A Devotee Recalls His Time with Papaji

Raman, an Australian devotee, shares his memories:

Master was ruthless when it came to sweeping away concepts or experiences. Though I have many fond memories of his love and compassion, when I think back to those years I spent with him, my abiding memory is of a hard, tough destroyer who was always ready to smash any trace of duality he encountered in a disciple. Nowadays, people call him ‘Papaji’ and relate to him as a kind, loving grandfather. I never had that image. For me he was and always will be ‘The Master’, with all the awesome, authoritative connotations that this term denotes. A French disciple once told me that Master’s nickname in France in the 1970s was ‘the butcher’ because of the way he ruthlessly chopped away all pretensions, all ideas, all relationships.

On some of our later visits to India we were invited by Master to stay with him in Lucknow. After the big open spaces of Hardwar, Narhi was a big shock for us. Master’s family house was in the middle of a teeming bazaar. The narrow alleyways, barely wide enough for a car to drive down, would be perpetually packed with a seething, noisy mass of pedestrians, rickshaws, carts, traders and beggars.

We felt honoured to be allowed to stay in his house because there was barely enough room for Master and his family. Jasmine and I slept in the downstairs front room, which was a living room during the day. Master’s wife usually slept in the kitchen on the floor. Master himself had a private room upstairs, while Surendra [Papaji’s son], his wife Usha and their children occupied the rest of the house. In summer we would all go outside and sleep on mats on the roof because the heat inside would be unbearable. The concrete of the house would absorb the fierce heat of the sun during the day and then radiate it into the rooms during the night. There were ceiling fans, but they didn’t make much of a difference.

Though we often spent months in this house, we hardly had any dealings with Master’s family. We would sit with Master in his room while the rest of the family conducted their business elsewhere. It was only years later that we got to know Surendra and Usha well. Some of Master’s Lucknow devotees would come in the evenings, but for most of the rest of the day we would be alone with him, just sitting silently in his presence. His main indoor activity was reading. Each morning he would carefully go through the morning paper and any letters that had been written to him. During the day, if he felt in the mood, he might pick up a spiritual book and read parts of it to us. If we were lucky, he would add his own commentary.

Even though Master lived for long periods in the house with his wife, son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, he didn’t seem to have many interactions with them. Surendra would sometimes come to speak to him for a few minutes in the morning, but that was all. For the rest of the day he would spend hours sitting in his room, neither speaking nor moving. His eyes would be open, and though he would apparently be looking at the wall in front of him, I don’t think he was seeing anything at all.
One time while we were there, his wife said to him, ‘You will go mad if you spend all day just staring at the wall. Why don’t you go out and get a job? You could get a job pumping petrol at the petrol station on Ashok Marg. You need to get out and meet people and talk to them. It’s not good for you to sit all day staring at the wall and saying nothing.’

When Master told us this, we couldn’t believe it. We thought we were lucky to be sitting in satsang with a great enlightened Master, but his wife seemed to regard him merely as a candidate for the lunatic asylum.

‘Doesn’t she know who you really are?’ I asked him, incredulously. ‘Doesn’t she have any understanding of what you are doing to all these people who come to see you?’

He shrugged and answered, ‘In this house I am just another member of the family. The people here have always seen me as a relative. They are too close to see anything else.’

Master had a special pass that enabled him to walk in the nearby zoo before it officially opened. We would go there almost every morning for a walk. It was more of a park than a zoo because there were lots of empty green spaces and trees. Sometimes we would go instead to a little park that was by the main post office. We always welcomed these walks in summer because they were the only opportunity we had to get away from the stifling heat of the Narhi house.

Master had had high blood pressure for years. During one of our stays in Narhi he conducted experiments on himself to see how different types of food affected his score. He said he wouldn’t accept the conventional medical opinion on this matter until he had proved that it was valid for his own body. Master decided to check the accuracy of the medical advice he had been given by eating foods that were supposed to be bad for him. Afterwards he would check the results for himself.

He would start by eating a big meal that had been cooked in plenty of oil, finish it off with a few sweets, and then call for his blood-pressure machine. For the rest of the day he would have us take his blood pressure every half hour to see what the food was doing to his body. The experiment would be repeated each day with slightly different combinations of salt, oil and sugar. I don’t know whether he had a genuine scientific interest in these tests or whether he was just using them as an excuse to eat large amounts of tasty food.

In the end he had to admit that medical science had got it right: when he ate the prohibited foods, he got sick, and when he avoided them, or only ate them in very small amounts, he stayed healthy.
Master liked to travel and he also liked to eat large amounts of good food but he had to balance the two activities because if he ate the wrong food in the wrong amount, he would get so sick he couldn’t travel. Sometimes he would diet and travel; sometimes he would indulge in eating and stay at home.

Excerpt From Nothing Ever Happened Volume Two
By David Godman