Posts Tagged ‘Udiya Baba’

Kotwal of the Capital – 1

November 10, 2015

Tucked away in the heart of New Delhi, in the upmarket Vasant Vihar area, in a locality known as Vasant Gaon, is this temple of Hanuman. A massive Hanuman idol stands tall here. Sculpted out of a single granite rock, it is forty feet tall, and weights a hundred and fifty tons. It is installed on a twenty five feet foundation.

And this was my first visit to this temple. To me it was amazing that I had never been here before. Having spent many years in Delhi, surely I should have known of this temple. How can you miss a 45 foot Hanuman? Well, at least I have moved out of Delhi for some time now, but my friend Ravi, who came along with me now to this temple, has been in this very area all his life. And he too had never visited the temple, although he had heard of its existence. It was one of those things… It was right there, and yet wasn’t visible until you cared to see!

Hanuman - Basant Gaon

What a sight! A tall Hanuman could be seen, right at the back of a long flight of steps that led up to an open-to-the-sky temple courtyard. The sounds of a katha greeted us from the courtyard. Many young Brahmachari students were sitting and listening. They would have been students of the Sanskrit School being run here. Some elders, including priests, were also in the audience. It was informal (Oh the informality of open skies!), one felt like a bird in lazy flight. We were all chakora birds, Hanuman was the full bright moon. In the presence of this massive Hanuman, one felt as secure as a baby in his parent’s care.

I had come looking for this temple, having recently read about the amazing sage who founded it.

His name was Swami Prabhudutt Brahmachari.

The Wikipedia entry about him is rather bare-bones. Here is what it says:

Sant Prabhuduttji Brahmachari was an Indian guru and freedom fighter who ran a Sanskrit school in Basant gaon, New Delhi. He founded his ashram at Jhusi to organize Kumbh Mela. He became close to Golwalker in nearly 1950 and then Rajendra Singh and Golwalker persuaded him to stand against Nehru on the cow protection platform and against the Hindu Code Bill. In 1951, he openly challenged Jawaharlal Nehru’s election to the 1st Lok Sabha from the Allahabad constituency, challenging Nehru’s stance on the ideology of Hinduism in independent India.

This all-too-brief description hardly does justice to the persona that he was.

Prabhudutt Brahmachari was born in 1885, in a village in District Aligarh, in a poor Brahmana family. Early in his life, he took deep interest in Sanskrit studies, and also took a vow of lifelong celibacy. Leaving home, he went off to study in Gurukula, in different places, leading up to Varanasi. Swami Karpatri Maharaj was one of his co-students.

He was also drawn by the fire of freedom struggle and became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi. Becoming an activist, he jumped into the fight for independence, and was interred in jail by the British, undergoing rigorous imprisonment. One of his prison-mates was Jawaharlal Nehru. The irony is that he would later stand against Jawaharlal Nehru, in the first elections held in independent India.

Swami Prabhudutt Ji was deeply spiritual, and undertook tremendous tapasya, right from his early years. He became a wanderer, and met many sages, including the great sages Udiya Baba and Hari Baba. He was deeply inspired by these two saints, and took every opportunity to take their guidance. Fired with dispassion, he decided to go away to Himalaya, and not return until he attained the Supreme State of Spiritual Jnana. Udiya Babaji, sensing this fire in him, encouraged him by showing him a picture he had, of Buddha. In that picture, Buddha was seen in almost skeletal state – his body completely wasted by the intensity of Tapasya. Showing him that picture, Baba told him a related shloka

इहासने शुष्यतु मे शरीरं त्वगस्थिमांसं विलयं तु यान्तु |
अप्राप्य बोधं   बहुकालदुर्लभं इहासनान्नैव समुच्चलिष्ये ||

In this seat, (where I do tapasya), well may my body dry up, my flesh and bones decay; But without attaining Self-Knowledge, which is extremely difficult to obtain even after eons, I shall not stir from this seat, whatever it takes.

Perhaps the picture was one like this

Buddha

Taking this upadesha, Prabhudutt ji left for the Himalaya. But after serious Tapasya, he became very ill, and could no longer continue. Breaking his resolve, he returned to the plains, and going to Udiya Baba, he conveyed his state. Baba was a Jnani, who could gaze into the heart, and see such things as eyes of flesh do not see. He was kindness itself, and said – “No problem. In failures, seeds of success lie hidden. You have a pravrtti (predilection) for reading and writing. Go write books”.

And so began the writing life of Prabhudutt Ji. And what a library he has written. Starting with the life story about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he went on to write on a whole range of subjects. His magnum opus is Bhagavati Katha. This is a series of 118 parts, each of 200 to 250 pages. The first 68 parts are a rendering of Srimad Bhagavatam in traditional Hindi (Vraja bhasha), including translations and commentaries on key verses of Bhagavatam. Parts 69-74 of the series contain a commentary on Bhagavad Gita. Parts 74 to 106 contains commentaries on 191 upanishads. Imagine this… 191 Upanishads!! This is incredible! Perhaps no one else in history has done commentaries on as many Upanishads.  Parts 107 to 118 contain explanations of different schools of Indian philosophy and a commentary on Brahma Sutra.

For writing this magnum opus, he opted for complete solitude. Delegating all his secular work to others, he acquired a houseboat which he anchored in the middle of Ganga river. And there he worked undisturbed, focused fully on his writing work. What a tapasya!

The Bhagavati Katha is respected as a great spiritual classic. The Vraja language verses are sung with devotion even today… And we had been privileged to hear some of them during this first visit of ours, to this temple of Hanuman in Vasant Gaon, New Delhi…. Bhagavati Katha was being narrated now…

Swami Prabhudutt Brahmanchari’s main Asram is in Jhusi, near Allahabad, where he is said to have done terrific tapasya of Gayatri Mantra, standing in a state of Samadhi in the waters of Ganga …. In this Asrama, he held vibrant festivals of Nama Samkeertan, which were attended by some of the greatest sages of North India of those times.

Swamiji felt that Hanuman was the “Kotwal”, the Guardian, of the capital of India. And so he had this temple built in Basant Gaon, which then, was in the outskirts of Delhi, on the way to the Palam Airport. The temple was completed and inaugurated in 1990.

Swamiji lived to see the “Kotwal of the Capital’ installed. And he passed away the same year, at the ripe age of 105.

More about the temple and the sage, in the next post…

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Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 5

May 4, 2015

From Wardha, the young monk Svatah Prakash went to Amarkantak, the source of the sacred Narmada river. A serene place, it captivated his heart.  There he came across a leper who was in great distress. He decided to stay there and serve this man. With great love he would clean his wounds, apply herbal medicines, seek Bhiksha and feed him etc. He had said later that he has never found so much peace as what he found in serving this man…

From Amarkantak. he found his way back to the region of Ganga… The book on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had opened up for him the infinite heartspace of devotion. His Hari bhakti was in flood. Returning to the region of Anupshahr, he set anchor…. There, devotees found their way to him, and he spread the way of Bhakti… He would be so consumed by bhava of Krishna bhakti, that he would behave as a man possessed. In the great meadow region in the vicinity, he would wander around, jump into waterbodies, with the bhava that he was jumping into Yamuna of Krishna. He would ask strangers whether they had seen Krishna anywhere… He would weep… Seeing a villager tilling the soil, he would go upto him and request him to ‘please chant the name of Hari’, and in return he would take over the plough from the man and do his job.  He would be seen jumping from tree to tree, perhaps in the bhava of Hanuman…. Krishna Leela and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Leela also started happening. It was evident that the great Mahaprabhu had awakened in his heart. The transformation was complete. Swami Svatah Prakash became Hari Baba…

Once, the region was suffering from severe lack of rains.  Praying for relief, the people there gathered around Hari Baba. Hari Baba said that the samkeertana of Hari would surely answer their prayers. He told them – “When Naama Bhagavan is with you, why do you have any anxiety! What is impossible for the Naama Bhagavan to accomplish? Chant the name and be free from fear!” He organized the people into a Samkeertana group. The group, led by Hari Baba, started walking around the village, singing the name of Hari. They had only milk for food. At appropriate times, they halted and had Hari Katha sessions. The plan was to do this for seven days. On the eighth day, they would gather in the Nava-vrindavan meadow nearby and the whole village would gather for a community bhajan and feast. On the eighth day, rain clouds filled the sky, and it poured.

Word spread. People started flocking to Hari Baba. People of all communities… Around 1917 or so, during one of the Leela sessions, one person was possessed by bhava of Siva, and he told Baba that he should do the Leela of Setubandhan (the building of bridge across the sea to Lanka by Rama and the monkeys). Hari Baba smiled and said that he would do so….

Rameshwar was a young teenager, son of one of his devotees, Lala Kundan Lal. He suffered from epilepsy and was so severely affected that he could not move from his bed. His father, Lala Kundan Lal, has spent thousands of rupees in medical treatment, but nothing worked. As a final resort, he put the case to Hari Baba. At that time, Krishnananda Avadhoot, a monk in the lineage of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was present. Hari Baba consulted him, and decided to start a Naama Samkeertan, praying for Rameshwar’s cure. The day the keertan started, Rameshwar had severe fits. Baba put his hands on him, and the fits ceased. The Keertan carried on, day after day. After three months, many devotees left. Baba continued. Five months elapsed. One afternoon, during the Samkeertan, Baba was in full swing. All the devotees there were possessed by the bhava. One of them, Khoobiram of Nizampur, went across to Rameshwar, who was lying down prone on an easy chair. Khoobiram went to him and said – “Our Bhagavan (Hari baba) is dancing in the keertan. And you are lying down here on an easy chair? Indeed you are a rich man’s son!” Saying so, he pulled Rameshwar by his hand and dragged him to the floor of Samkeertan. Rameshwar had not set food on the earth for the last nineteen months. Khoobiram dragged him and slapped him hard. Rameshwar stood up. His legs were unsteady. Music was in full flow. At that time, Hari Baba fixed his eyes on Rameshwar. Something electric passed from his eyes to Rameshwar, and Rameshwar started dancing.  He, who had not walked for such a long time, started hopping around like a deer. A miracle had happened. All the devotees were mad with joy. Hari Baba was cool as always. His reserved countenance did not change a bit. He continued his keertan, as if nothing was different this day, and at end, he just went off to his hut without another glance at Rameshwar.

The next day, Rameshwar came and fell at his feet. Baba told him – “Brother! God has given you a new birth! Never forget his compassion! And listen! Always be alert, attentive (to the divine), for Maya of God is incredibly powerful”.

From that day, Rameshwar dedicated his life to Baba.

After this event, came the time for the birth of a new Leela.

The region of Ganga in Anupshahr / Badaun was a stage of periodic disaster. There were miles and miles of lowlands, and every year Ganga, during times of flood, would overrun the lands. Some five or six years before the episode of Rameshwar, a part of the  Ganga  had cut across and mingled with Mahava river in Badaun. As a result some 700 or more villages had been submerged in the river. Every year, during floods, hundreds of villages were affected, and the villagers has to be at the mercy of elements, sitting on trees and raised-platforms, waiting for the river to subside, living on what providence may provide. Baba was moved by the plight of the land and the people.

You may recall the Bhava episode, where a person who had been possessed by bhava of Siva had asked Baba to perform Setubandh leela. The time for that had come….

Sometime in the month of Paush (December) 1922, Baba called for a meeting with local devotees. And announced his plan to build a Baandh (dyke, dam) in that area. This was a herculean aim, for not even the Government has been able to do anything like this. The place had no rail connection. Without railway connections, getting construction materials etc here, would be impossible. It was also impossible for railways to set up lines here, as the lands were undulating, and there was not enough time between floods for complete construction to happen. These and such were the problems voiced by his devotees. Baba was not deterred by this. One of his devotees, Pandit Lalitaprasad, used to get the bhava of Hanuman. Baba told him that he would be crucial for this project. That he would need to invoke Hanuman in his consciousness and get on with the task. Baba quickly put the plan into motion and inaugurated the project. He put some key devotees as organizers. He said that he would take care of collecting funds. The devotees would have to gather others and get into the job of building the baandh. He himself went from village to village to galvanize the community. The method was through Samkeertan. In Hindu villages he would sing the name of Rama. In Muslim villages, he sand “tera zaat paak hoon”. A retired engineer from public works department was also inducted. Survey was done and the project area marked out. One and all got into the project. The rule was that the baandh had to be built by singing the name of God. One and all had to chant God’s name and bring mud and apply on the baandh. Baba had told the community that they should know that the Baandh was God’s own form. That they would have to offer service with a sincere heart. He said that the Baandh Bhagavan would give boons, and their prayers for worldly and spiritual gains would all be answered, provided they applied themselves in all sincerity…. Within weeks, more than a thousand villagers were on the job.

Baba announced his vow, that the mud-work would have to be completed by Rama Navami, which was but a few months away. What this meant was that 34 Kms of baandh mud-work would have to be built, along with six cross bandhs. Some parts of the baandh has to be much higher and broader…. Baba announced that if the work was not completed, he would give up his life.

The name of God filled the air. The community was in motion. One is reminded of the bridge built from Rameshwaram to Lanka during the Ramayana time.

The night before Rama Navami came. Baba got up and went to a specific area of the baandh. And he found that the work there was far from complete. He has announced earlier that he would give up his body if work was not completed by Rama Navami. In keeping with this resolve, he himself started working and announced that he would give up his life doing that work, if the work was not completed that night. Word of this spread like wildfire in the villages around. Villagers rushed to the baandh and joined the work… In some hours, a mountain of mud was ready and before nightfall the work was completed.

Night before Rama Navami (which fell on 26th March 1923), the Baandh mud-work was complete.

Baba started the stone-work the same date. Mounds of stones started getting accumulated at the site. By the dussehra of Jyestha month, most of the stone work was complete.

By sheer dint of the divine name, by the force of community participation, a 34 KMs long baandh has been constructed along the route of Ganga. An incredible achievement…

On Vijayadashami day of the month of Ashvin (Oct 1923) the first festival was held on the baandh. Since that day, countless festivals have been held here. Holi was celebrated with great festivity. This is the day of Jayanti of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The day preceding Holi was the Jayanti of Hari Baba. Guru Purnima and other festivals were all celebrated in a grand scale at the Baandh. Akhand naama samkeertan, pravachan-s by sages and scholars, Raasleela, Krishnaleela, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Leela etc were regularly enacted. Hari Baba would be completely immersed in the bhava of the Leela. He would be fanning the idol or the person acting the role of Krishna etc, for hours on end. During the keetans, he would be dancing and striking his heavy gong bell (ghantaa) – swinging round and round, and the whole orchestra of drummers, instrumentalists and singers would keep beat with him…. Each day was a celebration of God….

The greatest of sages of North India have graced the Baandh with their presence during these festivals. Udiya Baba would come . Without him, Hari Baba would not conduct any festival. After 1946, Anandamayi Ma also came regularly to the Baandh. Hari Baba became deeply devoted to Ma, who he saw as Jagadamba. Among other great spiritual personages who came to the baandh were Krishnanand Avadhoot, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, Brahmachari Prabhudutt ji. Paramahamsa Baba Avadhavihari sharan, Baba Gauraangdas, Shri Bhole babaji, Swami Shastranandaji, Swami Shukadevananda ji, Maharajshree Swami Akhandananda Saraswati and many others.

Baba laid great emphasis on regular maintenance of the baandh. Villagers would regularly work on applying mud, reinforcing stones etc. He also laid great emphasis on Cleanliness. He involved every single devotee in the task of keeping the whole length of baandh clean. The band of Hari Baba devotees became renowned for ‘cleaning’. Wherever they went, Baba would ask them to pick up brooms and clean the place before participating in any festival!

Sharing a clip form youtube, which shows Hari Baba at the Baandh during the later years.. People are seen doing shram-daan (offering of work), working on Baandh maintenance. Anandamayi Ma is also seen, visiting the baandh.

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During the baandh festivals, many divine happenings were seen. Episodes of people hearing anklet sounds, sudden fragrances filling the air, devotees seeing their Ishta Daiva etc. Any number of people had their prayers answered by coming here, participating in Baandh cleaning and maintenance, and joining the samkeertan… Baba laid terrific emphasis on sincerity and devotion. At times, when he could not tolerate the vices of some of the people in the area, he just walked away. Once, in 1937, he simply set off to Rishikesh and walked non-stop and reached there in five days, covering a distance of 150 miles on foot. He ate nothing on the way. From Rishikesh he set off up the mountain… And his devotees finally found him in Uttarkashi, and begged and pleaded with him to come back. He finally relented and agreed to return later, and proceeded with some of them to Gangotri. After sending his devotees back, he stayed in Gangotri for a month. Taking bhiksha once a day, taking bath in ice old Ganga by dipping again and again, wearing no wool, using no angheeti (coal heater) – he stayed there. He had promised to return back to Karnavas to the presence of Udiya Baba by Guru Purnina, which he did. But the Baandh was his home. All in all, Baandh Bhagavan, as it became known, truly was the Divine in the form of a baandh.

It is to this Baandh that we are headed in this blog journey….

Sree Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama!

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 4

April 26, 2015

It was most probably in the month of Karthik, Vikram samvat 1965 (corresponding to Oct-Nov 1908 AD).

The young Sanyasi, Swami Svatah Prakash came by train and got down at Rajghat station near the bank of Ganga, not far from Narora in District Bulandshehr. Then he walked along the Ganga, northwards, and arrived at the village of Bheriya, which is some three miles south of Anupshehr. And as destiny would have it, the great Brahmanishtta sage Udiya Baba ji (Swami Poornananda Teertha) came walking to this place from the East, at the same time. This was a momentous meeting in spiritual timelessness.

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udiya baba

Udiya Baba, like Ramana Maharshi, was a spiritual colossus. Ever established in Non-dual Brahman, he was like the Sun of Jnana. And Swami Svatah Prakash, when he became Hari Baba, was the full-moon of Bhakti. It was a meeting of Ganga and Yamuna. There struck a relationship between these two sages, which was to last all their lives. Such was the love they had for each other, that Hari Baba has said of Udiya Baba that “No one in the world has loved anyone so much, ever, as much as Udiya Baba loved me.” And Udiya Baba on his  part, had the greatest respect for Hari Baba. No festival of Hari Baba was complete without the presence of Udiya Baba. It is incredible to read that in all the decades of their acquaintance, Hari Baba never once spoke directly to Udiya Baba. He would have his face down, and speak through a second person. So great was his respect for Udiya Baba… To give an example of how much respect Udiya Baba had for Hari baba, consider this… Udiya Baba, like Jagadguru Kanchi Paramacharya, had taken a vow to only walk. He would never ride on any vehicle – car, bus, train etc.  He walked hundreds of miles, month after month, all his life. While he stayed largely in the banks of Ganga, towards the end of his life he settled in Brindavan. In 1947, when Hari Baba was planning to celebrate the Sivaratri festival in the Baandh, he found that Udiya Baba would not be able to come, as he was very ill. But Hari Baba could not dream of having any utsav without Udiya Baba being present. So he and Anandamayi Ma came to Brindavan. Hari Baba tried to convince Udiya Baba to come with him in his car. But Udiya Baba has his vow, and he was in no condition to walk the distance from Brindavan to the Baandh (around 150 kms). So while Hari Baba went on pleading, Udiya Baba kept Mauna (silence), and it became midnight. Seeing how disappointed Hari Baba was feeling, Ma told him – “Pitaji! Now you may please take rest. Whatever is to happen tomorrow, shall happen by itself.” On this advise, Hari Baba retired for the night.

In the morning, when Hari Baba awoke to find that Udiya Baba had already left during the night. Ma laughed and told him – “See Pitaaji! I told you that whatever is to happen will happen by itself!”

What had happened was that Udiya Baba could not bear seeing the disappointment of Hari Baba. So, at 2 O’clock in the night, he started off in another devotee’s car, and left for the Baandh. He broke his lifelong vow of never riding a vehicle, just to keep Baba’s heart. Who can understand this love! Needless to say, that Sivaratri festival in the Baandh was observed with all joyousness, and this was followed by the festival of Holi, which too was attended by Udiya Baba.

Coming back to Bheriya, the first meeting place of Ganga (Udiya Baba) and Yamuna (Hari Baba)…

This meeting in Bheriya was at the place where a venerable sadhu from Bengal had his hermitage. Known as Bengali Baba, his sanyasi name was Sri Ramananda Giri. He was an aged monk, who was held in great reverence by all Sadhu-s in the region. The young Hari Baba came to his hermitage and sat down under a tree, absorbed in inner contemplation. Bengali baba recognized the spiritual fire in young Hari Baba, and asked one of his sanyasi disciples to discreetly care for this young Baba.

Bengali Baba was a great ascetic, who laid great store by Madhukari Bhiksha. He would say:

भिक्षाहारो फलाहारो भिख्सा नैव परिग्रहः |
सदन्नं वा कदन्नं वा सोमपानं दिने दिने ||

Bhikshaa (food got as alms), is equivalent to a meal of fruits. It is never an acquisition (bondage). Whether the Bhikshaa food is pure/good or impure/stale, eating that is like having a quaff of the nectar of Gods, day after day!

Bengali Baba’s asrama was a confluence where many Sadhu-s would gather. One of them was Swami Achyuta Muni. He used to stay in a boat anchored near Deeppur Ghat, a few miles from Gavaan (where the Hari Baba baandh is now). Swami Achyuta Muni was a highly respected sage, well known in the Ganga region. His blissful countenance, deep scholarship, and childlike simplicity attracted many a devotee to him, scholar and lay. The Muni was holding classes on Vedanta treatises like Brahma Sutra, Panchadashi, Vritti Prabhakara etc. Young Hari Baba, who would go to Ganga for his morning bath, joined these classes.

After some time, Achyuta Muni was to leave this place and go to Wardha. He extended an invitation to Hari Baba to come there, and continue his Vedanta tutelage. Hari Baba agreed, and came away to Wardha.

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Achyuta Muni

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Achyuta Muni was a man of discipline. His rule was that his Vedanta class would commence exactly at Sunrise. Interested students would have to be there punctually. Hari Baba was as sincere as anyone could ever be. He would be up at 2 AM, walk six miles to the river to have his bath etc, do his morning exercises, meditate and be ready for the class at dawn.  After the class, he would contemplate on the subject being studied. After lunch, he would take some rest, do some svadhyaya and then again attend Achyuta Muni’s class from 3 to 5 PM.  After that, in the evenings, he had no fixed program. He came to know that in a place called Hanumangadi, which was nearby,  there was a Satsangha where akhand (non-stop) chanting of “Shree Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama” mantra was going on, for last few hundred years. This place had been associated with Satguru Samarth Ramdas (saint of 16th-17th century, Guru of Chatrapati Shivaji).

Hari Baba went for this Satsangh, and his life changed.

Feeling great joy after his first Satsangha, he started going there regulary. He was being helplessly drawn into Hari Bhakti. His Guru (Swami Sacchidananda Giri) too is supposed to have had a vision of Radha-Krishna in Brindavan, but his outward leaning had been towards Jnana. Hari Baba too had, therefore, been devoted to the path of Knowledge. But now, in Hanumangadi, he was being turned over completely.  He started experiencing Bhava Samadhi during the sankeertan (music and chanting). He lost control over himself. At one stage, he started exhibiting all eight Sattvik Bhava-s of pure Bhakti together. These are Ashru (tears), Pulaka (horripilation), stabdhataa (stunned stiffness), svedha (excessive sweating), kampa (trembling of body), svarabhanga (choking of voice), vaivarnya (discoloration) and, finally, moorccha (fainting).

Sri Paranjape, who was in-charge of the Satsangha there, was amazed at this sight. He, along with other devotees there, lifted him and made him lie down on a mat there. Soon, Hari Baba started making Humkaar thunder-like sounds, got up, and went and sat on the altar of the Lord. He became possessed by the Lord. Sitting there, he ordered the devotees to offer Bhog, and then asked them to seek whatever boon they desired. The assembled devotees were all immersed in waves of devotion seeing this unique happening. The singing was charged now. Soon Hari Baba got up and started dancing. The crowd was in bliss. Some fell at his feet, some were laughing or crying uncontrollably – all were lost in the mood. This went on the whole night, and when the Sun rose next morning, Hari Baba fell unconscious.

Upon regaining consciousness, he felt extremely embarrassed.  But Paranjape ji consoled him.

Thereafter, he started attending this satsangha every evening. Soon, these happenings reached the ears of Achyuta Muni. When Hari Baba went for his Vedanta class, the Muni asked him about it, whether it was true that he had been going to a Mutt and engaging himself in singing and dancing. Hari Baba remained silent. Taking his silence as affirmation, the Muni asked him to express his view. Hari Baba then conveyed, in all humility, his views. Paraphrasing what he conveyed, Hari Baba’s view was that there is no distinction between Nirguna and Saguna. In sum – ‘The One reality, is worshipped with many names. He said that if we examine the views of all our ancient Acharya-s, there too we will find that there is no distinction between Jnana and Bhakti. There can be no Jnana without Bhakti, and no Bhakti without Jnana. It is only when Brahmanishtta becomes ripe, does one find the right way to contemplate Saguna Brahman. “ In his own case, he conveyed that the bliss he had experienced in Bhakta Mandali was beyond expression. And that experience had only strengthened his Ahamgraha upaasana, Brahmanishtta.

Achyuta Muni ji conveyed that he had no complaints against that path, and that he too had done Japa of Lord’s name one lakh times every day. By that practice, even now the Japa of the name was going on automatically. But the path of practice of pure Vedanta was divergent from the path chosen by Hari Baba, and so he was free to pursue his path. Hari Baba, then took his permission to leave, and went back to Hanumangadi.

There, Paranjape ji gave him a book about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It was a book titled “Lord Gauranga”, written by Sri Shishir Kumar Ghose….

** To be continued **

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 1

April 5, 2015

Thu, April 2, 2015…

Siva and I started from a very hot Delhi-Gurgaon at around 4 : 45 PM for Brindavan.

We took the Mathura Road (the old road to Mathura, that goes beyond Faridabad),  a road which is rather like a poor, neglected second cousin of no one knows who. It plays and important role but has little recognition. There aren’t many milestones and the roadside amenities are ‘kya bataoon’.

We were expecting to reach the Brindavan turn by around 7 15 PM. Many phone calls from Brindavan to check out where we were etc, and we finally hit the turn around 7 45 PM.

And soon we ran into ‘as heavy a traffic as heavy can be’. Just to move less than 500 metres took us the best part of an hour. Looks like everyone in Delhi and everyone’s uncle has taken a car and come over to Brindavan for the long weekend. There was no way we were going to get out of this one and find our way to our Asram – the most sacred Ananda Vrindavan Asram, the abidance of Maharajshree (Swami Akhandananda Saraswati). By the infinite compassion of Swami G, a young man was sent to guide us. He found our car in the melee, jumped in, and then systematically guided us through some lanes known only to native Brindavanians and we arrived in the Asrama by 9 45 pm. Happy to say that we were not agitated at all because of all this. After all we had come here to log out of time.

A nice room had been allotted to us.

Lovely pictures of Udiya Baba and Maharajshree blessed us from the stately wall.

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Asram had kept dinner for us. Happy after Roto-Sabzi we retired for the night… Siva was busy with his iPad, and I put on Maharajshree’s discourse on my laptop and listened…

Electric power was playing “now I am here, now I ain’t” the whole night. The sky tore apart with some terrific sequences of long thunders. And it rained….

We were up by 4 am, to get ready for the Yatra of the day.

I do the morning ritual of sending whatsapp greetings from Brindavan to my near and dear whatsappians. I browse the net for a suitable picture, and settle on this one, because it brings to mind the magic of ‘Brindavan’ to anyone’s mind. The rain of the night was not in my mind.

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Just before 5 30 am, there was a knock on our door, and we were overjoyed to have suprabhaat darshan of Swami G, as he walked in smiling. We did traditional saashtaang namaskara to him. He had come to fetch us… Time to leave…

I then ran with Brahmachari R to have darshan of Nritya Gopala, the main deity in the Asrama. This idol of Krishna was sculpted in accordance with the direction of Maharajshree many years ago, based on a vision of Krishna that he had had.

Here is a picture of my darshan of Nritya Gopala.

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We then went to the other shrine, of Lord Siva – Bhava Bhaveshwar Siva.

We then went to our car – a Toyota Innova, seven seater.

And all seven seats were manned. Front was the Praveen, the driver, and Siva.

Middle were two Sanyasi Swami-s, Swami G and Swami M, both very senior monks of Maharajshree order.

Last row, were Brahmachari R (Brahm R), myself, and Bobby. Bobby was a local person who ran a tourist car agency. He knew the roads of UP.

We moved at 5 40 AM or so. The plan was to visit Hari Baba Baandh in interior UP, by the banks of Ganga. But right now, we were negotiating the inner lanes of Brindavan, and soon were driving past a bridge on the river Yamuna

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With Swami G’s permission one chanted Purusha Suktam and Narayana Suktam and had the joy of an appreciative nod from Brahma R. As soon as that was over, Swami G pulled out a CD for being played in the car stereo. And soon we were listening to an audio discourse from 1960. This was a discourse by Karpatri Maharaj, a very great scholar-sage of Kashi.

A couple of photographs of Karpatri Maharaj, young and old.

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Swami Karpatri Maharaj was a sage of great vairagya. Born sometime in early 1900s, he took to serious spiritual life and study at an early age, spent time in solitary spiritual practice, living in the regions of Ganga and Himalaya, and was recognized as a Paramahamsa even before he was initiated into the monastic order at the age of 24. He was a great scholar and has written over 40 books and hundreds of articles. He was an Advaitin who rooted in Sanatana Dharma and was very much in the Shankara order of sincere Saguna Upasana in daily life. He was instrumental in convincing his Guru. Swami Brahmananda, to accept the position of Shankaracharya and revive the Northern Shankaracharya Peetha of Jyotirmath, the seat of which had lied vacant for over a century and a half. The present Shankaracharya of Dwaraka and Jyotirmath, Swami Swaroopananda Saraswati, was a student of Karpatri Maharaj.

Along with his severe ascetic life and spiritual practice, he was also a social activist. He even founded a political party, the Ram-Rajya Parishad in 1948, and his party fought elections. He was in the forefront of the movement for abolition of cow-slaughter, and was jailed for many months on two occasions. One may have differences with Karpatri Maharaj’s orthodox positions on issues, but no one would doubt his spiritual stature, courage, selflessness, and resolve.

Sharing a youtube video that one came across on Karpatri Maharaj.

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Coming back to our drive from Brindavan….

We were listening to a series by Swami Karpatriji, titled “Gopigeet’ – the songs of Gopi-s….. Appropriate theme for a journey from Brindavan….

Now, in interior UP, you are best advised to go with a local guide, and for us, the guide was Bobby. There is nothing permanent about the state of roads or rivers, in the sense that what was fordable last month may not be navigable this month. And so you have to be alert and figure out the best alternate route of the day. With these and such in mind, Bobby took us via Hathras, and then on to Aligarh… Aligarh seemed to be a place frozen in time, like Old Lutyens Delhi. Old British style buildings, bungalows, the college campus, government offices – all speaking a silent language of long gone Sahebs…

Going past we reached Dibai… The roads were quite all right… The weather was nice and the scenery beautiful. Fields of wheat, orchards of mangoes… Nature’s call answered in the natural way, parked by the fields, spmewhere near a handy hand-pump… Life is good. Siva had picked up some nice Bananas from Aligarh, and that was our breakfast for the day. It must be said that it was Siva and I who seemed more keen on appeasing our hunger. The two Swami-s, Brahma B, Bobby and Praveen seemed quite unconcerned. Power of simple living…

Meanwhile, a few phone calls, and folks at Hari Baba Asram were informed of the two Swami-s and group’s being on the way to the Baandh.

There was a question as to whether we should have Ganga snaan first and then visit the Baandh, or visit the Baandh and then go for Ganga snaan. The question was put to the senior Swami, Swami M, who did not immediately respond, leading one to wonder whether he had heard the query. He evidently had heard, for after being lost in silence for a minute or so, perhaps looking within for guidance. he spoke… He said that it would be better if we had Ganga snaan first, and then go to Hari Baba baandh. For Ganga snaan, there were a few options. After some discussion, Swami M decided that it was best that we go a few kms further on, to Narora. For in Narora, there was a pucca ghat, facilitating ease of bathing…

Time was around 9: 30 am, when we reached Narora.

Narora, in District Bulandshehr, has always been well known in hinterland India as a place of pilgrimage to Ganga. In recent times, it has been in the news for the Atomic Power Plant built here in 1991-92. [ One shudders as one remembers the two accidents in the plant, one in 1993 and the other in 1999 (For a brief on that, click here )… One feels good that the plant has since won some awards for environment preservation… ]

Narora is also famous for Sri Sangaved Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya , a great centre for traditional learning. Among other great scholars, Swami Karpatri Maharaj graduated from here….

Coming back to our Ganga anubhava…

Even as we grihast (house-holders) were scrambling around to unload our bags and bathing gear, the two Swamis and Brahmachari R had vanished. Before we could say “Har Har Gange” they were already in the river…

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Ganga at Narora is magnificent. Here is a very short video clip…

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We must have been in the waters for about half an hour or so… Sometime after 10 AM, we walked back to the car. Swami M had some Prasad for us… Puffed rice and sweets… He asked me to cup both my hands together and poured a generous helping, which could only be eaten by taking the cupped-hands directly to my mouth, and lapping the eats, animal like… Back to one’s elements!

Large cans of Ganga filled, we got back on to the car and the road.

Destination Hari Baba Baandh…

<To be continued>

A Brindavan Thanksgiving – 3

December 9, 2012

We go along with Swamiji to Maharajshri’s Anandavrindavan Ashrama. Ramey drives the Scorpio expertly, and parks the car inside the Ashram.

There is a book shop right there in the courtyard. Swamiji gifts me a copy of the book Valmiki Ramayana pravacan of Maharajshri. From the book I come to know that Maharajshri had narrated this Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) in 1976.  In book form, this was released just this year, in 2012, on Guru Poornima day. I feel really blessed to receive this.

Swamiji takes us around the Ashrama. Swamiji has advised me to remove my spectacles, to save them from monkeys… Even if it is that I see less clearly, I am engulfed by a wave of happiness as I walk around the holy place. It is Ananda Vrindavan after all.  At one entrance, Swamiji spots a monkey clamber off after borrowing someone’s footwear that was left outside. A call goes out and rescue operation is started! It is the joy of Kishkinda!

From Ananda Vrindavan, Swamiji takes us to Sri Krishna Ashram, the ashram of Maharajshri’s Guru, the most holy Sri Sri Udiya Baba,

We walk across to the Ashrama.

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After entry, on the left we find a shrine, where an idol of Sri Udiya Baba is installed.

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Doctor Swami steps in and chants a verse from “Sree Poornananda Teertha Stava”, composed by Maharajshree… Poornananda Teertha was the Sanyasa name of Udiya Baba…

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Udiya Baba (1875 – 1949) was a Paramahamsa, a supreme sage, firmly established in the Non-dual state of Self-Abidance. He was a a parivrajaka, and would not stay in any one place for too long. He would walk all along the banks of Ganges, moving from one place to another. Sometime in 1937-38 he came away to Brindavan and this Ashrama, Shri Krishna Ashram, was constructed as a place for him to stay.  From Maharashri’s book, we come to know that the foundation stone (shilanyas) of the Ashram was laid by the great sage Gwaria Baba. Gwaria baba was a bliss-soaked sage, an adept in the path of “Naada Brahma” – divinity of music. He was also a great devotee of Sri Krishna, and had the “sakha” (Friend) attitude to Krishna, and considered himself his cowherd friend….Hence the name Gwaria, or cowherd… Floating in bliss, this mendicant monk walked the land of Krishna, sharing music and joy….

So here we are, at Shri Krishna Ashrama, the presence of Udiya Baba…

Speaking of Baba’s idol. Maharajshri says – “On the Shivaratri of Vikram Samvat 2019 (1963 AD), the festival of installation of archa-vigraha (idol) of Maharajji (Udiya Baba) was celebrated. Many people who have seen the idol say, ‘This is not just an idol. Indeed this is Udiya Babaji Himself!'”.

Let us have a close-up view of Baba.

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Describing Udiya Baba’s stay at Shri Krishna Ashram, Maharajshri says – “From morning 3 AM till night 11 PM, the stream of satsangha would flow nonstop at Shri Krishna Ashram. The dignity of Raasa-Leela that was maintained in the Ashram, is remembered till today. There were all arrangements for both methods of spiritual discipline – the realization of Formless God, and that of God with form. Shri Maharajji (Udiya Baba) would be personally present in all the Ashram programs. Even the disciples in his inner circle failed to understand the secret of what (path) he was. Was he a Shaiva or Shaakta? Was he a worshiper of Rama or Krishna? Or was he a Vedanti?”

Doctor Swami takes us around the Ashram, to the room where Udiya Baba would hold Satsangh….

There is a lovely painting of Baba, covered, but for the face, with ocher cloth. Udiya Baba’s sacred Paduka-s are on a footstool in front…

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Swamiji chants one more verse here…

He then takes us to a door that leads to the Samadhi of Udiya Baba…

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Steps lead down to an underground room, where there is the samadhi of the great sage…

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We sit there in silence for some time…

And then we take leave…

Coming back to Ananda Vrindavana, Swamiji sits with us for lunch – prasad.

Afterwards, he takes us to the audio section, where Maharajshri’s recordings are digitized… Discourses by learned scholars are being held all the time at the Ashrama. The complete Shridhari commentary of Srimad Bhagavatam was elucidated over several years by a Swamiji, and that set is available too.. As is the Shaankara Bhaashya of Bhagavad Gita, narrated by another Swamiji, which concluded just the previous day…

We then come back to Doctor Swami’s quarters in the other Krishna temple…. A senior Swami of Chinmaya Mission, along with some devotees, is visiting Swamiji. We too enjoy that Satsangh for some time..

And then, feeling quite fulfilled and happy, we take leave…

As we drive out on the road to the highway, we see a large idol of Durga on the fields to the left…

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Driving back from Brindavan… And thinking of Udiya Baba, Maharajshri… Of Shri Krishna Ashram and Ananda Vrindavan… A shloka comes to mind…. Signing of this Brindavan Thanksgiving, with that message….

ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदम् पूर्णात् पूर्णमुदच्यते |
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते ||

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ||

Radhey!

A Brindavan Thanksgiving – 2

December 2, 2012

I had spoken a couple of days before to a Brahmachari who assists Swamiji, to check if we could come and meet Swamiji on this day. He had taken my details, and had confirmed to me the previous evening that “Swaagat hai!” – “You are welcome”… And that for the last few months, Swamiji had been attending daily lectures on Shaankara Bhashya of Bhagavad Gita. And that the series had been completed only that day. And so, Doctor Swami was free the next day and we were welcome to come over.

So, there we are, on the way to Brindavan… Nearing it…

Calling the Brahmachari on his mobile phone, we try to fix the coordinates of the Ashram where Swamiji resides… Brahmachariji’s directions are delightfully imprecise, in keeping with general plasticity of time and space in rural India. The directions include references such as “near Hanuman Mandir”, which is perhaps the location marker for any point in any place in upper-interior India! He says we should drive past that and there would be a gate somewhere on the left that would be open, and we should go in. Now, how is one to know which gate. We drive up and down the road, looking for a gate… Surely, as Jiddu Krishnaji has famously said “Truth is a pathless land”. We seek that truth.  But mercifully, not in vain….

We spot a gate with no marking.. We drive in and there is a courtyard, next to an imposing temple structure.. And there are fields beyond that.

The outer portal of the temple…

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We call Brahmachariji and convey what we see. He confirms we are in the right place. He tells us he is away somewhere, and that we should walk in and first have darshan of Thakurji. We tell him that we see no one around.. He confirms that too, and tells us to go right in, have darshan of Thakurji, and then go behind the temple where there are quarters, where Doctor Swami resides.

We walk in, and find an inner courtyard, and a temple..

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We walk into the temple, and there is an inner-inner courtyard, and a sanctum, where stands Thakurji, Lord Sri Krishna, along with his consort… We have Darshan…

Coming out, we go around the temple..

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At the back we find a separate set of rooms.. There I spot a man kneading dough, to make Roti. Looks very appetizing… “Radhey! Radhey!”, he says, smiling, greeting us. We reciprocate his greetings and ask for Doctor Swamiji. He gets up and takes us to the door of a room. Asking for my name, he peers in and announces me. We are asked in, and I meet Doctor Swami.. Maybe five years since I met him last… He is very surprised to see me… It seems that Brahmachariji had told him that one Mishraji had called from Chennai and was coming in. Obviously Brahmachariji had not noted my name properly, and names being as plastic as time and space, had approximated on the sound and had come up with the name Mishra. Now, there apparently was a Mishraji from Chennai who was a devotee of Maharajshri, and so Doctor Swami was expecting him. Instead, it was I who turned up. Well, well, all is well! We are welcomed, and there is a general philosophical discussion on how “Truth” when conveyed from a person to another, can get distorted, like me becoming Mishra!

Swamiji’s room is nice and large.

Above the door, inside the room, is a framed picture of Udiya Baba.

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On the opposite wall, there is a framed picture of Maharajshri…

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Doctor Swamiji is kindness itself. He makes us comfortable, and works out a program for us for the day. He gently insists that we should have lunch that day, as Prasad, in Maharajshri’s Anand-Vrindavan Ashram. We are only too happy to accept… We catch up on our correspondences. Although he has not been expecting me that day, his memory of our correspondence is sharp – a Yogic memory. He talks with Ramey and answers many questions of life and philosophy that Ramey puts him…. Its a wonderful Satsangh…

He tells me how he happened to be in Tiruvannamalai earlier, describing it as the grace of Bhagavan Raamana Maharshi. After Maharajshri had left the body, Doctor Swami had left Brindavan and had taken to the life of a parivrajaka, a wandering monk… In due course, he had come to Tiruvannamalai… On Sivaratri, he was in Sri Ramanasramam, and had Prasad there. He had no place to stay, and was deciding to move on from Tiruvannamalai, when an acquaintance from the Ashram sent word, asking him why he had to move away from there, and that he should continue his stay in the holy town. And quite miraculously, some dwelling was made available, and he found residence with V Ganesan, who is the grand-nephew of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The Ashram agreed to provide for his daily Bhiksha. And that’s how he happened to settle in Tiruvannamalai. After an year or so, he moved to the neighboring town of Tirukkoilur, in the  Gnanananda Tapovanam Ashram… And would often come from there to Ramanasramam…. After some years stay in Tiruvannamalai, on the insistent and loving requests of the monks and devotees at Brindavan, he had come back to Brindavan…. The place where he is staying is a Krishna Temple. Apparently, Maharajshri had some mystic communion with Lord Krishna of this temple, and then some devotees from Delhi had set about to acquire the place. The worship and maintenance is now carried out by Maharajshri’s Ananda Vrindavan Ashram.. Doctor Swami stays here… If I am not mistaken, I think he told me that the picture of Udiya Baba that adorns the wall, was the one which Maharajshri had in his own room earlier….

Signing off this post with a picture of Doctor Swami in his room.

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Notice the black and white calendar behind him on the wall… That’s a calendar published by Sri Ramanasramam, and the picture is of Sri Ramana Maharshi..

Time is past 10-30 am, and we prepare to go now to Ananda Vrindavan…

** To be continued **

A Brindavan Thanksgiving – 1

November 25, 2012

Good morning…

It is sunrise time, and I am in a cab, in New Delhi, headed for the junction of Mathura Road and Ring Road, where my friend Ramey shall meet me…

Ramey and I often head out of Delhi, for day trips to places of pilgrimage. Today we are headed for Brindavan, where I plan to meet Swami Govindananda, a  medical doctor who became a Sanyasi…

I met Swamiji some years ago in Tiruvannamalai, at Sri Ramanasramam. He was with Swami Shantanandapuri, a sage who hails from Vasishta Guha, on the banks of Ganga in the lower slopes of the Himalaya. By divine decree, he stays six months, or so, every year in Ramanasramam. He has composed the Ramana Suprabhaatam, a wonderful Sanskrit composition, as also many other works. When I visited his little cottage in the Ashram, Swami Govindanandji was with him… And I came to know that he was  a disciple of Swami Akhandananda Saraswati of Brindavan, a great sage, reverentially known as Maharajshri (Click here for my earlier blog post on Swami Akhandanandaji). I had read a bit about Swamiji Akhandananda, and I struck up an acquaintance with Govindanandji. Govindandaji was a medical doctor in his poorvaashrama, and is known in his circle as Doctor Swami. Doctor Swami was kind enough to take my address and he sent me a copy of a Hindi book, ‘Paavan Prasang’, the spiritual autobiography of his Guru, Maharajshri. And that gave a glimpse of a whole new treasure in the “Wonder that is India”… Through that book, I came to have a darshan of the North Indian spiritual landscape. And what a landscape! To read of Maharajshri, Udiya Baba, Karpatri Maharaj, Hari Baba, Anandamayi Ma, and ever so many more great sages was such a feast for one’s heart!

(Meanwhile…View from the cab… The Sun has just risen..

Ok… Back to the background story…

Doctor Swami had also given me a copy of “Sri Poornananda Teertha Stava” – a sublime Sanskrit composition of Maharajshri, a Stotra in praise of his Guru, Udiya Baba, whose Sanyasa name was Sri Poornananda. That is such a beautiful composition that I was really drawn to it. This had just been translated to English by Swami Shantanandapuri, in whose room I met Doctor Swami…

Well, its a long story. Suffice to say, by the Grace of God, I could make a visit to Brindavan (with Ramey) some years ago, spend a few days there, and also visit Maharajshri’s Ashram, Ananda Vrindavan… (For a three-post report on that visit, click here).

I started reading Maharajshri’s books, and hear audio recordings of his talks… And Doctor Swami, invisibly helped me all the time. He sent me many more books. When I met him first, he was staying in Tirukoilur, near Tiruvannamalai, in Swami Gyanananda Tapovana Ashrama… A few years ago, he returned to Brindavan, and is now residing there…

And it is to see him, that I am headed now, to Brindavan… As a thanksgiving… Who can gauge the compassion that of Udiya Baba and Maharajshri! It is that ‘ahaituki kripa”, ‘compassion without any reason’, that flowed through Doctor Swami for this akinchana-stranger in Chennai. And I go to meet him, as a small expression of gratitude…

My cab reaches the turn to Mathura Road.. It is 6 am or so.. I reach the meeting point. Ramey is there, standing near his big car, a Scorpio…

I jump in and we are off…

The drive is beautiful…

The Sun is to our left now… And here’s a picture from the car….

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We drive past Faridabad, Ballabgarh.. Places where I have worked in the beginning of my career…. As I look around for memories, Ramey steps on the pedal….  Well the road could use some repairs for sure, but the Scorpio powers its way onward.

And yes, Ramey says “Hi” to you…

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** To be continued **