty-eight’ had added a lot more confidence in me. And Chhotu, one of my friends, was not far away too. “Let us see what happens,” I said to myself; and I girded up the loins. Not wasting any time I joined the hostel and strictly adhered to my daily routine.

11.   My Hostel-life  –  Some Unique ExperiencesMy short stay in the hostel ran very precise and sufficiently decisive. Sharp at three thirty in the morning I would leave my bed. Freed from the morning routine, somewhere around four, I would cross the cemetery and plunge straight into the river Tāpi. After the bath and a swift pleasant swim I would go to the Hanūmān temple and thence to the nearby Shivālaya. There, under the holy sanctuary of Lord Shiva I would sit a while for my regular meditation. Well, better say, meditation for the name’s sake; for what I would do was to sit quietly with my eyelids closed, trying to remain away from the ongoing thoughts, after which I would indulge myself in a little contemplation in my endeavor to direct my life to a particular channel. That’s it; and this was what I termed ‘Dhyāna’- meditation. Thus, after passing about an hour and a half or so, I would move on for my home knowing that all at home would be awake by then. There, after giving justice to yogāsans and then having taken my tea, I would ramble unhindered with Vivekānand literature. At about ten thirty, freed from my meals and stuff, I would head straight for the hostel. At the stroke of eleven when the school-bell rang, I would invariably find myself in the company of Math, meaning Athevle’s Algebra. The school-time then was 11-00 to 5.00, and I would utilize this time solely to my doing the Algebric sums. Purushottam now being away, I used to take Chhotu’s help if and when needed. Sometime I would seek Gabu’s help too, he being my next door companion. During his college holidays, Pūrūshottam used to visit me. With a little gossiping and more of Algebra, our time flew swiftly away. My evenings passed in the usual walk on the bank of the Tāpi and in the much so loved company of our green knoll, and of course in reading Vivekānand. At ten thirty, usually, I would go to bed. This then was my regular schedule. Amidst all this, especially during the prime time of my hostel life, Jeejabhai would sometimes pay an abrupt visit during the school recess or sometimes during his free periods, and, being inaudibly helped with a chair from a neighboring room, would gently climb on it and peep in through the ventilator to see what I was doing. Hearing the clatter of the chair I would almost always sense his arrival and would open the door for him. “Hope, you do not encounter any difficulty; Naresh;” he would express with plenty of feelings, and thus helping me, if and when needed, he would once again make for the school. He might have thus tested my sincerity some four to five times, and then realizing my seriousness, and trusting me, he dropped taking unwarned visits or inquiring any further about my studies.

Time was thus elapsing. My life had become very regular. Of late, my mind seemed to be in highly exhilarating mood, and my Dhyāna seemed to be taking a different course. I had been experiencing an inward pull, sort of, and I felt like being dragged down within myself, a feeling I somehow liked. I had ceased going for gymnastics, and had started doing systematic ‘Āsans’ – Yogic postures – instead. Days were passing quite normally, and one early morning I was passing from the cemetery as usual. For some unknown reason, I was in a kind of jubilance, and all on a sudden I was attracted towards a flying object, a sort of a spherical, fully transparent globe, almost double the size of a normal football. The globe carried wonderful vivid colors, a happy blending of red, blue, green with a silvery flamboyance intermixed all around and inside it. The triumphantly shining transparent object rose, almost flew, from a specific tree and merged itself amidst a tree some twenty to twenty five feet away. I greatly enjoyed the spectacle presented by the panorama and waited there a bit in the hope that the phenomenon would possibly recur. But this was not to happen and a little disappointed I made for the Tāpi to continue with my daily routine.

How charmingly beauteous the sight was? What the thing was, I failed to figure out; but I could not give up the eagerness to see the spectacle repeated. I had a sensation within, that I was slowly opening up from within to something intrinsic and exceptional, something sort of paranormal; but this feeling played only on the outer level of my otherwise inward tending mind. Tha happening at the cemetery made me remember the dreams I used to have while I was a child. For years on, I kept on thinking that I used to fly while I was an infant; and that the capacity in me to thus fly was snatched away from me with the growing of age, a  facet I always felt distressed about. In fact, time and again I dreamt that I was flying, and so very often did I behold myself floating in air. I actually witnessed myself in flight without any wings. I always felt that for me it was extremely easy and quite normal; but then, with the passing of time, I also started thinking that this could be an experience with everybody, that all may be experiencing such types of dreams. Or, may be, my mother had told me, “all children dream such dreams.” Whatever it was, there was nothing much in it that should be taken so seriously as being something significant.

I also have a distinct memory of a couple of my childhood occurrences. My maternal uncle’s house is right on the road-crossing where every year the Holikā ceremony was being held. During these days of the ceremony, people normally stay long awake. On one of these nights, somewhere around 11-30 at night, my mother, my grand mother, my aunt and a few others were gossiping on the front patio. I was some six years of age then and was playing outside, when all of a sudden a very big, unusually tall human figure dressed in pure white emerged as if from no where. Seeing the bizarre sight, every body hurriedly ran inside the house and closed the door behind them. I was there right on the crossroads and stood staring at that tall silhouette that had started taking rounds around the Holi. Meanwhile, “Oh, Bhāno – that’s me – is outside, all alone. Run somebody, and bring him immediately in;” came my maternal aunty’s rather horrified voice from within the house. Meanwhile, that human form had passed from our street to the side alley, and after peeping in through the second floor window of a nearby house, moved a little further on, and while I was still staring at it, it seemed disappearing, quite amazingly, as suddenly as it had come. Meanwhile, there came out my aunty, promptly lifted me and hurried away in the house. Every one in the house surrounded me in a state of panic and started exclaiming: “Are you alright?”… “Has anything happened to him?” Exclamations melted away, and I knew that the figure seen was that of an apparition – a Genii. He must have been about eleven to twelve feet tall, for otherwise how would he be able to peep through that upper window of the house!

Sometime after this incident took place, I had occasioned to notice a similar type of astral figure – an extremely old person, totally undressed and bent from its back. The figure was helplessly striving to hide itself amidst the ruins of a long forsaken house. Then endeavoring to stand up and trying in vain to run a short distance, it suddenly disappeared from my sight. This figure was made visible to some two-three other persons sitting there too, whereas to the rest of them it was totally invisible. This happened when I was about nine years of age. Those were the days when such talks about ghosts and things were very common and persons often talked about their having seen or encountered such apparitions. Any way, I never felt afraid of ghosts and such disembodied spirits. Agreed, such talks are very rare today. But one thing was certain; whatever I witnessed was not just a thing of imagination, nor a hallucination. As was the case in those bygone days, even today people attach importance to this class of events perhaps because incidents of this domain are a rarity. In fact, these and events similar to these present the subtle side of our lives, and being an intrinsic reality of the subtle world, are a counterpart of our entire day to day existence, an existence towards which we have not yet been enough awakened. Those of us who are prone and open to it find nothing new, nothing phenomenal in  such otherwise extraordinary happenings.

My days in Kathore exhibit in many different ways an exquisite period of my life. Physically I felt very strong; a sort of glow, a kind of radiance emanated, as it were, from my body. My whole existence was like brimming with an irrefutable zeal. I was slowly but determinably going inwards, going deep, deep within me. I had hardly any genuine interest left in the common worldly talks. I ever remained in an inward exuberance. Thus, my life was steadily and with unequivocal certainty streaming towards the inner quintessence of my intrinsic subliminal self. I felt uniquely happy within, and even my parents had a slight glimpse of my then prevalent condition. They seemed to be enough satisfied with my all round progress, and their changed attitude towards me, an inner confidence in me, which they now visibly exhibited, filled me with explicit optimism.

Thus I felt myself fairly stable, secured and merrily elated from within and without. When I was in this state of mind, how it happened I really don’t know; but one day, I was suddenly awakened to an extraordinarily fabulous vibration, a splendid thrilling all within and around me, an awareness that made the whole panorama of nature vibrantly pulsating in every possible direction. I was totally stunned at the pulsating liveliness oozing forth from every single visible object around me. The whole nature having undergone a radical transformation, had been endowed with the extravagance of a living thrill of animated vitality that vivified itself in every nook and corner of the objective world. Nature seemed to have undergone a basic change. Or, was it because of some sudden touch of lively elixir that had succeeded in enriching my mind with some energizing vital capacity to make me thus visualize the intrinsic source of life? I was totally at a loss to understand what was transpiring within and around me. A sort of divine piety, an ineffable, incomparable effulgence was emanating from all around me making me a witness to the singular panorama that stunned my instinctive immanence.  Wherever I cast my glance, every single tree, nay, every single leaf, the entire creation around me, was emanating some vivid liveliness that appeared pulsating with a bright hue of silvery exuberance. Some innate elixir was having its sway over every visible object. My very being seemed to be touched and made sort of vibrant to an intrinsic play camouflaging the entire universe to a singular oneness with its unique sort of magnetic field creating a beatitude of some mystifying esoteric rapture. Having been made speechless and completely mystified, I stood amazingly stunned while being an integral part of the entire phenomena; and enjoying in toto the excellence of the vivified and energized nature around me, I remained fully conscious of this magnificent dance all around me. The nature in whose tender loving contact I had so far passed my time all these days had suddenly assumed a new form, a form from which had kept oozing a purely new energy vibrating itself, making every nook and corner of the cosmos sprightly animated. I was visualizing in it some extremely elegant life-element which had till this moment remained hidden from me and which now had stood stark naked before me, thus making me conscious of its intrinsic, all pervading reality. I was as it were drinking the fabulous flow of an incredibly luminescent lively radiance. And amidst that thrill I found myself standing there in full amazement, totally lost in a rising surge of undulating feelings. I was not just myself; I was much more than that, a something endowed with some exceptional bounty of inherent brilliance, a splendor simply unprecedented for me. I was sort of an entity filled with an inner aroma. How long this state lasted, I know not. Did it persist for half an hour, three fourth of an hour, one hour? Goodness knows…

And… And then, all of a sudden, in a flash of a moment, how the complete scenery, the scintillating effulgence, the whole enchanting effect, disappeared or subsided, I could not simply comprehend. The very living from the life element seemed to have vanished thoroughly abruptly. Everything stood still and aghast, as it were. The vibrant brilliance emanating from every single atom seemed to melt away impromptu. That which was left to survive was the old, usual, monotonous, lifeless life. A sort of drained vacuous skeleton, a living something from which the very source of life had been snatched away, was all that was left behind. But what was all that? Where in the world did it dissolve? Was it the fruition of some natural phenomena, or was it some inner transfusion, some intrinsic transformation within me which played just for a while and retreated, leaving me so lonely and languid, an exuberance in the absence of which I was left a totally priceless existence devoid of any live spirit? What then was true and real? Was it the conventional nature that all the time remained capturing my heart, ever being a part of me, by making me her constant companion, or was it this throbbing dance of mother nature which pulsated for a short while and awakened in me a living and insatiable desire by adding to it a new vigor through the inexplicable thrilling that the unique experience filled my otherwise arid heart with? All stunned, I failed to fathom the depth of the happening. Whatever, the phenomena taught me what Life in reality is.

The sensational phenomenon left a momentous mark on my very being. A sort of unfathomable hidden joy pervaded over my whole being. I felt as if the experience filled my freshly enlivened self with an elixir of revitalized life. That day I did not feel like talking to any body. I felt totally lost. But whether I was lost in the tantalizing experience visualized in nature, or whether I felt lost because of the loss of that inner invigoration abounding in self-exuberance that had momentarily filled my heart with, I could not tell. I was then seventeen years of age. The sight I became a part of brought no specific change in my personal makeup, and I thought it wise not to talk to anybody about the episode. When Pūrūshottam returned home during his college holidays, I shortly narrated the incident to him; but he could hardly throw any light on its significance. He was reasonably satisfied, though, with my academic progress. He used to visit me in the hostel; but that too was for a short while. His holidays being over, he left for Baroda.

Ū ā ū Ā

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12.   In  Company  of  Arun – It  Was  Māli !

Meanwhile, Arun,  my father’s friends’ son, arrived to stay with us. His father having died and with none there to look after him, he had gone a bit astray and his life seemed to have lost its charm for him. He was sent to us in the hope that with my father’s help and guidance he might continue with his forsaken studies and his life might thus take a new turn. He seemed hardly bothered about his studies and lacked all interest in it, not that he was in any way dull. In fact, the atmosphere in which he was brought up was in no way congenial to his studies. Though of my age, having lived amidst constant fear, his reasoning faculty seemed to have been impaired and remained sort of confounded on account of a strange pressure he became a prey to because of the fear element. This fear emanated from his staying with Mālimāshi, the so called witch, the well familiar notoriety of the towns Vānsada and Dharampur. He was related to Mālimāshi. As Arun himself put it, Mālimāshi had a great sway over him. Even in the most ordinary undergoings of his life he always felt subjugated to the will of Māli. This reminds me of an extremely ordinary incident that occurred while he was with us, the incident which will suffice to understand his plight encasing the fear that bequeathed his desolate self all the time.

Because of Arun’s arrival and just with a view to giving him a little company, leaving my hostel room, I decided to sleep at home for some few days. We preferred to sleep on the ground floor, while the rest of our family slept upstairs. One day it so happened that at about two in the night while I was fast asleep, Arun woke me up with his frightened mumble of ‘Naresh!’… ‘Naresh!’

“What’s it, Arun?” I asked.

“Don’t you speak that loud! It’s Māli!”

“What! Why should your Māli come here to my house? Be at ease and sleep quietly,” I declared.

“Shhh … Don’t make any noise; look, there she is. She entered through this window!” The window had iron safety bars framed in it, and as such we had kept it open while we slept.

“Who will enter through that barred window? Just sleep, understand!”

“Look Naresh, there she is in the kitchen. It’s Māli come here in disguise of a cat.”

I got up and turned the cat out of the house. But then Arun! He was actually shivering. This commotion made Jeejabhai come downstairs. Knowing what had transpired, he told us to sleep calmly. But this trivial event gave me enough notion of the dread that Arun was living through. Arun was good-looking and smart. He had given up his academic career. The circumstance he was passing through had no place in it for any sort of concentrated effort, be it studies or something else. Again, the constant tension and strain he was passing through, the ever lingering dread amidst which he was living had so very adversely affected his mind and body that it was almost impossible for him to keep himself free from such unhealthy malady. He was mentally indisposed, in a way, and physically feeble. He had, on both his legs, developed some queer sort of scabies, a nasty sort of ailment, which, being deeply routed, hindered any of his casual move, thus preventing him from living a normally healthy life. Jeejābhai used to take him almost everyday to the government dispensary to get the thing dressed, but to no effect. One day, an old acquaintance of my father suggested to apply to it the paste made through scrubbing with rose-water the inner husks of a Peepal-tree. This done, Arun completely got rid of the long annoying ailment in about two weeks, and my father was spared from his daily rounds to the dispensary. But this did not serve the main purpose of his furthering up his studies for which he was with us. He also had some bad habits formed. He was habituated to smoking, and some ten to twelve cigarettes a day were a must for him. He was also fond of taking a regular intake of some sort of sweetmeat, a luxury my parents simply could not afford to provide. As a natural outcome, he frequently talked of going away from our place. And frankly, it was pointless to keep him purposelessly lingering at our place. Consequently, instead of being an aimless hindrance in his way, my parents thought it wise not to prevent him from leaving us. His stay with us could not help him in any way. Since he was going away, perhaps for good, my mother asked me to go to Bhairav, a nearby village, and bring some twelve pounds of milk so as to prepare Doodhpāk, a sweet of Arun’s choice.

The very next evening I, in company of Arun, proceeded for Bhairav where milk came slightly cheaper. Bhairav, some five miles away from Kathore, was on the opposite bank of the Tāpi. We had to cross the river bridge from where we would walk along the river bank to Kāmrej. Bhairav was at about one mile away from Kāmrej. I knew the place very well as I visited it often, especially because of the Shiva Temple, the well known Bhairavnāth Temple there. I was greatly charmed by the huge Shivalinga – the icon of Lord Shiva – in the sanctuary underneath the huge dome the temple provided. The grand dome and the close vicinity of the deity  tempted me to go there with my flute. The great dome enhanced the deep and sweetly pleasing resonance coming from my flute. This was one reason why I felt tempted to go with my flute to Bhairavnāth where, after receiving His blessings, I would sit quietly reposed and with a deeply relaxed mind play the flute to my heart’s content. It was only in the late evening when darkness seemed hurrying up to cast its sway over the atmosphere that I would leave the temple with a hearty obeisance to the Lord, and would reach Kathore slowly pacing the river bank in the quietude of the captivating night. Thus, the riverbank between Kathore and Bhairav, my long time companion, never failed to greet me a warm, happy welcome. Its lofty crags, its vegetation world that never did fail to greet the passersby a warm welcome, every single stone of the place –  all this and every thing around it I was no novice to. It was a quiet evening. I had in my hand the copper pot tied firmly with a strong cord-loop, and we were quietly passing through the elevated precipice enhancing the beauty of the river-bank. When we reached Kāmrej, we found Jokhāker, my classmate, sitting in a riverside boat with a few of his friends, gossiping and enjoying the balmy moonlight.

“Hi, Naresh; where to?” asked Jokhaker. I told him of my intent.

“But why go up to Bhairav for that? I could easily have managed to get you the milk from Kamrej.”

Well, this being out of question now, after a short chat, we started moving onwards. And there came a mild shout from him: “Naresh, do not go this way on your return journey. Better take the highway. Though a little longer, that will be better.”

“Why?” I naturally asked.

“No, for no particular reason; just telling you. Since it is night time, better take the main route. It’s safer.”

Not giving much to what he said, we made straight for Bhairav. There we saw Magan, my class mate, got the milk, and having said our Pranām (obeisance) to Lord Shiva of the Bhairavnāth temple we reached back to the river bank, and moved further on gossiping and enjoying the moonlight. When we reached Kamrej, Jokhaker and friends had already left the boat, and we continued further on with a view to reaching home in time. Arun reluctantly suggested:

“Let’s take the highway, Naresh. Your friends particularly asked us to ….”

“Oh no, you do not know it; but it’s a very long route. We will have to pace some three more miles for no reason. It’s a beautiful, pleasant moonlit night. Why not enjoy the river-bed? A little farther on and we will reach the bridge. Once we are on the bridge, we are almost in Kathore. Let’s move on.”

And Arun argued no further. He well knew that he would not succeed in making me change my decision. And again, there was no point taking the circular route. Yes, the river bank was a little lonely; but there was no reason to be afraid. This was not the first time that I was treading the solitary looking path; and again it was hardly nine o’clock in the evening. By ten o’clock we would be home. And I continued further on. Arun too moved on; but he became discretely silent. He seemed not to endorse my resolve. Anyway, we moved on. A little ahead and we will sight the bridge connecting Kholwad and Kathore; and then, well, the town will be at a stone’s throw. I tried to convince Arun; but he kept completely mum.

We were progressing quite steadily and… and … all of a sudden a very big stone fell right in front of us. The land around us took a distinct tremor. But where did the stone vanish? I looked up at the crag, for, from there only could the stone have come. – Or was it a big rock?  The impact of its fall was in no way negligible. It created a thud which could not have been resulted by anything weighing less than hundred to hundred and fifty pounds. Whatever be it, there was no sign of either the stone or the rock being there anywhere around. … All this while, Arun stood aghast, perfectly stunned and practically immobile.  Lost in thought, I was staring at the steep precipice high above, and lo, there came another thump right near our feet and the ground around us quivered fiercely. And wonder of wonders, nothing, practically nothing whatsoever, could visibly be seen. How in the world could this happen? What was it that was creating this outlandish phenomenon? These invisible stones, the big boulders!… Where were they coming from? What was their origin? Was it anything tangible, anything real that was happening, or was it just a phantom, a sheer sound, a mere thought, that was emerging from nowhere? In the total absence of anything perceptible or of any designer of the event, the whole episode seemed rather uncanny. But even that seemed impossible too; for with the big thump was invariably accompanied the tremendous tremble of the piece of the earth that supported us. … Whatever it was, for whatever reason it was happening, one thing was certain. There was no sense in waiting there. But that Arun! Purely stupefied that he was, he stood horror stricken, totally stuck to the ground, stuck aghast like a lifeless lump.

“Come on, Arun, let’s keep going. What sense is there in staying here just like a statue? Get going;” I said. But he did not move an inch. That sound was still persisting, the ground still shaking, with nothing practically visible anywhere around. I once again persuaded him to start moving; but he did not so much as stir. Now what? I simply could   not push forward, leaving him there all alone. Ultimately I reprimanded him saying: “Listen, if you have resolved not to move from here, then it’s your lookout. I am going away.” But he well knew that I was the last man to leave him in the lurch. Neither did he utter a word nor did he budge to my repeated appeal. Even time seemed to stand still, being his accessory. And I took recourse to the only one thing that was left at my disposal. I started removing my shirt, took my slippers out and said:

“Alright, if you have decided not to move and stay here only, that’s your choice. Remain seated. Here is the milk-pot. I am off, out in the river and right on the opposite bank.” I started out towards the water. He felt frightened. For him swimming was out of question; and he very well knew that it wouldn’t take me time to cross the river.

“OK, let’s go.” He called me back showing his willingness to move forward. Turning back, I put my slippers on, wore my shirt rather hurriedly and taking the milk-can we pressed forward. Those boulders had not yet  ceased to fall, nor had the thumping sound stopped. What if the boulder fell on our head?’ Without uttering a word, and vainly ruminating to block the mind of the fear, we pressed on. This phenomenon, if I am not mistaken,  must have lasted upto about one eighth of a mile, and then it stopped as abruptly as it had started. The falling of the boulders was no more audible nor were the earth shakes continued being experienced. And yet, without an utterance we continued on, gathering speed at every step. The bridge was now made visible and I experienced a sort of an ease. It was only on reaching the bridge that I breathed a sigh of relief. “Ah! At last!” gasped the mind with an easing exhalation.

“What is it, Arun?” I blurted out after a long while. Arun was still not himself. “What’s the matter? There is nothing to be afraid of, now!” The exclamation just came out abruptly. Was I really afraid? It was not normal for me to fear fear. I never preferred to run away from a situation grounded with fear; I ever enjoyed challenging it. And yet this particular incident awakened me to the feeling of dread that involuntarily pervaded my inner being. But before I ventured to pry deep within me, Arun exclaimed:

“It was Māli!”

Ū ā ū Ā

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13.    An  Astral-Reality

Arun and Māli were, as it were, each other’s counterpart. Or, was it her dread that overshadowed him all the time. Was there any resemblance between that cat moving in the house and the present occurrence underneath the Kamrej crags? ‘No, surely not; it was just the fear element that had its sway over Arun’s essential quality,’ I thought. But then this ought to have been Arun’s singular experience! How about me? My feelings! My dread of the time! Was it appropriate to think that all that came to pass today materialized simply because of Arun? Many a time had I passed this way before, and that too almost at this particular hour and with none to accompany me. And never before had I had an occasion to meet this type of venture. Yes, Jokhāker and his playmates had cautioned us against passing this way at that hour, and in their colloquial fashion had added that ‘some events have occasioned to pass’. If those events were the sort of thing we presently experienced, then there was nothing new in today’s encounter at that particular place. With all that, occasions like this, like the ones we commonly term ‘the degenerate or wasted souls’ are not in any way uncommon, and as such there is no necessity to needlessly thwart the possibility of any such incidents.

The ‘spirit world’, as we term it, does exist. We all are one day or the other going to be a part of it. But those who personify themselves as ‘disembodied spirits’ are the ones who have lived their earthly lives, both mental and physical, in a rather abnormal way. Consequently, some of their unfulfilled desires that had taken strong roots during their earthly sojourn here, the desires that had imbibed themselves in their minds and become a part of their being, spring up after their passing away, and finding suitable atmosphere, materialize themselves, gathering from the astral or from the etheric world the matter required for their self-gratification. Many a time, those who during their earthly sojourn occasioned to suffer great injustice, or those who had incessantly succumbed themselves to criminality or  remained a constant prey to guilty conscience, would take to deriving undue pleasure by gratifying themselves through generating such undesirable episodes. This is because of their inability to free themselves from such vicious mentality routed in the very crux of their being. And it is possible for those who are prone to such astral  phenomena, or for those who are partially awakened to such occurrences, to become a witness to such happenings. It is quite feasible to comprehend the possibility of observing a circumstance of the type we had come across, at some such sight linked with some unfortunate being attached to such a place where some nefarious incident had previously originated. Such an ill-fated fellow may originate such circumstance just to derive a mean type of satisfaction from such events. Arun was rather too open to such unprecedented situations; and with me the instinct to apprehend such a phenomenon was perhaps slowly gaining ground. If this were so, then there was every possibility of our going through the happening we had encountered. In his book ‘The Astral Plane’ Bishop C.W. Leadbeater, while explaining such events, records: “A slight increase in sensitivity can sometimes enable a man to visualize scenes where a tremendous mental disturbance has taken place … and in such a case he would report that the place was haunted, and that he had seen a ghost.”

It is easy to envisage a similar situation in the occasion depicted here. Well, whatever it was, it was certainly not a product of sheer imagination. It was an absolute reality full of authenticity. I was not just a witness to it; I was a participant of it; and when I narrated the whole incident to my parents, my father narrated a couple of incidents pertaining to Mālimāshi, to relate which is a little out of place here. But what I gathered from it was enough to prove that Mālimāshi had, in her, certain powers because of which people usually avoided nearing her just out of fear. It was possible for her to enter somebody’s physique, or I would better say, to touch and control somebody’s mental faculty by being a part of him. With her  strong mind, she could evince a self-contemplated response from persons in her close proximity. Let me depict here an event from Arun’s own life so as to clarify my point.

Once a gentleman, the elder brother of a very good girl born in a well-renowned family, went to Mālimāshi’s house with a proposal for Arun’s hand in marriage with that girl. Greeting the proposal Mālimāshi said:

“It’s a very welcome suggestion; and who will object to it? But if I decline from declaring the trouble Arun has, it would be rather unfair.”

“What sort of trouble does Arun have?” The head of the household asked contradicting Mālimāshi’s objection.

“But why?” Added Mālimāshi in retort, “the blood-vomiting that he suffers from!”

“Blood-vomiting? To Arun? When in goodness name did such a thing happen? No, it never did.” The objection was well taken. Arun had no such ailment and an occasion of blood vomiting never had occurred to him. A discussion to this effect prolonged for a while, amidst which Arun made his entry in the house. The moment Arun stepped the threshold of the house, he vomited blood right in the presence of all that were there. Needless to say that the proposal was immediately withdrawn. I heard of this incident not just from Arun but also from the gentleman who went at Mālimāshi’s with the offer. The whole incident may possibly have some exaggeration in it. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Arun never did have any occasion when he had experienced any such blood vomiting, neither before nor after this event.

True it is, though, that whatever is being presented here does not originate from my personal experience. Yes, it is a second-hand report, second-hand in the sense that I personally was not present at the event. But I will certainly reiterate that I can well understand the authenticity of such a plausibility for the simple reason that what we don’t and can’t comprehend is not always a thing that should be discarded as wrong and unbelievable. Many things happening on spiritual plane can not be easily comprehended and explained on the physical and intellectual level. All the voodoo things, the black magic, all these so called charms and glamours that are frequently discarded and rejected as illusory, are not necessarily unreal in their essence. It is unfair to dismiss them altogether as a nonsensical humbug. It may be something which can be explained on a subtle level by going a shred within oneself. For that, it is prima-facie necessary to get awakened to the intrinsic level of our being and understand our inner world.

Any way, we enjoyed the ‘Doodhpāk’- the delicious Indian dish- the next day. But that was not on account of the possible send-off to Arun; because, at our request, he decided to stay with us a little longer. Jeejābhāi, my father, was busy arranging for him an entry in some Āshram, to give him a possible boost. Because of his prolonged stay at our place my study was a shred adversely affected; but this does not mean that Arun was in any way a hindrance to me. On the contrary, he was a bit helpful to me, especially in my Algebra-related progress. Had he so decided, he would have made a mark in line of his studies because he was certainly well-versed in quite a few branches of school related subjects. But this was not to be, especially because of his mental state, a sort of constant mental flux, which prevented him from concentrating on any particular issue of importance. Maybe because of this, or perhaps because of the stern discipline that the Āshram life demanded, he was never willing to prosecute any studies while staying in an Āshram; and I did not hesitate from making this intention of his clear to Jeejābhāi. Still, Jeejābhāi persisted in his design, for the simple fact that he had at his heart Arun’s ultimate well-being.

Days were fleeting fairly fast, and my preliminary exam was drawing closer and closer. Any way, amidst all this, my daily routine remained virtually intact. The same busy Algebric-hours from 11-00 to 5-00, and during the rest of the time the usual river-rambles, morning meditation and the normal religious reading during evening hours kept me fairly engaged. I would some times take Arun to my green hill and would pass my evening hours ruminating the memory of Pūrūshottam, now a collegian. Amidst this, some time, rarely though, Mangu would peep in from nowhere provoking my vexed memory. This was perhaps because many a time she had become a connecting link of our common green-hill talks, especially after the ‘Gangā Poojan’ episode. Pūrūshottam ever strove to see me continue retaining the former relationship that we had between us, leaving all the bitterness, if there be any, aside. But then there was hardly any spite in me, any viciousness or virulence that prevailed in the relationship between Mangu and me. I always aspired to keep myself away from the unpleasantness of the whole episode. Many a time did I endeavor to bring home to Pūrūshottam the fact that there was in my relationship with Mangu an unconceivable conversion, an unprecedented resurgence of an undefiled feeling that had taken roots, and none there was who could root its strength out, thus reverting me from my postulated path.

“But Naresh, when did I ever ask you to cultivate relationship with her? All I wish is to see the broken ties between you two linked up and normalized.”

I better remain away from dishonestly conniving at myself while not admitting that I inwardly liked the suggestion put forth by Purushottam. Yet, it is equally true that I was in no way prepared to see the motherly feeling that had been culminated within me for Mangu thus shatter away simply for cultivating normalcy between us two. What I was, I was. The motherly that Mangu was to me, she will remain. But with all this, all such suggestions that emanated from Pūrūshottam did willingly or unwillingly weave Mangu’s memory with our green hill. And it was because of this that despite Arun being there sitting right in my vicinity, I preferred to sit quiet and serene, all inwardly drawn. And Arun too, knowing how I felt in that elevated atmosphere, ever preferred to sit serene, not wanting to see me disturbed.

Ū ā ū Ā

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14.   The  Preliminary  And A Ray Of Hope

Time speeded on. With the approach of my preliminary exam came the news of Pūrūshottam’s arrival. His ill health had brought him to Kathore, and we found ourselves quietly  pacing towards the green knoll after such a long time. He inquired about my studies. I believed I could satisfy him. “What else, Naresh?” His hint was quite apparent; I stared at him understandingly, saying: “Look, Puūrūshottam…” He stopped me immediately, adding: “O.K.; I understood it. Henceforth I won’t ask you anything about Mangu.” Even then I clarified: “Look, I am fine, firm and quite in mood.” And enjoying nature for a while in a serenely calm disposition, we quietly made for the hostel.

It was time for the school preliminary exam, and Pūrūshottam suggested that I should make an approach to Hānsotichācha, our math teacher, and request him to permit me to take my preliminary exam in Algebra with the rest of the pupils. I objected to it, for I very well knew that he would never make such an exception especially for me. Realizing the predicament that could well be anticipated, he dropped the idea, went personally to my school while the Algebra exam was being conducted, and came back with the Algebra question paper for me to solve. He sat there near me for complete three hours, the allotted time to complete answering it, without disturbing or interrupting me even for a moment and took back my answer script on completion of the specified time. He cast a hurried glance at my work and suggested: “Come, we are going to Hānsotichāchā. He is not a bad person, and he won’t object to evaluating your answers for you.” Even on my repeated rejection of any such move, he almost dragged me forcibly to the teacher’s house and clarified to him the circumstance in which I busied myself solving the paper. To my great amazement, Hānsoti Sahib took my answer script, looked into the work turning a few pages here and there and put a direct question to me:

“Is this your honest work?”

“Yes, sir,” I said looking down, thus avoiding his ever stern glance.

“Hmm … Well, collect your script from me tomorrow evening.”

The next evening Pūrūshottam came home, and we went to our Sahib’s residence.

“Come on in …” and he asked Purushottam a straight question: “Does this work contain any help from your side, or is it really Naresh’s  …?”

“This is purely his work, sir; and I would like to know his score.”

“How much do you expect to score, Naresh?”

This was the first time I ever saw him talking to me so very nicely. I just kept mum. How else could I have reciprocated I knew not.

“Well done, my boy. You have scored ninety-two marks. Now you can not fail the exam. Well done.”

And thanking him, we left his place. My sincerity, an honest striving to accomplish what I could, had paid me fair and well in the field of Algebra. I had never bothered myself even to take a peep in Geometry, even though Pūrūshottam had many a time warned me against it. What I wanted was a mere pass in my matriculation exam. I never aspired to score more than the bare minimum to get through my math exam. If I scored but seventy marks out of the total two hundred, — Algebra and Geometry combined — it would suffice my needs and purpose. And I was now confident enough to score that much just in Algebra. Why bother unnecessarily about that which was not going to add anything to what already existed? And I cared not to learn even the first theorem of Geometry. As for English, I don’t know why, but I had a false vanity, a sort of conceit, that had taken root within me, which kept me thinking: ‘I would never fail to get a pass in English.’ As a result I never took into account the fact that it was obligatory on me not to lose contact of the language. Something prompted me against the downright neglect of English. I still had almost a month and a half at my disposal, and I took to going through a bit of grammar and trying a few essays and letters. But it so happened that in concentrating on English I lost my hard earned grip on Algebra; and before I got myself awakened from the unguarded slumber, the final exam blew its warning blare. I had just to take two exams, one in English and the other in Math; and my Math exam was purely limited to the test in Algebra only. As for Geometry, as has already been mentioned, I was totally blank-minded. I was cocksure of scoring seventy percent in Algebra, the bare minimum needed to pass my Math exam. I had to go to Surat for my exam and arrangement had already been made for my short stay in the Anāvil Ăshram there. As I was allotted a separate room in the Ăshram, Arun expressed a desire to accompany me to Surat, which I consented to, on clear understanding that he would keep away from disturbing me during my exam days.

The very first exam I had to take was the English exam. Arun accompanied me to the examination hall and waited till my test was over. My English paper went fairly well and I knew I would not fail to pass it. The very next day was my Math exam, first being the Algebra test and then, after a lapse of one day, the Geometry exam. But since I didn’t have to bother about Geometry, we had planned to leave Surat for Kathore immediately after the Algebra exam was over. Arun suggested that I better utilized my time practicing Algebra for the short time that I had at my disposal. Well, I was fairly reluctant doing it because it was hardly going to help me much to practice doing anything, now that I had but a few countable hours at my disposal. Again, even if I intended to do something, what was there to do and how much would I be able to cover? I had been able to score ninety-two marks, hadn’t I? How much less would I get? The least I would score would be eighty-two! And all I needed was seventy marks! Was it possible that I would not reach even that level? However, I looked at my Algebric sums here and there with a bit of attention; and I don’t know why, but at every step, I failed to remain satisfied. Something kept on hinting me of some oncoming ordeal. And I willfully labored to cast that doubt out of my mind. The day dawned bringing to my perturbed mind the mingled memory of the uncertainty that I had experienced prior to my retiring the last night. Any how, after going hurriedly through my morning routine, I left for the exam accompanied by Arun. I entered the examination hall, took my seat and in no time was I handed over my question paper. My heart was beating fast, I knew not why. What if I failed to solve my paper with satisfaction? – a thought flickered in my clouded mind. But I controlled myself and employed my mind in the task ahead. I knew not when and how the three hours elapsed. The supervisor announced the ‘ten more minutes’ warning. I still had a few more problems to solve, and I had no time to revise what I had already completed. I had also experienced enough of difficulty in solving certain factors and problems. But then there was now no possibility of accomplishing anything further. Still I strove to utilize the ten minutes to the full, and submitting my answer script at the end of the hour, I left the exam hall rather dejected and under pressure. Arun was right there waiting for me.

“How did it go?” he asked.

“Oh, forget it. It’s a sure goner; a quit, again!” I had no other answer to his query.

“Oh, no; that’s not possible. Come, let’s see.” And he started collecting discarded waste papers and stuff from the college compound, especially some mini brown bags cast away hither and thither after their use by students.

“What’s the idea, Arun?”

“The problems you are not sure of, you are going to solve here and now.”

“Forget it,” I said; “I am not going to do any such thing. It’s not going to help me any. Again, it’s not going to be easy to recollect what I have done there.”

“No! Let’s see.” And he adamantly sat under a tree, started tearing and unfolding the brown bags. Then, passing the papers on to me, he asked me to start solving the problems I was doubtful about. He then left for collecting more of tit-bits. Well, I had no other way but to take recourse to doing that which was inevitable. I must have spent more than an hour doing those sums I was doubtful about. Arun went through my work, and discussed with me some of the problems that needed discussion. We then evaluated my work in our own fashion and came to a common conclusion that my score in Algebra would most likely be somewhere in between fifty and sixty. The long and short of it was that a score of seventy marks in Algebra seemed an impossibility. That was that, and my dream of passing my matriculation examination seemed just a hopeless gamble. I felt thoroughly dejected. How was I going to show my crestfallen face to my parents and all at home?

“Come, Arun; let’s get going. We still have time. We will still catch the evening train for Kathore. Let’s go” I said.

“Go where? You still have your Geometry exam!”

“Forget it, you silly! I do not know even the ‘abc’ of Geometry.” And I was not wrong there. I did not know even the first theorem there; let alone the construction and stuff. But Arun simply would not budge. He said: “Look, Naresh, tomorrow is an off day for you. Your geometry paper is a day after. Let’s go to the bookshop and buy from there M. J. Anjaria’s ‘Theorems Made Easy’. That’s a very easy, nice book in which theorems have been comfortably simplified. That book will serve your purpose. You have two complete days at your disposable. Taking for granted that you score sixty marks in Algebra, all you require is ten more marks to pass your Math test. Won’t you be able to score even ten marks in Geometry? Come, let’s go buy the book.”

His argument sounded simple; but I could barely endorse what he reiterated. How many theorems would I eventually be able to comprehend convincingly from all the seventy eight theorems the book presented? To accomplish more than two years’ work in less than two days sounded a little far fetched and foolish. However, we paced to the city book-store and bought Anjaria Geometry book costing eight Annas. While on way back to the Anavil Ashram, we happened to come across a movie poster and decided to enjoy it. We were sufficiently tired of walking long distance, and again I had hardly any interest in the Geometry business. Consequently I did not object to Arun’s suggestion of visiting the movie. Having aptly enjoyed the movie, we started pacing towards the Ashram. On way to the Ashram, Arun went to one of his friend’s house and bottled some tea. Ultimately, when we reached our destination, it was past our normal sleeping hour, and I started for my bed. But that Arun! He simply would not let me be.

“You, there,” he said, “Ain’t you going to do your Geometry?”

“What Geometry? Forget it. I am dead tired of walking. Who is bothered about Geometry now? Leave it and sleep quietly. That’s it.” But instead, he lighted a cigarette and whenever I tried to sleep, he did not hasitate giving me a burn.

“You! What are you doing? Would you let me sleep or else…?”

“Look, Naresh; if you want to beat me, do it. I am not going to let you sleep, any way. We didn’t buy this book for nothing. Start reading it. You are not to sleep. Here; drink this tea and start reading.”

“Oh no; tomorrow is a day off. I will read tomorrow. You better rest and …” I started to recline.

“No way. I am not going to listen to you. Read as much as you can, as long as you can. Then we will see what we can do.” And he passed on to me a glass of tea.

I knew not what to do or what to read. I very well knew that he was not going to leave any latitude in so far as my exam preparation was concerned. My sleep had literally left me from the moment my Algebra paper had been spoiled. Not knowing what to do, and having no alternative left, I opened the first page of the booklet, and for the first time in my life I started to try to understand the first theorem: ‘If a straight line stands on another straight line, the sum of the two angles so formed is equal to two right angles.’ I understood something there, or so I thought, and I proceeded further on. The night was stealthily passing, and Arun continued smoking cigarette after cigarette unmindful of the exertion he had to undergo while striving to prevent the sleep that vainly exerted to force itself on him. It was now dawn and I had to force myself keeping awake. Realizing the difficulty I was confronting while forcing myself to keep awake, I told Arun of my plight and suggested that we better lie down for a while.

“What theorem are you with?” he inquired.

I had been able to complete some thirteen to fourteen theorems by then, and I had a fairly good understanding of all that I had covered. I also felt that I had it all well retained in my memory. It was now around four-thirty am. and putting the book down I stretched to sleep.

“When do you intend to get up?” Arun asked, “I would wake you up at eight-thirty.”

“But why? Don’t you want to sleep? Rest a while. I will wake up on time, alright.”

“No; you better rest. I will go to bed only after you are awake. If both of us retire now, you will be doomed.”

Doomed I certainly was. Whatever, I did not press him much. I was very tired and fell asleep immediately. Arun woke me up around nine, and refreshing myself a bit with a speedy wash I took to reading.

“Take this. I have it left just for you;” he passed the tea-glass on to me, “And don’t you doze off. I would rather rest a while.” But he did not sleep and kept on watching me for quite some time.

“Sleep comfortably, Arun. I won’t be slumbering now. The fact is, I had never bothered  to peep into this till today. I never knew that Geometry is so very logical. After all, this is not as tedious as I thought it was. You better sleep at ease. I have started enjoying it,” I said sipping the rather cold tea.

“Alright; don’t disturb me; I will get up in time.” And giving justice to one more cigarette he slept soundly. It was almost evening when he got up. Meanwhile I had covered enough of theorems. I had started getting an easy grasp of the matter with every further step. I had also started speeding up while confronting every new enigma, every new intricacy. And the finest part of it was that this effort of mine instilled in me a confidence beyond measure. When Arun first prevented me from sleeping, I was extremely angry with him. But had he not joined me during this exam, I would certainly have been doomed; for I would not have been able to do anything on my own. After taking a little evening gulp in the Ashram mess, I started again with my work. I had never even dreamt that theorem was something that could be taken as a reading thing. Today I was reading Geometry, and that too with a fairly good understanding. It was now near midnight and I felt sleepy. Arun asked: “Naresh, did you do Pythagoras?”

“What in heaven’s name was that?” I asked, and I soon remembered having heard some such name; but what it really was I did not know.

“They will certainly ask Pythagoras theorem;” and he opened the page for me. I had to go through some two other theorems to understand it. And this took me quite some time. It was now very difficult for me to keep awake. Arun was equally sleepy. However, allowing me to sleep, he kept awake and woke me up in the morning. After a quick bath and stuff, we reached the college. I entered the exam hall at the stroke of the bell, and there flapped the question paper right in front of me. On going through it I realized that I knew nothing whatsoever of all that I had read. Yes, I had forgotten all that I had done. Now what? I was confused, perplexed, totally undone. I just sat there with my head in the paper. Time was speeding on. I was at my wit’s ends. I took some deep breaths and tried to relax myself. All on a sudden it dawned on me: ‘Let me try and write whatever I can, right or wrong.’ I randomly selected one of the questions and started answering it. I felt my memory coming back to my aid. I experienced a sort of a relief and felt being able to concentrate. I hurriedly recapitulated whatever little I had written and felt satisfied, knowing, my endeavor had not gone in vain. I regained my confidence and proceeded further on with caution and ease. Problems on ‘construction’ I safely dropped; for I had never bothered myself with it. Whatever I had done on this line was, I thought, enough for my purpose. I was proceeding with my answers slowly and fairly satisfactorily. I was no more troubled and was able to reproduce much of what I knew. Over and above the theorems, I tried whatever I presumed I was capable enough to accomplish. I had enough time at my disposal, and I made the most of it by thoroughly and with understanding recapitulating all that I had written. I still had some twenty minutes before I had to submit my answer-script; but realizing that there was no point in waiting for the final gong to go, I submitted my script and left for the fresh air outside. Not finding Arun anywhere near there, I rested calmly underneath a tree, and lo, there he was with the only possible question anybody could, under the circumstances, have: “How did it go, Naresh?”

“Oh, leave it all! I felt so much confounded in the beginning that I could hardly stay poised. Well, at long last I could gather some confidence and wrote whatever I could.”

“Let’s see how well you fared.” And he produced before me a lump of paper.

“What? The same thing again! Be gone. I am not going to do that business again. It’s not going to make any difference at all, not now. Whatever happened, happened.”

“Let alone the difference. At least we will know where we stand. Come on; start it.”

“We will do it, once we are in our room. Let’s go drink some tea.”

“Nothing happens afterwards. Everything is now. Come on, what did you do?”

I started moving off; but he would not let me. “Let’s sit underneath that tree; come on. Why be in a hurry? Let’s know where we actually stand.” And we rested under the shade of the tree. Amidst a little gossiping and some off-hand talks of the exam, I tried, rather unwillingly, a few theorems.

“Naresh, if you have done what you say you have, and if you have written as you now have, then nothing can prevent you from passing the examination. You must score nothing less than thirty marks in Geometry.”

I was not the least interested in anything but my exam result. At home, I satisfied my parents with but one random remark: ‘I have fared fairly well in the exam.’ Time passed slowly on. I had already left the hostel, and at home I continued with my usual routine of going to the river for my early morning bath and a stimulating swim. After this, I would sit a while in the Hanūmān temple, from where I would go straight to the Shiva temple. In there, prostrating at His lotus feet and completing my meditation I would leave for home and giving justice to my regular yogic postures, I would busy myself with my spiritual or yogic literature. In the evening, the same usual walk on the river bank. Arun left us after a few days. Pūrūshottam had his college holidays and was back home. He was not keeping good health those days; but then there was nothing new in it, neglectful as ever that he was of his health. Many a time had I tried to bring home to him the value of exercising his body, but, but for walking a couple of miles, he hardly cared to do anything extra in this direction. The skeletanic frame that he carried with him had not much of a physical strength in it, and he never worried about that. Fundamentally intellectually poised, he was full of emotions and devout sentiments. Thus, not mindful of his physical demeanor, he ever remained a sickly weakling. Bābu was also home, and time galloped easily away in their company. The college holidays were nearing completion, and the date for my exam results was also declared. We, mainly my parents, were eagerly waiting for the auspicious day to dawn, and there it was. I was eventually through the ordeal, and everybody was extremely happy about my passing the matriculation exam. I too felt very free. It was only after two years that I barely managed to get through the quandary. But my parents were so much overjoyed that in honor of my triumph they specially ordered ice-cream and invited friends and relatives to share the joy. Arun was not there, alas, to participate in the rejoicings. But I thanked him from the innermost of my heart. But for him, but for his goaded drive that forced me to do all that I possibly could, the very hope of my getting through the matriculation exam would not have remained even a dream. He had filled my heart with a newly kindled hope.

Shortly afterwards, I received my score of marks. I had been able to score eighty marks in Math – fifty-six marks in Algebra and twenty-four in Geometry, after two days of work at it. I managed to score forty marks in English, just on the verge of passing. I was in no way satisfied with my display in English. In my push to give proper justice to Math, I had become plenty negligent of my English. But with all that, it was enough that I managed a pass. Now that I was through the test, new vistas for my further studies got opened up, and my parents started thinking in terms of my joining some college. But I was a bit reluctant to think in lines with this fresh issue. I was considered a highly ordinary student with not much inside me to present. What shall I acquire by joining a college? Will I ever be able to call myself a college graduate? But I well knew that if I had any obstruction in my studies, it was Mathematics and nothing else. By joining Arts College I would easily overcome the hindrance that blocked the path to my normal, natural progress. Thus conjecturing, I expressed a desire to join some Arts College. Yes, I did intend to be a college graduate. I had in me a hidden wish to be termed a collegian. But my father was not in favour of my going in for Arts. ‘Of what use is it?’ ‘What future can Arts bring?’ ‘Why not go in for Commerce?’ ‘Has it not proved a highly  lucrative line recently?’ This was his argument. But then, the greatest  problem was the money part of it. Where to raise the money from? The only alternative was to see my father’s transfer affected to some place where college education was made easily available for me.

While this was under consideration, my father came with the news that there was a vacancy for a clerk in the administrative office there. The very next day I applied for the job, told the officer in charge whose son I was, and the job was mine. I thus became an office clerk, my first line of work. I was at the post hardly for a week now, and one day Dāda – we all addressed our immediate head as ‘Dādā’, may be because of his ripe age rather than his official status – directed a Rāniparaj fellow, a poor farmer, to me asking me to find for the man his case number from ‘Bārnishi’ – the General Record Book, which I did. Dāda was sitting right in front of me, and he asked the man:

“Did you give something to the Sahib? Go, give him a Rupee.” Failing to understand him, I stared at him. That poor man came hesitatingly near me, unwillingly took a Rupee out from the notch of his old and worn out Dhoti and amidst great reluctance ventured to pass it on to me. I could not help telling him: “No, I don’t need that money. You don’t have to give me anything for that.”

“Accept it, Naresh,” clarified Dāda pointing to me my path, “it’s the rightful amount that he owes you.”

“Oh no, Dādā. I cannot accept that money from this poor person. All that I did was to find the number out from the record book. And again, it was my duty.” And I waved the man, who stood staring at me, a sign of departure.

“You better give it to him;” added Dāda, persisting in his maneuver. “This Sahib has newly arrived and he does not know the routine.” And turning to me he once again motioned a gesture to accept the amount. Any way, I simply could not accept the Rupee from that gentleman, and turning to him I said, “Well, your work is done; you can now go.”

The man left. But Dāda did not like my gesture in the least. I simply failed to understand why Dāda should feel so much about it. If anybody lost the Rupee, if I may term it as having been lost, it was me. Why should Dāda be perturbed so much about it? Or was it because he did not like my disobeying him? Thus thinking, I commended him saying, “Dāda, excuse me, please, for not having obeyed you; but to take from that poor man any  money …”

“If you follow those lines, you will starve;” reiterated Dāda cutting me short. “He had his work accomplished; and for that if he gives you some five Paisa as a gift, what more is he doing?”

“No Dāda, from that poor person I simply could not …”

“Fair enough. Do as it pleases you …” And Dāda put a period half way. It was a little late that I realized that I was being a hindrance in his designs. Some four of us had our desks in his office. If we rejected accepting any such ‘gifts’, he would have to think twice before accepting for himself any such thing in our presence. The inevitable outcome of all this was that I had hardly any ties left with my superior; and within one month I was released from the job with the remark: ‘This was purely a temporary job.’ I certainly had learnt something from this, my first official calling.

During this time a new page in my life book got revealed for me. My father had requested a transfer to Baroda so as to facilitate my college study. He expressed the necessity and his desire to one of his friends working as a head clerk in the B. T. College, Baroda. In a detailed letter to this friend of his, my father formally mentioned that he was once a student of Mr. T. K. N. Menon, the then principal of the B. T. College, he having taken his Secondary Teachers’ Training under him. Champakbhai, the head clerk, talked to the Principal about this; and looking to my father’s photograph and recognizing him, he said: “I would like to have him here if I could help him out of the situation.” Knowing fairly well that a common teacher cannot be transferred directly to a training college, he created a new ‘Special Method Assistant’ post in the college library and requested my father’s services at that post. My father thus got promptly transferred to the B. T. College, Baroda.

I was overjoyed, not simply because I would be able now to prosecute my studies without any obstruction, but because I would once again be in company of Pūrūshottam who was studying in the Commerce College there. But I was not happy about one particular thing. I was not really willing to go in for commerce. I had no interest what so ever pursuing that branch of studies. I always liked being in company of literature which always prompted me to go in for Arts. To me, the commerce line belonged to those who were business minded, and as I understood it, business was for those who were full of intricacies and were not straightforward persons. My internal build up was totally contrary to this type of temperament. What I termed straightforwardness to be was to have a genuine guilelessness, a normal natural flow of feelings in all that we do. This ever remained for me a natural instinct. I always maintained that everything else than this was a make-believe and hence to be avoided. This being my instinctive attitude, I always found it difficult to fit myself into the cast of shrewd sophisticated persons. I ever intended to be something else than these. If you prefer to call me unworldly, fair enough; go ahead and call me that. Even till this day my attitude has remained unchanged. If I am at fault, and somebody points his finger at it, I would always appreciate it. And those around me know this attitude of mine. What I mean is that if someone intrigued on creating an effect on me by bringing home to me a subject in a round about way, or if some one goes on praising me for what I am not, I would never appreciate it, and would object to it with no reserve. Many a time did I have to suffer because of this tendency of mine; but that was alright with me. Yes, I might have queer complexes formed within my texture. Yet I very well knew that right or wrong, they were my thoughts. If I did what I honestly believed in, these complexes, I thought, would help my life get the much so needed positive momentum, which, in turn, would not allow my natural growth stunted. For some such incomprehensible reason, or maybe, because I was not enough matured in my understanding of things and practicalities, I did not like to enter a business line, which I thought commerce ultimately would lead to. But then none supported my view of pursuing Arts for my future career, and that was that.

Ū ā ū Ā

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15.    In  Baroda  Commerce  College

It was during this period that I received an appointment order from the Incometax Department. Bābu and I had together applied for this job while in Kathore, and both of us received our orders the same day. But my father had already been transferred to Baroda, and if it was possible for me to further up my studies, I thought, I better continue with my studies. As to the service part of it, the general concept of all at home was that once I complete my college studies, services will be in plenty. Consequently, Bābu accepted the offer, whereas I joined the Commerce College, Baroda, very much against my will. However, because Pūrūshottam was studying in the same college, I was a bit happy. I could contact him there at least during the college recess, I thought. But he utilized his recess in visiting the college library, busying himself with big volumes. I had no interest in such voluminous commerce stuff. Moreover, those figures, which I ever despised being in company of, would not simply let me enjoy the college atmosphere; for, be it accounting or statistics, figures it all necessarily was. Consequently, with total disregard for my studies, I continued going to the college to be back home around four in the evening.

We were residing in a rented house at Limda Pole, very near to the well-known Sūrsāgar Lake, on the opposite bank of which was our college. Pūrūshottam stayed in the Pātidār Ăshram in Kāreli Bāg, a little far off from my place. Thus, though we studied together, we hardly could see more of each other. And I was not interested in cultivating new friendship. The result of all this was that my life at Baroda was fairly solitary, a circumstance that gave me quite some time to remain busy with my choice of books. Even Jeejābhai was fond of philosophy and read a lot about world religions. This kept a steady flow of religious and spiritual  literature at home. Not that I would never go through novels; but my choice fell with religious and yogic things. Thus, though a bit solitary, my life at Baroda remained  reasonably busy.

My life at the college reminds me of one singular incident. It so happened that I was once attending a class conducted by a lady professor. The class was quietly busy listening to her lecture, and all on a sudden, I didn’t know why, but quite without any intention I gave a shrill cry. The professor stopped: “Who was that?” came the question. I kept mum. She put the same inquest again, rather stringently this time. I observed silence; and so did every body else. Leaving me aside, she made some three to four students sitting around me stand. And every body said it was not he who did it. Had she asked me, I would perhaps have expressed my sorrow admitting: ‘It just happened, I did not do it deliberately.’ But she didn’t even doubt my integrity. Normally, I would sit quietly in the class waiting for the period to over. Again, It was a general dictum in the college not to point out a troublemaker; and I was spared from any direct questioning by the professor too. Things looked fine. But then this invited an untoward move from her.

“O.K., unless the person who did it admits it, I won’t be taking your classes any further. Thanks.” So saying she left the class. A few of my classmates congratulated me on my misdeed. Perhaps many of them liked this sort of evasion from Prof. Kelker’s class; but I was inwardly disturbed. I was the root of all this, the mistake being mine. Had she asked me directly, I would have admitted it; I would certainly not have lied. I naturally kept quiet when others were interrogated, thus sparing myself from some possible punishment. But I well knew that whatever happened was in no way commendable, and during our recess I talked about it to Pūrūshottam. He advised me to make an approach to the professor and admit my guilt. He strongly believed that I ought to have confessed my mistake even though I was not asked. But now it was too late to admit it; for if I did, I thought, she would be stricter with me. Considering all the pros and cons of it, I considered it advisable to observe silence for now, and wait for whatever comes. The next day also she did not conduct her class. It was now the third day and Puūrūshottam encouraged me to go to her and admit my guilt, adding that whatever punishment was inflicted upon me for my misbehavior, I should willingly accept. Yes, I was certainly at fault, and as suggested by him, so many of my colleagues were being penalized just because of my foolhardiness. He directed me to the professors’ room, saying, “Go, she is a nice lady; she won’t be unduly harsh.” So I went to see her, but all were at a meeting. What to do now? “Come,” said Purushottam, “why bother? We have to admit it, any way. Just go.”

“May I come in, please!” I ventured.

“Yes! What is it?” came the hoarse voice from the principal, and the very next moment, intervening the principal, Prof. Kelker said, “Just a minute; he may be the one.” And she called me in. I entered the room and in the presence of all, I admitted, saying: “I am sorry. It was I who did it.” And I stood there in abeyance.

“Of all the persons you? I never expected you to do that!” Her voice had a mixed feeling of surprise and despair.

“Wait,” intervened the principal, “why did you disturb the class and why didn’t you admit it that day?”

“I was never asked;” I just blurted out.

“Wh..au ..t!!”

“Had she asked me, I would perhaps have admitted my fault.”

“Perhaps? What do you mean ‘perhaps’?

Everybody was staring at me. I thought it wise to remain silent. But that did not stop the principal from growling harshly: “Yes!! Come here.”

I knew I was doomed. It reminded me of my ninth grade episode with Parānjpe Dāda. I inched myself up to the principal. He asked in a low, controlled and yet stern voice: “Tell me why you did it. And again, what did you mean when you said, ‘perhaps you would have admitted it’?”

“I did not do it with any intention, sir. I really don’t know how it happened. It .. It just came out.” I clarified.

“H…um! And what about your ‘perhaps’?”

“Sir, I am really sorry. But I really don’t know whether or not I would have accepted my guilt, had the professor asked me. I normally admit my faults. I …”

“He is an honest boy…” said  Professor Kelker, coming to my help.

And asking me to see him after college hours, the principal allowed me to go. Pūrūshottam was standing outside waiting for me. “You were afraid for nothing, right! Be at ease.” But I did not feel relaxed. I still had to see the principal. And he would surely punish me. When I entered his office in the evening, our lady professor was already there. The principal said: “Joshi, you have to promise me never to play any mischief again, and to admit your guilt and to apologize to Mrs. Kelker in front of the class.”

And promising never to repeat any such thing in future and to offer an apology to Mrs. Kelker right in front of the class I took his leave. If I am not mistaken, this was the first and the last incident for me to misbehave in the class. I had felt extremely sorry for all that had happened, and confessing my guilt right in the midst of the class I, with all my heart, asked for an apology to our professor, and she too excused me with a smile. She was undoubtedly a very good lady and she certainly apprehended that I had no evil intention in whatever that had happened that day.

Ū ā ū Ā

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16.   When Will I  Ever  Pay  The  Debt ?

Days passed and the college now had its summer holidays. I, in company of my parents, went to pass my holidays at Vyārā. Passing some days at my relatives’ house, I was now counting days for our return to Baroda. Meanwhile, Jijāmāmā, – my maternal uncle Narendra Bhatt, – got nominated for some Sanitary Inspector’s course to be conducted at Baroda, and we all started together for Baroda. We had to change our train at Surat. We were just boarding the fast train for Baroda and an iron-bar for his daughter Shohini’s cradle dropped down on the rail underneath the railway platform. Without the cradle it would not be possible to lull her to sleep, nor would it be possible to get the bar back unless the train moved. So asking them not to bother, I got down from the train telling them, I would get the bar and catch the next available train. The moment the train left the platform, I got down the platform, picked up the bar and climbed the platform back again, viewing the passing train. I certainly could not catch up with the speeding train. ‘God knows when the other train will come! How nice would it be if the train just stops?’ I thought. I stood viewing the passing train with this thought emanating from like nowhere, and I heard someone exclaiming: “Look there! How come the train has stopped?” It certainly had stopped. I doubled up with the bar in my hand. I had barely reached the last compartment when it started moving. Dashing forward I grabbed the compartment rod, quickly opened the door and rushed in amidst troubled shouts:

“You there! Why have you entered this ladies’ compartment?”

“Excuse me, the train is already on the move. I will get down at the next station,” said I, and started explaining them the situation; but some lady started scolding me saying, “You get out of the compartment right now, or else …!” But right then some other considerate lady suggested, “Let him sit a while. Where will the poor fellow go with the train moving. He will get down later on.” I thanked god inwardly. One of the women made a little room for me and taking my seat I started singing a Bhajan – a devotional song. I do not recollect for sure whether I started the Bhajan with the hope of making them allow me to sit in their compartment or whether I really was thanking God for whatever had passed. I might well have started it to get rid of the shyness I had become a prey to, at my sitting amidst the ladies in their reserved compartment. Anyway, the Bhajans did make me feel a bit relaxed.

Being a fast train, it did not stop at every station. When it did, I got down and started looking for the booth my father and others were in. But it being pretty dark, and since many of the compartments were closed, I could not find them. Ultimately, I just entered a compartment that came handy, hoping to see my family members at Baroda station. On reaching Baroda I quietly got down the train. It was a pretty long train and the platform was extremely crowdy. I went on looking for my father and others, but no body came in view. Where to find them now? They must have left; for quite naturally, they would never expect me to be on the same train! Most of the passangers had already departed and I made for the gate. It was only when I saw others giving their tickets to the ticket collector that I thought of my not having my ticket with me. It was with Jeejābhai, and since I had abruptly got down the train for the cradle-bar, the idea of my not having the ticket with me had never entered my mind. Now what? Well, doesn’t matter I thought, I would be able to explain my position to the officer. After all, I still had the bar with me, my living witness. I neared the gate and the ticket collector asked for the ticket. I started explaining the situation. “Stand aside;” he said, not listening to me.

“Where are you coming from?” He asked me after all the passengers had left.

“From Vyara.” I said.

“Why didn’t you buy the ticket?”

“The ticket was bought; but because this bar slipped down, I had to get down the train to get it back. That made me get separated from the rest. My ticket remained with my father; but they all seem to have already left.” I replied, clarifying the situation.

“Come to the office.” And I followed him. There I explained him the situation in detail; but he was not prepared to heed to what I said and demanded fifteen Rupees from me. I did not have even a penny with me, and I told him so. He stopped me from going, saying, “O.K., I am calling the police.”

What to do now? I was greatly perplexed and had become a prey to an unforeseen circumstance. It would have been far better had I not got down the train to take that bar. I once again tried to elucidate the whole situation, and told him that I would go home, get the ticket from my father and would present it to him the next morning. But all my entreaties had hardly any effect on him, and I was at my wit’s ends to discern what to do. While this was going on, an old gentleman wearing a Dhoti, Kafani and a sleeveless jacket made an appearance. He wore a Gāndhi cap and inquired of the officer what the matter was.

“Nothing;” said the ticket-collector, “this person has been caught traveling without a ticket.”

I explained the gentleman my predicament. He asked me who I was, and I acquainted him with my personal data. He then turned to the ticket collector. “How much is due of him?”

“Fifteen Rupees.”

The gentleman took fifteen Rupees out from his pocket. The collector asked me: “Is this man related to you?”

I answered in the negative, for I had never even seen him before. So the collector turned to the gentleman and said: “Why are you paying for this man? There are so many of his type loitering about. They never buy the ticket, and when caught, they raise their hands up in total disregard.”

“Your concern is with your money, right? Here it is. Take it and release him.” And handing over the money he made a move to depart.

“Excuse me, please,” I said, stopping the gentleman. “I am very grateful to you. I will return this money to you. Would you please tell me your name?”

“Pūrūshottamdās,” came the answer.

“Where do I have to return this money? Would you mind giving me your address?”

“Mūkūnd Oil Mills, in Alkāpoori. Everybody knows me,” was the answer.

I was familiar with Alkāpoori. My father used to go for some tuition there. He would leave Limdāpole in the morning, would pace some three-mile distance to Alkāpoori, right behind the railway station, would walk back home, and hurriedly finishing his meals would go back to the B.T. College on the station. Thus he would walk a distance of some eleven miles every day. After coming home in the evening, he would take his dinner and go straight back for another tuition in the Amdāvādipole. Thus he overworked himself. He had to walk the distance because he could not afford to pay the bus-fare, some four Annas, towards his conveyance to and fro the station. Monetarily we were hard pressed. And all this he did just to see me come up in life, to see his family survive. But as for me, I lacked in me the enthusiasm to fulfill his hopes and desires. And yet, his faith in me, in all of his children for that matter, was such that he went on laboring himself doggedly with the staunch confidence that our future would most certainly be bright…. Well, thanking Pūrūshottambhai, I paced the distance home.

“How come you came so early? Which train did you come by? We thought you would come only by some morning train, tomorrow,” said my father.

I told my father all that had happened. He was amazed to know that I was charged fifteen Rupees. And everyone at home failed to understand how someone would volunteer to pay this big amount without having any acquaintance or familiarity. Dear reader, this event wants you to go back to the year 1945/46. It is difficult to conceive of the value of the then fifteen rupees. And for us, it was a very big amount. The very next day both my younger brothers, Arvind ( Prof. Arvind Joshi, M.T.B. College, Surat, now retired) and Kaushik (Dr. Kaushik Joshi, Vyara) made for Alkāpoori. They searched and searched, but there was no clue of there being any Mūkūnd Oil Mills in Alkāpoori, nor was there any clue as to any person in the name of Pūrūshottamdas. Any way, since my father used to go there often, he said he would inquire about it and find it out. What he gathered was: ‘Here, in Alkapoori, who would ever deem of starting an oil-mill? All those who stay here enjoy themselves in their multi-storied bungalows.’ Even then my brothers went there the next Sunday to inquire whether there was any such mill named Mūkūnd Oil Mills anywhere in Baroda. But the issue remained an unsolved enigma, and all of a sudden my mother declared: “Don’t unnecessarily waste your guts. How in the world are you going to find ‘Pūrūshottamdas’ of Mūkūnd Oil Mills? His Oil is being sold all the world over.” What was my mother hinting at?

Whatever it was; if there was any event till today when we didn’t and couldn’t return anybody’s money, it is this fifteen Rupees that was received from this ‘Pūrūshottamdas’ of ‘Mūkūnd Oil Mills’. I ever failed to comprehend the coherence of the events I was made part of on that singular day, all an outcome of Shohini’s cradle-bar. Even if we disregard the circumstance of coming across Pūrūshottamdas as a mere coincident, yet all the events that linked together – the slipping of the cradle-bar, my getting down the train in so much of a hurry that no one even thought of my not having the ticket with me, the mid-way halting of the train and my grasping of the ladies compartment which prompted me to indulge myself into singing devotion oriented Bhajans, and amidst all this the abrupt emergence of the old gentleman who simply could not be traced,- what was all that? Just a fluke? But think of the name; nay, all the names associated with him, ‘Pūrūshottamdās’, ‘Mūkūnd Oil Mills’, both closely concerned with … with whom? With Lord Krishna?, and that Alkāpoori? For ‘Alkā’ is a hair-braid that ever remaines connected with the Lord. And again, Alkapoori is the city of Kūber, Lord Krishna’s devotee. Are all these names not suggestive of anything? And then my mother’s pointed remarks: “Don’t unnecessarily waste your guts. How in the world are you going to find ‘Pūrūshottamdās’ of ‘Mūkūnd Oil Mills’. His oil is being sold all the world over.”  My mother’s remarks came out after a good deal of mental churning as also because of our failure to locate the Mill and its Owner! All, all this cannot be just a fluke! There seems to be much more than that in it if we fail not to keep our mind open. All this happened so very suggestively that not just for days, but for years on I could not brush it out from my mind. I am not in any way a superstitious person. And again, I don’t intend to take credit of being helped by some Divine Entity. The incident happened and passed, leaving me ever alive to some hidden promptings that emenated from some inner Cosmic Presence.

True, it can be taken as a common event. But apart from this, I have encountered many such events in my life, which cannot easily be accounted for, nor can they be fully explained on intellectual level. Again, the event left a great impact on my mind, which colored my life in such a way that I was inwardly dragged towards spirituality. Undoubtedly, there was much more in this than just a superficial happening. At least that is how I personally take it. …. And this reminds me of one more noteworthy incident that took place while we at home were engaged in Shree SatyaNārāyana Katha (worship of the ‘Lord of Truth’). While the Pooja –(worship) was going on, an idea of  performing the ‘Yajnopavit Sanskār, – Thread Ceremony –  of my son Himaunshu who was some seven years of age then, quite abruptly entered my mind. And I talked to Veena, who was sitting right beside me, as to what she thought about it.. “How can we do that?” she said, “even Bhāi- Bhābhi (Himaunshu’s maternal uncle and aunt) are not here.” In India, it is a normal custom that during the ‘thread ceremony’ the Boy’s Māma-Māmi – maternal uncle and aunt – are especially invited to greet the finishing of the religious rite of performing ‘Badavo’, a ceremony which prompts the grown up lad who has now become a Dwija – the twice-born – to leave the Sansār – the society in general – in order to enhance his spiritual growth. So when the Dwija endeavours to escape from the sansār, his Māma is the one who prevents him from doing it and brings the fleeing ascetic back home, explaining him the importance of living in the Sansār , which instead of being a hindrance paves the way towards spirituality if Sansār is rightly understood and spirituality properly adhered to.

Here it would not be out of place to side-track a bit especially because we are with the topic, and it is vital to throw a bit more light on what Yagnopavit actually suggests and what its genuine significance is. The explanation actually leads to something very subtle and deeply asoteric. Very few who perform this ceremony do understand the real significance of this outward looking solemnity, which, though seemingly symbolic, leads to a very potent objective. Thread-ceremony hints at something directly connected with the subtlemost part of our body, the part that plays a very important role in leading us to our own evolution, the very aim of this precious life of ours. The ‘Upavit’or ‘Janoi’, represented by the thread the growing youth is made to wear, has in it three individual threads twisted and interwoven into one singular pattern. These three threads represent the three main ‘Nādies’- subtle nerve-currents – carrying the ‘Prānās’ upwards when activated in our bodies. These ‘Prānās’ are subtle vital energy- currents that strengthen and enrich our lives. These Prānās can be energised and activated only when the downward trend of the sex energy is wilfully drawn upward through the staunch observance of ‘Brahmacharya’- celebacy. Thus the semen, which is either wasted or used in raising progeny, is diverted upwards through activated Prānās and carried to ‘Brahmarandhra’- the seventh subtle energy center – the cavity of God – at the top of the head, corresponding to the ventricular cavity. A well-disciplined spiritual practitioner only can activate these ‘pranas’ through abstinence of his sexual instinct. And the path through which this is accomplished rests in making the Prānās work upward through the above mentioned subtle ‘Nādies’- nerve currents. These subtle nerve currents are: (1) ‘Ida’, the channel at the left of the spine, the channel rightly termed ‘Ganga’- the river Ganges – because of its sterilizing cold-bearing effect; (2) ‘Pingala’, The heat-producing Nādi – known as ‘Yamūna’- on the right of the spine; and (3) ‘Sūshūmna’, the subtle inrunning passage known as ‘Saraswati’, through which ‘Kūndalini’ – the Serpent Power, the potential psychic energy, the premordial Mother Energy – passes from ‘Mūlādhār’,- the subtle center at the base of the spine, – to reach the highest seventh center ‘Brahmarandhra’ at the top of the head. These three immanent subtle Nādies go twisting around the six subtle ‘Chakrās’- centers in the spinal chord – later described in chapter 40. It is these three spiritually important Nādies that are being represented by the alliance of the triple-threaded‘Ūpavit’- (Ūpa – upward + Vit – Vitta –wealth, strength, substance); because it is through the combined act of these three Nādies, more importantly the Sūshūmna, that one’s Vitta – the Inner Wealth – is made to move upward, making the youth – now a ‘Dwija’, the twice-born, – having been made an Urdhvaretā. Urdhva i.e. upward and ‘retas’ meaning the semen, the very essence of life. So, Urdhvaretā is the one who has succeeded in awakening and then carrying one’s ‘Prana-Tatwa’ – the vital bio-energy – upwards, an undertaking without which no progress in spiritual field can be made possible. Thus, the whole ceremony, when seriously and sincerely performed, becomes ‘Yagna’- a sacrificial happening -, the two of them (Yajna+Upavit) making ‘Yagnopavit Sanskār’ – the thread ceremony. The whole event aims at keeping the growing lad reminded of the spiritual significance and the importance of abstaining himself from wanton waste of his bio-energy and to utilize it in his so very badly needed spiritual progress. This is the esoteric significance of the veiled ceremony. But alas! Few there are who care to understand the intrinsic value of the thing, as a result of which the whole impact of the ceremony has been lost.

One thing more: The Yagnopavit is worn from the upper left shoulder to the lower right loin, representing the needed balance of the hot and cold currents emanating respectively from Pingala and Ida Nādies. Pingala starts from the right at the base of the spine, whereas Ida starts from the left of the spine. Both go left and right, crisscrossing themselves at the six subtle centers as shown in the figure on page ……. , forming a link with each other and with sushumna, the central main channel, through which the awakened Pranas are being led upwards imparting the ultimate cool, serene, poised equilibrium, and thus paving the sacred path of the spiritual aspirant.

And now to go back to the topic at hand. The ever practical Veena was right in drawing my attention to the absence of Himaunshu’s maternal uncle. But then I explained her that this was just a ritual. The important thing was to teach him the right spiritual import of the ceremony. Well, she and our parents also agreed to the proposal, and I put the suggestion before Shūkalji – the priest, the poojāri – and, after a little talk, he hesitantly agreed to perform the ceremony and asked me to give him the Yajnopavita, (the triply- knitted sacred thread ) since he did not have it at hand. I asked my father if he had it, for he normally kept one with him; but as it had to happen, he did not have it either. I asked the priest if he could bring it from his home, for his house was not far away from ours, and Pūjāries normally keep these with them in stock. But he objected saying, “Well, I have it at home, but I cannot leave my seat while performing the Satya Nārāyana Pūja.”

Well, this put me in a dilemma. What to do now? I will have to drop the very idea of performing the auspicious ceremony. This gave me a deep setback. But what else would anybody do in the circumstance? And I felt like something was being snatched away from me. I sat disheartened for a while, and Lo! There came the most pleasing shout from a passing-by street-‘Paddler’ right in front of our house: “Anybody wishing to purchase a Yajnopavit! Yajnopavit is right here! Would you have it!” And greately amazed at the happening and in deep joy my father went out and bought the ‘Sacred Thread’.from that ‘Heavenly Paddler’. The ceremony started being performed in an intensely serene and composed atmosphere, and there, right in front of us, wonder of wonders, stood Himaunshu’s Māma-Māmi, Veena’s brother and Bhābhi, readily arrived in the train from Bardoli. What an incident? First the Yajnopavit and then the unexpected appearance of Māma! … And I said to myself: “Who will ever expect a ‘Yajnopavit-Seller’ right at the  door at the exact opportune moment? He was a slim, dark-skinned ordinary looking fellow. By whom prompted did he arrive with the much so required ‘Thread’ exactly when it was needed? Who would expect him to be there in such a season? And then the unanticipated arrival of the ‘uninvited’ Mama – Mami, right at the opportune moment! Unique is Thy Play, Oh my bewitching, glamorous Charmer, my Great Saviour!” … Will I ever forget Himaunshu’s Yajnopavit-sanskār?

My reader dear, you may perhaps take it as an accidental happening. Anybody can, and it’s quite understandable. But for me, it was not just a Godsend. Over and above it being a Godsend, there was much more in it. It came with a pure message for me, believe it or not, a message that kept on telling me: ‘Have Faith in Me and I am always there, ever ready and at your service”. Yes, all it requires is a sincere heart and a deep, deep Faith, a living Faith that will never put you down and leave you in the lurch. … No, Never.’

This, and such similar occurrences I often became a part of, have combined together to provide me with the provisions and nutriments to carry on with my pilgrimage to Shūlpān. To discard this and similar happenings that color our lives, taking them as just something ordinary and superficial, is to do injustice to the very principle of living. By turning deaf ears to occurrences like this, or by sighting them as casual chanced happenings, we allow the most precious gems of our life to be dissipated and ravaged. By not heeding or attending to them, we cast on our inward mirror an irremovable mist thus stopping it from being transparently crystallized to allow us to see the worth and magnitude of such priceless happenings, which are fundamentally spiritual in nature. And by not comprehending the invaluable magnitude and significance of the realities of our inner self we ourselves devaluate them and become the annihilator of our own genuinely elevating advancement. True, we cannot pretend to be another Narsinh Mehta by being colored by incidents of this level, for that would be devaluating Narsinh Mehta and deluding ourselves. We still are insignificantly small, our limitations being many and varied. By taking our insignificant looking occurrences to be purely trifling and hence irrelevantly immaterial, if we neglect them totally, it is quite possible that because of such negligence we ourselves may become the annihilators of our own future excellence. This is because, if we cast-off such small happenings as being purely circumstantial and immaterial, we will in time cease to attach necessary importance to many other such incidents that may occur in our life, and consequently the occurrences that are meant to enhance our progress on spiritual grounds will completely cease from happening. We ourselves will then start devastating our self-earned innate affluence. Life will then be a barren undergrowth; because we will consider the germinating oasis to be a deluding mirage, thus leaving our already arid life totally unproductive.

In order to avoid such a phenomenon from happening, it is badly necessary that we keep awake to the trivial looking incidents of our life. Remaining awake to such petty-looking incidents has helped me immensely, and I have learnt not to throw the ‘Linga’- icon – of Lord Trishūlpāni away taking it for an ordinary stone. We may not worship it if we don’t feel like; but let us not deny ourselves altogether by not giving it a proper place somewhere in the temple of our bosom. I am highly indebted to Pūrūshottamdās of Mūkūnd Oil Mills in Alkāpoori, the originator of an occurrence I would never ever forget. Let us give the whole occurrence a little thought. The expression ‘Everybody knows me’ added to the name ‘Pūrūshottamdās’– (Purushottam being Lord Krishna’s epithet) and the title ‘Mūkūnd’ (the common name for Krishna) connected with the ‘Oil Mills’ (suggesting the churning of one’s ‘Self” with a view to derive the Inner Essence) all  this combined, paves the way for a spiritual pilgrim prompting him to tread the path to procure the hidden nectar underneath his subliminal self, for an onward journey to ‘Alkapoori’ suggesting both – the residence of Krishna’S devotee ‘Bhakta Kuber’ and Lord Krishna’s ‘Alkā’- ‘lata’ – hair-lock/tuft. Can anybody dare say that all these titles so meticulously presented, did not have in them a deep, deep message, if not for others, at least for me? We often encounter happenings of this dimension in our small life. The question is : “Are we really open and awake to them? For, to keep awake to them is to enrich this life of ours with inner awareness; whereas, to eschew them is to bar the dripping righteousness from boosting its inner blossomings. The first gives life a positive hoist; whereas the second, being detrimental to life, needs to be discarded. Not superstitiousness, but Faith plays a greater role in this type of absolute attitude. In it resides a sweet, sweet fragrance of someone’s unexpected, delightfully cherished elegance and maybe, perhaps, undeserved courtesy. Who can ever tell?

~!~                                                                     Ū ā ū Ā

***

17.    Some Unforgetable Events  & My  Repercussions

The college reopened, but Purushottam was nowhere to be seen. A week passed and still there was no news of him. Ultimately, I went to the Patidar Ashram and I was told that he was sick and had not yet returned from home. When he did come back, he appeared to be weak. There was nothing else to be done but to advise him to be careful about his health. At home, even my father too was not keeping well and on my mother’s entreaties, he went to see the doctor and was told that he badly needed rest and that he was spoiling his health because of overwork. However, my father remained negligent as ever of his health and continued straining himself as he usually did. My mother suggested him to take a bus for his Alkapoori tuition, but he felt no necessity to do so. He thought he had a little weakness, which would disappear in time. And he persisted doggedly his usual routine. I too was neglectful of my studies. From the very beginning I had no interest in it and my attitude towards it was sort of step motherly. I went to the college just because I had to, and at home too I hardly busied myself with my college work. This invoked in my parents a natural discontent towards me, and I automatically became a sitting duck for them. They became very harsh on me, acutely oppressive towards me, or so I felt, and my mother was actually tired of me. Because of the restraint that came over me as a natural outcome of all this, and more particularly because of    their intermittently oncoming unbearable tauntings, I became more careless and rather adamant. All this made me repulsively negligent of my studies. On the other hand, I experienced a definite and rudimentary change in my feelings and outlook. I now liked looking at the women folk and my fondness towards them had something of a natural tend. This change that seemed to overcome me was thought undue and undesirable by my mother, it being untimely in her opinion, and may be something that dragged me towards an unwanted and illicit direction. She was rather overly strict in matters pertaining to relations between opposite sex.

Facing our house stayed a young girl, a little younger to me. There was, between our two buildings hardly enough passage for two cars to pass at a time, and if we were enough attentive, we would easily overhear the talks going on in each other’s house. This told me that her name was Nalini. I very often saw her moving in her gallery and so did she see me working in my house, reading or spinning at the wheel. However, we never talked to each other, nor did we ever meet in person. Nevertheless, we very often stared at each other, a fact not unknown to my mother.

One day I was looking out of my window and there, in her gallery, appeared Nalini and stood right in front of me staring at me. I too gazed at her and continued looking at her, liking it. She gave me a smile. I too must have done likewise. But meanwhile came the reproach: “What are you looking at, standing at the window? Don’t you feel ashamed of it? Look at his mean gestures! Move away from near the window, the dead you!” It was my mother. And moving away from near the window, I went inside. I felt as if I was caught red-handed doing something boorishly vulgar. This gave me a terrific setback. I felt clumsily sheepish. After this incident, I completely stopped standing at the window.

One day, while I was busy at my spinning wheel, Nalini suddenly entered my house.

“May I come in?” she asked while entering, wearing a pleasing smile.

“Come on in;” I naturally invited and marked that my mother was standing right behind me, watching us. I was taken aback; but I could do nothing else. Nalini took her seat right beside me.

“Would you teach me to spin?” came the direct question. I could not say, ‘No, I wouldn’t’?

“Sure, I will; why not?” I instinctively blurted out, failing to fathom the repercussions of my utterance. Perhaps Nalini realized what was going on in my mind, or maybe behind me. She sat for a while. I continued spinning. There was no possibility of any further conversation. Seeing me totally appeased, she sat for a while and left inadvertently saying: “Bye.”

“Bye,” I echoed. But after this, neither did she ever come to my place nor did I ever invite her. Moreover, if she did come to my house, I really do not recollect her arrival.  I have but one memory of this incident, that of my mother warning me to tell her never to come to this house ever again, adding “Hmm, wanting to learn to spin! The spinner that she is! I very well know everything.” But I never had a scope to inform Nalini of this. I could visualize my life-path fairly distinctly. Love had no place in my life. I did not have the right to look at women nor did I have the privilege to talk freely to them. Whatever be it, occurrences like this and, of course, those like Gangā Poojan, left in me a trait, which brought about a queer and permanent change in my way of looking at women. I became a prey to certain idiosyncrasies quite beyond my comprehension. ‘Ladies have an identity altogether different from us; to come in any sort of contact with them is an idiocy and hence totally out of place, and as such, it is always wise to keep them at a distance and away from us,’ was all that I thought I had to learn about women. Some such eccentric sentiments kept on surging to make a permanent home in me. Continuous incision of this sort made me look at the women folk with an eye of distrust and cynicism. This made my personal image so very incoherent and unnatural for others that women could never look me straight in the eyes. And I too dared not look at them face to face without being felt a culprit at that. It was hence natural for persons to look at me with a sort of distrust and repugnance, a state of being which could not be prevented nor could be got rid of by me. And here, I would openly agree that I liked looking at the lady folk. And what was the outcome of all this? A sort of contaminated filth as it were, got permanently engrafted in my entire being. My mind became a prey to unwanted complexes from which I never, never could free myself. And the greatest pity of it was that even knowing all this, I could not prevent myself from becoming a direct prey to it.

However, I did not remain unaware of one very positive side of all these seemingly irrelevant complexes. As providence would have it, this was ever to spare me from many an unwanted and inadmissibly elaborate relationship with women that could have stood in the way of my spiritual progress. At home, they might have been unduly strict with me. They might well have done me unwarranted injustice, and yet it was perhaps the same puritanism, the same unfairness, that always prevented me from crossing the wholesome bridge of righteousness. And for this, I have unequivocally remained thankful not only to my ever wakeful parents, but even to all my elders, friends and well-wishers. One thing is pretty clear: My parents did all that they did with the purest of intentions. They did it for my own immaculate future and with my very best in the heart of their hearts. It was because of their guarded vigilance that I have been spared from many a stumbling blunder. As against this, whenever there was an occasion for any undue and downright injustice done to me, I never refrained from objecting to it in my own way. Mainly, and on many an occasion, unwittingly, did they treat me unfairly because they failed to understand me. But then it was not solely their fault; for even I myself failed to understand me. I was equally responsible for such misunderstandings, and that was mainly because I did not have in me the capacity to think deeply of the consequences that might follow my atypical behavior.

Again, and I don’t know why, but before I did certain things, something from within me prompted me to do that thing. I really do not know whether it was due to some inherent quality within me, or whether I got from within me some hint or inner inclination that inwardly goaded me to act in a particular way. Or was it because of lack of thoughtfulness born for want of my thinking ability? Whatever be it, I always worked on impulse, remaining totally oblivious of the outcome of my deeds. In many of the important issues touching my life I felt like being dragged from within, and it was that pull that worked its way in me, so much so that I hardly had any grip on whatever I did. I always got lost in whatever I did especially when it came from within. But it was not just my family members, even I personally remained totally unaware, for a pretty long time, of this inward trait of mine. And this was the main cause of most of the injustice done to me. Well, that’s that. Who to find fault with?

It was only during my stay in Africa that I became awakened to this characteristic of mine. But I would rather abstain myself from discussing it at this juncture, and pass on to a not very significant and yet not totally negligible aspect of my life. My father, rather intentionally, kept me in the dark about certain facts pertaining to me, the facts which he related to me only after my return to India after some seven years of my stay in east Africa. These incidents, in a way, are nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, the fact that my father thought it worth its while not to mention them to me prior to my ripe age of thirty-three, itself vouches for their significance. I am disclosing them here especially because it seems to be covering some ‘back-ground’ concerning my small life.

For the first time, after all these years, I came to know that it was not on the suggestion of any of my relatives, as is commonly done, that I was named Naresh. It was one Pārsi Olia (a saintly personality) who visited our place and suggested that I should be so named. My father upheld the concept of ‘Vasūdhaiva Kūtūmbakam’ – this world being one family – and staunchly believed in integral equality of all religions. He was well-versed in important world religions. Though a simple matriculate, he was quite learned, had a great religious tolerance, and had filled the walls of our house with photographs of saintly personalities and well-renowned religious founders. Right from our childhood we  at home were well familiar with the photographs like those of Jesus Christ, Mohammed Paigamber, Uso Jarthrustra, Būddha, Mahāveer Swami and of course Shree Rama, Krishna and Lord Shiva.

One other thing my father made me wise about was that some saint had put forth a demand for me; but my parents had turned it away. I don’t think I had anything special in me because of which any saint or monk should ask for me; but the fact that some such personality should take an exception on me was in itself a distinctive feature, my father concluded, and had something more than common in it, he thought. This talk from my father reminded me of my childhood dreams wherein I found myself flying. Was there any sense in those visions, any particular massage in them? I wouldn’t be sure. On the other hand, if there was any purpose in that saint’s demand for me, or even in the visions that I experienced, then I must confess that I had wasted my life by not giving it the headway momentum that it so badly needed. Or was it that, whatever deficiencies I noticed in my life were but destiny oriented and meant to inspire in me a drive for my inward awakening while allowing me to fulfill my past Karmās! Whatever be it, my father’s exposition gave me enough to get myself be involved in a bit of thinking.

The third thing he told me was that once, when I was maybe four or five years of age, I so very deeply entered in a state of meditation that they found it very difficult to bring me out of the trance. Well, I have no recollection of this incident. Yes, I do remember one thing. When young, I used to sit cross-legged with my eyes shut; but that may as well be during our daily evening prayers. During my stay in Africa, my meditation took a definite mode. When I came back to India during my vacation, I used to go to the upper terrace of our house and meditate there; and it was then that my father perhaps thought it propitious to make me be  familiar of these things connected with my childhood days. It was then that he told us that he had three wishful dreams that he frequently indulged himself in: First, he intended to be an Ayūrvedic doctor and he knew enough about Ayūrved. The other thing he wanted to do was not just to stop after his matriculation, but to study further and reach the level of a college professor. Even otherwise, he was a learned person and a very good lecturer. He usually delivered lectures on religion and theology. His third aspiration was to remain ever god-minded by being a yogi firmly established in ‘Dhyāna’ – meditation.While thus talking about his aspirations and wishes, he told us: “Well, I could not accomplish all these; but I see it taking shape in you three brothers. Kaushik became a doctor in Ayurved, Arvind turned out to be a dignified proffesor, and Naresh, you are fond of Yoga and Dhyāna.” My youngest brother Kaushik is a good doctor naturally gifted for the diagnosis of his patients. My second brother, Prof. Dr. Arvind, now retired, having a scholestic study of Vedant and world religions, is now a renowned lectuter and a prominent writer. Where as I, let alone being termed a yogi which I surely am not, have not the caliber to consider myself a ‘Dhyāni’; and this I am not depicting to put forth a show of humility. For I know, I have yet to go a long way for this. But then I know too that I have selected my path and that I am treading, maybe sluggishly, a tangible and righteous path. Again, I am proud of being a disciple of Swami Abhirāmdāsji in whom a devoted aspirant can find a SadGuru of the highest order. I have one ardent wish, and that is to prove myself equal to his aspirations of me, so that he feels proud of terming me his disciple. I honestly believe that the Highest Principle, the Final Resort of which I am in long continued quest, is ever present waiting to clear my path of any and all the possible impediments, and to help me reach my goal.

Of these feelings emanating from my innermost conscience, my nearest relatives and friends have so far remained unaware. Anyway, there is a vast difference between my yesterdays and today. It reminds me of days bygone when people took me for a person devoid of any power of endurance. This was because I always opposed any unjust move towards me quite fiercely and amidst enough of self-humiliation. But when I think of my long bygone past that rushes forth to weigh itself against my present, this self-abasement and uncontrolled anger takes to its heels petrifying me for a moment, and then making me forget everything. I will confront any challenging situation, even today. It is in my blood. I never did learn sitting like one impotent, hopelessly paralyzed person. But my anger has largely departed, giving place to vehemence devoid of any malice towards  anybody. Consequently, when an injustice is done to me, I now prefer to look inside me before finding fault with others, or before looking at others’ shortcomings. If somebody is liable to suffer because of me, I would happily endure whatever I have to, without seeing others penalized on my account. I would then willingly endure whatever comes my way and remain contented. While writing this, I am being reminded of an old incident of my life. The incident is connected with my ‘thieving incident’, and it takes us back to Vyara.

It so happened that my mother once bought a cotton blanket from a street vendor and hung it on the inner door as was the custom connected, maybe, with some old belief of the past. I believe, it was considered advisable, from hygienic point of view, not to start using it, the thing having passed from many a hand. So the rug was placed on the door and was forgotten. The next day, when she did think of the newly bought blanket, it was not there; nor was it seen anywhere around in the house. Where could it go? How in the world could it have vanished? There was but one possibility. And in my mother’s words: “Yes, that’s it. It’s only Naresh who has sold it.”- an act which I never even thought of performing. However, the judgment was passed and an immediate inquiry started. Where, to whom and for how much money did I sell it? One year had hardly elapsed that ‘thieving incident’, and it was in no way abnormal for the finger to be pointed at me. Well, despite my repeated rejections I was once again sealed a rug- thief. The cover sure had disappeared; but the seal remained intact and untarnished. I was once again stamped a thief. But then, after quite some time, my mother had once stated that it was taken away by a ‘particular’ lady. Well, hearing this I had felt a bit relieved from within. At least I was freed from the blemish. I was no more a ‘second-time-thief’. Years passed, and leaving Kathore we were now in Baroda. One day, I don’t know why, my mother reiterated the blanket-talk and declared with an air of finality that it was none else but I who had disposed it off. It was extremely difficult for me to digest this. After all these years this disgrace, again? What to do now? Do I have to go through this all my life? I was under great mental stress. Not fathoming what course to take, I did not take my dinner that evening. Jeejābhai, my father, came home from work late in the evening. “Did every body eat?” It was a habit with him to enquire thus. “Yes;” replied my mother. I was hurt and my night passed in deep thought. My mother had refrained herself from telling him the truth. The next day I left for my college without eating anything. After coming home in the evening I took hold of a book and just pretended to read. It was dinnertime and everybody got seated for the meals.

“Why, Did Naresh already complete his meals?” asked Jeejābhai not finding me at meals.

“No, he hasn’t;” said Ben, my mother.

“Why? Come Naresh, join us.” And I expressed my denial with but one word: “No.”

“But why? What’s wrong? What has happened to Naresh?”

“Nothing has happened. He has stopped eating since yesterday.”

“But why? ‘Since yesterday’ means what?” And turning to me he asked: “What’s wrong, Naresh?”

I didn’t speak a word. But my mother answered his query, saying: “Because I opened the blanket-topic.”

“Blanket-topic! What blanket-topic?”

“Whatever is, is; and has got to be narrated. Why exhibit so much of anger on that? Eat he will. Does he eat for me?” My mother concluded.

And I know not why, but my father also kept mum over it. And I reached a decision that night: “Unless and until they tell me, ‘This topic will not be repeated ever again,’ I shall evade eating.” The third day had passed. The next day, the moment Jeejābhai entered the house, he inquired if I ate anything. And my mother answered in the negative. It was now the fourth day of my fast, and in the evening Ben, my mother, asked: “How long are you going to stay thus, without eating?” My father was right there in the house.

“I would insist upon my ‘satyāgraha’ – the vow of truth – and keep away from eating anything unless and until I am permanently freed from this false blemish.” I said in a very quiet and determined tone.

“Go and ask anybody. Is this ‘satyāgraha’ or ‘durāgraha’? – an undignified adamance?”

I did not speak a word. I had been fairly weakened; but I still continued going to the college. Again, I very well knew what I was at. This certainly was not a stunt. It did not have in it the false adherence to undue conviction. The whole thing had so oddly been connected with my personality that there was no other alternative but to put a period to it. And as this was being done against my parents’ allegations on me, I had no other alternative but to take recourse to fasting. Consequently, I became inwardly firm in my decision. I determined not to give way under any odds. What can ultimately happen if it may? And where was the sense in continuing this life the way it was being lived? I was greatly influenced by Gandhiji’s book on ‘Experiments with Truth’; but my family was unaware of the change undergoing my build up. Prior to continuing with these fasts I had invariably put me to test: “Was I doing this in an attitude of anger? Was there behind this decision of mine even a dint of a notion to run my parents’ self-esteem down, or to put them to undue anxiety or panic by my deed? Was there the purity of purpose in whatever I was doing?” Yes, it was only after putting myself to test, by putting before me questions of this sort that I had finally reached a decision the way I did. The totally false allegations put on me made me look like the one I, in fact, was not; and I failed to find a better alternative to fasting to free myself off from this accusation.

It was now the fifth day of my fasts. When I got up in the morning, I felt very dizzy and while trying to stand up I staggered out of sheer weakness. How in heaven’s name would I go to the college? What if I experience any trouble there? But then I could not have remained home as well! I drank a little water and felt a bit better. Even otherwise, I had not given up drinking water. Yes, I had given up drinking tea from the very day I started my fasts. I had a habit of drinking tea and I always suffered from headache whenever I didn’t get tea; but during these fasts, I don’t know why, I did not suffer from any headache. Getting a bit composed, I made for the college without uttering a word. When back from the college, I felt greatly tired and fatigued, and lay down on the sitting-room mat. When called for the evening meals I did not go. My mother started punishing herself in self-abuse. I felt it so bad; but well, it could not be helped. My father was also there, and in the same mood she gave vent to her feelings, saying: “Then tell me what I have to do. Do I have to ask of you an apology? Do I bow down before you?”

“I never thought of any such apology from you; but the accusation put on me is groundless. I have already affirmed that I know nothing about the blanket; even then I am being accused of stealing it. The same old issue is being brought forward every now and again;” said I with enough composure.

“But why don’t you tell me what you expect of me?” she lamented.

I said nothing. She kept on weeping. My father also seemed to be taken aback. But it came to nothing. Neither did my mother say she would not repeat the matter ever, nor did she say that the cover might have been taken away by somebody else, as had been pronounced by her years ago. This only meant that what she thought was my misdeed had been deeply routed in her; and I failed to understand what I should say or what I should do. As a result, lost in thought and without touching any food, I passed that night rather perturbed. It was the next morning. Everybody at home was quiet and sort of stunned. Time fleeted, and I, with my face in the book, remained quiet and still. There was no college that day, it being a holiday, and naturally the meals were served a little late that day.

“Come, Naresh; eat a little,” said Jeejabhai approaching me.

“I won’t,” and I kept staring in the book. My decision was fully grounded. Yes, it was the sixth day since I had started fasting.

“Come and take your seat; your dinner is awaiting you, come,” so saying he approached me in the hope that I would budge. I looked up and automatically blurted out, “No Jeejabhai, I certainly won’t eat.”

“In which case leave my meals aside,” he told my mother and took his seat calmly on the chair.

The meals kept itself in the waiting, leaving me in a dilemma. I had never for a moment thought that even Jeejabhai would give up eating. And the very next moment I stood up, went straight to the kitchen without uttering a word. The food was just waiting, and in utter silence and dismay I started eating. My father also resumed taking his meals. It being Ganesh Chatūrthy that day, all at home felt relieved. Had I not given up my fasts, everybody at home would have stayed hungry on that auspicious day. Even my mother looked taken aback. She was no less stirred by my fasts. I understood her agony fairly well. My move to give up fasting must have eased her a good deal. However, no body uttered a single word on the whole incident that was wisely dropped, my having given up my vow, or should I say ‘broken off my vow’! Whatever, but this occurrence did mark a milestone beyond which I do not recollect the act of thieving having been mentioned ever again. Nevertheless, the incident did affect me adversely in one way. For, as ill luck would have it, my having unthinkingly devoured a substantial amount of heavy sweet after a long prolonged fast perturbed my digestive system such that I became a prey to constipation, which never did leave me.

Days just passed on. I had hardly any interest left in my studies. I continued attending my college with all the readiness to greet failure. I knew, I was wasting my father’s money, and he, in his high hopes of seeing me graduated and thus enabling me to participate in his pious intention of bringing the family up, kept on doggedly pursuing his task, an undertaking, which dragged him much beyond his capacity. This overwork was distinctly visible in his demeanor, and yet notwithstanding any of the inconvenience or strenuousness, he went on pursuing his tenor with the singular motif of giving utmost justice to the cause out of sheer love for the family. Time passed. My final exam approached and was over, and the inevitable did happen. I failed to pass the exam. The year was gone and gone was my father’s tenacity

to exercise the intensity of his much so propelled will. How long would he be able to drag himself on, thus motivated? He steadily kept on losing his health, and the day was not far off for his friendly doctor to warn him of his impending illness, saying: “Do you really intend the well-being of your family? You badly need rest. Baroda has in no way proved to be of any promise to you or to your family. If you can, better leave this hustle away. Thus dragging forth is likely to lead you to tuberculosis. Your strenuousness is likely to lead you to a sort of irrecoverable state.”

This was a red signal, and all the family was in a sort of deep dismay. My having failed the exam, the very purpose of arranging a transfer to Baroda seemed to have been foiled especially because I expressed a desire to follow up some job, if available, rather than aiming at further studies. My father tried to encourage me and not to get disheartened. Even my mother’s conviction in her wise remark, ‘Gone maybe the years, never the life,’ could not prove to be any inspiring. I well knew that years of labor in a field of no choice of mine was not going to lead me anywhere, and frankly, I was in no way prepared to risk any further. And as a support to my, call it conviction or caprice, or maybe providence so intended, I got an offer from ‘Commerce and Industries Department’ and it being my college vacation I availed of the opportunity and enthusiastically accepted the job that knocked at my door. Meanwhile, my father too received a call from the High School at Vyara, our native town, and we all thought it wise to leave Baroda. My father took a voluntary retirement from his services on health ground, and the family settled in Vyara. Meanwhile our Commerce and Industries office left for the District Inspection Tour which I joined, and by the time we reached Vyara, and knowing that there was in Vyara High School a vacancy for a teacher, I did not hesitate to leave my clerical job. Thus started my career as a teacher.

This put a stop to my studies while bringing my father’s strenuosities to a permanent halt. One act of the drama of this life seemed to be over.

Ū ā ū Ā

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18.   A  Change  Overtakes  Me

Now that I had a job of my choice and that my father was also partly at ease, I felt a bit relieved. Monetarily too, we were a little better off. I certainly did not intend to end my studies. One way or the other, I aimed at being at least a college graduate. I thought I did fairly well as a teacher. My father was a devoted teacher and took pride in being one. We had, in all of us, teacher’s blood flowing. During school inspection, witnessing my teaching method, and on asking who I was, when the inspector Dr. Mukherji was told that I was Harshadbhai’s son, he couldn’t help commenting “Oh, the chip of the old block!” Lo! To be compared with my father! What a joy! And I found myself highly elated. Dr. Mukherji knew my father from the time he was in B.T. College, and my father looked equally thrilled when he himself related the emergence of this above narrated praise of mine… The happening, while giving me a new impetus, instilled a lot of self-confidence in me. In addition, I started envisaging a time when I would prove myself a good teacher in the real sense of the term. It was this incident, which made me inwardly take a decision not to stop until I graduated myself.

In those days, ‘The Board of Intermediate Education of Ajmer’ was but one institution that permitted students to take Intermediate Examination directly and privately. Some  twelve of us, including my two uncles, Thakore’s brother Harubhai and some other friends had filled in the forms for this exam. I used my spare time preparing for the exam. As to my service, I found teaching quite interesting. This was the period when I marked a definite change coming in me. I felt an inward drag in my behavior, in my thinking, and I kept feeling inwardly blitheful. I had also started, of course privately, writing poems, which came easy to me. Once my father happened to see one of my poems and took it to my mother to go through. Gone was the secrecy of my trying my hand at writing poems, but somehow I liked the leaking of it. Any way, I never wrote unless being prompted from within to write. I was in no way interested writing poems without being genuinely inspired to write. I liked writing poems, never shaping or framing them, if you understand what I mean. A real poem is that which comes self-inspired.

Any way, it will not be an overstatement, I believe, if I say I entered the literary field quite without my intending it. Again, I kept it limited to my individual and internal treat and delight. I never thought of using it in and for any other field out of my personal bounds. As a result, whatever I wrote and for whatever reason, stayed with me fairly guarded, a situation that, not just for years but even until today, kept me away and aloof from any longing for money or covetousness for fame. It is only now that I feel like sharing whatever I have written with the general populace so as to allow a little use of whatever there is in me, if at all it is worth anything. Sure, for me it is worth a lot, for it is my total life that I am apportioning to you, my dear reader. If you can get something, anything for that matter, from whatever I have to offer, it is all yours for the taking. As through literature, so through one’s own life too, a person can impart a good lot, rather much more than a trivial literature has ever to offer; for in here, it is life and literature combined that is being presented. Yes, how much well-knitted it all is, how far booming and blooming it is, is for you to surmise and to judge. As for me, frankly, I can’t say I have much to offer. Being common to the extreme, and there being much of negativity this small life has been adorned with, how much can it really impart? But then it is up to the recipient to decide and to derive. An awakened and watchful soul does not have to dig much to get to the root. It is said that Lord Buddha derived strength from a squirrel striving to drain out the pond-water to regain her sunken eggs. Surely, for the one who has an unquenchable thirst to do something substantial in this barren-looking life, nothing is trifle. The truth of the matter is that I too am deriving, extracting something from whatever I am depicting here; for all that comes, comes from within only. One should be alert and awake to receive it. The longing to ascertain something, the indomitable urge to achieve something from whatever is at hand, should ever be in the waiting for us all. Would such a

one ever lose hope? I do not recollect to have ever become an easy prey to any such hopelessness.

And amidst all this I noticed one more thing. An inward change as to my individuality also seemed to be taking shape in me. A sort of coherence seemed to be entering my behaviour, my way of thinking, and hence with my dealings with others. I experienced a kind of compatibility encompassing my inner and extrinsic life. I felt as if I was being freed from a sort of an inexplicable confusion that seemed to pervade my being, a predicament that gave me a good deal of relief. So far, I had been tied to certain events that had passed in this life, the events that had constricted my life to the extent of enervating me and precluding me from making easily possible progress. It was a sort of constriction to remove which I had to fight tooth and nail, as much against the outward circumstances as against my own inner self, a predicament which had made me be an easy prey to inferiority complex. Of this I was now freed. It was a sort of redemption that in small measure awakened me to my real self. Long had I remained a victim to this inferiority, which made me feel ever low in the eyes of others. From this I was now unshackled and got permanently liberated.

Thus I learnt a lot from my onerous-looking past and from the living present. It seemed as if all this had gathered together with a view to moulding my present and giving it an alluring future. This made me equally wise to both the black and the white side of this multicolored complexities of life. It taught me that whatever good or bad befalls you, comes with a view to adorning your life, the ultimate aim of which is to endow your life with an enriched dignity of grace and beauty unparalleled. It was this fundamental switch to the immaculate that made me look through the veil of things, keeping me open to the good and the bad, while making me wise to the fact that even the so called noxious and harmful have their place in life and are, in their fittings, commendable and admissible. In their own place they never are a misfit, they having their own value, their personal part to play. Hence, there is no necessity to weigh them negatively. These and thoughts similar to these filled my life with rhythmic harmony and equity. It was not that difficult now for me to understand and evaluate my own deeds, my own thinking, which made me wise to my own limitations and kept me fairly open to my parents who, I had often thought, were doing injustice to me, a predicament because of which I often failed to reciprocate their feelings and love for me. Now that I could properly assess and evaluate myself and those whom I called mine, my demeanor towards them ceased to be abominable, and, especially at home, we  started experiencing inner warmth in and around us. My life, being colored with plentiful multiplicity, started experiencing a new and rather affable phase which proved a happy welcome especially because it pointed to a new and more agreeable direction to this otherwise arrhythmic, imbalanced life.

ĀŪ āū

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  1. Friend’s  Demise Witnessed Astrally

Time was fleeting and I felt fairly fine and self-controlled. These days I remained deep down within my inner-self, fairly contented. One day, quite unexpectedly, I received a letter from Saraswati. It said: “Brother is sick and thinks of you all the time. Papa is also ill and is in no  better shape. If you can manage to come even for a day, it will be highly relieving.” This was the first time I received a letter calling attention to Pūrūshottam’s illness. I was well in know of his continued sickness. I knew too that he had become a prey to tuberculosis, an incurable disease in those days. The letter did not speak of any immediate seriousness, and yet I felt a lot uneasy inwardly. I could not help telling my parents of my intention to go visit Purushottam. Everybody felt worried not particularly because Purshottam was sick, but because I was intending to visit a T.B. patient, a predicament not really welcome especially to my mother for the simple fact that it was a highly contagious disease. Well, she tried to stop me from going, but realizing that it would not be possible to prevent me from my design, she managed to send a message to my principal requesting him not to grant me leave of absence. I explained my principal the necessity and importance to go see my sick friend. He told me that my mother was a bit worried and that her worry was not out of place. He then added saying, “Naresh, I won’t say no to your request. You can go, but better be a bit more cautious. With all  love for your friend, I would like to remind you that T.B. is a highly contagious disease.” Shukla Sahib, our principal, was an elderly person who looked at me with fatherly tenderness. Telling him not to bother about me, I promised him an immediate return, and relieving my mother of any undue worry I left for Kathore the very next day.

When I reached Purushottam’s residence, I was shocked to witness the unforeseeable situation there. Motiben’s bare forehead was devoid of her usual Kūmkūm – vermilion colored – mark. The sickly bed failed to hide the skeleton-like body of my friend. “Naresh, Papa has left us;” and the tearless eyes failed to hide the oozing tears. Motiben veiled her face to hide her agony. There, on the patio, was an elderly gentleman who reluctantly entered the house seeing me talk so very intimately with the family. “He is my uncle, from Sinor,” clarified Purushottam. His uncle waited a while and wishing me, he left the room rather hurridly. From what I gathered from the family talk, I knew that Purushottam’s father had passed away in his son’s constant worry. Both the father and the son had their sick beds facing each other, adding to each other’s agony. Knowing that the father’s condition was worse, Purushottam’s bed was shifted to the inner quarters of the house with a view to sparing him of the agony. Purushottam was not even informed of his father’s demise lest his death should adversely affect the son. His life was more important than that of the father whose longevity, as per the doctor’s opinion, had already been threatened. Consequently, the mother, seemingly unconcerned of her widowhood, not only controlled herself from any bereavement, but prevented others too from expressing their woe-beaten feelings. In the same willfully controlled atmosphere the bier was prepared and the dead body removed from the stunned house in an atmosphere of deadly hush so very stealthily that Purushottam lying in the adjoining room didn’t even get a hint of his father’s dead body being removed. It was

only when the body was borne out of the street that those carrying his carcass started pronouncing the pious name of Lord Shree Rāma.

Motiben, not waiting to see how and when her husband’s body was removed, kept her son fully engaged while sitting near his sick bed. But how long could this pathetic occurrence remain concealed? Purushottam was an educated and socially well-versed person. Seeing his mother’s bare forehead and her braceletless hands, he could not help expressing his chocked up feelings in his hopeless utterance: “Motiben, Bāpuji left us!!” And gone was the controlled mien. The mother and the son, in a helpless embrace, gave way to the much so needed release of the forcibly controlled emotions, thus making their hearts free from the pressing pain. Purushottam was then made aware, in a measured way, of what had passed that day. Hearing all this from Saraswati, I approached Purushottam, and as I took my seat near him with a view to solacing him, he, in a subdued light voice, expressed his satisfaction on my being there at a moment of such deep pathos. How to be his solace? Shallow words would hardly have any impact on him, and again, it would be futile to waste my feelings on all that had passed. However, I had no other alternative but to explain him of the necessity to accept whatever comes our way and the importance of his recovery for the immediate good of his family, not ignoring the dire necessity to have unswerving faith in God while facing the circumstance with fortitude and courage. I wanted him to believe in the ultimate good and to concentrate with a strong mind on his much so needed recovery for the general betterment of the family that was now solely dependent upon him. What else could I have said? He gave a faded smile; and how very hopeless the smile was! There was nowhere visible that strength of faith that keeps the life sustained. There was not a dint of delight that I could discern on his face. He would occasionally shut his eyelids that clearly weighed the weariness of the heavy boredom that emanated from my dull talk. Shortly he fell asleep, and seeing him thus tired and sort of undone, I kept on tenderly moving my vainly solacing hand on his fatigued forehead.

At night I slept a while under a blanket of unrest. We all did. On waking up the next morning, we found that Purushottam’s uncle, leaving his bed well-folded there on the  outside patio, had already made for the bus to Sinor. He might have taken this step seeing me, one so very close to the family, amidst them. Under the circumstances and in view of Purushottam’s condition, it was almost impossible for me to leave for Vyara the following day. The day passed and I thought of leaving my friend the next morning. After all, what else, if anything, could I have done to improve upon the situation? How much would my extended stay there help them? And nothing in particular could be foretold as to Purshottam’s illness. He was under an Āyūrvedic doctor’s care, a doctor well-versed in Indian herbal medicines. His body was just a breathing carcase. How else could anybody have helped him? All laden with anxiety, I went to bed waiting to depart the next day.

It was around 2-30 in the morning that I heard Motiben trying to wake me up saying: “Naresh, just wake up. See his body. It’s all cold, see.” Purushottam’s feet were, like, ice-cold. He was almost unconscious. The thermometer showed no readings at all, and I ran to Dr. Champakbhai whom I personally knew. On making him wise on the situation, he advised me to see the Vaidya – Āyūrvedic doctor – because Purushottam was under his treatment. On

talking to Motiben and witnessing no change in Purushattam’s condition, I hastily made for the Vaidya who stayed in Kholvad, some three miles away, on the opposite bank of the river Tapi. I started running in the vain hope of getting a boatman, but who would be there at that hour of the night? I hurried up towards the bridge, reached the vaidya and explained him the situation. Giving me some medicine he asked me to give him the full dose if the situation still persisted, and added saying that he would be there in the evening. I ran back with the medicine, and marking no change in Purushottam’s state, I woke him up with some difficulty and gave him the doze as advised. In about twenty minutes of his having taken the medicine, Purshottam opened his eyes. The body temperature was now normal, and everybody took a sigh of relief. But this made my departure impossible. This was my third day in Kathore, and in the afternoon Saraswati handed me my father’s postcard which stated: “Your leave cannot be extended…” adding that I should start for Vyara immediately. It was an open postcard. Saraswati must have gone through it. And Motiben said, “Naresh, you better go; your job is at stake.”

“Go I will have to,” I said, “but Purshottam is not well and I can go tomorrow.” I told  Motiben not to worry about my job. And I too was not really worried. I well knew, it was my mother who was more concerned about my health, worried about the possibility of my being a prey to tuberculosis; for she very well knew that if need be, I would not shirk even from shouldering my friend’s janitorial responsibilities. She must, hence, have prompted my father to write this open letter, thus facilitating others to go through its contents. The day passed without any event. The Vaidya was nowhere to be seen. Purushottam was quite normal and he suggested: “Naresh, why not take a stroll to our green mound? I feel fine.” Even Motiben agreed to his suggestion, knowing that I had not stirred out for the past three days. I too needed a little change from the monotony of the atmosphere, and realizing that Purshottam also seemed to be in a happy mood, perhaps at the thought of the green hill, I felt like welcoming the suggestion. For the last three days I was with my friend here. When together, we hardly failed to visit the green knoll. This was the first time ever that though in company of Purushottam, I had totally lost sight of our one time companion. Well, the hint had come from Purushottam, and with my slippers on I started for the green mound. On reaching the end of the street I heard the bang of the temple drum and the sweet-sounding chime of the temple bells. The nearby ‘Rāmaji Mandir’ had its usual ‘Ārārtricum’ going on, (Ārārtricum or Ārti, in short, is a ceremony giving a hearty, devotional salutation offered to God prior to the completion of His worship.) and I naturally turned to the temple to join the pious ceremony. This was not my first visit to the temple. Many a time had I entered this temple because it was on my way to Purushottam’s  residence. The charming and ever so inviting marble idols of Shree Rāma and Mother Sita wouldn’t stop from bewitching our hearts with their ever pouring love. And the highly resounding drums and the chime of the multiple bells ever invited the passersby to come and participate in the ceremony and have Their blessings.

Forgetting the mound for the time being, I entered the temple to join the Ārārtricum, and amidst the high sounding drums and the ringing bells which amazingly helped the devotees remain engrossed in the worship of their beloved Lord, I joined the pious ceremony in an attitude of prayer. Fixing the Holy Image in my mind’s eye and in a chaste and modest mood of prayer, I implored my beloved Lord: “I never asked of you, my Lord, for anything till today. Today I beseech you to give Purushottam a longer life. I have nothing more to ask. Give my friend longevity, my Master!” I had in the depth of my mind Shree Rāma’s Moorti, – idol – and I was all brimming with unmixed entreaties. I was all one with my prayer, my heart laden with piety. And I don’t know what happened, but all on a sudden Shree Rama’s idol disappeared from my mind, the loud pounding of the thundering drums ceased, the ringing of the big temple-bells stopped suddenly. All sounds evaporated as if in thin air. Gone was the idol and all, and what I saw was myself standing at the door of Purshottam’s house. Facing right in front of me was Purshottam’s empty bed, while his lifeless body lay on a cotton rug on the ground. Nearby was a small lighted earthen pot casting dim light. Facing Purushottam’s carcass was Motiben, a part of her ‘sāri’ between her teeth, helplessly sitting in total dejection amidst deep, deep pathos. She kept listlessly staring at the dead body of her beloved son, in a vain endeavor to control her throbs that proclaimed sheer hopelessness. Nearby was sitting an unknown elderly man, his gray beard unshaved, completely lost in some thoughtless demeanor. Standing right there at the threshold, completely stunned at the sight, I kept staring at my friend’s lifeless silhouette. The whole phenomenon had in it an atmosphere of some unique exuberance pulsating in it. Life itself had like stood still adding to its own gloom of sheer lifelessness.

All shaken and stunned by the ashen atmosphere, I shook my head rather vehemently in an endeavor to spare myself from shouting, and … and there started the resonant drums, the ding-dong of the bells, and I once again found myself amidst the temple atmosphere with the Ārti still going on and the idol of my worship right in the midst of my eye-brows, the Ājnā Chakra. Everything was in order and back in its place. But utterly dumbfounded that I was with what I witnessed, I could not help thinking of the strange phenomena. What was it that I bore witness to? My finding myself at Purushottam’s residence, his dead body, the mother’s agonizing hopelessness, that unfamiliar bearded figure, all this of which I was a live witness! What was it after all? It certainly was not a sheer imagination of mine. Or was it the outcome of Purushottam’s constant thought hovering continuously in my mind? No, it certainly was no hallucination; it simply couldn’t be. All the ear-breaking sounds could not have vanished just like that in sheer nothingness. The Arti could never have stopped midway! And in spite of all this, I certainly was not anywhere near the temple atmosphere! There was a pure sense of reality in all that I saw. I surely was in direct presence of Purushottam’s dead body, with the dimly burning light proclaiming the dismal event. Well, I was at my wit’s ends. I hopelessly strove to keep my otherwise disrupted mind engaged in Shree Rama’s thought while the Ārti was still going on. Eventually, at its completion, accepting the Prasād – food offered to God – I sat for a while, as was my habit, on the temple pedestal, recited some Sanskrit verses, and stood up with the thought of proceeding for the green mound. But my mind simply would not let me be. After all, what was it that I witnessed? Would Purushottam be all right? Or was he…?

I simply could not proceed for the river-bank, could not take my friend’s memory to the green knoll; for who knows, maybe … maybe he was no more alive! Lost in dismay and with a baffled mind I turned towards Purushottam’s house quite against my will. And there, right in front of me, I saw Purushottam’s body on a rug on the floor, with that earthen lamp still burning and that light bearded fellow so far unknown to me still sitting there proclaiming the validity of every single thing that I saw minutes ago. And all this time, I was a part of whatever that had happened only some minutes ago while I was physically in the temple. And Motiben, all dejected, bewildered and lost, hopelessly kept staring at me with a vacant stare. Yes, whatever I witnessed during my prayer in the house of God was every bit the same in the periphery of the scene now being vouchsafed on the physical plane. It was neither a flight of my imagination nor a hallucination, but an immaculate fact, a truth, which could not be questioned. I was at two different places at the same time. While my physical body was still in the temple, my astral self, having left the temple premises, was standing at my friend’s residence in an attitude of being a live witness to his demise.

It was years after this incident that after my advancement in spiritual field, when I succeeded in consciously releasing and traveling in my astral body, I realized the truth of this phenomenon experienced in the temple. What had happened was that while I was deeply engrossed in my prayer, my astral body, being dragged by the sheer force of intensity of love for my friend, had temporarily left my corporeal self to be a live witness to his death. This occurrence of my being at two different places at the same time, made me clearly realize that even in the absence of my temporal existence, I mean in the absence of my physical body, I can and will still exist in the astral i.e. in my desire body, or in my mental body. The virtual passing away of life from this physical body of ours is certainly not the end of this life. That which is externally perceptible is not in fact the reality. True reality persists and thrives in it being intrinsically hidden and working beyond the periphery of the outward superficial. The experience made me ascertain that this body may perish, but what we term death is a sheer impossibility for the ‘Self’, which I, in actuality, am. I certainly am not subject to death. The departure of this physical body is certainly not the end of this life. The experience made me wise to the intrinsic level of my being, and I, in my self-cognizance, realized that not this physical aspect of my being, but the subtle existence of mine, an existence of which this physical body is but an outward sheath, is more real and hence of greater significance. Without the Astral being there, the idea of material existence is but a nonentity. Hence there is not much sense in giving too much of importance to the mundane. I virtually realized for the first time that the experiencer is not this physical side of my being, but my intrinsic subtle Self, in the absence of which experiencing and realizing anything whatever is a sheer impossibility. This, the prime experience of my real existence in this subtle body, left such a deep impression on me that even today the inner truth of my earthly existence here keeps on ringing an ethereal note keeping me ever awake to the existing proximity of my inner self, thus enriching my existence on this terrestrial level. Call it an experience on the astral or on mental plane; but this was the very first experience of my inner-self which, when being out and away from my physical body involuntarily kept working on a subtle level keeping me alive to and working on an out-of-the-physical plane on a purely subtle level. Whether this was because of some hidden, intrinsic strength, or because of the strength of the intensity of pure and selfless love, who could tell?

Purushottam left us for good. I, with the help of some other two associates, prepared his bier and after his cremation, took leave of the family the next day and resumed my school-duties. Every one at home appreciated the importance of my overstay there, and amidst an atmosphere of grief, my mother told me of her worry born of her knowledge of my nature, which would have made me be indulged in services of a T.B. patient. Yes, T.B. was dreadfully feared in those days, and my mother’s fears were not out of place. And frankly, I was a bit soothed knowing that my parents did have a place for me in their heart. Purushottam’s memory kept hovering in my mind for days on. However, I was fairly stable inwardly and kept myself adequately engaged in my callings. Call it my deep feelings for my friend, or take it as a reminder of his memory, I took a vow never to miss a day, for the next one year, without virtually visiting Mankāmeshwar – Lord Shiva’s temple – while I was in Vyāra. Thus it became a routine for me to pay my obeisance in the lotus feet of my Lord. More often than not, Nānākāka, Thakore and occasionally Kiku (Dr. Harshakumar Vyas) would join me, and after saying our prayers and singing a Bhajan or two, we normally would depart for our home. Days thus passed in rhythmic continuity. Whenever I was alone in going there, over and above my regular prayer and Bhajans, I would comfortably sit in meditation, and the temple atmosphere, added by the mystic quietude of the crematorium opposite the temple, would add to my deep and penetrating Dhyāna.

ŪāūĀ

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  1.   In  Mankameshwar – Goodbye To Fear

It takes me to the day when for some unknown reason I just forgot to visit Mankāmeshwar and went to bed at my usual hour. Somewhere around 11-30, I woke up with but one thought of having forgotten to pay my usual homage to the Lord. I got up from my bed and since everybody at home was sound asleep, taking care not to disturb anybody, I lightly shut the door behind me and quietly made for the temple. It was a lonely night. Passing the town, I reached the river, crossed the bridge and advancing along the river-bank entered the sanctum sanctorum of Lord Shiva with a view to offering my devout feelings in the lotus feet of my Lord. Having said my prayers a little absentmindedly, I started singing Bhajan. My intention was to meditate in the quiet of the night; but I simply failed to concentrate my mind the way I should. So I said to myself: “Let me sing a Bhajan or two, and then I will meditate.” But I completely lacked the feelings with which I normally sing my devotional songs. Then, leaving aside the Bhajan I started meditating. But where was my usual absorption in meditation? I simply could not keep myself engrossed in the act. My mind was filled with a sort of fear, a condition fairly unknown to me, making my meditation a sheer impossibility. I had never encountered such a frame of mind in which any such sort of fear had overtaken me. And imbibed by fear I surely was. Was it because of the hushed stillness of the surroundings or was it due to the crematorium that had stood there facing the temple? But then this was not the first time that I was here in the lone quietude of the night! Again, I was accustomed to sitting at the Kevdi, my solitary childhood-mate, all alone in pitch darkness and that too for hours on end. But I do not remember ever to have become a prey to such a dread. ‘How is it that I fail to concentrate today?’ I thought.

Whatever, I resolved not to leave the place unless and until I succeeded in steadying my mind in a state of unwavering concentration. And I kept on singing Bhajans after Bhajans till my mind got deeply set in an attitude of inward devotional disposition. Not just one, not two, not three … I completed singing five Bhajans, but the state of my mind did not seem to have been altered. Finally I beseeched Lord Shiva to help me keep my mind quiet and steady, and make me single-pointed in my immediate intent. And lo, there the sixth Bhajan that came out was sung with a quiet and intensely cool and concentrated mind. Gone was the fear element. I felt soothe and serene. However, I sang one more Bhajan, inwardly poised. Once adequately focussed, I got submerged in Dhyāna. Thus blessed, and saying my Pranām in obeyance to my Lord, I left for home in a cheerful mood. It was around 1-30 a.m. that I reached home. My entry woke my father up, and he asked: “Is it you, Naresh?”

“Yes.”

“You had been out? Where are you coming from?”

“From Mankāmeshwar.”

“From Mankāmeshwar? You had been there at this hour of the night?” asked my mother waking up with a tinge of worry.

“I had forgotten to go there in the evening. It was only late at night that I thought of my having failed to go there.

“Do a bit of favor to us, Naresh. Why need you go there at the crematory at the dead of night? What if you missed a day in going to Mankāmeshwar?”

My mother’s concern was not totally unfounded. My own experience stood vouching for it. But then how can I knowingly break my solemn pledge? And consoling her as to the safety of the place, I went to bed, but failed to sleep instantly. Instead, I took to contemplating: Nothing practically had happened, and yet I could not basically maintain my mental composure as far as the fear element was concerned. Nothing unusual had happened, and yet I was not myself. No, henceforth I shall not be late in visiting Mankāmeshwar. But what made me think thus? Was it to make my parents free of the possible worry, or was it because I intended to evade the feeling of fear that had overtaken me! If this element of fear was involved in my taking such a decision, it certainly was not a healthy sign. A healthy mind cannot afford to indulge itself in such a jam. A fear-rooted mind can never be a help to any spiritual aspirant. And of one thing I was quite clear. I sincerely intended to advance on the spiritual path. That was my sole aim.

I never preferred to see my spiritual pilgrimage, the journey to my inner Shūlpān, stop or be hindered by any outside element. And if there was any enemy to this path, fear it certainly was. Fear and negativity greets the one who lacks self-confidence, who does not have in him enough guts to fight a situation out, who is devoid of faith in his Divine Protector. Fear embraces him who is not inwardly pure. What has the one fortified with faith, purity and self-confidence to fear about? And I determined never to succumb to the element of fear, happen what may. Let alone the atmosphere at Mankāmeshwar. What even if I have to sleep nights on end in the crematorium itself where the deads have their sway day and night? It reminded me of The Bhagvad Geeta which, at the very onset of canto sixteenth, speaks of the necessary ethical qualities, starting with ‘Abhayam Satwa Sanshūddhih …’ etc., thus giving ‘fearlessness’ the first place among the virtues required to be cultivated while being on the path of spirituality.

I resolved to give fearlessness the prime place in this life of mine.And fearlessness is the progeny of inborn purity. And I cannot but help confessing that I was greatly lacking in inner purity. True, I might not have crossed my physical bounds, giving myself up to libidinous voluptuousness that links one endowed with the concept of purity to corruptuous unchastity, to smut and filth. But mentally, inwardly, I was far from being as pure as my friends Praveen, Thakore, Nanakaka or Purushottam were, not that I was a breeder of ill-thinking or fiendish feelings. No, I was not. I always liked being in good and pious company. My ability to understand spiritual literature, was in no way inferior to theirs. Yet, true it is to say that I was no less colored by undue, unproductive thinking or feelings than any of them. I might not have become a victim of sexuality, but I can never boldly say that things and ideas pertaining to sex failed to attract me. I was certainly not free from desires. However, it won’t be an exaggeration if I maintain that I have all the while been striving, and yet not succeeding in ridding myself of the clutches of desires. Thus while it would be self-cheating to say that I was purely chaste, that I had inborn purity in me, it is equally true that I have never indulged myself in being  harnessed by the debased and the unvirtuous. I am not wedded to desire. However, despite many a trial, the strength of desire in me has not yet given way. And it is equally true that in spite of their strength, desire and the carnal never did have an upper hand over me. The sensual has many a time dragged me, but I never did succumb to their power to the extent of being their slave. But then, they too on their part never gave up their endeavor by allowing me an upper hand over them. It was this constant struggle between the two, the ravenous Rāvana in us or the radiant Rāma who always has an upper hand over the ravaging temptations, the libidinous and the spiritual me, that kept on teaching me a lot in the holy march of this otherwise complex life.

Of one thing I am quite clear. Since the time I came to realize what life in actuality is, I have always found that fearlessness and lack of inner strength can never go together, they being of the opposite poles. When I talk of fearlessness, I am not talking of intrepid daring venture. Fearlessness is something inwardly rooted, something innate and immanent. It is something that cannot be trained and brought to light all on a sudden. It is an inherent trait in you, something that has come to you after eons of ventures on your part. Fearlessness can thrive only when your inner strength fails not to give way. And I decided never to allow strengthlessness have an upper hand over me. No, a coward I would never be, nor would I be a breeder of lopsided character. As for me, character would mean and remain an all-round development of my individuality, never the single-minded narrowness pointing to just one side of our outside personality, viz. the generally accepted notions about bravery, sexuality or other sides and norms of our character. Indeed, the concept of character concerns and covers our entire being, every single phase of our life. It is related to and is connected with every single thought, every single feeling of ours. Not that a sheer lack of sexual desire makes one a man of character. The whole ideology based on the narrowness of the concept seems to be one-sided, and fails to be in tune with the actual development of our individuality. This life of ours is practically a healthy blend of many a noble and valuable virtue which combine together to form what we call ‘character’. Sex is just one side, of course an important side, of our earthly existence here. But to cast a sensually prominent man off aside saying he has no character, and to caress and commend somebody simply because he lacks in carnal gratifications is outrageous and unreasonable.

The fact of the matter is, many a noble trait and quality, all the moral virtues like honesty, integrity, sincerity, the goodness that go not with cowardice but with courage, all these and many others including our idiosyncrasies combine together to give us our individuality that adorns itself with distinctive grandeur. I am writing this not with a view to hurting anybody’s feelings and personality, nor am I writing this in self-defense to safeguard myself. I am depicting this because it is now high time we give up our narrowness and constricted prejudices, and cultivate in us the generosity to impart justice to others who we very often look down upon. We better change our definition of the commonly accepted concept of the word ‘character’. If we fail to do this, I am afraid, we will not be able to give enough justice to many a highly qualified and virtually developed personality. The sexual instinct in us has been a predominant part of ours right from our existence as living beings. Moreover, it is bound to remain an integral part of our progeny, the indivisible angle of our existence that is to lead us to the ultimate victory this ‘Life’ is invitingly waiting for. It is a natural and inborn instinct in us that asks for its evolution. Its matured evolvement will ultimately lead us to conquer pinnacles of glory a human being has been designed to reach. It is only by controlling our carnal urges and directing them to higher summits that the ultimate can be accomplished. That instinct is working in us quietly, stealthily and constantly, not just urging us but even provoking and inspiring us to use our energy for higher purposes so as to make us reach the intrinsic ultimate. If we fail to do this, there won’t be much difference between us and the lower kingdom – that of animals. To succumb unflinchingly to the lowly sexual desires, and then to leave ourselves to the mercy of voluptuousness is yielding involuntarily to its sway.

Let us not forget even for a moment that this sexual instinct is endowed to us with a view to taking us to the heights reached by saints and seers. It is there, prompting us to rise beyond it, so as to make us utilize all our energy for a greater purpose with a much higher predominant aim. It is the one and the only instrument, with the right and positive use and exploit of which, man can reach pinnacles of glory available only to those who have been able to pass the test of keeping their sexual urges subdued while utilizing the same in their godly flights, leaving aside the bewitching mundane and by getting wedded to Divinity ever after. Such will be the tomorrow’s leaders, the conquerors of the world here and above. The question is to lead ourselves to piousness and to piety, and by the sheer dint of our will and purity, to direct our low-tending instincts and urges to greater heights, thus harnessing them to achieve much higher and nobler purposes. Needless to say that the centre of ‘Yoga’ and ‘Bhoga’ is the same. One takes us up; the other down to the ditch. Which way to proceed is one’s own choice, one’s own concern. Bhoga – enjoyment – will ultimately take us downwards, whereas Yoga will direct us upwards, towards our final destination. Yes, both these processes start from the same basic point, the Mūlādhār Chakra, the subtle energy center at the base of the spine..

What with Swami Vivekānand’s literature or with Jatāshanker Nāndi’s ‘Brahmacharya Mimānsā’ – A Study in Exalted Celibacy! My reading was gradually but steadily taking me towards self-control. My ideas were getting matured by degrees. The wish to remain a life-long celebate seemed quite inviting; while the mundane, on the other hand, was no less tempting. It was difficult to say which way my life would reel. Between these and many other opposites did my small life dwindle, struggling in a dreamland of varied internal and worldly lures. Every single nerve in me was flowing as if with uncontrolled, unprecedented zeal, striving to lead me higher up. Physically I was enough strong. My meditation was steadily taking me to the inner bounds of my being. For years on, it had remained my intrinsic wealth, a wealth of which my own surroundings, my friends and relatives, knew practically nothing about. This was the time when ‘SanskārMandal’ was formed by our friend circle with practically nothing much to offer, and yet it was an activity which kept us giving an inner strength. Weekly prayers and Bhajans formed its main current. During these Bhajans and things, my habit was normally to sit quietly in a meditative pose, and the emerging tone arising out of the devotional songs ever remained an inspiring aid to my Dhyāna. This period of my life helped me progress inwardly. Purushottam had left me giving me Thakore in return. Nanakaka, having ceased to remain just my uncle, had now become my friend. Jeejamama, though much older to me, never ever ceased to befriend me. Kiku was fairly younger to me, and so were my younger brothers Arvind and Kaushik, Kaushik being the youngest in the group. SanskārMandal brought us all together in a strong tie of affection. We became, and ever remained, life-long companions.

ŪāūĀ

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21.   Thakore’s  ‘Flowerets’

Of all these, Thakore’s personality always had its own individual quality. He always mingled freely with the society and yet his individuality remained always unique from and much above the rest. His way of thinking differed and so were his visions. This uniqueness of his and his visions that changed into reality will be depicted in a separate chapter which is in the waiting. But here it won’t be out of place if I throw some light on some salient features of his behavioral pattern, all so very common-looking and yet utterly singular in its own way. While he had a great affinity for us, his friends, he was equally a part of everyone and yet away from any one who came his way. He was hardly concerned with selfish motives and as such he had not much of a choice between his friends, relatives and others whom we may easily label strangers. Of choice he had none and again he loved everybody with the same intensity. As such, he had no competitor, no antagonist. This was mainly because his thoughts always remained positive, constructive and indisputably acceptable.

It reminds me of that day when I saw him approaching with a broken earthen pot and a hand-made dust pan. I naturally asked him: “What are you up to with these gadgets in your hand?”

“I am collecting ‘flowerets’,” came the ready answer.

“Flowerets? What sort of flowerets?” and as I started approaching him, he bent down, racked up the excretory discharge lying in the street and stowed it away in the pot. What I found was a little ashes and the gathered excreted material in that pot, and he was going from street to street collecting it and thus making the streets clean of the filth which he elegantly nick-named ‘flowerets’. What better name could have been accorded to these kids’ excrements? The happening takes us to the early forties of the twentieth century when probably no other street in Vyara was dirtier than the Fort area where mainly Brāhmins used to reside. There were no personal toilets in those poorly equipped houses, and the elders generally preferred using the town-lake for the purpose, whereas children were made to answer their nature’s call in the open streets that came so very handy especially because there were a lot many pigs looking forward to such evacuations. Occasions were not in the wanting when some shrewd mothers would rush with their offsprings, uttering: “Come, run; there comes the pig.” And the child got a natural facility which hardly any one objected to. Well, the long and short of all this is that people liked and invited Thakore’s step. We too, on our part, welcomed the thinking, and first Nānākāka and then I joined him in his cleansing process. Thus, we replaced the cleansing pigs, partially, of course. And now the same shrewd folk hurried up with their young ones, shouting to their elders: “Take him, hurry; those boys are already there.” Some farsighted ladies would even go to the extent of asking us to wait saying: “Naresh, just wait a bit; I will soon make the baby seated.” And, of course, we could afford waiting till the child completed its work. Now with the three of us, and at times Jeejāmāma joining us, Thakore’s work speeded up. In course of time, it came to pass too, that a sensible mass felt the pinch of what we were doing, and consequently the ‘flowerings’ soiling the streets dropped down.

Things changed with time and one good morning Jeejāmāma, the then Sanitary Inspector of Vyara Municipality, pioneered himself with the idea of ‘Bāl-Shauchālaya’- ‘Kiddy Toilets’. Thanks to his foresight; for the step eased every body up, the children, mothers, the filth-collecters and the Jain worshipers, let alone the Harijans. But the whole credit goes to Thakore, the pioneer of ‘Floweret-picking’, the inspirer of sanitation, that consequently gave rise to ‘Bāla-Shauchālaya’ idea. Who else but Thakore would ever think of keeping the streets thus clean? The Fort area started remaining fairly clean, facilitating especially the Jain worshipers who now were spared from saving their ‘Dhoties’ – loin-clothes – from getting soiled, thus forcing them to wear ‘Pāwadis’ – wooden slippers. The Jains normally preferred to go bare-footed to the temples where leather foot-wear is a taboo.

It reminds me of one more, not really out of the ordinary and yet a fairly ingenious incident that occurred during Diwāli celebrations – the light-festival. Diwāli or Deepāwali is to the Hindus as is Christmas to the Christians and Ramadhān to the Muslims. People normally leave their beds earlier during Diwāli days. However, of all the pious days Kāli Chaudash – the fourteenth day of the dark moon night – is the day allotted to the worship of mother Kāli. This year, the Hindu women of the Fort area got up rather too early and gathered together at the public faucet eagerly waiting for the water. They did this because late that night they heard a public announcement which declared: “The town water-tank has something wrong with it and requires immediate repair. To facilitate the repair work, the general public is hereby asked to fill up the needed stock of water in between 4.o a.m. to 5.o a.m. tomorrow, when only the water supply will be made available.” The announcement indirectly forced the lady-folk get up very early, keeping them happily in wait for the water. But where was the water at that hour of the morning? Every body looked rather puzzled.  “The announcement was very clear! What is all this? How long shall we have to wait?” they argued. Meanwhile Jeejāmāma, having sensed something unusual, approached the place in a rather annoyed mood. We were standing right near the faucet, watching the show. Seeing us there, he asked: “Who was the originator of that announcement?” And he at once sensed that it was Thakore’s ingenuity that had succeeded in creating the entire agitation, thus forcing Hindu households to get up really early on the auspicious day. He declared: “I heard the declaration and suspected the voice to be Thakore’s. But do you know where this can truly lead? This type of  proclamation can lead to public crime.” We remained discretely silent. Any way, the topic was good-naturedly dropped. The Kālichaūdash, that year, never did harm a soul; for everybody there was kalichaudash embalmed – the one protected by Mother Kāli. Such a sweet joke of making the mass get up so very early on such a pious day could have come from none else but Thakore. Not very late, everyone knew how all this had happened, and no one took it seriously. They all laughed the incident lightly out, and the Diwāli that year was commemorated in a very high mood and with full celebrity, with Thakore at its back.

But this being a personal affair had practically nothing to do with the activities of ‘SanskārMandal’. This throws a little light on what a vivid personality Thakore was. I almost jumped to these incidents because this happened at the time when Sanskār- Mandal had a sort of a sway on us all. And I was talking about the affinity that we friends had amongst us all. I, personally, was not much affected by SanskārMandal. However, it did help us come closer to one another, and like birds of the same feather, we remained fairly united in our march, pointing to a definite aim with the main stream of spirituality running all the while through whatever we did in our own way. For, though of the same foliage, each one of us had his own branch of choice adorned by his own personality, which gave him a vivid footing, a footing of his own. Being of the same fold, our ideology had a common sky for the flight, each one of us having his personal distinct spark, which ever remained untainted by any outside influence. This being so, while Thakore had his own personality and Nanakaka had his individual trait, I had my own individuality, which ever throve in remaining purely personal to me, a speciality which remained exclusively mine, quite untouched by others amongst us. It was this trait of mine, which kept me deeply engaged in activities concerning my individual uplift. If at all the incident at Mankāmeshwar ever did affect me, it was to make my will stronger, teaching me to be prepared to face any odds, and never to succumb to any fear beyond the fear of God. And it was only to that extent that the nightly experience in the temple remained a part of my being, giving me an inward strength which knew not to budge to fearfulness of whatever dimension. Over and above this, my faith in Lord Trishūlpāni ever remained unshakable and solacing. The incident gave me an inner peace which kept shielding me for years together. But well, this was years ago. Many waters have passed since the making of my inner soil richer and more fertile than ever before.

ŪāūĀ

!~*~!

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22.   More  At  Mankāmeshwar

Life was just going on. My preparation for my Intermediate Examination was in no way outstanding; but then I was enough satisfied with my involvement in it. However, in comparison with my other colleagues I was rather sluggish, perhaps because I did not allow my exam to interrupt my other daily routine. And it was mainly because of this that my father would come to me with a worried hint, like: “Naresh, I hope, you read enough,” just to keep me awake to the situation. Somehow, I was not the least worried about my exam because the thing did not in any way look challenging. It was because of this seeming ease that I unflinchingly continued concentrating on my usual life style, and utilizing my spare time in reading for the exam. Maybe, I was partly overworked, but this hectic sort of life once again made me forget my visit to Mankāmeshwar, and as before I woke up somewhere around 11-30 at night. It was raining outside. Momentarily confused, I got up, took my umbrella and made for Mankāmeshwar, taking care not to disturb anybody. On reaching the river, I found it over-flooded. The bridge was all under water and the water level on the bridge reached my thigh. The flow of the current was pretty strong. But I could see the road on the opposite end. It was windy; but the rain had luckily decreased a little. Shutting my umbrella off, I carefully crossed the bridge and reached the opposite bank. On reaching the temple and saying my ‘Pranām’- obeisance – to the Lord, I sat for my prayer, sang a Bhajan or two and completing my Dhyāna in a quiet frame of mind, I left the temple. While I was descending the temple-slope, I heard a rather panicky shout “Bhāi! … Bhāi!” – Brother – coming from near the bridge I had crossed. It was surely my brother’s appalling voice. Was he in danger? Did he really follow me?

“Is it you, Arvind?” I asked.

“Yes, Bhāi…” he shouted, all in fears.

“Where exactly are you?”

“Right near the bridge,” came the ready answer.

“Just wait. I am on my way.” And, while running, I reiterated: “Are you on my side of the bridge or on the opposite side near Harihareshwar?”(This was another Shiva temple.)

“On the opposite side near Harihareshwar,” he said. I made a dash thinking he must have been stranded somewhere because of the flood. Arvind did not know swimming. What if something unexpected happens before I reach him? I ran as fast as I could, reached the Mankāmeshwar end of the bridge, and gave a call: “Arvind!”

“Bhai, I am at the big bridge.” The answer came this time from the other bridge at ‘RāmaMandir’. I got highly confused. The first shout he gave definitely did come from the nearby bridge at my left, from near Harihareshwar. Now it came from the far off RāmaMandir bridge on my right quite on the opposite end. Mankāmeshwar stood in between Harihareshwar bridge and the bridge leading to RāmaMandir. The distance between the two bridges made it impossible for any one to cover between such a short range of time. Now the call is from the far off bridge; previously it came from the bridge near here. How in the world was it possible? And to be doubly sure I called again: “Arvind, are you at Harihareshwar or at the RāmaMandir bridge?” And straight came the answer: “At RāmaMandir bridge.” The confusion got stronger. He sounded to be in real trouble. I doubled up, still thinking of the sheer absurdity of the situation. This simply could not be. But then, there was one relief. Arvind had not been dragged by the strong current. The river ran flowing from the RāmaMandir end towards Mankāmeshwar and then to Harihareshwar. His respond coming from two opposite sides was a mystery; but every time it was Arvind all right. And his being here was certainly not anything out of the way. For, not seeing me at home and well knowing my whereabouts, my mother would not hesitate sending my brothers to Mankāmeshwar especially as the night was rather dark and rainy. Anyway, when I reached the bridge, I found no body there. It must have been approximately 12-30 a.m. I called him again and again, but to no avail. Where was Arvind? Had something unpredictable happened to him? Since the flow of the river water was towards Harihareshwar, I hurriedly paced once again towards that direction, giving him a call every minute, and not receiving any response, minutely watching for anything unusual in the rushing waters, I hurried on. I looked for him at every possible corner, but my brother was nowhere to be seen. Ultimately, finding no trace of him, paying my obeisance to Harihareshwar, I hurriedly made for home, all laden with worry, uncertainty and confusion. It was raining rather heavily. I reached home around 1.0 o’clock and found everything quiet. Slowly opening the unlocked door, I reached Arvind’s bed. Yes, there he was, sound asleep. But I could not help disturbing him in his sleep.

“Arvind, were you at Mankāmeshwar?”

“Bhāi, are you coming from Mankāmeshwar? Now!” And before I answered his stunned amazement, came his clarification: “I never got out of my bed. Why did you ask whether I was there?” By now, the whole house was awake and I had to narrate the whole incident to them.

“Oh my! Oh my! I do not want that Mankāmeshwar” cried out my mother, rather too much perturbed. “Be a bit kind to us, please, and hence forth cease going there at such an  odd hour. See this night! In such a rainy night and in this pitch darkness what would you have lost, had you not gone there? Have some mercy on us. Who would be there to help you if anything unforeseen did happen?”

My mother was totally taken aback. Everybody at home knew of my resolve to go to Mankāmeshwar. Thinking, I must have missed my routine, and gone there after being reminded of it, my father said: “Well, it’s quite understandable your going there, but what if you apprise someone at home, or why not take someone with you for company? Hence forth do not go there all alone late at night.”

This took me to thinking. Every one at home was a bit perplexed. The next day too, at tea-time, the same uncanny topic sprung up. Everyone suspected it to be some supernatural eerie phenomenon, which was not unfeasible at Mankāmeshwar, especially in the vicinity of  the crematorium. This certainly was not a normal, easy to understand happening that could convincingly enter our head, with but one clarification: It is not impossible for a mischievous imp, a hobgoblin, or any spirited elf for that matter, to successfully reproduce other’s voice. But this type of phenomenon can normally take shape especially when one is filled with some sort of horror, or when our mind is preoccupied with skepticism, qualms or undue suspicions. But, as for me, this sort of probability was a rarity. I was not a prey to fear, nor was I in any way bothered while responding to Arvind’s calls for help. Yes, my mental state in Mankāmeshwar the other day, when I had to sing Bhajans after Bhajans to get steadied in Dhyāna, was all fear laden; but this one was an experience rather unique in its origin. Or was it some sort of test laden on me to see whether I got horrified in situations like this? Nature is basically endowed with an Elemental Essence, which will instantaneously catch our subtlemost thought-vibration, and then coloured with it, can create a similar pulsating feeling in the one closely connected with us. Here, it will not be out of place to site a quotation from Bishop Leadbeater’s ‘The Astral Plane’ which says:

“There is a vast store of elemental essence, wonderfully sensitive to the most fleeting human thought, responding with an inconceivable delicacy in an infinitesimal fraction of a second to a vibration set up in it even by an entirely unconscious exercise of human will or desire.” (p.95)

I site this not because it concerns my experience at the temple, but because it touches our entire thought-process and hence asks for deep thinking. The question, how very far-reaching our world of thought is, and how deep and long lasting the counter effect of each and every single thought we term insignificant and irrelevant is, asks for very minute observation of our every single action, every single move of ours, in the field of thoughts. To quote Bishop Leadbeater again:

“… It seems clear that this elemental kingdom as a whole is much what the collective thought of humanity makes it. This essence has no power of perception and blindly receives and reflects what is projected upon it. No wonder ‘We reap as we have sown” (p. 103/104)

How very profound is his astral observation! Do we ever think as to how much adversely  this atmosphere can be affected by our ever whirling third class rotten thoughts, and how very profoundly unavoidable will be its impact on all of us? Not unlike the filth that invariably spoils this atmosphere here, our thought-world is unequivocally affected and tarnished by our ever-permeating filth in form of the constantly emitting unnecessary, selfish, vile and venomous worthless thoughts. This asks for an immediate modification of our thought-world. Our clean, good-willed, well-concentrated, powerful thoughts are the dire need of the age, for that alone can give the much so required evolutionary speed to this otherwise lopsided environment. But alas! We hardly have time or the intent to give enough thought to this irrevocably sad actuality. This much as for the elemental kingdom. But, what about the spirit-world composed of spectral elementals like ghosts, phantoms, haunted apparitions and the like of which we are inadvertently afraid?

The existence of ghosts and things cannot simply be denied. What we term as ghosts, genie and all the eerie vampire stuff we name as haunting spirits in the lower kingdom, are normally those miserable wretched beings who passed away untimely, all leaden with their uncanny desires unfulfilled, the souls that never do loiter with the idea of hurting us. Most of them ramble about with the hope of getting some help to satisfy their unquenched thirst that has made a longstanding sway over them. They normally belong to the astral world, just roaming to fulfill their unsatisfied desires. Such an apparition may well be the etheric double of somebody recently expired, or it can as well be an animated thought-shell. All these are the inhabitants of our ethereal subtle world who generally prefer to keep at a distance from anything and everything that is endowed with inner piety. Their presence suggests their insatiate cravings that long for immediate fulfillment. The best we can do is to lend our helping hand wherever and whenever possible. Agreed, this may not be possible for everybody; but any one with a sympathetic heart can at least exhibit and accord some soft feelings, some kind, compassionate soothing thoughts that can go a long way helping the needy souls. Yes, there may be some mischievous imps and goblins that may materialize with their petty elfishness in a moody tomfoolery. As amongst us, so in the so called world of the dead too, mischievous elements are bound to be there. Prima facie, they are from amongst us, but because of their limited capacity their sphere of work and thought is equally limited. There are times when such elementals take pleasure materializing and thus coming to light for a limited period of time. Luminescence is fundamentally an etheric radiation. Those multicolored globules, mostly visible in and around crematorium and cemetery, are luminously fluorescent Elementals. We normally are afraid of that which is uncommon and over which we have no control. But there is nothing in these elementals to be afraid of. If our intention is good and unselfish, if we have purity of mind and heart, what is there to fear from? Virtuous thinking, righteousness, upright ethical behavior, heart-borne compassion and such similar moral excellence serve a shield against this adversely working subtle world. And again, for those who have full faith in God, fear always is a far-off thing. Why bother if you have in your heart of hearts the great liberator and protector of the humanity as a whole?

This sort of faith never did fail to give me the strength and consolation which always proved an unparalleled protection in events like this. I was out on a spiritual pilgrimage where losing the faith in the great Guardian and Protector becomes purely irrelevant. That would pulverize the very purpose of the pilgrimage. I am talking about the spiritual world not as a fancy, but because I observed certain things on the base of personal experience which made me take to Leadbeater’s works. And the fact that I am citing this incident at Mankāmeshwar here is only to bring it to the light of the reader that this sort of possibility cannot simply be denied, and that the feasibility of our being open to phenomena like clairvoyance or clairaudience, with the enhancement of our inner ability, is always within our reach. And again, with this sort of openness reached, we can even be helpful in solving certain problems touching the astral plane. This depends purely on the intensity of our feelings and willingness to help the astral needy, and that too only if any such move of ours is based on sheer selflessness, and is purely on positive lines. Suffice it will be to say that if there is even a shade of selfishness on our part while being directed on this path, if our inner intention is not thoroughly pure and help-motivated, there are highly powerful and ever awake forces that are ever open to our subtlest vibratory moves and intentions and are endowed with all the potential to nullify all our self-motivated astral attempts and intentions to disturb and dislodge the premediated arrangements on that plane.

This marks a time when I was on an onward move, especially inwardly, and more often than not when I refrained myself from mixing with people. I then hardly indulged myself in irrelevant side-talks, nor did I have any desire to solicit new friends. I was satisfied with my small circle of friends. What would anybody derive by fostering excessive social ties? Our so very needed self-development is bound to be retarded by allowing ourselves a freedom to flow with the accepted norms of the society. I well understood that if we really did intend to achieve something substantial, we should be prepared to willingly dispose ourselves to foregoing something we misapprehend as our own. I honestly believed that had I become a participant to the prevalent social norms, I might easily have won the comradeship of quite a few praise-lovers, I would have been able to form a wide and perhaps vivid circle, but then I would not have been what I today am. The one who is intent upon making the most of this life has got to accept a sacrificial trend of mind in the field of his exclusive individual choice. Your loftiest life-visions can be founded only on the most vital essence of inborn sacrifice, and such strongholds only can leave a long-lasting mark on your exquisitely invaluable effort. This sort of lesson is a legacy of my parents who willingly gave up much of theirs for the betterment of their family. They initiated in their small life the ‘Mahābhārata-professed’ priceless lesson of ‘forsaking one for the cause of the family’, by sacrificing their own self. And we, on our part, took it as our duty willingly to accept their ideals and keep this life blossomed by our own sacrificial deeds, thus fulfilling their ardent wishes through our willfully undertaken responsibilities. From amongst us three brothers and two sisters if any body harassed or disappointed our parents the most, it was me. And it was because of this that I believed my responsibility fairly amplified. Not simply because of my being the eldest amongst us, but to augment their expectation of me by taking up or at least sharing the responsibility of bringing up the family, and thus, not belieing the trust they had in me, I put myself to test with a freshly renewed vigor.

Some unknown force seemed to fill my life with new zest. I could visualize in me a new and unflinching self-confidence come to light. It seemed as if the inferiority complex working in me on end had left me for good. My austere living at Kathore seemed to  rejuvenate the garden of my life with new, fresh blossoms. I was sort of being transformed into ‘myself’. I got moving in the direction of self-evolvement and started marching towards an all-round progress. Physically I was pretty strong. I had a sufficiently strong power of endurance wedded to me because of my life-style, a trait which never did flinch while accepting, without any complaint, anything that came my way, a trait that had become a part of me. And it did not take long to put this attribute of mine to test, a test that was never meant to be forgotten. It evolved out of a very insignificant incident having hardly any bearing on life. But the fact that I could not forget it ever, prompts me to site it here.

I know not why, but at the start of every winter I became a prey to severe headache catching the right side of my forehead. The ache was so severe that I could endure it with great difficulty. I would wear a tight head-band and would keep myself helplessly lying, all-defeated. With the passing of time, it became more and more annoying and the period of the ache also got lengthened. The first year it lasted some seven days, the second year some eleven days and thus went on developing. My mother used to prepare for me some sweet with plenty of Ghee – purified butter – in it, and I was required to eat it early in the morning, while sitting on the threshold, a sort of a credence believed to work.  My mornings thus started rather happily. Then with the rising of the sun, the pain would cross the limit of my endurance and with the approach of the evening it would automatically subside and vanish. After the sunset I would not even know that I had a headache. One day, I was just lying head-down with the headband on, and there entered Rāmbhai, my uncle’s friend. Seeing me so very dejected, he naturally inquired as to what was wrong with me; and my mother explained him the situation and asked for a way of relief.

“There sure is a remedy,” said Rāmbhai, “but that medicine cannot be given to Bhāi.”

“But why?” I could not help asking.

“Oh no, it’s not for you. It brings in a lot of pain. A brāhmin boy cannot endure it.”

“What a plight! What in god’s name is that medicine, Rambhai?” asked my mother.

“It’s just a herbic medicine, but he won’t be able to stand it, oh no! Many a tough guy had tried it, and their scream failed not to draw together the whole town. The pain is unbearable. I cannot give it to Nareshbhai, No,” he re-iterated with finality.

“Rambhai, have you any idea as to how much ache I have been suffering from? What sort of medication is that? Is it something to drink?”

“No, it is something to sniff in and inside the brain. But no, that’s not for you, no!”

The repeated negations ‘No, not for you; not for a Brāhmin boy, no!’ were as if challenging me. The reason that I was a Brahmin put me in the rank and file of a born coward not endowed with the power of endurance, and I resolved to go in for it, whatever comes. It was something to be sniffed in. Well, how much pain, if at all any, will it bring in? And I spoke out, “Rambhai, give it to me. I will take it and none from the town will be there for the show.”

“It’s not with me here. Again, it has to be taken before the sun-rise, and for that you have to come to my house at dawn…. But Bhai, forget it. I won’t give it to you.” So saying, he put a period at that.

“Rambhai, I will be there at your place at four tomorrow morning.” I declared. He kept on staring at me, and then added slowly: “Well, think twice and then come.”

I thought, he was trying to scare me for nothing. Any way, in the early morning the next day I, in company of Nanakaka, reached his home.

“Are you really bent upon taking it? I am rather scared giving it to you.” He looked really hesitant. Again clarifying, he said, “There is still time. Think deep, for when once taken, there will be no antidote against the oncoming agony.” But there was no turning back, and I insisted saying: “Rambhai, there is nothing more to think. Would the medicine, when taken, bring any sort of madness? As to the possible agony, rest assured, I won’t utter a word. Will it have any adverse effect on the brain?”

“No, no such thing will happen. But its pain is terrific and unbearable.”

“That doesn’t matter. I will take it.” And Rambhai took his lantern and uttering, ‘All right’ with quite some concern, he stirred out. In almost no time he returned, hiding some leaves. And to be doubly sure, he added: “Do you really think you must take it, Bhāi?”

“Please give it to me.” I had made up my mind.

Rambhai went in and came back with a small bowl of some sort of medicinal extract from those leaves. Making me sit on the nearby bed, he said, “Take this in your palm and inhale it a little forcibly through your nose taking care to see that it does not enter your stomach. It is rather poisonous.”

He poured the liquid in my palm. Nanakaka was standing just beside me. Since I was told it was poisonous, I pulled it in as forcibly as I could. Rambhai and his wife too were standing there, watching me with concern. I was quiet and a little observant, thinking of what would befall me, and how much pain it would cause, and stuff. Half a minute … one minute …

Two … and something filled my head with red-hot burning charcoals. I gave myself up and lay flat on the bed. Nanakaka sat nearby me. I pressed my head hard with both my palms. Oh, how very terrific! Oh, what a pain! The whole of my brain was burning fiercely in the smoldering blaze of fire-emitting flames.  It was ablaze with burning charcoals some one had stuffed in not just in my head, but within my entire being. What if something happened to me? How long was this incinerating agony going to last? Will it ever subside? … Oh my! Oh my! … Will I really be able to control myself? … What if I started shouting in horror, in anguish and in torment? But surely, that will not take my torment away! Totally undone and amidst utterly unendurable wretched travail, I found myself all exhausted, entirely defeated and devastated. I had lost the power of thinking. But then there was no alternative, for endure I had to!

“Does it pain a lot, Naresh?” asked Nanakaka in a very low voice. Motioning him not to utter a word, I tried in vain to release my mind from the enflaming agony… Oh, what an ordeal! Trying hopelessly to withstand the long ignited flare, all ablaze with the raging inferno within, utterly undone, I tried to find solace in speechless silence still drinking the insurmountable flow of the lava within. Ramabhai would come and visit me at intervals. I sat mute and suppressed, counting minutes, challenging the lull of time. Oh, What a burn ! If you need a straight-out proof of what it is to be in blaze, ask me and you will have it. … Ah, how long was it going to last? Would it ever stop? Quarter of an hour?… Half an hour? … How long …and … and quite unpredictably, the burn vanished as instantly as it had started. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. O..h … Lo .. rd!

And even Nanakaka felt relieved hearing my sigh of relief. “Did it hurt a lot, Naresh?”

“Oh forget it, dear; what an agony, oh!” I couldn’t utter a word more. And hearing us talk, Rambhai made his entry, asking: “How do you feel, Bhai? What a marvel! Such a deadly pain and you endured it without a word! How very amazing? And taking you for a Brahmin boy I …”

“Rambhai, will my headache be gone now?”

“Oh, for sure. It will no more be there. Here, drink a little milk.” And his wife gave me a glassful of milk which I drank readily.

I have been through many an ordeal, a lot of physical torment, but none there was which could equal this horrible, woe beaten sufferance. No, even the breaking of a bone can in no way match this; for I have been seasoned in that too. … And what Rambhai professed was in no way wrong. I never suffered from any headache after this torment. It simply vanished. After some days some one told me that it was the sap of ‘Nyagrodha’ leaves. Whatever be it; I am not sure what it was; but I do know what it was like to experiment it. And I would never ever advise anybody to try that experiment; nor would I commit the mistake ever to try it again personally on me even.

ŪāūĀ

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~*~

23.  Some  College  Memories

I sidetracked a bit. Now to go back to my Intermediate Exam, which was fast approaching, and for which we had to go to Udaipur, in north India. We had decided to rent a common room for us all there. More than my exam, I was very eager to see Udaipur. I had heard a good deal about the natural bounties of the place. The beauteous natural sceneries, the much so inviting mountain ranges that we viewed from our train, spoke laurels about the imminent attractions. This was the first time that I was stirring out of Gujarāt. For me the ranges of mountains were just a tall talk confined to the bounds of literature. The lavishly extended panorama of the scenic grandeur of Udaipur was awe-inspiring to the extreme. Moreover, it was hardly probable my coming ever again to this beauteous place. Therefore, though engaged in reading during the day, in the evening, after the completion of the exam hours, I would remain so much engaged in drinking the bounties of nature that I would hardly know when the eve faded. The captivating pull of the wilderness around and the city, beautified by the immensity of the overcast bounty of nature, enhanced each other’s glamour. Amidst this alluring mountainous sight, which failed not to steal your mind away, to witness the moving mass with big turbans and the lady folk, their vision obscured due to their face-veils, gave the whole sight a queer twist making the scenic panorama a thing of mockery. There seemed something out of place and rather jocular to the very concept of beauty. Something seemed to be missing. There was no harmony, as it were, between the bewitching scenery and the common worshipers of the scenic beauty. The whole bunch of people seemed to be moving completely oblivious to the engulfing splendor. Or did the contrast add to the picturesqueness of the existing charm? Who but a poet’s heart can give meaning to it? Whatever be it, I could hear the call of the nature entreating: “Enjoy me; take complete delight, oh ye passersby, and drink me to the lees!” But alas! Who was fervent enough to appreciate that call?  Meanwhile, amidst those lifeless turbans and the veils stealthily proclaiming, “Not a sight sideways or else we shall be blemished,” there suddenly appeared a lone Gujarāti lady elegantly walking with no veil around her attractive hair let loose. Like one out for a combat, she looked incomparable and unique. On seeing her moving freely in that gloomy boredom, the whole panorama of nature looked cheerfully blossomed. And I could not help shouting:

“Oh Harubhai, come, come! See who is passing along!” And seeing me so excited, not just Harubhai, but everybody from the room ran out in the gallery where I was standing.

“Look! How very commendable, how superb amidst these turbans and veiled faces does that Gujarāti lady look in her attractive sari and her open hair let loose! A sanguine buoyancy amidst the heavy-hearted gloom, a moon in the starry blue.” But then, instead of appreciating the cute little delicacy, Dājikākā, my uncle, pounced upon me with: “You little rascal, did you come here for this, for getting indulged into lady-folk? The whole world is busy reading and you have this business to offer?” I was rather taken aback. And there came the order: “Go and start reading. What a way to take the exam!” and then in a dejected mood he added, “How is he going to pass?” Thus ravaging, Dājikākā left. I too followed him and grabbed a book with my mind preoccupied in thought: What a difference between the mode of thinking! Whatever was witnessed here had a pretty little poem concealed in it. But let alone visualizing the beauty. What to say of the society in the eyes of which even an innocent little appreciation of it is pictured obscure and voluptuous? It called for an insight that was prepared to look within, rather than try evaluate the incident by its outside stinky glare. But alas! Dājikākā’s mind was devoid of any such poetry. The dire dryness of this day-to-day life is incapable of appreciating that intrinsic poetic loveliness. Harubhai was there too; and he visualized in it a living poem. Jeejamama envisaged a tint of beauty hidden in it; whereas Jeevan hardly saw anything worth marking in it. Everybody had his own individual vision, which furnished testimony of his own lineament. Not that Dājikākā was lacking in this. His was a soul full of piety and he had in his heart of hearts a sort of concern for my future, which would not allow him to go beyond his confines. It had in it something more than just finding my fault; it had in it the fret of my future, a social consideration. And I never found it propitious to derange myself in the confines of the society. Any way, this was a mere circumstance and nothing beyond.

The exam was over and in about two months we got the result. From amongst us all, only Harubhai and I came out successfully, and with it got opened a so far closed door for me. If there was anybody who was rejoiced by my result, it was my parents. And one thing more. The event was small, but with it got boosted my self-confidence. I was now confident that nothing but our monetary circumstance would now stand a hitch in my way to graduation. And I determined that if not now, any time, circumstances permitting, I will have my college degree. I will work, do some job, make a little money and one way or the other will fulfill my self-promise. I will prove myself, and with it would be blotted out what my father had taunted years ago: ‘Instead of being born a son in my household, had you been a stone, the washer-man would have used you satisfactorily’. It would certainly have pained him a lot pronouncing these words.

My job in Vyara-school was secured. But how much salary can a teacher merit? I was serving in the same school my father was; but the fact remained that he could barely sustain the family with his meager salary. Eventually, my earnings naturally got used up even though my father had specifically asked me to keep my income aside for my further studies. Well, that was not to be, it being unfair. How could I ever keep the amount aside and see the accrued monetary liabilities of the family be increased day by day? Thus, despite every body’s good will, I failed to save any amount. Meanwhile, one of my father’s students, Jashbhai, who was in Africa, visited us. Seeing me work as a teacher and knowing that I had dropped my studies half-way, he suggested while departing: ‘Naresh, stop not here; study further. Go ahead.’ His good will encouraged me, and I kept waiting for the day when I could resume my studies.. Time kept languidly passing, and one day my father put a draft of Rs. 500/- in my hands, saying, “Naresh, Jashbhai has remitted this amount for your studies,” and I spoke out on an impulse:

“No, Jeejabhai, send the money back to Jashbhai, I will study with the money earned by me. I am in no hurry. How can you accept any money from your student?” And  Jeejabhai agreed with me. But Ben, my mother, found nothing unusual in that, and said, “We never asked for that! He sent it with feelings and that too for studies. Use it wisely and start studying further on. How long are you going to carry on with this sort of job?”

Well, however practical her advice might be, I, including Jeejabhai, didn’t feel like accepting it, and the draft was returned with thanks. We were deeply touched by Jashbhai’s feelings, his veneration as a student for my father. And one day, to our utter surprise, the draft, with one extra draft of Rs. 200/-, was received from Jashbhai. It came with a letter which read: “… When I came to India, I had not even an inkling of sending any money. After my arrival here, once, while I was busy doing my daily worship, I just received an inspiration urging me to send some money for Naresh’s further studies. I am hence returning the draft with an extra small amount. This remittance has nothing else in it but a force goading me to act the way I did. Do please accept the amount with love and ask Naresh to accept my good wishes, telling him to go ahead.”

And I applied at Indore Christian College for my Arts Degree Course. On receiving the admission I left for Indore resigning my post. There I stayed at the college hostel. On paying my college tuition fees and the hostel term fees I realized the circumstance I had put myself in. Over and above Jasbhai’s amount, I had some extra money with me. But a good deal of what I had, was gone in paying my fees, leaving a small amount of some thirty Rupees with me. What to do now? How in god’s name was I going to stay there? I hardly had with me an amount which would suffice even to cover my one month’s food bill. But what to do now? And I got puzzled. Then a new problem emerged. Harubhai was my senior here, and he cautioned me in my selection of subjects. I had decided to offer History, Economics and English Literature for my graduation, and he advised me  against offering English Literature, saying: “There’s a good lot to read in it and most of the students fail to get even a pass in it. Literature is not that easy.” And then he led me to the college notice-board. He was not wrong. The last year results showed a great percentage of failure especially in literature. Now what? I was much fond of literature, and I had a natural inclination towards it. I had become a little familiar with Manibhai, my classmate and the well-renowned poet Anami’s brother. He had offered Eng. Literature and I got all the books pertaining to the subject from him. I read them all, like we read novels, in about four days, just to know how tough they really were. Of these, leaving aside one book of collected poems, there was practically nothing that could be termed really difficult. Even some of the poems were pretty simple, and in spite of Harubhai’s repeated warnings I ventured to offer literature. Thus was the problem of the selection of subjects solved.

But how to meet with my financial deficit? And Harubhai suggested seeing Prof. Lungar, our economics teacher and the hostel superintendent. I had hardly been in Indore for a week now. Yes, I may possibly know my professors all right, but to expect them to know me was like crossing the boundary. So Harubhai accompanied me to him. I explained my teacher my difficulty, and he advised me to see the principal Mr. Scott, adding: “He is a very helpful man. Present your problem before him with no reserve.” And I approached the principal quite hesitatingly and explained to him my position. Listening to me patiently, he advised me to go in for tuitions. But who will take me in for that? Hindi was the common tongue there and I knew very little about the language. And again, without personal contact who will engage me for imparting tuition unless I was a teacher in some school there. Understanding my plight he called for Dr. Moses, our literature teacher, thinking, he might have some suggestion to offer. I was one of his students, and seeing me, he inquired: “Well … why, any trouble with Joshi?” I was surprisingly pleased. He was talking as if I was his pet student. Appreciating the situation, he came with a solution quite inconceivable. And Scott Sahib said in a reflective mood:

“Since you are a teacher, we have something here to offer. …” He granted me a full term leave from the college on condition that I be in the college on the very day the college reopened after the Diwali Vacation. After that I would be permitted to attend the Senior B.A. classes during my free periods, thus allowing me to make up for my Junior B.A. omissions. He wanted me not to skip even a single period, for whatever reason, after my return from that leave of absence. He finally concluded saying: “If these conditions are acceptable to you, I will permit you to go home, continue with your job, save a little money and come back on time and resume your studies. Agreed?” Accepting his offer, I promised him to come on the opening day and never to absent myself from the college. And in the first available train I left for Vyara. Seeing me back, every body at home was astonished. Jeejabhai scolded me for my having taken such a hurried step and was much worried. My mother could not trust me and curtly gave out: “Who was the principal who permitted you to be out of college for four consecutive months? And again, is the job here waiting for you? You had ….”

“Job he will have; the post is still vacant. But how are you going to make up for the four-month loss at college? Did you think what it is to absent yourself for one full college-term?” … Whatever, from the very next day I was in school and on duty. But before I could realize, the four months passed unnoticed and the Diwāli vacation already started. As for the money part of it, despite everybody’s wish and co-operation I could hardly save anything substantial for the simple reason that monetarily we were hard pressed. A little amount saved was not going to last long. However, my father advised me to join the college and complete my education even at he cost of incurring some debt, if necessary. One of my father’s students expressed a desire to help me with an interest-free loan, and I presented myself to Scott Sahib on the very opening day. “Good, Now miss not a day,” he acclaimed.

Well, I did not, and went to my classes regularly. I confronted no difficulty in Literature and History; but I could not help feeling I had lost a lot in Economics in which I met with a lot much difficulty. And I talked to Prof. Lungar about it. “Yes Joshi, that was bound to happen. But you will catch up with it. Don’t bother.” Fortunately, I had read a bit of Economics during my year of work at Commerce College, Baroda, and it did not take me long to pick up with the subject. Within about a month I was with my class. Days were swiftly passing, and one day I experienced a lot of cold. Yes, I was feverish. I was in my class and there went the bell for the short break. However, I lacked the desire to go out and remained just seated. Manibhai was right there.

“Why, aren’t you coming out?” he asked. I denied shiveringly.

“ You there, get up; come on,” and he tried to drag me. “Hey, you Naresh, you have fever. Get up, go to your room and have some rest.” I expressed my inability to do so reminding him of my promise to the college authority.

“What sort of promise? Is it that even though you are sick, you should keep sitting here? Come on, get going.”

I did not budge and Manibhai left. The recess was over. Prior to the entry of our professor, Manibhai approached me and said, “Naresh, you are wanted by the Principal.” I well knew it was a gimmick; and I remained seated. But at the entry of the professor he approached him and told him something in his low voice. And addressing me, the professor said, “Joshi, you are wanted by the principal, you may go.” I had to go. Scott Sahib kept staring at me and announced: “Go and rest a while, understood! And do not miss to take some medicine from the first-aid kit. … And look, join your classes only after you feel well. Go!” This was the warm hearted Scott Sahib!

And thanking him I left for my room and rested. I had fever and I felt terribly cold. But it was nothing serious. Even otherwise, the climate of Indore was very cold, and we – me, Manibhai and many others – used to take a cold-water bath in open bathroom at four o’clock in the morning because of which I might possibly have got a little uneasy. There were no mosquitoes, and malaria was almost out of question. In other ways, I was fairly strong and regular in my habits. I used to dine once a day and slept on a hard bed with just a rug-covering. Any way, I didn’t bother a tiny bit about this fever and in about two days I was back in my college. Call it my sincerity or my ‘abiding by my word’, but my sincerity brought in a very comely outcome. It being a Christian College, the common trend was to allot the hostel prefectship to Christian students only. However, during my senior year I was made the hostel prefect because of which I was spared from paying my hostel-rent. The duties I had to perform as a prefect were in no way irksome.

What else could any body expect in college life? A couple of trivial incidents came to pass, incidents that remained a part of my life and hence can’t be overlooked. One thing was that, while in college, I never indulged myself in making new friends.  I already had two colleagues from Vyara, one being Ramu and the other Manibhai, my room-mate. Harubhai being one year ahead of me was now no more there. There was one Bengali class-mate, Ganguli, who intermittently visited me and would depart after a little chat. That’s it. This was my small friend circle. Most of the time I would be busy reading. As to my daily meditation, it was quite limited and irregular too. My daily evening walk, however, was not interrupted, and I preferred to go alone. Thus, I was living a very common-place life with no novelty in it. Amidst this prosaic sort of life, there once came to my room a young maiden accompanied by Ānandbābu, one of my classmates. They sat for a while and left me after a small gossip. After about two weeks the same damsel came to my room again and I welcomed her. She was a Bengali girl and a student of our college. She had a reasonably small stature, and was fairly attractive to the extent of being termed beautiful. I didn’t ask her her name because she had been addressed by Ānandbābu as Miss Sen. Miss Sen appeared quite cheerful and frank. I had with me a few books of Swāmi Vivekānand and she asked for it while departing. This brought us a little closer. She might have visited me after this, maybe twice or thrice, and then I got a little wise. Was she trying to cultivate relationship under the pretext of borrowing books? If that was it, I knew I couldn’t afford that. And one day I opened myself up and told her frankly that I was there to study and whatever be her intention, having come from a poor family I could afford no mutual relationship with her. Miss Sen was a person with self respect, and after this incident she never did show up. I hope I had not done any injustice to her! Or did I misunderstand her? And for quite some time thoughts like this kept on playing in my mind. Once I came across her at the college stairway. She gave a small smile. I stopped and in an easy, frank mood asked: “I hope, I didn’t do you any injustice that day!”

“No, but you misunderstood me all right… But…let me tell you one thing. I liked you all the same.” How very natural and candid her disposition was! How very frank and forthright! And as for liking? I too had a sort of liking for her. But I couldn’t tell her that. And I called the whole thing a quit. Well, if and when I fall upon the incident, quite rarely though, I feel I did an injustice to her. And this was not because I failed to get her. What I did feel was that I had to reject her and that I lacked the most fitting key to break her feelings. However, I think I called her off at an opportune moment. Had our affinity established a rapport, I very well knew, it would have become more grievous to leave each other at a later stage. True, a pine for any veiled longing is deeper and more intense, and it is always advisable to nip it in the bud so as to keep yourself free from striving to see the hurt healed. But this truth I realized rather late. However, in so far as Miss Sen is concerned, there was no such issue which asked for any such heal. Even then, if not Miss Sen personally, even if her teeny-weeny memory prompted me to leave a little mark of hers in this memoirs of mine, it won’t be out of place to say,  ‘Sweet reminiscences of the past are there only to be ruminated.’ Of course, there was no such thirst developed between us.

There was one more occasion, seemingly negligible and yet vital, which tries to peep out, and it won’t be inopportune to give justice to it. … One day, Rāmu approached me saying: “Naresh, that Nizami can blow a burning candle out.” I knew what he meant, but just for fun I said, “What is new in it? Even a child can do that?”

“Not like that. He uses his magic.”

“Forget that magic part of it. It may possibly be some trick or a thought power.”

“Is it really possible? Can you do it?”

“No, I never gave it a try. But any way, let us witness it. Does he really use his thought power, or is it some trick?”

And we together decided on a day when we could witness it. I made one clarification with Nizami. The candle will be bought by us; the experiment will be done in our room; the candle will be placed at a distance agreeable to all. And we, – Nizami, Rāmu, my room-mate Ramanbhai and I – gathered together in my room. A big, thick candle was bought by us to avoid any trickery. We closed the windows of the room so as to prevent the advent of the outside breeze. Ramu, Ramanbhai and myself – we three took position on my bed, and for Nizami we placed a separate chair in the far off corner. Thus we took all the possible precautions to preclude any outside influence. I well knew that with well-focused concentration one could create, by his will power, a specific type of effect even on inanimate objects. But I was not aware if Nizami had in him that sort of drive and resolve, that much of concentration. Any way, I intimated my friends to see that when Nizami tried his powers, we on our part should strongly think that the candle should in no case be extinguished. Ramanbhai did not give much to my suggestion, but Ramu was one with me. Nizami was not aware of our resolve. He might have tried this experiment many a time and perhaps successfully too, and hence he was in a sort of hurry to prove his ‘magic’. In the far off corner was the candle, and Ramu ignited it. All of us, including Nizami, were seated at a sizable distance from the candle. I tried to blow it out rather forcefully from that distance, but with no effect. It wouldn’t go off. Good. And yet, we kept it burning steadily for quite some time. And then I asked Nizami to start his magic.

He was as eager as ever. He started steadily concentrating on the flame without giving even a blink. Then he raised his right hand forward, and started bending his fingers in an act of clenching his fist. His sharp fixed glare was right there on the flame, not blinking. His breath he had controlled almost to a dead stop. And the candle-flame slowly but steadily started to become smaller and smaller burning more and more dimly at every stage. Will it really turn off? No, it should not. While staring at the flame fixedly, I was striving to engage my mind in it, in complete concentration and with full intensity, still saying compellingly to myself: “No, it should not go off; no, it shan’t.” Ramu might have been following my foot-steps too; … for the flame that was giving way got ignited forcefully. Nizami intensified his focus. He must have; for he was now breathing hard, intermittently halting and vigorously striving to control the breath in full concentration. And there, the flame once again started to give way. I was on the alert. No, it shouldn’t extinguish, no way, No…No .. It shan’t. And there it was, lighting again in full bloom. We enjoyed the dance of the now dimming, now igniting flame. And suddenly Nizami gave up the controlled breath. He was perspiring and looked weary and fatigued. He exclaimed: “I don’t know why. Something must have gone wrong. By now it ought to have been extinguished.”

I explained to him why and how it happened and then added saying: “Try it now. It has got to go out.” Well, he couldn’t digest the thought. “Oh, is that so?” he flared up and said: “Then start ‘your’ magic and see what happens.” And restraining his breath and with his fist folded tightly, he started concentrating. I motioned my friends to keep quietly observing. And to our utter surprise the flame gradually started dimming out, turned a little luminous and then went off. For a moment, we kept staring at the smoking wick. We all clapped and congratulated Nizami.

What wonderful strength a well concentrated mind has? And we were a living witness to it. If our mind can effectively control inanimate objects, how much more effect, and that too how very conveniently, can it produce the desired effect on living bodies, especially if that live object is cooperative? Nizami’s candle provided for me enough proof of the strength hidden in our individual self. If the same powerful mind is made to tend towards our self-evolvement, how much more can a man achieve in his given span of life? The dancing flame of the extinguished candle reminded me of that incident in the life of Sir H.G.Wells, when, amidst his fellow scientists, he, by his well-focused will-power, so very easily toppled down the hurricane that stood burning on his working desk. Nizami is forgotten, but not that silently winking flame which he dimmed out in no time, the flame that ever does remind me of the inner strength we are endowed with, the flame that stealthily fills this life with vigor and vitality when I see myself dejected and defeated. Of one thing I am quite certain. This mind, which is a fascinating gift of ours, is a peerless instrument with the right use of which we can confront and overpower many an insurmountable obstacle. Self-confidence is our greatest life-nutriment with which we can reach pinnacles of glory. God is with him who has steadfast and indefatigable trust in himself. Sure enough, a self-made person can naturally avail of the help from The Above. A man of faith never has to get despaired and dejected, for God is always there with him. More than once have I actuated the truth in the above statement. One such incident witnessing the fact above came to pass right during my stay in the college.

Ganguli was one of my few college friends. He was a frank and guileless person. Whenever we gathered together, talks about Gujarat and Bengal remained our usual theme, and it was because of him that I got a little touch of Bengali. The prevalent likeness in the two languages played a part in bringing us closer. Our exam was fast approaching, and one day Ganguli approached me with an urge to explain to him one of the articles in our General English textbook. It had so happened that the textbook mostly contained contemplative essay-type articles, and the language used in many of the themes therein was so very tough and demanding that it necessitated to refer to the dictionary every now and again. It being a time-consuming affair, I was not prepared to waste my limited time on that, and I conveniently set the book aside. As for our General English exam, we had two separate question papers. One of the papers contained Essay, Précis and certain general questions. The other paper had in it purely textual contents for which four textbooks were assigned, with twenty-five marks allotted to each of the books. These questions were expected to have in them two parts that gave an option to choose any one of these two parts. Part (a) contained an essay type question, whereas part (b) contained five to seven short questions to be answered. This was the pattern accepted, and a general look through the book will easily enable a student to answer at least a few questions, if not all, from this second part. The book Ganguli had referred to was that one, reading of which I had comfortably dropped, thinking I would be able to score satisfactorily from concentrating on the other three. And this I explained to him. However, he remained persistent in his behest and throwing the book on my table, he left saying, “I will be back in the evening to understand it.” I was undone, and leaving aside my work, I had unwillingly to go through the strain of briefing the article for a friend’s sake. But I could hardly gather much of what I read; and I had to go in details, digging into the dictionary at every step, a tedious and time-consuming propagation. Nevertheless, I was fairly satisfied with my work, and when Ganguli returned in the evening, I explained him in reasonable details the contents of the article in hand. His comment while departing was “… and you said you didn’t know it! How in the world could you do such a thing to me?” There was no sense in bringing it home to him that I had wasted my two and a half hour on that.

Well, Ganguli left; but to what extent he had obliged me by forcing me do what I had to for sheer love, was revealed to me only when, in the examination hall, I was going through my General English question paper. From the book in question, as against the part (b) short questions, the Essay-type question asked was the very same question for which Ganguli had forced me to spare my time. Was it really he or was it some other ‘Force’ that sent him to me, thus giving me all the dividends for my two and a half hour ‘tedious’ work, which ultimately did not prove ‘time-consuming’. It was a sweet labor selflessly spent for some one near and dear that brought forth this outcome, leaving for good the sweet memory of Ganguli. This was the outcome of something done without the expectation of any reward whatsoever. And I kept on ruminating a line of my own poem: “God is his not who for himself is.” I said, ‘Ganguli left a permanent mark on me,’ because it was because of him that I could score first class marks in my General English paper, a joy that forever left me linked with him. Yes, it is in no way a big achievement scoring first class marks; but the way God’s grace comes to us leaves an unerring mark, the intrinsic fervor of which pervades our being, thus enriching our life with an ever blossoming fragrance. And what is important is, when we open ourselves up to such small looking things, we experience a sort of divine radiance glowing within us, the radiance which fills our life with a delicately pleasing aroma, thus giving it an opportunity to turn towards something ethereal. I have learnt not to overlook any seemingly insignificant ordinary looking event, but to test it through the sharpened edge of right and positive thinking and then to receive from it the ever so needed drive. This sort of approach fills our life with the needed joyous felicity. True, what is needed for all this to happen is an honestly truthful heart. The value of inner piety cannot simply be denied.

Our examination was on. Only two papers concerning Economics were now being awaited. There happened to be a holiday between the two Economics Papers. I had made up my mind to start for Vyara the very evening the exams ended. My first paper in Economics got messed up. The way I answered the questions was totally disheartening.

“What’s that for, Naresh? Did your paper get spoiled?” asked Manibhai looking at my dejected face. He ever stood by me extending confidence: “Why bother? You certainly won’t fail. And again, you have full one day to read. There’s no reason for fear.”

But fear I did have; and I resolved to make the most of the time I had at my disposal. Entering my room I started inferring my possible score and deduced that the maximum I would score would be the bare minimum for a decent pass. I certainly had lost my class. I kept on maneuvering as to what I should read for my second paper in the limited time that I had at my disposal. I didn’t have a compiled short guide to help me hurry up. I was never in a habit of using such ready-made materials. And again, who would spare me such a book at the eleventh hour? All I had was the five-hundred-page volume, which I had hurriedly to go through. Without wasting time I started working on it. But where to start from and what to give up? I became as much selective as I possibly could, and speeded ahead. Time was fleeting. I felt very sleepy. My eyes denied to stay fixed on words and the volume seemed to withhold its thickness. It was almost dawn, and I did not know when I fell asleep. When I got up, the sun appeared to be in a hurry to bid good morning to the eagerly approaching noon. After a quick wash I once again took to reading. Good that it was a holiday. I read the whole day. While going for my dinner I walked some half an hour, got myself refreshed and was back to the book. I read for the rest of the day and all the night long. With the fear ‘lest I should fall asleep like last night!’ I kept myself alert and awake. 8.00 am was the exam time. Taking my shower a bit hurridly and after drinking my tea, I looked a little more through the pages. It was in no way a bad job done.

I was just starting out for the college and Manibhai greeted me:“Hi there! Ready for it? Let’s move.”

“Ready in a way. Let’s see how it goes. I may not manage an easy pass in my last paper.”

“Forget it, Naresh; and don’t be over-righteous. Like before, we are all to be accommodated in the same hall, and there are no formal seats to be allotted. Sit beside me, understand!”

I discerned his implication. Unlike the General English paper, students offering Economics were quite limited and hence they were all made to sit together in a hall, two on a bench, thus sparing extra supervision. This gave students their own choice, an option to sit their way. Manibhai hinted at it, giving me a chance to grab up a little help if and when needed. But I was not to be in for that, and I deliberately took my seat on the last available bench. Manibhai signaled me to move to him. The professor had already started handing over the question paper, and seeing me not budging to his gesture, Manibhai came and took his seat beside me. I reinforced my decision not to copy…I received the question paper, started reading it and felt I knew practically nothing of what had been asked. I was unable to concentrate on the questions asked. I had not at all slept the last night, or may be I had overstrained myself; but my mind looked totally void, like I was stunned. Now what? Closing my eyes I sat serenely for a couple of minutes. My meditation had taught me how to cool down and concentrate. I tried to free my mind of every thought and after a while went through the first question once again. The contents of the question opened up before me and with it the answer took me to my answer script. Thoughts started to pour in and I continued ahead. Yes, I was now fully engrossed in writing. I knew that Manibhai was watching me. After about an hour and a half he said in a murmur:

“How many questions did you answer?”

I waved him to keep calm and not to bother. But as if totally unconcerned, he pushed his answer script towards me. I did not accept it.

“Don’t be over-wise. Take it and start writing.” He said in an undertone. And without a word, I pushed his supplementary back.

“Then get gone!” and he took his papers back.

I went ahead with my work, fairly satisfied. I had hardly half an hour at my disposal and Manibhai once again looked at me.

“Every one is copying. Take it without bothering about the supervisor. Which question do you need?” and he once again stretched out a supplementary towards me.

“Forget it, Manibhai; I won’t do that. And I have done fairly well. Don’t you worry.” I said reassuringly, relieving him.

That was that. The exam being over, I knew, I would not fail. Had I availed of the help rendered by Manibhai, I would have had enough to repent all my life. His hearty feelings, his love for me was vexing him with concern. To him, I was his younger brother, and I understood his concern very well. It was my determination that was keeping me away from adopting a wrong and awry path. Not to thieve or cheat is ever true; but it was in no way less important not to cooperate in any act of cheating. And for some such similar reason, when I was a teacher supervising an exam, when my own sister, in spite of repeated warnings, kept on copying during her terminal exam, I had ultimately to take her answer script away and send her home. She was then in grade ninth or tenth, I am not sure, which.

Whatever, I felt her departure from the examination room fairly deeply; but then I had no other alternative. Whenever we get ourselves wedded to certain principles, nature will not leave us alone without testing our resolve, our inner might, the genuineness of our forthright honest intention. And behind this trial of ours lies the evaluation of our inner ethical standard which if we lack, and try to use unfair means with a view to satisfying our selfish ends, then we are cheating ourselves, and to that extent are going farther away from divinity and hence from god-directed path. The path leading to spiritualism is narrow, with the ascent steep and tough, but straight. He who girds up his loins to climb that tough steepness has got to be prepared for any tough test. And then, as against this, his gains are in no way less unique. And as for me, I was tracking my self-chosen path, which had no place in it for any return. As a result I had to see Manibhai a bit taken aback.

I was well satisfied with my performance in the last paper. The exam was over; but on account of lack of sleep and the mental strain undergone, I had a very queer effect on my mind and I was totally nonplussed. The train for Vyara was scheduled to leave late in the evening, and I tried to sleep a while, but this confounded mind would not let me. Ballubhai, at once my friend and relative, stayed in Indore; and dropping the idea of reposing, I made for his home with a view to seeing him before leaving Indore. I was on my way, and all of a sudden somebody dragged me forcibly away. Before I could figure out what was happening, Ballubhai himself yelled out embracing me:

“Hey Nareshbhai! What are you doing? Look behind you a bit! See how many cars have lined up! And the hooting? You were right in the middle of the road. Were you really deaf to all this commotion?”

I really didn’t know that leaving the footpath I was walking in the midst of the main road. Again, I never heard any hooting. Luckily enough, Ballubhai himself was out for some purchases and he pulled me out of some possible accident. I accompanied him home. He made his mother wise of the situation and asked her to prepare some tea.

“Tea is fine; but since you had not been here long since, let me prepare some Halwa.” So saying, she turned toward the kitchen, and following her suggestion I lay down a while. I knew not when my eyes met, and I was fast asleep. They thought it wise not to disturb me and when I did get up, I was flabbergasted.  There was barely an hour and a half for the train to depart. I had still to reach my room and collect my belongings. So, after eating a little, I left for my room against their wish and hurriedly collected my luggage. When I reached the station, there were scarcely five minutes for the train to depart. Bidding final goodbye to Indore, I reached Vyara via Surat. The school holidays were fast approaching. Being reassured a job at the start of the school term, I kept waiting for my results. I was virtually aware of the outcome. Failure was an  impossibility.

Everybody at home was pleased to see me pass my college graduation in second grade. We were planning to visit Rāmeshwar with an intention to stay in the vicinity of Lord Shiva during the school holidays, and pass sometime there in the cool, soothing company of Mother Tāpi, while ruminating over the sweet memories of the days bygone. It was in this enlivening mood that we received the invitation from Shūlpān, I mean, a sort of an inner inkling to proceed for Shūlpān, accepting which, we two – Thakore and I – in company of our other friends, had taken a resort at the pious abode of Rameshwar. We were eagerly waiting for the rising dawn of the morrow. It was then that the boil on my thigh had prevented us from proceeding further. Then, with the pain reasonably lessened after that hot pack of epsam-salt, saying our heartfelt obeisance to our venerable Lord, and feeling inwardly satiated by His blessings, we took a step forward bidding goodbye to our friends, including Lalio.

We started our pilgrimage to Lord Trishūlpāni in a cheerful spirit, stimulating our minds with the sweet reminiscences of my friend Praveen, who in a dejected mood had given the utterance to his wander-thirst when he had remarked: “Rāmeshwar is all that is in our lot”. Alas! Praveen had not been able to accompany us!

We took leave of Rāmeshwar and started westward. The boil had not thoroughly healed and I was experiencing some pain. But we had not covered even three miles and there was no sense in resting there. We had already waited three days at Rāmeshwar. From Vyara we had started on the 8th. It was the 12th and we were only three miles farther away from Rāmeshwar. Well, to take a break was quite out of place, and disregarding the pain, we dragged ourselves on aiming our destination. We passed  Jhankhwav and from there, taking the main road, we  reached Gundia and sojourned under a mango tree. Closing my eyes I was lying quietly underneath the tree and I heard somebody’s footsteps. A Rājput gentleman seemed to be approaching us. Knowing what we were up to, he invited us to his place. We followed Viramsinhbhai to his home where we took our lunch. After a little chat we briefed him of the path we intended to follow in order to reach Shūlpān.

We had some three different routes to opt from. Shūlpāneshwar, Shūlpān, in short,on the bank of the river Narmada, was our destination. And it was not very far away from Rājpipla. Hence, with Shūlpān as our aim, we had decided to choose the shortest cut and take a by-pass from the main road, thus leading us straight to our goal. This might of necessity lead us to some solitary, lone region; but then that would add to the joy of being in a secluded place, which in actual fact was our intention, as that would give us an opportunity to get our inner mettle boosted while being inwardly tested for our faith in God. And there came Viramsinhbhai’s recommendation: ‘Since you intend to pace the distance, why not go to Netrang first, and then from there to go to Rajpipla via Umalla? It will be easier to reach Umalla if you first go to Netrang, from where leaving Asnavi and Jeshpore you keep heading toward Umalla. Umalla being a railway station is quite familiar to travellers and you won’t have any difficulty. From there, Rajpipla is a straight run ahead, just around twenty miles.’ His proposition was worth giving a thought to. Bhupendra, my choiced student and friend, stayed there, and we certainly would have a nice time.

Thus, seriously considering Viramsinhbhai’s proposition, and lost in the thought of our good old days with Bhupendra, we went to bed with a disregard to the slightly aggravated boil-pain. The next morning the pain seemed almost gone. And after giving justice to the tea-things, and having solicited our sincere prayers to the Lord, we started for Netrang, bearing in mind the waxing heat of May.

ŪāūĀ

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24.   The  Night  At  Kapāt – A  Divine Prodigy

Netrang was about eleven miles away from Gundia. Leaving Netrang, we made for Asanavi, and thence for Jeshpore. There, some persons told us that instead of taking the highway it would be better to take the pathway falling in between Jeshpore and Dhori. This pathway would lead us, they said, straight to Kapāt. The pathway was short, free from any danger and could not be missed. It  would lead us straight from Kapāt to Umalla. We gave more weight to the phrase ‘free from any danger’ especially because the trail was circuitous and led through forest area where the possibility of coming across any small villages was rather rare. Moreover, we were made wise, by so many persons, of there being a lot many tigers and bears in this Rājpipla jungle. This made the phrase ‘free from danger’ more important. I don’t know why, but we had somehow given very little importance to this hint. We had never for a moment thought that in going on this pilgrimage to Shūlpān we were taking any risk. Possibly, for fear of there being wild animals in this forest, our other colleagues had dropped the idea of accompanying us. Anyhow, we preferred the proposition put forth by these gentlemen. One of them accompanied us for a while and put a special stress on one thing. He told us that after about three to four miles of our reaching Kapāt, this sideway would lead us to a ditch along the side of which it ran, leaving no possibility of getting strayed and baffled. And he specifically warned us against ever crossing the ditch. If we did, he added, we would not come across any straight path leading to our destination. “Be a little cautious,” he said, “you are in a wild forest. Come. Let me show you the pathway to Kapāt. I am going that way too.” We might scarcely have gone some half or three-fourth of a mile with him and he pointed at a clean, even trail. We waited a moment watching the lonesome running track enter the far off forest. Bidding us a happy farewell, the gentleman went his way, once again reminding us to go straight on and not to cross the ditch. We marched on.

While pacing that solitary, lonesome little pathway running unattended in that secluded place, we were treading our steady steps in a rather unsteady sort of disposition. With every step, the forest seemed to be thickening, and that eagerly striding sun, in its hurry to slide towards the west, seemed to be staring softly at the east. We were heading forward in a tranquil serene demeanor. Inwardly aware of the setting sun, our speed accelerated instinctively. The footpath, accustomed to its own solitary deportment, kept on running unconcernedly, with its side-wings ever folded. Neither did it care for any companionship, nor did it seem to have any. Quite fearlessly it continued adoring the forest. If it had any associates, any at all, we were it, the two unsteady looking chums.

“Naresh, who do you think would be following this pathway to Umalla?”

“There must be quite a few! Otherwise how would this path look so very neatly used? It does look being frequently used.” I just blurted out, but not without filling my mind with uncertainties. The pathway routed itself on from amidst the forest, and not a single sideway dared cross its sides till now. Again, it was totally secluded, and kept rushing on with but one singular aim, not caring a shade for the outer world. And we too, like its lone companions, were mutely advancing with but one objective, that of reaching our target. Seeing the horizon blush with crimson smile, the sun seemed to be in a rush to embrace the eagerly lingering eve, and in no time was the jungle overcast with darkness. But we were steadily heading forward with no hesitation at all. The pathway was clearly visible even in this darkness. Time was running on. It was all a jungle with not a soul to be seen anywhere around, neither a human being nor even an animal. And nowhere was that ditch to be seen. There was nothing else but the deeply pervading gloom of the dark amidst the thickening woods, and Umalla seemed to be miles away. It was all trees; trees here, trees there, everywhere the realm of trees, trees so thick that any one, any thing, standing even at a distance of even ten feet would not simply be visible. But amidwst all this, the footpath made itself clearly visible, running smooth. We were mutely moving on and the footpath suddenly took a turn. After about a five-minute walk the path widened and there, right in front of us, was the moat waiting eagerly to see us pass along. The pathway pressed on alongside the ditch.

“Umalla would not now be very far away from here, maybe about two to three miles at the most.”  I heard Thakore expressing after a long time. How can I say what he was thinking about all this way?

“What made you so very lively all on a sudden?” I could not help asking.

“Oh, nothing; but what would be the time now?”

“God alone knows. Maybe around nine.”

“Naresh, How far is Rājpipla from Umalla?”

“Maybe some fourteen to fifteen miles. Why?”

“No, just thinking. What if, instead of stopping at Umalla, we go straight to Rājpipla?”

“To Rājpipla? Have you any idea how much we have walked today? Netrang itself was some eleven miles from Gundia. We must have plodded if not more, at least the same distance in coming here. We must have covered some twenty five miles by now. Then why think of Rajpipla? Do you intend to break some record by marching the whole night or what? Our day has passed in walking only.”

Lost in dull talk, we were advancing, and suddenly we applied a brake. We saw some light right in front of us. A little forward, and we saw a nice little mango tree with some firewood burning underneath, a sure proof of some human movement around, but with no one visible. The tree was very much near the moat, which had no possibility of there being any water in it, it being the month of May. Thus, the thoroughly dried up moat added to the barrenness of the wilderness. Not waiting to enjoy the hearth in this summer night and thinking as to who could have lighted that fire, especially when there was no one to be seen around, we kept on marching ahead.

“There must be some common folk around. This mango tree necessarily should belong to some one,” Thakore commented.

“What ownership could there be in a jungle?”

“Since the fire is there, there has got to be its originator.”

That could not be objected to. There might be some cottage around; but where to find it in the poor visibility of this pitch dark forest! And again, there was no necessity to. We were pressing on. We had hardly paced a hundred yards, and suddenly, right in front of us, a cactus fence, almost chest high, stood preventing us from proceeding forward. We stopped, but failed to understand the phenomenon. Who in all probability could have come here to erect a fence in the midst of the forest where there was no farming to be seen and where there seemed no human habitation even! Well, whatever be it, it surely hinted at there being some common folk around. Wood was not in the wanting here in this jungle. We found a tree branch nearby, with the help of which we conveniently broke a couple of cactus that stood blocking our path. And in no time did we get an outlet made in the fence; but … but where was that pathway? It had simply vanished. And there was nowhere to go! How in heavens name could it be that the pathway that made itself clearly visible right up to the fence quite abruptly and suddenly disappeared leaving no trace of it ahead? What wonderment? How could it be? What about the passersby who passed that way? No one would come this far and take a turn just to go back the way he had come! So many questions sprang up and retreated unanswered. In the midst of this forest, amidst thick darkness and with no opening to advance further on, what were we going to do! We knew not what was destined for us; but something in me told me not to bother. Nothing unusual was going to happen so far as God Almighty was with us. We always had with us His kindly warmth. He had never forsaken us so far. Prior to our leaving our house for this pilgrimage, we, in full faith, had left everything to Him. Our goal was predestined; but not our path. But whenever we hesitated on account of our uncertainty as to which way to follow, we had never failed to receive some help from some corner or the other, and thus we always had found ourselves well-guarded by His soothing protection. Yes, so many of our well-wishers had hinted at there being plenty of bears and tigers in this forest; but so far we had not come across even a jackal. No, I was not the least worried.

Even in the poor visibility of the dim starlit night, the running pathway was distinctly perceptible. The very pathway had brought us right up to the junction of the so eagerly craved-for ditch at Kapāt. As per the instructions we had received, we were not very far from Umalla; and once in Umalla, Rājpipla was almost at hand. And the moment we reached the outskirts of Rājpipla, half of the toil of the journey would be gone. Our reaching Rajpipla would be as good as being in the soothing warmth of Shūlpāneshwar, our goal and final refuge. Thus, so much overwhelmed were we with thoughts of this nature that we had never anticipated the pathway to disappear in a flash, thus leaving us in the lurch right in the heart of the forest. … And for the first time during this journey of ours did we find ourselves hesitant, languid and conspicuously lost, rather helplessly scaling the murky darkness while being in this secluded place. We became a prey to many a doubt and disbelief. Questions after questions arose and faded away. We simply could not proceed further, for there was nowhere to go. The track simply vanished in thin air. And we started going alongside the fence in the vain hope of finding an outlet. We went right up to the brink of the waterless ditch up to which it had extended, but of an outlet, there was none. And Thakore suggested:

“Let’s go the other side of the moat; maybe …” Thakore suggested.

“For what? We have been instructed not to cross the ditch. And supposing we do see some footpath there, we have been warned against following any such trail. Instead, why not give a call and see if there is some one around? Thakore, since there is this fence, there must be some populace in the vicinity!”

And we approached the pathway once again. Facing us were a couple of hillocks. Maybe, there was some one living there! Thakore had a thunderous voice and he gave a shout: “Is there anybody near here?… Halloo..!” But there was no response. Then I too joined him. It must be somewhere around nine. We gave a lot many shouts, but to no avail. What now! Heading forward was just out of question; for there was no point going haphazardly in that thicket. And I remembered that fire underneath the mango tree.

“Come on, Thakore, let’s go there near the mango tree. There’s fire there and it’s lot more safer being near fire. Seeing no way out we reached the mango tree. There were nice little mangoes hanging there, tempting us, and I was a little thirsty too. Putting my bag under there, I advanced to pluck a mango.

“Naresh, we have decided not to pluck any fruit from any park.” Thakore warned.

“But this is no park. Plucking a mango from a forest-tree ….”

“But this tree belongs to somebody.”

“What an idea? Ownership in a jungle! Forget it. And again, I have a habit to drink a little water before retiring. This mango will quench my thirst.” So saying I plucked a nice fruit and passing it on to Thakore, I said: “Have it. Today we didn’t get anything to eat.” But he firmly denied accepting it. Well, I didn’t find anything wrong in eating it. After all, it was a mango tree grown all by itself in the forest. As for Thakore, any such lopsidedness had no place in his life. Not giving it much thought, I spread my rug underneath the tree and started enjoying the mango.

“Naresh, are we going to pass the night here?”

“Where else, if not here? Is there any of our uncle here …”

“No, but what if we climb the tree and pass the night there. Isn’t it safer?”

“May be; but there are bears in here; and they can easily climb trees. Instead, are we not safer near this fire? And again, it will be impossible to sleep up there on the tree. Better unfold your rug and sleep at ease.”

He started spreading his rug; but seemed to be lost in some thought.

“What is it, Thakore? Afraid? Want to go up the tree!”

“No, but do you really intend to sleep, Naresh?”

“What do you mean ‘really’? We have walked not less than some twenty five miles, and we still have to go ahead tomorrow. Better sleep and have a little rest.”

“But Naresh, God gave us such nice opportunity. Why not give ourselves up in devout prayer?”

“Look, if you intend to spend the night singing in His praise, you go ahead with it. I am going to sleep. I want to see whether or not I can sleep in this jungle as quietly and as soundly as I can at home. And again, I feel very sleepy. Come, let’s pray. Then I am going to lie down.”

Having said our daily prayer I dropped off. “Are you really going to sleep?” asked Thakore. Was he afraid? Well, I did not ask.

“Yes, I sure am. If you are not sleepy, you go ahead singing Bhajans.” He started singing and I was fast asleep in no time.

It must have been around three thirty in the morning, and I felt somebody trying to wake me up from my deep sleep. I heard the suppressed voice calling me ‘Naresh, Naresh!’ and I woke up. Yes, it was Thakore, and I suspected of some wild animal being there. In a similar mild tone I asked looking around me: “What is it, Thakore?” And he said: “Naresh, I feel sleepy. Would you mind keeping awake for a while?”

“Look, Thakore,” I could not help speaking out, “if you feel sleepy, why don’t you doze off? What are you afraid of?”

“No, but if you just keep awake and sing some Bhajans…”

“Listen, have faith in God and repose. Nothing is going to happen. And forget not one thing, Thakore. If any animal drops in, it won’t dare carry Thakore alone. It simply won’t be that Thakore goes dragged away and Naresh would keep staring at it keeping himself safe. Sleep fearlessly. Why worry when you have given yourself up to God Almighty!”

And Thakore dozed off. I too gave myself up to sleep. One clarification here. It was not that Thakore had less faith in God than I had. Sometimes certain weak sides go with certain persons when they momentarily become an easy target to such frailties. But these moments themselves are dynamic. They make your life, and it is they that give life its value, they being so superbly significant. If you miss that moment, you miss your morale. That momentary looking moment is ever so momentous. In winning that moment over, you win your very life. It elevates this little looking life of ours and gives it its grandeur. Thakore had seen so many such powerful moments in fighting which he had put his life to test. These tests made for him his life, an accomplishment I have not yet been able to fulfill. But I do not intend to prevent you, my dear reader, from relishing the devout present that was auspiciously waiting to be greeted. I am, hence, reserving some few pages of my memoir to honor, at a later stage, Thakore’s personality that developed in latter years.. We enjoyed our sleep in full faith and with plenty of quietude. It must have been about 5-30 or 6-oo a.m. when I woke up, and catching me turn my sides, Thakore got up too. For lack of water, we could not even wash our face and get refreshed. After saying our morning prayer and thanking the Lord in adoration, we waited in the hope that at least some one would turn up, knowing fully well that such an arrival from any quarters was a far off thing. We had followed the footpath all right, but now we were in a dilemma as to what to do. Frankly, we were almost at our wit’s ends and kept waiting with a rare hope of seeing someone who could direct us. And to our surprise, we saw a man in loincloth, with a javelin on his shoulder, approaching us. Going near him we told him we were on our way to Umalla and started asking him of a possible way to reach there. Pointing to the pathway, he, in turn, asked us:

“Did you pass the night here?”

“Yes,” we said, and not realizing the purpose of his inquiry we kept staring at him.

“Did you sleep here at this place?” and his stress on ‘at this place’ could not be over- looked.

“Yes, we slept right here, underneath this tree. But why do you ask us that?” And pointing at the ditch, he said: “Do you see that den there. We killed a tiger there just yesterday.”

“In deep amazement we kept staring at the den and at each other . In the dark of the night we were not able to notice it?

And straight came the exclamation from Thakore: “That was why we could sleep here last night.” I was lost in deep thought. And Thakore repeated his question enquiring about the road to Umalla.

“But why? This pathway leads straight to Umalla.”

“No, the path stops there at the cactus fence after which it is all jungle. There is no way out there.” I clarified.

“Cactus fence! Who in heaven’s name will come here to fence the place? And for what?”

“The cactus fence is no doubt there.” Hearing these words even from Thakore, the gentleman kept staring at us in complete bewilderment, and then reiterated: “Come, show me the fence, the cactus fence. Where in the world would a cactus fence come from? Impossible.”

We took our small baggage, and in company of our pathfinder started pacing the pathway. When we reached the place we had been last night, there was no fence anywhere to be seen. And the pathway which had disappeared was right there, as clear as ever, going straight ahead for miles on. No, there was no sign of the vastly extending fence; but wonder of wonders, the two sides of the cactus that we had cut the night before to get an opening, were still there lying right on the pathway, as if telling us: “Yes, I sure was there, right here.”

“Look, here are the offshoots we had removed from the cactus. There certainly was the fence here, right?”

The man stood stunned in amazement and holding his chin in wonderment he went on: “You seem to be right; but how can it ever be possible? Just how?”

How it happened I don’t know even this day. All I know is that the phenomenon, which can any moment be denied and rejected instantaneously, had most certainly happened; call it a miracle, a godsend or whatever you prefer to. Dear reader, you must be feeling doubtful about the whole incident, correct? But there is absolutely no place for any exaggeration in whatever that is being depicted in these pages. Whatever had happened has been nonpicturesquely transcribed here leaving no place for any bewilderment. The fence was undoubtedly there barring our way, and it had been adequately extended on both the sides leaving no place for us to proceed in any direction. We ourselves had walked alongside the fence right upto the ditch. It was no hallucination whatsoever. The two cactus offshoots that still lay there vastly pronouncing their existence, thus negating every single doubt, were proof enough to make us be convinced of the validity of the event. Of doubt, there was none; no, none at all. And the two flabbergasting events that occurred consecutively the same night have never left me all my life. Thakore gave more importance to that tiger-killing incident. He never stopped talking about it all the way. “Did you note, Naresh, how very merciful the Great Lord is! Because we were destined to pass our night at Kapāt, God kept our path free from any danger by thus getting the tiger killed.”

Thakore’s concept cannot be denied. As pointed out by that gentleman, the tiger had been removed from our way all right, and Thakore had not failed to see through the certainty of it by visiting the actual spot. Yes, we went there to witness the spot where we saw fresh bloodstains and some tree branches lying, vouching for the event. True, because we were destined to pass our night there underneath the mango tree, the Great Lord had not hesitated to clear our way free of such fear. What a mercy? What sort of Worship had we gone through because of which He ran to see us out of any unforeseeable danger?

But as for me, the cactus fence that was there, but now had disappeared, still leaving those two twigs we had removed from the main stem right there pronouncing its existence, would not allow me to divert my attention from it. Those sprigs mutely pronouncing “Yes. I sure was there…” keep hovering around me even today filling my heart with awe and wonder at the great mercy of Lord Sadāshiva whose trident brings to me the memory of trident-like flanks of the cactus. What was the direct source of that cactus? Who brought it into existence? Standing as His living witness were those flanks which, like His trident, fills my heart with deep living faith, professing with the might of His commanding dominance: “If you are righteous, chaste and tender-hearted, I am ever there with you.” True, Thakore has not forgotten that tiger till today. He kept on remembering the tiger perhaps for the fear of the tiger. As for me, I have not been able to dismiss from my thoughts that cactus fence. Like a radiating beacon, it keeps my often confounded course ever so illumined, leaving in my memory that often pulsating Bhajan:

The thousand-handed Lord stands protecting me ever,

His ever flowing stream of mercy surely ceaseth never,

Wishing me all well if I ever miss my trail

He never lets me drown, ever keeping me asail.

Surely, Lord Āshūtosh – the easily satisfied Mahādeva – ever keeps true to His commitment and falters not. My dear reader, do please think how very easy it is for us to turn deaf ears to this and similar rare incidents, humans that we are. Such occurrences are a rarity. But to those who have faith in the Almighty, for those who do wait for an awakening, occurrences of this magnitude come with a golden dawn to fill their life with vibrant vitality, thus furnishing them every hope to move ahead. Taking it just for a play of destiny and letting it go at that, is allowing oneself to see His might misused. No, I may possibly forget the tiger-event. Seeing a tiger killed a night before may as well be an accidental event, like the breaking of a branch at the landing of a crow, an event which can or cannot be challenged, especially for one reason. Why get the tiger killed just to keep us safe? God, the merciful, the Almighty, could have very easily sent the tiger farther away from us, thus sparing his life while still keeping us safe. But how to challenge that cactus branch which, though shattered from its main stock, was still lying there proving the legitimacy of the whole event, the fence that had now evaporated in thin air, leaving its ousted limb right in front of us! The event never stopped from rejuvenating this life with ever fresh vigor by filling it with indomitable faith in the ever pouring grace of the Almighty. No, that was real cactus not destined to wither out. Even a small amount of dry soil would suffice to keep it alive. All that is needed is a little soil in which the seed can thrive with a little water of tender feeling added to feed the growth. I pray to God not to leave me dying in arid thirst for lack of that holy water. Surely, our passing of that night at Kapāt was a pilgrimage destined to enrich this life with an ever flowing inner ambrosia.

But amidst all this, I could not simply avoid the burning question that kept on puzzling me. What was His purpose behind thus stopping us from furthering our journey? It is true that in carrying out this pilgrimage to Shulpāneshwar our intention was to test ourselves whether or not we had genuine faith in God, for we stopped not from indulging ourselves in tall talks about God. Moreover, we wanted to know whether it was possible to test the truth in the common belief : ‘God is always there to help us in times of dire need.’ True, in situations like this we not only put ourselves to test, but we go all out to put the Almighty also to trial. And the Almighty is ever ready to stand any test for the sake of His beloved devotees. But maybe, Thakore had that fitness to be termed his devotee. … Years after this incident, when I had an occasion to meet Thakore’s Gurudeva, I informally asked of him his personal opinion about Thakore. His Guruji used to observe a vow of silence – and he opined by writing on a slate his readings about Thakore: ‘Ghor Sādhanā, Dhridh Vairāgya’ – ‘steadfast spiritual practice and dispassion’. So, whether or not he had that suitability in him then while at Kapāt, he did get equipped with that in his later years. But I can never put myself in his shoes. Yes, I may not possibly term myself unfit for receiving His favor. However, I will never for a moment dare call myself His beloved devotee, the one lost in Him; no, not me. Whatever be it, I failed to discern the object behind forcing us pass the night in that thick jungle.

Any way, the fence having gone, the track stood unblocked, the pathway ran straight ahead reciting the name of Umalla, and we, its travelers, with slow but steady steps, were pressing forward, lost in the world of our thoughts. We were told that Umalla was about three miles away from Kapāt. Thakore was a little too slow, maybe he too was lost in deep thought. And quite naturally I too slowed down. We had hardly covered a mile or a mile and a half, and the pathway got lost into corrugated roadways made by passing carts. The pathway having gone, we got confused. But since it had taken a left turn prior to getting connected with the cart track we naturally turned left, thinking Umalla was to our left. A few steps more,  and there emerged a series of multi-roads, one diverting from the other and the third joining in and rejoining other tracks. Now what? Which way to follow? Which of these would take us to our destination? And we found ourselves queerly perplexed. After a little thought, we decided to follow the one which appeared greatly used, believing, that one should be leading to Umalla, a railway station. We might hardly have walked a quarter of a mile on that road when we heard a distant tinkling of bells.

“Thakore, there must be somebody there. Better speed up. Let us inquire as to which of these roads leads to Umalla?”

“You proceed. Leave your bag here. I won’t be able to walk fast.” Then only I realized that he had blisters in his feet, barefooted that he was treading. I had my sandals on. I doubled up. There was a cart-man and I asked him about the road to Umalla. He pointed at quite another route. When inquired as to where the road we were following led to, he clarified that all those cart-tracks led to the jungle and would abruptly stop anywhere there. Cart-men used these tracks for the purpose of transporting wood. Then pinpointing the route he had previously shown, he said:

“Only this road would lead you to the station. Do not follow any other road. They all will take you right into the jungle and you will most probably get lost. There are a lot many tigers in this part of the jungle, and it will be difficult to get back on the right track. Just a few days ago one of our men got lost and he never did come back. Just follow this track. Umalla is about a mile away from here. You will meet other carts too.”

We changed our course. Only now did we comprehend the under-running implication in all that had passed last night. Had we not been prevented by that cactus fence, we would most certainly have followed the route we were heading on, and it was quite probable, we might have got lost, or become a prey to some unforeseen calamity; for who would be there at that hour of the night to lead us to the right track! Now only did we realize the design preordained by the destiny, the Great Weaver, the bestower of the ‘Guarding Cactus Fence’. We got protected and our trust, our faith in Him came out fairly hoisted and got vastly enhanced. “Great and unfathomable is Thy mercy, my Lord!” said I to myself.

In about twenty minutes we reached Umalla. We passed our day with the temple priest there while saying our heartiest salutations to Lord Trishūlpāni whose inborn mercy gave us a safe haven even in the midst of the forest. May His Glory Never Fade!

ŪāūĀ

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  1.   Under  The  Warmth  Of  Kālidāsbhai

The night at Kapāt remained, for us, an everlasting memory of Lord Trishūlpāni’s – the One holding the trident – merciful love. We passed the night in the thick of the jungle. The next morning, the fence that blocked our way, thus preventing us from proceeding further in the dark of the night, disappeared, leaving the two cactus flanks right there proclaiming its unfailing existence. Call it a miracle or whatever, but the whole incident taught us to have steadfast faith in His ever so accessible grace. The inconceivable incident is His standing promise to run to the help of those who, forgetting their own self, give themselves up to Him with all their heart. What more can we, and anybody for that matter, ask for? The nutriment that the night at Kapāt has filled us with is inexhaustible. That nourishment is the infinite strength of faith. And what to talk of the one who has envisaged the strength of such divine protection? Thakore’s enthusiasm had reached its zenith. Our pilgrimage to Shūlpāneshwar seemed to have been fulfilled. After bidding goodbye to the priest, we started proceeding further with unforgettable zeal, and were welcomed by Bhupendra at Rājpipla. We were not in any way tired, and after a little companionship of our old reminiscences – Sanskārmandal, Bhajanmandali, friends-circle at Vyara and stuff – we retired for the night. The next morning passed mainly in reiterating the Kapāt-incident. From Rajpipla we had to go to Boria and from thence to Shūlpān via Indravaranā. And since all this was to be covered while proceeding along the riverbank, there was no probability of losing our track. But thinking ‘we better reach Shūlpān before dark’ we made for Boria, not waiting for our meals at Bhupendra’s. Bhupendra accompanied us for about two miles and took delight in carrying our baggage. Not unlike our friend circle, he too had a great feeling for Thakore, a feeling brought about because of his noble and unique personality. Thakore ever remained an object of everybody’s affection, and Bhupendra took special joy in relieving him of his burden, himself being a frank and pure-hearted juvenile predisposed to respect his elders. As a student, bright as ever, he had a notable record of ever remaining amongst the first three, more often than not, at the top of the class, a quality which ever kept him his teachers’ favorite. We liked his being with us; but how long to keep him tied to us? Convincing him of his necessity to return, we two stepped on. It took us real long to reach Boria where, just while entering the village, we happened to come across one Jayantibhai who took us home to join him in his meals. Being at ease, I took my pen with a view to utilizing my time doing something substantial, and Jayantibhai asked us our intent in going all the way on foot, suggesting playfully:

“What is there to be gained from these woods and stones which made you leave your homes and take all this undue strain? With enough of faith, can’t you worship the Lord right at home?”

Thakore engaged himself in dull talk in his own vivid way and made clear to him our intent to carry out this pilgrimage. As a result of his talk Jayantibhai showed us a coconut that was placed near his deity’s photograph, explaining:

“This coconut was given to my father by Ashwatthāmā.”

“Ashwatthāmā! Which Ashwatthāmā? I can’t follow you.” I said amazingly.

“How many Ashwatthāmās are there? Have you or have you not read the Mahābhārata? My father came across the same Ashwatthāmā in this forest. And as detailed by my father it was he who gave this coconut to him.”

“When approximately did this event take place? And how did he conjecture that the giver of the coconut was Aswatthāmā himself? Again what was the intention after giving it?”

“God alone knows the intention; but as told by my father, the very person who gave it said, he was Ashwatthāmā. My father told us that he saw his open skull, the skull that had charcoal-like-thing burning in it.” And thinking we took his tale as something concocted, he kept on staring at us sceptically. Then, handing us the coconut, he added:

“Look; shake it. The water there is still well preserved. And years passed since my father expired.”

Jayantibhai’s eyes spoke of credence and conviction. As per Mahābhārata, Ashwatthāmā was cursed by everlasting longevity. But what made him manifest himself after all these years? As per Jayantibhai’s clarification his father had nothing special about him to make him Aswastthama’s preferred choice. And I really don’t know how long the coconut water takes to dry up remaining in it. Well, whatever be it, being a matter of faith, it’s no use discussing it. We enjoyed being his privileged guests.  While departing he added as if warning us:

“The Shūlpāneshwar temple is not more than some twelve miles away from here; but since you are taking a short cut, I am asking you to be a bit careful. It’s a riverbank and the boulders are rather too high. Be careful. Bye.”

We departed. It was around four in the evening. If we had to go just some ten to twelve miles, we would most certainly be there before dark, we thought. But we were told that it would take us not less than five hours to reach there because we had to go by the riverbank up and down the boulders and at times even to pass through the thicket. Consequently, the issue of distance became immaterial. Under the circumstances, worse comes to worse, we might have to pass the night in some village from where we might have to move forward the next morning. Whatever; time will tell. ‘The greater the patience, sweeter is the outcome,’my mother used to say. We speeded on. It was all hills and thicket. Narmadā was nowhere to be seen. We pressed on and on and all of a sudden, there it was, the much longed for Narmadā, at the devout sight of which we felt ourselves rejuvenated and sanctified. We promptly reached the holy waters.

What a difference between the silently flowing Narmadā and the Tāpi that playfully cradled Rāmeshwar along its ever vibrant flow! Nothing can surpass the naughtiness of the bank of Rāmeshwar. There, you can splash and play vividly with the sparkling waters. You can relish its friendliness by smothering it by your childish behavior. You can sit in her rippling lap and contemplate deeply on the divinely embodied Lord. The motherly Tāpi, in her ever jovial youth and in insatiable eagerness to embrace the sea, the emblem of her heart, invites every passerby to play and sport with her sparkles and stops not from being at once your companion and your mother. Whereas, the peace-awarding bank of Narmadā, while giving a warm welcome to the pilgrims, invitingly takes them in her soothing bosom allowing them to peacefully stand on her pious breast and offer their devout salutations to the Sun God in their hearty worship of Shūlpāneshwar, the Lord carrying the Trident – the emblem of Neptune (Poseidon). By accepting her invitation and enjoying the cool, pious company of NarmadāMaiyā, while remaining captivated by the holy memory of Lord Trishūlpāni, we felt rewarded. Narmadā was nothing new to us; but today, the same Narmada whose company we were in long continued quest, was the focus of our onward journey right from the start, and hence had become for us Mother Narmadā. Keeping us swinging along the cradle of her heart, she was to lead us to our idol of worship, our much so revered Trishūpāni, Lord Sadāshiva, our Shūlpāneshwar. Thus, while finding ourselves in close proximity of Narmadā almost at the hour of the fading eve, we could not help realizing that Shūlpān was nowhere near us. In great faith were we proceeding, climbing crags and cliffs. But all at once we had to give ourselves a break. Right across us was a deep dale from which was flowing a rivulet seemingly in a hurry to embrace Narmadā. As had been foretold by somebody, this seemed to be the place where Gūptagangā, or Devanadi, was joining Narmadā; but we were not sure if this was the same Devanadi. However, it was a charmingly captivating place and we felt like holding on to it. But alas, we couldn’t afford such a sport.

The place was highly tempting, especially for meditating purpose; but that also was out of question. However, since it has come to meditation – Dhyāna -, let me clarify that Dhyāna has nothing much to do with sitting cross-legged, as is the custom, at a particular place. Dhyāna asks for continuity of being in and with God, inwardly, a continuity that comes through a perpetual thinking of God with a mind that has become devout in the worship of the Almighty. A meditative posture can help one be steadily established in the process of such devout contemplation, and to that extent meditative drilling practices cannot be objected to. Meditation is a nutriment for the soul and should be strictly adhered to. I am a strict believer in Dhyāna being a necessity for every human being. The very idea of doing Dhyāna is an invitation from the inside to lead ourselves straight to the divine door. And it was due to some such summon from the inside that we were prompted to direct ourselves to do the bidding at the Lotus-feet of the Lord.

Thus, being on way to our pious journey, we came across the confluence of the two rivers. It being the month of May, quite unlike the Indian monsoon when passing across this place would become almost impossible, the strength of the water-flow was not that onerous, and hence it was not that difficult to cross Devagangā with its knee-deep waters. Thakore did not miss to sprinkle a couple of drops of the holy water on his head. Now that we had crossed the Devaganga, there seemed to be no difficulty on our way, and being attracted by the high boulders of Narmadā, the boulders that put a break on our speed, we found ourselves in great spirits. In the same rejuvenated mood we went a little forward, but had to stop abruptly. The boulders were too high and too steep to climb. The river seemed to have gone deep, deep underneath. On one hand, some two to three hundred feet tall crags rose high, almost straight up, challenging every passerby. While down below, the swift-flowing black waters of Narmadā, with its revolting dreadful eyes ready to devour the passerby, gushed forth in unbridled hurry. The tall boulders stood challenging even well-trained mountaineers; whereas for us, to cross those boulders seemed a sheer impossibility. And we found ourselves at our wit’s ends. Was it possible to back up a bit and then to take an onward turn thus dodging the boulders? There was one other opening too. From Boria there was one other road leading to Shūlpāneshwar. Leaving the hilly highland sideways, the path rounded from among the forest. This was the way generally preferred by the carts-men. But to follow that road would mean an added mileage, some extra twenty miles. Again, we had paced a long distance forward, and to go back in search of that road would be rather outlandish. Outwardly lost, we kept on gasping at the rising crag. ‘No, we won’t be reaching Shūlpān today’ we thought. The night was fast approaching, and again it was going to be a dark night. Hence, instead of getting lost in undue thoughts, and thinking, there might be a way out somewhere, we had pressed on this far staring at the sinking sun and in a hope to reach Shulpan that evening.

Shūlpān was all over and within us, and with but one goal in sight and in full confidence we were advancing, oblivious of any difficulty we might have to confront. We were not aware that Shūlpāneshwar was now quite near us playing hide and seek with us. Saints and seers have proclaimed that God is much more worried and cautious about the well- being of his disciples than are the disciples concerned with the yearning for Him. Of the prophetic assertion that runs, ‘Far more impatient is the Lord to cuddle us in His reassuring bosom than our earnestness to have His Darshan,’ we got reassured only when Kālidāsbhai, like a divine messenger commissioned by the Lord himself, stood before us making us aware of his intention to go to Shūlpān. Knowing that he was proceeding for Shūlpāneshwar, I got thrilled up from within. My heart reverberated a new tune and we inwardly extended our gratitude to Him for sending us this so badly needed a help. The occasion reminded me of my favourite Bhajan: ‘Jene Rāma rākhe re tene kona māri shake re?’ – ‘Who can ever harm the one protected by Rāma – the Great Lord?’ Kālidāsbhai being thoroughly cognizant of the place I experienced a sort of comfort, thinking, ‘Why bother since he is there! What even if it is midnight!’ And with trust and confidence in God we pressed on. Kālidāsbhai explained: “As is the breadth of Narmadā highly constricted here, so is its depth utmost in these twenty miles of its flow.”

I kept staring at the river that speeded hurriedly on with her deep, dark waters cajolingly struggling to cut through the black mammoth boulders that vainly strove to obstruct her path. Leaving aside her mischievous play, like a love-besieged lady made wise and sober by her having received to her heart’s content the love from her beloved, the Narmadā here has become deeply immersed with the Lord of her heart whose lotus feet she had had the good fortune to rinse. Here, she rushes on, deeply contented. Thoroughly satiated, dancing in a vivid fervor with but one thought of her having the blessedness of being in friendly tie with the holy Ganges, the mother of the universe, she is now inwardly eager to fulfill the pious desire of the devout pilgrims who, with deep faith and love, crave to bathe in her sanctified waters. As is an austere yogi to his sensuous desires, so does she enfold both her banks in an act of controlling her inner urges, thus being amply lost in the thought of Lord Shiva, the gem of her heart. She, the daughter of the mountain-king, on beholding the Lord of Lords swinging in the venerable cradle of her bosom, simply cannot stop blushing bewitchingly. But how can the ravishing mischief and childishness of Tāpi, the associate of Rāmeshwar, befit her, she being the matured mother cradling Bhagvān Shanker on her soothing bosom? Her heartbeats express the innate feelings of a venerated mother singing lullaby after lullaby while lulling Lord Shiva in her water-cradle, and bestowing, at the same time, her sanctifying blessings on the pilgrims who happen to enjoy the warmth of her ever-flowing deep feelings. Filling our hearts with that soothing solace, we were doubtfully staring at the steep crags rising high to kiss the skies. Kālidāsbhai had already started moving ahead while we stood ruminating over the impossibility of our climbing or crossing the steep boulders. And there came the query from Kālidāsbhai:

“What are you perturbed about? Where’s the difficulty? Come along the sides of this crag without holding back.” We were at our wit’s ends to understand as to on what ground he was asking us to proceed along that crag. But before we could argue the thing out, he tightened the end of his ‘dhoti’- loincloth – taking it at the back underneath his loins, held tightly the upper line of the cliff, and steadying his toes firmly on the lower lining of the precipices he reiterated: “Follow me and do not look down below.”

Thakore and I stared at each other, gaspingly. It was impossible to allow his venture enter our minds. Maybe, since eons, this Narmadā had been flowing some three hundred feet, if not more, down below here, cutting and edging those towering black rocks, thus vainly struggling to spare herself from further strangulation by her overly narrowed banks. Every bit of hers kept on telling us: “Forget it not, if you fall down, you will be crushed like hell and not a limb will then be found.” And for sure, if we do fall, we will crash down, perfectly doomed. I well knew swimming and was considered one of the best swimmers in my town. But so what? How in the world can any well-renowned swimmer hope to come alive after falling four hundred feet below in the gushing, whirling waters. And what about that thin, twiggy Thakore, who, not knowing swimming, spared not himself from playing spatter-scatter in the knee-deep water of our town-lake! Again, Kālidāsbhai had with him but one small, empty bag, which he could safely insert in his pocket, whereas we had our big baggage hanging on our sides. Seeing us confused and in a dilemma, he turned back after his having taken a couple of strides:

“You there! What stops you? What are you thinking about? Why? Don’t you trust me? Come on. Be a little watchful, that’s all. This is in no way a great distance. Just some tens of feet further on to cover the crag, and Shūlpān won’t be farther away. Come, get along. Nothing is going to happen. All the pilgrims to Shūlpān have to pass this way only. Come on.”

“Hum, ‘Shūlpān won’t be farther away’! How can it be? Was he here to make us reach ‘there’? On what strength was he talking like that? But then, there seemed no way out. Well, whatever be it. God’s will be done! And I picked up Thakore’s satchel, relieving him of the burden. I now had two bags hanging on my sides. But that allowed me to maintain an easy balance.

“Thakore, will you be able to carry on with this … these blisters in your feet?”

“It’s OK, I do not experience any difficulty now. Let’s move on.” And we hurried on to join Kālidāsbhai. I made up my mind to take a straight plunge down, in case something happened to Thakore, I mean, if letting off his grip he falls down. One thing more: Since we had been able to reach that far with the Great Trident-carrier being with us all along the way, there was no reason why He should debar us right at His door. Is the One who gave us all the protection in that black night at Kapāt likely to leave us in the lurch by drowning us underneath the whirling waters of Narmadā? …Well, with full faith in the Great Loving Lord, and with ample of conviction in Kālidāsbhai, the venerable escort commissioned by the Great Protector, we started crossing over the sky-high crag, with our toes firmly set on the lightly protruding brim while tightly gripping its upper brink. Making Thakore proceed ahead of me and keeping right behind him so as to be able to watch his every step, I started moving forward cautiously and with no hesitation at all, totally oblivious of the down flowing water. I really do not know what made us forget not only the inconceivable depth of Narmadā but even ourselves. But with all our mind set on but one aim of crossing the lofty crag, and giving ourselves up entirely to His Will and Care, we moved on with no hesitation of any sort whatsoever on our part. We passed the overhanging rock-face with care and confidence, and in no time did we pass the thwarting barrier. It was only after our crossing the precipice that we realized the peril that lay concealed in the deed. What made us forget the perilous venture, I really do not know. The risk we were taking was quite out of the ordinary. What if any of us had lost the grip? And what if Kālidāsbhai had not made himself available to us? But who can solve the big ‘if’? Did we have to be thankful to Kālidāsbhāi or had we to pay our obeisance to the Great Lord at whose decree Kālidāsbhāi made himself our helmsman.? Unable to understand his doings, my mind took me straight to that Pūrūshottamdās of Mūkūnd Oil Mills. ‘Kālidās and Pūrūshottamdās’- What do these names suggest? Most certainly, both these names were directly connected with … with who else but Lord Krishna!! Well, I knew but one thing: How can the One wedded to fulfill His devotee’s wishes maintain His pledge if He allows Himself to shirk from His inborn commitment to take the craft of the one near and dear to Him to safety? My mind was busy humming: “Oh my Multinamed Master, My Lord! I give myself up to Thee, to Thy command.”

We went a little farther and Kālidāsbhai said: “Cross these couple of crags, and right on the hill facing you will be visible the Shūlpān Temple. It’s almost dark and I will take your leave. I still have to go a little farther off for some small undertaking. Bye for now. Wish you well.” And he took a turn towards a nearby footpath. Did he really come to see us cross the crag? Who can that Kālidāsbhai, the one with such a suggestive name, be? And what was the import of that pronouncement of his that had left me ruminating, that essertion which declared : ‘Pilgrims to ‘Shulpan’ have to pass this way only.’ What did it convey? Was it not an esoteric statement which meant ‘Pilgrims to ‘spirituality’ have got to take the tough track to reach their destination’? Whatever; but it left a permanent imprint in my bosom. How will I ever forget him? And we too, bidding him goodbye, but never forgetting ‘him’, started ahead. We were a bit at ease thinking we were now very near the temple. The distance between this spot and Boria was quite short, but it had taken an unimaginable time to reach here. If, as had been told, we had just to cross some couple of crags, then we were not far away from our destination. It was no use speeding up; for it was already dark. It was a moonless night. All around was a hush of deep silence and yet, it being a starlit night, visibility was not that poor. We were at the riverbank in a forest and the probability of coming across some wild animal could not be negated. However, not dwelling upon that thought, we pressed on thinking of the hill in question. But the hill was nowhere in sight.

What time it was, god alone knew. While traversing the boulders, we were slowly progressing in the thickening darkness, with our target playing tricks on us. We never anticipated any grand illumination as is generally found at a Krishna-temple. However, we did look for some sort of light, for no temple is ever left in total darkness! Was it possible, hence, that we passed the temple and were heading unnecessarily ahead of our destination? We were informed by many a source that it was not uncommon for travelers to get looted after just a couple of miles of their leaving Shūlpāneshwar. Well, we had practically nothing with us to invite being looted. However, we became a little doubtful from within. Anyway, we were not overtaken by any fear element. Our only concern was not to fall a prey to proceeding overly further, leaving our destination behind. I don’t know whether it was because of this staggering thought, or maybe because we were a bit tired, our speed was automatically reduced. Whatever be it, we had no other alternative but to proceed, and proceeding we certainly were. And all at once Thakore exclaimed: “Naresh, there’s the light.” And I sort of woke up, alerted from my musings.

Not very far away, on a slightly rising mound, was a hurricane dimly kindling, not failing to invite the passersby to its warm affinity. What else could it be if not Shūlpāneshwar? And quite naturally we speeded up and in no time did we find ourselves climbing that small hillock, nearing closer and closer to Him.

ŪāūĀ

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26.   Thakore’s  Inner Charisma

It was difficult to get ourselves convinced that we had reached Shūlpāneshwar. After ten days of our having taken a start from Vyara, it was on the 16th of May around 10:30 pm that we were now at the lotus feet of Lord Trishūlpāni. Thanking Him whole heartedly for His having given us a shelter to rest at His ever so loving feet and that too without our having confronted any trouble of any sort, we entered the temple in obeisance. Kallu Maharaj, the temple priest, had already given us a welcome, but not getting indulged in dull talks with him, we entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Not knowing the Mahimna – His renowned prayer – by heart, we had no other alternative but to sit in veneration with our heads bent and hearts full of inborn gratitude. And thus, after saying our daily prayers with the Lord in our hearts, we sang a couple of Bhajans and felt ourselves gratified.

Our notion about Shūlpān was way different from what we perceived on our arrival here. We had totally forgotten that Lord Shiva who feels sheer joy playing in the crematorium with ashes all over His body is some God easily satisfied, and that he never aspires to have for His residence any huge and highly illuminated temple. The small temple on that modest hillock was free from any out of the ordinary grandeur, keeping on exclaiming: ‘Oh ye shy little pilgrim, here you are come laden with feelings unforeseen. Then come and have heart. This Heart is ever so eager to have you in here.’ With this call ever standing, our Great Liberator, in His act of liberating us from this cycle of multiple births and deaths, never does falter to accept His devotees in His ever thirsty bosom. Here we were, inwardly elevated with mounting emotions; and under these highly alleviated feelings we accepted the ‘Prasād’ given by the temple priest. Thanking him, we retired rather late at night with but one feeling: ‘Our journey to Shulpan had not just been fulfilled, but had turned itself into a holy pilgrimage filling our hearts with unending joy and blessedness.

The next morning I automatically woke up rather early, having enjoyed a quiet, serene sleep. The unbound, unbroken quietude of Shūlpāneshwar induced a uniquely deep and reposeful silence that motivated an urge to turn within oneself. How very refreshingly charming was the atmosphere! It was a purely unperturbed quiet, a quietude devoid of any restraint. The highly invigorating atmosphere was invitingly lovable and was endowed with heavenly ignited grandeur bestowing tender feelings to the hearts eager to drink the nectar of an inner fulfillment that knew no corporeal bounds. It was a solitude quite gratifying, an atmosphere provocative of some heavenly tune that longed to come stealthily alive to a poetic heart. And thinking: ‘let me wake Thakore up,’ I turned my back, and lo, there he was silhouetting himself right behind me in a calm steady attitude, drinking the atmosphere to his heart’s content.

“Why Naresh, feel like singing a Bhajan?”

“No, I feel like taking to writing a poem or two. But let’s sing a couple of Bhajans. And quite naturally the Bhajan ‘Mandir Tārūn vishwa rūpālūn’ started streaming itself with lively resonance:

“Oh ye Great Creator, most beauteous of the beautiful,

This creation of Thine is a temple of loveliness divine!

Through it Thou makest Thyself uniquely visible

To those endowed with vision to see Thy celestial profile.

Devoid of any pastor, unlocked and all benign

Thy temple stands wide open with all the stary world,

The sun, the moon and everything all lost in singing happily

The glory of Thy magnitude, Thine excellence divine.

Where art Thou, oh Lord, in this immense temple of Thine

Hiding stealthily from us, Thine ever yearning progeny!

Even the unfaltering patient poets get totally consumed

Singing the immaculate grandeur of Thine gratitude divine.

The next Bhajan sung by Thakore was: ‘Chanchala mana chhe thagārūn’ –

“Wavering is this mind, oh God,

Deceptive in essence is its play.”

Thakore always liked singing this devotional song. For him, the struggle of this life was a struggle with one’s own mind. On each and every occasion, as was his nature, he would go deep down within and analyse and evaluate himself. That nature of his kept him ever vigilant, a trait which assigned him his unique personality, and which ever  kept him singular amidst all commonness. He ever remained unconventional. What enriched his life was his approach of looking at it with a different perspective. And the event I am now going to depict has nothing to do with our recent journey to Shūlpāneshwar. However, it is worth quoting because it throws light on what Thakore in actual fact was and still is. And it is nice to know Thakore. …The event takes us to Vyara.

One day I started from home with a view to going to Kevdi, and seeking Nanakaka’s company, went straight to Thakore’s residence. Thakore was not home and his mother came up with a small, wishful suggestion:

“Naresh, advise Thakore a guidance. There are a lot many offers for his hand in  marriage; but he simply doesn’t budge. Why don’t you people direct him on right lines? Good damsels do not come that handy, and you know it.”

“What does he say about it?” I enquired in a normal way.

“What else is he to say? To him it is all a negation. ‘How is marriage going to help? Two of your sons are already married. Is that not enough?’ That’s what he says. Why don’t you people explain him a bit?”

”We will talk to him,” Nanakaka said, and we headed on for Kevdi. On meeting Thakore, we opened the topic, and straight and decisive came his answer:

“Naresh, never for a moment forget this: It is in no way possible that any woman would ever be soiled by this semen of mine. I am just waiting to see my twenty fifth year pass, and my ‘Ba’ is well in know of this.” Thakore addressed his mother as ‘Bā’.

At his twenty-fifth year, Thakore became seriously sick. And this was quite in fitness of things. He would always overdo himself; call it his stubbornness or resoluteness. He would fight any of his emotions out with all his might. As for instance, he once approached me saying, “Naresh, today I consumed half a pot of ‘Gol’ – molasses.

“What! half a pot of molasses? It would be somewhere around four to five pounds! Do you know what you are talking about?”

“You may be right. The pot was almost half full. I ate it to my heart’s content, so that I might now never have a desire to go in for it. You well know, I have a sort of weakness for molasses. I have won over that weakness now. Gone for good is my craving for this ‘Gol’. I now have a sort of apathy for it.”

“Let alone your apathy. You will sometime kill yourself. Do you know what you are doing?”

“Forget it, Naresh. Even if I die, that indulgence for it will be gone for good. Does that not suffice?” Well, this was a negative approach; but I did not feel like telling him that.

Fear of death would never overtake us, not to Thakore, not to me, nor to Nānākāka. Not having any fear is one thing, but overdoing anything for no particular reason is quite another. And again, this impetuosity is not the way to get rid of sensual indulgence. Why take a negative approach? Isn’t it better to tame the mind while taking it to positivity?

One more similar occasion. Once I asked him: “Thakore, would you like to have some ice-cream?”

“Sure, let us have it.”

We entered an ice-cream shop and I ordered one full plate for each of us. “No, two for me,” he said. Well, that was fine with me. We consumed our share of it. Thakore then asked: “Naresh, I hope, you have enough of money!”

“Let that not bother you. Why? Want more of it?”

“We will eat two more, OK!”

“Oh sure, you go ahead with it. I am done.” And ordering two more plates for him I cautioned him against consuming too much of it. But I well knew he would not give in. His having devoured both of it I enquired if he still wanted more.

“Will have one more if you don’t mind.” Well, I certainly wouldn’t, but I was a bit bothered about his health and I told him so, ordering one more. Devouring it he declared:

“This is it. Now no more of ice cream in this life. Gone is my craving for ice cream.”

Thus, whenever he found himself infatuated by any unwanted desire, he would take a negative approach to win that craze over. But his strong will-power would spare him from the anti-effect of that negativity. This type of mental approach is in no way beneficial to any spiritual aspirant; but then Thakore was made of that mettle.Whenever he took to something, he was the last man to give it up. Call it his adamance if you will. And one thing more. For the one who is in for Yoga, this type of attitude, that of sticking to things once accepted, is beneficial as well as necessary, provided it is devoid of false adamance. Sure, discrimination is the key. Thakore had one more trait in him, that of dipping down in whatever he had taken to, a trait that helped his inner advancement. This reminds me of one more incident that occurred long time ago.

I was then a teacher in Vyara High School. We had to fill in forms for our ‘Kovid’ exam – college graduation in Hindi. I too was a candidate for the exam. But then, because of some inner school-politics, some teachers, including myself, preferred to leave Vyara High School, and I joined Navapur High School. So, the ‘Kovid’ exam got naturally jilted. I did not even have the necessary books with me. Yes, I might have read a bit while at Vyara, but that was in no way sufficient. Any how, I did not give much weight to it and consequently I forgot everything about the exam. Once my friend Mahādev, a teacher with me, reminded me of the exam saying: “From the next week will start the ‘Kovid’ exams.” Well, I had already paid the necessary fees for the exam and as such I just thought of taking the exam. I took a couple of days off from the school and went to Vyara, it being the center for the exam. Seeing Thakore there, I told him of my being unable to read anything pertaining to the exam.

“Then why bother? Forget it. What’s the point in taking the exam without any preparation for it? It’s not easy to pass ‘Kovid’.” he commented.

“You are right; but well, since the fees have already been paid, I would rather take it. What am I going to lose? And since you have gone through the whole course of studies, if you can spare some time and make me wise on the contents and things pertaining to it, at least I wouldn’t have to leave my answer script blank.”

Let me cut it short. Wherever possible, Thakore gave me a short synopsis of whatever was verbally possible to impart. He also talked to me about some two poetry books the contents of which it was not verbally possible to give. These two books were ‘Jayadrathvadth’ and Maithilisharan Gupta’s ‘Panchavati’. ‘Panchavati’ seemed to be rather difficult to grasp and I preferred reading it, the only book I read for my ‘Kovid’ exam. It was certainly a very beautiful book of epic poems concerning Indian mythology, and I enjoyed it to my heart’s content. And thus, without any strong foundation for the exam, I went for it. Here now comes the account of Thakore’s mental perspective. Finishing the general composition test we stirred out of the exam hall.

“How was the paper, Thakore?” I asked.

“Oh, it was wonderful. I just went on writing the essay, writing it to my heart’s content. Oh, what a joy!”

“What do you mean, ‘just went on writing the essay’? What about the rest of the questions?”

“Oh forget it, Naresh. The writing of the essay itself was so very exciting that I didn’t even think of trying anything else. I must have written some twenty to twenty five pages. That was superb!”

This was Thakore. Once with a thing, he would be utterly in it. He would never give weight to any sideways matter. He would never deviate from the accepted course.  Agreed, it may not work with worldly matters; but for the one wedded to unfailing meditation, it is a great boon. Once having taken a plunge, never to give in; never. That’s it. And that was Thakore. He would not think of the result, and he was not a person to bother about such trivial matters. As for me, I had never read any of the prescribed books for the exam. From whatever little he had told me during these three days of my verbal talks with him, I managed a pass in my Kovid exam. And he was perhaps more happy about it than I was. I knew a bit of Hindi because I had stayed and studied in Indore where Hindi was the common dialect. I was perhaps more interested in having a Kovid-certificate; whereas, to Thakore, an uncertified evaluation of the values of life was of greater significance. My strides were slow, and the runway plenty elongated. Thakore’s track was narrow and his dash pointed at many an unknown remoteness. What a great difference there was in our individual values! And yet, our course aimed the same objective. Both of us, no, all three of us, including Nānākāka, were birds on the same branch. How very captivating is that poem, and I really can’t remember who its composer is. One of my friends, one Poonambhai, a once upon a time manager of a children’s school named ‘Killol’, used to sing it in his melodic voice. The wordings are:

The birds that we are of a common branch

Some times we soar so high in the sky,

And thus surging high right down do we come

And twittering in blithe do we merrily hum.

The birds of a common stock comely woven.

In feast and in frolics in unison we stay

Though fighting and flickering we part in a way

And yet are we one every second of our being,

The birds of a feather that we forever stay.

Being kiths and kins in misery and mirth,

Our hearts weaved as one into dearly earned love,

We stay ever one wishing well of every soul

The birds that we are of a single common goal.

True, as to our ambition we were ever one. But Thakore was far more enthusiastic in achieving it, and his present sickness helped him carry out his intent. The reason of his present sickness could not be detected and he became more serious. Even his kidney seemed to fail. And he seemed to be lost in some sort of thought. As a result of this, when he did recover from this sickness, he was more resolved in his purpose than ever. His illness had added to his zeal. And when he found himself enough strong he one day asked his mother: “Bā, What were you thinking about when I was sick?”

“You want to know what I was thinking about? What was there to be thought of?” And drawing him to her sides in a hug, and moving her motherly hand on his head, the unsuspecting mother said: “My son, who ever thought you would survive? God gave you back to us. We had taken you just for dead!”

“Then, Bā,” replied Thakore quietly, taking his mother’s hand in his, “from now onward take me for dead. Even otherwise I was a goner.”

“Oh, my! How can you speak like that? Oh look at him!” And the mother started sobbing with no reserve.

“Let’s go out for a while, Thakore,” I told him with a view to relieving his mother a bit.

“No Naresh, how long can the inevitable be postponed? Bā, I am leaving the house only because I simply cannot stay thus any longer. Not that I am forsaking the home for any particular reason, no. I am going away because I can stay here no longer. You well know, Naresh, something inward is dragging me. It simply will not let me be.”

And the day dawned when we had to bid him a warm and loving farewell. We, some tens of his friends, had gathered together at his residence. His father said: “I am not forbidding you from departing. I well know that you are leaving your home for a much higher cause. And I know too that it is not easy for you to go astray. You certainly can go with all your heart; but do write letters letting us know your whereabouts.”

“No, do not wait for my letter. Take me for gone, once and for all.”

“What, is it too much, my son, to expect even a letter from you?” asked his mother.

And Thakore could not brush aside his mother’s grievously oozing wish, and said: “OK, I will write one letter every year.”

“Thakore, since you accepted your mother’s request, reject not this offer from me.” So saying, the father brought forth a woolen shawl for him.

“I don’t really need it; but well, I will accept it.” And he took the shawl from his father.   Thakore’s father appeared calm and fairly controlled; but his mother gave herself up and was all in tears. Her sobbing would never cease or what? And in the same depressing atmosphere, but with highly invigorating spirit, Thakore left his house for good. All his friends accompanied him up to Rāmeshwar to bid him farewell. Greeting his departure, Jhinu, my cousin, sang in his resonant voice, a Bhajan composed by me to hail the occasion.

In the radiant endless sky, oh soul, flyest thou

And in search of some gleaming horizon stay thou put;

Flyest thou on to some majestic lofty heights

Wherein do tarry the lively angelic spirits

Kindling the hearts of many a lonesome being.

Where the somber gloom of their ever pining self

And the agonies of the hearts ever do appease;

To such illuminating zenith, oh ye soul,

May thou takest wings and quietly repose.

While on your way, ’midst the bloody, feral few

Where the rank and file do the helpless prey and rue

There, willfully sharing the anguish of the desolate

May thou shower nectar of thy love-abiding heart

And to such illumined infinity, oh ye ever soaring soul,

May thou takest wings and do quietly repose.

The atmosphere around was jovial and in no way serious. Thakore was departing with a   definite purpose and as such there was no place for morose. It was a pleasant hearty send off. After about a year of his departure, his mother received a letter from him, a letter short and to the point, with no place in it for any undulating feelings. It talked of inspirations he had received lifting him up at every step. As had been stated in it, within some five miles of his leaving Shūlpān, he was robbed of everything, even the clothes he had on. The only thing the looters left with him was some book he was carrying, and I do not know what book it was, may be the BhagvadGeeta. Thus, with no clothes on, he moved on. One night, while he was sleeping stark naked on a big rock, he woke up feeling someone was touching him. He slowly opened his eyes to see a big tiger sniffing at him. Thakore wrote:  “My first thought was ‘the tiger was going to gulp me up.’ I felt greatly afraid; but the very next moment I was reminded of the prayer we used to recite every day: Bhayānām bhayam bhishanam bhishanānām – “Thou art the panic of the panicky and the live peril of the perilous.” And gone was the fear-element in me. I said to myself: ‘What is there to be afraid of? Why should I be so afraid? And after all, what is the difference between this tiger and ‘Lālia’ (our street dog)? And I raised my hand to pat the tiger. But that very moment the tiger left me.” … And he ended saying: “I am fine and well-poised. Do not worry about me.”

With this repeated tiger-episode how much more enthusiastic would he have become? What is fear to the one who has given himself up heart and soul to his Lord? Once you give the command of your life-boat to Trishulpani – the Trident Carrier – the Highest Authority who is all-knowing, all-pervading and all-powerful, whose responsibility is it to safeguard it? Is it not for Him to look over and protect us? He, the Trident Carrier, – Satyam Shivam Sūnderam – the emblem of Truth, Goodness and Beauty, is the all in all, the creator, the preserver and the redeemer, and Thakore had fairly digested this philosophy. As per his letter, he remained nude and loitered thus in the jungle for three days, at the end of which somebody gave him some linen to cover himself.

His family used to receive his letters once a year, normally on the new-year day. In one of his letters he had mentioned that walking along the Narmadā bank he reached Amarkantak, the mouth of the river, a place devoid of any human population in its immediate vicinity. There he became terribly sick, so much so, that he lacked the power even to get up, he having had nothing to eat for days on end. Taking that to be the end, he lay starving underneath a tree in that barren place. Thinking, he would never be able to move from there and that this life would slowly wear out in the wait, he decided to spend whatever time he had at his disposal in reciting God’s name. Thus, he immersed himself deep down in divine thinking, and leaving any thought of this corporeal self out of his mind, he gave himself up entirely to Him. The next day, as mentioned by Thakore, a man approached him with a tiffin to serve, saying: “Have it, please. This food is for you. Please eat it.”

“How did you know I was lying hungry here?”

“I dreamed that you were here and that I had to bring you some food. I could not forget the dream and felt like somebody was forcing me, making me get up. The dream brought me here. This is all for you. Have it, please.”

As per Thakore, the food gave him enough of energy and he left Amarkantak. Thus completing his round-trip of Narmadā, he moved on making Bhāgirathi – the river Ganges – his aim. From wherever he passed, he experienced one thing: He found that it was inconceivable to remain hungry in the land of India, because after his revival  from the incident in Amarkantak where he lay starving, he was readily welcomed wherever he went and people invited him willingly for meals. These repeated invitations resulted in Thakore taking a resolve not to eat anything prior to his completing about eight miles of walk, half of the distance he normally would cover during the day. I very well know that Thakore has ever remained a truth-seeking soul and that any of his resolves became for him a solemn undertaking. Together with this, the two other vows that he took to ultimately help him reach his final goal were (1) never to touch any money and (2) never to ask anything of anybody by way of alms.

Now think, reader dear. Here is a person who left everything and anything he could call his own for a great cause, that of reaching his Maker. The only possession he had was his father-given shawl, which, his father thought, would protect him from cold he was likely to suffer during his rambles. Yes, he accepted it just to respect his father. But the moment he left Rāmeshwar for Shūlpān, he handed it over to some poor farmer who had a greater need of it, with the satisfaction that the blanket was made right use of. He did this with two different objectives. First, he wanted to free himself from any attachment that would bring to him the memory of what he had ultimately forsaken; and second, as has already been mentioned, there was somebody there who, he thought, had a greater need of it. Thus, if he discarded his father’s last memory, he had used it fairly and with enough understanding. Had he not done that, the robbers at Shūlpān would have had it. Thus eschewing all the corporeal attractions that stood his way, with inborn sincerity and sacrifice, he turned towards non-aggrandizement and decided not to touch money, which has in it the inherent power to vitiate any living human being. Not satisfied with this, he even discarded the very idea of begging, thus repudiating the life sustaining right to receive alms for their sustenance, the right that normally rests with saints and sages. Thus, wedded to these greatest and the most difficult to maintain vows, he remained staunchly nailed with them till today. Those who had the opportunity to see and contact him failed not talking about these in the words befitting the greatest of Sādhakas – austere aspirants. We have heard of many a renunciated soul. India is not wanting in them. But to come across a personality of the type Thakore is, is a sheer rarity. One cannot help thinking: ‘For a soul who has vowed not to touch money and never to beg for alms, who but God Himself would be there to watch over him? How very deep and unshakable a faith would he have in that Great Protector? What all difficulty would he not have confronted during his spiritual march with those vows wedded to him? True it will be to say: ‘God is his not who for himself is.’  And again, equally true it is to say: ‘To accept spirituality whole-heartedly is to tread on the edge of sword.’ The one who has pledged to be wedded to truth has not only to face unforeseen odds but has also to pass through the toughest of tests that are destined to come his way. The one who has passed these tests is the one to whom God remains wedded. Was there ever an occasion when Thakore failed to stand any such test?

Happenings highly bewitching, even enrapturing, have come to enrich and adorn his spiritual path garlanding his life with divine florescence. Since I have ventured to probe into Thakore’s field, I would not fail from doing utmost justice to the happenings that came his way. Let us be with it so as to free ourselves from the possibility of taking any unintelligible and unfathomable event as being impossible; for things may be improbable and yet possible. This is because in the realm of spirituality the word impossible has no place. It simply won’t stand. I venture to say this because incidents and experiences in Thakore’s life, his realizations, seem impossible in the normal field of our ordinarily accepted grounds. But to neglect them, or to turn deaf ears to them saying, ‘they are miracles and hence are not within our confines, is doing injustice to the very realm of spirituality. When we say, ‘It was a miracle,’ what we mean is that it was beyond our ken to comprehend it. But what I fail to understand, somebody else may find quite easy and natural to grasp. If we fail to understand and accept the happenings in Thakore’s life, we will do injustice not only to Thakore but to God and to us too. For not to believe in them  and to disregard them, is to disbelieve all the three –God, Thakore and ourselves. What then are those occurrences? I heard them – some small, some big – from Thakore himself when I visited Vrajbhoomi in 1961, and saw him at Vrindāvan, near mount Goverdhan.

One important hint here. Thakore is and has ever remained a truth-loving soul. He is the last man to tell lies or even to exaggerate things. And, as for me, I am committed to speaking the truth especially because the very art of telling lies takes the very soul of an autobiography away. And this being my autography, I will ever hate even thinking of  tinging it with undue added colours and fancy. Let me, hence, reiterate: Every single incident that is being depicted here is a first-hand matter that has come directly from Thakore, and hence is purely devoid of any fabrication. Let us now traverse with Thakore.

Once Thakore was passing along a forest path commonly used by carts-men, and a couple of cyclists bypassed him. Proceeding a bit further on, they stopped and took a turn. Nearing Thakore, one of them asked:

“Where are you going, may we know?”

“Well, … I really don’t know; but I am just going along,” replied Thakore.

“Seeing you, we took a turn. Come, let’s sit under this tree. Enjoy a little meal with us and then you can move on.”

“Thank you; but I am not in a position to eat now. Sorry for that.”

“But why? We come from good family.” They clarified thinking, Thakore had some objection eating with some low caste, as was often found in India in those days.

“No, that’s not the reason. It’s customary with me not to eat anything prior to covering eight miles of distance. And I have not yet met with my demand.”

“Ah well, maybe. But what we have is ‘Poorie Bhajiā’, – a commonly palatable Indian meal -, and it is not that easy to get ‘PoorieBhajiā’ in such forests;” one of the cyclists retorted, jocularly.

And Naresh, I just uttered unheedingly out: “You talk of ‘poorie-bhajiā’! God wishing, you can get even ‘Mālpoodā’ (A delicious sweet feast) in the midst of a forest.”

Hearing this, the other cyclist said: “Then do one thing. Keep this food with you and eat it after covering your eight miles.” I extended my hand to accept it, and all at once it struck me: ‘This is an act of hoarding. Why should I do that? Would God not give me the needed food?’ And withdrawing my hand back again, I said: “Please excuse me; but I do not believe in hoarding anything. I do understand your feelings, though. Do not take it ill, please. Thanks.”

And seeing me leave, they kept staring for a while as if lost in thought. I moved further on and after meeting with my target and seeing a nice big tree from a distance I said to myself: “I better sit there and rest a while.” But on approaching the tree I saw a group of persons sitting there with their cart and bullocks resting by their side. I naturally started ahead. I might hardly have gone twenty steps and heard a shout:

“Hi, you brother, why are you going away? Come and join us. Have some lunch with us.”

“I went there. And Naresh, do you know what I ate? … Mālpoodā!” clarified Thakore, all lost in thought.

Dear reader, it sounds like sort of a drama, doesn’t it! It is said, ‘Facts are sometimes stranger than fiction.’ Think; just think: Whose liability is it to account for those who are totally dependent upon somebody other than himself? Thakore had given himself up to God. The one who is wedded to truth, the one who is free from being a cheater to himself, is surely the one to respect each word of whose remains the responsibility of the one on whom he totally depends, in this case, that of God. God will never allow himself to be proved unreliable. It has remained an experience of many a god-loving soul that when he utters something unthinkingly, unintentionally, or even irrationally, the utterance has always passed to come true. Since Thakore was destined to get ‘Mālpoodā’, the word ‘Mālpoodā’ might have come to his tongue, or else because he uttered those words, ‘Mālpoodā’ was served to make his words come true. A real lover of truth will never be proved a liar, not in God’s domain. Thakore belonged to that domain. And shall we say: ‘This might well be a test of his vow, the vow not to eat anything before his completing eight miles!’ The idea of ‘Mālpoodā’ came out from his mind. Was it his subconscious mind that wished for and knew of it? Then that too had been answered. Such is the realm of the ‘Subconscious’!

From the very beginning Thakore had a contemplative demeanor. Again, he has ever remained a man of action. His spiritual journey, better call it a pilgrimage, had led him to the depth and hence to the very source of thought where intuition comes at play. Led by some such inner intuitional guidance, call it premonition or the sixth sense if you may, he left Narmadā and was proceeding further on, ruminating in his mind the lovingly alluring proximity of the Ganges. His inner self was slowly but steadily taking him to the inner recesses of his intrinsic world. His course of life had now a determined purpose, with his faith in God immensely increasing and getting strengthened day by day. In a very inconceivable state of mind, not bothering which way he was proceeding, he took confident strides in whichever direction he was being led.

One day, beholding a nicely developed tree he sat there for rest, or maybe with a view to meditate. After a short while, a man approached him and said, “You there, I want to sit here. Be away from here.”

“Sure, why not, if that’s your wish? I will sit somewhere else. Where is the shortage of trees here?” And Thakore left for another nearby tree and closed his eyes contemplating on God. After some time the same fellow came back to him and started in a little harsh tone, “Go away from here too. I intend to sit here under this tree.”

“OK, fair enough,” and Thakore moved back to the former tree. The man went there too and started talking the same tongue again.

“Look brother, if that’s what you intend to do, listen; I won’t now get up from here. Try what you will,” said Thakore sternly and with finality, and closed his eyes in quiet repose.”

“Aren’t you getting up?” the man asked in a fury. Not responding, Thakore remained unmoved.

“You there, can’t you hear me? Get gone from here, or else I will use my powers and you will have nothing even to stand on. Do you know who I am? You will die vomiting blood.”

“Look, you may be anybody. You may have any powers; but forget it not that there is Somebody who has million times more power than you have, and against whom you are simply powerless. The truth is, you better go away from here. I am not moving at all. Do whatever you may.”

“Oh! …  Is that so? You want to taste it?” And the ‘Mooth-mārio’- the voodoo that he was – rushed at Thakore with red burning eyes and started clenching his fist in a manner voodoo fellows do to use their vivid powers. His intention apparently was to bring Thakore down to his knees. Thakore, quite collected and unconcerned, remained seated, with his eyes closed, thinking of God. That man went on gasping loudly, while Thakore was still sitting steady, unmoved. Some time after, he heard a big thud at which he opened his eyes to see the man lying on the ground, with a flow of blood coming out of his eyes and nose. He was still gasping in deep agony. Failing to understand what to do, Thakore got up from there and moved ahead.

Summing the whole incident up, he said: “Naresh, what is ‘Mooth’ – black magic? What is it, after all? And how can it ever harm us? Where trust in God rules, and once we have given ourselves up totally to Him, the work is done. Let ‘His Mooth’ strike us for once. Struck by ‘His Mooth’ – irrevocable attraction – we will soon be liberated. That’s it.”

The incident enhanced his self-confidence to such a great extent that he became fully blind to every earthly concern. And with no particular aim did he press on wherever his legs carried him. Thus proceeding, he once arrived at a place where the path happened to be blocked by an old uprising fort near which were some seven to eight tigers. Thakore got confused. What to do now? To go from among the tigers, or to take a turn and seek some resort and wait there, or what? And he felt as if somebody was telling him: ‘climb this tree and proceed along the branches.’ And Thakore followed the hunch. He climbed the tree and with the help and support of branches and twigs he went from one branch to the other and then to another, and thus after crossing many a tree he landed himself on an open field. As if possessed by some inner strength, he pressed on.

Fear had now become an alien to him. Being directed by his Great Protector at every step, he had almost forgotten himself. After leaving his house and reaching Amarkantak, he had made the holy Ganges his target and was eager to bathe in its divinely blessed waters. How many miles he had walked and for how many days, he never took count of. He went on and on dedicating himself solely to His Will. He was not bothered about his food, nor was he worried about any shelter. His long continued stay in sheer solitude freed him from all the second thoughts. And thus, unflinchingly dedicating himself to a great cause with staunch austerity, he aspired not for any outside help or protection. And what outside help, what external strength does such an elevated, noble soul ever have to seek for? Not just days, not months, years passed away not minding any cold, any heat, any rain. Free from seeking any earthly happiness, not minding any misery befalling him, not even thinking of getting or receiving any help of any kind from any corner, he just carried on with but one singular aim, that of having a Darshan – the holy sight – of the Pearl of his eyes. In what words to portray this life? Which attributes can ever enunciate the tenacity with which he persevered his goal? Thakore, the staunch unfaltering lifetime celibate, Thakore the stoic, Thakore the devout Fakeer, was advancing forward in an unimaginable mental state, totally lost in Divine contemplation, when all on a sudden, he fell down from a not less than some three hundred feet high crag. But before he landed down below with his limbs all shattered, some invisible, hidden hand caught him half way. In Thakore’s own words:

“Like a flower was I caught right before the fall. How it happened, I knew not. I know but one thing: In spite of the fact that I had fallen from maybe some three hundred feet, I did not even feel the impact of the fall. It was only when I was down on the ground that I realized that I had fallen from such a great height, quite uninjured.”

Whose was that hidden hand? Why was it necessary for him to remain concealed? The fact that Thakore remained unhurt is proof enough to believe that there certainly was someone to lift him half way and see to his complete safety. For sure, it was no hanky panky business carried on by some sleight of hand, nor was it a hallucination, for the simple reason that he himself was a witness to the happening of which he knew only when he realized the height he had fallen from. We have got to conclude that the Power that took Thakore as His own, saw to the complete safety of His devotee, thereby proving His ever standing promise which He pledges through ‘The BhagwadGeeta’ saying: ‘Teshām aham samūddhartā’ as well as ‘Yoga kshemam vahāmyaham’ – ‘I am their protector and redeemer’ and that ‘I pledge to their final riddance’. And yes, when He takes you for His own, the responsibility is His. Again, He will take you for His own only when you have fully given yourself up to Him. It is as simple as that! But alas! We are so weak, so very fragile, so very very shaky that we simply can’t give ourselves up to Him. Why? Simply because we are overly infatuated by the worldly lures and we lack the real faith in Him. If we venture to say ‘we have that faith’, then it is a shaky, flimsy, unsubstantiated plea, a pretex devoid of any real fervor. We have got to admit that we cannot give up our petty selfishness for the cause of the truth. And yet we except favor and protection from Him! We forget that the real strength rests in complete dedication. Thakore dedicated himself wholeheartedly, unreservedly, in the Lotus Feet of the Almighty, fully knowing that He is our Protector, he is the redeemer as well as the annihilator. Why worry when you have given yourself up heart and soul to Him? Why bother when you have given everything of yours to suit His Will? Then whatever he does is ever so correct, ever so good. Thakore stood on that ground, at that lofty level.

And thus advancing and enhancing his inner affluence by getting sanctified by chaste intentions and happenings, he increased his spiritual wealth through his prolonged spiritual practices. And thus did he find himself in the holy company of mother Ganges. His long cherished desire to make the sacred river his only spiritual sanctuary, and perhaps his heritage, got fulfilled. Time flew. Remaining stabilized in his inner self, not really concerned with the outer world, and lost in his own modest bounds, he kept on moving on the now homely banks of the river Ganga, enjoying a deep inner joy.

It so happened that thus lost in his own small world, once, while he was loitering on the much so revered bank of the Ganges, he overheard some two persons talk about the New Year day that was to fall in about two days’ time. Thakore had totally forgotten about the oncoming occasion, engaged that he was in his lofty little world. The gentlemen’s talk brought to him the memory of his parents whom he had promised the yearly letter. He well knew that his parents, especially the mother, would be eagerly waiting for the news of the well-being of her son. That was how they celebrated their Diwali and the New Year day, in the sweet memory of their beloved son for the well-being of whose they kept on praying. But alas! He would not be in a position to write to his parents this year for lack of his having a postcard. And there was nothing else he could do about it. For two days he kept on thinking how his parents would feel when they failed to hear from him. They would certainly take him for dead. But then there was no alternative even! There was no solution to be had. And ultimately he curbed his instincts in self-discipline, thinking: ‘Let them take me for dead. Even otherwise I am no more alive for them.’ Thus putting an end to the thought he strove to forget the New Year day. And to forget the New Year was to forget his parents. Thus, with his mind swinging and his thoughts vastly confusing, he was tramping the sands of the Ganges, when suddenly a man approached him and asked: “Do you need anything?”

“No, I am not a beggar,” replied Thakore instinctively.

“But don’t you need a postcard?” came another question.

“Well, I was thinking of writing a letter all right.”

“But then, my good fellow! Why don’t you say so? In asking for a simple letter, what and how much would you have asked for? Where does begging come from in that? Here is a post card; have it.”

And Thakore, quoting the above written discourse in his letter to his parents, ended saying: “Thus, on the postcard given to me by that gentleman I am sending you my New Year Day Pranām – devoted veneration. Please accept my Pranām. Don’t worry about me, and do not wait for my letters any more. I am perfectly fine.”

Dear reader, you are feeling like giving yourself fully and unreservedly up at the feet of the Great Lord; arn’t you? Yes, it’s an irrepressible feeling. But then, such an abruptly perforated feeling is bound to subside in no time, like a recently opened soda bottle the perforations of which are bound to disappear in no time. It requires years of perseverance, an indomitable ‘Will’ to surrender to Him, not to succumb to events and circumstances, but to stand the test of time against all odds. Weigh your wishes, evaluate your cravings, let your desires be softened and melted away in the flames of inborn sacrifice. Thus subsiding your inner urges and your desires with clear understanding, and keeping your mind thoroughly poised on the aim in hand, get your wits sharpened and well concentrated. This done, proceed with indomitable faith in Him, and with all the readiness to accept whatever comes your way. Then, and then only, will the idea of the soda bottle vanish in thin air, giving the timely perforated feelings a longlasting permanence. Then will every single eve of your life set with the saffron colored tinge of the newly rising morn. Try to put yourself to test at least once and wait for the outcome.

Even today, Thakore remains bound, true to his vow of not to beg, not to touch money. With but one short loin cloth to cover the shame of his body, he is still there at the foothold of Goverdhan, sitting firmly, determined not to leave Vrajbhoomi, with the deep conviction that the Love of the One to whom he has given himself up for good is never to be in the wanting. And this is what he is today, – an austere stoic lost in God. But in this narration of his divine side, I passed one important event as to what trick the naughty little Kānkunvar – The Lovely Little Lord Krishna – played to bring him to Vraj, thus making him play along with the holy sands He sanctified through His abstruse playfulness.

We, his friends, were all in know of the fact that a great change was impending in Thakore’s life. He had a spiritual trend of mind right from his boyhood, the seed of which was visibly sown when we two had stood at the threshold of Shūlpāneshwar. That was the time when Thakore intimated me of his intention to pass this way and go beyond Shūlpān with the blessings of the Great Lord Trishūlpāni. I had then reminded him of   the possibility of getting looted in going that way. And straight had come his answer: ‘So  what? Whenever I go, I will go with the only intention of being looted by Nilkanth – Lord Shiva, the one and the only, who got his neck stained blue in his endeavor to imbibe the poison of the sins committed by the whole of humanity. Thus, with the innate desire never to be a prey to sensual pleasures, he resolved to maintain lifetime celibacy. And all prepared to reach the Ultimate, with His thought all the time hovering in his mind, he passed many a pilgrim place of India and ultimately stayed along the sides of Bhāgirathi – the Ganges – still searching that which he was so very badly in quest of. To quote his own words, once again:

“Once I was moving along in a queer sort of confused state of mind over which I had hardly any control. At that time a bunch of some fine-looking ladies surrounded me and with varied little gestures, stood staring at me voluptuously. They then started  tormenting me in various different ways. With their minds inundated with sensual desires, they tried to tempt me with their sensually captivating dress and behavior, hoping to have their desire satisfied. I was highly confused, greatly afraid lest I should lose self-control and become a prey to their erotic voluptuousness. What should I do now? I strove to go away from them, but they got me in their grip. With their feminine touch I became highly embarrassed, and I told them I would never succumb to sexual gratification. Even then they did not release me. I decided to give my life away, but not to yield to sexuality. And I was at once reminded that I had just passed a small lake, and thinking, I would rather give my life away than to succumb to such temptations, I ran towards that pond. Those damsels followed me, running after me. I doubled up and reached the pond. Before taking a plunge I just looked behind; but there was none to be seen. … Where were those damsels? Those ladies had all disappeared quite abruptly. What happened to them? Where were they? What was all this about?

“I stopped. What to do now? And my attention was suddenly drawn to a youngster who was on the verge of taking a plunge in the water with a view to committing suicide. I approached him, caught hold of him and asked:

“What are you up to? Who are you? You look so dejected!”

“Leave me alone, would you! I do not want to live. Let me die. Leave me.”

I forbade him from taking any such step, and while explaining him the importance of this life, I said, “Events happen and pass away. Nothing stays permanently. Is it fair to give up this precious life for any such petty thing?” While I was thus trying to prevent him from that coward act, it dawned upon me: ‘Then what was I up to a moment ago? I was trying to forbid him from doing something which I myself was being a prey to.’

“And I controlled myself, all lost in thought. Who were those young ladies? How did they vanish all at once? How could they? What was it that I went through? Was it not a reality? Even now I experience their sensual touch, the vileness, the jolt of the thing. I still had a feeling, they would make me a prey to their evil desire. What was it all? … And that youngster! All the while he stood staring at me with his half perturbed, amazed eyes. All this was a convincing reality. And in a sort of casual way I asked the young man who he was and what was the reason behind his trying to give his life up. He said that he was Jamnadas Bajaj’s, – the well-known economist of India – son and that for some personal reasons, the reasons which made his life intolerable, he intended not to live any longer. Anyway, thanking me he left the place. I got lost in thought.

“What should I do now? Where need I go? What if those young women once again …. But before I could think any further, there in the sky, right in front of me, rose a figure that said: “You now have to proceed for Vrindāvan.” And he directed to me my path. For a while, I kept on looking at the benevolent face. Right in front of me was the figure, serenely smiling and highly pacifying, a figure that conferred deep, deep comfort and confidence. It was not a simple phenomenon of clairvoyance nor clairaudience. The impact it carried on me was tremendous. Naresh, Led by him I came to Vrindavan, and quite naturally my legs carried me to the LaxmiNārāyan Temple there. And wonder of wonders, right before me was the same personality I had perceived in the sky, the one who directed my path. And he remained my Guru – my Spiritual Master – ever since.”

I am narrating this occurrence exactly as and in the spirit it was narrated personally by Thakore. Thakore always remained a plain speaking, truth-loving person. He would never go in for lies, nor would he make facts picturesque and pompous in any event. Apart from everything else, the spiritual plane he was treading would in no case permit any verbosity, let alone picturesqueness. Even otherwise, he never was accustomed to using colorful language even in his day-to-day talk. Our talks, originally in Gujarati, have been translated here. But the translation is in no way verbatim. I have honestly tried to remain true to the spirit of the thing. And again, when it comes to depicting the facts, it has got to remain honest, straightforward and ingenious. And this is what it exactly is.

His years of solitary life and long continued austerity had added to the natural inner affluence that he today is radiating. He has in him a spiritual glow which cannot remain hidden, and whatever is being produced here is a reverberation of every single word of his, a taintless clear-cut presentation of events that happened in the life of a saintly personality. This is a presentation of the glorious life of a person who has dedicated everything he can call his to that God of whom we take pride in talking. This is being presented with a view to seeing that those who prefer to pass his way may derive for themselves some inspiration, something to help them stand the test of this otherwise struggleful life. What Thakore lived through and realized in his lifetime is the direct result of the boundless faith that he had in his Savior. His encounter with those damsels was, to my understanding, the direct result of Mother ‘Kūndalini’, the serpent power, the

Mother Energy that had got awakened and activated in him. This is the fruition of the deep devotion that comes as a result of desirelessness, victory over erotic sensuality and unbound faith. Thakore had passed the supreme test prior to his having the ‘Darshan’ – Holi Sight – of his Gurudeva in the astral. While relating this episode, as though speaking to himself, he had told me:

“Naresh, lust and lasciviousness may prove arduous, demanding and implausible to win over, but never impossible.”

Hearing of this incident we naturally talked about his Guruji, and he said, “Now Guruji does not observe ‘mauna’ – silence. Come, let’s go and have his ‘Darshan’. We went to see him. On the way, we passed a rather stoney area and Thakore stopped all at once. Pointing at an ordinary looking stone he said:

“When I passed this place the first time, I visualized a ‘Jyoti’ – sparkling glow – emanate from this stone. I got amazed. ‘Was what I saw really true?’ I doubted and stopped thinking. And the same sort of flame got radiated once again from the same place. Yes, the ‘<span class.Title char’

1 Comment

Filed under અધ્યાત્મ, કાવ્ય, ઘટના, પ્રકીર્ણ, Uncategorized

One response to “He, at every Step

  1. An inspiring and enlightening article.

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