Chapter 11: Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban
“It would serve you right if Father disinherited you, Mukunda! How foolishly you are throwing away your life!” An elder-brother sermon was assaulting my ears.
Jitendra and I, fresh from the train (a figure of speech merely; we were covered with dust), had just arrived at the home of Ananta, recently transferred from Calcutta to the ancient city of Agra. Brother was a supervising accountant for the Bengal-Nagpur Railway.
“You well know, Ananta, I seek my inheritance from the Heavenly Father.”
“Money first; God can come later! Who knows? Life may be too long.”
“God first; money is His slave! Who can tell? Life may be too short.”
My retort was summoned by the exigencies of the moment, and held no presentiment. Yet the leaves of time unfolded to early finality for Ananta; a few years later1 he entered the land where bank notes avail neither first nor last.
“Wisdom from the hermitage, I suppose! But I see you have left Benares.” Ananta’s eyes gleamed with satisfaction; he yet hoped to secure my pinions in the family nest.
“My sojourn in Benares was not in vain! I found there everything my heart had been longing for! You may be sure it was not your pundit or his son!”
Ananta joined me in reminiscent laughter; he had had to admit that the Benares “clairvoyant” he selected was a shortsighted one.
“What are your plans, my wandering brother?”
“Jitendra persuaded me to Agra. We shall view the beauties of the Taj Mahal2 here,” I explained. “Then we are going to my newly-found guru, who has a hermitage in Serampore.”
Ananta hospitably arranged for our comfort. Several times during the evening I noticed his eyes fixed on me reflectively.
“I know that look!” I thought. “A plot is brewing!”
The denouement took place during our early breakfast.
“So you feel quite independent of Father’s wealth.” Ananta’s gaze was innocent as he resumed the barbs of yesterday’s conversation.
“I am conscious of my dependence on God.”
“Words are cheap! Life has shielded you thus far! What a plight if you were forced to look to the Invisible Hand for your food and shelter! You would soon be begging on the streets!”
“Never! I would not put faith in passers-by rather than God! He can devise for His devotee a thousand resources besides the begging-bowl!”
“More rhetoric! Suppose I suggest that your vaunted philosophy be put to a test in this tangible world?”
“I would agree! Do you confine God to a speculative world?”
“We shall see; today you shall have opportunity either to enlarge or to confirm my own views!” Ananta paused for a dramatic moment; then spoke slowly and seriously.
“I propose that I send you and your fellow disciple Jitendra this morning to the near-by city of Brindaban. You must not take a single rupee; you must not beg, either for food or money; you must not reveal your predicament to anyone; you must not go without your meals; and you must not be stranded in Brindaban. If you return to my bungalow here before twelve o’clock tonight, without having broken any rule of the test, I shall be the most astonished man in Agra!”
“I accept the challenge.” No hesitation was in my words or in my heart. Grateful memories flashed of the Instant Beneficence: my healing of deadly cholera through appeal to Lahiri Mahasaya’s picture; the playful gift of the two kites on the Lahore roof with Uma; the opportune amulet amidst my discouragement; the decisive message through the unknown Benares sadhu outside the compound of the pundit’s home; the vision of Divine Mother and Her majestic words of love; Her swift heed through Master Mahasaya to my trifling embarrassments; the last-minute guidance which materialized my high school diploma; and the ultimate boon, my living Master from the mist of lifelong dreams. Never could I admit my “philosophy” unequal to any tussle on the world’s harsh proving ground!
“Your willingness does you credit. I’ll escort you to the train at once.” Ananta turned to the openmouthed Jitendra. “You must go along as a witness and, very likely, a fellow victim!”
A half hour later Jitendra and I were in possession of one-way tickets for our impromptu trip. We submitted, in a secluded corner of the station, to a search of our persons. Ananta was quickly satisfied that we were carrying no hidden hoard; our simple dhotis3 concealed nothing more than was necessary.
As faith invaded the serious realms of finance, my friend spoke protestingly. “Ananta, give me one or two rupees as a safeguard. Then I can telegraph you in case of misfortune.”
“Jitendra!” My ejaculation was sharply reproachful. “I will not proceed with the test if you take any money as final security.”
“There is something reassuring about the clink of coins.” Jitendra said no more as I regarded him sternly.
“Mukunda, I am not heartless.” A hint of humility had crept into Ananta’s voice. It may be that his conscience was smiting him; perhaps for sending two insolvent boys to a strange city; perhaps for his own religious skepticism. “If by any chance or grace you pass successfully through the Brindaban ordeal, I shall ask you to initiate me as your disciple.”
This promise had a certain irregularity, in keeping with the unconventional occasion. The eldest brother in an Indian family seldom bows before his juniors; he receives respect and obedience second only to a father. But no time remained for my comment; our train was at point of departure.
Jitendra maintained a lugubrious silence as our train covered the miles. Finally he bestirred himself; leaning over, he pinched me painfully at an awkward spot.
“I see no sign that God is going to supply our next meal!”
“Be quiet, doubting Thomas; the Lord is working with us.”
“Can you also arrange that He hurry? Already I am famished merely at the prospect before us. I left Benares to view the Taj’s mausoleum, not to enter my own!”
“Cheer up, Jitendra! Are we not to have our first glimpse of the sacred wonders of Brindaban?4 I am in deep joy at thought of treading the ground hallowed by feet of Lord Krishna.”
The door of our compartment opened; two men seated themselves. The next train stop would be the last.
“Young lads, do you have friends in Brindaban?” The stranger opposite me was taking a surprising interest.
“None of your business!” Rudely I averted my gaze.
“You are probably flying away from your families under the enchantment of the Stealer of Hearts.5 I am of devotional temperament myself. I will make it my positive duty to see that you receive food, and shelter from this overpowering heat.”
“No, sir, let us alone. You are very kind; but you are mistaken in judging us to be truants from home.”
No further conversation ensued; the train came to a halt. As Jitendra and I descended to the platform, our chance companions linked arms with us and summoned a horse cab.
We alit before a stately hermitage, set amidst the evergreen trees of well-kept grounds. Our benefactors were evidently known here; a smiling lad led us without comment to a parlor. We were soon joined by an elderly woman of dignified bearing.
“Gauri Ma, the princes could not come.” One of the men addressed the ashram hostess. “At the last moment their plans went awry; they send deep regrets. But we have brought two other guests. As soon as we met on the train, I felt drawn to them as devotees of Lord Krishna.”
“Good-by, young friends.” Our two acquaintances walked to the door. “We shall meet again, if God be willing.”
“You are welcome here.” Gauri Ma smiled in motherly fashion on her two unexpected charges. “You could not have come on a better day. I was expecting two royal patrons of this hermitage. What a shame if my cooking had found none to appreciate it!”
These appetizing words had disastrous effect on Jitendra: he burst into tears. The “prospect” he had feared in Brindaban was turning out as royal entertainment; his sudden mental adjustment proved too much for him. Our hostess looked at him with curiosity, but without remark; perhaps she was familiar with adolescent quirks.
Lunch was announced; Gauri Ma led the way to a dining patio, spicy with savory odors. She vanished into an adjoining kitchen.
I had been premeditating this moment. Selecting the appropriate spot on Jitendra’s anatomy, I administered a pinch as resounding as the one he had given me on the train.
“Doubting Thomas, the Lord works—in a hurry, too!”
The hostess reentered with a punkha. She steadily fanned us in the Oriental fashion as we squatted on ornate blanket-seats. Ashram disciples passed to and fro with some thirty courses. Rather than “meal,” the description can only be “sumptuous repast.” Since arriving on this planet, Jitendra and I had never before tasted such delicacies.
“Dishes fit for princes indeed, Honored Mother! What your royal patrons could have found more urgent than attending this banquet, I cannot imagine! You have given us a memory for a lifetime!”
Silenced as we were by Ananta’s requirement, we could not explain to the gracious lady that our thanks held a double significance. Our sincerity at least was patent. We departed with her blessing and an attractive invitation to revisit the hermitage.
The heat outdoors was merciless. My friend and I made for the shelter of a lordly cadamba tree at the ashram gate. Sharp words followed; once again Jitendra was beset with misgivings.
“A fine mess you have got me into! Our luncheon was only accidental good fortune! How can we see the sights of this city, without a single pice between us? And how on earth are you going to take me back to Ananta’s?”
“You forget God quickly, now that your stomach is filled.” My words, not bitter, were accusatory. How short is human memory for divine favors! No man lives who has not seen certain of his prayers granted.
“I am not likely to forget my folly in venturing out with a madcap like you!”
“Be quiet, Jitendra! The same Lord who fed us will show us Brindaban, and return us to Agra.”
A slight young man of pleasing countenance approached at rapid pace. Halting under our tree, he bowed before me.
“Dear friend, you and your companion must be strangers here. Permit me to be your host and guide.”
It is scarcely possible for an Indian to pale, but Jitendra’s face was suddenly sickly. I politely declined the offer.
“You are surely not banishing me?” The stranger’s alarm would have been comic in any other circumstances.
“You are my guru.” His eyes sought mine trustfully. “During my midday devotions, the blessed Lord Krishna appeared in a vision. He showed me two forsaken figures under this very tree. One face was yours, my master! Often have I seen it in meditation! What joy if you accept my humble services!”
“I too am glad you have found me. Neither God nor man has forsaken us!” Though I was motionless, smiling at the eager face before me, an inward obeisance cast me at the Divine Feet.
“Dear friends, will you not honor my home for a visit?”
“You are kind; but the plan is unfeasible. Already we are guests of my brother in Agra.”
“At least give me memories of touring Brindaban with you.”
I gladly consented. The young man, who said his name was Pratap Chatterji, hailed a horse carriage. We visited Madanamohana Temple and other Krishna shrines. Night descended while we were at our temple devotions.
“Excuse me while I get sandesh.” 6 Pratap entered a shop near the railroad station. Jitendra and I sauntered along the wide street, crowded now in the comparative coolness. Our friend was absent for some time, but finally returned with gifts of many sweetmeats.
“Please allow me to gain this religious merit.” Pratap smiled pleadingly as he held out a bundle of rupee notes and two tickets, just purchased, to Agra.
The reverence of my acceptance was for the Invisible Hand. Scoffed at by Ananta, had Its bounty not far exceeded necessity?
We sought out a secluded spot near the station.
“Pratap, I will instruct you in the Kriya of Lahiri Mahasaya, the greatest yogi of modern times. His technique will be your guru.”
The initiation was concluded in a half hour. “Kriya is your chintamani,“7 I told the new student. “The technique, which as you see is simple, embodies the art of quickening man’s spiritual evolution. Hindu scriptures teach that the incarnating ego requires a million years to obtain liberation from maya. This natural period is greatly shortened through Kriya Yoga. Just as Jagadis Chandra Bose has demonstrated that plant growth can be accelerated far beyond its normal rate, so man’s psychological development can be also speeded by an inner science. Be faithful in your practice; you will approach the Guru of all gurus.”
“I am transported to find this yogic key, long sought!” Pratap spoke thoughtfully. “Its unshackling effect on my sensory bonds will free me for higher spheres. The vision today of Lord Krishna could only mean my highest good.”
We sat awhile in silent understanding, then walked slowly to the station. Joy was within me as I boarded the train, but this was Jitendra’s day for tears. My affectionate farewell to Pratap had been punctuated by stifled sobs from both my companions. The journey once more found Jitendra in a welter of grief. Not for himself this time, but against himself.
“How shallow my trust! My heart has been stone! Never in future shall I doubt God’s protection!”
Midnight was approaching. The two “Cinderellas,” sent forth penniless, entered Ananta’s bedroom. His face, as he had promised, was a study in astonishment. Silently I showered the table with rupees.
“Jitendra, the truth!” Ananta’s tone was jocular. “Has not this youngster been staging a holdup?”
But as the tale was unfolded, my brother turned sober, then solemn.
“The law of demand and supply reaches into subtler realms than I had supposed.” Ananta spoke with a spiritual enthusiasm never before noticeable. “I understand for the first time your indifference to the vaults and vulgar accumulations of the world.”
Late as it was, my brother insisted that he receive diksha 8 into Kriya Yoga. The “guru” Mukunda had to shoulder the responsibility of two unsought disciples in one day.
Breakfast the following morning was eaten in a harmony absent the day before. I smiled at Jitendra.
“You shall not be cheated of the Taj. Let us view it before starting for Serampore.”
Bidding farewell to Ananta, my friend and I were soon before the glory of Agra, the Taj Mahal. White marble dazzling in the sun, it stands a vision of pure symmetry. The perfect setting is dark cypress, glossy lawn, and tranquil lagoon. The interior is exquisite with lace-like carvings inlaid with semiprecious stones. Delicate wreaths and scrolls emerge intricately from marbles, brown and violet. Illumination from the dome falls on the cenotaphs of Emperor Shah-Jahan and Mumtaz Mahall, queen of his realm and his heart.
Enough of sight-seeing! I was longing for my guru. Jitendra and I were shortly traveling south by train toward Bengal.
“Mukunda, I have not seen my family in months. I have changed my mind; perhaps later I shall visit your master in Serampore.”
My friend, who may mildly be described as vacillating in temperament, left me in Calcutta. By local train I soon reached Serampore, twelve miles to the north.
A throb of wonderment stole over me as I realized that twenty-eight days had elapsed since the Benares meeting with my guru. “You will come to me in four weeks!” Here I was, heart pounding, standing within his courtyard on quiet Rai Ghat Lane. I entered for the first time the hermitage where I was to spend the best part of the next ten years with India’s Jyanavatar, “incarnation of wisdom.”
1 See chapter 25.
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2 The world-famous mausoleum.
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3 A dhoti-cloth is knotted around the waist and covers the legs.
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4 Brindaban, in the Muttra district of United Provinces, is the Hindu Jerusalem. Here Lord Krishna displayed his glories for the benefit of mankind.
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5 Hari; an endearing name by which Lord Krishna is known to his devotees.
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6 An Indian sweetmeat.
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7 A mythological gem with power to grant desires.
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8 Spiritual initiation; from the Sanskrit root diksh, to dedicate oneself.
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